This week I’ve woken up every night at 2:15am, 3:20am, 4:00am, 4:30am, then 4:55am. At this point I usually gauge whether to sleep longer, or capitalize on some pre-dawn quiet time in the kitchen… That all depends on what happened the morning before. I usually alternate. Today I slept in until eight, because yesterday insomnia won at around 5:15am.

My insomnia is the product of a mix of concerns – mostly future-related thoughts, punctuated with a few regrets. Some are more realistic that others. If I were Julia Child, this would be my boeuf bourguignon (stew) of anxiety.

My reader and confidant – I’m sure you know I would tell you every excruciating neurotic detail of what’s on my mind in the wee hours of the morning. But, I can’t bring myself to publish this on the internet for the world to see. You understand. (If you’re curious, hopefully you have my number. Call me maybe?)

This week I talked to a few friends about feeling disappointed/angry/scared/ disillusioned.

“It’ll be okay”

People do not like suffering. When you can’t escape it via sleep – because your internal monologue makes that impossible – the next escape route seems to be hope. “This pain will feed future joy”. “This emotional compost will nourish personal growth”. “No mud, No lotus”. My facebook page is dripping with inspirational quotes ranging from Maya Angelou to the new testament to Anonymous. There is an epidemic of optimism out there.

Maybe it won’t be “okay”. Maybe I won’t find a “next step”, I won’t accomplish what I set out to do in the world, and my life will culminate into a semi-tragic end of wasted potential and loneliness. (Reader, did you know I have a thing for hyperbole?)

I wrote a few days ago that sometimes I’m drawn to the darker sides of things. They are not always a path to redemption or justice; but they are no less valuable to the experience of being a human – capable of feeling sadness or loneliness or rage at any given moment… Hence the legacy of tragic storytelling (Shakespeare, etc), 80% of music by Mahler and the Counting Crows, and some of the best poetry around. Sometimes life sucks. And that’s an important plot twist.

November is my favorite month to be a pessimist. I’m going to leave it at that for now. It’s time for lunch.

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On Sunday at 1pm I picked up Georgia at her home. We have been friends since January, when she was in the middle of 3rd grade and I was in the middle of my 3rd year of residency. Last summer we had a brief interruption. I went to Asia and she went to camp. I brought her back an elephant key chain, and by now we’ve agreed we will be friends forever.

Despite November, reliably the most depressing month of the year, the sky was blue and the temperature was not as cold as it probably should be. Georgia and I walked on 36th Avenue toward the subway holding hands.

“Where are we going???” 

“I can’t tell you. It’s secret.” 

“Ugggggh”

“Okay. A hint. It’s in Manhattan.” 

“… Oh my gosh, are we going to Staples?!” 

“I can’t tell you.” 

Georgia frowned. “I hate the subway.” 

“It’s worth it. I promise.”

We went into the same Dunkin Donuts we always go to, so I could get a coffee and she could get hot chocolate. I have explained that coffee stunts your growth, which is why I am only 5’2″, and why she can’t have any until she is done growing.

“But my mom drinks coffee.” 

“Your mom is shorter than me.” 

We waited on the platform for the N train, sipping, talking like the old friends were are destined to become. Yes, I told her, I voted for Hillary. I was very sad she didn’t win. Georgia slurped thoughtfully, swallowed, then lifted her chin with a very precocious amount of confidence. Well, Roz, you can’t always get what you want.

The N train pulled up. Doors opened. We sat together on the blue plastic benches, and her pink puffy coat made a squish while my brown leather jacket let out a groan.

So, Georgia, I need your advice.” She looked intrigued. “What TV shows should I watch? I haven’t watched anything in forever, I don’t even know what’s on anymore.” Without missing a beat she answered, “General Hospital.” I widened my eyes. “YOU watch General Hospital? I love that show. But I haven’t seen it in years… Is Sonny still on it?” She nodded. I was relieved that certain things will never change. “He’s still on it. He was a gangster, but then he became a cop, and pretended he was in a wheelchair at a wedding so that he could arrest the guy who was getting married. He was the real bad guy,” she explained. “You know,” I said “I used to watch that show everyday. It’s why I became a doctor.” She responded with a very precocious eyeroll.

We stepped off the subway at 14th Street. Up the stairs, reemerging into the daylight and foot traffic of Union Square.

Does Donald Trump own this?” 

“No.”

“Good.” 

Now that she has gone to summer camp, I’ve decided to give Georgia more choices. Her first choice: a) Barnes and Noble. b) Crowded playground. c) Sephora.

Within 5 minutes she was racing through an isle of age-defying lotions, while I explained the rules: 10 minutes. No more than 4 perfume sprays. If she had a question, she had to ask one of the sales associates. Devin – who had on heavy red lips, impossibly long eyelashes, and a black apron – explained how to try on lipstick. Georgia took a magenta gloss and got to work in front of a big round magnifying mirror. The feminist in me felt like a parent letting her teenage child get drunk for the first time “as-long-as-it’s-under-my-roof.” Finally, ten agonizing minutes were up, and Georgia went back to being a nine-year-old.

The next two hours we ran around the Museum of Math – MOMath, for those in the know. Imagine a video game arcade, infused with geometry lessons. My faithful reader, would you believe me if I told you I rode a bicycle with square wheels that was once ridden by Bill Nye the Science Guy? Yes. It happened.

The sky started to blush, the air was chilly. Everyone was tired. We walked up 5th Avenue holding hands. Georgia said unexpectedly, Roz, how are you going to be my mentor when you leave New York and go to Atlanta?

We went into a deli, where it was warmer and lighter.

Well, first off: I don’t know if I’m leaving New York. I will be your mentor for the rest of the school year for sure. And I have lots of friends who don’t live here – we talk on the phone and on Skype and they visit me sometimes. If I leave, you and I can do the same thing. But, like I said, I don’t know yet.  I’ll know more soon, and I promise I will tell you and your mom everything as soon as I find out. 

She drank her soda. Ok.

It was almost dark. November is still reliable for somethings.

“Now where are we going?”

“34th Street”

Why?” 

I can’t tell you.” 

Uggggggh”

Do you still have the $10 your mom gave you?” We approached Staples. “You have 20 minutes to spend it.” And with that she vanished.

Back on the N train, squish/groan, I held on to Georgia’s plastic bag. It had a tub of model clay, and a roll of hot pink tape. She took charge of my phone, which is now inundated with selfie videos.

It was dark by the time we got off the train.

Georgia, check it out!

From the 36th Avenue platform we could see the moon above the row homes in Astoria, – full, bright, and closer to the Earth than it had been in either of our lifetimes.

 

 

 

100 days, and then

November 10, 2016

I finished 100 days of meditating and writing in a journal. July 24 – Oct 31. It was tumultuous. Not much blogging (see below). I’m glad to have a few scratches of a record to make up for my increasingly inadequate memory. Journal entries are dehydrated ideas, preserved at their bare minimum, to be resurrected much much later; not unlike the jar of lentils in my pantry. They are not ever as good as fresh reality – only ingredients for relivable snapshots (at best). Someday I’ll read the lentil-sized stories I wrote in August, and let them simmer in my proverbial pot of hot mental-water. I might not actually be in Asia at the Red Cross, but it damn well might feel like I am. For just a moment.

But first, a quick summary since last August, to get you and I back on track….

August: I wrote a lot when I was in Bangkok. Nostalgic Reader, if you want to reminisce with me about preventing HIV, or transgender health, or ordinal logistic regressions, just ask.

September: back in the states – there were a few endings. Some hurt more than others. I have a secret affection for the angsty painful moments in life – the sour ones, the bitter ones, the flavors that flesh out what an experience means, or meant.  I am not a masochist. A friend once said I take comfort in discomfort. Kind of. In that growth-from-struggle way. Anyway, sometimes not getting what you want is the best thing that ever happened.

October: the pendulum inevitably swung the other direction. The spaces the endings left behind were filled with beginnings. The tension resolved with release. It always does, doesn’t it?

November (1st week): I started a new journal. It has orange zigzag stripes.  Still meditate daily. Last weekend I went to an Ashram. My favorite reset button. Om. I am in disbelief about the election results. Also over-saturated with everyone’s responses on social media.  Maybe I’ll save my two cents for another entry.

NOW -3:48 EST – I am sitting in my kitchen. I finished lunch (lentils), and am working on coffee. I am procrastinating because I don’t feel like studying spanish. I need to learn it quick. I will work in Puerto Rico for two months this winter. More to follow when that happens, or upon request.

¿Usuario útil, hablarás español conmigo?

 

According to the Kabbalah, the three most intense weeks of the year started on July 24th, and came to a grand finale last Saturday – on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. As my friend the Kabbalist put it, “It’s like for three weeks there’s no ozone layer…. Sunlight is good, but you can get burned if you aren’t careful.”

my weekend. jesus h.

I didn’t want to overstay my tourist visa. The easiest way to do that is to duck out to Kuala Lumpur – we’ll call KL – for a weekend.

I planned to take it easy in KL. Clear my head, maybe meditate or catch up on sleep and watch a stupid British TV series called “Peep Show”. It’s funny. Strong recommendation.

The woman who I stayed with we’ll call SS. She picked me up at the airport. She’s a beautiful 58-year-old Indian yogi, and occasional Uber driver. Her apartment is a clean, small, 2br on the 12th floor. My room was simple: a twin bed, a glass night table, a single shelf, white marble floors. Everything you need to sleep and meditate. When you look out the window, you see very tall lanky trees, and then skyscrapers the distance.

SS speaks slowly. Despite the age difference she makes you feel like you can honestly open up to her. She was married twice, but never had kids. She teaches Hatha yoga. This weekend she finished a writing workshop. She has 3 friendly cats – we’ll call W (white) B (black) and O (orange).

Saturday Morning SS dropped me off in Little India. I saw a Hindi temple, got a dosa for breakfast, ended up in an art gallery where they let me charge my phone and use the wifi. My friend, we’ll call YC, is going to KL today… I left a note for him in the gallery, and emailed him instructions where to find it.

The afternoon was hot. People gave me ambiguous directions, I got lost in multiple parking lots. Eventually I gave up, had a blueberry latte in air conditioning, and mooched more wifi. I thought about being alone; if I would end up twice married and childless after menopause, with 3 friendly cats like W,B,&O; and, whether or not that was such a bad fate.

Status post latte, I went to a city-forest. As good as central park, but not better. Saw a cathedral, bought a cheap yellow scarf at a market, then took a subway to a mall where I bought a ticket for a taxi

THIS IS WHERE THE DRAMA STARTS.

The taxi driver, we’ll call TD, took me to a Chinese temple (why I needed the scarf). It was 4:30pm. I got out of the taxi, and asked TD to wait while I check that I had everything. Sure enough, my wallet was gone. I could have sworn I looked at it when I got into the taxi, to make sure I still had SS’s card with her address.

We checked the car. Nothing. I asked if we could drive back to the mall, to the counter where I bought my taxi ticket. That was the only other place it could be. We went back. I told TD I could pay him when I got my wallet, and I was so so sorry.

At the mall, TD decided to go to the taxi counter with me. No wallet. Then to the mall’s lost and found. Nothing. The mall security. Nothing. The auxiliary police. Nothing. TD did all the talking. He was the same age as SS. At this point, he had decided I was his responsibility. I felt incredibly helpless, and also grateful, plus guilty that I had no way to adequately thank him. By the time the auxiliary police said “No wallet” I started to tear up. I realized I was completely alone in a foreign city with no money or ID. I just happened to be very lucky.

TD drove me to the police station to file a report. My first ever Malaysian police report. I had SS’s phone number, so we called her to explain. TD waited until I was finished, then took me to SS’s house. by then it was 6:15pm

On the drive home, I found out his name is actually Mr. Selapan. He has 4 children, the oldest is a doctor and is getting married this fall. He offered to take me to the airport in the morning. I thanked him profusely.

SS lent me money to pay Mr. Selapan. I remembered I had packed a spare debit card in my bag. I was so relieved I hugged SS. I canceled my other card. She drove me into town so I could get cash. Meanwhile, she got a bottle of wine, asked if I would have dinner with her at home. I thanked her profusely too. We had wine on the balcony. After dinner, we watched the Daily Show, then a British talk show, then I went to bed.

SS was up before me in the morning. Coffee was ready. She told me that when I called her from the police station, she drew a not-tarot-but-something-like-it (we’ll call it NTBSLI) card for guidance. It was the Gratitude card, and she decided it meant I was a grateful person. (So true!)  We hugged goodbye, Mr. Selapan picked me up. We talked about family and palm trees on the way to the airport.

I had weird dreams on the plane. First, a toddler was sick and I nursed him back to health. Next, I was being wrapped in a golden fluffy cocoon. I decided to hide in my room and watch Peep Show season 4 that evening. My housemates invited me out for dinner, but I was in for the night, asleep by 9.

Anyway, that’s everything, Two more weeks in Bangkok. Here’s hoping for some calm.

 

EPILOGUE

  • YC found the note.
  • SS reviewed me on AirBnb: “Rosalyn is a great guest; despite her losing her wallet, she kept a calm composure and ‘went with the flow’. It could have been worse as she put it! I was happy to host Roz.”
  • According to the Kabbalah, the anniversary of the fall of the Temple will also be the birthday of the messiah. I don’t take things like that literally… let’s just interpret it to mean that destruction and renewal tend to happen at the same time.

 

On The Plus Side

August 7, 2016

One week down at the Thai Red Cross. I said I wouldn’t dwell too much on work – and I won’t – but for the curious, inquisitive, or career-focused readers out there:

I really like it.

I have a few projects with their PrEP programs – a pill that prevents HIV. I get to write a lot, come up with questions, and play with data to find the answers  (maybe). That means I get to learn a new statistical software too. Who wouldn’t love that? The coworkers are sweet, my boss is supportive, I have a lot of autonomy, the office itself is a refrigerator. I bought a sweater yesterday.

Everyone else is Thai. For this pathological chatter, the language barrier is an advantage. I get a lot more done during the day. This month, I’ll also see a bunch of the gay health clinics. Here are photos from this Friday’s field trip:

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SO. Enough about work….

This week, in spite of having a “life” (i.e. a structured activity, that isn’t just for my ‘highest level of amusement’ – which is what my dad calls anything fun), I was preoccupied with minutia about things in New York. A monday email became a week long conversation about logistics. I was latched onto my Facebook feed wherever I found wifi. My mind wandered to New York/America/Home(?) when I meditated, like a moth to the flame.

*Yes. Still doing that daily meditation thing – hello from day 15/100/ 15% transformation.*

And it occurred to me this morning: I wasn’t attached to the east coast, or work. I was stuck on the people back home. As wonderful as alone time is – as addictive as self-reflection can be, wrote the blogger– eventually some kind of gravity pulls you back to community, whether you want it or not. I don’t have one here.

By the end of the week I was too restless to read or write anymore.

Book update – Almost finished Revolutionary Road. Jesus. I almost cried when I read Part 2 on the train. If you ever want a novel full of perfect character development, that breaks your heart over and over, this is the novel for you! Wish it was longer. 

On Saturday, I went online and mapped out an art gallery crawl. This involved looking up galleries, plotting them on a map, making a route, then hitting the road. I saw 2 small galleries, a university show, and an art exhibit called “Business Humour” about comedy  in the fanciest mall I’ve ever seen. The first recorded joke in Thailand was published in 1865! By sunset I ended up at an opening on the opposite side of town. Read: free food and open bar. Not a terrible place to be stuck during the evening monsoon.

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So, darling reader, here are the summary stats:

  • 25% of work complete (1week/4weeks)
  • 15% of enlightenment obtained (15days /100days)
  • 50% of my time in Asia complete (3 weeks/6 weeks)
  • 30% of yoga pass used
  • 26% of subway pass used.
  • 54.2 % of Sunday complete

Results are preliminary. Data collection ongoing. Further analysis forthcoming.

Comments/emails/distractions welcome, as usual.

B(ac)KK

July 31, 2016

Last week I wrote to my friend Liz, Hanoi is a small dose of Eat Pray Love…

I had a lot of alone time, a lot of free time, saw friends who I think bring out the best in me. I rode as many motorbikes as my heart desired. I saw my friends’ babies, which made me think a lot about family. I cried when I watched Michelle Obama’s DNC speech. A hurricane came and went.

Now I’m back in Bangkok. If Hanoi was Eat Pray Love, this is Lost in Translation.  I am Scar Jo, pre-Bill Murray. I’m sorry to say, this blog is will probably take a turn for the dull. (If you stop reading, I understand). I’m picking out routines, haunts, schedules. Bangkok sounds exotic. It definitely can be, if you let it. Then again, so can anywhere. I’m not up for adventure right now. I’m excited to do yoga regularly and read books and write an overly descriptive blog entry now and then.

SPEAKING OF BOOKS: I finished Maitland’s How to be Alone – too meta? I know. It was sweet, written by a women who lives in isolation in Scotland. The beginning was a bit defensive. She belabored her point that there was nothing wrong with enjoying solitude, giving examples of geniuses and creatives and spiritual leaders who thrived on alone time. Okay okay, we get it! But it moved into more helpful reflections eventually; how solitude is a celebration of one’s  existence; how, in the end, it enriches relationships with other people.  Worth the read.  I gave my copy to my friend Tra – a loner who I love to spend time with.  

Next Up: Revolutionary Road. So far, really good. Better than the movie. Then again, I have an unexplainable soft spot for 1940’s and 1950’s American writing. (I will always love you James T. Farrell). 

By the way: I tried a sensory deprivation chamber (Maitland suggestion). No distractions. I listened to my pulse, and I think I fell asleep. Reader, if you ever have the chance, please try it. I also signed up for 100 days of a meditation podcast. Today is day eight. I am 8% transformed!

Here is a the coffee shop where I hang out.

photo 4photo 3photo 2

If you put me in Antarctica, I probably could still find the right coffee shop, and maybe even a used bookstore. (The one in Bangkok I like is called Dasa)

On that note, lovely reader, thank you for reading. Let me know if you want to Skype sometime. Solitude has its merits, but so does video-chatting.

 

The plane tilted over a rice field. Just before the wheels hit the runway – that moment when you see actual humans wearing conical hats, rather than the abstract topography that deserves a David Attenborough voiceover (I love you, David) – all my inner organs constricted into a rubbery ball. The wheels hit Earth at about 8:26am.

I’m back in Hanoi.I have never wanted to physically hug a city before. Imagine seeing someone you were in love with once, after years of separation. It feels like that.

Some friends are still here – shout outs to Thu (thank you for dinner last night), John (thank you for a roof/conversation/bed), Annie (thank you for today), Michelle (welcome back too!), Giang, Hong Van, Kem (I can’t wait to see you all), Nhung (and you), and Tra (and you too!).

[No/Every]thing has changed. I’m staying in Truc Bach on the third floor of a house. If I only swallow rice, tofu, sautéed greens, and coffee for the rest of the week, that’s just fine. Yesterday I walked around a lake, hung out at a cafe, read a book, got my hair washed, bought another book…

  • BOOK REVIEW INTERLUDE: 
  • Just finished: Kevin Brockmeier’s “A Brief History of the Dead”. Awesome. The story bounces back and forth between a pseudo-afterlife, and the last human alive in post-apocalyptic Antarctica. Sounds too good to be true, right? Actually, this is one of those life-affirming books, that shines a light on the random moments that become the most memorable ones. Brockmeier does it again. Five stars.
  • Current Book: Sara Maitland’s “How to be Alone” (Seemed appropriate). So far so good. More to follow.    

Also, Still v. jet lagged. Here are some epiphanies I had between 3:30 am. and 5:00 am today.

  1. I want to try a sensory deprivation chamber. (Reader, have you ever?)
  2. There is a cool Tibetan Buddhist Nunnery I found online. Maybe I can sponsor a nun (Reader, thoughts?)
  3. The cure for fear is knowledge
  4. “Home” is an emotion
  5. Solitude + poor adjustment to new time zones = creativity?

The rest of the week I will be in Hanoi. I plan to ride as many motorcycles as possible. Lovely reader, please email me your address if you want a postcard.

Are you sure…?

July 21, 2016

Yes.

I’m blogging again.

For those who met me after medical school: I used to have a blog. See below, if you’re curious about my internal/internet monologue during those years.

For those who lost touch with me after medical school: I moved to Queens, and delivered babies for two years – 600 New Yorkers who I expect will all graduate college by 2037, and be as remarkable, kind, and charming as they were the day I met them.

There was no blogging then, for better or worse.

After six hundred births, I switched to Preventive Medicine — a field nobody has heard of and everyone needs. The problem with prevention is that if you do a good job nothing happens.

Two days ago I landed in Bangkok, where I’ll work with the Thai Red Cross’s HIV prevention programming this summer…

And, I’ll be blogging again! Hooray!

I don’t plan to write much about work. This blog is what it has always been: a  personal journal, written to be shared with you, beautiful reader. It’s old fashioned, but I hope you like it.

Stay tuned.

With exactly one week until graduation, and one month until my next life-chapter, I’ve decided to write this manifesto for my final Plotzk entry. I dedicate it to all the giants whose shoulders I’ve stood on throughout medical school. Reader, please count yourself among them. 

I’ve been told it’s best to start where you are. Me: I’m on Eastern Parkway, between Franklin and Classon Avenues, in apartment 3G, in my bed. I am single again. I still play piano. I love plants, poetry, writing, interior decorating; I’m learning how to enjoy TV shows. I just expectantly bought a new pair of sneakers that should support my pronating ankles the next time I try to run.  (These are all activities in solitude – odd for this apparent extrovert). I care very much about my relationships, even if lately it’s been difficult to find time to give them the attention I think they deserve.

I moved to New York six years ago in order to change. I wanted to make new friendships, and do meaningful work.  I stayed to cultivate those friendships; to expand the latitude of that work. The friendships coagulated into a community of people from my job, medical school, childhood, college, and also my neighbors in Prospect Heights.  My work demanded I learn to appreciate the wholeness of the human body, as well as what happens when that wholeness is threatened.

I meditated a lot. I was a hypochondriac for a little while. I became slightly desensitized to blood, vomit, excrement, and physical deformities. I swallowed more coffee than I did water, milk, and orange juice combined. I walked (wobbled, marched, hiked) through as many shoes as I could afford. Then I went to Vietnam, where I learned to be a less stingy.  I indulgently tried to write down everything I could here. Maybe I believed keeping that record solidified the reality of my stories.

And here we are.

Now what? I want be a good doctor, for starters. I’d like to do good research in the process, possibly get involved with global health again if the opportunity presents itself. I’ve decided to keep blogging, in order to also solidify the reality of my residency experience.  I want a community of colleagues inside the hospital. I want a home that feels like home in Queens. In both places I want to spend my time as an expression of my truest self.

The next four years will be devoted to cultivating the art of process. I still believe everything I accomplish will be the cumulative sum of several small steps, which usually feel like nothing at the time. Switchbacks up a mountain. And, with any luck I will also deepen my compassion through my work; hopefully I’ll allow the joys and tragedies of my patients to make their imprints.

So, it seems I’m on the same trajectory as before. But, like a tree that has yet to bear fruit, I have obvious growing to do.  You, lovely reader, have been my nourishment and my witness. Thank you so so much. Please stay tuned. 

Radiology came and went. I passed. Reader, if you ever have a chest x-ray let me know.

As for what’s coming up…. I MATCHED!  I’m kind of thrilled. I’ll be spending the next 4 years living in Astoria (hopefully) and working at North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital. Here’s what it looks like:

The outside...

The outside…

The lobby

The lobby

The meditation room

The meditation room

Where I will deliver a baby

Where I will deliver a baby

more lobby

more lobby

I know. It’s gorgeous, and I’m bragging a little. I don’t need a perfect lighting design to get through residency…. but…. it doesn’t hurt.

Don’t worry. In my free time I will keep blogging. You can look forward to stories about celebrity sightings, a record of the coffee stains on my white coat, and I’ll keep a boys-vs.-girls score of the babies I deliver . So stay tuned.

Between now and then, there are few things to attend to. First, I start Emergency Medicine Monday, followed by “Surgery bootcamp” in April, and finally a psych elective. Then it’s off to Australia to see YC. Then Graduation (!). Then I move to Queens. I want to take a nap…

Finally, I’ve gotten back into filmmaking lately… here’s what I did:

First, a promo video I made for my beloved Henry Luce Scholars program:

And for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, my friend and I made this last Tuesday:

We’re hoping it goes viral. Keep an eye out for episode two coming soon 🙂