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Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perffect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"
January 5, 1990
My nine-year-old patient Stephanie and I sit on the floor of my office playing Sorry. Sorry is one of those wonderful games that is easy even for young children to master, but often difficult for the most mature of adults to tolerate. You can be so close to Home, and be bumped so precipitously by your opponent all the way back to Start. Positions shift quickly. The sure winner loses and the loser triumphs.
Stephanie whoops loudly as she beats me for the third time. Each time she bumps one of my pieces back to Start, she croons "Sooorrryyy" with considerably more delight than remorse. I glance at the clock and let her know that we are close to being out of time. We pack up the box and she places it back on the shelf. I stand up. Without warning, my slip drops to the floor and lands on my shoes. We both stare at it, stunned. I stammer, "Oh my goodness!"
Stephanie, a rather solemn child, is seized with paroxysms of laughter, which become contagious. I step out of my slip and stuff it into my briefcase. Stephanie tries to catch her breath and exclaims, "My perfect Dr. Manning is coming apart!"
She bursts into the crowded waiting room and graphically describes the scene to her parents. It is clear that the entire waiting room enjoys this story. I can see them smiling and smirking behind their Ladies Home Journals and National Geographics. My friend Ed passes me in the hall between our offices and asks casually, "Thatwouldn't be your Freudian slip, would it?"
January 8, 1990
My desk is littered with too many things that are getting too little attention. Papers wait passively in the "to do" pile. They've been there so long they are beginning to discolor. Four Diet Coke bottles sit half-filled with warm flat brown liquid. A crusty coffee cup holds the remnants of old candy bars, abandoned midway in fits of guilt. The phone bill is two months overdue and three Medicare forms are screaming for attention. I've been so busy lately, I've started a "to read" pile for the mail I have yet to open. Each evening I leave the office with the magical thought that the night will bring order to the chaos and transform it all by morning. But that is like shoving the box of aluminum foil back into the haphazardly organized closet and closing the door quickly, before it can slide back out. I always hope that time will somehow settle the contents of the closet, and I'm always surprised the next time I open the door when the package slides right back out and smacks me in the head.
I picture a woman who has it all together. She processes things completely the first time they cross her desk. She is up-to-date with bills, Pap smears, and teeth cleanings. She knows that her children's drawers are filled with clean, folded clothes. She knows what her family will be having for dinner three days in advance. She is complete. Able to go to sleep each night without the weight of any old business on the agenda. Everything on her list is crossed off. I hate her.
January 9, 1990
I am on a blitz. A week ago I heard about the National Institutes of Health offering grants for beginning researchers. Since then, it has been constant and frenetic activity: liaison with the grants office, designing the study, estimating budgets, getting endorsements, consultations, statistical input. I'm on my second day of no sleep and I actually feel great. I'm running on fumes with the nutritional support of Diet Coke, coffee, and Hostess powdered-sugar doughnuts. In the middle of the night, hunched over my computer, with the rest of the house dark and quiet, I feel a certain moral superiority to the sleeping world. Even with all this effort, I'm not sure the proposal will be finished by the deadline. But my foot is on the accelerator and I plan to push it to the floor. That's never failed me yet.
The grant proposal gets in, with three minutes to spare before the 5:00 P.m. deadline. The department chair dispatches a lab assistant to hand-deliver it to NIH. As we madly collate and staple, I notice a typo and almost start to cry. But it is too late for changes. I whip off a cover letter, pack the damn thing, and send the lab assistant on his mission, encouraging him to consider all speed limits and stoplights as suggested guidelines rather than rigid driving rules. He promises to call me the minute the package is stamped "Received."
For the next hour I put in my time as academic adviser to the parade of students outside my office. I jump when the phone rings. The lab assistant tells me he got it in just under the wire. I thank him profusely and promise that I will never push a proposal to the limit like that again. Before the words fully leave my mouth, I'm aware that I am lying.
There is something about flying through time, as I have over the past week, that makes me think that I am exempted from the laws of gravity. But the way I feel today lets me know that I'm not. I have done another of the crash-and-burns that are the price for my blitzes. I am grounded, heavy, and slow. I have overdosed on effort, and the hangover is horrible. I guess this is what I get for flying too close to the sun. Unfortunately, I never remember this part when I am aloft.