Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It's Always Something

     After only five days, Spartacus and I have just about gotten settled into our new East Atlanta digs. We're renting loft space in the library of an old elementary school in Kirkwood--it's the largest unit in the complex, and unfortunately, it's still on the market for sale. The owner of this place got her theology degree and moved to Indiana last month to open a church. She lived here for about 7 1/2 years, and to be honest, didn't do a lot with the place: the kitchen is in sore need of updating, the floors are bare concrete, the bathtub and kitchen sink are in desperate need of new caulk, and there are some issues with lighting which necessitate the presence of exposed electrical cords. Depending on how you look at it, it's either quaint or a victim of neglect. Nevertheless, she really wants to sell this place, and as per our rental agreement, if she finds a buyer, we'll have 60 days to relocate. Spartacus and I both own homes, which we choose to rent, because in today's market, selling is largely a losing proposition. We're both making our monthly mortgages with the rental income. We've retained the service of an excellent rental management company, and so far, it's been an acceptable alternative to selling. Neither of us really wants to own a home again; it's been nice not to feel "tied down."
     As a homeowner for the last 20+ years, I've learned how to do many handyman chores myself, such as the correct way to recaulk a tub. You have to remove all of the old caulk, and before recaulking, you have to dry the seams out with denatured alcohol to eliminate any accumulated moisture between the tub and backwall. Then, you run a smooth, continuous bead of caulk between the tub and the tile. You have to do it properly the first time; otherwise, you'll end up with raggedy, peeling caulk after a few showers, as well as a potential mildew problem. It amazes me that people routinely seem to overlook this kind of problem. I've replaced leaking toilets, sanded and refinished hardwood floors, installed concealed under-cabinet lighting and ceiling fans, changed out sink faucets, and troubleshooted and repaired an ice maker. I know how to find studs in the walls and how to change a circuit breaker. Most of this stuff, I learned from helping my ex-husband with various projects, but nowadays, you can learn how to do just about any household task online. There are amazing tutorial videos on youtube that walk you through nearly any project you can imagine, step by step.
     Before we moved in, we had the walls of this place painted white. The owner had it painted brick-red, sort of tomb-like, and the master bedroom was painted a poopy-brown color...ugh! I cannot imagine sleeping in a bedroom, surrounded by 4 dingy, brown walls. I can understand having a brown accent wall, but not an entirely brown bedroom! The white paint has really made a difference, freshening and opening up the space, making it look light and airy against the concrete floors. There are two skylights, which let in a lot of natural light during the day. One of these, she had covered up with a bed sheet, suspended by shower rings between two metal beams. Spartacus said it reminded him of a shabby Cirque du Soleil, so we immediately took that down. I've already gotten the owner's permission to install some track lighting to improve the ambient light situation. The ceiling lights here are rather hideous, consisting of a cluster of three adjustable lamps, several sockets of which are dead on a couple of the fixtures. With lighting (as with anything else), you pretty much get what you pay for. I happen to have lots of interesting, nice lamps which compensate for the poor overhead lighting, but last night, when we were assembling our pain-in-the-ass Design Within Reach bookshelves, it would have been nice to have some decent light as we completed that task.
     On Sunday, Spartacus and I were in Rome, moving our second truckload of stuff. I got a call from Ackerman, our Atlanta security company, that there had been a "loss of supervision." We have someone from Ackerman scheduled to come tomorrow to troubleshoot the front door sensors, and suspected that was what accounted for the interruption in monitoring. The only way someone could break into this place would be to smash a window, and since Ackerman didn't report a glass break alarm, we weren't worried about it. We resumed packing our truck, and didn't get back to Atlanta until 8 p.m that evening. On Monday, the realtor with whom this place is listed, who also happens to be our landlord, called to apologize for any confusion, informing me that an agent had shown our place on Sunday. Neither of us had received an advance phone call, which I believe is the usual protocol for showing property when someone is living there. Thank goodness the dogs weren't home yet, because that could have been a real fiasco! He told me that another potential buyer wanted to come and see the place on Wednesday or Thursday, and that, after this guy had seen it, there would probably be no action again for months. It's a little unsettling to have people looking at your place as you are moving in. This is probably the biggest downside to renting; this place really isn't ours. To make matters worse, we've made the place look great! Who wouldn't want to buy it, after seeing our cool furniture and the way we've arranged the kitchen and living space?
     Yesterday, our landlord came by at 4 p.m. with a female realtor and a prospective buyer to peruse the property. The entire time they were here, I thought the woman was the man's wife, and that our landlord was the one showing the place. It wasn't until Spartacus alerted me to the fact that she was his realtor, and not his wife, that it all began to make sense. The realtor, who apparently knows nothing about plumbing went on excitedly about how the buyer, a 30-something unkempt-looking dude who was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and didn't appear too homeowner savvy, could install a second bathroom. I guess she doesn't realize that this place is not plumbed for a second bathroom. If it were approved by the homeowner's association and the building inspector, a project like that would easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. She described the kitchen as "not updated, but with a 1950s vintage feel." One can only assume she didn't see the peeling laminate counter tops, the cheap cabinetry, the old white appliances, or the IKEA pendant lamps, dangling precariously above the stove. (I have since installed under cabinet lighting, as well as LED lighting over the stove).
     Before they left, the realtor remarked to me about what "good taste" I have in furniture and decorating, especially for having just moved into a place like this. For some reason, it came across as condescending. Having the property shown five days after we moved in had already been disruptive and intrusive enough, and although I'm sure she was probably being genuine in her compliment, it annoyed me. Her client seemed to like this loft a lot, but we couldn't really tell how serious he was. He may have just been humoring her.  Most buyers want two bathrooms, covered parking, and an updated kitchen. This place has none of those things. It would also take a person with a lot of artistic vision to deal with open space like this...the only real rooms here are the bedrooms and the bathroom. I didn't get the impression that this cat possessed such vision. However, this place IS perfect for me and Spartacus, and we dread the thought of moving again. The owner has this property listed for $238K, which I doubt she could ever get. She paid $289K for this place, back in 2004; other lofts in this same complex are going for considerably less, and they've all been updated with new kitchens and hardwood floors. Our contract says we have the right to first refusal, and at this point, we're both so exhausted from moving twice in ten months, that we're tempted to buy it, in the event that someone makes an offer. That being said, I suppose it's possible we could find an even cooler place to rent in this area. It's always something, isn't it? As Spartacus said yesterday, "You get rid of one worry, and another one takes its place." I guess I need to stop worrying, until I have something to worry about. For now, the unpacking, rearranging, and meeting of neighbors will continue. I will alert the landlord about the need for recaulking. Letting him worry about the recaulking will definitely result in a little less worry for me, but still, in the back of my mind, I'll be wondering if that's a job I could have done better myself.
    

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

WWHD? (What Would Hippocrates Do?)

     For those of you who think the American healthcare system is superior to that of Canada's socialized medicine infrastructure because "we don't have to wait for services like they do", let me reassure you that you are sorely mistaken. As a physician who happens to be the mother of 21 year old twins with cystic fibrosis (CF), I consider myself somewhat of an expert in what it's like to actually utilize our current system. Nick, Rory, their father, and nowadays, their girlfriends, and I have spent two decades waiting in doctor's offices, living in hospital rooms, and dealing with the ongoing nightmare of insurance companies whose main function appears to be limiting access to healthcare through the use of idiot gatekeepers who routinely use pre-printed algorithms, without rhyme or reason, to deny claims and specialized CF medications. Every hospital's billing department is a hot mess (NOT in a good way), making it necessary to go over every single bill, of which there are dozens per year, with a fine-toothed comb. Trust me, I find LOTS of errors.
     How is it that we, as a society, continue to justify healthcare as a business, profiting from disease, instead of preventing it? I wonder if the general public is aware that we are giving bilateral knee replacements to super-morbidly obese people, seemingly without any pre-surgical weight loss recommendations, just because they received a green light from their insurance provider? Clearly, these patients are not good surgical candidates for a variety of reasons. They are at significant risk for all sorts of life-threatening intra-operative and post-operative surgical and anesthetic complications, ranging from hypoxemia due to obstructive sleep apnea to cardiac arrest from surgically-induced stress. Someone who has a body mass index over 50 kg/m2 is not going to jump out of bed onto his or her new knees to go on a three mile jog. If they make it through their post-operative course without a wound infection, a deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, or a respiratory arrest, they're still just as likely to continue riding around the supermarket in their motorized scooters. At best, they'll get off of their narcotic pain medicines because their knees no longer hurt, but for the most part, they will remain just as unmotivated to modify their diets as before. Then, there's the tricky issue of smokers with lung cancer or coronary artery disease. How is it that we routinely offer operations to people who demonstrate no initiative or personal accountability for risk factor modification, e.g. a firm commitment to tobacco cessation? Isn't there something screwed up about this? Are we honoring the ethical principle of distributive justice by resecting lung tumors and performing coronary artery bypasses on people who are actively engaged in killing themselves, with absolutely no inclination to stop smoking after surgery? 
     If you think our system isn't already rationing healthcare, think again. Our rationing is the worst kind of all: people who have insurance generally get healthcare, while those who aren't insured, often because they are self-employed and can't afford it, have to pay out of pocket for it. Our rationing isn't rooted in the principles of medical ethics, it's based on the almighty dollar. In case you're a completely healthy person who's never personally reviewed a clinic or hospital bill, they are often hundreds to thousands of dollars. In the interest of maintaining an acceptable profit margin, hospitals mark up the cost of things like aspirin, usually by a factor of five, meaning that you get charged a quarter for a pill that normally costs five cents. That may not sound like much, but believe me, it all adds up. For instance, when my sons require hospital admissions for cystic fibrosis tune-ups, I receive an 8 or 9 page bill which includes a $900 charge for "self-administered" medications during a 24 hour stay. This means that every time a nurse brings my sons their pancreatic enzymes to take with their meals, they are charged not only for the medication, but for the "privilege" of administering it to themselves.
     There are millions of people in this country who are uninsured. Contrary to what you may think, many of them are everyday people, just like you and me, who by some stroke of misfortune are either unemployed or cannot afford to purchase their own insurance. If you've never had to look for a personal insurance plan, they are prohibitively expensive. Under our current system, if you have a pre-existing condition, you may wait anywhere from 6 months to a year before your insurance will cover any expenses related to that problem. (This type of discrimination is slated to be eliminated in 2014). One of my biggest concerns as a parent of children with chronic disease is what will happen after they turn 26? Both of them are musicians...how are they going to obtain health insurance once I can no longer cover them? Will they be able to find an affordable plan? They are both motivated and compliant patients who are rigorous about taking their medications and performing pulmonary treatments several times a day. Through no fault of their own, they are sick. Why are they less deserving of reasonably-priced insurance coverage than a smoker or a morbidly obese person, who happens to have the luxury of being covered by his or her company's plan? Should my sons' livelihoods be based strictly upon whether or not they can get a job that provides insurance? Is that what life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is all about? What if they were your kids?
     Indeed, the American dream, at least in terms of access to healthcare, seems to be limited to those who can afford it. Opponents of socialized medicine want you to believe that people in dire need of medications or operations are dying because they have to wait for them, that physicians in those countries are grossly underpaid, that it's cumbersome and inefficient. My Canadian cousins, as well as several American-trained Canadian physicians that I know personally, heartily disagree. They shake their heads in disbelief at the state of healthcare in the United States. Indeed, one may have to wait for an elective procedure, but elective procedures aren't "necessary" in the first place. They know that if they are sick, they will receive treatment because their government considers healthcare a right, and everyone taxpayer pays for national coverage. In case you're unaware, we have an abundance of healthcare horror stories and inefficiency in this country. We have an unacceptable number of homeless women walking around with huge, fungating breast cancers, who don't seek care until their disease has metastasized because they don't have insurance...they're not in possession of the necessary "golden ticket." The only means of help available to these women is to stand in line all day at a free clinic, if there happens to be one available. Stories like this sometimes get national attention on shows like Dr. Oz. We sympathize with these women, but then, we go back to our business and forget about them, and the thousands just like them, who are living amongst us from coast to coast. Would you feel the same if one of these women were your mother?
     Even those of us with insurance have to wade through shitpiles of bureaucracy to get the help we need. Yesterday, my son, Rory, went to Emory to get a PICC line (long term IV catheter) for home IV antibiotics. We found out at 5 p.m. that the antibiotics never got ordered because of multiple layers of miscommunication within the clinic system. What should have been a simple, straightforward coordination of services between the clinic and the home health provider turned out to be a day long ordeal, disrupting not only his life, but resulting in an unacceptable delay in his therapy. We were only able to speak to his doctor after I threatened to register a complaint with the patient care representative. Unfortunately, our system can't handle simple matters like this because there are too many middle men, too much red tape. The whole idea behind keeping Rory out of the hospital was to prevent him from being unnecessarily exposed to the hospital's nasty germs, to prevent him from missing another day of work, and to avoid being charged for inpatient hospitalization, which because of the way deductibles work, would have ended up costing a couple thousand dollars. Everything that needed to be done for him could have been done at home. The only glitch was that Infectious Disease (I.D.) is the hospital service that writes the antibiotic orders, and because their clinic has "manpower" issues, it's easier for I.D. to have Rory admitted and have him evaluated by them there. This is not only ridiculous, it's unacceptable. To subject a motivated, compliant patient like Rory to hospitalization out of convenience for the institution, not because it's what's best for him, is ludicrous.
     I'd like to invite everyone who opposes national healthcare to spend a day in Rory's shoes. He, and his brother, Nick, have spent their lives waiting, waiting again, and then, waiting some more. Not only have they waited, but as adults, they now have to worry about whether they'll be able to procure health insurance after they turn 26. No one in this great country of ours, a wealthy superpower with one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world, should EVER have to worry about something like this. Health care is a right, not a privilege. It is also a personal responsibility, something which our current system does very little to emphasize or reinforce. As a society, I believe we all shoulder the responsibility for ensuring that American citizens have equal access to healthcare, whatever it takes. I'd personally prefer paying for universal coverage for all Americans, than paying into a system which continues to make millionaires out of insurance and hospital CEOs. Twenty-five hundred years ago, Hippocrates said, "Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity." I think he'd probably agree with those of us who support national health insurance. A humanistic society puts its people, not the love of money, first; to me, that's what ensures that all of us can enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves, we'd find a way to make universal coverage work.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Comfortable Sense of Anonymity

     I've spent the last three days in transit from Rome to Atlanta, GA, and my feet are killing me! I actually have a blister on the side of the ball of my right foot, which I'm guessing my sneakers rubbed, going up and down a flight of 21 stairs at our old place at least a thousand times in the last 72 hours. Spartacus and I packed and unloaded two 17 foot trucks ourselves. The first truck, which we packed on Thursday night, contained all of our boxed stuff, from medical books to dinnerware to the routers and switches Spartacus uses for his IT network troubleshooting. It also housed the infamous red futon sofa, which was responsible for the only cross words Spartacus and I exchanged this entire weekend.
     Aside from being about a hundred pounds of dead weight, the three back sections of this sofa are adjustable, so that one can recline at various angles or lie completely flat. Once flattened, it is roughly the size of a queen size bed. The first problem was maneuvering this unwieldy piece of furniture through the back door. Our truck was parked out back, in front of this door, because all of the furniture Spartacus and I needed to move was located in the downstairs apartment. The standard-sized door opening would not easily permit such a wide couch to pass through. Neither of us could remember how the guy who delivered it several months ago had gotten it in. Because it was a brand-new piece of furniture, I was worried about soiling the bright red fabric, so we shrouded it up with blankets first. Then, we proceeded with our initial attempt to transport it through the door.
     The sofa was so heavy, I could barely lift my end, not to mention the fact that there was literally nothing I could grab onto, other than cushion. After numerous unsuccessful tries with the couch in various angled configurations, I suggested it might work better if we flattened it out. This presented another problem because every time we tried to pick it up, the three back cushions immediately flopped back into their reclined positions. Every time we'd try lifting it, Spartacus and I seemed to oppose one other, resulting in a completely negative work effort. Exasperated, I exclaimed, "We are not communicating!" Spartacus disagreed, "No, we're communicating just fine. We just need to move the futon upright so we can get it through the door." Well, duh! I reminded him that I was the one who'd come up with the idea of flattening the sofa in the first place, prompting him to admonish, "Don't be a smart ass!" This shut both of us up temporarily. I thought to myself, "Oh no...is this how the rest of our night's gonna go?"
     With an uncomfortable silence between us, we got back to work, flipping the sofa so that the movable back pieces were now brushing the floor, with the thought that we'd be better able to lift it from the seat's base. For me, it was still prohibitively heavy. At this point, I had tears in my eyes because I was so frustrated, and I told Spartacus, "This is the only time in life I wish I had a penis! I just don't have the physical strength to pick this thing up! We need someone else to come and help us!" Spartacus devised a solution. We'd flip the futon so the seat base rested on a furniture dolly, and we'd brace the moving back cushions to prevent them from folding as we rolled it upright through the door. This was still a pain in the ass, but it worked, and we finally got the couch loaded. We still had a night's worth of work ahead of us to get this truck loaded and ready for our move the following day. Spartacus and I looked at each other and apologized for snapping, acknowledging that we were tired, hungry, and stressed. This quickly alleviated the awkwardness we'd both been feeling for the last 30 minutes. The cumbersome red futon became an "inside joke" for the rest of our move. I am happy to report that this move ended up being rather light-hearted, with plentiful laughter to offset the pain of our aching 50 year old joints.
     We didn't leave Rome on Friday until almost 3 pm. This put us squarely in the midst of Atlanta afternoon traffic, a joy and pleasure I'll now become reacquainted with. Our movers were already waiting for us at our new place. Neither Spartacus nor I had seen our loft since its brick-red walls had been painted white, and when I opened the door and saw it for the first time, it took my breath away. The space now looked huge and inviting, highlighting the cool grey concrete floors, the exposed ductwork, and the mile-high ceilings. I still can't believe how quickly the moving guys brought all of our furniture in. Spartacus had gotten stuck in traffic while driving our truck, so I directed the movers in positioning the furniture while I waited for him to arrive. All of our furniture made it without a scratch, and the only missing item was a shelf pin for our office credenza. That's an easy fix.
     Spartacus and I unloaded our truck, backing its ramp right up to our rear entrance. This made it really easy to carry all of our boxes directly into the loft from the truck, saving lots of extra footwork by avoiding the front door. It took us about 3 hours to finish unloading. This time around, we knew how to best manipulate the red futon, so it wasn't such a big ordeal. Famished and exhausted after nearly 24 hours of non-stop lifting, as well as repeatedly negotiating the long stairwell at our old place, we felt we had solidly earned a late-night dinner. Although the restaurants in our urban neighborhood are only a couple of blocks away, we were too tired to walk. We drove down to Kirkwood's main drag, and found every restaurant and bar hopping, alive with people who were enthusiastically chatting at their candlelit tables. It felt good to be back in a big city, exciting and ripe with possibility. We walked into The Pullman, sat down at the bar, ordered a couple of Guinness draughts, and began to relax. No one here has any idea who we are, what we do, or where we came from, restoring the comfortable sense of anonymity we've sorely missed living in a small town for the last ten months. We are free to start again, to be whoever we want to be. After thoroughly enjoying our dinner, we collapsed into bed, worn out but refreshed, happy to be home, relieved to be back in a place where everybody is a nobody, even those who are pretty sure they're "somebody."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Custom Borne of Necessity

     It's the day before we move to Atlanta, and our loft has been taken over by row after row of cardboard boxes of all sizes, rapidly dwindling rolls of green bubble wrap, spent shipping tape dispensers, and a mild state of panic. I awoke from fitful sleep at 0330, my mind racing. "How am I going to pack these pots and pans? They're all so heavy! How are Spartacus and I going to load this truck ourselves? Are we going to be ready when the movers come for the furniture tomorrow morning?" Yesterday, I got most of the kitchen packed, and was amazed at how much stuff I have. It's all stuff that I needed at one time, or thought I needed. Stuff like tiny glass bowls in graduated sizes and shapes, from minuscule ones that hold about a tablespoon to square ones with a capacity of 8 ounces.
     Why would anyone need so many wee glass bowls? Maybe it's something only a parent of children with cystic fibrosis could understand. When Nick and Rory were infants, their father and I had to figure out a way to give them pancreatic enzymes so they could digest the fat in my breastmilk. The enzymes come in capsules, full of tiny "beads". We'd break open a capsule, mix the beads with rice cereal and milk, and spoon feed them to our poor underweight babies who technically weren't even old enough for solid food. Those enzymes were truly miraculous. As soon as the boys started receiving them, their weight shot up before our eyes; they went from shriveled, malnourished-looking sacs of skin and bone to chubby-cheeked and legged bundles of energy. These tiny glass bowls were just the perfect size for mixing up the enzymes. After Nick and Rory could swallow pills, I used the bowls to hold various dips for carrots, apples, and homemade chicken nuggets. Over time, I amassed an entire army of little glass bowls. I was/am a big believer in arranging plates that are whimsical and attractive, especially for young children. Serving toddler-sized portions of mixed vegetables in these tiny bowls made it easy for the boys to use their spoons to get every last morsel, instead of chasing rogue peas around with their forks.
     Believe it or not, I use these bowls on a daily basis, some sizes more than others. I rarely use the tiniest ones anymore, unless it's to contain wasabi mustard in the event that we have take-out sushi. The medium-sized ones are great for a very small scoop of ice cream. Because the scoop completely fills the bowl, it fools me into thinking it's a full-sized portion, sort of a culinary trompe de l'oeil effect. Serving ice cream in this manner warrants the use of a spoon that harmonizes with the Lilliputian scale. I have an impressive collection of demitasse spoons which I've accidentally borrowed from a number of fine restaurants; the one from Chez Panisse is silver-plated and is my most prized miniature utensil. The larger bowls are wonderful for soup or fruit salad. If you're one of those people that can't stand having your food mixed together on the plate, employing a small bowl or two will assist in keeping it all separated.
     Now that Nick and Rory are grown and out of the house, the only person I regularly cook for is Spartacus. Even though he's a 50 year old man, I still enjoy arranging his plate of grub. Our dinner plates are a mismatched set of brightly colored and patterned Polish ceramicware, lending an eclectic, funky look to our meals. On soup and sandwich days, I'll serve blue corn tortilla chips or baby carrots with a teeny bowl of hummus on the side. If it's a take-out Thai food kind of evening, I'll use the boys' old "bead" bowls to hold the tamari-rice vinegar sauce for dipping our spring rolls into. These diminutive vessels represent a no-risk, high-yield marriage of portion control and visual appeal where form begets function, fully justifying my predilection for their continued use. It's a custom borne of necessity, and old habits die hard. I have one remaining square glass bowl to pack, and then, I'll attack the next project. I'm thinking hard about what to keep and what to donate. I don't really need all these coffee mugs and wine glasses; their versatility pales in comparison to that of my itty-bitty bowls. Indeed, every one of these glass bowls will be coming to our new home with us tomorrow. I just hope they'll survive the transit!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Always Coming Home

      It's pre-moving day #3, and I am already worn out. Yesterday, after writing my blog in record time, I commenced with the final stages of packing. It is amazing how much stuff Spartacus and I have accumulated. First, I started with my side of the bedroom, emptying out the night stand drawers, sorting through old receipts, spent gift cards, makeup samples from magazines, and a dizzying collection of green Floyd Medical Center pens. I went through my closet, and was dismayed to find two boxes of I-couldn't-remember-what from our last move. Plowing through those, I discovered old photos of me and my parents, a travel jewelry box that I've been searching for since we moved here, a crashed Mac laptop, two old cell phones, a brand new cake plate and server, and assorted Victoria's Secret push-up strips and gel petals. The gel petals keep my nipples from showing in my favorite knit halter top, and over the last 10 months, I've had to resort to using the old standby, Band-Aids. After getting all that stuff sorted out, I proceeded to the dining area, where all of our artwork stood ready to be packaged. Packing sculptures, especially the delicate ones my father made from soap or wax, is an exercise in anal-retentiveness, and I almost considered calling an art store to see if there was someone who could help me. I ended up creating special boxes out of regular boxes for these pieces, wrapped in double or triple bubble wrap, and bolstered by styrofoam. The last time we moved, I wasn't as careful, and somehow, each piece survived intact. Today, I will be on a quest to find a large roll of brown postal paper in which to wrap the large paintings, including the 36x48 portrait of Nick, Rory, and their friends, Willie and Chad, that I still have to complete. Thank goodness I have a Honda Fit; the cargo space in that little car is incredible! I moved my entire kitchen in it in one fell swoop back in April; I anticipate it will serve me just as well this go-around.  I am desperately trying to avoid the last minute frenzy we experienced last time, where we randomly threw stuff into boxes while the movers were loading the truck. This move has been a bit more organized, mainly because I'm not working right now. Every box that Spartacus and I have packed is labelled with all of its contents, a "K" for kitchen or "D" for dining room, and any fragile items, like the sculptures, are in their own separate pile to be placed directly in my car.
     Although we hired a moving company, we are still going to have to pack a 17 foot truck ourselves on Thursday night. Had we elected to pay the movers to pack and move everything, we'd have been looking at close to $10,000, and even if we packed everything ourselves and just had them move furniture, it still would have been around $4,000. Spartacus and I decided to move the furniture from the downstairs apartment, as well as all of the boxes we've packed by ourselves, bringing this move down to a manageable $1577.00. I am envisioning being completely finished with all the important packing by Thursday afternoon, so we can quickly load the truck. Good thing I've increased my upper body resistance training from using 8 lb to 10 lb dumbbells; I'm going to need all the strength I can possibly get! For a man of 50, Spartacus is freakishly strong, and is capable of lifting armchairs and other unwieldy objects, unassisted.
     Because our new place has a washer and dryer, we are leaving our old ones here, sold for $225 to our landlord. Hopefully, that will be a selling point for his next tenants. I bought them new when I purchased my house in Atlanta, back in October of 2005, along with a stainless steel GE Profile side-by-side custom refrigerator. The idiot that renovated the kitchen didn't allow adequate space for the refrigerator door to open all the way. In order to keep the refrigerator door from being dented by the pantry doorknob, you had to open that door first. Getting the refrigerator to fit in that cramped space was an even bigger challenge, requiring removal of the baseboard on the right hand side. One time, the water dispenser quit working, so I researched how to fix it myself. Our home warranty didn't cover the dispenser, and I figured it would be very expensive to have a service technician come out. I determined that it was a bad motherboard, and ordered a new one from Amazon.com. In order to replace the motherboard, we had to move the refrigerator from its enclosure to unplug it; while we had it out, I'd also be able to clean all the shelves and bins. It took 4 men and a couple of hours to maneuver the fridge from its tight quarters. After replacing the motherboard, the water dispenser still didn't work, so my son, Nick, got online with a FixYa guy, while the rest of us attempted to discern what else could be wrong. I got down on the floor, and noticed a badly corroded electrical wire coming from the very bottom of the freezer door. I spliced out the damaged section, reconnected the wires with an appropriately sized crimp, and voila, the problem was solved. Obviously, it wasn't the motherboard after all. My research had revealed that motherboards are prone to dysfunction, so it was nice to know we had a brand new one, with a back up tucked away, just in case.
     My plan for today is to get the downstairs area shored up and ready to go. It is about 90% packed. All that really remains for me to do is to remove a couple of framed prints from the walls, and spackle and paint over the nail holes. I need to sort through the toiletries in the bathroom down there, and figure out which items to keep. For years, I've saved soaps, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and sewing kits from the various hotels in which I've stayed, and I'm thinking those would be appropriate for donating to a homeless shelter. The towels and linens should fit nicely inside the lidded crates which serve as end tables in the living area. All of the lamps have been disassembled. The flat panel TV will need to be unplugged and wrapped in blankets, and all three of our TVs will travel to Atlanta by car. I still need to unload our upright freezer. Boris, our 16 year old kitty, will remain in the laundry room until we return to Rome on Monday; he'll be happier in there than at the vet. Our dogs, Simon and Lilly, will be boarded on Thursday afternoon. All three pets will come back with us to Atlanta on Monday. I'm sure that afternoon is going to be a real treat. We'll have to figure out how to disconnect Boris's cat box from the water source and prepare it for transport, without it leaking poo water everywhere. Since we'll have about 20 new neighbors in our complex, we are anticipating that Simon and Lilly will now have some canine playmates. They are exceptionally well-behaved around other dogs, and for the most part, are a pleasure to walk. Even in  the midst of all this packing, I've been trying to make time to take them on  good long walks; it really wears them out and calms them down.  I need to use up my hour long massage gift certificate, so I will do that today or tomorrow. The hours of packing really strain my back and neck, and a massage will be therapeutic and relaxing.
     All in all, this move is coming together. It is 7:48 a.m., and I am going to proof-read what I've just written, brush my teeth, and let my breakfast digest while I pack up some canned goods and utensils. Then, I will do a 50 minute run on the treadmill. After that, I'll shower, and go out in search of brown paper and more boxes. Steve, the guy who runs the nutrition store in our building, has been saving all his boxes for me, and that's been a huge help, not to mention a real money-saver. I will then make a run to the liquor store for partitioned boxes in which to pack the remaining dishes and glassware. We're running perilously low on bubble wrap and shipping tape, so a visit to Home Depot is also in order. Looks like I've got another full day ahead. In the meantime, our new place is being painted, the red walls replaced by a fresh coat of white, a transformation which will make that space seem much lighter. I can't wait to see it when we arrive Friday afternoon. I'm already thinking about what we'll have for dinner Friday night, back in our new-old town of Atlanta, the city I've been trying to escape from since I was in my 20s, but to which I always seem to return. The hardest part about moving to Rome was living so far away from my 21 year old sons, Nick and Rory. It was the first time we'd been separated by more than just a couple of miles, and before we moved last April, I cried every day on the commute home from my job here in Rome. I've missed them and their friends so much. Spartacus and I both have family in the metro Atlanta area, and hopefully, we'll get to see more of them now. It's funny because I've actually seen more of my mom in the last 3 months than I have in the last 3 or 4 years; she lives north of Atlanta, and Rome is only a 45 minute drive. It's been great spending time with her and my 4 year old niece, Jerney. In a way, I guess my heart has never really left Atlanta. It is where I met my first husband, the father of my children. It is where Nick and Rory were born, and where they graduated from high school. It is where they live, work, and love. It is where I had my first job as an anesthesiologist, fresh out of residency, and where I met some of my best friends. It is where Spartacus and I met and married. I've lived in Macon and Rome, both unique towns with their own personality and charm. Although it's been nice to be out of the big city pollution and traffic, Atlanta's skyline has a way of reminding me that I'm always coming home.
A photo I found while packing: Mom, me, & Dad, early 1960s

Monday, February 20, 2012

Much Ado About Boris

     Perhaps the biggest logistical problem with our move back to Atlanta has been what to do about Boris, Spartacus's 16 year old cat. Spartacus watched Boris and his sister, Natasha, being born when "Mama" had her kittens, and Boris has long outlived them both, confirming the notion that some cats really do have nine lives. When we got married, we'd just gotten our German Short-Haired Pointer puppies, Simon and Lilly. Because Spartacus still had a house near his workplace in Alpharetta, Boris and Natasha stayed there, and he hung out with them everyday on his lunch break. We weren't sure how these old cats would get along with our energetic new puppies. After being unable to sell his house, Spartacus decided to rent it. He worked out a deal with the renters where Boris and Natasha would remain at that house in one of the extra rooms, and he'd come and check on them every day. They were willing to do this for a break in the rent, so it sounded like a reasonable plan. The night after these folks moved in, Spartacus found Natasha very sick and disoriented, and Boris, behind the washing machine with his jaw broken in two places. Unbelievable! Boris had surgery to repair his jaw, but Natasha, who was in florid renal failure, had to be put down. The renters, who'd already signed a lease, swore that they didn't do anything to injure the cats, and Spartacus was so stressed out and heartbroken, he decided not to pursue legal action.
     Boris came home to my house, a noisy place with teenaged twin boys, whose friends were constantly coming and going, along with two curious and crazy puppies. Being an introverted bachelor for all those years, Spartacus's house, in contrast to mine, was unnervingly quiet. When he and I started dating, I tried to bond with Boris and Natasha, whose exposure to humans was pretty much limited to Spartacus, but they wanted nothing to do with me. Both cats were tremendously undersocialized. For example, Natasha bit me when I got close enough to pet her one time, and Boris did nothing but hide from me inside the kitchen cabinets. Although they seemed to love Spartacus, they demonstrated no interest in developing a relationship with me. Maybe they were jealous of his new love interest, or perhaps they sensed that I am not a "cat person." I've been a cat owner in the past, and have found them to be spiteful and vindictive, as well as high maintenance, what with the cat litter and cat hair everywhere, the constant vomiting of hairballs, and, lest we forget, their adorable habit of scratching up your dining room table legs and ruining your upholstery. That being said, I do enjoy other people's sweet cats who purr and allow you to hold them.
     I believe animals have personalities, and our friend, Boris, qualifies as an Axis II personality disorder. Once we learned that he had an overactive thyroid gland and got him started on medication, he mellowed out a little bit, but I've still never gotten to pick him up and hold him. Boris lived downstairs in our old house. While he was there, he wreaked havoc with his claws on a perfectly good leather sofa. This infuriated me. Was this how he showed his appreciation for having such a nice place to live? Instead of declawing him, we opted for glue-on plastic claw covers, which prevented him from digging into the furniture. Now, if only there was an easy solution for his personality disorder.
     When we moved to Rome, Boris had the entire downstairs apartment to himself. We rigged up his self-cleaning cat box to the water source and drain pipe in the spare laundry room, obviating the need to scoop his cat litter. It was nice and quiet down there, except when we'd have company. When my mom and niece, or Nick and Rory and their friends came for overnight visits, Boris hid in the laundry room most of the time, but would begin loudly meowing at 5 a.m., waking everybody up. To keep him from messing up the brand new furniture, we had to keep all of it covered in aluminum foil; not very practical when you're trying to entertain. Another problem was his constant puking, along with his predilection for the white shag IKEA rug I'd just purchased. Invariably, no matter how much exposed hardwood flooring we have, Boris is going to puke on a rug or any suitable facsimile, e.g. bath mats, yoga mats, the belt of the treadmill. Hairballs smell worse than poo, and the odor is difficult to remove. I bought a steam cleaner, but we ended up having to toss out the IKEA rug anyway because, despite all our efforts to clean it, it was impossibly permeated with the stench of bile and undigested cat food. Yuck!
     Our new place has only one level, and the issue of how to best handle Boris has been a source of  consternation between Spartacus and me. The self-cleaning cat box requires both water and drainage sources, and has to be hooked up in either a bathroom or a laundry room. Since we only have one bathroom, the laundry area, which opens directly into the kichen, seemed to be the only possible alternative. I'm not crazy about the idea of having a cat box so close to the kitchen, nor am I excited about giving Boris free reign over the entire loft, especially because I've got some very nice wool rugs that I refuse to see destroyed. The thought of cat puke on these beautiful rugs induces in me a strong desire to upchuck. Initially, I thought that maybe we could encircle an area near the laundry with some room dividers to create an open enclosure for Boris. Spartacus didn't approve of this idea. He thinks Boris is depressed because he's being confined to the laundry room right now. In order to have our current place ready to show for potential renters, we needed to remove the aluminum foil from the furniture downstairs, restricting Boris to the laundry room so that I wouldn't be spending all my time, vacuuming his long white hair from the upholstery. Boris doesn't move around much. He is 16 years old, and I'm assuming he's probably a little bit senile. He sleeps 21 hours per day, so it is hard for me to understand how he could be depressed from a lack of roaming. If anything, he's depressed because Spartacus is gone so much now, commuting to and from Atlanta, leaving here at 6 a.m. and not returning most nights until after 8 p.m. He and Boris don't see much of each other anymore.
     Last Friday, the topic of our therapy session was going to be "Much Ado About Boris." Our therapist, Mark, is remarkable, and I thought he'd be able to help us get this thing figured out. I'd done a Google search about pet-related relationship problems, and learned that there are entire shows devoted to this phenomenon, such as "It's Me or the Dog." This verified to me that I am not alone in my cat-generated angst. As usual, Spartacus got stuck in Atlanta rush hour traffic, and wasn't able to make our appointment. So, Mark and I spent the entire hour, talking about Boris, his personality issues, his cat box, his cat hair, his puking, his thyroid problem, our bonding problems, Spartacus's genuine affection for him, and the layout of our new place. Mark observed that pets are a common source of problems in relationships, and validated that my feelings about Boris are not unreasonable. I've tried to compromise, because I know how much Boris means to Spartacus. It is a given that I will go bonkers if I have to spend the rest of Boris's natural life, cleaning up his puke and cat hair, in exchange for absolutely no reciprocation of gratitude or warm fuzzies on his behalf. Mark agreed that cats do indeed have personalities. He said that pets tend to assume the personalities of their owners, and that, unfortunately, these tend to remain stable over time. If Boris and I haven't bonded by now, it's unlikely that we ever will. Boris is a lot like the pre-me Spartacus, reclusive and skittish. We now laughingly refer to this alter-ego persona as Horace Pinker, a character from the cult horror movie, Shocker. Horace Pinker was unpredictably moody, socially awkward and withdrawn, and worst of all, didn't bathe during his solo weekends. Horace is pretty much under control now, but he surfaces from time to time, just like yesterday, when it was clear to me that Spartacus had no intention of showering after a long, sweaty day of packing. My session with Mark was very productive. I realized that I've done all I can do to reach a compromise, and that it was up to Spartacus to come up with a definitive plan for Boris, one that we'd both find acceptable.
     The next day, Spartacus and I went to Atlanta to complete the walk through on our new place. It now stood empty, the owner having moved a couple of weeks ago, so this was the first time we'd really assessed the space in which we'd be living. The laundry area didn't look like it was going to be compatible with the cat box. In order for the the water hose and drainage tubing not to be crushed, we'd have to leave the folding doors open all the time. Back to square one. The idea of having the drainage hose connected to our only toilet wasn't appealing either, and having a plain old cat box that has to be scooped 4 times a day is simply not an option. In walking around and inspecting the place, I discovered a little room, about as big as our current laundry room, with a vented door which houses the furnace and the tankless water heating system. I noticed a drain in the floor, which I presume leads to the sewer because we're on a slab foundation, as well as an electrical outlet and a water faucet on the inlet pipe to the tankless device. This just might work! I turned the knob on the faucet, and water came flowing. It's obviously there for a reason, and because of the way it's configured along the pipe, turning it on won't restrict water flow to the tank. This would be a perfect place to contain the cat litter box, and provide Boris with a quiet, secure area away from the dogs, who he's never been around for more than about a minute. Once he became acclimated to our new place, we could let him out under direct supervision, and see what happened. It's definitely a good place to start. Both Spartacus and Horace Pinker unanimously approved of this idea, and we went on to have a very good weekend together, all of us relieved that the Boris conundrum seemed to have been resolved. Since I'll be spending a lot of time at home, maybe the cold war between Boris and me will finally come to an end. At this point, the only thing I know for certain is that the glue-on claw covers will be replaced and maintained, the vacuum and steam cleaner will be kept armed and ready, and that I will do my best to accommodate this 6 pound feline terror, simply because Spartacus adores him.
Boris, the 16 year old asshole...he is actually kind of cute!

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Beginning of Chaos

     I recently joined a blog directory, an online community with a primary goal of increasing your blog's readership and meeting other bloggers. There is a discussion board upon which you can generate conversation regarding just about anything under the sun, from a topic as simple as "What's your favorite dessert?" to something a bit more obscure, such as "How do you deal with disillusionment?" or "Is beauty a human invention?" If the subject matter piques another blogger's interest, you'll get a response, and maybe a stimulating discussion. Like any other online community, this directory has its share of old-timers, some who function as "wise sages" in the discussions, as well as a few loose cannons with religious or political agendas. Navigating through these discussions is usually a refreshingly provocative experience, leaving you with food for thought, and sometimes, a chuckle or two. Sometimes, it's like stumbling through a minefield; you never know just who's going to explode.
     One of the old-timers, whom I'll refer to as Wings*, recently wrote a powerful, beautiful piece about how he lost his faith in God. In the first paragraph, he disclosed that he grew up Catholic. He described learning to pilot an Ultralight plane as a teenager, making his first solo flight in 1983 after three years of instruction from his father, during which he crashed and was severely injured. I'm not sure if he had a near-death experience, but he noted that he was "dead on arrival" and received aggressive resuscitation from the paramedics. He was in a coma for 3 1/2 weeks, surviving 73 broken bones, including his jaw, wrists, arms, and legs, a punctured lung and a fractured kidney, followed by months of recovery during which he endured great physical and psychological pain. He was tube fed for months, and had to relearn how to walk. Watching and re-watching the videotaped footage of his crash seemed to provide evidence that God had indeed wanted him dead, leaving him confused and angry, lamenting the fact that he'd been cheated out of death. After his rehabilitation was complete, he moved to a different state to live with his father, who ironically, was killed a week later in a similarly ill-fated small plane crash. He poignantly expressed his sense of survivor's guilt, questioning how and why doctors were able to save him, but not his father, as well as his pervasive and overwhelming grief, which led him to reject any possibility of a loving God. Despite the fact he's afraid of flying, he enlisted in the Air Force, but hasn't flown for pleasure since his accident. While reading through his story, I was moved by his candor, his raw emotions, his ongoing search for the truth, and his open challenge to humanity to provide proof to him (and itself) that God exists.
     About a day later, Wings initiated another discussion, entitled, "Why are some Christians so uptight and self righteous?" In it, he described being browbeaten by a particularly defensive in-law, who presumed that because he desires objective proof of God's existence, he is ignorant and misinformed. This is interesting because one would assume that his in-laws knew about his tragic accident and the subsequent loss of his father, that they'd somehow understand why any previous belief he'd had in God was so severely shaken, and that they'd utilize a more supportive approach in assisting him with reconciling his loss of faith. Throughout the post, he acknowledges that he doesn't have the answers, he is simply looking for them, and that accepting God's existence on blind faith alone is not enough to convince him. I didn't construe what he wrote to be inflammatory in any way; he was mostly just asking questions. The discussion which ensued was pretty tame, with some folks pointing out that it's not all Christians or only Christians who are moralizing, self-righteous, and defensive, it's an issue of people in general, believing they are right and everyone else is wrong, which perpetuates an attitude of closed-mindedness and intolerance for the opinions held by others.
     Later that afternoon, Wings received an anonymous, threatening e-mail message from a self-professed "Christian" who launched into a rage-filled, full-on character assassination of him, heavily punctuated with expletives. Anonymous informed Wings that he had no right to an opinion on the subject of Christianity, and went on to state that he didn't need to justify his personal faith to Wings or anyone else. If that was really the case, why did he feel the need to denigrate Wings' family and his presumed "Godless" upbringing, accuse him of being a Nazi, inform Wings that he was going to burn in hell, but that first, he should be publicly stoned, and specifically threaten to find Wings in Houston, assuring him that he'd be begging for God's mercy after their meeting? I was disturbed by the shockingly violent tone of the email, but even more perplexed that the author of these strongly spoken words, throughout which he professed to embrace Christian love, chose to remain anonymous. Hmmm...WWJD? Wings reported the email to Yahoo, and the response he got was that Anonymous would be blocked from sending any further emails to his account. One has to wonder how many people Anonymous terrorizes daily, in the name of God, his fragile framework of beliefs so tenuous that he cannot tolerate anyone whose faith, or non-faith, deviates from his own. As far as I know, Wings did not respond personally to Anonymous' email, relegating it to the category of cowardly-zealot-making-idle-threats.
     I unwittingly stepped into my own minefield yesterday. I was the first to respond to a thread by TexArt** entitled, "The Story of Human Rights." TexArt asked, "What are human rights? Do we all deserve them?' and provided a fascinating educational video, also entitled "The Story of Human Rights." The video gave a succinct history of the evolution of human rights throughout civilization. It highlighted the United Nation's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights", which Eleanor Roosevelt assisted in drafting after WWII. This document married natural law with principles of universal rights for all human beings, rights which are often acknowledged, but not easily enforced. The video ended by admonishing viewers that the promotion and protection of human rights is the responsibility of all individuals, not institutions, because it is individuals who assign value and weight to the concepts of equal justice and opportunity, and freedom from discrimination. My response included this quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a philosopher who helped inspire the French Revolution: "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains." To me, this aptly sums up the problems inherent in enforcing human rights...we think everyone should have them, but we can't all agree on exactly what they are. I followed by saying, "All human persons deserve equal rights, but the definition of personhood among humans seems to be a persistent area of dispute." TexArt asked: "What do you consider a person, klandt?" I should have known then that this was a big red flag.
     If you've watched the news or listened to NPR recently, you're probably well aware of the legislation taking place in Oklahoma and Iowa, which seeks to legally redefine personhood as beginning at the moment of conception. This definition would effectively illegalize abortions and many forms of contraception, as well as imposing complex restrictions on the termination of life-threatening ectopic and rape or incest-related pregnancies, reproductive and fertility medicine, stem cell research, and gene therapy. It would also raise interesting legal questions regarding a woman's voluntary consent, as well as whether a pregnant woman can use carpool lanes or if a fetus could inherit property. In essence, this legislation separates a woman from her pregnancy, endowing a fertilized egg, by virtue of its DNA content, regardless of whether it actually results in implantation and the subsequent development of a fetus, with the same rights as the mother herself. Both pro-choice and anti-choice*** groups share a common goal of reducing the number of abortions, and statistically speaking, the pro-choice side has a better track record in this arena by providing women with options to prevent pregnancy, including abstinence. While the anti-choice proponents typically base their assertion that abortion is wrong in religious dogma, seeking to force their own morals and philosophies on all women,  pro-choice supporters respect women as individuals who are capable of making their own informed reproductive decisions and accepting the consequences, whether it's practicing abstinence or using birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancy, completing a pregnancy or terminating it, or keeping or giving up a child for adoption. In short, being pro-choice does not necessarily imply that one isn't also pro-"life." I am glad I never had to make that choice for myself, but I value and support every woman's autonomy with respect to contraception and pregnancy.
     Back to the discussion...I responded to TexArt's question by stating, "Well, to put it bluntly, I happen to be pro-choice. I'm glad I never had to make the choice to have an abortion, but I would never deprive another woman of her right to have one. In obstetric anesthesiology, one saves the life of the mother first. Obviously, among members of our society, the definition of personhood isn't clear cut, otherwise there wouldn't be so much ongoing debate about it. So, in my statement about the ambiguity over "personhood", I am referring to the personhood bills which are currently being legislated in Oklahoma and Iowa. This is not just a big deal, it's a potential violation of basic human rights, in my opinion." Here's the response I received:

"Blunt is fine, but I believe abortion is murder. But I also think it's the choice of the woman whatever she does...and she will have to suffer the consequences of her choices. Just like we all do.
"..it's a potential violation of basic human rights, in my opinion."
But not of the unborn child, right? Because they are not a 'person' yet?
It does seem confusing thing to some people.
According to the law ...anyone who assaults a pregnant woman and harms her unborn child can be charged with murder, manslaughter, assault inflicting serious bodily injury or battery, depending on the severity of the injury. *There are exceptions in the law for medical procedures including abortions.* ~only you can kill your own child?"

     Hmmm. Well, is he pro-choice or anti-choice? He contradicts himself in the first two sentences, and then utilizes inflammatory lexicon ("murder, killing") in an attempt to prove his point. I'm not sure which "law" he was quoting, because, as another poster pointed out,  the laws on assault and manslaughter differ with regard to each state." The idea that life begins at conception isn't a simple one; conception doesn't necessarily result in implantation or a viable pregnancy. To define personhood in this way could theoretically make it a crime to have a miscarriage or to dispose of a soaked tampon; there could be life clinging to it. It's not an issue of black or white. If TexArt really believed that each woman had a choice in managing her reproduction, why didn't he just leave it at that? There is no need for sanctimonious moralizing if you truly respect someone else's autonomy. You may not approve of his or her decision, and if it doesn't directly affect you, why take it personally? I told TexArt that I'd have to politely agree to disagree with him. Of course, as anyone who is unsure of himself tends to behave, he had to have the last word: "As is your right, but I don't need any agreement, I'm simply stating what I believe on the topic." Duh! This kind of reminded me of how kids will resort to repeating, "I know you are, but what am I?" when a playmate says something they don't like. If he really believed what he was saying, would he feel the need to goad others into accepting his opinion as the correct and moral one? Wouldn't it already be self-evident?
   
     I've come to learn that the most highly opinionated people also tend to be the least open-minded to other viewpoints, making engaging in intelligent debate with them completely futile. They can't listen because they don't know how; they are too busy telling you how it is or how it should be. This is one case where a stereotype seems accurate: the fanatic political or religious zealot who quotes scripture to validate his moral fortitude or, even worse, remains anonymous, thinking he's won the argument just because he's had the final word. I try to choose my battles carefully. In general, I don't feel an overwhelming need to defend my beliefs because they're constantly evolving. The more I listen, the better I understand myself and other people, and the less likely I am to react explosively to opinions which differ from my own. Opinions are like fingernails, we all have them. The people who require the most approval from others always seem to be the ones least able to tolerate opinions which deviate from their myopic perspectives. I'll conclude with some wisdom from Lao Tzu:
When the Way is lost, there is goodness
When goodness is lost, there is morality
When morality is lost, there is ritual
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos...
When they lose their sense of awe, people turn to religion
When they no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend on authority...
Wise men don't need to prove their point;
Men who need to prove their point aren't wise.

* and **: names changed
***Where the issue of a woman's autonomy is concerned, it makes more sense to use the terms "pro-choice" or "anti-choice", both of which can also be "pro-life".

Thursday, February 16, 2012

You've Gotta Be Kidding Me!

     I happen to be married to one of the world's biggest Detroit Red Wings fans. If Spartacus were to undergo a functional brain MRI, I think we'd see that a significant portion of his cortex is devoted to vital processes required for maintaining instant recall of the DRW's players and stats, when and where they are playing next, and whether the game will be televised. Even on match.com, his username, "dethockwings", was Red Wings-related. He is incapable of sitting during DRW games, especially if we're watching them in the Stanley Cup playoffs. No, he instead stands mesmerized, a few inches in front of his recliner, feet spread hip width apart with arms extended and hands clasped in front of him, as if he's standing at attention for a high school football photo: no eating, no drinking, and only as much small talk as necessary to help me understand what's happening. This fervor extends to all other sports as well, in varying degrees. I am constantly amazed at his capacity for understanding all the rules and strategies of different games, which player got drafted or switched to which team, how many home games the Red Wings have won, how he always knows what's going on and who's winning at any given point in a game. It's nothing short of impressive.
     I, on the other hand, am not a sports fan. I never played any team sports, and I despised PE class in junior high and high school. I distinctly remember being in 8th grade, dressing out in the locker room, and having other girls point at the blonde hair on my legs, tittering amongst themselves about the fact that I hadn't started shaving yet. Horrors! I immediately went home and asked my parents if I could start shaving my legs. What I received was a lecture from my Polish father, who by virtue of his European-ness, didn't have a problem with axillary or leg hair on women. He assured me there was nothing wrong with this "soft, downy hair", wondering why I would want to get rid of it? I took matters into my own hands, borrowed Mom's razor, and de-fuzzed both my legs and my armpits that afternoon. Unfortunately, having smooth legs did not solve my basic underlying problem with PE, which was the fact that I didn't understand how to play volleyball or basketball, the only two sports we ever seemed to play. Oh wait, I forgot about dodgeball. That was where the aggressive, mean girls took all their hormonal rage and frustrations out on nerds like me, after we'd suffered the humiliation of being picked last by the team captain. What fun! I honestly don't recall receiving formal instruction in the rules of any of these games, and it became apparent to me that our coaches just expected that we already knew how to play, like any other good American kid.
     My friend, Julie, is the epitome of the soccer mom, although I don't think either of her kids played soccer. When DJ and Kiah were in grade school, she managed to travel with them on most weekends for their various tournaments, attend their seemingly nightly home games during the week, and still work full-time as an anesthesiologist. Both DJ and Kiah now play college basketball on full scholarships, and are excellent athletes and students. The other night, Julie TM'd me, and told me she was about to watch her daughter, Kiah, who plays for UCONN, in a game against Oklahoma. Knowing that I'm not a sports-fan, she hinted that Spartacus might enjoy watching it. We tuned into ESPN2 at 9 p.m. to watch Kiah play. During the game, Spartacus fed me information about which position Kiah plays (center and power forward) and other specifics about the game and her teammates, which I covertly translated into intelligent-sounding text messages to Julie, "cracking her up" with my newly acquired knowledge of the game. This made me feel pretty good about myself, sort of like learning basketball by osmosis. At one point, right after UCONN had scored two points and were still hanging out under the basket, I turned to Spartacus and asked him if UCONN could continue to make more baskets, provided no one took the ball away from them. The look of disbelief on his face was priceless. It reminded me of the night, not too long ago, when we were both in our pajamas watching the Red Wings, and I asked him if he would walk down to Honeymoon Bakery before it closed to get me a caramel cupcake. His response was, "The only thing that would get me up outta this chair right now is if you needed a Kotex or something." Ba-da-bing! After his shock over my stupid question had dissipated, Spartacus gently informed me that, no, a team cannot just stand underneath the basket, scoring points, because that would be "a real clusterfuck." Gotcha! Nevertheless, I did enjoy watching Kiah play, and am planning to keep up with her games. It's fun seeing someone I actually know on the court.
    I think Spartacus is starting to relish these "you've gotta be kidding me!" moments. He's always told me how smart he thinks I am, how he could never be a doctor, an observation which typically elicits my standard response: "There is no way I could understand IT or sports like you do!" For instance, when he shows me his Visio diagrams for mapping out a network, I see lightning bolts and flying saucers and pretty colors, instead of routers and voice-over IPs. The Cisco books he has to read and comprehend are mind-boggling; what the hell do all those acronyms mean? Sports are second-nature for him; he's always been an athlete, and was born with a ball in his hand. It's intuitive for him, whereas for me, it's a real struggle. Maybe this is one reason we get along so well: the playing field really is level between us. Common sense and intuition are aptitudes that can't be measured by an intelligence test; we are both intelligent in our own ways. We each contribute our unique set of skills, knowledge, and interests to our relationship, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle, instead of repelling each other like magnets. Most of the time, we like learning from one another. Now, if he can just help me understand what the heck "icing" means and why ice hockey has "periods" instead of "thirds"!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Critical Link

     Last night, as Brad and I sat at the bar of a local restaurant, lingering over our Valentine's Day dinner, we had a most interesting conversation. I don't remember what started it, but the gist of it was the old "nature vs. nurture" argument. We had been talking about his stepbrother, Mark, who recently committed suicide. A few years ago, Mark got involved with crack or meth, losing his family and his business as a result, and was on the lam in Alabama for writing bad checks. He and Brad, who are about a year apart in age, had been very close as teenagers. Brad describes the Mark he knew as an affable, easy-going, fun-loving, all around nice guy, who happened to have a great affinity for alcohol. According to Brad, he was also somewhat unreliable, but his intentions were generally good. They did some partying together, but Mark always seemed to take things to an extreme level, which usually ended up in catastrophe, like the time he wrecked Brad's father's company car on his way to a party and then, lied about what had happened.
     Mark didn't attend college, but was successful in starting his own business. Apparently having gotten his "ya ya's" out, he settled down, got married, and had two daughters. From what Brad says, Mark was a real family man. No one is sure about how he got started on crack, but it's the same downward spiral story we've all heard before: crack is whack, and she'll rob you blind. When Mark surfaced at his mother's funeral last August, he hadn't seen her, his ex-wife, or his teenage daughters in four years. No cards, no phone calls, no communication whatsoever. Although Gwen (Mark's mother/Brad's stepmother) reported to us that Mark had come to see her in the ICU, just a few weeks before she died, no one else saw him. We thought maybe she'd been hallucinating from the morphine she was getting.
     Knowing that Mark would be confronted with his ex-wife and the daughters he'd abandoned, I thought it took a lot of guts for him to show up at Gwen's funeral. Unfortunately, it was awkward and unpleasant for all of them. When I first saw Mark, I noticed that not only did he wear a rumpled, soiled jacket with an exposed dry cleaning tag near its back vent, he wore a look of despair and regret so thick you could cut it with a knife. He was the embodiment of "tragic." What I saw was a man who'd ruined so many lives, not the least of which was his own, his averted eyes speaking of the worthlessness, hopelessness and deep sorrow within his soul, a self-imposed doom perpetuated by his inability to forgive himself. I'm still haunted by the desperation and sadness in Mark's eyes. Regardless of what he'd done to alienate himself from his family, I didn't get the sense that he was an inherently bad person. I don't think he willfully intended to harm himself or others. Within two weeks of Gwen's funeral, we learned that Mark hung himself, possibly driven to suicide by the irretrievable loss he must have felt. Mark had confided in Brad at the funeral that he was still in love with his ex-wife, who was now re-married, and since his mother was dead and his daughters wanted nothing to do with him, he must have felt he had nothing left to live for.
     Mark's older brother, Jack, is his polar opposite. In high school, Jack was a star football player, who later attended college and had a successful military career. He is driven and focused, with high expectations on himself and those around him. He is fit, doesn't smoke, and drinks alcohol in moderation. How is it that these two brothers, raised in an identical environment, could have turned out so differently? They came from the same mother and father, so genetically, they were quite similar. They were raised together in the same household, much of it with Gwen as a single parent, which meant their upbringings were roughly equivalent. In my own family, three of my four siblings suffer from ongoing depression, one of which has a dual diagnosis of depression and drug addiction. (I have two older half-siblings, both of whom are also depressed). Given the fact that the genetics and the environment we shared were about the same, why are some of us depressed while others are not? In both examples, nature and nurture seem to be less important than our individual personalities and coping skills, which are perhaps the only variables we can really manipulate and control.
     Brain-imaging studies from 50 sets of same-parent siblings, one cocaine-addicted and one non-addicted, have revealed some interesting clues about whether or not brains are hard-wired for addiction. All of the siblings displayed similar abnormalities in the behavior influencing fronto-striatal regions of the brain, suggesting a shared susceptibility for drug addiction, as well as a learned element of self control in the non-addicted siblings. Not everyone who uses drugs becomes addicted; almost any drug or behavior can cross the line from healthy enthusiasm to pathological addiction. For instance, if a behavior like drinking wine, having sex, working, or exercising becomes an individual's only means of feeling good or normal, or if it begins to take away from life instead of enhancing it, it may be an addiction.
     Similarly, the brain MRIs of depressed patients demonstrate abnormalities in the regions which control cognitive function and emotional responses, leading to behaviors such as rumination, self-blame, and guilt. Healthy rumination could be described as contemplating or analyzing an issue from all perspectives to bring about clarity, while pathologic rumination implies persistent worrying or brooding about a problem from the same perspective, yielding a non-productive cycle of frustration and distress. In this regard, negative thinking can behave like an addiction. Research into the 5HT1A receptor for serotonin, which turns on depression, has elucidated a possible evolutionary basis for this mental state of being, categorizing it as less of a maladaptive disorder than a protective mechanism we've developed for thinking our way out of complex social problems. The premise for this research is the idea that because our brains evolved to promote the survival and reproduction of our species, they should have also developed resilience from mental malfunction, such as depression. To the contrary, there seems to have been a natural selection to preserve the 5HT1A receptor in humans, which protects the neurons involved in depressed analytical thought, making it appear to be a necessary and important adaptation.
     Depressive symptoms, such as social isolation, loss of appetite, lack of interest in sex, and insomnia may actually have evolved to prevent distractions, permitting rumination and the uninterrupted flow of analytic thought. Studies have shown that people perform better on intelligence exams when they get depressed while working on complex test problems, and that they tend to be more adept at solving social dilemmas. This depressive predisposition to analytical thought is the basis for treatment of pathological depression with cognitive behavioral therapy. The authors of this research suggest that rumination in depressed patients should be encouraged. Studies have shown that depressed people who engage in creative writing experience a more rapid resolution of their symptoms because they gain insight into their problems. This could explain why antidepressants have such dismal success rates; if depression was strictly a result of inadequate or defective neurotransmitters, then we'd have a cure for it by now. If it was the result of being raised in the same household, then it would follow that everyone in that household should also be depressed. Unchecked depression can have devastating consequences and must be dealt with accordingly. Still, the concepts brought forth by this research are titillating, specifically the idea that depressed patients can think their way through their problems because that's what our brains have evolved to do, possibly obviating the need for life-long medication or invasive therapy.
     There is a lot of crossover between depression and addiction among individuals and within families. The fact that not everyone who uses drugs becomes addicted to them, along with the observation that drug-addicted and/or depressed siblings coexist with non-addicted/non-depressed brothers and sisters in the same family provides strong evidence that variables in one's personality, emotional makeup, or overall constitution may have more of an influence than previously thought. If resentment is to addiction as anger-turned-inward is to depression, then this implicates an individualized derangement in perceptions or feelings, a dysfunctional state of mind which, fortunately, is highly treatable. In other words, if we give our thoughts too much power, they can make us sick. People who live in the past stay resentful and angry, while people who live for the future actively choose worry and anxiety. They don't like the way their thoughts and emotions make them feel, but they aren't willing to let go of them. It's a Catch-22 of lose-lose choices.
     Living in the now seems to make the most sense because it is impossible to hold on to emotions of any kind. In doing so, we become open to a world of possibilities, and we can choose our emotional destinies, instead of being enslaved by them. In Mark's case, what's the worst thing that could have happened, had he forgiven himself for his past transgressions? He would still have had to endure his family's scorn and rejection, but perhaps he would have grown from that experience, acknowledging that his life was now a clean slate, that he was capable of making better choices because he'd given himself the greatest gift of all: insight. Insight is what makes us human. It allows us to effectively cope with problems. Even though some of us struggle more with obtaining insight than others, it's something we all have access to by looking deep within ourselves. By conquering our fear of what lies within, instead of succumbing to it, we can begin to accept who we are. In realizing that we don't require other people's approval to feel good about ourselves, we are liberated. My father once told me, "You are who you choose to be." Nature and nurture don't adequately explain how a poor Appalachian kid from West Virginia gets into MIT, why Auschwitz survivors don't all have PTSD, or why so many people suffer with depression and addiction. If we are who we choose to be, then insight may very well be the critical link.

Brains May Be Wired For Addiction
Why Anything Can Be Addictive
Brain Imaging Shows Brain Changes in Depression
Depression's Evolutionary Roots
Could Depression Be Nature's Way of Saying, "Think!"?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Object of Regret, An Object of Desire

     When my husband, Brad (aka Spartacus), and I first met, it wasn't as much love at first sight as it was "Wow, you actually look better in person than you do online!" We met on match.com, at a time when both of us were considering letting our subscriptions lapse. Dating after 40 is an exhausting process. You learn a lot about people, just from reading their profiles. While men my age, which back then was 44, were looking for women 25-35 (with a very strong emphasis on 25), women like me were looking for a guy much closer in age, e.g. 35-45. Most of us were divorced with kids, and yes, we want and need love just as much as anyone else, possibly even more. It was obvious that the most superficial of my male peers fancied themselves to be studly chick-magnets, when in reality they were engaging in the fine art of the comb-over, concealing their paunchy bellies and spindly man legs beneath sloppy oversized T- shirts and ill-fitting dad jeans. Honestly, 44 year old man-boy, what exactly is it you think you have in common with that buxom 25 year old? It's definitely not pop culture or accrued life experience. When I was 25, the thought of being with a guy 20 years older than me was inconceivable and kind of gross, sort of like sleeping with my father. Personally, I've always preferred men my own age.
     I met Brad a week before I was scheduled to fly out to San Francisco to moderate a discussion at the American Society of Anesthesiologists 2007 meeting. At the time, I was still involved with an old boyfriend of mine, who lives in Los Angeles. California Boy and I started hanging out about a year after my ex-husband and I separated. At first, it was strictly platonic. He had a live-in girlfriend, a very bright, sweet woman who was about our age, with whom he'd been involved for about four years. She was aware that he and I knew each other from way back, and didn't seem bothered by it. They were definitely having some problems in their relationship, though, and the second time I visited, he and I ended up having an affair. It just sort of happened one afternoon, out of the blue; I guess we couldn't help ourselves. I still feel terrible about this because I really liked his girlfriend. As far as I know, he never told her about us, but I think the guilt he experienced as a result of his infidelity drove them further apart until there was nothing left of their relationship to salvage. Perhaps she'd suspected something was going on between us.
     The aftermath of their breakup wasn't just painful for him; it was awkward and agonizing for me, too. Both of us were emotionally fragile for different reasons. Regardless of whether she actually suspected infidelity, his guilt was palpable. He'd irrevocably violated her trust, and there was nothing in the world he could do to make it up to her. Although I could be wrong, I'm making the assumption that they'd agreed to be monogamous once they started living together, at least, it seemed that way to me. I mentioned before that they were already having problems in several vital areas of their relationship, and I'm relatively certain that his straying outside their union was more symptomatic than causal in the break up. After she left him, I received many late night phone calls from him, severely depressed and pining for her. It was almost more than I could take. Being "the other woman" sucked in so many ways, not the least of which was the realization that for a brief moment, I'd been the object of desire, and now, I was an object of regret.
     Once the dust of their breakup had settled, the focus of our relationship shifted. We already had a history together, having first met each other when we were 18 or 19, and I quickly got caught up in the romance of rekindling our old flame. I was under the impression that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, albeit long distance, and I even obtained a California medical license. I viewed Nick and Rory's impending high school graduation as my ticket out of Georgia. In retrospect, I was living in a dream world, an illusion. In the winter of 2007, I flew out to LA for a week-long visit, during which we did nothing but argue. Over what, I can't recall. Whatever it was, it was so bad that he slept on the couch and I tried to get an earlier flight back home. We didn't talk much for a few weeks after that, and I spent much of that interim, analyzing the source of our discord. I couldn't come up with a plausible explanation, other than the fact that in many ways, he and I are like carbon copies of each other, both of us artistic, intelligent, introspective, imaginative, passionate, perfectionistic individuals with an innate drive for risk-taking and throwing caution to the wind. In essence, he was a male version of me.
     A couple of months had gone by when I received an unexpected call from him the Wednesday before Mother's Day. He excitedly told me about an afternoon sailing trip he'd planned that weekend with some of his buddies, who had all pitched in to rent a primo vessel. I was surprised when he invited me to come. The offer was tempting, not only because I didn't have any Mother's Day plans, but because I missed seeing him. I thought, "Why not? This will be fun!" As I mentally rearranged my work schedule to accommodate the travel time for this trip, searching online for a flight, he casually asked, "Do you mind if my friend, Annalisa, comes along?' Had I heard correctly? "Who is Annalisa?" I asked. "Is she someone you're involved with?" On his behalf, he answered honestly, that yes, he'd started seeing her sometime within the 8-10 weeks which had elapsed since my last visit. OK, I could handle the fact that he had a new fuckbuddy. I've never been a jealous person, and I totally get that sometimes, an itch needs to be scratched. It's not like he was in love with her or anything. What was so excruciatingly pitiful about this unsavory snippet of information was my naive shock in hearing that Annalisa was 26, nearly twenty years his junior. "Jesus!" I thought, "He's just like all the rest!" Long story short, I made the trip with the understanding that Annalisa would not be joining us on the boat or at any other point while I was there. The idea of sharing a guy was just too weird. We had a great time that weekend, followed by a disastrous, argument-filled return trip in August. We'd planned a trip to Napa for mid-October, which was when I was flying to San Francisco for my conference, and despite our communication problems, we ended up deciding to move forward with our plans.
     A week before my conference, I met Brad. I hadn't planned to be swept off my feet by his sweetness and generosity; it just happened. Even though we'd only just met, I missed him the entire time I was in California, and ended up cancelling my wine country trip, returning home several days early. He picked me up from the airport, and we've been together ever since. Brad is proof-positive that there still are men out there who love women their own age, inside and out. He's accepted and loved Nick and Rory as if they were his own children. I'm a little ashamed that I haven't been able to return the affection for his curmudgeonly cat, Boris, but that's another day, another story. I've become reacquainted with my old friend, monogamy, and am no longer an object of regret. I remain friendly with California Boy because we were life-long friends to begin with; it was the context of our relationship that changed, not the friendship itself. I get the sense that he respects my commitment. The last I heard, he and Annalisa were still together, so maybe the attraction wasn't just sexual after all. I still prefer men my own age. Lucky for me, my 50 year old husband keeps getting sexier with every year that passes, and I truly cherish him. He is, without a doubt, the exclusive object of my desire.

A related post, which you might also like:  Inconvenience and the Patiently Waiting Heart
Brad, aka Spartacus, and me, Manhattan, NY, Winter 2010

Monday, February 13, 2012

Desperately Seeking Brandy Alexander

     It's Sunday night, and Spartacus and I have spent the majority of our weekend, preparing for our impending move back to Atlanta. We've determined which items to donate, pitched and tossed out the broken stuff, rooted around through boxes which still haven't been unpacked from our last move, and enveloped just about everything, except the dust bunnies under the couch, in roll after roll of bubble wrap. Although we're together in the same room, packing is a solitary undertaking. Today, Spartacus was in charge of dismantling the bookshelves and taking down the wall cupboard, built by my ex-husband, which houses the serving pieces from my vast collection of Polish pottery. I packed innumerable boxes of knickknacks, glassware, ceramic casseroles, dishes, silverware, and small appliances. Maybe some people actually have fun while they're packing, but in our case, it's a quietly dreaded chore, a task we approach side-by-side in near-deafening silence.
     Our living area is starting to look skeletal, transient, impermanent. I remember what fun it was to organize the space in this loft, and how excited we were about living downtown in a new city. I'd envisioned us having an active social life, replete with book clubs, charity events, and dinner parties, none of which materialized to any appreciable extent. I guess I had the wrong idea about what moving to Rome would accomplish. I thought that living here, instead of commuting from Atlanta, would magically integrate us into the medical community, that in committing ourselves to residing within the city's limits, we'd automatically gain access to its social network. In other words, we'd be "in the loop." Although we have made some good friends here, we rarely seem to get together. Over the last ten months, I think I've hosted one party, a couple of brunches, and one or two dinners. In the springtime, we got together for First Friday outdoor concerts and impromptu dinners with one couple, but since my mother-in-law died in August, we haven't seen much of each other, mostly due to work schedules, travel, or recent illness. Another couple that we've befriended spends nearly every weekend out of town, making it virtually impossible to hang out with them. Out of six former work partners, only one ever invited us into his home. Before moving back to Louisiana, he and his wife lived a block away from us, making it easy to meet somewhere on Broad Street for drinks or dinner. Their close proximity to us certainly made socializing convenient. Still, this is a town of 30,000, and to get from point A to point B takes a whopping total of only 2 or 3 minutes! In my other partners' defense, I've heard they used to socialize quite frequently before their contract got sold out from beneath their feet to a depersonalizing anesthesia staffing corporation. I suppose the group lost its identity, and with it, the desire to spend time with one another. They never recovered from that change in dynamics. In the physicians lounge, I've had wonderful, stimulating conversations with a certain plastic surgeon, which always end with, "We really need to get together!" but neither of us has initiated the next step. Honestly, the majority of my social interactions nowadays occur in cyber-space, on Facebook or BlogCatalog. It's a sad state of affairs. Although Spartacus is a true introvert, he compensates for it very well, and as a couple, I think we're approachable and friendly enough. So, what gives?
     Whatever happened to the days of cocktail gatherings, like the ones my parents used to have? My dad was also a physician, and when I was growing up, it seemed to me that Mom and Dad were constantly entertaining. They'd serve exotic drinks in special stemware: Brandy Alexanders, Pink Squirrels, and Grasshoppers. Sometimes, there would be hot hors d'oeuvres. I especially liked it when Mom made pigs in blankets or anything wrapped in bacon. The ladies smelled perfume-y and nice, and they'd leave their coats and purses in Mom's and Dad's bedroom before congregating in the kitchen. Adult conversations seemed so grown up and mysterious back then. Dad provided entertainment by playing the piano, and Mom would make sure that we all came up from the downstairs den to say "hello" to their guests. If it was a Saturday night, which meant we got to stay up late, my sister, Emi, and I would take sips from the almost-empty glasses left sitting on the coffee table, while our parents stood chatting in the foyer with the last of their guests to leave.
     I can't think of the last time I've been to a real, honest-to-goodness cocktail party. When I was in medical school, a group of us got together every couple of months to go to the opera, and beforehand, we'd meet for drinks or dinner at one of our homes. We broke out whatever bling we had, which wasn't much, and we dressed up for the occasion. In the interest of our non-medical spouses, we tried to keep conversation flowing by avoiding school or work-related topics, talking instead about current events, our kids, and our lives before medicine. We often got together for informal dinners and parties as well. One of my classmates was Korean, and when she returned to Macon from visiting her parents in Augusta, she'd invite our entire class to her place for Korean barbecue, generously sharing the delectable bulgogi and kimchi her mom sent home with her. My husband and I hosted several big end-of-the-year parties at our place, which were terrifically fun. People would bring their kids along, and our boys would keep them entertained. I remember one party in particular where the guys-who-were-going-into-radiology climbed up into our treehouse to drink beer and smoke cigars. I still have pictures of that night, lying around somewhere. These gatherings were a beautiful, reciprocal thing, possibly one of the biggest advantages of having only 56 students in our class. By the time we graduated, we all knew each other pretty darn well.
     The older I get, the harder it seems to get to know people in a social context. Maybe it's just my line of work. I've definitely been guilty of hoarding my free time, of just wanting to get home and stay put. I have a good friend from residency, a divorcee my age, whose kids are both grown and in college, but she still hasn't found time to date because she's so busy with work. No needy men, no worries. Although she seems happy, this would qualify as a problematic existence for me--maybe I rely too much on the company of a good man. As an attending physician, I've personally organized several parties and events, inviting folks from work, but have found that many times, people don't even bother to RSVP, making it impossible to adequately plan the food and beverages. Why bother? Also, anytime a group of doctors gets together, the conversation inevitably focuses on work, an unfortunate faux pas of mingling that we knowingly commit time and time again. To me, talking about work in a social setting is boring and superficial, a real cop out. I'd rather hear about the music you're listening to or what you cooked for dinner last night, anything but the diseased organ you resected or the nightmare airway you handled on call. There is so much more to all of us than what we do for a living.
     I'm hoping for a fresh start in Atlanta, a different kind of social life,  where we have an opportunity to meet people outside of work. Spartacus and I already have some friends in the Atlanta area. These are people we've known a long time, but don't see very often, and I think it's time to break the cycle of seclusion we've all become accustomed to. I won't be working as much, so I'll have more time to organize get togethers. Our new home will be the library of an old elementary school, which has been converted into lofts. Twenty-one units means 20 new sets of neighbors. It would be great to get one or two coffee partners, or someone to walk the dogs with, or maybe even a yoga partner out of that bunch; if not, maybe I'll start my own book club or investigate the possibility of progressive dinners.  Someone out there has got to be as starved for social interaction as I am!
     Perhaps packing doesn't have to be such a lonely chore for Spartacus and me, either. Working in tandem in self-imposed monastic solitude, breaking our mutual silence only to ask each other for the scissors or a roll of tape, only adds insult to the injury of moving a second time in less than a year. We might be more productive if we talked about the things we're looking forward to. I'm slowly starting to get excited, anticipating what lies ahead with exponentially less anxiety, my fears concerning our near future being steadily replaced by an empowering sense of curiosity and optimism. I can feel it: good times are headed our way. We'll be able to watch Nick and Rory perform with their new band, BearKnuckle, and hang out with their friends and girlfriends, something we've missed out on living this far away. We'll have more time to spend with my sister, Edina, and her family, as well as my mom, both of whom live just north of Atlanta. We'll see more of Spartacus's brother, Greg, and his partner, Becky, as well as our friends from IHG and Emory. Since I've started blogging, I've reconnected with some old friends and acquaintances on Facebook, many of whom are living in Atlanta or Columbus, and I'm going to make a point of meeting them for coffee or lunch. We'll be closer to Macon, where my good friend, Rana, and her husband, Joseph, live. She's hosting a 10 year reunion for our medical school class sometime this spring, and in her capable hands, it may just be the party of the century! Best of all, I'll now be available to help her. From my perspective, I'm emerging from the chrysalis of recent despair and disillusionment, vulnerable, yet receptive to fresh possibilities, my life unwrapping itself like a thousand gifts within a gift. I'm considering being my own boss for awhile; we'll see where it goes. Socially, I'll be desperately seeking Brandy Alexander, trying to recover the camaraderie I've missed out on for the last decade or so. Being more proactive in this arena is going to take some effort. In the meantime, I've got more packing to do, and since Spartacus's at work, I have no choice but to endeavor in solitude. Thank goodness for NPR!