Friday, April 27, 2007

First Lasts

Things at the J-school are finally beginning to wind down.

Last night was the final lecture in a required, semester-long series on the magazine world. (We heard from the editor-in-chief of Elle.)

The night before was the last classroom meeting of my News Editing class. (Next week we have a 6-hour field trip to the New York Times, which will be a fantastic way to end the course.)

I have just three more real deadlines in the next 11 days.

It is this winding down, this loosening of the vise, that has allowed some of my recent interludes.

This weekend I will have another. Zach and I are heading upstate tonight, mostly so we can pick out countertops—one of the last big things we need to do for the kitchen (or for the whole house, really). I'll be working most of the time, and Zach will be wielding power tools a whole lot, but it will be really nice to have a change of scenery for a couple of days. Who knows—we might even give the DVD player a workout. I haven't seen a movie in months.

All of this easing up, which started about six weeks ago, has siphoned off not only a huge amount of stress but also a concomitant degree of motivation.

I spent all this time working on my master's project and should really be hustling right now to try to get it published, but I just haven't been able to do it. And I'm now spending all this time on a second big story, but not enough as I should be to really make it shine. It, too, will soon go in the ready-to-pitch pile. And by "pitch" I mean "try to sell to a publication," not "toss out with the trash."

I fear that my ready-to-pitch pile may soon rival my newspaper pile.

OK, not really.

But you get my point.

Partly it's because I have so little experience with pitching that it just seems like another mountain to climb, right when all I really want to do is hang out at base camp for a while.

And partly it's because even if I do sell one—or even both—of these stories, I know I will have to do a substantial amount of re-reporting and rewriting.

And despite the length of this particular post, right now I feel like I've only got the stamina to tackle the first draft of a haiku.

Because you know what?

Long-form writing is an endurance sport.

And I am woefully out of shape.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Over the past few days, I've had several lovely interludes with Zach, with some old friends, and with my dad. (I also wasted the better part of the nicest Saturday in months watching tremendously ponderous, self-indulgent theater, but that's an entirely separate topic, one that several of the aforementioned friends allowed me to rant about last night. Thank you, aforementioned friends!)

It was so wonderful to be able to enjoy small moments together—sharing a delicious meal, or a passage from a book, or a funny story that someone had saved up for days. I could almost feel a halo around us, like the camera had zoomed in for a close-up of these intimate, happy respites from the blur we call life.

I'm spoiled now and ready for another one.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Lately more than a few people have asked me what I'm going to do once I graduate.

Most of these people didn't know that I'm not going to be receiving my degree next month.

Still, it's a valid question.

And the truth is that I have no idea.

Last weekend was the J-school's annual job fair.

I didn't go.

All year, the Career Services staff have been exhorting us to come in to have our résumés reviewed.

I haven't written a résumé.

It's hard to imagine that I'll find my first post-J-school job through the normal course.

After all, I'm 40 years old, and I have no relevant work experience.

I worked in career counseling myself for three years and in recruiting for another three, so I know how these things go. If I saw my nonexistent résumé, I wouldn't hire me, either. I wouldn't even interview me.

I might even walk down the hall and show it to a colleague and say, "Want a laugh? Check this out."

So what am I going to do?


Eat right.



Reacquaint myself with the concept of fun.

And, most of all, spend as much time as I can with Zach and my family and friends.

Because I may never be lucky enough to find complete fulfillment in my work.

But I know I can find it with the people I love.

I hope to see you all soon.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The "Early Treatment" Continues

My dad is still in the special not-the-E.R.-but-not-a-real-room-either unit, where he has been for more than three days now.

On the plus side, he just returned from getting the brand-new piece of plumbing that will allow him to continue to receive food and medication, which means he can lose the oh-so-comfortable (not to mention -attractive) tube that he's had down his nose for a few days.

I didn't get to see him today, in part because there was no way to know when he'd be taken from his not-real-room to the place where the medical version of a plumber was going to work his or her magic. Given that it's an hour-and-a-half-long trip each way, I have no doubt that had I gone to the hospital, my timing would have been so exquisite that I'd have gotten to see him sleep for five whole minutes before being ejected to a nearby waiting room for the duration.

Instead, I stayed here and wrote draft number 573 of a story for one of my classes, just making my 6PM deadline.

With any luck, my dad will be discharged tomorrow and will return to the rehab hospital, where at least he has his own room.

A real one.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


It's been a craptastic few days.

In the past 72 hours, I've ridden in an ambulance three times and gotten to know yet another ER—twice.

I am fine.

Zach is fine.

Even my dad is basically fine, although he was my companion on all of those ambulance rides. Well, I guess technically I was his companion.

Thursday's trip to the ER was occasioned by my dad becoming suddenly lethargic. But a chest X-ray, a head CT, a bunch of bloodwork, and about six hours later, no one could find anything wrong, and back to rehab he went. He was back to his perky self by the next morning.

Just a few hours later, however, what was essentially a plumbing problem—a clog in the tube through which he is receiving food and medication—sent him back to the very same ER. This time, however, the problem could not be easily fixed, despite the efforts of a diligent resident and—seriously—a can of ginger ale.

We had gotten to the ER at around 7:30PM or so and stayed until about 5AM, when my dad was moved to the euphemistically named Early Treatment of Admitted Patients unit. A more accurate name would be Better Than the ER But Still Not a Real Room—basically a holding area for stable patients. Still, it was an improvement, and my mom and I were able to come back here and crash for a few hours before returning.

ERs are never a fun place to be—especially two nights in a row—and this one was no different. Only one visitor is allowed in at a time, so my mom and I kept having to trade off. At one point, I was treated to part of an episode of "Wife Swap" in the teeming waiting room while my mom sat in an uncomfortable chair and tried to sleep with her head resting on the foot of my dad's gurney.

My dad was a sport throughout—and sometimes a pretty cheeky one. At one point, while he was asleep, the resident came in to give us an update. We happened to have had our backs to my dad during the conversation and didn't realize that he had woken up—we were talking softly so as not to disturb him. All the while, unbeknownst to us, he was trying to hear what was going on. He's not able to use his voice, which made it hard to get our attention, but he finally succeeded—by hauling off and kicking me in the butt!

The real bummer about this most recent episode is that today is my dad's 81st birthday.

A year ago we had this huge surprise party for him in a restaurant overflowing with friends and family. Zach made this great collage of photos of him throughout the years, and it was wonderful to be able to celebrate the occasion with so many people who love him.

Today he had visits from all the women in his life—his wife and daughters and granddaughters. We promised him a belated celebration as soon as circumstances allow. My nieces brought him adorable handmade birthday cards. And last night, as the clock struck twelve, I sang "Happy Birthday" to him very, very quietly.

I'm pretty sure he was asleep.

He didn't kick me in the butt or anything.

Monday, April 09, 2007

And Now the Tissues

Should have known this was coming.

I now have a cold, or possibly the precursor to something worse.

I guess the adrenaline took a shot at my immune system on its way out the door.

Thanks, old pal.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pass the Smelling Salts, Please

I read somewhere once that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who scream their heads off when they are scared and those who are quite literally dumbstruck by fear.

I know exactly which type I am. About a hundred thousand years ago, during the part of our honeymoon that we spent at a Club Med in the French West Indies (don't ask), Zach and I both participated in what I guess were called "circus arts." One such art, the trapeze, kind of fascinated me. I was a gymnast as a kid, and I thought I might be able to dredge up some muscle memory from my years of acrobatics and put it to use up there—perhaps not with the greatest of ease, but maybe with a bit of a head start.

Zach, having zero background, nonetheless was an absolute natural on the trapeze. Buried somewhere in our basement are some really incriminating photos of him in the special end-of-the-week show in which he was recruited to appear. I have no doubt that the words "red spandex tights" will cause him to blush retroactively for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, the ex-gymnast over here displayed a paralyzing fear of flying through the air. I somehow managed to climb up to the rickety little platform way up in the sky, and I even grabbed onto the trapeze, but I could not make myself jump off into the nothingness before me.

So, of course, I was pushed.

That's what they do with people like me, and it's actually very effective. As soon as I started swinging, my body reflexively began to do all of the steps in the little routine I had seen over and over from the safety of the ground. To somebody down on that ground, I probably looked like a real pro—kicking my legs out and back, looping my knees over the bar and hanging upside down (no hands!!), and then doing a half-flip into the net.

The truth is that I was completely panic-stricken, rendered mute by abject fear. When I finally lowered myself from the safety net to the grass below, my knees nearly gave out as I tried to stand. I practically collapsed into Zach's congratulatory embrace.

There was another fearful flier at Club Med that week. She, too, had to be pushed. The difference was that once she was off the ledge, most of her body froze. Instead of doing the dorky little routine, she just hung on for dear life, kicking her legs like crazy and screaming bloody murder. She was right above the net but way too scared to let go. Eventually, her arms gave out, and she fell to safety.

I kind of envied that other woman. She freaked out in the moment, but once the danger had passed, she was fine. I tend to do the opposite. I usually perform well in a crisis and then fall apart once the cavalry arrives.

I'm not sure that the cavalry has arrived, exactly, but it does feel like the multiple crises that have comprised my life are at least starting to abate. My dad is out of danger and is slowly improving. Zach is back from L.A. And I've gotten a bit of a respite from the steamroller that is J-school.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my knees feel like they might buckle at any time.

Adrenaline, that miracle drug, has deserted me.

And withdrawal is a very painful thing.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

At Least I Used a Bowl

The makings of a perfectly healthy meal are sitting right in my refrigerator—a lovely piece of salmon, the makings of a salad, and several different vegetables that will taste delicious after just 15 minutes of roasting in the oven.

I am really hoping to turn those ingredients into an actual meal tomorrow night, perhaps as a reward for making any progress whatsoever on a story I am writing for one of my classes. I already have a first draft that is more than 6,000 words long (nearly double what the final piece is supposed to be), and I still have more than 10 hours of taped interviews to transcribe. And 10 of hours tape = many more than 10 hours of transcribing, based on my limited experience.

And then there's the writing, of course. And the revising.

Lest you think I've been slacking off, I spent the day reading and editing the equivalent of 200+ pages of book proposals written by eight of my classmates. My big study break was going to the grocery store and the fishmonger to buy the aforementioned ingredients.

Zach is upstate, doing electrical and drywall work and a host of other renovation-related tasks. If he were here, I imagine he'd have cooked the dinner. But if he were here, I probably would not have gotten through those 200+ pages.

In lieu of dinner I had a dish of ice cream with a sliced banana. At 10 p.m.

All kinds of healthy going on here, I'll tell you.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My Reading List

Is it just me, or has there been a swarm of new books recently about doctors and patients?

I'm probably missing one or two, but here's what I'll be reading as soon as I have discretionary time once again:

Pauline W. Chen, M.D., Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality

Atul Gawande, M.D., Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance

Jerome Groopman, M.D., How Doctors Think

Michael Stein, M.D., The Lonely Patient: How We Experience Illness

Reviews to follow.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Past as Prologue

Not quite a year ago, I wrote an essay for an essay contest about the experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. At the time, just finishing the essay felt like a major triumph. I didn't expect to win the contest—which is good, since I didn't—but I always planned to revise the essay and send it out to other publications in the hopes of one day seeing it in print.

Then, well, life struck, and I honestly forgot all about it.

But in the last couple of weeks, two things happened that reminded me I was sitting on something potentially publishable. The first, of course, was Elizabeth Edwards's announcement about the return and spread of her breast cancer, followed soon after by a similar announcement by Tony Snow about his colon cancer.

The second was the scandal about the wave of U.S. Attorney firings, which reminded me that a classmate from last year had written a really important story about the evisceration of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. She wrote the piece in a class we had together (the one I ended up auditing after I had to withdraw from school) but was unable to find a place to publish it. So she resigned herself to letting the story languish on her laptop, despite the fact that it had shared (with a story by my pal Danielle) a major award at graduation.

When the recent scandal broke, I was one of the people (including our professor) who encouraged her to dust off the story and try again to sell it, or at least to write a well informed op-ed about it. It took less than 10 days before it ran as the cover story at Salon last Friday.

Between the two events, I realized that this might be an excellent time to pull out my essay, give it a serious edit, and try to find a market for it.

With any luck, I will report good news—and my first real byline—sometime soon.

If not, you'll read it (the not-so-good news, as well as the essay) here first.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

New Countdowns

My last deadline for the semester is one month from today. I've got a bunch of work to do before then (and a bunch after that, since I'll be finishing one class over the summer), but a month suddenly seems like a manageable period of time.

Better yet, 47 days from now, Zach and I will be jetting off on a belated-40th-birthday-(and anticipatory-graduation-)trip. True to our tradition of planning each other's birthday celebrations, the destination and duration remain surprises.

The extra-nice part is that I have more than two weeks between that last deadline and the trip, so I will be able to decompress before, not just during, the vacation. I will still have a few classes to go to, and a second round of graduation ceremonies and events to attend (as a guest, not a participant), but nothing of the stress-inducing variety.

And if I'm feeling really spry, I may even have my hateful port removed.

'cause I'd so much rather be a foreign body than have one lodged inside my chest.