Thursday, September 4, 2014


Now it's September, again. This is my 29th September. I'm fairly accustomed to them by now, although I can't remember one ever being so hot. 

It's 90 degrees during the day, and I sit in biology lab and watch through the window as steam rises from the pavement outside. At the front of the class, someone is flipping through slides of the endocrine system, pointing out thyroid from parathyroid, squamous and simple cuboidal, the two lobes of the pituitary. I'm trying so hard to focus, to dredge up some interest from somewhere inside of my brain, but I'm coming up dry. The words, the cells, the slides, seem to just glimmer away before I've absorbed them, like those first light snow flurries in Vermont where the tiny points of snow melt the very second they hit the ground.

I like school. I've always liked school. I love the way it forces me to hyper-organize my things and my time, notebooks stacked by color, coffee cup cleaned and waiting on the counter for the next morning. I love how it neatly dissects my day into blocks, and I always know where I should be- now class, now lab, now driving to the tutor, now opening my books on the kitchen table for the evening.

But this time around, my attention is waning.

I've heard that the golden gate bridge is so long that the people hired to paint it never get to stop. They start at one end and by the time they get to the end, about a year later, the first part needs to be painted again. And so on and so on and so on for as long as there is a golden gate bridge. This is what it feels like when I'm doing one of those long dimensional analysis problems with a hundred different steps. I start out so strong and confident and then I lose it it, little by little; the numbers collect but I forget why they are there or how I got them, and by the time I'm near the end I have to go right back to the beginning.

This happens on a macro scale as well, which often disturbs me. I'll be plugging along just fine, feeling satisfied with myself as I solve little puzzles, or get to class on time, or a row of numbers marches across the page in a particularly neat fashion, and suddenly I'll look up and wonder where I am. Why am I back in school? To become a nurse? Who decided that? When did I ever, ever express interest in being a nurse?

Not when I was a kid, certainly. I wanted to be an author when I was a kid, even when I was in preschool. Not when I was in high school or college. (If I'd had the vaguest idea in college I would have taken one math class and made this whole thing inordinately easier.) In college I wanted to be a novelist and after college I wanted to be a sitcom writer in New York City.

Out of the blue it will hit me that I've given up on all that and I'm living out a plan B. I'm not an introvert, writing is brutal, fiction is terrifying, print is dying, competition is soaring, other people are making it and I'm not and I have thrown in the towel at 29 with absolutely no excuse other than I don't want to work as hard as I know I would have to work.  

Those are the bad days. On the good days, I remember how completely enamored I was with my EMT course, how I felt useful in a way I'd never felt before. And I do love people and interacting with them. I think about how nice it will be to make a good salary and how many, many options will be available to me if I just keep going.

Am I a failure or am I being sensible? Will I grow to love it and what happens if I don't?

When I read a book I'm constantly analyzing the writing. I never would have written that sentence. That joke was perfect, what made it so subtle? That word was unnecessary, where did she come up with that, that's overkill, why didn't I think of that first? 

But that engagement, it doesn't seem to cross over into other mediums.

One of my jobs on the ship was to be a naturalist, and I was surely the worst naturalist that's ever been. My boss told us during one crew meeting that the key to being a good naturalist was to be constantly questioning the world around you.

But I look at birds and I think: "Oh. Birds." And I actually think ferns are really boring.

Once I saw a grizzly bear and my first thought was, "That looks like a man wearing a grizzly bear suit."


Oh, a pancreas. So that's how it works. Oh.

Look, I'm trying. I have this lemon essential oil and this peppermint stuff, it's supposed to wake up your brain. I'm mixing all these Super Food powders and hellaciously expensive gogi berries into smoothies to stay alert. I have a daily regiment of little logic puzzles that are supposed to boost your concentration or something. I try and see each class as a game that I am going to win, and that's all I can do for now.

Which is ok. It's ok to be ambivalent. Life is many things.
It's been so hot; everything damp and heavy. It's difficult to sleep, and to think, and the dog is miserable. She glares at me all day from underneath the table while I spin circles around my chemistry problems. I can't wait for the weather to turn, for the crisp, invigorating relief of autumn to sweep through these mountains and make everything feel new again.


Kim said...

Oh man, I worry a lot of the time that wanting one thing (but maybe wanting it abstractly?) ruins the doing of something else? Like what isn't a failure begins to feel like one only because it isn't what you pictured?

I just finished reading How Should A Person Be? I think it is good and helpful and gets at some of the stuff you are talking about. Plus, as Heti ultimately realizes, the only thing that is important is that you chose something and finish it. It doesn't matter whether it is writing on a tv show or going to nursing school. It just matters that it is one of those things (or another thing or whatever) and that it gets done. I don't know. I find that reassuring.

Melina said...

I like that. It is reassuring because it's so neat and clean. Just finish it, and then see what happens. That makes me feel peaceful.

Jill said...

I've been in graduate school for three years and most days I feel confident and know what I'm doing and why. But there are days when I feel like I'm treading water. I worry that I gave up opportunities to do this that I will come to regret later. That self-doubt is a bitch. Then I remind myself that I am still young, there is still much ahead, and adventure happens every day and it still awaits. It helps a bit. Thanks for sharing your ambivalence- it helps to know I'm not the only one.

Jill said...

And you don't have to stop writing just because you're following a traditional career path. You have talent- make time for it in your life, no matter what you're doing!

treadsteady said...

To know what you want to DO with life is not the focus so much as determining who you are and who you want to be and then figuring in what forum you'd best accomplish that and the doing...well, I think passion and profession would be a magical blend but for now maybe commit to securing a career to allow for adaptability and the opportunity to some day participate in your passions without te same level of expectation and/or stress! Plan B is to make room for Plan A!!

Anonymous said...

So, what are these options you hope to have after becoming a nurse? I'll be honest, I was surprised when you first mentioned on the blog that you were going back to school for nursing. While I wouldn't exactly want to discourage you, it doesn't seem (from what you write here) that you really would want to be a nurse. And I think you will hate nursing school. (To be fair, most of us do.) It's possible you'd get a job right out of school in the field that interests you, and then after a couple of years of experience, you could branch out into some of those non-standard options.... but there's also a pretty good likelihood that it wouldn't turn out that way. Some new nurses get into exactly what they want, but most have to settle for whatever they can get. Are you prepared to spend two years in a regular medical ward dealing with pneumonia and people recovering from heart attack or stroke before you could transfer to the ER or ICU, and then spend two years there before you could be a flight nurse or a cruise nurse or whatever else you might be interested in? Worse, would you be prepared to spend a year in a nursing home or doing home health before you were able to get that medical job in a hospital? Even worse, could you do a period of unemployment before finally landing that nursing home job in the first place? This is gloomy, but it's also the reality for many nurses graduating from school these days. If all of that sounds doable, great! You'll be 35 in six years whether you go to nursing school or not, so maybe it makes sense to do this with those six years.

I did the remote medicine course (for doctors/nurses/paramedics/PAs) with RMI--that's how I found your blog in the first place, several years ago--and I don't know how much it was like the EMT course, but I can tell you, what we learned and did didn't resemble my daily life as a nurse much. Perhaps I'm being too specific--the feeling of knowledge and helping people you talk about is the same--but the doctors and paramedics had careers that were much more similar. (Though the jobs are sometimes out there, yes.)

Final thought--have you considered becoming a PA or going straight into a master's of nursing program to become a nurse practitioner? I have a feeling those careers might suit you more than being a regular nurse.

Karen Travels said...

I live in Charlotte. I hate the heat. I get the seasonal affect disorder crap in the summer down here, like most people get in the winter!

Lauryn said...

Here is a little perspective from someone entering her 51st September: I have always wanted to write, from the time I could hold a crayon. And even though I always have written, I have never taken myself seriously as a writer. But I am doing it now (though who knows what the hell that means). Along the way, I have had a few careers and even more jobs, including the one I still make my supposed living at (music). I'm sure I have spent way more time in school than is probably healthy. I'm not really sure what my point is, except that if you are a writer (which you are), you will always write. It's impossible not to. It's okay to pursue other things, it's okay to have a way to pay the bills, just don't forget who you are at your core and what your passion is, and never be afraid to walk away from what's not working.

Cait said...

The world needs more nurses who are also writers. As a nurse, and soon to be midwife who also enjoys writing (but could never, ever make a career out of it - mostly because I just don't want to try that hard at something so offing hard), I find no greater solace after rough days of clinical and tough patients (or happy days, where you're brimming over with funny stories!) than to write about it. The world needs more writers to write about other things - nursing, pancreases, grizzly bear suits, chemical engineering, coffee bean grinding, etc. I think that the Venn diagrams of your interests and passions can overlap quite a bit, and you're right, that overlap changes - ambivalence is there, because life is many things. I thought nursing school was real tough. I didn't love or even like a whole lot of it. But oh, the parts that I did love - those kept me going. And *those* parts are past the agony of math equations.

Hang in there, girly. It gets better, and remember - the Venn diagram overlaps. I promise.

Beth Smith said...

I agree with Kim. Finishing is important. Whether that means finishing a novel or finishing nursing school, just pick one and put your everything into it.

I'm a writer and part of me doesn't want to encourage anyone to follow that career path. It's hard. If there's anything else you can imagine yourself doing, do that.

But I chose writing. I don't have a backup plan. And it was absolutely the right decision for me.

((Whatever you choose, you will be okay))

cindy said...

I was lucky enough to attend Carlos Fuentes last public lecture at UPS. He talked about politics, about Mexican-US diplomacy, but mostly he talked about writing. And how much he wanted to be an author. And his father forced him to go to law school which led to govt and political things and all along he was a writer. But he told us his father was right. He needed to do something other than write in order to have something to write about. He compared it to a coffee mug. He needed a handle to hold on to, and so the words and ideas and the stories could have a place, a container. That's what he said. And for some reason it made me feel pretty good about making the drive down to Tacoma just to hear that. Afterwards he signed a book I hadn't read, but had to grab one, on principle, and asked him how he starts. "With the first sentence." And then he winked at me. Cheeky old man, knew that was the must unhelpful thing he could possibly say.

Lisa said...

Hey, just so you can be both. :-) Right now I work at a regular desk job, make regular pay, raise my kids and have my hobbies, but I still sneak in an hour here or there, and work on my writing, my novels, submitting my words, whatever I'm working on at the moment. can do both. :-) It just takes longer.

Sara Stowell said...

"Am I a failure or am I being sensible? Will I grow to love it and what happens if I don't?" This, Melina. It's so true.

Where is that fine balance between sticking something out because it's the right thing to do, and letting go because the path you're walking no longer fills that empty place in your soul. The truth is, you'll know. Today in graduate school orientation, when two second years sitting on a panel said they came from culinary and law school and they didn't know they were in the right place until they started the course. They knew the culinary world and law were not for them, but they didn't know what was until they sat in the uncomfortable of the social work program. Sometimes I think uncomfortable is indicative that we are in the right place to some degree. Go with your gut. xo.

Liz the PT said...

PT school was torture. I was interested in the subject matter, but not nearly as much as I was interested in actually doing the work. One had to come before the other. I am SO glad I went straight through undergrad to grad school, because I think I would struggle even more to go back into that world. In the end, it was all worth it--as soon as I got to work with patients it was worth it. TBH I don't know how much nurses get to do interactively, unless you plan to do ED or ICU. Being a therapist is a good time. :)

Unknown said...

You are writer. You should keep doing that. It is a gift and a huge one of yours. Whether it is your main career or a part of a different one, it is something that you need to do.

R y Recker said...

Amen Sister.
Take it one day at a time.

Dave O'Leary said...

In my late twenties and into my thirties I essentially stopped writing. Something in me knew I wasn't ready, but there was also a kind of fear there. It is hard work. There were doubts about my abilities too so I went on to other things and made a career for myself, but the writing thing was always there, sometimes barely noticeable, maybe way back in the bottom left corner of my brain next to the place that held my childhood desire to be a baseball player, but it never went away completely. And then, boom, it came back big time when I was thirty-eight, and now my second book will be published this fall.

You seem to be in a similar boat so maybe in five or ten years when you're an established nurse, the urge to write a novel will come back, and maybe then, we'll be able to step into a Barnes & Noble (if they still exist) and see a book with Coogan on the cover.

meg bird said...

Okay, the way you described your inability to concentrate on anything with the whole snowflake metaphor (or...analogy? I haven't been to school in years, if you couldn't tell) was so perfectly how I've been feeling lately as well! Maybe it's the time of year? Or once you're over 22 your brain just goes to crap? I'm not sure, but it's frustrating as hell. No matter what you do though, I'll always love your words. I wish I had advice or something, but I don't. Just, good luck and all that.

Susan Spaulding said...

Melina, your friends are wonderful people. They've posted such great advice! Ambivalence like this is almost worse than pain, isn't it? I don't know about you, but it's the not knowing that gets me every time. Not knowing if I'm on the right path, not knowing how things will turn out, etc.

A few thoughts--I think "career" isn't the most important thing in life. You might work as a nurse or a writer or a naturalist on a boat or anything else, but you are and will always be Melina, regardless of your 9 to 5. What's most important is that you do your best to be a kind, compassionate, happy person, regardless of how you earn your living.

Two suggestions:

1. Would it make pursuing the nursing path easier to know that Doctors Without Borders is in dire need of nurses? I think your experience of traveling to places that don't have a Ramada Inn, your ability to live rough and improvise solutions in hard circumstances where you maybe don't have the resources you would have here in the States, combined with training in nursing would make you uniquely qualified to work with that organization, and you'd be really, really good at it. You would be able to help so many people, and I think you could probably find a thing or two to write about in your down time.

2. So often, it's impossible to identify The Right Thing To Do. In those moments of ambivalence, it helps to step back, settle your mind as much as you can, look at the situation, then do the rightest thing you can find.

3. Okay, I have three suggestions. Please remember, you must pass the courses. That's all. Release yourself from any pressure you might be feeling to get the highest grades in every class. You just need to pass. You'll feel better about your progress if you make a little room for yourself to be human, not a calculator or a periodic chart.

Melina, this ambivalence is just so hard. Two sure things, though: 1) You are a lovely person. 2) You have the cutest, most intrepid doggie companion on the face of the earth. Hometeam is the greatest!

Hang in there!

Rachel said...

"Life is many things", indeed, and right now I have no idea what I'm doing with it. I think it's admirable that you're charting some kind of course at all. You're making a plan, sticking to it, and I agree with Kim; there is definitely something to be said about choosing something and then finishing it. And if it ends up not being the path you want to take, well then...try another. I say this as someone who is kinda floating around in a freefall daze and has been for quite a few years now. This is my 28th September. Sigh.

Gretel Nitschke said...

This is some truly great advice!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate how you can express the thoughts I have every day. for some reason I just can't put them into words the way you do. Take heart, you are not alone. I love being a stay at home mom to my four year old. But I never thought that I would be! I have an MBA and I worked extremely hard for that degree. I just trust that everything in its time. I will return to work one day, maybe in business, maybe not!! For now I try to enjoy my son and our days together, despite the questions that do nag. They are normal!!

Maria said...

I'm sitting on a sofa and my husband plops down next to me. "What you doin'?" I say that I am reading this blog I like - yours - and he asks that I read it out to him, loud.

I first read him the story you wrote on Kelle's blog, about wanting children. "Wow, she is an incredible writer!" my husband exclaims once I finish. He is tearing up.

I then read him this post here. He again says that you are an amazing writer and that I should write to you. I say to him that sometimes I do, through comments.

Anyway, I don't really know what's the point of me writing this here, but here you go. We like you.

PS. I've got two kids, one is 3 years and the other one is 3 months. We love them, but they're hard work sometimes. When I read out to my husband about you wanting children, he went, "Ask if she wants to come stay with us sometime?" =)

Anonymous said...

I made a living through my art and writing for about 5 years when I just started out. I worked with incredible, inspiring people, and there were many things to love about the experience.

However, after a while, the urgent, desperate need for my creativity to provide me with means for living sucked all the joy out of it.

I've since left that first career, gotten an MBA, and am working in a new field that pays the bills, though it's not very fulfilling yet. But I found that I needed stability in order to make room for my creativity. Now, whenever I return to art or writing, it's a refuge and a relief, rather than a requirement.

I think (I hope!) you'll always continue writing. But maybe the work you're doing now is just creating that safe-house for your creativity to take flight later.

Melina said...

If anyone checks in here, please know how inspired, relieved and grateful I am for your comments. I read them all multiple times. I actually check back here daily to feel a little more grounded. Thanks everyone. So much!

Meaghan said...


Nursing school is super hard, most of us hated it. But being a nurse is great. It is much different that being in school. Even more so, it is great to be nurse practitioner ( which is what I am). You have options galore, so many different areas in nursing to choose. You have schedule options as well that could make plenty of room for writing.

All that said, a few days before you posted this I was actually thinking about you and thinking how much I wish you would write a book. How much I would love to read a whole book that you wrote. I love all of your posts here and without a doubt: you. are. a. writer. The end. Why can't you go to school for that? You could get credit for all those thoughts you already have... " I wouldn't have written that was that funny". Etc.

Whatever you decide, it will work out. You will write no matter if it is as your career or on the side. And I look forward to reading everything.

Any questions or help with nursing school, even just a pep talk, let me know.


Anonymous said...


I'm here to offer you some words of encouragement. I have been a nurse for 12 years. I went through a BSN program straight out of high school and have worked Level 1 trauma surgery, ER, endoscopy and back again into the ER.

I can tell you this: becoming a nurse requires jumping through a lot of hoops. Pre-reqs, admissions essays, lectures, clinicals, care plans, cranky old Army battle axe nursing profs that make you calculate drop rates because "That's how they do it in the battle field."

At the end of that journey is being a nurse. Being a nurse is not memorizing the Krebs Cycle. It is not crumpled up notes from chem lab on your kitchen floor.

Being a nurse is: being a the bedside, putting in IV's, initiating orders for your patients when the doctor is busy, noticing when your patient is circling the drain and needs rapid intervention, assisting with chest tubes, giving a shitload of IV narcotics, reassuring your patient that surgery for appendicitis will be no big deal, holding the hand of an elderly person who has no one else to comfort them, laughing at the guy with his balls hanging out of his boxers as he calls you a "fucker," working together with an amazing team to resuscitate a sick child, comforting a patient's family as their loved one is dying, wearing pajamas to work, working 12 hours with a half hour to pee and scarf down a sandwich.

Becoming a nurse is really hard, but BEING a nurse is a tremendous privilege. Yes it's hard work, yes it has moments of mega suckage. But on the flip side of that is an amazing career with a lot of flexibility, the ability to go to the dentist during the week, travel for a few weeks at a time, good money, fantastic stories and the chance to make a difference when people need it the most.

You will have to put in a few years working on a medical/surgical floor, but it will be the foundation of your career. You will learn medications, wound care, lines, drains, assessment skills, etc. Once you have a few years of med/surg under your belt, then consider specializing in something that suits you. If you can get those first few years at a Level 1 trauma center, that's even better! You'll see more and do more than you would at a smaller, community/rural type hospital.

Also, nursing may allow you to have the life that you really want - and that includes writing. Best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

It could be worse. You could realize in your 30s you never even lived (or perhaps never had) a Plan A. Because that's a painful realization. To stare into the remainder of your life with little hope.