>The Way I See It #141 and Grandenonfatdecaftwosplendaextrafoamlattes

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Starbucks is one of my offices away from home. As are two lovely independent coffee shops near my home. But one thing I always enjoy at Starbucks—in addition to my regular order, which some of my friends can now recite from memory: Grandenonfatdecaftwosplendaextrafoamlatte—is the quotes on their disposable coffee cups.

Yes, I use disposables. I used to ask for real cups, but the disposable ones seem to keep the drink hot longer, and they are easier for me to pick up and hold, with the arthritis in my hands.

Back to the quotes. After enjoying quite a few of them, I decided to check out the website and submit one myself. Hasn’t been “published” yet… but it’s fun and I might try it again. I found their website for quotes last October, here.

Anyway, yesterday’s quote was The Way I See It #141 by Augusten Burroughs . Augusten’s blog is here. He’s the author of Running With Scissors, and A Wolf at the Table. I loved RWS, (as usual, the book was better than the movie) but I haven’t read Wolf yet. Anyway, here’s the quote, in case you can’t read it on the picture of my lipstick-stained Starbucks cup:

I used to feel so alone in the city. All those gazillions of people and then me, on the outside. Because how do you meet a new person? I was very stumped by this for many years. And then I realized, you just say, “Hi.” They may ignore you. Or you may marry them. And that possibility is worth that one word.

So timely for me to get this quote on my Grandenonfatdecaftwosplendaextrafoamlatte yesterday morning, because I’ve been feeling like Augusten described. Like someone surrounded by gazillions of people but feeling like I’m on the outside looking in. I’ve felt that way recently at my church, which I love. And I love the people there. But on a recent Sunday morning I felt like I was having an anxiety attack after 30 minutes in the beautiful nave (sanctuary in western terms) surrounded by gorgeous icons and listening to beautiful Byzantine music (Eastern Orthodox) …. And people I love. But I couldn’t breathe. And then I started crying and couldn’t stop, so I left. And went to Starbucks and had a Grandenonfatdecaftwosplendaextrafoamlatte and read for a while until I could breathe and quit crying.

You see, I’m going through a bit of a depression. But talks with two close friends have helped me see that it’s okay to be depressed sometimes. It’s part of life. My grandmother’s generation had a word for it. They called it being “blue.” And they didn’t quickly run to do something to make the feeling go away, like smoke something or drink something or eat something or buy something, like I often do.

So I kept that coffee cup with Augusten’s words on it. It’s sitting by my computer to remind me not to be afraid to say, “hi” to someone… to embrace people… and even to embrace my feelings of loneliness and depression.

It’s no surprise that green is my favorite color. It represents life, vibrancy, creativity. But today, I’m going to try to welcome blue to my palette.

And ignore the worm that still lives on my computer, since I haven’t been able to kill it yet. And I had less hits on my post on Tuesday than I’ve ever had. Seems no one wants to read about worms. I can’t say I blame you.

>The Worm that Never Sleeps

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It all started very innocently. Or at least that’s what my son, Jason, believes. A few days ago I accidentally clicked on a pop-up and that’s probably when the worm made his first appearance.
Here’s what he looks like (right) … a legitimate-looking ad for an antivirus program, right? But I’ve already got one (Norton) so I just click the “X” in the upper right hand corner.

But then he comes right back, and this time he brings a friend (left) … an even more annoying pop-up because there’s no way to close it without making a choice between the two options it offers, “Activate Now!” or “Continue Unprotected.” So I continue unprotected, which feels scary, until I find out it’s not a real threat. It’s a worm.

My friend John M. says the worm might have been living in some of my system files for a while, just waiting for an opening. My daughter Beth sent me an email from the University of Tennessee Architecture Grad School saying the word is a hoax going to get people to buy something. But it’s much more than that. And my friend John S., along with Beth, John M. and Jason, spent a lot of their personal time trying to help me kill the worm yesterday and last night. Some of it’s other tricks are popups like these (right and left).

I’ve spent all morning today working on it… even said prayers to Saint George ,who slayed the dragon, (this is an icon of Saint George, right)

and Holy Archangel Michael (who ran Satan out of Heaven) this morning. (icon at left) But I’ll understand if they don’t come to my rescue, since I rarely talk to them unless I’m in a bind and need their help.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah talks about “the worm who never sleeps” … and icons of The Last Judgement, like this one (right) sometimes show the sins of greed, sloth, anger, lust, gluttony, etc. as links that go together to make a long snake-like creature.

I can see why prophets and iconographers use the worm as verbal and visual imagery for torture that goes on forever. I’ve only had this worm for about 48 hours and I’m already going crazy!

Evidently the worm, which masquerades as “MS Antivirus,” won’t really hurt my computer. He will simply drive the user mad, slowly, like Chinese water torture. Even as I’m typing this post, I’m having to click on the “X” on the first pop up and the “Continue Unprotected” box in the second one about every thirty seconds or so. Yep, there they are again. And again.

So, the first advice I followed was to install and run Adware (from Cnet) but he couldn’t find the worm. Then I installed and ran Spybot’s Search & Destroy tool (also from Cnet) and he found and destroyed Adware (these warriors seem very territorial to me) but couldn’t find the worm.

Next I downloaded Symantec’s W32.Sasser.WormFix Tool, as well as the same tool for “Blaster.” And then ran through the entire process again, only this time after rebooting and opening in “Safe” mode. Neither tool found the worm.

So I tried something Jason suggested: System Restore. After being sure everything that mattered to me was backed up on my external hard drive (which I’ve been doing almost daily lately!) I went in and restored the system to the way it was 2 weeks ago… since we’re pretty sure the worm arrived only a few days ago. But that didn’t get the worm. John S. (or M? I can’t remember now!) said the worm hides itself in places that System Restore can’t get to. Great.

So today, John M. sent me this link to a site that tells how to remove the worm manually.

Manually. I decided I wasn’t strong enough, so I took a break from the computer and went to Pilates. And then to Sonic for a hamburger. And then came home and poured a glass of wine. And sheepishly glanced again at the icon of Saint George and asked his help again.

First I printed off the 7 pages of instructions from the site so that I’d have them in front of me as I worked. Here’s what the first page of the site looks like.

First I clicked on a link at the beginning that said Download SpyHunter Spyware Detection Utility, which I did, in case that was necessary to make the rest of the steps work.

Then I did the step called “Stop AntivirusMaster Processes” (with its own link).
And then “Find and Delete these AntivirusMaster files” (with another link) … and it did NOT find any of these files.
And finally “Remove AntivirusMaster Registry Values” which you have to do in the Registry Editor.
Keep in mind that I had never heard any of these words before yesterday. It’s like taking a 24-hour crash course in a foreign language.

But I make it through to the end, when it tells me it has “finished searching through the registry” and therefore didn’t find the worm.

Oh, and this is interesting: right under that is another link to download SpyHunter Spyware Detection Utility, with a message that you can use it FREE to hunt but you have to pay for it if you want it to destroy.

So, have I been using SpyHunter to hunt? But he didn’t find the worm, so why should I pay him to remove something he can’t find?

I’ve been at this for about 36 hours now, and the worm lives.

Maybe it’s time to get the red monkeys.

Or help from the Mad Hatter Hunters.

If anyone out there knows how to kill this worm, please tell me! Leave a comment below, or send an email to sjcushman at gmail dot com (written in code in case the worm is reading).

Meanwhile, I’m taking a bottle of wine over to a friend’s house and will just try to forget about him for a while. This is how I feel about my computer right now (above).

>Big Bad Breakfast … and Game Still On

>Saturday I went back down to Oxford for the monthly meeting of the Yoknapatawpha Writers Group…. kicking off our second year together. We spent the morning and early afternoon working on newly drafted chapters of three members’ books-in-progress and one essay. The usual supportive, refreshing, inspirational stuff. I was especially excited to get more feedback on the essay I’m about to submit to Real Simple Magazine’s first essay contest, addressing the question, “What was the most important day in your life?”

But part of the draw is just being with like-minded folks… and soaking up the atmosphere in Oxford. We usually eat lunch somewhere on the square, but Patti suggested we go for a late breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast, (which is reviewed here and here ) just a few blocks north of the square in the Midtown shopping center. It’s named after Oxford author Larry Brown’s book of short stores, Big Bad Love. Lots of the menu items are named after local writers’ works, like the “Smonk Burger,” named for Tom Franklin’s novel, Smonk. I loved the brandy-spiked French toast. And the fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices.

While we were waiting outside for a table, Tom (Franklin) walked up with a poster about his book, which he had promised to bring in for the owner to display, so he stopped to visit for a while.

And then came an embarrassing moment: I saw this guy walking by our table and said, “hey—would you take our picture?” As I began handing him my camera, Patti and Doug started laughing, then got up to shake hands and speak to him.

“Hey, Jack! How’s it going?”

And then he hugged Patti. And they introduced me to Jack… Pendarvis! and he gracioussly took this photo for us… (right). Wow…. a photo credit to Jack Pendarvis in my blog!

Jack Pendarvis wrote Awesome and was one of the guest authors at Camp Square Books this summer. (Patti and Doug hung out with Jack one night when I wasn’t there.) So, I just apologized and asked Jack to be in the next picture with us (that’s Jack in orange) … just hoping the next guy I asked to take a picture wasn’t also famous! (By the way, there’s also a menu item called “The Awesome,” named for Jack’s book.)

On the way back to Memphis I began thinking about revisions I want to make to the chapter the group critiqued, as well as the essay. But now I’m thinking about the Game. And this time, it’s not the Olympic basketball game I’m thinking about.

A friend and published author told me a couple of months ago that I would soon get tired of the game… of trying to find an agent—and then I would get serious and focus on my writing. He had published two novels, but was struggling with getting his third published, and was tired of shopping for a new agent himself. He gave an amazing talk about why we write at a writers workshop in June, and of course I came away inspired. But…. Not deterred from my search for an agent. Because, as superficial as it might sound, I am not just writing for “therapy” or my “friends and family” or just the joy of seeing the words on my computer monitor. No. That is definitely not what I’m after.

I just finished reading Elizabeth Dewberry’s novel, His Lovely Wife, and I love her descriptions of the emotional journey the main character, Ellen Baxter, makes, especially when she says, near the end, that she wasn’t writing her story for revenge, but “because I needed to explain something about my childhood to the child in me.” Maybe there’s some of that in my motivation for writing my memoir, but there’s so much more.

I want this memoir (and 2-3 more books) to be published, and I’m actively seeking agent representation.

Here’s the score so far:

Initial queries: 12
Initial rejections: 7
Agents who asked to see complete book proposal: 3
Still waiting to hear from: 4

Yes… the time-consuming, energy-sapping task of researching agents and carefully drafting personal email queries continues. I’m trying to learn to keep the business side of writing separate from the creative side, but my years in publishing (trade magazine), marketing and advertising seem to have left me a bit broken. I’m just not able to quit thinking about the publishing side of things, even while continuing to write and revise my memoir and a few essays.

The September/October issue of Poets & Writers offered another great article/interview with a successful agent: Molly Friedrich.

This is one in a series of article on literary agents that P&W is running. Some encouraging things that Ms. Friedrich says include:

“When you’re an agent, you must be open to every single person. There is no one who doesn’t have an opportunity to see me. I really mean that. There is no little person who will be turned away by me.”

Can she mean this? With successful clients like Sue Grafton (S Is for Silence) and Frank McCourt (Teacher Man)… both New York Times best sellers.?

She shared some interesting insights into the world of memoir:

“I think the world of memoir is divided into two camps. One camp is the memoir of an unbelievably fascinating life. Huge! …. But the author can’t write. In the other camp you get beautiful writing—magnificent writing—with a kind of pointillist attention to every marvelous detail in the course of a life in which nothing interesting has happened. It’s usually one or the other. So when you can combine those two things in one book—an interesting life and good writing—then you have pay dirt. But it’s hard. It’s hard to sell memoir, especially if it’s not big in an obvious way.”

You want fries with that?

You want that super-sized?

Game still on.

As intimidating as her description of a good memoir is, I’m still going to query her. Oh, and this is interesting: Friedrich wrote a children’s book, You’re Not My Real Mother! after her adopted daughter told her that one day. My adopted daughter and sons don’t play major parts in my memoir-in-progress (it’s my story, not theirs) but what an interesting human connection. It’s good to be reminded that agents are people, too.

And now, to settle down and watch the closing ceremonies of the Olympics and regroup as we enter the final week of summer….

>Pit Stops

>After being glued to the Olympic Triathalon on television yesterday morning, I was amazed at how few pit stops those athletes made… their swift transitions from water to bike to running were amazing. And even while running, they never slowed down for water breaks. They pressed on towards their goals…. But I need frequent pit stops in the race I’m running. Maybe my goals aren’t as lofty—publishing at least three books before I die, and one before I’m sixty. I took heart from 41-year-old Olympic swimmer, Dara Torres, who says, “Wake up every morning with a plan and a dream. If you do, like me, dreams do still come true in your 40s and beyond!”

Well, I’m in the “beyond” part, like these lovely ladies so I also take heart from my monthly dose of reality inspiration from AARP the Magazine.

I appreciated their fitness article, “Save Your Back,” because these exercise are similar to what I’m continuing to learn in Pilates, and although I’ve still got pain from working muscles that haven’t been worked in a while, I’m hanging in there!

But I really enjoyed the Q & A with Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer prize-winning author of Gilead. She’s got a new novel coming out September 2, Home, which tells the story of a conservative cleric whose beliefs are tested when his alcoholic son returns home after 20 years. The interview isn’t available at AARP’s online site, so I’ll quote just one of the questions and answers:

Q: Why do you think so many people become more interested in spirituality or religion as they get older?
A: You’ve seen the whole art of life—babies baptized, people married, the old pass away. Religion articulates the beauty of it all. People have come to a place where their lives acquire the authority of meaning.

The authority of meaning. I like that. I hope my life is moving in that direction.

The next “fuel” on my pit stop is my monthly issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine. It’s always full of goodies, but I’ll highlight just one for today: “The Healing Truth: An aspiring fiction writer realizes her story is better told as a memoir.” Sound familiar? Gail Konop Baker wrote two fiction novels before being diagnosed with cancer, which motivated her to tell her story in memoir form, Cancer is a Bitch: Or, I’d Rather be Having a Midlife Crisis.

Here’s a short excerpt from the interview:

“I was really nervous about the fact that my first book is this intimate look inside my life. When you write fiction, you can hide behind it. This felt different. Iwas reliving a very painful, scary time, but I’m totally grateful for the opportunity. I love writing from my life. It’s amazing what happens when you open your eyes and mind.”

Now that was a great pit stop!

My monthly does of juice from Real Simple Magazine also helped, but today I’ll only share a tiny gem—a punch-out bookmark in the back with this great photo and “thought” from clothing designer Yves Saint Laureant.

And finally, there’s the serious pit stop… the bedside table.

Yes, those are all books that I am currently reading or waiting to be read next!

Yikes!

But oh, how yummy!
Currently reading:





Iodine by Haven Kimmel (going to hear Haven read at Square Books on September 8!)
His Lovely Wife by Elizabeth Dewberry
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Waiting for April by Scott Morris
House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

But I’m dreaming of the ultimate pit stop—the beach! (more on that in October….)

Today I’ll have to settle for a hair cut. And maybe a latte at Starbucks so I can work on that stack of books! I just finished critiquing my fellow writers’ submissions for our monthly writers group meeting this coming Saturday in Oxford, so maybe I’ll just take the rest of the week for reading. Refueling. Sounds good to me!

>A Dog and His Boy

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This is a story about A Dog and His Boy. Well, the dog is only three and the boy is thirteen, so only the last three years of the story are about the dog. His name is Kudzu, and he is a service dog. But Patrick isn’t blind—he has neurological disorders, and Kudzu has changed his life. Here they are Sunday morning following Liturgy at St. John Orthodox Church here in Memphis, where Patrick was baptized thirteen years ago.
Yes, Patrick, became a teenager last Thursday. He and his mom flew to Memphis to celebrate with his grandparents, uncle, aunt, cousins, and us. You see, they moved to Seattle when Patrick was two, about the age he is in this picture (right). When Charli asked us to be Patrick’s Godparents, she also asked me to be her labor and delivery coach, which was a first for me. Since all three of my children are adopted, this would be the closest I would get to the childbirth experience…. and it was nothing short of amazing. (Of course I was feeling no pain, just hand-holding and breathing and crying with joy when Patrick made his grand entrance into the world on August 14, 1995.)

When Patrick and his family moved to Seattle two years later, I began to buy children’s books and recorded my voice on a Fisher Price tape recorder reading them to Patrick, and mailed them to him so he wouldn’t forget me. We’ve only seen each other about once a year during this eleven-year separation, but there always seems to be an instant bond when we’re together. Okay, I’m getting soppy now, so back to the story of the Dog and His Boy.

With help from a professional service dog trainer, Patrick and his mother trained Kudzu to help Patrick with all sorts of issues. If you’d like to learn more, you can read a blog about service dogs for kids with neurological disorders, called “A Time For Love,” here. Here’s a web site where you can read more about the role of service dogs for kids, “4 Paws For Ability.” And another web site that’s very informative, “Wilderwood Service Dogs,” . And an interesting news story about National Serivce Dogs is here.

Kudzu and Patrick arrived for Liturgy at St. John on Sunday morning, where I joined them in the narthex (back of the church) where we stayed during the service. After a while my Goddaughter, Sophie, joined us. She and Patrick quickly bonded as “God-siblings” and had fun teasing eachother. And Sophie did a good job of not bothering Kudzu while he was working.

Afterwards we went downstairs for coffee hour. That’s when the questions began, and I got a peek inside Patrick’s world, as curious but well-meaning folks tried to wrap their minds around the concept of a service dog for someone who isn’t blind. Patrick handled the questions with amazing poise, but after a while he asked for help keeping the crowds at bay. When Kudzu is wearing his vest, he is “working,” and shouldn’t be petted, as this distracts him from being attentive to Patrick’s needs.

But that’s hard for children (and some adults) to understand, so after a while we went outside and Patrick took off Kudzu’s vest and gave him the command, “take a break,” and Kudzu became this frisky, playful puppy.

Oh, I forgot to say that he’s a Goldendoodle. You can read more about them here.

Kudzu loves to dance. And to run races.
Finally Father Basil was ready to take us to lunch, after Sophie got in a good-bye hug.

We ate at Zinnie’s, where the staff was friendly and Kudzu behaved beautifully, sitting on the floor between Patrick’s chair and mine. (I forgot to mention that Father Basil is allergic to dogs… but he weathered the afternoon courageously!) At one point the waiter asked Patrick what kind of service his dog offered him, and Patrick’s sense of humor (he loves to tell jokes!) came through with this reply, “Oh, he just helped me get through a service this morning, as a matter of fact.” The blank expression on the waiter’s face begged for an explanation, so I jumped in with, “a church service,” and we all had a good laugh.

After lunch the birthday-gift shopping spree began. Game Stop is right around the corner from Zinnie’s so that’s where we started. I knew it would be interesting to see Father Basil (a kid at heart—aren’t all men?) in such a setting, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Wii football game was a big hit.

Patrick got into the act…

And then it became a team effort…. Until finally…
Game over.

Not finding exactly what he was looking for at Game Stop, we headed to Target, after a quick stop at Baskin Robbins. Being in a large store like Target was quite an experience, but I didn’t get my camera out. I’m sure we were quite an eyeful, with my husband in his long black cassock and Patrick with Kudzu in his service dog vest. Again I was amazed at Patrick’s good humor and poise as so many perfect strangers would stop us and ask questions. Once or twice, when it became obvious that the people were dog-lovers (one even had a Golddendoodle) Patrick would tap Kudzu on the back of his neck and say, “take a break,” and then let the people pet him.

Later I asked Charli if it was always like this, everywhere she went with Patrick and Kudzu, and she said yes, that it’s virtually impossible to run “quick errands” without being rude to people who are always staring, wanting to pet Kudzu or ask questions. It made me think about how much I take it for granted that I can be “invisible” when I want to run in and out of stores or spend some time reading or writing in a coffee shop without interacting with people when I don’t want to.

So here’s to you, Patrick, as you begin your teenage years. I’ll always love it when you call me “Gomma Susan” (for Godmother Susan) like you did when you were little, and I treasure this picture of us at your baptism.

But I also treasure the way you’re still able to be a kid at heart, like when you’re teasing me with your antics, posing us for silly pictures in the parking lot at Zinnie’s. So, Happy Birthday, Patrick, and may God grant you—and Kudzu—many years!

>White Coats and Promises

>Friday afternoon my husband and I went to a “White Coat Ceremony” for the 150 students entering the freshman class of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. We were the invited guests of one of those freshmen, Sergio Klimkowski. Sergio (left) and his family are members of our parish, St. John Orthodox Church, here in Memphis. This is the second time this summer we’ve had the pleasure of celebrating milestones with the Klimkowskis…. Back in May we ran into them in New Orleans following their daughter, Dalia’s graduation from Tulane Graduate School. (See story and photos here) That’s Dalia in white, in the middle of our group outside Jacques-Imo’s, the eclectic restaurant where we had just eaten dinner.

The White Coat Ceremony at UT was instituted in 1996, so we didn’t have one back in 1970 when my husband started medical school. And anyway, he went to medical school at the University of Mississippi. But what a beautiful tradition. Here’s an excerpt from the program’s “History of the White Ceremony” that I found poignant:

It has been said that the white coat is a symbolic nonverbal communication used to express and/or affirm a fundamental belief in a system that society observes. The authority of dress is serious and purposeful not social, casual or random. It is a guide to patient and doctor on how to react and to relate to one another. Interestingly enough, Hippocrates advised his young neophytes on how they should dress. In primitive societies the healer’s dress was an important part of the paraphernalia of their healing. This uniform should convey to even the most anxious a sense of seriousness and purpose that helps provide reassurance and confidence that his or her complaints will be dealt with competently and seriously. The white coat provides the milieu for you to become a physician; some would say that it is a cloak of compassion.

Compassion was a big theme in the excellent remarks made by the Dean and the Chancellor of the medical school, as well as the guest speaker, Dr. Frederick Rivara from the University of Washington School of Medicine. All three reminded the students over and over again that the patient comes first—before career, prestige, and financial rewards.

Each entering student was given a gift that reflected this concern for the whole person—a copy of the book, On Doctoring,–and were encouraged to keep it on their bedside tables and read a little every night. I was impressed with this effort to direct new medical students to get in touch with their human side as they begin their studies in the sometimes mind-wearying world of medicine and science. Listen to this description of the book:

The fearsome struggle with illness touches everyone. Now the revised edition of On Doctoring captures the pain and triumphs associated with the practice of medicine in an extraordinary collection. Written by physicians as well as non-physicians, this compilation of stories, poems, and essays eloquently captures what it is like to be sick, to be cured, to succumb to illness, or to overcome it. Drawing on the full spectrum of human emotions, the editors have included selections from such important and diverse writers as Anton Chekov, W. H. Auden, Pablo Neruda, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, and many more. Among the new authors included in this edition are Rainer Maria Rilke, Jane Kenyon, and May Sarton. In this era of managed healthcare, when medicine is becoming more institutionalized and impersonal, this book recaptures the breadth, wonder, and the miracle of the medical profession. Presenting the issues, concerns, and challenges facing doctors and patients alike, the illuminating On Doctoring will speak to the hearts and minds of today’s readers.

The ceremony was well-attended… crowds of family and friends were there to offer support. The speakers encouraged the students to view their community as family—to lean on each other in the years to come. I felt a twinge of sadness at these words… not sadness for the Class of 2012, but for my husband and I back when he entered the Class of 1974. We had become part of a religious community which discouraged close relationships outside the group. And although we’re no longer in that situation, I think we missed out on many opportunities for friendship and support within the medical community in the early years of our marriage. I hope Sergio will find meaningful friendships and support among his classmates and their families in the coming years.

Here’s Sergio, sitting with those new fellow students, waiting for his turn to go forward and be helped on with his white coat by one of the faculty members on stage.

And here he is getting help from a faculty member with his white coat.

UT Faculty (including my husband, turning onto the second row on the right in this picture, below, left) marched in with their own white coats to welcome their new students.

As I watched my husband marching in, my mind raced back 38 years to the summer he entered medical school, and for some reason the words to the 1970 song by the Carpenters, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” was going through my head. (For a trip back in time, click on the arrow of this video.)

White lace and promises…. reminds me of our wedding in June of that year… and then White coats and promises. Here’s freshman medical student, Bill Cushman, in his first white coat (right).
And here’s Dr. William Cushman celebrating with freshman medical student Sergio Klimkowski, 38 years later.
White coats and promises… as the students and faculty stood and recited together a modern, abbreviated version of The Oath of Hippocrates (one of many sources where you can read the ancient version is here.) I was struck by way the new version leaves so many important elements up to individual interpretation, especially these two:

I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, and

I will not use my knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.

As I listened to Sergio and 149 other future doctors reciting these words, along with the current faculty and other physicians in the audience, I found myself praying that they would also not use their knowledge contrary to the laws of God, and that those laws would help shape how they interpret their promise to maintain the utmost respect for human life. We’re counting on you, Class of 2012!

>White Coats and Promises

>Friday afternoon my husband and I went to a “White Coat Ceremony” for the 150 students entering the freshman class of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. We were the invited guests of one of those freshmen, Sergio Klimkowski. Sergio (left) and his family are members of our parish, St. John Orthodox Church, here in Memphis. This is the second time this summer we’ve had the pleasure of celebrating milestones with the Klimkowskis…. Back in May we ran into them in New Orleans following their daughter, Dalia’s graduation from Tulane Graduate School. (See story and photos here) That’s Dalia in white, in the middle of our group outside Jacques-Imo’s, the eclectic restaurant where we had just eaten dinner.

The White Coat Ceremony at UT was instituted in 1996, so we didn’t have one back in 1970 when my husband started medical school. And anyway, he went to medical school at the University of Mississippi. But what a beautiful tradition. Here’s an excerpt from the program’s “History of the White Ceremony” that I found poignant:

It has been said that the white coat is a symbolic nonverbal communication used to express and/or affirm a fundamental belief in a system that society observes. The authority of dress is serious and purposeful not social, casual or random. It is a guide to patient and doctor on how to react and to relate to one another. Interestingly enough, Hippocrates advised his young neophytes on how they should dress. In primitive societies the healer’s dress was an important part of the paraphernalia of their healing. This uniform should convey to even the most anxious a sense of seriousness and purpose that helps provide reassurance and confidence that his or her complaints will be dealt with competently and seriously. The white coat provides the milieu for you to become a physician; some would say that it is a cloak of compassion.

Compassion was a big theme in the excellent remarks made by the Dean and the Chancellor of the medical school, as well as the guest speaker, Dr. Frederick Rivara from the University of Washington School of Medicine. All three reminded the students over and over again that the patient comes first—before career, prestige, and financial rewards.

Each entering student was given a gift that reflected this concern for the whole person—a copy of the book, On Doctoring,–and were encouraged to keep it on their bedside tables and read a little every night. I was impressed with this effort to direct new medical students to get in touch with their human side as they begin their studies in the sometimes mind-wearying world of medicine and science. Listen to this description of the book:

The fearsome struggle with illness touches everyone. Now the revised edition of On Doctoring captures the pain and triumphs associated with the practice of medicine in an extraordinary collection. Written by physicians as well as non-physicians, this compilation of stories, poems, and essays eloquently captures what it is like to be sick, to be cured, to succumb to illness, or to overcome it. Drawing on the full spectrum of human emotions, the editors have included selections from such important and diverse writers as Anton Chekov, W. H. Auden, Pablo Neruda, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, and many more. Among the new authors included in this edition are Rainer Maria Rilke, Jane Kenyon, and May Sarton. In this era of managed healthcare, when medicine is becoming more institutionalized and impersonal, this book recaptures the breadth, wonder, and the miracle of the medical profession. Presenting the issues, concerns, and challenges facing doctors and patients alike, the illuminating On Doctoring will speak to the hearts and minds of today’s readers.

The ceremony was well-attended… crowds of family and friends were there to offer support. The speakers encouraged the students to view their community as family—to lean on each other in the years to come. I felt a twinge of sadness at these words… not sadness for the Class of 2012, but for my husband and I back when he entered the Class of 1974. We had become part of a religious community which discouraged close relationships outside the group. And although we’re no longer in that situation, I think we missed out on many opportunities for friendship and support within the medical community in the early years of our marriage. I hope Sergio will find meaningful friendships and support among his classmates and their families in the coming years.

Here’s Sergio, sitting with those new fellow students, waiting for his turn to go forward and be helped on with his white coat by one of the faculty members on stage.

And here he is getting help from a faculty member with his white coat.

UT Faculty (including my husband, turning onto the second row on the right in this picture, below, left) marched in with their own white coats to welcome their new students.

As I watched my husband marching in, my mind raced back 38 years to the summer he entered medical school, and for some reason the words to the 1970 song by the Carpenters, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” was going through my head. (For a trip back in time, click on the arrow of this video.)

White lace and promises…. reminds me of our wedding in June of that year… and then White coats and promises. Here’s freshman medical student, Bill Cushman, in his first white coat (right).
And here’s Dr. William Cushman celebrating with freshman medical student Sergio Klimkowski, 38 years later.
White coats and promises… as the students and faculty stood and recited together a modern, abbreviated version of The Oath of Hippocrates (one of many sources where you can read the ancient version is here.) I was struck by way the new version leaves so many important elements up to individual interpretation, especially these two:

I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, and

I will not use my knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.

As I listened to Sergio and 149 other future doctors reciting these words, along with the current faculty and other physicians in the audience, I found myself praying that they would also not use their knowledge contrary to the laws of God, and that those laws would help shape how they interpret their promise to maintain the utmost respect for human life. We’re counting on you, Class of 2012!

>The Agony of Defeat

>Who can forget the image of the downhill skier crashing violently on the 1970s ABC Wide World of Sports, since they chose to show the clip over and over as they introduced the show with that gruesome crash, and those melodramatic words, “The thrill of victory… the agony of defeat.”

(If you’re a glutton for human drama, you can watch the video here.)
And of course that’s American gymnast, Alicia Sacramone, right, who suffered who own kind of agony during the team competition.)

I remember my dad (the marathon runner) making a play on words by saying, as he took his shoes off at the end of a long run, (whether or not he “won”) “Oh, the agony of the feet!”

That’s how I was feeling today, when I tried to get some weight-bearing exercise started up again. Although I’m really liking Pilates (I blogged about it here) it’s not a cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise. It’s GREAT for your core (your “powerhouse”) and other muscle groups. So, I’ve been doing it exclusively for a couple of months now, trying to strengthen my muscles and get them ready for aerobic workouts.

I’ve been in a funk lately—which is just a trendy way of saying I’ve been depressed. Hating my body (again) and feeling exhausted a good bit of the time. So I’m thinking that aerobic exercise might get some endorphins pumping. Since I dropped my membership at Curves a few months ago, I knew my only option was to go get my membership card renewed at Rhodes College’s athletic facility. My husband has continued to pay for a “couples” membership, hoping, I’m sure, that I’d return to the indoor track and the exercise room and the pool eventually. But I needed a photo id card. So off I went to the Security Office to have my photo made for my card.

Cute college kid working the desk says, “Oh, I’m sorry but our system is down now and we can’t make photos. Come back on Monday.”

“But my hair is clean today. What if it doesn’t look good on Monday?” I was thinking, but didn’t say. What difference does it make what your tiny photo looks like on a card that you’ll never show anyone but only swipe to open the gate at the athletic facility? Of course it matters to me…. And it seemed like a hurdle to my exercise commitment.

But I was able to used my husband’s card today and went into the exercise room and looked around at all the machines. No one working the desk to help me, so I got on one of the elyptical machines next to a young woman and just started moving. Piece of cake, I thought, until OOOWWWWW! Excruciating pain in both knees. What was I thinking? That two months of Pilates had eliminated 57 years of osteoarthritis?

Climbing off the machine (the agony of defeat) I looked around at the weight machines and stationary bikes and treadmills and felt dizzy and confused and just walked out the door… and up three levels of stairs (more pain) to the indoor track that circled above the gymnasium floor. I can do this. And yes, I walked 2 miles with relatively little pain. And yes, it took 30 minutes, but hey—it was my first time back, right? When I finished, I considered a dip in the pool, but reconsidered the time involved in changing clothes, showering, washing hair, etc. Instead, I headed home to catch part of Serena’s Olympic tennis match while working on my blog. But at least I “got up off the couch” (Haven Kimmel is one of my favorite writers, and she’ll be reading and signing her new novel, Iodine, at Square Books in Oxford on September 8. She has an amazing blog, here. )

It’s a start, and one I greatly needed during this week of defeats:

Yes, I received rejection letters (some via snail mail and some emails) from 3 publications this week. A short story was rejected by Story South, an online journal. Their words were kind:

Thank you for your submission to storySouth. Although there were elements we liked about this piece, ultimately it didn’t quite hold together for us, and I’m afraid we’ll have to pass on it. Sorry for the long delay in responding; We’ve had a lot of editorial turmoil and are behind on all stories that made the first cut (which yours did).

Made the first cut. I guess that’s like getting into the semi-finals at the Olympics. But no trophy. Sigh.

The editors at Touchstone and skirt! Magazine were a bit more cryptic… pretty much said no, thank you.

I think “agony” is a bit too strong a word for how I feel about these descriptions… but a perfect fit for how I felt when I watched Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura fall from the pommel horse and the rings last night, but go on to take the silver medal, and again when several elite athletes from all over the world messed up on routines they had performed perfectly in practice time and time again. This was truly, for many of them, the agony of defeat.

As I post this, Serena Williams has just lost to Russian Elena Dementieva, which puts Serena out of the semi-finals. More defeat, but she’s still got the doubles with her sister, Venus. (That’s Elena, right.)

But tonight the American female gymnasts will give it all they’ve got in the all-around… even if they have to compete against 13-year-old

Chinese gymnasts (left) in their prime. (For those of you living under a rock, the age limit is 16… and the Chinese gymnasts all have government-issued passports to prove they are 16. Government issued.)

Go Shawn! (right)

Go Nastia! (left)

Okay… back to work…. drafting a new chapter of my memoir this week. Hmmmm. Maybe that’s why I’m in a funk. So, I’ll try to remember Scott’s words: “You have a wonderful life.” The thrill of victory. And the agony of defeat. Too much drama? Sorry ‘bout that….

>Olympics Fever

>

I’m back! If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, since I haven’t posted since last Friday, well, I’ve got Olympics Fever! And on top of that, my friend, Daphne, and her two younger kids, Simon and Ian, came over from Little Rock for the weekend… with their mini-bikes!

We tried them out at Williamson Park first, a few blocks from our house in midtown Memphis. Daphne is trying Simon’s, which can go up to 50 mph and runs on gasoline. I opted for Ian’s, which runs (much slower) on electricity… but plenty fast for me!

Later we tooks the boys and bikes down to Harbor Town where we could watch the sunset on the Mississippi. Beth went with us, and although the sunset was a bit muted by the clouds, the breeze, birds and boys on bikes made it a lovely end to a late summer day.

Of course I captured the moment on my watercolor journal before we headed back home for another marathon of Olympics viewing on TV.

And I couldn’t resist getting these USA bracelets for Beth, Daphne and me to wear during the Olympics…. (Beth’s is blue.)

We’re only 4 days into the 2008 Olympics and I’ve been glued to as many hours as possible so far… thanks to TIVO and coverage by several channels, that’s a lot of hours! Of course the opening ceremonies were amazing. I found myself alternately impressed with Chinese artistic and technological brilliance and appalled at the amount of money they spent on this one evening ($195 million) … at the expense of thousands of their people who were made homeless by the destruction of their ghetto dwellings to make way for the beautiful face the Chinese government would put on Beijing for all the world to see. It reminded me a bit of the scene in the movie “Anna and the King” when the King of Siam put on the party for visiting dignitaries to convince them that his country was civilized, against the backdrop of the savage beating of Tupkin, a slave who loves another slave, which wasn’t allowed in Siam.

I mentioned this to someone the other day and they said, “But the Olympics is about ideals, and a lot of good comes out of the messages presented in those opening ceremonies.” I get that, but it still creeps me out that a Communist nation is hosting this event which is supposed to represent good will among men. I can only hope that the expressions of peace shown by some of the athletes will spill over and affect those in power. Like the good will exhibited by the athletes from Russia and Georgia as they kissed on the medal podium yesterday.

And yes the 9-year-old boy who saved his classmates from the rubble following the earthquake is precious and I take nothing from his courageous acts. But when asked about what he did, he said, “I was the hall monitor. It was my job.” I’m sorry, but it still gave me the creeps to imagine these children being taught to act in such robotic fashion… like the 2008 drummers who put on the amazing drumming exhibit at the opening ceremonies, in militaristic fashion and with incredible precision. And the look inside the Chinese gymnastic training camps, where they take three-year-olds and bend their bodies in ridiculously unnatural positions to see which ones are pliable enough to keep and which ones are tossed away.

And the “pefect” little girl chosen to sing the solo? Turns out Yang Peiyi wasn’t perfect enough to be seen, so they chose a more beautiful girl, Lin Miaoke (right) for the face and had her lip sinc as Yang sang off stage, in order to present a prefect image. See a video about it here. So, in a country whose population is one fifth of the entire world, there could not be found one little girl “perfect” enough to do both? To be seen and heard? And what message does that send the children growing up in China about their worth as persons? Feel free to fire away at me with your comments here. I’m just in a reflective mode and keep seeing these paradoxes throughout the games.

But I’ve always been a huge fan of the Olympic Games… and when the games came to Atlanta in 1996, the excitement hit a lot closer to home for my family. Not only because my niece, Amy, (who is now married and the mother of a precious baby girl) danced in the opening ceremonies (she lives in Atlanta) … but because we had our own ceremonies back here in Tennessee.

We had just built a house in midtown Memphis, and our younger kids invited their friends over for an “Olympic Torch Party” on a hot day in July. You see, our house was on the route that the Olympic Torch would travel as it made its way across the country during the months leading up to its arrival at the stadium in Atlanta on July 14. We had a big party and set up tables on the sidewalk in front of our house where we ate hamburgers and hot dogs and welcomed the torch carrier as she made her way down our street, stopping in front of our house to pass the torch to the next runner, and then stop and visit with us. I’m sad and a bit embarrassed to say that I don’t remember her name… I’m sure she was a “community hero” or athlete of significance here in Memphis, and I’ve tried to find her name, so if anyone knows, please leave a comment!

And… down in my home town of Jackson, Mississippi, the torch was being carried by my father, Bill Johnson! (Again, there are photos… but I can’t find them today.) Dad was a marathon runner (finished New York and Boston several times) and owner of Bill Johnson’s Phidippides Sports from 1982-1997. There’s even a monument in his honor at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame . Anyway, he carried the torch just a few months before being diagnosed with lung cancer, and just two years before his death at age 68, ten years ago last month. So I always think about him when the Olypmics comes around…. And about the Watermelon 5K Classic race that he started and continues to this day. I ran it twenty-five years ago, in 1983, with our son, Jonathan, who was only 6 years old. It was my one and only road race, on the 4th of July in Jackson, Mississippi, and I was just thrilled to get to the end and get some ice cold watermelon!

As I make this post, Melissa Lawson, our favorite who won Nashville Star last week, is singing her new hit single, “What If It All Goes Right?” in Beijing! She sung on the Great Wall yesterday. Way to go, Melissa! So, I can’t wait for the track and field events to get started, but until then, I’m happy watching the swimming and gymnastics. Go, USA!

>Another Q & A with Mississippi Author John Floyd

>My friend John Floyd from Brandon, Mississippi has just published a second book of short stories, Midnight. You can buy it here. I met John at the first Mississippi Writers Guild Conference just over a year ago in Clinton, Mississippi where he critiqued one of my short stories, taught several workshops on various aspects of the craft of writing, and served on the faculty panel for the conference. My first blog interview with John is posted here.

Over the past year John has been generous with his time, critiquing more of my writing (via email) and encouraging me after every rejection letter. Meanwhile, he continues to be one of the most prolific short story writers around. I loved Rainbow’s End (his first volume of stories) … and a number of his stories are available for download at Amazon Shorts .

John has agreed to another brief Q & A, so here goes:

Me: Congratulations on the publication of your second book of short stories, John!

John: Thanks, Susan. I’m looking forward to the signings and events, and I hope folks will enjoy the stories.
Me: So, how many stories have you published altogether now, including those available on Amazon Shorts?
John: So far I’ve published about 750 pieces in magazines and anthologies. About half of those are short stories and about half are articles, essays, poems, columns, etc.

Me: Since you chose Midnight as the title of your second volume, and it’s also the title of one of the stories, I’m assuming it’s your favorite? Or just a catchy book title?

John: It is in fact one of my favorites, because that particular story is set in the time and place where I grew up. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), nothing quite as exciting as those characters’ adventures happened to me in real life. As for the title itself, it’s only “catchy” in that it refers to something different from what you might at first think–and it also seemed appropriate for what is essentially a collection of mystery/suspense stories.

Me: You’ve admitted to being a big fan of Hitchcock. Did you watch his shows on TV growing up?

John: You bet I did. I still remember some of them, like the one where Peter Lorre challenged a young Steve McQueen to a terrifying wager, and one where Joseph Cotten (I think it was Joseph Cotten) was paralyzed in an accident and the doctors thought he was dead but he wasn’t . . . I could go on and on. Loved those shows. I’m humming the theme music right now . . .

Me: What mystery writers do you like?

John: Well, if you’re lenient with the term “mystery,” I like Lawrence Block, Martin Cruz Smith, Nelson DeMille, Marcus Sakey, Nevada Barr, Raymond Chandler, James Lee Burke, John Dunning, Greg Iles, John Sandford, Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, Harlan Coben, Joe R. Lansdale, Janet Evanovich, Thomas Harris, and many others. My current favorites are probably DeMille, Sakey, and Coben.

Me: Your stories, at least in this new volume, are set all over the country. How much research do you do for each story? Are you a natural history buff?

John: I’d love to tell you I spend hours and hours researching every story, but that’s not true. I do a fair amount of study–maps, the library, the Internet–if the story is set in another time, or in a place I’ve not yet visited, or deals with an unfamiliar subject. But I would guess almost half my stories have taken place in the Deep South–a familiar setting, for me–and stories set elsewhere are usually in locations where I’ve been and spent some time. Besides, most of my fiction deals with ordinary people with ordinary lives who happen to find themselves in dangerous or difficult situations. Oddly enough, the stories that do require more research are often the ones that turn out to be the most fun to write. Am I history buff? Not really. I’m fond of stories about the Old West, but that’s probably because I grew up in the 50s and 60s, watching Gunsmoke and Maverick and Wagon Train.

Me: How on earth do you keep coming up with these plots? Are you always thinking about ideas for your stories, or only when you sit down to write? What are your writing habits?

John: I swear I don’t know how I keep coming up with plots. My wife says surely it’s only a matter of time till the idea well runs dry, but so far that’s not happened. Regarding your second question, I’m always dreaming up stories, whether I’m mowing the yard or driving to the post office or watching TV. My wife says sometimes we’ll be sitting at the supper table and my eyes will sort of glaze over and she’ll know I’m off in another world. She’s a patient and forgiving soul, by the way.

As for writing habits, I have no set schedule or regimen for writing. Many of my author friends do–they say they have to sit down to write at a certain time every day, and maybe even in a certain spot. That wouldn’t work for me. I write anytime I feel like it, which is most of the time. Not that I’m actually always putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard–I might just be dreaming up plots in my head. But a great many of my waking hours (sleeping hours too, possibly, I’m not sure) are occupied with characters and storylines.

Me: So, are you already at work on the next group of stories?

John: Believe it or not, I have thirty more stories already picked out for a third book, if my publisher chooses to do another at some point. But I’m always writing new ones as well–I have stories coming up this fall in both Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Woman’s World, and another in the current (June-September) issue of The Strand Magazine. No one should have this much fun!

Me: Thanks for taking time to visit with us today, John. Let me know if you’re ever signing books in Memphis!

John: The pleasure’s mine, Susan. Thank you again. I’ll certainly keep you posted–I signed at Borders in Germantown last year, and I hope to be back up there again soon.

John will be reading and signing at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi on October 8, so I’m hoping to coordinate that with another visit to my mother. His signing schedule is on the Dogwood Press web site, here.

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