Category Archives: background

the stipulation

child African..

“And so what is there to regret if, seeking good, we misjudge and stumble and fall?”

Seeking good.

I don’t often talk religion on my blog — I have too many questions about it (the man-made institution, not God) — but one thing my Christian upbringing impressed upon me is that mankind in inherently evil. We are sinful by nature (thanks, Eve) and must fight our selfish tendencies every day.

This is something I have struggled with. When I see pictures of small children all over the world, “evil” is not the first that comes to my mind. And yet I have seen, too, how my friends have had to teach their children to “share” and “be nice” to others. I myself told my mother I hated her when my little brother was born. I was not even three!

And certainly there is evidence of mankind’s potential for cruelty around us in the world every day. A single glance at the new headlines would indicate that I am crazy for saying “our hearts are good.” How can that be?

And here’s where I think it can. I think it starts early. I think it starts with a choice. Even in the worst possible circumstances, with the worst possible role models, children (we) have the ability to recognize right from wrong. And we have the ability to choose what to do with it. Will we choose what is easiest and what seems to have the most immediate advantages? Or will we choose what our hearts are telling us — “Go! Run! Stop! Do it!” — which may or may not be to our liking?

The minute we choose to stop listening to our hearts, our entire lives can become reason for regret. Because it’s all downhill from there.

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Note: I am taking off for Tennessee tomorrow! Jon and I will packing up his stuff and driving across country, so I may be absent from the blogging world for a short time. I miss you all already!

Image: africanliberty.org

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the only regrettable thing

beachedboat“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.”

Oscar Wilde

“What is your biggest regret?”

It’s a question often heard but rarely analyzed. Regret. What is it, really? And how does it affect me? Should it affect me?

I don’t have any regrets. I’m not kidding. As I look back on my life, I see a path of overturned obstacles and a little girl and a young woman. My childhood is over, and my course thus far has brought me to where I am — 30 years old with a love for life that years of heartache have only helped ignite: My passion is stronger because I have seen the “other side.”

I have seen the pain of loneliness and of trying and failing and trying and failing and trying and . . . I’ve seen love come and go, families fall apart, children in streets, cultural seats . . . I’ve seen faraway shores and looked through others’ eyes . . .

(That’s all this world needs, is to look through others’ eyes.)

And the times I’ve misstepped have been the times I’ve learned the most. The year I gave up going to Austria for a boy (we didn’t work out) was the year I met one of my very best friends. (Love you, Gwyn!) I learned a lot from that relationship and am a better person because of it:

My heart smiles when I think of him — and of you.

Because deep down I believe we all have a heart, and that our hearts are good. We may be selfish by nature but can choose how we cultivate our natures. The wise person sees: Selfishness gains nothing; selflessness, everything.

And so what is there to regret if, seeking good, we misjudge and stumble and fall?

The only regrettable thing is when our hearts cry, “Go!” and, silently, we watch, wait, think, wish, say, “No.”

“To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”

Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

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For a dear hatted boy.
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Image: Pinterest (Artist: M.C.)

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the world awaits

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In looking for jobs recently, I updated LinkedIn. In updating LinkedIn, I got in touch with old co-workers. In getting in touch with old co-workers, I got a job offer in Taiwan.

And I couldn’t take it.

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while now know how important travel is to me. I’ve often stated how much I miss living in Asia and how I can’t wait to return. My dream job would be to work for a nonprofit organization whose focus is international relief. I want to write to make a difference.

But why is travel so important to me? How can I make others understand? Continue reading

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here’s to thirty

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This girl will always revel in nature… The moon rising behind my apartment the other night.

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I turned thirty today. Wondered where the years have gone. I was never going to be thirty — ever. And here I am.

It’s a good thing, though — getting older. My twenties were good years, but hard. I “shifted” a lot as life changed. (You can see where I’m going with this.) I wrote in a post in 2012 when I was living in Hong Kong: “What I didn’t expect was the identity crisis — some things aren’t supposed to change.” I was referring to being young, to my family always being together, to being alone . . . We get used to things, us humans. We like routine; we form ideas about who we are. Continue reading

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if i could go anywhere

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If I could go anywhere, I would go to Carmel, on the coast of California, in the year 1990. My family would be staying at a small condo by the beach. It would be foggy and misty. I would be six years old, and my mom would be turning 32. We would be there to celebrate her birthday, and I would be laughing and twirling and calling her an old lady.

I would then take my six-year-old self on a trip around the world. I’d stop in Delhi, Dhaka, Beijing, Tokyo . . . Manila, Sydney, Cape Town, Istanbul . . . Bucharest, Athens, Rome, Lisbon . . . Moscow, Santiago, Pell City, Montreal . . . Continue reading

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the book inside my story

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T-Wall — near where I fell

Most people I tell my rock-climbing story are more impressed by my story than I am. Sure, I’ve got scars. There’s a white mark just above my lip that annoys me every day. And?

That’s why it always surprises me, though, when readers suggest I turn my story into a book. After re-reading my story this past January, my friend Vance sent me a message: “So, I just finished rereading your ‘How Not to Die‘ story, and I’m asking myself: How is this not a book? Or, at least, the beginnings of one? It is truly an amazing story, however you take it . . .”

In the past, I’ve always brushed such suggestions off. That’s what I did to Vance. “To be honest, I’ve already written nearly as much as I know to say about my rock-climbing accident. I have no idea how I’d turn it into a book . . .” is what I told him. And that was the truth. In “How to Not Die,” I’ve given the reader everything I can — from my perspective. Continue reading

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the last piece (or, i lied)

Jessica:

Part seven is the last piece of my rock-climbing story. Here, I talk about how my accident still affects me today. Yes, I recovered. But eleven years later, there are still things that remind me of my injury every day.

Originally posted on shift:

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There are things you learn to live with. Things that never cross your mind—until “that time.”

That time when you’re ordering at Starbucks and the barista says: “What was that?” “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” “Are you sick?”

That time when you’re chatting with a friend, and your voice cuts out and cracks, then dies.

That time when you’re calling across a street, and no one hears.

That time when you’re in a noisy restaurant, and you might as well just look into each other’s eyes.

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how to not die: the “real” missing piece

Jessica:

My story from my perspective has been told. But, as I mentioned previously, there is a missing piece: you. In part six, you’ll hear from others who knew me at the time of the fall and how my accident affected them.

Originally posted on shift:

A few posts back, I talked about the missing piece from my rock-climbing story. I was raised Christian and went to small Christian schools all my life, including college. When I had my accident, the entire student body at the university I was attending prayed for me. Both people I knew and people I’d never met watched as I went from nearly dying to fully recovering—a miracle they attested to the power of prayer.

I’ve already talked about how this incident affected me—how I slept through it all and came out an incredibly sick girl on the other side.

But there certainly are spiritual implications to my story. I cannot deny that prayer is what brought me through (it certainly was no power of my own): to say otherwise would be a slap in the face to both God and my dear friends . . .  This is true even…

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how to not die: the road to recovery

Jessica:

In “The Road to Recovery,” I talk about just that: recovery. This is where I found my passion for cycling and scared my mom to death by water-skiing only a few months out after my injury . . . Ha!

Originally posted on shift:

Ten years ago (on January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet (24 meters) while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is the last part of my story. (To start at the beginning, click here.)

THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

8 a.m. Wednesday, March 12

*”Rise and shine, it’s butt-whoopin’ time!”

I opened one eye and squinted at my brother in the light. A goofy grin engulfed his face. With my good arm, I threw a pillow at him. “Where’s my lucky egg?” He ran from the room, laughing.

Moments later, my mom appeared. “Awake?” I nodded. Cradling my right arm with my left, I slipped out from under the covers…

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how to not die: the missing piece

Jessica:

Still reposting my rock-climbing accident story. This is part four, where I talk about something many people are often surprised by — you.

Originally posted on shift:

Ten years ago today (January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet (24 meters) while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is part four of my story. (To read parts one, two, or three, click here, here, or here.)

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THE MISSING PIECE

For an audio recording, click here:


There’s a piece of my story that’s missing
the piece that is all about you.
It’s the piece that I’ve struggled the most with
the piece so many assume true.
I recovered from my accident eventually.
My rehab is on the next page.
But what of my soul, of “God‘s purpose”?
What is it that I…

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how to not die: the i.c.u.

Jessica:

For those of you who’ve been following along . . . “The I.C.U.” is part three of my near-death rock-climbing story. This is my favorite of all of the sections and shows most clearly what it is like to be a very very sick patient in the ICU.

Originally posted on shift:

Ten years ago today (January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet (24 meters) while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is part three of my story. (To read parts one and two, click here and here.)

THE I.C.U.

4 a.m.

A scream. More of a growl, actually. Arrrr! Arrrr! Arrrrrrrr! The pirate a few rooms down was hallucinating again.

Footstepsechoed off the laminate floor.

Then, silence.

I could hear machines humming. My machines. Whirrrr. Whirrrr. Their green lights glowed in the dark. I pretended they were aliens.

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how to not die: the rescue

Jessica:

A year ago, on the ten-year anniversary of my rock-climbing accident, I decided to write the story of my near-death experience on Signal Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. This year, for the sake of my new readers, I’ve decided to repost my story. “The Rescue” is part two . . . If you’ve already read it, I’m sorry! If you haven’t, I hope you enjoy!

Originally posted on shift:

Ten years ago today (January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is part two of my story.

THE RESCUE

There were voices. They echoed off the hills and were magnified by the silence. Flashes of light bobbed in the distance. Leaves cracked and branches snapped.

My rescuers were coming.

rescueteam

My rescuers–I’m hidden behind (image: chattanoogan.com)

My friend stood up. “Over here, we’re over here!” He ran in the direction of the voices.

Moments later, helmets with lights bounded onto the scene. The helmets were attached to people wearing jeans and jackets and thick gloves. Apparently, they had work to do.

A helmet with…

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how to not die: the fall

Jessica:

A year ago today, on the ten-year anniversary of my rock-climbing accident, I decided to write the story of my near-death experience on Signal Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. This year, I am in Chattanooga on my 11-year anniversary, and I thought that, for the sake of my new readers, I’d repost my story (this may take a few days) . . . If you’ve already read it, I’m sorry! If you haven’t, I hope you enjoy!

Originally posted on shift:

Ten years ago today (January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet (24 meters) while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is my story.

T-Wall (image: flickr.com)

THE FALL

The sun was falling from the sky. Once it dropped below the hills, all light and warmth would disappear. The clouds were chameleons: yellow and pink and purple. Somewhere a bird twittered.

An icy wind crept into my jacket. I shivered. Beyond the edge of the mountain, a silhouette was standing far below. “Just remember what I said,” it called.

Just remember what he said.

I took a deep breath and leaned back. My harness cut into my jeans. I couldn’t feel…

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cling to hope

Some of you have wondered where I’ve been. I’ve been posting less often, commenting the same . . . Have I given up blogging? Have I given up loving? Am I heartless? Do I not care?

Hardly, friends! Anything but! I do care, and care all the more! It’s just . . . my life has been shifting. To give you a review:

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In December, 2009, I moved to Taiwan. My viewpoints were challenged. My perspectives, changed.

I shifted.

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At Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan

Continue reading

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blessed

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The holidays are a wonderful time. Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me. Oh, wait. I guess that was supposed to be Ho-ho-ho! — Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Or was it?

Something that’s always bothered me about the holidays is — no, not the materialism (although that’s part of it) — the focus on self. When I was a copy writer in Chattanooga, I wrote countless articles on depression around the holidays. The media paints Christmas and New Years out to be such a wonderful time of year, but what if it isn’t? What if you’re single and alone? What if your family lives a long way? What if a loved one just died, or money is really, really tight? It’s a well-known fact that shop-lifting rates go up around the holidays.

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A little girl begging at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Around my home, Christmas cards from friends always come rolling in around the holidays. Pictures with smiling faces and new babies and fall colors and fancy scarves beam from the refrigerator door. Sayings like “Blessed!” and “Wishing you and yours happiness throughout the holidays and the coming year” jump out at innocent passersby . . . And, as I look at these clean, painted faces, I wonder: Do they even know? Do they know how blessed they really are? Really? Continue reading

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let us trust (or, happy new year!)

Santa Cruz

Last year, on December 31st, I wrote a post about growth. I talked about the good and the bad that make up the times of our lives. I talked about how we all have a choice: Will we grow and learn from these times, and be generous and grateful for will we have? Or will we . . . Most of you can guess what the opposite reactions to those listed might be.

When I wrote that post and said that I hoped we would choose growth, I was mostly referring to my own growth in Asia during the previous three years. I was remembering the culture shock and the cold showers and the day-to-day isolation and the discomfort and uncertainty that frequently accompanies living in a foreign country. I was remembering how I went from hating my surroundings — to loving them . . . From succumbing to my circumstances — to mastering them. I was talking about the life-altering change to my worldview that I owed entirely to a place I’d previously never ever thought I’d go . . .

Truth be told, I had absolutely no idea what growth would mean for me in the United States, in my home state of California, in the coming year. Continue reading

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the true meaning of the holidays

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My room in Taiwan

Two months after I left for Taiwan, I got a phone call. “Jess, your mom and I have something to tell you . . .” My parents were getting divorced. After nearly 28 years, my mom had made up her mind — it was over.

The conversation wasn’t long. There wasn’t much to say. I couldn’t say I was shocked. I’d seen the disconnect between my parents for years — both of them trying, each in their own way, to bridge the gap. Both of them failing. I’d convinced myself that they were going to make it, knowing, deep down, I was wrong.

After we got off the phone, I sat on my black bedspread and stared at the brightly polished wood floor that I’d scrubbed and scrubbed when I’d first arrived. Outside my window, the dark sky began to rain. I didn’t notice. My mind was empty; my emotions, numb. I wondered, blankly, how my brother would take the news. Continue reading

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staying true to me . . .

san marino italy

For some, the path has always been clear . . . But not mine!

My parents had a plan. From the time he was a kid, my dad knew he wanted to be a doctor. My mom was fostered into a career as a physical therapist — in high school, she fell in love with gymnastics. She was naturally strong and interested in fitness. Becoming a PT just made sense.

I never knew what I wanted to do. While the rest of my friends fell into paths almost identical to their parents’, I was not a science person. I hated Chemistry and Biology. Give me a literature class any day! And besides, I’d seen how hard my parents worked and what working with people in pain could do. I knew I wanted to help people, just not with their physical health.

Fast forward several years. A college graduate with a B.A. in English, but now what? . . . I’ve held a handful of jobs since I graduated, ranging from being a copywriter, to an ophthalmology technician, to an ESL school teacher (in Taiwan and Hong Kong), and now, to a freelance writer. I’ve been trying to come up with my long-term plan: But what? I’ve wanted to return to Asia: I have this HUGE fear of getting tied down. The world is too big and too beautiful and too full of need to live in one tiny pocket my whole life . . . But. But.

Do I always want to be alone? Continue reading

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walls are for head-banging

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Some days I feel like this — especially when I’m writing poetry!

When I created my blog, it was to share ideas. To share ideas and experiences, and to engage with others — yes, that includes you. I detested blog posts that were simply daily journals or gripes or complaints or even inspirational photos or quotes. To me, those things seemed empty: Unless I know you personally or have established a relationship with you, I don’t want a recap of your day, I want a point. I want something that makes me think, or smile, or that catches my attention in a meaningful way.

The trouble with that line of thinking, though, is that it’s the same kind of thinking that makes me cry when I hear songs like “Message In a Bottle,” which I talked about here. It’s me being “Little Miss Intense,” the one who can’t stand “fluff” and could turn even the silliest situation into an internal philosophical debate. “To bake the cookies, or not to bake the cookies — that is the question.”

. . . Kidding! Continue reading

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kick ‘em when they’re down

red light2Warning: This post contains blood!

The other day I’m out riding my bike. I’ve just left my apartment and am headed left, towards the light. The plan is to turn right onto the main road and hit a few hills. I’ve been missing my bike! Trouble is, the light’s red and there’s a car there, also turning right. I come up slowly behind it, clicked into  my pedals but ready to click out, waiting to see what it does. The car starts to go but then stops, starts again and stops, and (those of you who are cyclists know where this is going) . . . Crash! I’d lost my momentum; I knew I was going to fall, and I did.

I toppled hard to my right, and even on the ground had difficulty getting out of my pedals. My left calf was smarting, but I didn’t pay it any attention. A passenger in a car waiting to turn left beside me had rolled down his window so that I could hear him laughing at me. I ignored him — didn’t look over —  and finally got upright again. The indecisive car had finally moved on and my lane was clear. I peddled on. Continue reading

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lessons not learned (now learned!)

macbookHave you ever done something stupid and said, “That’s it — never again,” and then done it again . . . and again and again?

I have.

Last night, after putzing around on my blog for several hours, I decided to wipe down my MacBook before heading to bed. I am a clean freak, and while I love the sleek design of most Apple products, the fingerprints and other marks that love to show up on my screen drive me nuts. Well, I got out my Windex (I ran out of electronics cleaner a while ago and keep forgetting to replace it), sprayed it on a soft napkin, and then proceeded to “Cypherize” my computer . . . Only there was this one smudge that wouldn’t come off. I rubbed and rubbed . . . It was late, and I was tired, and in my impatience, I decided to use the Windex bottle to spray the spot directly. I did, and wiped it and the rest of the keyboard squeaky clean, and “Wha-la!” I went to bed and forgot all about it . . .

Until this morning. This morning, my keyboard freaked out. Continue reading

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the importance of “this”

IMG_0112edOne hour and eleven minutes. That’s how much time I have to get this post written before midnight. That’s how much time separates me from posting once every three days and once every four.

What’s the big deal? some people might say. Blogging just seems like a lot of work.

Well, yes . . . Yes, it is . . . and yet it’s not. It is because there’s pressure to post regularly and to write well. As a writer, I hope to continue building my blog and that, someday, writing Shift will lead me to bigger and better things . . . It’s not, on the other hand, because writing is what I LOVE and interacting with readers makes all the effort I put into my blog worthwhile. (You, dear readers, mean everything to me.) Continue reading

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the truth behind travel

While on my trip a dear friend from high school posted this photo on my facebook page:

fernweh3“I think you’ve been satisfying this need for a couple of weeks now,” he said.

And I wondered: Was it true?

I’ve been a seeker all my life. From the time I was ten, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license. Six more years! How would I make it? In high school, my Catholic boyfriend challenged me to examine my Protestant beliefs, and when it came time for college, I chose a school 3,000 miles from home — Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At Southern, I uncovered a whole new world, one in which umbrellas were a necessity year-round (a strange phenomenon for a California girl) and the correct way to address a group of friends was not “Hey, guys,” but “Ya’ll”! It was the start of what has made me me and a part of what eased my transition to life in Asia  — I already knew about this cicada and humidity thing!

But, I guess my question is: What is travel? And why is it — is it? — important? Continue reading

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the best of the best

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View of New Orleans from my friend’s apartment

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This post comes as something of a surprise. I would have thought I’d be talking directly about New Orleans.

I arrived this past Saturday to a scene I’ve never really been a part of. No, no, I’m not talking about the music or bar scene. I’m acquainted well enough with both, though truth be told I rarely participate in either. (I’m a “goodie goodie,” remember? Drinking has never really been my thing.) No, I’m talking about the medical academic scene, or, more specifically, the ivy league medical academic scene.

My friend is an internal medicine resident at Tulane, one of the most highly regarded and selective research universities in the nation. Yes, she’s smart stuff, and I’m proud to know her, but I don’t usually think of her as such. To me, she’s just April, my best friend from forever, and that’s enough. All the rest is just fluff.

So at dinner the other night I was surprised as I was talking to another internal medicine resident, a friend of April’s, when he told me about his experience as an undergraduate at Yale. Continue reading

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see you . . . soon!

Dear All,

I miss you. What? How is that possible? I don’t know, but it’s true.

Funny that my little blog has become something of my home. I share my thoughts here, and you respond. You tell me that I’m not crazy. For that, I owe you everything.

A few weeks ago I proposed a regular Friday section focusing on travel. I should have known better. I can’t even get myself to bed on time let alone post a weekly section on time. I’m sorry. I do plan to write at least once a week about travel, though. I just can’t swear that it will pop up in your “Reader” section at a specific time.

This Friday (yesterday) I took a day trip to San Francisco. The weather was perfect, and I got to drive over the new Bay Bridge, a white, sleek monument to modernity that stands in stark contrast to the dark metal contraption — the old bridge — beside it. I broke the law and took a few pics for your benefit while driving. ;)

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The new bridge to the left and the old on the right.

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