I Want to Write This Morning!

I am sitting up in my bed doing a little dance because I am excited about writing this morning.  I don’t know why, exactly.  I never have trouble finding things to write about because this is a conversation, and if you know me you know that I can talk forever.  I will talk with anyone.  I have conversations in the grocery line, my doctor’s waiting room, across the street to neighbors.  I am very much like my mother in this instance.  When I was a kid I used to wonder why she would strike up conversations so easily.  Now I know that there’s something to connect me to every human being in the world and most of them want to be acknowledged and engaged. 

I can actually remember the point at which I began to feel comfortable talking to “just anyone”.  I was in junior high school, my father had retired from the military and we had moved to Chattanooga (Mama’s home).  We were attending a traditional Baptist church with older people who noticed the children and took an interest in our well-being and progress.  I found that I could answer their questions and then ask them about themselves without too much blushing or stammering, and soon I found myself seeking out certain ones to connect with regularly.  In retrospect, I realize that we were being trained in a number of ways.  The children were encouraged (sometimes forced, never bribed) to speak publicly by performing in plays and talent shows, reading aloud in Sunday School classes, and taking part in special church services that were well-rehearsed “Boys Day” and “Girls Day” celebrations.  By the time I finished high school, I had written presentations, spoken, played piano both for performance and accompaniment, sung in two choirs, planned lessons…First Baptist Church East Eighth Street had thoroughly groomed me. 

When I graduated from high school I had no appreciation for what Chattanooga had given me.  I left for college and planned to never look back.  Due to the foresight and persistance of a relatively small group of citizens, in the next eleven years the city pursued a progressive, inclusive course that helped to draw me back after I finished my medical training.  That progressive nature wasn’t an isolated or new feature here.  When my mother’s matenal grandmother, a white woman married to a black man, boarded buses with her three brown grandchildren in the 1920s, no one persecuted them.  In the 1960s when other southern cities were torn apart by battles over forced integration, Mayor Ralph Kelley took Chattanooga in hand:

  • “In a sweeping change in Chattanooga’s history, Mayor Kelley declared all city facilities “open to all.”  This action on September 24, 1963, opened all public buildings, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, golf courses and community centers began Chattanooga’s desegregation.  As the south worked through desegregation, Mayor Kelley worked with representatives of all communities in Chattanooga to try to ease citizens’ concerns.” http://www.chattanooga.gov/Mayors_Office/9_1963-1969RalphHKelley.htm

Three years after the death of former Mayor Kelley, his widow, Barbara Kelley, an energetic woman with her own formidable history of public and private service to the city, is running for City Council.  Her webpage shows more of that ability to articulate current issues and willingness to attack them head-on, as well as a love for this community that I share completely.  (http://www.kelleyforcouncil.com/)

I must continue the theme of praising and encouraging Chattanooga because it comes naturally to me to discuss things that I love, and because I am fighting against some powerful self-righteousness and arrogance.  In 1985 I made the decision to return here, and shared that with my fellow residents at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  To my surprise, their comments were steeped in ignorance.  They wanted to know where I would work, if there was a hospital in Chattanooga.  They asked how I would survive in such a “backward” place.  The worst was they suggested that perhaps my excellent training would be “wasted” practicing internal medicine here, as if the perceived population of hicks and foundry workers didn’t deserve the finest medical care.  The fact is, this city was well on the way to becoming the half-million metro area with the beautiful riverfront, active arts community, vibrant downtown and diverse population that I so love now. 

Don’t get me wrong-I’m just as likely to fuss about people who’ve never set foot out of Chattanooga as people who malign it.  I am a proponent of learning about this world, ALL of this world, and feeling our responsibilities and connections as global citizens.  I loved my daddy’s Army career and the way it moved us every few years, sometimes on pretty short notice.  You know that the world is small and accessible when you live in Missouri today and Germany tomorrow, or when you realize that you were born in Germany (yes!) but are an American citizen, or when you look around your classroom and see kids of Japanese, Hawaiian, African, Swiss, and Native American heritage.  That was life as a military kid.

The one huge failing of that life was that I was very late learning continuity of relationships.  Every few years my family was uprooted, and my friendships all ended.  There was no internet and long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive,  so we’d write letters, frequently at first, but quickly diminishing to  a Christmas “hello” and update, and then we’d lose touch completely.  We quickly made new friends and adjusted to new places, filing the old ones away. 

Lorraine Palos, my best friend from medical school, was my first continuous, long-term friend.  We met late in our freshman year of med school, striking up a conversation on an escalator and knowing by the end of the ride that we would be friends.  At the end of school we separated to residencies two hours apart and kept talking and visiting.  At the end of residency, she stayed on the east coast and I moved back to Tennessee.  We married and kept visiting.  We planned common vacations, hiking in Gatlinburg the year that we both had baby girls in Snugglies.  Our daughters, thus introduced, remain friends.  Lorri taught me everything I know about continuity because she just kept planning for us to be together, even through treatment for a brain tumor that eventually took her away.  I still close my eyes and talk to her. 

It is Sunday, and I am not in church.  Not unusual.  I just realized that one throwback to my childhood is that I change churches every few years.  No guilty feelings here.  In a minute I’m going to pick up the light plum block I’m knitting for my daughter’s afghan, and I’m going to feel reverent and blessed with that beautiful cotton yarn sliding through my fingers. 



Friday Already?!

Mornin’ all!  You can see what’s on my mind.  I’ve frittered away another week and it’s Friday and of course I haven’t finished my To Do list.  From yesterday’s goals, it’s an easy pick for what didn’t get done.  Not a bill was paid, not even one.  I am not one of those people who hates paying bills.  I am forever grateful that I have the means to pay my bills, and I feel really accomplished and grown-up and capable when I sit down and pay everyone.  The big hurdle is getting everything together to pay them.  First, I kind of clear a space on my kitchen table.  That’s the same table where I write shopping lists, pile up mail, do some photographs of my products, lay out things that need piecing, and do other art projects.  Once in a blue moon we actually eat there.  Next I collect all the stuff I need:  plain envelopes (for businesses that are too cheap to send you a return envelope), stamps (an assortment of current 41 cents, old 39 cents, and the 2 cent bridges), bills(some scattered around in the house in alternate mail sorting stations), a pen (preferably a Pilot G-2 with blue ink), and a cup of coffee.  Oops, forgot, need my laptop because I pay some of them online.  Damn.  Why did I write out that list?  I’m tired just thinking about it and I cannot get out of it today because guilt is nagging at me. 

Guilt is a chronic theme with me.  I was raised by older parents.  They had six children in two groups.  I was the first child of the second group, which consists of me and my baby sister, the afterthoughts.  There’s almost a ten year gap between groups, which means we got the old parents.  My older sisters were raised by the younger, more current parents, who did not change their parenting techniques one iota to deal with their pair of late offspring.  The old parents taught me to always, ALWAYS work before play, keep a schedule, take pride in my work, do my best, and clean my plate.  When I was in my residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital slaving away day and night and day again (yes, we took call every other night as interns and we went home only when the work was done) I would finish a long two days and make it to the front steps of the hospital and sit down and cry.  Periodically I would call my parents and tell them how awful it was and then I’d get a letter in the mail with a newspaper clipping with some timely topic -“Staying Close to God in Times of Stress” or “How Pro Athletes Train Their Minds and Bodies” or “Rebel Teen Crashes and Burns” and writing on the flap of the envelope that said “WORK HARD”.  You get the picture. 

They may have made that emphasis because they realized that I was a kid who would always question the rules before deciding whether to follow them, and that I would choose the low, brambly road before the high, direct one.  Despite my questioning tendencies and my ability to do other than what my training told me, I still have major pangs of guilt from those synapses made in my childhood.    I am still trying to break those spiderweb-like threads that grab at me.  They don’t have the ability to hold me any more, but they can worry the heck out of me. 

Fortunately I am 50 and have learned some timely lessons.  In my 30s I realized that I’d never reach steady state, life would never smooth out and be calm and predictable, and there would always be a crisis lurking.  In my 40s, after years with lupus, I learned to make my standards comfortably low and really go after the things that had a high priority for me.  So today, I can think about paying bills, realize that it’s only number three or four on my list, and decide that I won’t die or cause world devastation if I put them off another day or two. 

What I’d really rather do today is knit.  And stuff related to knitting.  I want to visit the Yarn Works Inc studio (http://www.yarnworksinc.com/) and take out the summery stuff that I had there on consignment and replace it with winter stuff.  Yarn Works Inc. is a coop of eight women who have various fiber arts interests.  They have put together a studio that is a wonderful, warm place to shop and learn.  It’s in a rehabbed saddle factory on the Southside of Chattanooga.  You may not realize it, but Chattanooga is acclaimed for our farsighted, comprehensive work in sustainability.  You probably have realized that I am obsessed with documentation, and when I make a claim I’m gonna give you a reference, so here’s a little something to read about Chattanooga and it’s incredible progress in this area:  http://www.nextstep.state.mn.us/casestudy.cfm?id=74

Okay.  My work here is done.  I’m gonna watch one of my idols, Ellen Degeneres, and knit.