Game ball

Warning: this post contains some time out words.

How do I process the game you played?

I am the subject of the game.

Or the victim.

Or no, I refuse. It is your game. I was not playing. I am the honey badger, metabolism so fast that I have to run from one meal to the next or else I will starve. I eat whatever I can find: cobras, bees, anything. I eat or I die.

You have tethered a honey badger to oxygen by playing a game.

I am the football and you have been kicking me, throwing me, catching me, slamming me to the ground as hard as you can in the end zone.

And now that I am worn and damaged and torn, you’ll toss me away, not even notice me, and find a new ball.

You will need a new football. To play with.

I don’t envy that person.

The truth is, it will be one of you. The group will rest on their laurels, oh, we nearly killed her, wasn’t it great? We showed her. She is so stupid, took her what, 21 years to fucking figure it out? And she thinks she’s so smart.

I was looking for food because I am always hungry. The food insecurity goes back to infancy. Maybe to the womb: my mother says she was not to gain weight and spent the entire pregnancy longing for a gigantic ice cream Sunday. Think of being in a womb, attacked by antibodies to tuberculosis, and starving all the time. Might be a little bit worried when birth happens. Fuck, I am going through a tunnel, what horrors await me here? But maybe there will be more food.

Maybe someone will love me. Maybe there will be someone for me to love. And feed. We can give each other food.

My advice to you is don’t be the ball. I was the ball for 21 years. I was so hungry the whole time, for food and for love, that I kind of noticed but dismissed it as unimportant. Food and love were more important. Work and my patients were more important. You don’t matter and your games are trivial.

It will be the weakest one who will be the ball. You worry that you are the one. You should worry. You had better look strong right away. Post some horror. Write something really tough. Don’t show anyone any niggling doubts. Um, the ball is wearing oxygen. I am feeling a little bad about this. Are you feeling bad about this? The ball isn’t just crazy, it’s hurt. Actually crazy is an illness too: I know that you discriminate and think that cancer is a legitimate illness and that mania isn’t, but you are assholes. No, you’re too small and pathetic to be an asshole. You are a one celled animal that is clinging to a hair on an asshole and you get shat on daily. And you know, deep deep in your tiny shrunken heart, that you deserve it.

I am so glad I am not you.

I am tethered to oxygen. But I am healing. I don’t think you can. You are locked in your small sick pathetic triangulation competition and pretending that it’s a game that it’s ok that you are just playing.


Meanwhile, the oxygen is portable.

I have food and I have love and I have work to do that lifts me on wings. I will go too near the sun and light on fire and fall burning, but that’s ok. I’ve done it before. The ocean heals me, always. It is so much fun to fly!

This is in memory of my mother, my father and my sister. I miss all three and I love them and they love me. Today is the day my mother died. The longer we live, the more days are days when someone that we love died. But they are still here. They are in the rocks and the sky and the trees and the coffee cup. They are not in sugary donuts or foods that cause heart attacks. But they are all around us, cradle us, still love us. Joy to you and the memories of your loved ones who have gone on. Blessings.

chronic fatigue

I am realizing that I have had chronic fatigue since 2014. Or possibly 2012.

We know that chronic fatigue can be kicked off by infection. One in ten people with a severe infection is diagnosed with chronic fatigue. Severe stress can also kick it into gear or a combination of stress or grief or attack or assault and infection can kick it in to gear.

We don’t really understand it, though I am finding experience to be a very great teacher.

As far back as medical school and residency, I was curious about it. I love the edges of things: it is the things that we don’t understand that I study. I pick up bits of information like a crow or magpie. I add it to the pile of things related to it in my brain. Sometimes I will add just one more small piece and the entire pile of puzzle pieces with suddenly, in just a blink, rearrange itself into a picture.

The pieces won’t arrange themselves until I have a complete picture. Or, well, until something in my brain is satisfied that it is complete enough. Since nothing is every complete or completely understood, is it? Nothing fixed and we make up all the words.

Anyhow, chronic fatigue would explain why running my own clinic, I did not see more than ten patients a day. Also I do have some OCD, hidden under a messy packrat gene. You would NOT look at my house two months ago and think that I have some OCD. Messy and chaotic. But I am a precision demon about patient charts and I am always thorough. In 2009 our local hospital let me know that my reputation was of a brilliant diagnostician. Ironically, this was right before they fired me for arguing about the patient quota of 18 per day. I ran late because I could not stop being thorough. I cut my work from 4 days a week to 3.5 but that was still two hours of dictating and paperwork for every day of clinic. So clinic was 28 hours plus the dictating and paperwork and calling specialists and calling insurance and a one hour meeting at lunch with the administration EVERY DAY FOR MONTHS, so really clinic was 8 hours of patient contact plus the one hour lunch meeting. Redo the math: 28 hours plus 4 one hour lunch meetings plus 7 hours of the generated deal with stuff AND do not forget about call nights. 39 hours plus call. At least one call night a week, 6 pm to 8 am, so that is 51 hours or more. I felt that I was working flat out as fast as I could every single day in clinic and I still was not keeping up.

I also really really resented the one hour lunch meetings because I was only allowed 20 minutes for a patient and was to see them “for one thing”. Seeing people “for one thing” is unethical and dangerous because for example: a diabetic with a toe infection. That is already two things. But you’d better calculate the third: kidney function, because you have to dose the antibiotic for the toe based on the kidney function, and diabetes is the number one cause of adult kidney failure in the US. Oh, and you’d better check on the diabetes too, because if their blood sugar is whomping out of control, the toe won’t heal and that’s how they got infected in the first place. So I might have ranted a bit about seeing people “for one thing” because I think it is an UNETHICAL DANGEROUS LOAD OF CRAP. DO NOT PUT UP WITH IT, DOCTORS AND PATIENTS OF THE UNITED STATES. It is corporate trying to maximize profit and they can frankly go to hell and stay there. Single payer. ‘Nuf said.

Even more ironically is that two years after they fired me for vocally disagreeing with the quota (I would add that I was not diplomatic and I was vociferous), the hospital dropped the quota down. To what I had asked for, 16 patients a day. I actually had kept track through my career and knew that I averaged 16 patients a day. One partner usually saw 20 or 21, but the problem was that he kept the chart in his head. When I would get one of his patients, I’d have to say, “Um, you have some heart disease, right? You’ve had a heart attack or a bypass? What year was the bypass? How many vessels?” I’d be guessing from the medicines and clues… but the past history was not entered into the chart. So, yeah, I only saw 16 patients a day but my charts were solid and thorough and the charts on his patients were a lot more comprehensible every time I saw one of his patients and did the chart for him. He owes me. Pay up.

Anyhow, I have worked really hard for the last seven years, in spite of some chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Which I rather refused to admit to myself. I thought I was “well”. I felt bad that I didn’t clean up my chaotic house.

Now I forgive myself for the house. Because the truth is I couldn’t clean up the house. Not after 7-10 patients and running my own clinic, CEO, chief cook and bottle washer, dealing with the covid changes, trying to figure out medicare’s arcane language, fielding malpractice insurance, business insurance, insurance insurance and phone company scam calls.

I have been sick at home for 6 weeks. I have been on oxygen for 4 days? 5 days? I would have felt a lot better and been able to think better if I had been on oxygen the whole time. Meanwhile, turns out I CAN clean up and organize in spite of being hypoxic. My house is now a very different place and the garden has changed enormously very quickly.

I am sending more money to India, via . I can hardly bear to think about the people who cannot get oxygen. It feels terrible and terrifying to not be able to breathe. My chest hurt and lungs and heart when I even sat up, much less walked. If I walked slowly enough, it was bearable, just barely. I walked anyhow. Those edges, I am always there.

It is very weird being on oxygen. I have told people in the past when I had pneumonia. I’ve almost died from it four times. Heart rate of 135 holding oxygen level, but it doesn’t feel good. I am confident that I do not have coronary artery disease, because if I did, I would have had a heart attack the first week. A heart rate of 135 is running a marathon. It is exhausting. Right now on oxygen, my heart rate is 86 and oxygen at 98%. My normal heart rate is more like low 70s. Normal is 60-100, you knew that, right?

It is very weird being on oxygen. Because now I have a visible signal that I have been/am sick. Somehow this is making people more kind, more concerned. I keep thinking, but I told you I was ill before. Why does being on oxygen make people kinder?

I think that is the difference between having an illness where there is not much comprehension and one that we think we understand. So chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are dismissed, disrespected and discriminated against, while cancer and sepsis and covid-19 and massive trauma in the military are supported. People send gifts.

In the past, tuberculosis was thought to be an illness of sensitive poets. Then the tuberculosis bacillius was discovered and it morphed into a disease of the poor dirty overcrowded low scum of humanity. My mother had tuberculosis, but luckily it was when we’d moved on to sanitoriums, because it is airborne, so stop the spread and take care of people. There was also medicine. My mother had to take 36 pills a day. At one point in the hospital, someone brought her a medicine.

“What is it?” asked my mother.

“Don’t worry about it.” said the nurse.

“No,” said my mother. “I want to know what it is.”

The nurse got the doctor. He came in and said, “Take the pill.”

“What is it?” said my mother. She was 22, 8 months pregnant, very poor, and a student at the University of Tennessee.

“Don’t worry about it.” said the doctor.

My mother threw it at his head. Because not only was she 22, 8 months pregnant, very poor and a student at the University of Tennessee, but she was also the daughter of F. Temple Burling MD, a psychiatrist, physician and professor at Cornell University.

And he had told her, don’t take anything unless you know what it is…..


The picture is of my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, in 1945. Helen Temple Burling II at the time of the picture.


I think the final straw that made the hospital fire me was me singing “The 18 Patient Blues” which I’d made up, to the tune of 16 Tons, into the Chief Financial Officer’s voicemail and at the open mike at the Upstage, here in town. I admit, it was not diplomatic.


Rumi’s chickpea poem:

I took the stealthie on the first ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge yesterday morning. A quiet ferry with very few sleepy people…..


The dust stirs
This is not Konya
I am safe

Water falls from the sky on the dust
This is not Turkey
I am safe

The sun warms the dust
I am not of Islaam
I am safe

A seed stirs in the dust
I am not of Christian either: raised atheist
I am safe

A plant grows
I am not a man: a woman
I am safe

Peas ripen
I do not read the Koran
I am safe

Peas are harvested
I have no mystic tradition nor teachers
I am safe

Peas are dried
He does not ask a question
I am safe

Peas are soaked
He is not religious
I am safe

Peas are placed on slow heat
He chooses sex not love
I am safe

Peas come to a slow boil
He refuses love and leaves
I am safe

The ladle of the Beloved smashes down
None of it matters
I am not safe



Not yet adequately adored

I am wandering in the forests of emotion I am comfortable now mostly I don’t talk about it much though occasionally I am irritable I am thinking about love I have had my children going commando could also be going postmenopausal because there is no longer bleeding or if there is I would have to get checked for uterine cancer but it is hot and why wear underwear of course apparently things can still get wet which is a bit of a surprise since so many women complain of less libido once the hormones drop I as usual do everything ass backwards and want sex more than ever but not when I am working hard and tired and cursing the new server laptop printer program and the keyboard is spaced differently and more sensitive all this fucking equipment when what we really want is to be loved as we are I have only seriously dated two people in the last seven years and one said that what I want is to be adored he said he couldn’t and I thought why not and Rumi says the depth of the longing is our depth of longing for the Beloved and really it’s not a forest for me it’s the ocean it’s the deepest part of the ocean those rifts and I dive all the way and don’t care if I run out of air Beloved I am not yet adequately adored

I will go for coffee instead.

the photo is from 2006, one swimmer carrying the younger swimmer

My weekly demon

I am in blogging 101.Today is the last day and the assignment: to create a recurring feature. A weekly or monthly or repeating feature. I thought, no, no, I don’t want to do that….

Then I read this blogpost:

I like the list. I sent the author a link to my poem “Say yes“. I made this comment:

“I would add one more thing to my list: keep my devils close. Remember the old cartoons with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other? I listen to my devil and I acknowledge what she says. She is riotously and evilly funny, with a running commentary on everything. She will also suggest totally evil over the top inappropriate responses to any time I feel hurt, sad, put upon, cut off by another car, you name it. By listening, I don’t project her onto other people and I don’t do what she says….. but sometimes it really adds perspective when someone says something thoughtless or mean and she goes into Samurai mode, shouting in my ear, “Get the sword! Get the sword! Off with their head!” I go from feeling surprised and hurt to internal laughter at how mean and inappropriate my inner demons are…… It is hard to stay angry and react to others when you are sitting there telling your demon that chopping someone’s head off is not socially acceptable and is unreasonable and is nasty and so forth…..”

Ah. There it is, the idea for my weekly post. I will write a weekly post about some internal inappropriate over reaction from my inner devil. And maybe from the angel too. We all have both. Sometimes the angel and the devil get to arguing and they are just over the top and the whole thing is silly. And the thing is, they cheer me up. The devil suggests doing terrible things but it’s usually a reaction to feeling hurt or sad. The angel tries to protect everyone else from that awful devil. And sometimes they just put an arm around each other and watch the beautiful sunrise and shut up for a bit….

The angel says, “Say thank you to everyone, it’s been a wonderful course!”

Thank you, everyone! Teachers, fellow bloggers, angels, devils, random strangers who stumbled on my blog…..

And my devil whispers, “Not weekly. Biweekly. No way weekly….”

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

Cucumber love

Cucumber love

They say they love you

And they do

Sort of

One day you find yourself
Wearing a construct
An exoskeleton
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
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

first published on everything2 on June 9, 2009

What would a sufi do?

I dreamed about a door all night last night.

First it was a door into a car. Over and over. I was not sure where the car was going, the driver wouldn’t listen to me, it was a race car. There weren’t any people that really had form in the dream.

The car was my friend Dave’s. A 1978 or a 1979. I don’t remember. He would care, I don’t. He has a racing harness instead of a regular seat belt in the driver’s seat. He can drive it like a race car, or close enough to fool me.

My daughter sat in the passenger seat and didn’t move when he drove. I sat in the back and went “eeeeeeee” and my right foot braked the whole time.

The last time I dreamed it there was just the door. A car door still. Lying in space, in the stars.

I woke up and thought about my say yes poems. And I thought, ok, Beloved, I don’t know where it’s going or what it will bring or who is driving but yes, I will go through that door.

And coming down the stairs I was thinking that I’ve been trying to communicate something to Dave but he doesn’t want to hear it. So I am not being a sufi. The sufis only taught the student who wanted to learn and who was ready. WWaSD? What would a sufi do? Stop butting my head against a wall.

I think that was the door.

I think of my consciousness at times as a table, and different parts of myself come to the table. There is the very small injured child, who gets healthier and healthier. She is healing. Somehow Dave has called up a sullen teenager who glares at everyone. The adult woman is annoyed and mutters “boys, toys and race cars.” The trickster sits and laughs. The doctor/psychiatrist is very interested in the whole thing and is mostly sitting back and watching.

Now perhaps a Sufi will come to the table. Or someone else. A fence is being built around my house. I envisioned a picnic table in the fence, on both sides, but it kept looking like Lucy’s psychiatric booth from Peanuts. I wanted to put up a sign: lemonade or the doctor is in, depending on my mood.

The fence is being built because someone stole our picnic table from the front yard while we were on vacation. I had bought it second hand and it was made of two by sixes. It was brutally heavy. I hope the theft weighs on them. Over 14 years we’ve also had a blue gazing ball stolen and two plastic pink flamingos. A bike was stolen from the back yard.

So now a fence. The picnic table/lemonade stand/psychiatric booth has morphed into a bench that goes through the fence, so that someone can sit on each side. And beside it in the fence is one of the little library boxes, for me to leave books and for others to trade or take them. It will have glass doors. We will have a pool on how soon they will be smashed. We are not cynical, are we?

Fences and doors. I think that I should put a sign in the yard, but perhaps I don’t need to. The new person at the table is the crone. I have gone through the door and I will think about doors all day. The crone introduces herself to the others at the table. The table gets more interesting every single day.