Now I love it too.
The people at Northwestern were instantly lovable. While conversation floated into the application process and the program at the dinner we attended last night, it also held its own in the realm of the real world.
People were charming without trying to be.
I have a pretty good radar for character and it was beaming last night. The girl that drove us to the house where the "Rosen Night" (named after an academic who's funny yet important in the ER field and therefore his work is studied extensively) was a lot like me, except maybe a little more glamour oriented. (She had painted nails. Is that even allowed for doctors?) Nevertheless, she graduated from Columbia in 1997, then lived in LA for six years before returning to Medical School at Wash U in Minneapolis and the starting her residency at Northwestern (which is located in the heart of Chicago--the hospital,not the undergrad campus). So we chatted about the lifestyle adjustment and also the difference between a County and a private hospital. It seems the key lies in the resources--obviously Northwestern, which is referred to as the Ivory Tower and the first hospital I have ever entered where I haven't felt certain I was going to become instantly ill, is flush with money whereas County is "more work than ER, more drama, less pay." (It's the setting for the fictional TV drama of Thursday nights.)
Rosen night turns out to be less of a book club and more of a dinner party than one outside the medical field might expect. (I've already spent nearly four years with medical students and know they are some of the most serious partiers I've ever met. What with the need to stay up all hours and work constantly... when they let loose or need a boost they really go for it.)
One of the faculty members holds 90% of the monthly events in her home--the other 10% are held in other places. She has a gorgeous dog named Chealsey and a beautiful little girl. She also cooks for the entire event (except the desserts). We're talking baked brie, chicken encrusted with almond slices, stew, cheese asparagus casserole for the vegetarians, bottles and bottles of red and white wine and then a jeopardy game of the topic du jour (last night was psychiatry so I actually could participate) to make it medically kosher.
I told Emily, the hostess, she has an incredible skill set--she's not a "wife of" like me, she IS a physician and Assistant Professor in the ED.
When we first got their I met a lovely woman named Jamie who seemed quite down to earth and also around my age. Justin and I were chatting with her about the program, the weather, our lives thus far, when I finally asked her what she does. "I'm the Director of the Residency Program," she said.
My face must have flashed a look of "oh! and hear I am talking to you like you're just another new friend!" So she said, "Kind of intimidating, huh?"
"Actually, not really," I replied making a face that indicated I was considering whether I should be intimidated. I'd already decided I liked her before I knew I had to at least act like I liked her, so I couldn't figure out why a 33 year old woman who has been a director of programs but doesn't have an MD should be intimidated by another woman of significant caliber. Perhaps that's what sets me apart from the 23 year old applicants and their significant others.
Then we spent quite some time chatting with the Professor and Chair of the ED. With him, a man who served medically in the Air Force, I launched into a commentary on the war in Iraq, our lives in a military town and how it affects our perspective of the war as compared to most Americans who do not live in military towns. He pursued and instigated the conversation, knowing many of his students and colleagues who were deployed to Iraq several times despite their National Guard status. We know how the families are being affected, we know the toll, we know the end is not in sight any more than the Korean War is over as we guard the demilitarized zone and negotiate a tenuous peace in a place where government doesn't work in the healthy fashion in which government needs to work. I tossed in a, "so much for not talking about politics at dinner parties," but he waved it away in an apparent desire to continue having an intelligent conversation about our government and our wars.
So I liked him.
Then there was Mike, an Associate Director of the Residency program. He told me he liked Justin, which I seconded with, "Me too, I am going to keep him forever." He successfully sold me on the weather and the charm of Chicago, though I know first snows are always charming--it's four or five months into this freeze that people become miserable.
He was a very likable, honest, punchy guy who seems to have bought me and Justin as a package deal. He insisted that I have all the power and that I was the one they needed to win over.
I know that I don't have all the power, just a substantial maybe even equal vote in this two voter process of ranking the order of where we would like to spend our next three or four years.
And as for the program itself--it is different, it is interesting, it has some qualities that the other programs do not, like the three "schools" (academic, research, administrative) and the time spent in the ICU and not so many wards, plus the organized time of classroom didactics.
Justin really likes it.
They're good people, which helps me feel like I could make friends and survive this town better than yesterday, when I didn't know anyone.
Plus, we'd experience seasons together for the first time in our lives for four years running. We would really know what we were looking for in our life--like we tried the UCSD UTC area, the suburbs and then the city in San Diego. We like city life.
One more grand adventure with this man could be a very enriching experience. More enriching than four more years leading into 60 more years in San Diego, which we already know and love.
Plus we can move back.
Maybe we need this giant leap to help us realize where we really want to land together.
Plus, one of the faculty members shared her story of adopting a Vietnamese child and still working on adopting a brother or sister for him. It was such a real conversation that she initiated and that we rolled carefully along with as she drove us back to our hotel on her way to their city home. (They also live in the suburbs, but in the snow she wasn't going to do the drive at night and in the morning, even if her husband and baby were going to be away from her for the night. Seems like a good decision given the separation time a car accident would cause, not to mention hours on the road instead of sleeping...)
It's just been such a human experience.
Thus far, at UCSD it's been more of an exploration and an experiment in sociology for me. Here, I feel like I could make some real connections, whereas there I have felt more tenuously tied by the "old foggies club" and "the happy-marrieds" status. The spouses have been the extra elective.
Maybe in Chicago I could create a new life for myself again.
Maybe this time I'd be creating a life as myself, instead of some impression of myself, some inward need to project the person I am "supposed" to be according to the definition of success in the realms I have inhabited as Indian daughter, honors high school student band member, college academic star and journalist, teaching machine and journalism factory of award-winning students, writer or artist or photographer.
Maybe here I could invent myself from my inside out because no one would know "what Olaina is supposed to be."
Maybe here I could surprise myself with my Self.
And maybe my Self would enchant people (or not) and I would be OK with the responses of others as long I as felt like I was being honestly Me.
Maybe in Chicago I would grow more whole and fully re-cog-nized.
Maybe Chicago would not shape me, but I would shape myself.