Monday, December 30, 2013


My trip to Chicago was wonderful, despite my best attempts to convince myself that the end of the world was nigh.

I went to see Philomena alone on the Thursday I arrived. I enjoyed the experience, walking alone downtown in the snow. I had worried that I would find the viewing difficult. Parts of the film were irritating, such as when Philomena made up her mind to return to England when she thought that her son had never thought of her. Of course he had, but her feelings were so fragile. And oh, those nuns. The lies. The missed connections. But all in all, it was about finding a way home.

Friday I spent meandering around the Art Institute. I hadn't been there in nearly 20 years, so it was a lovely chance to rediscover its rich collection. I particularly loved this photograph of the painter Otto Dix and his wife, taken by the photographer August Sander in the 20's.

The focus, the gaze of Dix's wife, the strange vantage of Dix himself. What is this about, in terms of human relationships? I love German art of the 1920's and its enigmatic surfaces.

Then I found myself in the Greek gallery and drawn to the white-ground lekythoi, of course. I thought of my college friend, Rachel, with whom I memorized thick books filled with vases, and of my graduate-school colleague Richard, now a professor at the University of Chicago, who probably sends his students to look at these. I felt wrapped in the past, joyous, at home. I spent half an hour lost in the fine lines, imagining the painter, the story of the object, the life of the person commemorated. Thinking also about my father, since lekythoi are for the dead.

And it goes without saying that I spent an hour in front of Sargent's portrait of Tilda Swinton's great-grandmother, Mrs. George Swinton. Glorious. Flashy. Elegant.

Friday night I went to see an extremely thoughtful play at Steppenwolf, Tribes, that chronicles a deaf man not being heard by his hearing family. He is an excellent lip reader, and his family refuses to learn to sign. He does miss out on much, however, by their not including him. So much obliqueness, so much talking over. So much strife. The young man meets a young woman from a deaf family who was hearing, but who is going deaf. She introduces him to the deaf community, and of course conflict ensues. I found the description of the community you belong to through no choice of your own to be perfect, as well as the ideas of different tribes, and belonging or not belonging; what makes a tribe, and what is family? It left me with much to mull over as I slept before meeting my father's sisters.

On Saturday I woke up to more snow and a drive north. I made it to the beautiful small town and settled myself. I called my aunts, and they came to pick me up. Before long, we were hugging in the street and all my anxieties were dispelled. I belong. They took me to a bar for lunch where they said my father would have wanted me to go, where he took my great-grandmother every time he came home. A place called The Lantern, where the Bears and Cubs eat. We sat and ate burgers and looked at photographs and cried. I learned that my great-grandmother took my father and his siblings to the Art Institute to see the Thorne Rooms, assemblages of interior design, Gesamtkunstwerk. Sound familiar? Only basically the stuff my dissertation treats. My great-grandmother, the German one, the Baroness, was a character. Powerful and outspoken. She watched movies all night. Like I do. When she moved to the United States and the ship left the dock without some of her furniture, she demanded that it turn around so that the problem be remedied. And she was obeyed. She came from minor Prussian aristocracy and lived in Ehrenbreitstein, the castle at the confluence of the Mosel and the Rhein near Koblenz.

She met my great-grandfather when part of the castle was commandeered by Allied forces during World War I, and my great-grandfather was stationed there. I wish she were still alive so that I could ask her more about it. Apparently she was echt Deutsch and very much like my husband's family (no surprise there). My grandmother (yes, I met her) told me that she was fearsome. My grandmother has the most amazing sense of humor; she's witty and hilarious at 93. I adore her.

After lunch we went to one of my aunt's homes and talked and looked at more photographs. I was given a box that my father brought back from Mexico when he was 18. They had filled it with photographs. I particularly love this one, which he had inscribed to my great-grandmother.

I am guessing that she gave him trouble about his appearance from time to time, and they bantered back and forth.

My aunts also gave me a mug that my grandmother's best friend had given to my father in 1957, and that he had used until his death. I love holding it because he did. Over and over.

I was amazed by the amount of emotion that I stirred in other people. I am used to being verklempt myself, but on Saturday when my cousins walked in the door, they immediately teared up to see me. I am apparently definitely my father's daughter. I brought him back for them. They wanted to know about me--and I am like them. It was so wonderful to spend time with my uncle, too, who spent summers fishing and winters skiing with my father. My uncle has a beautiful photograph of my father in his office upstairs: Rick fishing at Pyramid Lake, silhouetted in the rising sun. To have these stories shared was priceless, and to have a sense of knowing that my aunts, uncles, and cousins see me as belonging.

On Sunday at a Christmas brunch I was also able to meet quite a few of my father's friends from high school. They would walk up to me, take a look, and I would see tears glisten in their eyes. These were men in their late 60's and early 70's. Successful. Powerful. Obviously very kind men, to whom my father had meant a great deal. They felt secure enough to show me how they felt. It was amazing to be around people who were so open and so comfortable in their own skins. I was welcomed, more stories were told, and it was lovely.

All too soon it was time for me to drive back to the airport, but I felt grounded. I had answers and photographs, and I look forward to meeting more people and hearing more stories. I am very, very sad that I missed meeting my father, but I like to think he was there in spirit. What a gorgeous soul.

Now it's nearly the new year, and I still have my work to do: work with Dr. Yalom on myself, facing some locked doors; I go back to work on Friday (I hear it's a fright zone with 10 RNs under baseline, and I am horrified); and work to see that 2014 is the best yet. There are still some journeys I still need to begin, more people to meet at Lake Tahoe. But I am very, very happy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


I have not felt this close to the edge for a long, long time.

It's scary as fuck putting myself out there. Scarier than I had ever imagined.

I don't feel brave anymore. I feel vulnerable and awful.

After being put through hell, I don't have much membrane left on my soul. That's what it feels like: I am rubbed raw on the inside.

I do pretty much nothing but cry.

I haven't processed anything recently because I haven't given myself permission. It's too excruciating, except that it's all coming out now.

I spent today walking around my old neighborhood, old, old neighborhood, shopping with a friend. I went into a cafe and saw a man who reminded me of the young Nearly Perfect Man on Paper, with whom I lived in that neighborhood, and I had to stifle a sob.

I had a very kind and solicitous e-mail from him after my surgery, nearly a month ago. After six months of silence. Why do people do this to me? I wish I could talk to him today as I am feeling extremely fragile: except that it's not his job to pick me up anymore. Some people just do understand me better than others, especially when my soul has no membrane left.

So it's off to pack. Wish me luck.

Friday, December 06, 2013


I hate not having control over things.

I am a perfectionist. Not in all aspects of my life, but certainly when it comes to writing and trying to express things. I research meticulously. I wouldn't go to print with my ass hanging out, and I wouldn't interview someone about a medical condition I didn't understand and then MAKE SHIT UP.

I am being featured in Dr. Oz's new magazine, to debut in March. There will be an article about me and the importance of family health history. The journalist writing about me in several e-mail messages still couldn't spell spherocytosis (REALLY!) and was talking about how it made oxygen levels dangerously low. Which is true in a vague way, but not really. It causes anemia and hyperbilirubinemia. At the very least, people do understand anemia, and it's possible very quickly to explain that people with HS have red blood cells that are fragile and shaped like spheres, not concave discs; they have a much shorter life-span because the spleen cleans misshapen red blood cells out of the blood. That's why people with HS have enlarged, scarred spleens over time.


The fact checker called and said that the journalist wrote that in nursing school, in health assessment, that my spleen was enlarged and that I screamed when it was touched. I did NO SUCH THING. Yes, it was enlarged, and it was sore, but I have a high pain threshold. I did not scream. It being enlarged that fall was just the first sign that my spleen was at last giving up the ghost. People who know me in real life know that I don't usually scream when touched, and that I didn't even cry when I broke my arm. Fuck.

I want to say, "NO! You have it all wrong! I want to write the story myself. What was the point of a six-hour interview if you weren't listening?"

Do people have no standards anymore? Maybe read up on a subject that you're writing about if you're unfamiliar with it? Certainly, you shouldn't simply embellish someone's story if it's not a novel; my crazy life story is quite compelling enough if you stick to the facts. I don't want to sound like a hysterical idiot because the author doesn't understand the subject: either the medicine in it, or me. Ask questions! It's okay.

I am intensely frustrated because the content of the article is beyond my control. If it makes me seem like a dippy woman, I will lose my shit. I should ask to see it and make sure there's not any more lameness in there. I know it won't be perfect, and the goal is to open conversation about DNA and family health history, but bloody hell, I hate mediocrity.

Don't paint me to be some half-baked moron.

At least the photographs are fabulous.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Despite feeling completely undone, despite not knowing what to do when I am odd-girl out, despite all the burdens I carry, I still love people.

Being one of those for whom boxing up emotions isn't possible, I cannot just blithely trip away and pretend whole swaths of my life didn't happen. Sometimes I wish that I could. On the other hand, I don't have a lot to regret, and for that I am proud.

Nalini and I went to see Potted Potter, a delightful send-up of the Rowling series in seventy minutes. Including quidditch, believe it or not. We laughed and loved on the Englishmen playing the roles, who stumbled a few times when they realized out loud that some their jokes "don't translate for an American audience." Their Welsh accents for Dumbledore were lovely, but I am not certain how or if Americans picked it up. I even asked Nalini, "Why does Dumbledore have a Welsh accent?" She replied, "Because he's Welsh." I missed that memo completely. But as they said, "No worries. Probably most of the people don't even know what or where Wales is." It was uproariously funny, and they were certainly having a great time with all the layers that San Francisco might add to the mix.

I am taking the boys tonight because it was so fabulous. I cannot wait to see what they think as they are huge fans of the books and films. Nalini and I were also thinking that one of the characters in the show is very like Callum (the staid one who wants demands order) and the other one rather like Tobey (the one who creates chaos and hasn't read the books). I wonder if they'll identify.

The show is on for the next week in the Marines' Memorial Theater, in the Marines' Memorial Club.

I walked into the club to be surrounded immediately by memories of my brother. He was inescapable. For those of you who don't read my blog religiously, or at all, my brother is a physician who until recently was in the Navy. in 2010 he was sent to Afghanistan and was Chief Medical Officer for Camp Leatherneck, a Marine outfit. The Marines, Marines, Marines. I sent him letters and letters to his Marine address. I worried myself sick.

As I walked around the club, I heard my brother's voice telling his stories about deployment (and he is a fantastic storyteller); I remembered pictures of him in his flak gear. I was sent back to that horrible time.

I miss him, terribly so.

I sent him a photo of the signage for the Leatherneck Lounge via text. I wanted him to know he is on my mind.

I will always love him, and he will always be my little brother, despite everything we lost and will never have. And I know despite the mess that he loves me. It's just complicated. Very Intensely complicated.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


I am very, very happy. I only cried once, and at the end. It was about my body and my health, where probably all or most of my fear lies. Makes sense. Funny (as in uncanny, not ha-ha) that my health went to shit at the same time that all this came to pass.

Lovely insight:

"It sounds like most of your sadness wasn't in not knowing, or in searching, but in the end result, in who you found and how you were treated. That being ignored, over and over, continues to reinforce your feelings of isolation."

He takes notes! He listens! He redirects and asks questions! He is appropriate! I laughed a little bit when he called C my "real" mother. That's what people do when they don't think about it. Because "real" families are what you're born into, right?

All this to say that he is definitely supportive of helping me with my adoption garbage: and yes, thank you, naysayers, it is adoption garbage: if one of the most eminent living psychiatrists believes me that it's adoption-related, I feel vindicated.

I have hope.

Sunday, December 01, 2013


I am going. To Chicago. On the 12th of this month.

I am meeting my father's family. I am excited and terrified at once.

I don't expect a replay of what happened to me before, but I don't know. One never knows what things one will stir up in people, despite one's best intentions. Despite being simply oneself.

As I said to Nalini earlier today, situations like this are my kryptonite, emotional and otherwise.

I was up late last night reading Sartre's Huis Clos again, for the first time in many years. The play about being in hell, stuck there with no escape. Hell being other people. It made complete sense to me when I was seventeen, and it makes all the more sense to me now. I look at all my little underlinings, chuckle at my not understanding the significance of the falsehood of Louis-Philippe furniture, cry at how little I understood then about people hobbled by their inability to love. It is such a brilliant play. "Can you judge a life by a single act?" Apparently many people feel they are able to do so. Still.

In Berkeley the other day I bought Sartre's book, Les mots, in which he considers the power of words on his discovery of existence; of course: he was a philosopher as well as a playwright and novelist. To read, to write; that's how we make sense of things, or try to, anyway.

Or maybe by talking, if we find the right people. I am completely nervous about Tuesday.