Bleak House

When I was young, I loved several things in my books: I loved my passionate fondness for the characters, to the point of believing them almost real, certainly having existences and thoughts and lives beyond the page. I loved how a good story made the world vanish, and for the space of a few hours (or however long I found to hole up with my book) I was entirely outside my own existence.

I especially loved and dreaded the end of a perfect book, when I would often feel a bittersweet longing to continue onwards with the characters, a regret that their adventures had come to an end, and a satisfaction of a journey well completed. In the best of books, I felt that I, too, had accomplished and learned something important in the journey.

In childhood, the best and most satisfactory example of this was the end of The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo and many of his companions sail off into the West, leaving others behind. Like Sam, I always felt sadly bereaved, left behind, but the better for having been there.

In adulthood, this feeling has, unfortunately, rarely come.

I can escape easily enough. If I suspend my critical faculties, most drug store romances can take me away- and for longer and cheaper than the price of a movie in theaters, too.

There's often a character I'm fond of, too. After so much Christie, Poirot and Miss. Marple are as vivid as anyone I might meet on the street.

But that bittersweet regret at the end of a good book? Vanishingly rare. In my adult life, besides affectionate re-readings of The Lord of the Rings, I can only name Middlemarch and The Age of Innocence.

And today, I finished Bleak House, and happily add another.

Bleak House, if approached in the style of high-school English where one must say what it is ABOUT, in some literary way, is ABOUT the corruptions of the English legal system in the 1840's when Dickens was writing it.

Of course, since Americans are reading and enjoying it 150 years later, that turns out to be the least of what it is ABOUT. And also of course, since it is Dickens, the ride is much more entertaining and involved than such a dry explanation would imply.

Bleak House is part social commentary, part mystery, part comedy of manners, and part portrayal of human behavior when caught up in corruption.

Dickens is of course, and famously, a caricaturist, but I find that in Bleak House his caricatures are written with a lighter touch, and show more clearly the human truth behind them. They certainly seem more human than the characters in Great Expectations or Oliver Twist, which I remember loathing in high school.

There are genuinely good characters here (Jarndyce the benevolent guardian and Woodcourt the generous physician are but two examples). Their goodness seems real and possible (well, perhaps except for Esther herself, who is a bit much). There are very few truly evil characters here, and none of them are a cartoon of evil, like Fagin. No, this evil is believable and palpable and present today (Tulkinghorn). Better, there are characters with a delightful moral ambiguity.

There were bits of humanity here that made me wince in recognition: Mrs. Jellyby, the dedicated activist, who spends every ounce and particle of her soul in misguided activities overseas, while her entire family goes to wrack and ruin around her. Mrs. Jellyby was, in fact, the only character I found much connection to, as her shortcomings are also mine (and my church's, I sometimes worry). Skimpole was a caricature, but a caricature of a tendency I've seen at work more subtly, but quite often- an amoral renunciation of responsibility.

But more than anything, Bleak House was a great story that caught my fancy, made me sad to leave, and from which I came away feeling richer than I had started.

Time well spent, every minute.

Collection of Unintentionally Hilarious Advice in my Women's Health Textbooks

1.) "Bathtubs should be washed after each use." From my Women's Gynecological Health text, on preventing yeast infections. Right. Every time I bathe, I immediately SCRUB WITH CHLOROX BECAUSE WOMEN ARE SO SO FILTHY.

2.) "Pregnancy test should be considered for reproductive age women who present to the ER for any condition." From Benson's guide to success in your clerkship. Broken leg? PREGNANT. Gushing blood? PREGNANT. Funny rash? Why, she must be PREGNANT! Because women do nothing but MAKE BABIES!

Sorry, I'm in a bit of a mood . . .

Two exams down, two to go . . . Office Procedures next . . . what to study first? Incision and drainage of an abscess? Laceration repair? Or the ever popular SUBUNGUAL HEMATOMA REMOVAL? Yikes! The thrills!

The new Mrs. Z presents . . . her wedding day!

I don't generally care to be quite so personal and self-revealing on the internet . . . however, I know that there are lots of people (ahem, mother, ahem) who dearly wish to see all of these photos! So here you are. For mom, for everyone!

All of these photos were taken by my sister Caitlin, and John. Oh, and Lyndsay took the one of the wedding certificate. Emily, Rob's sister, shot up some film, but I haven't scanned it in.

I must quote this passage from Little Women. I was thinking of it all that day, and every time I tried to repeat it to someone, I thought I was going to cry, because it was exactly how I felt. So here it is.

"You do look just like our own dear Meg, only so very sweet and lovely that I should hug you if it wouldn't crumple your dress," cried Amy, surveying her with delight when all was done.

"Then I am satisfied. But please hug and kiss me, everyone, and don't mind my dress. I want a great many crumples of this sort put into it today . . . "

There were to be no ceremonious performances, everything was to be as natural and homelike as possible, so when Aunt March arrived, she was scandalized to see the bride come running to welcome and lead her in, to find the bridegroom fastening up a garland that had fallen down, and to catch a glimpse of the paternal minister marching upstairs with a grave countenance and a wine bottle under each arm.

"Upon my word, here's a state of things!" cried the old lady, taking the seat of honor prepared for her, and settling the folds of her lavender moire with a great rustle. "You oughtn't to be seen till the last minute, child."

"I'm not a show, Aunty, and no one is coming to stare at me, to criticize my dress, or count the cost of my luncheon. I'm too happy to care what anyone says or thinks, and I'm going to have my little wedding just as I like it. John, dear, here's your hammer." And away went Meg to help `that man' in his highly improper employment.

Collapse )

Call for a Sixpence!

All right, I'm not very traditional. My dress is a very non-white color (and I don't mean ecru or ivory), I'm not walking down an aisle, I wasn't even going to have cake (until my father took the matter into his own hands . . . )

But damn, I want a sixpence for my shoe!

Might anyone have one that I could borrow/have/buy?
Obama Vermont

What planet are these people from?

Apparently, Obama's health care plan means that he is just like Hitler.

Before we even go into the immense illogic of this statement, let me point out how grossly, repugnantly offensive this is to actual, real, victims of the actual, real, Holocaust (it HAPPENED, you know- it's not just a cute anecdote people can use to make points), many survivors of which are still alive to this day, and (furthermore) the memory of which is still very much alive in the Jewish community.

If someone had tortured Limbaugh daily for years and then murdered his entire family, I think he'd be pretty pissed to have that pain minimized by someone else (who obviously hadn't a single clue in their idiotic head) comparing it to something totally different. Let's use a different analogy here, for a second. "Oh, you were gang-raped? I know JUST how you feel! I stubbed my toe once!"

Limbaugh also likes to make trivial comparisons between Nazis and Democrats and then pronounce them identical. For example, according to Limbaugh, Nazis were pro-animal rights, anti-smoking, and anti-pollution, and so are Democrats. That means that Democrats are militant fascists who want to conquer Europe and murder Jews. Uh huh. Leaving aside the issues that I'm pretty sure Nazis weren't animal rights activists, and President Obama is a smoker . . . wow.

Nazis spoke German, and so do Austrians. We should all worry that Austrians are going to TAKE OVER AUSTRIA. Horrors. The Nazis wore uniforms and liked parades, and so does the American military. Clearly, that means that General Petraeus is ready to leave the Middle East and INVADE POLAND. Hitler had a moustache, and so did Groucho Marx. This means that in his spare time, Groucho liked to COMMIT GENOCIDE. Right.

Moving on, my rebuttal can be summed into two words: "What? WHAT?!" I will elaborate.

Apparently, much of this delusional, paranoid idea seems to have come from the in itself delusional, paranoid idea that Obama's health care proposal involved setting up "death panels" in which it would be decided whether or not senior citizens had the right to live. Um, have these people ever read a reputable news source? I refer readers to the multi-award-winning, non-partisan

Now, the delusional, paranoid, death panels idea seems to have come from a provision in the bill that would have enforced Medicare reimbursement for senior citizens seeking voluntary end-of-life counseling. Perhaps those not steeped in health care don't know what end-of-life counseling is all about. I will tell you what it is NOT about- it is NOT ABOUT TEACHING PEOPLE HOW TO KILL THEMSELVES. End of life counseling does two things that are often contradictory to the spirit of modern America. 1.) It acknowledges that, yes, everyone does eventually die, and 2.) It teaches how to plan ahead for that eventuality, usually in the form of an advance directive or living will.

As I myself have gone through the process to create an advance directive, I will share. My advance directive says all kinds of things about what should happen to me if I (for example) am in a traumatic car accident and am unable to make my own decisions. It states who should make decisions for me, especially if my fiance/husband is also incapacitated. It says what sort of treatment I do or do not want under various circumstances. For example, if I am deemed clinically brain-dead with minimal chance of recovery, I do not want to be attached to intravenous fluids and nutrition. As another example, if at the end of my life it comes to a choice between pain control and consciousness, I choose consciousness, unless it is the pain of suffocation, in which case I want all the morphine I can get. The entire document goes on for about six pages and is very specific about my preferences in all such situations. It is then filed at hospitals I'd be likely to be brought to after this hypothetical traumatic motorcycle accident.

This sort of information and forethought is vital for everyone to pursue, but it is especially vital for senior citizens, for whom death is not a hypothetical "someday," but a very imminent "now." If you knew you were going to die within six months because of your rampant liver failure, would you want to be treated with antibiotics for your pneumonia? Some people would, and some people wouldn't. Knowing that you have the choice, and then making that choice, is the essence of end-of-life counseling.

Obviously, this is just like Nazis.
Holmes and Watson

Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson.

In the past three days, I have:

Completed a significant amount of knitting on my wedding shawl.
Attended two Quaker committee meetings and a Meeting for Worship.
Cooked up a batch of cheesy biscuits, a platter of roasted-beet and goat-cheese nibbles, Moussaka, a second batch of biscuits . . . etc.
Worked an eight hour shift.
Completed all the grocery shopping and cleaned the kitchen.
Gone on two two-and-a-half mile runs.
Dealt with endless headaches surrounding my pickup truck.
And sundry other errands, like letter-writing and laundry-folding.

Most significantly, however, I walked myself down to Richmond Rescue and filled out an application (some of you may be getting phone calls). It's what Jack would have wanted.

Stop me before I read again!

The pile of books on my bedside table is growing shockingly huge, so I decided to see what I had gotten myself into by compiling an orderly list. Behold, my summer reading list. I'm in the middle of at least half of these, but if I finish them all by autumn it really will be a miracle.

Barclay, Robert. Barclay's Apology.
Bloom, Harold. Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. A Testament to Freedom.
Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Gould, Stephen Jay. The Flamingo's Smile.
ibid, The Panda's Thumb
ibid, Wonderful Life.
Ibsen, Henrik. An Enemy of the People.
Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves.
ibid, The Problem of Pain.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Love in the Time of Cholera.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road.
McEwan, Ian. Atonement.
Miles, Jack. God, A Biography.
Proust, Marcel. Swann's Way.
Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karennina.
Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway.

#$%#$#! is all I can say about that. Someone, please cut me off. Or, failing that, egg me on by telling me about one of these books that you've read (or sharing your own summer reading list!)
Holmes and Watson

Writer's Block: I Can Relate

What fictional character do you most identify with?

The immediate answer and easy is, of course, Dr. John Watson. I relate to his intelligence: high, but not out of the ordinary, and often frustratingly inadequate when placed beside brilliance. I relate to his honest, hardworking nature. I admire and try to emulate his loyalty and courage. And, naturally, we're both in the healing professions and friends with people who habitually put themselves in the way of danger. Every time I read the Holmes stories, I see myself in Watson's exasperated love for his rather reckless friend.

Along those lines, I relate to Jonathan (of David and Jonathan) as well.

Among the classics, I relate to Anne Elliot from Austen's Persuasion. I'm loud where she is quiet, but despite this difference we're very similar: too easily swayed by others' opinions, always struggling to do the right thing, and lovers of books and good music.

But really, for sheer similarity, I identify with Lusa Landowski from Barbara Kingsolver's novel Prodigal Summer. An entomologist (specializing in moths, no less!) turned farmwife, Lusa and I have the same inquisitive mind, love of reading, lazy streak, and ineptitude at house-wifey skills. We have the same temper, stubborness, and sense of marriage to the land we belong to.

Call-bell Bebop

I snagged a sandwich at the cafeteria today around hour ten of a twelve hour shift. Things were slowing down, but I still had to sneak bites of sandwich in between transcribing orders and dispensing pain medication.

Just as I took a particularly juicy mouthful, a bathroom alarm went off. I knew what that meant- a patient needed help getting off the toilet. I rushed to their door, then paused. Few things are less pleasant than cleaning intimate areas while masticating a large mouthful of turkey on rye.

I began chewing as fast as I could. The call bell above my head seemed to be ringing in sync with my jaws. In this spirit, I began bobbing at the knees as well, keeping time. Ba-doop, ba-doop, ba-doop, ba-doop.

One of my favorite nurses came down the hall, saw me, and grinned. She struck a pose reminiscent of a tango dancer. Just then another light went off, forming a syncopated rhythm. There was nothing for it- we burst into an interpretive dance. Ba dada doop, ba dada DOOP! She whisked an imaginary rose from between her teeth. My right hand sailed towards the ceiling, and my left foot extended in a graceful arabesque.

Just then someone called my name from behind my back. It was the wife of another patient, and she did not look amused. One hand was on her hip, and her foot was tapping the floor. "Are you going to come in and take care of my husband?" she demanded.

I gulped the last bit of sandwich. "Just a moment!" I said, and ducked into the room.