My plan was to take time off from blogging, but I'm faced with a bit more idle time on my hands than that on which I had counted. (I know it would sound more natural and, for that matter, better, to have written "time on my hands than I had counted on' but I'm still stuck in the Dryden-inspired rut of written and spoken English and of not ending sentences in prepositions; someday I'll blog about it.) I'm away from home for a time, and while I do have one musical instrument with me, it can only consume so much time. I picked an outdoor venue for playing it - it's a brand new instrument with which I have virtually no playing experience or technical knowledge beyond that which comes with having reasonable mastery of a related instrument, which, in the grand scheme of just how pleasurable the sound would be to the ears of listeners, helps very little. I wanted to spare others the agony of my trial-and-error phase of learning the ins and outs of this new instrument.
Nature's elements provided just enough noise cover that my practice wasn't as easy for other to hear as it might have been -- a tornado and its usual preceding storms might have provided a bit more sound camouflage -- but it at least didn't sound quite as though I was deliberately performing a very public concert on an instrument on which I had no qualifications whatsoever to be performing said concert. I should be clearer here. The quality of my play very strongly supported the fact that I have yet to acquire the skill level normally required to play for the ears of anyone other than immediate family or a music teacher who has been compensated for the obligation to remain within hearing distance of my playing.
The sounds of nature, though, muted my poor musicianship just enough, i hoped, to dissuade anyone who might otherwise have heard me clearly from wondering whether the sheer desperation emboldening me to expose my obvious lack of talent in exchange for whatever cash passers-by might have dropped near me was borne of homelessness and hunger or of a drug habit controlling my actions to the extent that my next step, had playing for tips failed to provide the means to fund my next fix, would have been a bold attempt in broad daylight to sell my body to the highest bidder. Recent weight loss caused by minor illness, overwork, and a difficulty to eat that I typically experience when my life is disintegrating around me did little to dissuade casual observers from the conclusion that I was either homeless or strung out. it's an eclectic community where I have holed up for the duration of this forced vacation, though, and few either unprecedentedly generous or especially musically challenged vacationers wandered over to where I was seated and dropped enough cash on the ground near my instrument case to pay for both my breakfast and lunch. While busking was obviously not my intent, neither was I too proud to turn down a free meal or two in light of this unscheduled and therefore un-budgeted-for vacation. if I'd thought this through more carefully, I might have toted along my violin, for which I possess a reasonable degree of mastery, and turned this into both a fund-raising expedition as well as an escape of sorts.
This is turning out to be one of the more difficult blogs I have written. It's much easier for me to look at another person and to analyze what in that person's life experiences might be either so lacking or so excessive as to have screwed him or her up to create in him or her such a disaster as to provide a source of amusement to the rest of us. It's practically second nature for me, and even somewhat enjoyable, to hazard guesses as to just what has gone awry in someone else's life. Applying that same level of scrutiny to myself, however, I find almost unbearable. I don't in any way enjoy the self-analysis involved in looking inward to determine causes of my own failings and frailties. The simplest way for to me to face this discomfiture is not to face it. Furthermore, in not facing it, I'm doing a humongous collective favor to anyone who might show up to read this blog. It's much more interesting, we can agree, to most who turn up here either regularly or on occasion, to hear me snipe away about just how screwed up cognitively and/or psychologically almost everyone with whom I come into contact is than to have me prattle away incessantly with the same information pertaining to myself.
Beyond that, I'm a proponent of the philosophy that, for the most part, what has been done is done, and that there's little point in over-analyzing a whole lot of what already has happened. Sure, history should be studied for the obvious reasons that failure to do so promotes cultural ignorance. Beyond that, we've all heard the proverb, to which a ring of truth may be associated, that those who fail to heed history are doomed to repeat it. We have much to learn about how best today's society might be governed by looking at ways in which things have been done in the past. Still, it's always been my perception that this idea of the exigence of the study of history pertains to the study of history on a regional,national, or global basis, and not of the personal history of a middle-class twenty-one-year-old student. It's safe to say that the world at large, or even the world at small, has little to learn from the study of my personal history.
I can sum it up briefly (summing anything up briefly is a thing I rarely do), by stating that I am a most flawed individual. I have achieved minor successes in a tiny corner of my own world in spite of my obvious flaws. In some respects, what I have achieved is as much because of my flaws as in spite of them. My success or lack of it as well as the contributions of my weaknesses to any personal successes as well as to obvious failures I have experienced as well came up in a recent discussion with my friend Becca. Interestingly enough (to me; not much of anything appearing in today's blog is going to be of any particular interest to anyone other than to me and perhaps to a few people extremely close to me, but I won't even take for granted the interest in most of today's blog to friends and close family members) the bulk of the comment I made to her that alluded to my flaws and from whence they sprung was lost by an inadvertent keystroke. I was too tired at the time to retype what I had lost, but after the fact, I decided that for my own benefit, it would be worth re-typing the essence of what I had attempted to convey to Becca.
What I was relaying to Becca was that I had been in contact with my shrink. I received intensive and regular therapy following a crisis in my mid-to-late teens. My primary therapist was a psychiatrist who was and is a friend of my parents. Such wouldn't typically be any mental health professional's first course of action. Personal and professional distance is usually considered beneficial both to the patient and to the care provider. Nevertheless, my parents and the psychiatrist, to whom I shall refer as Chairman Mao, as that is the nickname I gave him when I was receiving treatment as an inpatient in a facility he directed and continues to direct (I'm told that three years later, patients, none of whom were present when the moniker of "Chairman Mao" was given to this doctor, as still referring to him as such. I consider it part of my legacy. It's more than just a tad pathetic, I concede, that even a portion of my legacy is tied to of a nickname I coined while I received treatment as an inpatient in a mental health facility. It's almost akin to sitting at the cool kids' table at band camp) decided that the comfortable rapport he and I had established overpowered the negative aspects of familial connections and potential drawbacks in a patient receiving counseling and cognitive therapy from a family friend. In regard to the weak or lame nature of any present legacy, I am young and haven't yet been blessed with am abundance of time in which to create a memorable and significant legacy. Some at my age or even younger have, I readily concede, managed achievements of which they and their parents could be proud and which make my meager accomplishments at my age appear insignificant or worse, but for me, the best with which I have been able come up in my 21.5 years , in addition to the not-entirely-serious distinction of providing my shrink with his nickname, is to have completed my undergraduate education and to have exceeded the halfway-point through medical school. I acknowledge inferiority to many age- level peers.
The topic of my psychiatrist came up in discussion with my friend Becca. My shrink had telephoned me during my most recent time of difficulty. Much of what he told me that I relayed to Becca was lost into the ether. Many relatives would suggest that the disappearance of the content I relayed to Becca was an act of God Himself. At the the very least, they would insist, the disappearance of the text was no loss to the world at large.
Chairman Mao, my psychiatrist, in our recent telephone discussion, was expounding on the idea that it has been popular for decades in the world pf mental health, particularly in northern North American Society, for patients to cite their parents as sources for anything wrong in their present lives. This, for the most part, is silly as well as pointless. Some parents have mistreated their children in most egregious manners. Most parents, however, provided the best parenting of which they were capable of providing. They, the parents, were themselves often damaged goods -- the result of a generation of parenting even less enlightened than the parenting to which they subjected their own offspring. In many cases, they learned from the error of their own parents' ways and endeavored to raise their children differently than they had been raised -- to, in effect, end the cycle of abuse where it was present. In other cases, children were not quite so fortunate, and cycles of abuse perpetuated themselves. For the most part, though, parents tried hard to do better jobs than their own parents had done which, in the grand scheme of all things related to parenting, was just about as much as could ever be asked of any parent.
My own parents were, for the most part, cautious (excessively so), concerned, diligent, and loving parents but who, as individuals, were human. Issues in their own lives and baggage from their own upbringings inevitably wormed their way into the child-rearing practices of my parents. I say this with clear knowledge that the perfect parent is nothing more than a myth. My parents did the very best they could with the resources available within and to them. Any single act of less-than-stellar parenthood of which I was the beneficiary would surely have been countered by an excess of one hundred examples of kind, gentle, nurturing and in all other ways exemplary parenting. It is with reluctance that I share a few of the examples of which my parents must surely be less than proud. I share them now, at the risk of hurting my parents' feelings but hoping that I do not do so, as a way of clarifying through my psychiatrist's perspective how a few of these incidents have combined to influence who I am and how I react to stimuli as an adult.
My mother battled early effects of Graves' disease when my brother and I were toddlers. Graves' Disease usually appears gradually. Its effects had been present for at least a year or two before the diagnosis was even suggested. One symptom of Graves' Disease is that a patient is running with most body systems on overload. The heart beats more rapidly than it should. The digestive system runs rapidly as well; metabolism is at a jack-rabbit's pace. A diet that would sustain a normal person with calories to spare barely keeps the body of a person suffering with the hyperthyroidism of Grave's Disease alive. Kidneys, liver, skin, and the endocrine and pituitary glands are adversely impacted. Heat intolerance is normal Sleep quality is poor. Despite the jumpiness and appearance of excessive energy, fatigue is a constant presence. Anxiety is, for many Graves' sufferers, at an all-time high.
For my young mother with toddler and later pre-school-age twins, the anxiety manifest itself in many forms. The house in which we lived could not be maintained cleanly enough to ease my mother's concerns. A spilled glass of water was almost enough to send her into hysterics. A broken glass was even worse. I told in an earlier blog of a time I severed an artery by attempting to push the pieces of a glass I had broken far down enough into the kitchen trash receptacle that it would escape my mother's detection. I might have been successful at hiding the broken drinking glass from her had I not severed the artery in the process, sending blood spurting all over the kitchen and later the living room. My mother's reaction (not one of anger at me but one of sheer terror at seeing her seriously bloody three-year-old) in response to a child's severed artery sent her into the hospital for treatment of anxiety right long with me for treatment of a severed artery, loss of blood, and shock. My mom meant no harm, and the anxiety with she lived on a daily basis for the better part of two years before receiving the testing and diagnosis for Graves' Disease, occurred through no fault on the part of my mother. It did, nonetheless, cause my brother and me to figuratively walk around on eggshell, afraid of doing the slightest thing to set her off, for the better part of two years. Our young minds learned that mistakes were not acceptable.
My father's situation was different. He was considerably calmer in the face of children being children, of spills of water, milk, juice, or other drinks occurring from time to time, of childhood boob-boos -- even those sometimes drawing blood -- inevitably happening. He was calmer in the face of standard childhood misbehavior as well. My father's Achilles heel as a parent, which, at least as I see it, impacted me to a far greater degree than it ever did Matthew.
My father was cognitively and academically gifted. Such became apparent soon in his life from a very early age. My father's mother was proud of her little boy and of the age at which he read, wrote, and calculated, possibly almost to the point of being ever so slightly boastful of her child's early abilities in academic areas. My father's father might conceivably have been proud as well, but if so, he had a very different style of demonstrating it if it was pride that he felt at his eldest son's early achievement. My father's father was very quick to point out any error in his son's work or in his son's manner or thinking. Whether this was his father 's way of assuring that his son's ego remained small enough to continue to fit comfortably inside his head, or whether it was my father's father's way of dealing with jealousy that his son was rapidly out-pacing his father's academic achievements can only be surmised. The end result was that my grandfather took every chance to call attention to any error his young son made, and to poke fun at anything he perceived as cognitive weakness on the part of my father.
Sometimes when children are abused in any way, including psychological abuse (the corporal punishment doled out by my grandfather would, at least by today's standards and likely even by the standards of the generation in which he raised his children, cross over the line to what would be identified as physical abuse as well) they respond by raising their own offspring as they were raised by their own parents. My father seemed to recognize the physical abuse he received at the hands of his father as such. He was able to break the cycle in that regard. His use of corporal punishment, as I perceive it as having been on the receiving end, was almost a textbook example of how to use corporal punishment effectively. It happened seldom (six times exactly to me; possibly a few more times to Matthew, as boys can be more difficult in the early years). My father never seemed angry or out-of-control when he swatted me. It was always a carefully considered option. It happened for direct defiance or for serious violations of safety issues. Even as the recipient, I would not change anything my father did in that regard.
My father, in my opinion, did not do quite so well in managing the academic progress of a child whose cognitive development may have been above average as he did with general parenting and discipline. I certainly don't think anything he ever did would have been motivated by jealousy, as I do not believe that I was his academic or cognitive equal at equivalent ages. Nonetheless, I was clearly the brighter of my parents' two surviving offspring. There were times when I felt that I was not allowed to be a 'normal' child and was held by my father to ridiculously high standards. For purposes of illustration, and because I believe these actions of parenting on the part of my father have contributed to my excessive expectations of myself and my sometimes malignant self-expectations of myself for perfection, or, at the very least, my inability to make even a single mistake and forgive myself, or accept that others will forgive me, for it. Again, I share these two incidents (there were others, but these two were particularly flagrant and stand out in my mind as such) because, at least in my mind, they have shaped the person I grew to become and how I live my life from day to day, but my father was so much more than these two incidents of parenthood. He was, for the most part, a fairy-tale parent in more ways than I could ever count, and I would not trade him for anyone.
My brother and I entered kindergarten at the age of four years, eight months. The kindergarten cut-off date for the state of California at that time was December 2, which was our birthday. Had it just been I and not a twin brother involved, my parents might have held me out of kindergarten until the following year just because of my size. My medical physical form that was completed a week before the first day of kindergarten listed my height at 34 inches and my weight at 23 lbs, 8 oz. Checking size reference, my height would have been average for a little girl of roughly 2 years, 2 months. My weight would have been on par for a nineteen-month-old toddler girl. My size was already of concern to pediatricians and I was already being seen by a growth specialist. Yet I was already reading without anyone having taught me other than to read to me, and we did have letter magnets on our refrigerator. My brother was on the tall end of average for his height. He was beginning to read prior to entering kindergarten, as well, though his reading and math skills were considerably behind mine. Our pediatrician said there was no right answer as to whether to start us in kindergarten or to red-shirt us. He [the pediatrician] offered his opinion that since neither of us was experiencing academic deficits, whatever one child did in terms of starting or not starting kindergarten, the other child should do as well.
We began kindergarten as four-year-olds, as the very youngest children in our school eligible to attend. (Catholic schools have the right to set different cut-off dates than what the state has established, but the school we attended did not.) Had Matthew and I been born six hour later, we would have missed the cut-off date and would have. by default, entered kindergarten the following year.
For the first week of school, I believe I did the standard kindergarten curriculum. It soon became obvious that, while my printing was barely legible because I had difficulty with gripping a pencil correctly ( I fisted it), and my coloring was abysmal, there wasn't a point in my sticking with the kindergarten curriculum, yet moving me to a classroom of older students would probably be a bad idea, as even the kindergartners tended to treat me as a baby; older children would have done so even more. It was decided that curriculum material would be sent down from higher-grade classrooms. Literature came from a variety of sources, and math curriculum was from an advanced fourth-grade series.
During almost mid-year, I recall working on a page of long division problems. As I recall, the page consisted of ten problems of four-digit dividends divided by two-digit divisors. I recall that the teacher required that I show my work either on the page itself or on a separate sheet of scratch paper, which was to be stapled to the actual paper. the math pages were in a consumable workbook in which the sheets were perforated, with problems on each side. I remember my teacher would punch out each day's pages for me to do. On that particular day, my answer for one of the division problems was incorrect. I recall not thinking a great deal about the red check mark made next to one of the problems, and the 9/10 score written at the top of the page.
After dinner, my mom asked us to remove work, included homework and graded papers from the day, from our backpacks, which we did. She glanced at my paper and saw that I had done a problem incorrectly. My father overheard and came into the dining room where we were preparing to do our homework. He seemed quite agitated that i had missed a long division problem. He looked at the work I had done, and saw that the problem occurred when, at one point, I had calculated 6 times 7 to be 43. He was baffled. "Alexis,' he demanded, "how could 6 times 7 possibly equal 43? When you multiply any even number by any other number, what will the answer be . . . an even or an odd number?"
I thought for a moment, hoping I answered him correctly. "An even number?" I answered more as though I was asking a question.
"Yes. Of course," my dad answered himself. "An even number multiplied by any other number invariably equals an even number . . . so how did you end up with 43 as your answer? Come on! Show me the math! I'm practically dying to see this. Show me how it is that you got 43 out of 6 X 7?" He was practically foaming at the mouth.
I didn't have any idea what he wanted me to say. "I don't know," I answered probably with tears rolling down my face.
"What you did was stupid, Alexis," he shouted. "Don't make stupid mistakes. You're too smart to make such a stupid mistake." I know he told me I was smart, but all I really heard was stupid.
From that point forward, if anything was marked as incorrect on any of my papers, I carefully tore the paper or papers up and placed the pieces into different wastebaskets at school.
I wonder how much it all got to Matthew, as he was clearly the less cognitively talented of the two of us. I think my dad just sorted of expected it of Matthew, though. I can remember hearing whispered arguments after Matthew missed a freaking sample question on the annual state test. (Sample questions are written with the intent of having the test-takers practice the bubbling procedure. The degree of difficulty of the content of sample questions is typically such that a trained chicken could correctly answer the question.) My dad was blaming Matthew's flat-line status on my mom's contribution to Matthew's genetics. "Your sister Kara may be hot," my dad opined, " and she certainly married well [to an oral surgeon who was also an MD and board-certified anesthesiologist], but she's not exactly rocket scientist material. She's not exactly even a rocket scientist's pencil sharpener material."
"John," my mother countered, "You could add up the full-scale IQ points for all seven of your sisters and not possibly reach a sum as high as five hundred, so I'm not exactly sure why you're blaming this one on my family's DNA."
Another time that sticks in my mind happened when I was a six-year-old second-grader. It was in the early part of the year, before Matt and I had our birthdays. It was the second of the two years Matthew and I attended parochial school. That year, the second-grade teacher decided it would be a good idea for me to spend half of each day in the school's fifth-grade classroom. The fifth-grade teacher, whose name was Mrs. Rutherford, wasn't an exceptionally mean teacher, but, looking back at the year and at some of her actions, she may very well have been bi-polar. Now she'd be diagnosed and put on medication. Back then, she just took it out on the students. For the most part, she wasn't unkind to me, though.
Early in the year -- before Back to School Night -- the class was making a large timeline on butcher paper. The timeline -- sort of a review of the previous year's social science curriculum, highlighted the white man's takeover of California. Everyone had to participate. My role was to print "1841 : John Sutter bought Fort Ross" with Magic Marker onto the butcher paper. Instead, I wrote; "1841: John Sutter built Fort Ross." When Mrs. Rutherford caught my error, she turned a color somewhere between purple and blue. I was seriously afraid she might be having cardiac arrest, as I had seen my grandfather when it happened to him, and his face had looked a lot like hers did. He couldn't shout during his cardiac arrest, though. Mrs. Rutherford was able to shout quite well. She acted as though someone had been killed as a result of my horrible mistake. Now she would have to cut a smaller piece of white butcher paper and glue it above where I had made my most grievous error. Then someone else would have to print "1841: John Sutter bought Fort Ross." This time it would be someone with at least half a brain who was smart enough not to commit the grievous sin of writing, "John Sutter built Fort Ross. " The real fifth graders who were mostly ten years old, seemed to take delight in taunting poor little six-year-old Alexis about her stupidity. (In fairness, though this might not have had anything to do with my error, John Sutter did actually build a fort in northern California. He built Sutter's Fort in what later became Sacramento, in either 1839 or 1841, depending upon what source one chooses to believe, but that's neither here nor there.)
Back to School Night rolled around about a week later. I tried to talk my parents into skipping my fifth-grade classroom after visiting Mathew's and my second-grade classroom, but they were determined to go there. Almost the second we walked through the door, Mrs. Rutherford approached them and walked them to the wall with the mural. She showed them the place where the mural had needed to be papered over because I had been so lacking in intelligence as to print "1841: John Sutter built Fort Ross" instead of "1841: John Sutter bought Fort Ross."
My dad glared at me and asked, "Really, Alexis?" incredulously.
My mom made some benign comment about how mistakes happen and that if the paper cost the school extra money, she'd be happy to pay for it. Nothing else of mine posted in the classroom seemed to matter, though.
Once we got into the car, my dad started what would have been a fifteen-minute tirade about how stupid my mistake had been that probably would have lasted the entire fifteen minutes from the school to our home had my mom not finally told him to shut up. I remember crying in bed until I finally fell asleep that night. Matthew told me the next day my dad had wanted to make me write '"1841:John Sutter bought Fort Ross" five-hundred times but that my mom told him not even to think about it unless he wanted her to spray paint "1841: John Sutter built Fort Ross" with red spray paint onto his white Lexus. (I think it was something like an ES 300, and it was a fairly late model.) My mom won that round.
I tell this story not so much to make the point that my father was a psychologically abusive parent, which he could be at times, though probably unintentionally. My point was that my shrink thinks my parents, with probably the best of intentions, or at least not the worst of intentions, helped to create in me a mindset that mistakes are never OK. Maybe that's why I overreacted so strongly to accidentally dialing Judge Alex's phone number well after midnight.
That's my shrink's take on it, anyway, and I'm sticking with him on his story.
The good news is that I chose a profession where mistakes, for the most part, really aren't OK. I'll make a few in the training phase, for which I'll be yelled at, but someone will be overseeing my work to the degree that I shouldn't be able to kill anyone. Once I'm no longer under direct supervision, mistakes need to be somewhere between few and far-between and non-existent. A doctor can, once in a great while, make the sort of mistake in which a condition is one of two, if you teat for one, you kill the patient if he has the other, ad vice versa. You have a fifty-fifty shot either way. The truth of the matter is, though, that such cases happen a whole lot more in TV programs such as House, MD than they do in real life. Mostly you just need not to make mistakes that kill your patients or cause them to lose vital organs are limbs. I'm not sure that counts not butt-dialing people after midnight, though I intend to try extremely hard NEVER to do that again to anyone.
Now I've been told not to report for work until Monday, August 8. I'm cool with that as long as they're not just stalling me and they're not eventually going to tell me not to show up at all. My cold is finally getting a little better. My viola playing still sucks, I can play lots of songs. They all sound like shit when I play them.