Thursday, January 28, 2010

This Is Winter

I'm growing weary of winter. I'm looking forward to the return of days when I can take the kids to the park and touching the monkey bars isn't like putting one's hand into a cooler full of ice. I'm looking forward to a bit more freedom.

Yeah, winter sunsets are lovely, and the days are already starting to lengthen, so that by the time my husband gets home and I get my butt and bags in the car to head to school, the sky is doing funny things...all dark gray and gold and pink and red. It's getting dark, but it's not dark yet. So I consider that a triumph for my neurotransmitters, which have gotten thankfully heartier over the years, but still have gone a bit wonky by the time February rolls around. Light is always a good thing.

The best part of winter is having a fire in the fireplace and sitting in front of it with a book. Usually I end up having to put the book down because the kids come over and start sitting on me and then one runs to get the blanket and some pillows and we end up huddled in a cozy jumble front of this pretty, dangerous thing. It's mesmerizing, and occasionally the logs will pop and send embers towards us, but the screen catches them, and we remain toasty but unscathed.

I needed to have a fireplace. Which sounds incredibly obnoxious, I know: the lengthy list of things we've come to expect and demand in the houses we purchase. But really, a fireplace was non-negotiable. Everything else was.

I want to shove logs in there; I want that slightly smoky smell that wisps around the living room and into the fibers of the blanket we wrap ourselves in; I want to hear the crackling of the wood succumbing and see when the wood is so far gone that it breaks apart under the weight of new logs; I want to move things around with the poker, shift pieces to let some air in, and let the flame rise again. I want to tend the fire.

There is something contemplative about it, something soothing and restorative. You can let it die down, or you can bring it back to life. It would have to be just embers for wood to no longer catch. And it even tends to mellow the kids. A fire means downtime, it means sitting (although not necessarily still), and it means that we all tend to stop doing and start being together, usually in some kind of haphazard pile.

And although I love the arrival of Spring and greet it with near giddiness, it's always a bit of a downer to have that last fire, when the evening air is still cool enough and our wood pile has dwindled down to nothing. It's always quite bittersweet and strangely ceremonious. I'm happy to say good-bye to winter, to bare branches and the prolific nature of gray, but sad to say goodbye to that other source of heat and light.

Perhaps I'm not quite so ready to be rid of winter just yet. A few more weeks then. I'll take it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When You Walk Through The Garden, Watch Your Back

David and I have been watching The Wire on DVD for the past few months. If you have never watched The Wire, I'm not sure how I can adequately sum up the experience, or how I can convince you that this is a show you need to see.

Critics have named it as either the best or the second best drama of the decade. (One reviewer insisted that The Sopranos was better). I recall reading one article that pegged it as the best TV show ever, which, yes, is quite blustery language, but watching such a great ensemble cast take turns telling the story of drug dealing/policing in the broken big city of Baltimore, and doing such a stellar job of it, it's hard not to believe the hype of that particular accolade.

I suppose, however, that some words of caution are in store. As the premise of the show is based around inner city life and the cops that work there, the show is no 90210. It's bleak, as gritty and dangerous as broken glass, and filled with the horrific music of gunfire. Based in the projects, the corners, the District police headquarters, and all the way to City Hall, we see how when the system is inexorably broken, people who make it out are a rare item. We see what happens to children when they're raised by the streets.

But it's also true that, wherever sunshine is a rare commodity, some light still seems to miraculously find its way to the ground.

Well, on occasion, at least.

For all of the terror and sadness, there are bits of hope and humor scattered about, from the corner boy who becomes disillusioned with 'the game,' to the addict who keeps trying out the 12-step program, to the police major who tries his hand at legalizing drugs on the sly to see if crime levels are brought down (they are), to the former gangster who, upon release from prison, briefly tries his hand at his old life, only to reject it after finding there is nothing there to sustain him. And then there are the cops, who while trying to bring down the big guns, find themselves growing strangely attached the middlemen, those ubiquitous corner boys who are the ones always being shaken down, and asked to take one (be it an arrest or a bullet) for the team. The relationship they build is a strange one, but moving nonetheless. (Video NSFW, language.)

It's in this world that we find brokenness and the concept that 'nowhere to go but up' is a bunch of bullshit. There is always further to go down, or a way to skate out sideways. The cops are alcoholics and the dealers seldom use. The schoolkids we meet are the lame horses in a race that's already been decided. And you wait for someone to attend to them, and witness some people try, only to discover that the new clothes a teacher purchased for one of his students have been taken by the kid's own parents, and sold on the street corners for drug money.

There are the guys in the game who are there because it's the family business, but who actually have a heart that can be found beneath the protective cage of their ribs, and there are the guys (and girls) in the game in whom there is zero trace of a soul, and those folks are the frightening sociopaths who kill as much for pleasure as for business.

The creators are so good that you soon find yourself enamored with and rooting for (though you're not exactly sure what you're rooting for) some of the guys who aren't so stone cold, whether it's D'Angelo, the guy who just wants to run things as a business, with none of the violence, or Bodie, the kid we see grow slowly disillusioned with the life, or Omar, the renegade with the shotgun who robs stash houses of their immense cash piles.

You also find yourself enamored with and rooting for the detectives, who know the real prize rests in catching the bosses, and who also know the bosses are usually stunningly smart and often one step ahead. Or that as they chase the money trail, it leads to City Hall, and so investigations are thwarted by higher ups. They can't seem to win either, chasing leads that go places they can't.

There you have it. A host of reasons why I recommend this show. It's so amazing and well-done that you might not mind that sometimes you need to take some Tylenol PM to take the edge off your sorrow. And the fact that it was overlooked by award shows should just serve to boost its cred further. As Bodie might say, "This shit is tight, yo. Check it."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I'm Trying Not To Talk Myself Out of This Shit

I'm 34.

Let's just say that my personality, at this point, is fairly entrenched. Most likely, I ain't changing.

Which is a shame in some regard, since I'd like to be able to look you square in the eye and tell you that I relish this new role and that I cannot wait to jump headfirst into nursing school and a new career. I wish I could trump the genes that have landed me in the afraid of change segment of the population, and the doubt myself severely segment of the population, and the who? me? segment as well.

As I continue on in school, I've been asked a few times lately why I chose nursing. After essentially getting a degree in reading and writing, why the seismic shift into something science-based? Why the leap from Holden Caufield to IVs?

And as cliched as it sounds, it boils down to the concept of helping. I'd like to be in a position to offer what I can, be it compassion or pain relief or basic care to a neglected populace. And I've always found medicine interesting, and treatment, and the fixing of people in general.

But I am also a terrified person. Anxiety-prone. Depression-prone. There are parts of me that are massively tough, but many other parts that are not. The other day I had some routine blood work done. While I was waiting, I watched a young girl of about 7 or 8 and her father come in and get shepherded back into one of the rooms. She looked wickedly pale and moved slowly. Clearly wintertime might not be the best season to judge someone's health by their color, but she looked unwell to me. I heard her small cry as the needle punctured a vein, and watched her father bring her back out into the waiting room, where he got her coat back on and zipped, patting her on the head and murmuring to her about how brave she was. And I had to bury my head in the Sports Illustrated that I was reading and bite my lip because I was truly about to cry.

Just the concept of a sick child getting tests was enough to send me reeling, and so naturally, I ask myself the question. Am I tough enough for this job?

I realize that not every area of medicine is an emotional minefield. But my feeling is that I'm not going into nursing to find some safe area where I never encounter anything sad.

I also realize that coping skills can be learned, that there are probably tons of physicians and nurses and all other manner of medical personal who are sensitive, and that perhaps they find ways to build up their exterior so they don't crack. Perhaps they find ways not to bring the heavy shit home.

Because as much as I want to help people, I'm not going into this so I can drive home at the end of the shift, put on my pajamas and curl up on the bed in the fetal position and weep until my eyes swell shut.

There is also the idea that sometimes we talk ourselves out of things that will ultimately benefit us, out of fear of discomfort. So I trudge on, despite misgivings, hoping that I'll eventually find the place I'm supposed to be.

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