Thursday, March 30, 2006


I have been thinking very hard about writing.

I realize I have become a Writer.

Not someone who writes, but someone who has to write.

At first I merely had some curiosity to try something new, a blog. But it evolving into a passion to write, regardless who reads it (and from the lack of comments, it seems not many).

Unfortunately I have no experience to write, so I have no ‘style; no means to capture my urtext. Worse, I haven’t any original ideas, not in ages.

In “Elizabeth Rex”, an actor asks Shakespeare why he bothers to read. He replies “I read because I write. It is a necessity of the trade”. That makes sense now I am too am trying to scribble out my thoughts. I have been reading up a storm. I go through other people’s blogs I reread the writings of the authors I admire - classics like Twain, Lewis, and Marx (Groucho). For contemporary prose and humor, there are Sedaris, Vowell, and Sagan. This is a good moment to point out three favorites – if you don’t know them I highly recommend them – Alice Thomas Ellis, Barbara Holland, and Bill Richardson. All are brilliant , with styles and wit that I admire.

I am wise enough to know that I should not try to emulate anyone or anything, nor should I try to be clever. I merely need to write. And write and write and write. Most of it will be forgettable, but maybe with time and practice something good – with urtext – will come of it.

I hope I don’t bore your pants off in the meanwhile.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Being a physician

When I was a boy, the doctor was God – or in my case, Goddess, as the pediatrician was female. Dr. Nutting knew all, soothed all. She had all the answers. Probably she did a lot of ‘wait and watch’ and palliative care and mere assurance, but even those mawkish interventions were curative. Just going to see her made me feel better. It was she and what sort of doctor she portrayed inspired me to go into medicine.
That was 30 years ago at least; not only I have changed but so has Medicine. I did not become a pediatrician, when I learned this is mostly dealing with parents. When I went to my medical advisor to inform him I no longer wanted to pursue cardiology but psychiatry, his countenance dropped as if I had said I was dropping out of school to join a commune. He advised against it. Psychiatry was hard work. It paid badly. But mostly it would consist of dealing with people no one else can stand. Not very promising words.

By the way, they don’t teach you well in medical school how to choose a specialty. Most go by ‘gee, I like the heart, so I will be a cardiologist”. Rather, one needs to consider
a) what kinds of problems you like to work upon, and must they be ‘complete”?
b) do you like to work with your hands or your mind?
c) when you like to work on them?
d) how important is it to be adored by patients and public?
If the answers are
a) human behavior
b) the mind
c) 8AM-5PM, M-F thank you very much
d) not at all
– then psychiatry is the way to go.
Cardiology is plumbing, and procedures, and dealing with patients 24/7. After my umpteenth case of heart failure, one day on rounds I had a case of a man with heart failure who attempted suicide by swallowing razorblades. This intrigued me. How did the man have such conviction to do such an act. What did it ‘mean’? My fellow cardiologists could not care less; they wanted to know what his digoxin level was. I realized then I liked working with my head and in matters of the mind.

In a later entry, I will write about how one becomes a shrink.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Confessions of a Weather Nut

In our house cable watching is balanced - Someone watches many things; I watch one thing. Yes, I am one of the scewballs that could spend hours watching the Weather Channel, the MTV for the middle aged.
In hindsight, I would have made a good meteorologist. I still have my first purchased book from grade school, ‘Hurricanes and Twisters”. While other boys were reading thrillers (or playing sports) I was trying to understand these monsters of wind. Weather is not only interesting, but thrilling. I monitor the passing of fronts, seasons, winds, and patterns in the seasons.
I blame Sonny Eliot, the channel 4 weather man of my youth. He was far more intriguing and entertaining than the anchormen or the sportsman.
Or maybe it is my mother’s fault. Unlike other moms who would fret or run to the basement during a bad storm, she found them entertaining. Mother and Mother Nature providing a free spectacle of thunder and mayhem. Storms were the best and they could not be big enough. Snow or rain, did not matter, so long as it was intense.
Cynics suggest that voyeurs of bad weather do so with schadenfreude and relief that it is not happening to them. I think there is more; a archaic need to be thrilled and in touch with something still beyond human control. People need excitement and to be scared/thrilled, or are all those horror movies merely a mistake?
As they say on Hee-Haw, ‘salute!” to the Weather Channel, for the winter storms and the spring tornados and the high holy days of the hurricane season. May they continue to bring the unavoidable, the unpredictable and the unalterable. (and storm reports on the 50 minute of each hour).

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

You've Got Mail

Most mail is unpleasant, but the fact of mail is nice.

Naturally, 95% of it is useless. I don’t even open it; I tear it up and into the trash it goes. Most of the rest of it is bills or psychiatric ads or bad things somebody couldn’t tell me face to face. Still, I rummage daily through the post, hoping for something good like a letter, a postcard, or a card.

My brother the tech-wizard keeps trying to convince me that ‘snail mail’ is obsolete, that we don’t need it now, and even the bills will be by email, like it or not. Personal messages go by email. Nothing left for the postman but junk.

I trust this is wrong. We’ll hang onto mail as it is a small recurring pleasure of life. It is a daily promise.

Once in a while we even get a letter. Contrary to popular belief, some people still write letters. I do. They may not be long, literate, or even two-way but I write because in a letter I can say what I mean to say rather than blurting something over the phone or in a hastily typed email. I hope I write so the recipient can read at reread it at leisure, over a cup of tea. It can be saved for sentiment’s sake. And it’s personal and private; it seems a graver sin than listening in on a phone call.

I used to write love letters to Someone, but since I know live with Someone it seems a silly to do (and with postage what it is). Still, I hope he bundled the few I wrote up in a cord and stored them somewhere, so our next of kin can read them on a rainy day and smirk with laughter that I ever felt that way about dreary old us.

Whatever our past let downs in it, today’s mail bundle still feels promising. I come home every day and look at the mail. You never know.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Too many things

My grandmother had contempt for knick knacks and collectibles, which she called ‘dust collectors’. Having moved in the past year I have more empathy for this opinion.

Why do we do it? Collect all this stuff? We are born with nothing yet almost immediately things are thrust onto us. And it never stops. I am not a ‘spender’ , yet despite a regular donation to the charities and the Goodwill, more and more things fill up the drawers and the cupboards. The garage and the closets and stuffed with objects retained out of guilt.

In the old days, a monk could call nothing his own except his bed and his toothbrush No wonder they used to look so carefree. I wonder about people with multiple homes and cars and collections; doe they never have a moment’s worry as they picture others running off with the contents?

I once told my family at Christmas time I didn’t want any more presents and I would prefer them to take something away. One brother obligingly took my car. It was too late to explain I didn’t mean that. I meant the dozen half empty bottles of cologne, the numerous sets of flannel sheets (no longer needed here in Phoenix), the books that I won’t ever read again and the deep fryer.

When we die our loved ones are persuaded to get a stunning coffin, and all the works. Still, it isn’t as bad as in olden days when the we insisted on slaughtering the hired help and wives to go with us on our journey into the yonder.

When I think of the junk in the garage – including a lawn mower and a snow shovel – I wish I was that monk.

A Night At the Opera

I started going to the opera in high school. It was boring. I did not understand what was going on (there were no super-titles then). I wasn’t familiar with the music or the story so it all seemed rather dull, watching a woman die over several hours. She may have had consumption but she sure could holler. (La Traviata, if you haven’t guessed)
But that was 20 years ago if it were a day, and I go regularly and with great joy. (actually I go with Someone who has been my intrepid companion on this; God bless his heart)
Living for 12 years in Chicago I have heard quality work and seen some off the norm productions, for which I am grateful.
Now I am in the Land of Spo, living in Phoenix – well, that is a different cup of tea. My first Arizona Opera was Carmen, where Don Jose shot her in the back. I was rather shocked at this and wondered if this was a “western thing’ being in Arizona now. A friend of mine, well versed in music, commented that it is a ‘desert’ here in more ways than one. But I hold onto hope. The Flying Dutchman is approaching and one can only imagine what will occur. The notion of ships and storms in a region where it hasn’t rained for 3 months is unpromising.
Everybody has their favorite operas; here are mine –
1) Dialogues of the Carmelites – the ending alone is worth the price of admission. Set in the French revolution, a convent is executed for not retracting their vows. As they sing the Salve Regina, they are executed; the wham! of the guillotine slowly eliminates the chorus. There is a moment of realization beyond these words when the last 2 meet, and then the main character – singing the Gloria – goes on to end it. Fabulous.
2) Salome – I haven’t quite figured it out, but this 90 minute disgusting story rivets me every time. There is something perverse about the whole thing, with its ongoing ‘I want to kiss you on the mouth’ motif. It’s dirty, awful, and sensual. Erotic.
3) Die Walkure - If I can’t list ‘the Ring’ as one opera, then Walkure will do. Act III is one of the most splendid pieces of music ever written. I often need to make a ‘leap’ at it; a good doze in Act II is useful to be alert for III. I no longer feel guilty for dozing in opera; it is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Apotheosis.
4) Rigoletto – OK it is not Verdi’s best but I suppose it remains a favorite as it got me interested in going to these things. It is an easy ‘number’ opera with a good story, it has memorable arias, and a great tragic ending (I luv a good ending). It ‘converted’ me into an opera follower, so it remains dear to my heart. (Alas, I have not seen a good production in years, but one can hope). Melodramatic.
5) Peter Grimes – terrible story! It is just as moving as when I first heard it. I love this opera for all its parts; the plot, the music, the interludes. Someone hates this opera. Its modern tone apparently grates him. I suspect there is more than this - I dragged him to it as our first opera together (maybe he sensed this was the beginning). I commented he looked liked the tenor Ben Hepner, for which he has not forgiven me. Anyway, the nieces and all can still move me to tears with ‘from the gutter.”. aria. Sorrowful.
6) The Magic Flute – hardly original but still a treat, time and time again; what else is the bottom line to a piece of music? Fun.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

techno miracle

This was written a few days ago, on Microsoft word, in draft form. It was ‘cut and pasted’ into the blog today. This is a big achievement.
That noise I hear in the background better not be snickering – it may be peanuts to you. (I concur) It is no ‘wah-wah’ moment AKA Hellen Keller, but it is a sense of mastery for me. Until January last, I did not know even what a blog was.
Mastering something that I have never thought of doing (or thought possible) makes for a nice feeling. I have not felt satisfaction since I learned how to make Hawaiian shirts. About 5 years ago I was in mourning. The seamstress who made me an annual holiday shirt was going out of the business. No more shirts! Several friends (all with an eye and talent for clothes and sewing) pointed out if junior high school girls can learn to do a pattern, so could I. Partially out of spite, I took up the challenge. I have never sewn. I discounted my time in the medical school’s surgery/ER rotations.
The first shirts were not very good. It was a dissapointment. But hey, I was trying.
4 years later I have made two dozen shirts, each one better in quality. Full of colour and flare, there is not a quiet one in the collection. No pastels; nothing subtle. I love them and the feeling they bring to see it come together. I doubt they are ‘fashion’, but perhaps they are style (mine anyway).
Some time later in my technology education I hope to master digital photos. I want to put these shirts up here, one at a time.
If anyone has any suggestions how to do this (hopefully simple) matter, please let me know.
Now, I should tackle the six thousand dollar new stereo/TV system, which I can’t even figure out how to turn on. I have named it “Hal”.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

5 Things to do when feeling cross

Lately life and work have left me demoralized.
Having demoralization is not the same as having depression; when one is depressed one can't feel good about anything (or nearly anything). I feel just fine when I get to do the things that I want to do. Alas, that is not most of the week.
But, today's words from the mind and land of SPO are not bitchings about work (nothing novel there). They are what you can do when you are cross.
I use the word "Cross" as it has a nicer sound to it than than being bitchy. Someone (that is the person with whom I live) described me in some other words that were none to flattering. So, I thought I should hit these old remedies ASAP before something worse occurs at work or at home.

#1 - Watch the Marx Brothers - My favorite psychiatry professor used to prescribe this to anyone taking life or themselves too seriously. If you are new to the brothers Marx; I suggest "Horse Feathers". If you are in a down mood with cynicism, "Duck Soup' is just the thing. Groucho's birthday should be a national holiday.

#2 - Bacon. Bacon is just plain nasty; nothing about it is good/politically or medically correct. But, oh! the smell of 1/2lb frying up and then eating these greasy strips is a satisfaction that rivals sex. (if you are really down, 1lb is sometimes necessary).

#3 - Read one of the following books <
The Mouse and his Child, The Phantom Tollbooth, "The Lucia Series" by E.F Benson, or the Bachelor Brothers' Bed and Breakfast.

#4 - Hot water. Something so mawkish is splendid for bad moods; go soak in a tub, or drink a hot drink (I recommend tea), or merely wash your face. A hot washcloth to the face is a splendid thing, espeically if you are flying into hysterics.

#5 - Shopping. This one is a bit dangerous to prescribe as it can go to the extremes; but a drag queen summed it up nicely " nothing like a new frock to brighten up the day."

There are others of course, but I don't know the rules and regulations of the blog site.

Friday, March 03, 2006


I read Tarot cards.
I am very good at it thank you very much.
This talent was not looked for but discovered, back in college, when a roommate was taking some sort of one credit no-brainer course, and brought a deck home. He had no luck with the cards. On the other hand, I seemed to catch on like a duck to water, and nearly took the course for him. At the end, he shoved the deck onto me saying 'here, they seem to be yours'.
And so they have stayed.
One may think a psychiatrist who reads Tarot cards only feeds the critics of the field that psychiatry is all about alien abductions. In my defense I am a Jungian by training, and Jungians see psychological meaning/value in just about everything. (No, I don't give readings while I write out prescriptions) In my analytical training, Tarot was taken seriously.
They are not good at prediciting the future- nothing can and those that claim they can are swindlers. Tarot is a refined efficient system of symbolic knowledge, full of symbols carefully (or unconsciously) chosen over time to speak directly to the deeper levels of the mind. The card images serve to open up and free aspects of the unconscious. Once unlocked, I can use them as a spring board to what the hell is going on in the depths of my noggin. I can read subconcious thoughts but I dont read the future.
I have about 10 decks, ranging from abstract mantras to heironymous bosch.
The card for the month of March is the 4 of cups < I better be mindful about appreciating what I have rather than crying over spilled milk and lost causes.
If someone has a different 'read' on this card, please let me know.