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.

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.

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 to 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.
40.
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


January 19, 2002

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

For the RDP: another day.

Recipe: Corned Beef

My mother gave my sister and I small notebooks decorated with our names when I was starting high school. She said that we were each going to cook once a week. We were to tell her what we wanted to make. She would give us the recipe and we would put it in our notebook. She would buy the ingredients and we would each cook.

It ended up being every other week so that we alternated, but I still have the notebook. My mother died in 2000 of ovarian cancer. I miss her. The first recipe I chose was corned beef and cabbage.

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….

even if

even if

I never see you again
you never speak to me again
you never love your bearish parts
you never let yourself get angry
you never let yourself get sad
you never let yourself feel
you tell yourself you are happy
you tell yourself everything is the way it should be

even if

I never see you again

I still love you
I still forgive you

I still love you

I hope that you truly do

find happiness

Letter to a younger friend

After my mother died I really struggled, partly because I was in the midst of a divorce and felt like a massive failure. I did not like myself. But I kept thinking about my mother and how much she hid: and eventually I thought, you know, I love all of my mother. Even the stuff she hid. If she is lovable then so am I.

What is lovable in your parent? And would you miss her/him if she/he were truly gone?

That is the hard thing for me, that I couldn’t think about that until she was dead. With my sister, I thought about it before she died and changed how I behaved and let her know when I disagreed with her. Even though she had cancer.

Isn’t the greatest gift we can give each other loving honesty? I love you and I disagree with you and I am not going to do what you want just because you (are my mother/are my father/have cancer/have emphysema/want it/are dying). Isn’t the greatest gift to be ourselves and take the flack for it?

Cucumber love is a poem I wrote more then ten years ago about dropping the exoskeleton that we wear for society’s and our family’s approval. It takes courage. You can drop a little piece at a time and let them get used to it. And yes, some people may reject you for good. That is their choice. But you have to ask yourself then, did they ever really love you or did they only love to control you?

Cucumber love

They say they love you
And they do

Sort of

One day you find yourself
Wearing a construct
An exoskeleton
Awkward
You can move
See out

You built it slowly over years
Because that’s what you were told to do
You wanted to be loved
It made you feel safe

There is praise
Or at least pressure to keep it on
You may not have known it was there
And slowly begin to feel
Who you really are
Awaken to the shell

One day you slip out

They are still saying how much they love you
To the empty construct

You watch bemused
For a while

You say “That isn’t me.”
“Of course it is,” they say

“I’m over here,” you say

Shock and outrage
“That’s not you!
You’ve changed, you’re depressed
Confused, manic, gone out of your mind!”
Off the deep end

You might even go back in to
the construct for a little while

But now you’ve tasted freedom
You won’t be able to stand it for long
You will be out soon

Some people will see you as you really are

Some people will tell you they still love you
But as they say it to the construct
They act as if you’re still wearing it
They still think you love cucumbers
Though you ate that dish once to be polite
They hold the construct in their minds
Even after you’ve destroyed it
And behave the same as they ever did

As you walk away
You will wonder who they loved

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.