31 January 2006


I am SOOOO dumbfounded right now. I don’t typically write about the brass tacks day-to-day of things, but today I’m so frill’n beside myself I just need to say it, to write it, to prove to myself and the world that this is all real. Pinch me. Is this a joke?

I was asked to participate in a review group, an ad hoc study section if you will. This is a group, for those who aren’t familiar, that will convene to review grant applications, in this instance for unit/site applications for large networks that conduct studies in humans (called a clinical trial.) I have a lot of history with this particular application process, shaping it from different perspectives over the last few years. Anyways, that’s not the important part.

So I received the usual truck load of material via Fed X in early January. I had to deal with all the ablutions of my friend dying and the pre-review conference call wasn’t until the 13th of January and then I had work obligations and that trip to LA and Palm Spring and the what not. But that’s all okay, I set aside all last week, an ENTIRE week, to accomplish the task at hand. This is more time then I’ve ever given myself to do this work – I didn’t want any pressure for a change.

Not. As I sunk my teeth into the project it spun out of control. It proved to be the most complicated review process I’ve ever been part of. One application alone included over 50 site applications. Just doing the math, if one were merely to spend an hour reading and then writing a review of a site, that application alone would take more than a 40-hour work week to complete – and that was just one component of ONE of the applications. Needless to say I haven’t slept much.

I’ve slept a total of six hours since Saturday, I think, and I flew to DC on Sunday for a Monday meeting, had a delay (the airplane was struck by lightening – don’t ask) getting home last night and didn’t arrive back here until after 2 a.m. this morning. Every second in the airport, in the hotel, on breaks during the meeting and every moment before this trip was spent reading and writing reviews on these applications.

What I’m trying to paint a picture of is how hard this was and how much time I spent on it and how I sacrificed. (I’m a virtual martyr.. that’s the take home message.. this is all about sympathy.) The dog was neglected and suffered short walks and loneliness (in her most sad moments she climbs on the sofa where I’ve been perched for the past week, lays down on a sea of papers and just rests her head on the keyboard of the laptop and sighs – hoping my hands will find her head for a scritch or a cuddle given the only thing in the house I touch anymore are these papers and that black box.) The carpet needs vacuuming. Secret got in the garbage when I was gone – she does this when she’s lonely and craves attention - and Ed pretended to clean the coffee grounds off the kitchen floor – which means they’re just scattered around abit and being tracked through the house.

Long story shorter. The review group is scheduled to convene via conference call today at 7 am my time. Yup.. that’s right, I hunker down for an EIGHT hour conference call. I have my cordless phones at the ready with my headset on mute. One is charging while the other is poised to do its job. The computer has been recharging all night. The stacks of papers are arranged neatly around the living room according to some logic that will allow me to access the appropriate material at the right time, efficiently, during the review process. I have organized in a systematic fashion over 300 pages of written critique I produced over the past week (maybe I could submit THAT to NaNoWriMo!!)

The call begins slightly after 7 am, no doubt the host was trying to contact all of the participants. In my fatigue I forgot to put the pot/decanter under the coffee maker and coffee flowed freely over the counter-top this morning while I rushed about trying to find my toothbrush and brace for the grueling day ahead. At about 7:10 the program staff initiating a welcome and introductions and by about 7:30 the chair of the group was introducing the first application and the primary reviewer was beginning a verbal critique of the first component of the application. At about 7:45 am the program staff interrupted that there had been an administrative glitch and they needed to go into closed conference momentarily with the chair.

At about 7:50 am, the program staff noted that the administrative glitch was that I am not allowed to serve on this type of review group because I sit on another council with advises the Division. They apologize profusely and thank me for my time. Goodbye.

At 7:55 am I sat staring at the wall. What the fuck just happened? That was a week of my life. That was over 300 pages of written critique, over a hundred hours, lost cuddle time with the Honey Bee, sacrifice, sleep deprivation, all the things I didn’t do, my brain hurts. Is this a joke? By 8 am I’d picked up all the grants and tossed them in the recycle and deleted all the review materials from my computer. It’s like it didn’t happen. It’s like it never really mattered anyways.

I don’t even know how to express how bewildered I feel right now.

21 January 2006


I’m waiting for the flight to LA, in the Palm Springs airport, writing on the laptop. We won’t board for another ten minutes, yet I’m already bored (sic.) Mom clipped an article on Johnny Walker Lindh from the paper this morning. She underlined bucolic Marin, and asked me if I knew what bucolic meant. Before I had a chance to answer she said, I looked it up this morning. It means idyllic. It sounds more like a disease. This is strange. Am I becoming my mother or is my mother becoming me? This sounds like conversations I have with myself in the morning over coffee and a dictionary.

We went to her gym, had another great lunch which negated all our efforts at the gym, took an ambling walk down Palm Canyon Drive (I got a wonderful lemon Italian ice on a warm afternoon – we looked at shoes and went to our favorite store - The Alley. It’s a discount furniture/kitchen/stupid-stuff store. We spend hours there and never buy anything. A crazy Latin man – I’d guess on meth/tina – spoke loudly to himself. I want this. Now this is tasteful. This would look great. I’ll get this. Loudly. We reached the exit at about the same time. Mom pulled my arm back and pretended to search for something in her pocket. He’s crazy, she whispered in my ear. I don’t want to go out at the same time as him. I explained to her that at any given time she was outside in the world with at least one crazy person – there was no particular elevated risk with this crazy person. He stopped in front of us and knelt to speak to some flowers – she accelerated her pace and we passed him by. She seemed to feel more comfortable when he was behind us.

We were in a hurry so I suppose it’s good we passed him. He was talking to the flowers! she exclaimed. Which I thought wasn’t so crazy. Later I made her jog at stop lights, so she can make 10,000 steps on her pedometer and keep up with her grandkids. Now people with think I’m the crazy one, she said, breathless as she jogged on spot. There you have it, I told her, at any given time you’re outside in the world with at least one crazy person, even when you’re alone. She wasn’t amused, but she kept jogging.

We were in a hurry to get to Brokeback Mountain. I told her I’d pick the movies next time. She picked two real downers. Don’t get me wrong. It was beautiful, but it was a short story, not a novel. More should have happened in a full-length major motion picture… in my humble opinion.

05 January 2006

Higher Ground

I went to my first town council meeting tonight. When we moved here it was my intention to get involved in civic life. We’re pushing on five years and this was my first meeting. I sat next to a distinguished and articulate man. He was so kind and helpful and earnest. I was kicking myself for not voting him in for another term.

The meeting, it was entertaining. After two and a half hours, however, it was time to crawl home with my stuffy-nosed, coughing, sleepy-headed self.

I realized that one of my barriers against grief is to recount inconsistencies – those things that make a person less than perfect – you know, human. These are the ways you are human and thus it minimizes the loss to me and the world today. But it’s a heavy veil to lift and rally against grief. It’s left my shoulders sore and my body a bit fatigued. I really can just let the dead be dead – without making them either less or more than who they are in all their perfect imperfections. I forget that I can do this, however – and thus my shoulders are sore.

I’m waiting to hear if the President will declare a State of Emergency and hopefully release FEMA relief for the area. I’ve heard I can get a no or low interest loan and that sometimes the Federal Government forgives these loans. I wish they’d hand out grants outright. I need to dig out the foundation and really, raise the house another foot.

04 January 2006


At about 10 pm on the evening of January 3 that certain suffering ceased and a new brand commenced. There was a piece of paper spit out of a machine sometime around 7 that evening. It was his last recorded pulse and vital stats.