27 July 2013

Swellings and Spells

I miss writing. I don't have the time; I don't have the emotional space. What little writing that happens goes into my little speckled notebook that I keep beside my bed.

Last week marked the tenth anniversary of the death of a poet I once knew. I pulled one of her books off the shelf and actually read it for a little while. It made me long to get back to writing. I felt my soul tingle a little and I jotted a couple of phrases down the next day. But I was at work- no time, no space.

I guess I am just whining. There is one sense in which I have more time than I used to. My kids are getting older. Things are quieter. And yet, the pull between work and family and household means that there is always something else that needs to be done. Keeping my life going right now takes all the energy I have and there is little left for anything else.

And so despite all that I have to be grateful for (and I am), I feel a touch sorry for myself. Or maybe just jealous of those who have time to pursue the things they want to do. I had my time to do that, and it was wonderful. I miss it. Now is more of a time for obligations, I suppose.

I am writing now because I am the only one up on a Saturday morning. Joe had something to do for work. The kids are sleeping. So is my grandson, who I keep all day every Saturday. I know that as soon as the kids come down, it will start. This feeling of distraction and duty. Are you hungry? What can I make you? I will ask. Because I am at work all week, this is a day that I can give something. Or I sense them wandering around the house, bored, and I feel obligated to close the computer and be more engaged. Things I should do.

But still.

What is this compulsion to write that I never seem to lose? I dream of a retreat somewhere, time to myself to put words down. I imagine that I might have something to say, if only I had time to mine it out. And then friends send me things- you should enter this, you should apply for this writers' retreat. 2 weeks on the west coast? Yeah, right.

And it's my attitude that bothers me the most.

Often, I write these posts and never publish them. I have become afraid of being who I am. Afraid of the disapproval of my family, afraid of sounding self-centered and ungrateful when I have a wonderful life. But these swellings and spells, they pass.

15 June 2013

There was a pretty good storm here on Thursday..a mini-derecho, if you will. Last summer's storm put this new word into the vocabularies of many central Virginians. Thursday's storm was a watered down version of that.

I missed the entire thing. I was in clinic, taking care of my patients. I work in the basement level of my office building and I rarely see outside during the day. I was up and down the hall, and noticed from a distance that it had become very dark outside. I passed this dark window a couple more times, and then later when I passed yet again, my feet hurting now, it was bright again. The next morning in the paper I saw pictures of tress completely uprooted and fallen across the roads.

I feel like that's a good metaphor for my life at present. Like I am missing most things, save for a few foggy glances through a distant glass. I do not mean this to sound whiny, but don't we all feel whiny at times? It's the whole rat wheel thing. Get up, go to work, work all day, feel aggravated with bureaucracy and too much to do in too little time. Clock out and go home, go straight to the kitchen in work clothes and start pulling out something to make for dinner. Dishwasher, washer, give a kid a ride somewhere. Feel too tired to do anything else but to upstairs and flop on the bed with a book. Do it all over again.

It can start to feel stagnant and depressing.

I do have my card and button making, which is my little creative corner. Most recently, though, I feel like the time I spend there is stolen time, time I "should" be using for more useful things. I can't seem to find balance or peace. Probably just thinking too hard, again.

10 May 2013

A Few Words for Nurses Week

Sometimes, I think becoming a nurse is one of the best things to happen to me. Like mothering, it pushes me out of myself and smears me across the floor, taking to me to places I would never have gone. Making me better. I hate it sometimes, of course. Like this week: gray clouds and unending rain made me just want to stay in my bed. I felt tired of the routine and tired of working for a grant. I was just generally whiny. Driving through torrential rain to get to our satellite clinic where there is no case management on site and we face unique challenges, I thought: Why?

And then something will blindside me. I will guide a patient onto the scale and when I look down at the feet, I see 2 dirty, mismatched socks sticking out of some soccer slides. I see someone who doesn't have a washing machine. You jerk, I think to myself. I am continually reminded of how much I have. How lucky. I have written of this before, I know.

And I know some shitty nurses who don't give a shit. Maybe they got in it for the money, or maybe they have become burned out. I can see how that would happen. But most stay in it because they are caring. I work in a sub-specialty, where I care for the same 400 or so people regularly. That can be draining, but also powerful. Sometimes a patient calls me and I realize about 5 minutes into the conversation that they just want to talk. Some of them are isolated and lonely. So when I can, I hang out on the phone and listen, maybe tap at some other tasks while doing so. It's not much, but it's what I have to give. They sound lighter by the time we hang up.

I work with some people who have non-traditional behaviors and activities. I learn things every week. I learn not to be shocked; or at least, not not appear to be. And to love, without judgment. Do not judge someone who prostitutes to get by. You know nothing about who they are or what led them to that place. I take care of my patients' medical needs, I lend an ear and I love them. I endure smells and sights unpleasant, because everyone deserves love and care. This is what nurses do.

I got into nursing half-heartedly, with selfish goals in mind. And once again, I have been broken into pieces and those goals thwarted. And I am happy. Because I love caring for others. It is so humbling and such a privilege.  A lifetime ago, I helped babies come into the world, and that is pretty special. But what I do now is so deep and so wide that sometimes the view takes my breath away. I should thank them.

10 April 2013

Greetings from Raleigh!

I am writing this from a rather nice Holiday Inn in Raleigh, NC. I mean, I am impressed. I'd come back. There is a fridge and a microwave in my room, and I didn't even pay extra for them. It was a hot drive and now I am sitting here relaxing with the AC kicking and my bare feet propped in the chair across from me.

This is me, holding my newborn.

For me, traveling alone is a lot like having a baby. I am anxious and fearful about doing it but I go for it anyway. I start out with a happy face, but then the first real contraction hits- I'm not sure about an exit (business or regular? Where's the sign? I went too far!) and then I have a little meltdown. I declare that I can't do this. That I am NEVER doing this again.

But of course: there is no place to go but forward. Nothing to do but push past my ass and enjoy the breaks when they come. And so I push on, exit by exit, until at last my destination comes into focus and I have done it. I have arrived. My heart can leave my chest now, and it feels good.

Now I can sit here with my feet up and think to myself, that wasn't so bad. I might do it again, sometime. And then the whole thing will happen again.

I'm just not a born traveler. The itch for adventure doesn't live in me. I could plod along in the same routine forever and not really feel like I'm missing much. And of course I am. I wonder to what degree the spirit of adventure can be cultivated. If so, maybe my sense of direction can be cultivated also.

But I bet you're wondering what this born homebody is doing out of state. It is because I have been designated the Quailty Coordinator for our Ryan White clinic. We have to show the folks that give us all our funding that we are using the money to take excellent care of our clients. Not only that we are meeting the required benchmarks for quality, but that we are continually shooting above and beyond. Our eventual goal is to become an HIV Center of Excellence, which is a pretty lofty goal. We aren't there yet. First, we need to get a solid quality program in place. Which is where I come in.

So tomorrow I am attending an all day "Quality Assesment 101" class here on the campus of NC state. And get this, I also have a personal quality coach who is going to work with me regularly to help me get our program in shape! Also paid for through the grant. Of course, I don't improve the qualiy of the clinic single-handedly. Our whole team plays their part. But think of me as the engineer, creating a plan and delegating the right tasks to the right people.

I feel daunted, but excited for the challenge. Call it an adventure, if you will. Perhaps mine are meant to happen off-road.

01 April 2013

First Reading

I've read a poem or two aloud, here and there. But recently I had my first real poetry reading at Riverviews. There was another poet there, Jon Thelin, and also a jazz band called Quintana. The house wasn't packed out, but it was my first real reading and I was excited. I had been rehearsing with Quintana and we were to perform a collaboration on a few songs. I think those rehearsals were what really got me pumped up about the reading. The music brought my words to life in a whole new way.

When I got up to the podium after a lovely introduction by my friend Vic, I felt strong and confident. As my words came out into the room, I felt them winding around the audience and holding them by their shoulders. There was power there. So I read a few more, and then the band came up and joined me for my last few poems. I ended my reading to the backdrop of saxophone and bass, and the applause of my listeners. I felt saturated by good feelings. I wanted to go home and write.

I should have. Instead I went downtown to the bar that sponsors the event because the readers get to drink free. I am getting too old to stay out that late when I have to get up the next day. But of course, it was fun while it lasted. It was Gay Pride night there, and folks were dressed up and singing and I felt so grateful that those folks have a place that they can go and just be who they really are. It's all any of really wants, right? It's   always been my favorite spot in town.

Now I am back home in my sweatshirt and my routine and I am asking myself what's next.  

22 March 2013

A Touch of Word Vomit

Apparently it was World Poetry Day yesterday. I was so busy living life that I missed it. It was a busy day in my clinic and I worked hard. I met a few new faces and enjoyed a few that are becoming familiar. We like to  say that there's never a dull moment in the work that we do. And it's true. There is heartbreak, and poverty, and laughter, and hope. It is worth it.

But I would like to have time to read some new poets, or do a bit more writing of my own. I keep saying someday. When does someday become just another regret?

I was thinking about sweeping today. I like to sweep. It's physical, the swiping and bending and scraping the broomstraws across sun-dappled wood. And the pile of dust and dirt I create confirms the utility of my motions. A visual accomplishment. My mother-in-law likes to vacuum her floors, and I can see why. I'm sure it works better than my old broom, which is probably stirring up as much dust as it's gathering. But I just enjoy it. My grandmother used to sweep her carpet sometimes. It was a thin sort of carpet, and I don't know exactly why she would sweep it, but perhaps it was easier to spot clean than to drag out the old Hoover.

I've got hundred-year-old pine planks, the kind with wide cracks between them and wood patches that are crumbling out. Good thing I like to sweep. But don't imagine that I do so nearly as often as I should around here. I got off work early and chose to fool around in my studio for a little while rather than attack this old castle with the broom. My own vacuum is actually broken, and so some carpet sweeping might just be on the docket.

And then on the radio, I heard a piece about a woman in Waynesboro writing something called cozy mysteries. The plots revolve around some ladies who like to get together and scrapbook, and while doing so they somehow become amateur sleuths. She's got a 7 book contract with a publisher and is on the fourth book now, I believe. I don't know how people think all those plots up. But anyway, cozy mysteries are supposed to have less sex and violence in them than traditional mysteries. And no, I haven't Googled any of that, I am just writing from my memory of the NPR report.

When I get tired of the same CDs I have in the car, I flip back to the radio for a bit. This week it's been NPR. They had a week-long series about sexual assault against women in the military. Thankfully, I'm not in the car for very long at a time, so I didn't hear it all. I am not here to argue about the military, only here to say that it hurts my heart to hear of young men with 3 limbs blown off, or women who were raped by their superiors with no recourse, or that the suicide rate for soldiers now exceeds the combat death rate.

I tend to stay in my bubble of work and family but I am trying to peek out more.

12 March 2013


I turned forty last week. I had a little post brewing in my head with some observations and thoughts that seem petty now. I turned forty; people do it every day. There was snow on the ground, but the laundry room was filled with trays full of bright green seedlings for our garden. Spring is in the air.

As usual, I'm having the usual thoughts about where I'm going and where I've been, but I feel positive about my forties. My children are growing up and I am enjoying a good relationship with them. They are pretty rad people to be around. My grandson is getting old enough to take outside in the yard and kick a ball around with, even if he still falls every few minutes.

My chapbook has been nominated for a Library of Virginia book award, which is pretty amazing. I am celebrating its publication by doing a little public reading at Riverviews later this month. The house band there is working with me to do some musical accompaniment for a few of the poems. It's something I have never done before, and I had such an amazing time rehearsing with them. Their jazz-style riffs brought a completely new life to my words.

Words. I want so badly to get back to some regular writing. Life is so full. The other night I pulled my tattered old copy of Ariel Gore's wonderful writing book out to glean a little inspiration. Her "write when you can" chapter always hits home for me. I must write even a sentence every day, even if just little observations and phrases. I must not lose this. And there is so much I want to say.

I think I am finally making peace with work and the loss of my years of birth work. The birth work continues without me. And it's okay. I love what I'm doing. It can keep me challenged for a long time. I am good at my job and valued by those in my clinic and have been asked for by two other medical offices. I may eventually go back and get my RN. Maybe. I'm pretty content right now.

I have quit the Facebook scene for now, and all of the drama and banality that goes with it. I know I am missing things- I miss being able to share a great article or use my Misplaced Talents page- but the tradeoff is worth it for now. I am exchanging real letters with a couple of friends and working on quality over quantity. I have too much quanitity in most things. Life becomes messy piles of excessive shit and I find myself just wanting the simplicity of a clean floor.

Winter tends to turn me into a gloomy hermit. But now, the sun is emerging and I feel it thawing me out and bringing me back to life. And I am thankful.

02 March 2013

A Golden Moment

It's finally quiet here at my desk. It's the moment I've been waiting for. Everyone in the house is asleep or gone. I can write! My head is swarming and spinning with images and snippets and phrases. But I am so rusty. So easily the ability to pull a golden thread from the tornado stalls out. I want to write a nursing collection! A group of dog stories! So many ideas. I get as far as some notes about clinic in my speckled composition book that I still use. I actually get a page or two down on the first dog story, the inspiration for the collection. But I need to be alone- alone for longer than this. Alone, and away from the filthy kitchen I can see from where I'm sitting and the 3 piles of clean laundry waiting to be folded. I am afraid of losing what ability I have to do this.

In the midst of this, I have agreed to a poetry reading this month. This is to commemorate the publication of my little chapbook and the fact that I'm turning forty. This is something I am forcing myself to do. If they hadn't already put my picture up on the website, I might have already found a way to weasel out of it. I feel uncomfortable and inadequate. But I am going to do it anyway.

I am realizing that I cannot do everything in life that I want to do. There simply isn't enough time. To raise a family and hold a full time job, to keep a busy household, takes most of my time. I can be jealous of a childless writer who read 13 books last month and travels the country writing about it all, but she has made her choices and I have made mine. I am choosing to do what I can in the time that I have, knowing that a few years from now, I will long for the sound of rowdy laughter around the dining room table in the evenings. I will also (hopefully) have more time to write.

I'll work on that dog story right after I clean off my desk...

16 January 2013

2 days of unending rain and grayness. This morning, I was driving over the Fifth Street bridge, complaining in my head about how annoying it is when the windshield fogs up. Then I looked to my right and saw a man walking across the bridge with a flimsy hood pulled down over his head. Walking. I felt like such a jerk, like I do so frequently these days. Life is so good to me and yet each day of self-development seems slow and grueling. Each day, I try to step back from my self and my petty problems and truly see the world and the people in it. Some days I fall flat.

Yesterday my partner and I drove over an hour in torrential rain to take care of our patients who live afar. Some days I really dread that clinic. Yesterday, I felt like what we were doing mattered. We welcomed back into the fold people who had been lost to our care due to the circumstances in their lives. By loving them and encouranging their success in their treatment, we take one more step toward eradicating the virus. It's a strange war, but an important one.

Sometimes I feel more successful in the war on HIV than I do in my own life. The emotions and conditions of 5 people living together has its moments. I feel forgotten and pushed aside by friends that I once had so much contact with. But I have learned through the years that the important thing is to always keep reaching out. Never give up on the people you love. What at once seems hopeless can blossom into a thing of beauty.

We have a patient who comes by our office once a month to pick up his medicines. He could get them at the pharmacy but he prefers to come to us. I think he just enjoys coming to see us. He cooks things for us and waxes philosophical in our little lobby. And in our corner of the city, the stigma of HIV does not exist. We make sure of it.

The foggy windshield finds where it belongs in my consciousness if I work diligently at my vision.

11 January 2013

Stiff Bones

I've been listening to a lot of Ani again recently. I had lost a CD I really liked and I got it again and it has filled me to hear it fresh. I play it loud in the car when I am alone and I sing along. It makes me feel alive. I think I am most afraid of falling asleep inside as I grow older. Mostly I can't sort out if that feeling is physical or emotional, so I am taking a few steps to try and sort that out and remedy it. Last night we watched the documentary about the Bones Brigade from the 80s and it took me back to a time of so much energy! Just pure and raw. I felt myself smiling a lot throughout the film. I'll never get on a skateboard, but I will find something to get my bones moving before it's too late. I ordered myself an mp3 player so I can get some tunes going through my ears again. It's too quiet. I need to sing. I need to write. Those I know who have the luxury of not working, or being fulltime writers, are lucky indeed. But my job is also an endless fount of thoughts and stories.  I guess you just have to choose which things in your life are going to have to go, to be able to do the things you feel most called to do.

03 January 2013


I wrote more when I had children tumbling all around me- laughing and crying and messing things up. When I could not possibly concentrate. More than now, sitting alone at the computer, the only noise the hum of the machine I am typing on. This makes no sense to me. There is something missing that I must recapture.

Driving down 5th street yesterday, I saw 3 boys on skateboards. The skaters don't look much different than they used to: caps turned backward, Vans, sinewy arms in tshirts. As one of them hopped the curb I felt like I could feel their live teenaged energy. I wanted to reach my finger out and stick my finger in that socket and get a jolt of it.

Because although I feel happy, I also feel stagnant. I need to move. I feel old.

Easy to think about things, but not as easy to do them.