I used to write all the time. Every day I would put words to paper, whether it was poetry or prose, creative or technical. Five days a week (most weeks) I still write the technical, but I have all but forgotten how beautiful it was to indulge my creative side. The professor who most inspired me, Lydia Morris Fettig, really encouraged my poetry. I think she believed in me more than I believed in myself. While I was studying with her, I wrote the poem included in this post. Why I never published it, I don’t know. I was born to be a writer. Though I’ve had a number of intense interests other than writing (medicine, for example), it is to writing I always return.
This morning, I finished watching Hemingway, the latest documentary by Ken Burns about the writer Ernest Hemingway. For some reason, I’ve always been attracted to his writing and his story. I’ve read more Steinbeck than Hemingway, oddly enough, but still. He was the man and the myth. He shot himself the year before I was born. A piece of his soul is undoubtedly in mine, because I was always pulled toward his story. Think what you like of that. No one in my family was particularly into Hemingway or into novels other than sci-fi, but for me, “Papa”, as he liked to be called, held sway. My eldest brother was and is a literature and word nerd of sorts. He had an affinity for Shakespeare when he was in school, but later it was more about novels of space travel or the writings of Dean Koontz.
Literature came to me early. When I was born, I’m told we lived across the street from the library. I grew up listening to my mother or my sister reading to me. In one picture, which has since been lost, I was lying in bed listening, as my mother sat in the chair next to the bed, reading to me from a stack of Beatrix Potter books. She was hugely pregnant with my younger sister and she looked very ill. She often looked very ill because she had undiagnosed lupus and was lucky to have lived through giving birth six times. To this day, I could happily fall asleep with someone reading to me. My older sister taught me to read before I entered kindergarten. I did the same for my younger sister. Reading opened up a whole new world to me, and I continue to live in that world of language and magic, of faraway places and people who are similar or dissimilar to me. I have an intellectual curiosity that has never been sated.
When I had an echocardiogram on Wednesday, I listened to the sounds of my own heart as the technician waved the wand over my chest.
“That sounds like regurg’,” I said.
“Yes,” the technician said, and then, “Wait…how did you know that?”
“Because I heard it once before, and I asked the technician to explain the sound to me.”
“Yes,” she said. “It’s mild regurgitation of the pulmonic valve, but it’s no worse than most people have.”
I was satisfied to know that I still had an ear for it and that some medical personnel are still open enough to share things with me. As I told my radiation oncologist, I have a curious mind, and I want to know things. Don’t keep me in the dark.
When I was married to my first spouse, Paul, I went through a long stretch of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I was going back to college after many years away from school and, while the whole idea of college somewhat frightened me, it also engaged some great need in me. I struggled to select a course of study, however. I wanted to study it all.
“There is not a long enough life for me to do everything I want to do,” I told him.
There was one East Coast college that would have accepted me into med school as a forty-something. I could have done it. But inside I had a feeling that I was more like my mother than I cared to admit. My health at that time was only affected by fibromyalgia, and that I pushed through most days (though I needed naps more than other people my age). I had a nagging feeling that I wouldn’t stay healthy long enough to become a doctor or a psychiatrist or even a clinical psychologist, each with a long, rigorous course of study at varying numbers of years.
I had already written and published two engineering books, but they weren’t the kind of books I had wanted to write. I wanted to write what we used to call The Great American Novel. I’d written some short stories that I’d let friends and family read. The feedback was all positive, but the few times I’d tried to sell a story, I’d been rejected. I got fewer than 5 rejection letters, which is nothing for a writer, but I gave up on myself. I figured that my friends and family had to say something good about my writing. I didn’t trust them, and I didn’t trust me.
But every now and again, I come across a piece of mine that reminds me of what I gave up. I’m going to share one of those pieces with you now. It was written when I still went by my previous married name (and my legal first name). I hope you enjoy it. I really need to do more of it. Peace, Jude
We are not Indians (c. 2006, Doris Evans Pavlichek)
You came in great ships across frozen seas,
starving, lost, in fear of our savagery.
To our shores you brought your white disease
of smallpox, influenza, and treachery.
You call us “Indians,” an anomaly.
We are Wampanoag, Iroquois, Cherokee,
Susquehanna, Mahican, and Muskogee,
but you called us savages, ignorant beasts.
You rounded us up and told us of your God
who wanted our souls, who ruled by the rod.
When we resisted this faith of which we were taught,
your mission was clear; you would not be fought
on this perfect dream to christen the land
with the God of your fathers and the son of Man,
no matter whose blood you would spill on the sand,
breaking His commandment with your own hands.
We were robbed of our land. Our currency died,
our kindness repaid with trickery and lies
by strangers who came and would not have survived
without the help of our many tribes.
And now you cry freedom is what you fight for.
Whose freedom? Not ours. We were free before.
Genocide is something you never abhorred
when you used it on us, when you bloodied our shore.
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