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End of Summer, and catching up - Catherine Fischer [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Catherine Fischer

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End of Summer, and catching up [Sep. 3rd, 2007|01:05 pm]
Catherine Fischer
[Current Location |Arcadia]
[mood |contentcontent]

Dear Everyone:

Forgive me for being such a poor correspondent – life has been so full of doing these last many months that I’ve hardly had time to sit down and think, let alone write about it. Then again, my life always seems to rise and fall, like the ebb and flood of breath, in cyclic waves of frantic activity and quiet winters of the soul into which introspection and the need to write naturally creep. I suppose if you still remember me after all this time, you’re probably used to it by now. Thank you for bearing with me. I’ve thought of you all rather a lot more than my paltry communication would suggest, with memories of you crammed into the interstices of my life like some mad crow’s horde, catching the sunlight and making me wonder.

Last summer, I was trying awkwardly to settle into a brand new internship – more realistically, trying to cram myself into a space not yet defined, wedged between a fiercely independent and self-sufficient group of tight-knit senior veterinary students (the “guinea pigs” that would be the first class to complete all clinical rotations in the new OSU small animal hospital), and their sometimes overprotective professors – more like parent birds, watching their chicks fledge and leave the nest. It was often uncomfortable, and frequently confusing; with no real defined position for me to fill, and with different clinicians having varying degrees of expectation and ability to communicate, I lived with a kind of vague sense of anxiety and guilt that I should be doing more, with no real idea of what I should be doing. I read a lot, trying to brush up my knowledge base, and asked a lot of questions, trying to learn from experience, tried to be proactive, to the best of my ability (and, more germane, courage), and tried to assist the students and pass on information that I thought was useful (which wasn’t always appreciated or welcome, although it was part of my job description, such that it was). The constant anxiety wore me out, wrecked my health, wrecked my sleep. Thoroughly burnt-out by last Spring, I gave up my often ill-timed and socially inept attempts to be as helpful and useful as possible, and focused on just getting through it, getting as much out of it as I could. I know I tried too hard. Alas, when I do, it often results in awkwardness. With the exception of a few gracious clinicians, the majority of the feedback I got was negative. I really had no idea what I could do to improve, and was uncomfortable with so much, feeling that I would get into trouble for overreaching (and trying to push my boundaries often resulted in competing directly with students for experience opportunities – students invariably won). In retrospect, although I did learn from the experience, it was probably not the ideal internship for me. Those of you familiar with medical terminology can add a new syndrome to your vocabularies: internship-related Cushingoid.

Compounded on this, the Move from Hell (from Minneapolis to Corvallis) left me in a stuporous lassitude, my spirit cooling in concrete shoes of inertia, with no drive or energy to complete the projects (creative/fun or otherwise) that were once part of daily life and certainly part of plans made prior to the move. I never even finished unpacking, let alone painting or any of the other home improvement projects I had wanted to complete to make our little bungalow feel like a cozy home fit for entertaining in. Instead, it became the cave (complete with moldy old cave-bottom carpet and neglected garden wilderness) that I crawled into at the end of the day to hide from the world and the overwhelming list of things I felt I should be doing. Like a deer in the headlights, the sense of urgently unfinished business froze me to the spot, and I accomplished nothing. Initially, I had thought it no more than exhaustion, physical and emotional, from the move, coupled with the stagnation that often sets in in summer for me (Spring and Fall, my favorite seasons, are seasons of motion and change, followed by the inexorable march of monotony, lush or barren, that summer or winter bring in their carpet bags). But the clematis stopped blooming on the vine, the raspberries brought their final crop forth and dropped their leaves, Autumn lit fires of vermillion and ginger and smoldering aubergine all across the land, and still I lived in a capsule of stasis, spiritual hibernation, within my busy but trivial life. Gradually, I came to understand that Corvallis, like Santa Cruz, is an energy pool – a place to hide, to heal, to ripen on the vine, but never to move forward, never to achieve great transformation.

That all changed at the beginning of July, with the move to Portland. Ah, Portland. First seen on externship in 2005 when Dr. McLean from the Wildlife Safari took us on the road to explore the Zoo and other highlights of Oregon, my first glimpse had resulted in a shocking sense of recognition and familiarity, which I had been excited to investigate. Finally, last Autumn, flying back from a wonderful wedding in Michigan, I took the time to explore Portland with Brent, and had a peculiar experience: one long, running déjà vu, like a movie played in front of me and behind my eyes simultaneously. Like the converse of the ending in The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath, cities in dreams I had had since childhood – dozens of them – revealed themselves not to be compilations of cities I had known and lived in, as I had always thought, but a single, real place: here. I recognized houses, neighborhoods, parks, even the angle of the light. Places I had always loved suddenly seemed be reminders of neighborhoods in Portland. It was a bewildering, overwhelming experience; it left me speechless and near tears. Now, it leaves me with a sense of belonging and purpose, as though I am finally on the right track, and finally home.

And so the dust is finally settling in my life. Brent is happily (and busily) ensconced in the internship of his choice – an emergency/critical care internship at Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital. Dove Lewis is a well-recognized and well-thought-of non-profit institution, and so far, Brent is receiving plenty of encouragement, support, and experience. He was good to begin with, but has been steadily improving. I’m terrifically proud of him, even though I hardly ever get to see him (I can tolerate anything for a year). He’s interested in pursuing residency (three more years of training) and board certification as an emergency/critical care specialist; I’m willing to support him in that. However, we’re tired of moving, and love it here. I think we’ll likely wait for the residency program at Dove, rather than pursue residency anywhere else.

I’m working at a busy, 10-doctor general practice that sees cats, dogs, birds, reptiles, and pocket pets – and am learning fast, on the fly. I’m not anywhere near as efficient as I’d like to be, but I’m working hard not to compromise the thoroughness that gives me the greatest satisfaction. So far, by taking extra time and explaining things to owners, I’ve been able to sell them on a better quality of medicine for their pets, and my average doctor-client transactions are near the top of the practice. I love my colleagues, who are supportive, experienced, and great human beings, and I’ve already collected some wonderful clients. My daily commute takes me across the soaring span of the St. John’s bridge, into the woods and dappled green shade of Forest Park, over the mountain to the farms and fields of Hillsboro, edged in bobbing yarrow and goldenrod in the tawny grass of late summer, and down through the heart of the town to Aloha. It takes about 25 minutes, almost all of which are enjoyable. The trip home frequently includes a view from the bridge of moonrise over Mt. Hood, with Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Rainier basking in the surreal golden pink haze of alpenglow, reflected in the mighty Willamette river below me. It often brings tears to my eyes.

Home is Arcadia, a 3-story row house with a tiny fenced yard on level 1, and decks on levels 2 and 3. Basil and thyme, catnip and tarragon, lavender and lemon balm and tomatoes bloom in profusion among summer annuals and perennials on my main deck, framing the forested hills across the mirror-smooth surface of the river. The bridge rises to the right of the view, over the nodding golden bamboo in my neighbor’s yard. Dante and Lucien lounge in the sun on the deck all day, beneath the squabbling songbirds at the feeder, and the zip and flash of the hummingbirds. On weekday mornings, the pounding from the steel mill at the water’s edge and the tooting of the tugboats competes with the drawn-out wail of the trains passing through the rail yard; St. John’s is still Portland’s last great undiscovered neighborhood, largely because of the industrial interests still here. But it has the feeling of a secret, shared among friends – a golden sanctuary from the commercial claims and uncaring, unthinking urbanization of the wide-open city. I know my neighbors; we share a wink and a nod in the halcyon summer garden of the John Street Café over scrambled eggs with brie and fresh chives or Marionberry and hazelnut pancakes. And on the weekend, the meadow below our bedroom deck is filled with the arias of the songbirds, and the mournful passing cries of skeins of geese, heading south. Fall is already tinting the hills with dustings of amber and russet, and the light falls clearer and thinner on my old cats’ hides, and the wet winter nights will no doubt find them curled up beside me in front of the fire. But first, my favorite season: Autumn. And nights at the symphony, the opera, the theater. Blues festivals by the water’s edge. Twilight bike rides through the park. Farmers’ markets and crafts fairs and long afternoons in Powell’s City of Books. Trips to the seaside. Concerts. And, of course, the company of friends. Come, and be welcome. The spare bedroom is just about ready, its bathroom clean, its closet with plenty of room. There is still enough basil in the garden for insalata caprese, or fresh pesto. The games stand on the shelf, ready and waiting. Buster and Griffin are ready to swarm the laps of anyone sitting down to a movie in the basement entertainment room. And I’m recovering from the exhaustion that has so long claimed me, ready to renew acquaintance with a far-flung family of patient friends.

Love to you all,
Catherine
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