About Me

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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Family person

With my new job I work three twelve hours shifts each week. On a work day I find out at six thirty or seven in the morning which cases have been been assigned to me for that day. I open up our charting system and I read the notes about a patient, sometimes two patients, to find out the cause of events that have brought this person into our sphere of awareness. Reading the notes I enter a little bit into a different way of being--imagining this stranger's last day of life outside the hospital. Imagining the family or friends who are at the bedside or travelling from far away. Imagining what they already know or what they have yet to find out. Holding them in my heart for a moment. Then I get dressed, drink coffee and help get the kids ready if I have time. Head out into the world, onto the highway, into California or Nevada towns, into ICUs where I sit and wait to see if I will be talking to any family members that day.

My body and my mind and my heart feel different, depending on what I am doing. It is a bit like leaving one person-suit and stepping into another person-suit. I am comfortable and easy when I am in problem-solving mode. Not clinical but..fixed and firm and clear. It feels good to think critically and assess situations. To talk to people about making a good plan or about addressing a need or fixing a problem. This is not family resource coordinator mode.

If I am going to talk to a family I don't leave my body, I don't become someone else. I do. . .quiet myself down and step to the edges so I can make room for what is going on. To make space for the reality that death is in the room and that people are slowly or quickly emerging into a new skin, with new eyes, in the new world that no longer has their son or father or brother or wife walking around in it. When I worry about saying the wrong thing or finding a way in to ask these people I've just met to let me support them, I try to remind myself that none of this is about me. I am here because I have chosen to be, because I can be, and because people need other people to be there. It is hard. And scary. And so holy.

I can't stay in that mode indefinitely and I can't be in it if I am doing other things. Problem-solving or doing my expenses or filling out forms. It is hard to switch back and forth and I am new at this so I am learning how to be both. How to be all the things that I am and need to be, at different times. How to carry a family's story from afar but not drown in it.

Prayer helps.

There is so much pain in being a person. So much devastating, confusing, gut-clenching pain. I can't take it away and I try to remind myself not to try, even when it is so uncomfortable to be next to the hurt and suffering. We need people to be there though. To be next to us when we are hurting. To listen. To receive the gift that is the story of someone they have loved so fiercely as they try to figure out how to say good-bye.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

On parenting and privilege

In Medford, Massachusetts last month I sat on the grass with three of my college roommates surrounded by our husbands and fathers and kids laughing and talking about marriage and parenthood and drinking and life. We were dying, making faces and cracking up about stupid shit and real shit. Feeling so good to be together. At one point my friend made an almost offhand comment about her teenage son and some random conversation or experience he had at the mostly-white private school he attended. Part of the story was her telling him Oh you can't do that or act like that or be that because you are a brown-skinned boy. It didn't stop the conversation for long. I don't remember many of the details but none of it involved guns or violence or acting out--it was something small and insignificant and everyday she was talking about, some regular kid behavior. The straight-forward, accepted, acknowledge reality for everyone in that circle but me was that at some point they would or had begun teaching their brown-skinned sons how to try to keep themselves safe in a world where they are never safe. Of note, not that it should matter, his brown-skinned older sister so far has a full ride to Bryn Mar but doesn't want to go because it's all women. His mother has a Masters in Education. His father works in local politics.

Yesterday after the murder of Alton Stirling in Baton Rouge one of my friends posted the story of the first time he experienced racism. This is what Antoine Kinch wrote:

Racism has a lasting effect. It's not easily solved, fixed or "gotten over". After the first time you experience something racist it breaks you down. I remember for me it was when I was about 11 years old. In Jericho, Long Island my friends and I were playing basketball at a park (J-3) and some white kids were yelling "Nigger, nigger, nigger" from their window.
We rang the doorbell. Told the lady that answered what happened and she started yelling at her kids and made them apologize to us. Maybe she even spanked them. We knew they learned the word from somewhere. But that night I came home and told my mom and I cried. Why did they treat us like that? We were just kids playing basketball in the park.
And here I am at 38 with a 16 year old of my own and I still remember the trauma that I felt that day. It stays with you and comes back like an open wound whenever you hear news like that of ‪#‎AltonSterling‬. To quote President Obama when speaking of ‪#‎TrayvonMartin‬: "It could have been me".

My friend Geri Charles wrote this:
Growing up in Somerville, MA getting spat on and called the N word on my way to and from school was a daily occurrence... Riding public transportation was the scariest of it all... My concern for today is not the N word but those who hold power in government, schools and in the judicial system that enacts polices to keep us locked up, uneducated, poor, and disenfranchised.

My friend Kevin Small wrote this:
 I just turned 14 and was 3 weeks into my stay at my new, boarding high school. Several new friends all black and latino from NYC, and I were ballin' at the gym. Some white students joined us. My friends and I started doing tricks, making goofy passes and, y'know, just having some fun. One of the white kids, grabbed the ball and growled, "we're not playing that nigger sh*t here!" I was stunned. I heard the word nigger all the time on the block or just around, but not like that. It felt like someone tossed a bucket of hot coals in my face. We stopped playing and left. It is said that there are no rites of passage for Americans, however, there are several for black Americans: Being called a nigger, getting harassed by a cop, making it to the age of 25... Black people are at a boiling point.

These are educated, strong, beautiful, connected, athletic, wise, intelligent people in their 30's. None of those details should matter but I know they do to many people. And these are stories about WORDS. Not physical threats. Not actual murder. Just stories about the hurtful, ugly, detestable things that children said to them when they were children. Just. I sat in Peets in tears, sick to my stomach, confused and raw to find myself out in public where life was going on as usual as I read about these stories forever burned into people's life story maps. If if feels that way to read it, two or three decades later, what does it feel like to live that? And that's just the first time. And these people are all alive to talk about it. Imaging any child being scared and stunned and thrown out of one world, the one we all like to think we lived in as innocent children and the world we all like to think and hope our own children live in for as long as possible, where you can live and play and learn into the real world where you are not just told but shown that it is not ok to be you. Not safe. Not just not safe but actively, violently, murderously dangerous. 

I am afraid to go protest in the streets when that happens because I am a mother of four small children and I don't want anything to happen to me. I can't even fathom taking them into that environment, putting them at risk. But maybe that's the realest, truest thing I or many of us can do right now--step into that fear, that risk of being hurt or killed by either the police who end up quieting the protest or by the angry, afraid, sick-to-death people who right now have nothing to do but stand there alone in their very real fear wondering what in the hell there is left to do to get something to happen to make something be different. To help them be safe. To help them feel like the rest of us, the ones who don't have to worry about any of it, give a shit about the fact that if you are brown or black skinned in this country you don't get to stay home and stay out of danger. Can I lend my privilege? My safety? Can I share it? Is it time to find a way to give it away? Would I if I could? Would any of us?

There are conversations that need to be had.
Books that need to be read.
Pages and people that need to be added to your Facebook feed.
Actions that need to be taken.
Creativity and bravery and conviction that needs to be found and used and shared.

One conversation: Ask your HR department what services and support they are offering to people of color who are suffering real PTSD as they try to show up to work in the wake of two black men being murdered by police within a 24 hour period? http://fortune.com/2016/07/07/police-shootings-black-employers/

Some books:
Justice in America: the separate realities of blacks and whites (Mark Peffley)
The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander)

Some Facebook pages:
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Southern Poverty Law Center

Some places to give money:

This post is rough and far from perfect. It never will be perfect and it could always be better. Please have this conversation with me, especially my friends and family who feel mad or threatened or disbelieving at anything that I have put down here. We can do better and we need to do better. If it were me on either of those videos being shot and killed by police, would you react differently? If so, why? Let's start there.

I wrote this because I know there are people I love, good-hearted, educated people, who do not see these stories on their news feeds. People who don't know what to do. People who do not believe that this is a real problem. Good people who know me and love me and try hard to make a difference in the world. We are the ones who need to work to change this.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Morning coffee

In the night when I wake up to go pee, which never used to happen, I still carefully navigate the floor to make sure I don't step on a dog who isn't there anymore. It's been a week and two days.

This morning as I heated up a cup of coffee in the microwave, careful to grab it and open the door before the beep sounded because I hope to get a few minutes of solitude before the kids wake up, I noticed the eagerness in my body. The anticipation. Coffee. Mmmmm. I love it.

"You know this is an addiction right?" my friend Brian, the barista, asked me one morning. Not because he was trying to be a dick but because that's who he was. Serving up truth to the masses who waited for him to pour them drinks and top them with latte art. He's the one who taught me the term "latte art".

Six years ago..probably closer to seven, I moved into a loft apartment on Third and Mariposa. The building is still on the corner, though it used to be across from a broken down building and now it's across from the new hospital. When my roommate and I got the keys that first day we found the place, a friend from growing up told me to meet her down the street on 22nd at a restaurant called Piccino. It sat on a corner too and there we ate oysters and drank rose and generally toasted the feeling of being young, thirty-two, and free. It was a time filled with hope because it I was making decisions based on what I really wanted to do, not based on what I thought the good or nice or appropriate thing to do was. I lost a friend in the process, which I wish hadn't happened, but the rest of life felt good. Actually, I was just starting a job that it turned out I hated, but the rest of life felt good. Well, ok, it felt a lot like life with some good days and some lonely, sad days. But I do know that the time I lived there was a time of feeling free and extremely myself. Brian and Piccino were a big part of that.

Every morning I would walk Sadie down the loud, metal stairs from our top-floor loft down to the street. My bedroom wasn't on the very top floor but it was still a couple flights of stairs up and down, with no elevator, which was fine for Sadie at the time and fine for me too except if I was trying to move furniture or carry groceries. It was a cool, funky building that felt like a 2009 version of what San Francisco Melrose Place might have looked like except we weren't friends with any of the neighbors and the guy immediately below us hated us for being loud. The time we flooded my bathroom and it leaked into their apartment probably didn't help either. It was very cool though. Cool-looking and in a cool part of town that I knew nothing about, except for vague memories of coming nearby to go to the Espirit outlet as a child with my mom and then once driving down a dirt road, with orange cones in a spread, into a deserted, blank neighborhood where I tried to find the nightclub SnoDrift when I was in my early 20's. It was a new land for me, Dog Patch adjacent, and I was surprised to find that it really suited me. It wasn't traditionally beautiful--very industrial without much greenery. But the weather was warm, it was easy to get to Oakland where I worked, and I could walk get to SoMa or the ballpark. There was a good sushi restaurant on the corner called Moshi Moshi, which is still there. There was fancy restaurant a few blocks down called Serpentine, which is still there. There was a locals bar down on 22nd called. . .something to do with a dog I think, which is still there and which turned out to be owned by the father of one of the hottest guys at my high school. . .swoon, I digress. It was a cool place to live and it was on the cusp, or in the middle, of getting more developed. By the time we were moving out, only a year and a half later, the broke-down structure across the street was getting torn down to make way for the multi-billion dollar new children's hospital.

So every morning Sadie and I would walk down the stairs and head up Mariposa or down 3rd, on our way to the little park hidden a few blocks away. She and I had our friends there. Depending on how much time we had we'd either hang there for a while or keep walking down two more blocks to 22nd, to Piccino. I told you about the restaurant on the corner with the oysters. I haven't told you about the coffee. . . shop? Wrong word. Pocket. The coffee pocket. A town hall of sorts.

It was a door in the middle of the block that opened into a room about the size of public restroom with three stalls. It bore no resemblance to a restroom. It was bright and sweet and pretty, simply so. There were two stools near the one window that opened out to the street. Once I started going every day I would try to snag one of those so I could see Sadie outside, laying on the sidewalk by the window. She bit more than a few people there. . .well, maybe not actually bit but reacted to, acted like she was going to bite. Brian scolded me for that after several months.

There were the two window stools and beyond that a small bench against one of the walls. That was it for seating. The rest of the small space was a rectangle of floor facing the barista's space which was just  big enough to work through the hour-long list of drinks. Hour-long because there were so many people and it was slow-drip, single-cup coffee. No frozen, whipped, flavored anything. Drip coffee. Espresso. Cappuccino. Latte. Americano. Gibraltar. Iced coffee brewed overnight to be super-strong, made with a little sweetened milk.

I'm outgoing and shy, depending on the place and the circumstances. I was usually in and out, ordering my drink, waiting and quiet. I do not know what drew Brian to draw me in. I can't imagine I made small talk because in the small space, with him performing a coffee symphony, talking to the others in or right outside the door, it would have felt like talking on stage. However it happened, he and I became friends and he introduced me to some of his other regulars, his friends, in a way that went something like "Christine, this is Megan. Megan, this is Christine. You are both awesome." A benediction.

Brian is tall and lanky, with brown eyes and brown hair. He sometimes wore funky, 70's eyeglasses that I don't think helped him to see. He played great music anytime he was there. He ran that place and he was spectacular. He was smooth, talked to people in a way that made us feel good, made great coffee. I mean, great.

He taught me about anxiety, for which I will always be grateful. That sounds like a funny thing to say. Somehow in one of our morning chats, that happened in between drinks in the moments before he got another rush and I had to leave, he talked to me about his social anxiety that he often suffered from though almost never when he was behind the counter. He told me I was anxious and it was this moment of Ohhhhhhh. He was right, I was. I just didn't know to call it that. I thought anxious was people feeling nervous in a crowd, nervous meeting new people. I didn't know that my constant experience of having my mind constantly running, like an engine, like a propeller, like a voice-over from a film I would have liked to watch, a stream of questions of why am I like this, what is that person thinking, how would it be different if I said this and he said that. . .that was anxiety. In some ways he gave me to myself. I was able to switch a bit from "how can I stop thinking so much?" to "My mind is racing, I must be anxious about something, let me sit with that and be in it to see what happens."

That neighborhood, the walks Sadie and I took to and fro our place and Piccino, the morning greetings between me and the handful of people we always saw, the chats with Brian and later with Noah and with Christine and with the sexy heart surgeon and with some of the others I saw a lot, it was the place and the time that I started to claim who I am and who I want to be. I was being myself and people were looking right at me and opening the doors of themselves to let me in further. It felt so good.

More than a decade ago I started an essay about coffee and the different rituals around it, just in my own life. Of how different two different Mr Coffees can be and how I need to learn how to make coffee every time the apparatus changes. Of the different people I've made coffee for in the mornings, the powdered Nespresso and sweet milk I drank in the mornings in Madrid, of the way I feel sitting alone with a hot cup of coffee with a touch of milk. The happiness it gives me. The peace and solitude.

We are layers upon layers of our different stories, our different morning windows or tables or street corners. The stairs walking out of the metro station into the light that start out new and become commonplace. The shadows of many hats previously worn sit on my head, in my heart, and sometimes burst forth in fits of longing, of mourning for times done forever, of the realization that I won't go back there again. Some of this comes right to the surface when a fifteen-year-old dog dies, because our time together, the streets we walked together, stretch back to when I was twenty-five and through all the things that have begun and ended since then.