Saturday, April 7, 2012

this wild urge to have a parade

Technically, this is a repost.  In its first incarnation, it was called "Aesthetics of Catastrophe." 
I needed some evidence, tonight, that I really had tried.  You know?  That I went the distance, even beyond -- kept running, dolt that I can be, past the finish line!  This post commemorates the end of CRPS treatment, the end of the subanesthetic ketamine infusions last year, and it goes to the head of the line today.  

I did try.  

Didn't I?

Etymology of catastrophe:
1530s, "reversal of what is expected" (especially a fatal turning point in a drama), from L. catastropha, from Gk. katastrophe "an overturning; a sudden end," from katastrephein "to overturn, turn down, trample on; to come to an end," from kata "down" + strephein "turn" (see strophe). Extension to "sudden disaster" is first recorded 1748.

[Wikipedia] From Ancient Greek καταστροφή (katastrophē) from καταστρέφω (katastrephō, I overturn) from κατά (kata, down, against) + στρέφω (strephō, I turn)

Perhaps I miss the point.

I have two appointments today at the "catastrophic care hospital" where I received Ketamine infusions in an effort to conquer some of the pain inherent in CRPS.  There are many people being helped by this treatment there, most with some sort of neuropathic pain following brain or spinal injury or one of the chronic progressive neurological diseases -- but also many folks in the end stage of cancer, stroke patients, amputees with "phantom" pain.

It's a stalwart, funky bunch, with an alternative sense of style, a different notion of bling. 

"I like your cane" -- something I hear a lot.  I ditched the utilitarian bronze standard issue for one that is a screaming mess of blue flowers and leafy, leafy greens.

"Where'd you get those shoes?" -- and, oh dear God, if you have neuropathic pain in your feet -- presuming you have feet -- the Shoe Issue is never far from your thoughts.  I only wear shoes when I have to, like during a visit to the catastrophic care hospital, or for a quick waltz in the middle of a nasty parking lot strewn with bits of broken glass and bullet casings -- by the light (not the dark but the light) of the silvery moon (not the sun but the moon).


I loved shoes, loved wearing them, loved Italian leather, loved my legs.  A Top Ten Moment in my young life?  Waiting for a tennis court, feeling myself perused, turning in curiosity in the direction of the stare (always turn in the direction of the stare), meeting a handsome, frank face, hearing:  "Damn.  You've got nice legs for a white girl..."  The shoe?  A Stan Smith, I believe.

Now, of course, I cannot wear a proper shoe and only own one pair of foot-covering, an Old Friend brand "slipper" that literally folds on, with the Gimp's Favorite Aid, Velcro.  It is lined with shearling, the toe is open, the sole is flat, the size huge.  Over the course of the last nine years, I've slowly thrown out my shoe collection and added inevitably earth-toned, garment-dyed, loose-fitting organic cotton clothing, born of no discernible style, and often involving drawstrings instead of pesky zippers or buttons. 

Who owns just one pair of shoes?  (If you're about to deliver a sermon that includes references to very poor and/or saintly persons, I hope you choke on it.) 

Anyway, I dole out the fashion advice, extending my flowery cane for inspection, modelling my fancy footwear, and I covet, in my turn, their superior wheelchair, or the personal assistant carrying all their excess stuff, filling out their forms.

A person in pain, surrounded by other people in pain, will zero in on anyone who projects a measure of physical comfort, and deconstruct his circumstances, examine her measures and countermeasures, desperate to take away something worth a try. 

One day soon I need to record the bizarre scene we witnessed in the pharmacy, where the Gimps gather prior to Ketamine treatments in order to get the "dollar special," a ten-milligram Valium that is supposed to help with spasticity.  {Snort}  I can tell you exactly what happened, but what the scene requires is beyond my aptitude for description.  A young woman, about 25 years old, was ensconced in the most intricate power chair I've ever seen.  Do you know what I mean if I say:  "She had too much chair"?  Too much for her body -- thin but wiry, with good muscle tone, the all of her nestled in what must have been a herd's worth of fleece.  Her face blank, her eyes flashing angry, she was in good control of her upper body, and something made me remember her as in control of her legs as well.  No, maybe all I knew was that she wasn't a quad.  Memory, schmemory.

She was abusing her chair, abusing those of us near her chair, and was being so curt with the pharmacy clerk that some sort of implosion seemed imminent.  Head Pharmacy Dood glowered down upon her from his place on high, under glass.

Using the joy stick on a power wheelchair becomes completely intuitive within minutes of first use, and most are now quite sensitive and require only a light touch.  She was doing zero to 4 mph in jerky lines and semi-circles, those eyes grim and sucking the giddy joy out of the rest of us sickly excuses for deformity. 

As waiting was the name of the game, most of us powered down and stared at CNN, ubiquitous CNN, or read the headlines in The Chronicle, comparing them to the ubiquitous USAToday piled underneath the local option.  But scoping out the media became impossible as The Chair Abuser hit her stride.

In an alcove near the check-out counter were several carts ready to be taken out into the larger store, priced, and displayed.  It was an interesting mix of sterling silver jewelry, gift vases, and zippered-and-velcroed nylon contraptions meant to accessorize our wheeled conveyances -- in a vast color array that extended from teal to hunter green. 

The Crazy Lady decided that was where she and her oversized, tricked-out behemoth needed to be.  It was doable -- I could have done it -- but I've a hesitant, cautious hand when out in public.  Hell, I file a flight plan with my cerebral authorities when venturing my handy dandy Invacare into tight spaces.  I use hand signals, I organize committees before undertaking a three-point turn. 

She barrelled ahead, weaving, almost taking out an able-bodied adolescent, who squeaked as he leapt aside, all floppy.  She rammed the first cart.  The domino effect ensued.  Clearly enjoying her role as Mayhem, she grabbed a few pieces of jewelry, blithely dropped them, rocked her chair forward, rocked her chair back, ran over the jewelry -- the flat, tread-lined pieces of sterling transformed into embedded bling in the institutional gray carpet. 

At least five of us stumbled through sentences that died out with our mutual verb choice:  Does she need help, do you think?  She needs help, should we help, how can we help, oh, God, she needs help-p-p-p.

Okay, so I might have tossed in a gratuitous, Damn, but she scares me...

She was moving at a speed far beyond our half-hearted verbiage.  Instead of a controlled centrifugal turn to escape the alcove -- where most everything was now on the floor, and trampled -- she rammed, slammed, smushed and smashed the chair controls as far as each could go in every direction and dimension, she twirled and whirled (but no dervish, she!), and while a part of me wanted to cheer, most of me wanted to cry.

A display -- lip balms, gums, Swarovski crystal-encrusted earring-and-necklace sets, and an odd tray of Original Fruit Skittles --  fell victim to her frantic exit.  I say frantic, but there was no frenzy in her, in the her, proper. 

I thought, "She's evil," but I said, "She's new to this, she's angry, and she has too much chair!"  The Ketamine Crew responded with sage nods, with murmurs;  The pharmacy clerk sighed and began passing around the Valium.

Yeah, so.  One day, I will tell you all about it.  Okay, so it was transparent;  It was like being hit across the face with a big, stinky fish posing as a big, stinky metaphor.

I've visited this hospital at least weekly since March.  There are a few things that bother me immensely about the place, but that might have to do with issues more properly situated between my ears.  Most of the time, once the pharmacy trip was done, the forms signed, when Fred and I were just hanging out, waiting to be taken back and assigned a bed -- we were humbled to be sharing air with all those wise-cracking, sweet-hearted heros.

While the hospital is an absolute marvel of technologies and innovation, someone somewhere gets perverse pleasure in manipulating the décor.  Who knows, maybe it's the latest in Occupational Therapy.

The Pain Institute itself is a sudden offshoot from one of the hospital's central corridors.  Well, one of the hospital's many central corridors.  Lost in one of the area's numerous parking structures (think parking deck, but perverted and amplified by Feng Shui for the Disabled), I managed to get close to a bird's eye view of the complex, and while, yes, it's linear, it's also the victim of haphazard planning, possibly by someone trained young on squat little green and red Monopoly houses and hotels. 

You know what I mean -- you get on an elevator and already you've the choice to exit via the front or the back folding accordion door, with options for switching to various color-coded floors that have life-altering and destination-screwing walkways, breezeways, or "bridges." There is also a tunnel connecting the Catastrophic Hospital with another award-winning, world-class (i miss ross perot) hospital of the regular variety -- though I tend to think that catastrophe is as catastrophe does, but hey, that's just me.
The tunnel also serves as a conduit to some of the larger satellite clinics and prominant private practices located across one of this city's busiest and most famous streets.  Fred and I are very familiar with the tunnel, having many times crossed under the street to get from the regular, non-catastrophic hospital to my Infectious Disease Doc's place.  Ah, the joyous hours there -- trying to get PICC lines to work and cozying up to piggybacks of vancomycin. 

We never tunnelled our way, though, to the catastrophic hospital.  You know, that place that is the subject of this blog post.  Damn, but I run a tight ship.

So anyway, once you've found the Pain Institute within all that mess, you're likely to feel some vague anxiety just by the look of the waiting area.  The layout is linear clutter that screams impermanence.  We theorize that the Institute staff plays with the seating arrangements much in the way some families rearrange their Christmas crèche. [Fred enjoys recreating Stonehenge designs;  He also likes to use alternative characters -- We always have at least one Winnie-the-Pooh Nativity somewhere in The Manor, having bought up a warehouse of Disney knock-off figurines a few decades back -- a shrewd investment,  let me tell you!  Tigger, Rabbit, and Owl make great Magi, while in other poses they can repeat as Shepherds.  Eeyore is a fabulous herd animal or camel, and even once served as Joseph. The dozens of honey pots have dozens of uses, structural as well as thematic.  Piglet, of course, is the Christ Child, with Kanga as Mary.]

You'd think that this institutional waiting room would be limited by the number of its individual elements of design:  two very long sofas, three wingback chairs, and what must be the leftover seating from a dozen or so discontinued dining room sets.  We've shown up for morning appointments, sipping coffee midst sofas placed back to back.  We've then left, had lunch, and returned for an afternoon meeting -- iced tea at the ready -- to find those same sofas separated and holding up opposite walls. The next week, there might be only one couch, and from a completely different design line. We finally figured out that the Institute Design Elves swap the furniture with other clinics that also extend from the catastrophic hospital's main corridors -- "Look!  The Pain Institute's Llama Hide Sectional Loveseat is dressing up things over at the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic!  I think they swapped it out for those sleek, stackable Lego Original Dining Chairs we had stashed by the water fountain.  Shoulda nailed those suckers down..."

I'm tempted to tell some ugly truths about the Temporal Lobe Dysfunction Subcortical Mini WalkIn Clinic, especially what those Klüver-Bucy Syndrome wankers* try and pull.  They may act all meek and mild, but that doesn't mean they don't wanna have intercourse with the sexier pieces of the Pain Institute's furniture or suck on our doctors' elbows (Dr. BlinkALot found that out the hard way when he tried to retrieve the Pain Institute's antique coffee urn.  He claims one of the patients winked at the departing carafe, grinned and said, "Best lay of my life and I didn't even get her name...").  Some lobes just don't take well to being divided.

The truly weird aspect to the Institute's wait area?  Someone tried to make the Institute adhere to a nautical theme, complete with rope-wrapped portholes as mirrors, a series of nonfunctional barometers,and the requisite oars -- jauntily crossed and mounted on the betadine-splashed, sand-colored wallpaper like those giant wooden forks and spoons handcarved by angry artisans with food issues. (Why are there never giant wooden knives?)  As every interior decorator worth his salt knows, strategically placed sails can hide a multitude of sins. Therefore, the Pain Institute has spinnakers;  It has jennies;  It has proper jibs. And, of course, what are you going to do with perpendicular horizontal spars but put up the square rig for which they practically scream?

There's a bronze plaque honoring the design firm responsible for the Pain Institute's décor -- I assume they mean the permanent décor, that part of things that is nailed or glued in place, impervious to Parkinson's Posse and those Fearless Souls in the Diaphragm Pacing Stimulation Outpatient Clinic.  The award must be based on Superior Oddity.  It's not like "Ahoy, Matey" leitmotifs run rampant through this place, catastrophe's home in the urban heart of a huge city.

I'd say roughly 60% of the outpatients bring their own chairs which makes for some interesting traffic issues.  It's tough to figure out whether a seemingly random grouping of wheelchaired people are waiting in a line or whether we all just ran out of battery power in random proximity to one another. 

No one comes alone.  We all have "caretakers" -- hired, borrowed, or trapped into it by circumstances of love, hate, guilt, whatever.

I can be brought mentally and emotionally quite low by the mere thought of that waiting area.

But self-pity and fear go out the window, or the porthole, really quickly when my attention turns to the hallway traffic traipsing, limping, and rolling by.

Most of the inpatients are so young, and so terribly injured and altered.  Think about it... who has the most chance of being catastrophically injured?  The young and adventurous, the young and stupid, the young and talented -- the young. 

It's humbling, and my rate of bitching and moaning drops to new lows after every visit, however briefly.  I wonder whether it's a change that merits permanence.  I am not sure.

You see families whose lives and histories were altered in the course of a second.  There are almost always trim women chattering away, nimble and tan, walking self-consciously behind their children, who lead these strange parades with walkers, splints, manual chairs, power chairs, crutches -- forearm, underarm, strutters, platforms. Blunt therapists amble alongside, offering advice but not help, providing the will and the wherewithal until the patient can supply his own, her own.  Fathers and brothers are more rare, usually bring up the rear, are pale, and blink a lot. 

A couple of the parades we've watched have been of young families, and then the grace of little kids kisses the whole affair.  No one told them the Parade Rules.  Spunky toddlers cannot remember to stay behind the behemoth wheelchair, not to climb on Daddy's lap, not to hitch a ride on the walker frame, not to laugh, not to be selfish.  Children are anathema for sanctimony.

I don't mean to make it sound like every patient one sees is a rad skateboarder or that the families are all impossibly optimistic units devoid of realism.  But there is a difference, hard as it is to describe, between people whose brains and spines were injured while engaged in sport, or driving a car, and the large group representing stroke, chronic/progressive neurological disease, amputees, and brain injury folk.

And many people journey essentially alone.

When I think of the patients who have yet to have a parade, and who might never have one, it becomes too much.  There is, for example, a "pre-rehab" program for those patients who are "minimally conscious." 

Yeah, so... So this is the blog post that I started on Tuesday, before heading over for my two appointments, and this is the blog post that I finally finished this morning, three days later.  In between, I have raged, cried, embarrassed myself, embarrassed others, jerked, spasmed, and hurt.  I mopped, swept, cooked, made lists, did laundry, read two books, groomed cats, and then raged-cried-embarrassed-myself-and-others-jerked-spasmed-and-hurt some more.

I was a total ass during the first appointment, and even though I apologized promptly, it was a tantrum that needed to happen, just so I could get over myself.  The second appointment was a breeze, as my nurse was one of the Ketamine Crew who was pulling clinic duty that day, and the doctor failed to show up, sending his PA instead, whom I much prefer.  Both of those women could probably finish my many sentences with close to perfect accuracy, and better spelling.

One "hugged my neck" upon hearing that my experience there was ending, the other blinked a lot.  I was encouraged to call every few months to see if there might be a drug trial or a new therapy in place or in the proverbial pipeline.

It didn't feel like a failure (whereas it had, earlier, at the first appointment).  I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to try -- to try again and again, past the point most medicos would consider sensible.  That said, I am very sad, and tired.  A little confused.  None of which was unexpected, really.

What I didn't expect was to miss the place, to dream of the maze of corridors and peculiarly specialized alcoves, each peopled by peculiarly specialized men and women. 

I sure didn't expect to spend so much time eyeballing Marlinspike Hall's layout, making my various routes around The Manor more wheelchair friendly, learning to not hate my adaptive equipment.

I definitely did not expect this wild urge to have a parade.

* [Courtesy of The Urban Dictionary] WANKER:

ONE:  While "to wank" means "to masturbate", the term "wanker" is seldom if ever used in British slang to denote "one who wanks". It is quite wrong to infer from somebody's being a wanker that they in fact wank (and vice versa), but of course, fair to assume they do in any case. Herein lies the genius of the insult: if you call someone a wanker, it's probably true, but only literally.

I suppose it all originates from our repressed Victorian sexualities, from back when everybody thought they were the only ones to suffer the secret shame of being an actual wanker.

Most children these days learn the word "wanker" long before they learn its literal meaning.

You're such a wanker.
Oh gosh! How did you know?

He lost both of his hands in a childhood kiting accident.
What a wanker!

TWO:  George W Bush.
Wankers can't be trusted with their own dicks let alone anyone elses.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Rear Naked Choke

It's a testament to my essential well-roundedness that the acronym RNC does not call to mind the Republican National Committee but, instead, the term referencing the jiu-jitsu submission technique, the Rear Naked Choke.

The Rear Naked Choke (RNC) is a chokehold in martial arts applied from an opponent's back. Depending on the context, the term may refer to one of two variations of the technique. Either arm can be used to apply the choke... The term rear naked choke likely originated from the technique in Jujutsu and Judo known as the "Hadaka Jime", or "Naked Strangle." The word "naked" in this context suggests that, unlike other strangulation techniques found in Jujutsu/Judo, this hold does not require the use of a keikogi ("gi") or training uniform.

The choke has two variations: in one version, the attacker's arm encircles the opponent's neck and then grabs his own biceps on the other arm; in the second version, the attacker clasps his hands together instead after encircling the opponent's neck.
Last Sunday, Stephen Arceneaux III, of Destrehan, Louisiana, was accidently choked to death by his young cousin during a Wrestlemania viewing party.  A local law enforcement spokesperson called it "violent horseplay."

A Louisiana man died at his own "Wrestlemania 28" party after he refused to "tap out" of his younger, much smaller cousin's "rear naked choke hold," causing him to stop breathing, police said... 
Arceneaux had invited a number of friends to his home to watch the pay-per-view professional wrestling event. 
He and his 14-year-old cousin began wrestling on an inflated mattress at the party and the teenager, who weighed just 110 pounds, placed his arm around the 220-pound Arceneaux's neck. 
Witnesses said Arcenaux was in the hold for 30 to 40 seconds, but refused to give up or "tap out." 
When one of the witnesses saw Arceneaux turning blue, they told the youngster to let go, but by that stage he had already stopped breathing, the report said. 
Arceneaux's girlfriend tried unsuccessfully to revive him before he was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy, in response, has published articles on vascular neck restraint, and, as they are inclined to do, has issued an instructional video about the incident in Louisiana, hoping "to educate the youth about the serious risks of practicing jiu-jitsu techniques, chokes in particular, without proper training and supervision." 

Even the Wikipedia entry on the RNC technique includes a section called "Safe Application": 
This choke, in either the figure-four or clasped-hand variation, is an extremely dangerous technique if used thoughtlessly or improperly. When applied as a blood choke in particular, the brain is immediately deprived of oxygen, leading (as mentioned above) to unconsciousness and ultimately (if not released) to brain damage or death. It is imperative, when using this technique, to be completely aware of your opponent's physical state, and to release the choke at any sign of your opponent losing consciousness or "tapping out." There has never been a fatality in judo due to chokes.[4] 
Rafiel Torre, a former mixed martial arts trainer and fighter, was convicted of killing a man using this technique.[5]

Here is the Gracie Breakdown video made by Renor and Ryron after Arceneaux's tragic death.  In typical YouTube fashion, it looks as if the comment thread has deteriorated somewhat into a blame game, some pointing the finger at professional wrestling, some at MMA sport and competition.  If they manage to get it through some kid's head that choking anyone to the point of blue unconsciousness is not a good thing... I say, educate on, Gracies!

Uploaded by  on Apr 5, 2012

Pure Knack

If you've never read James Thurber, I hope you will real soon.  Maybe you'll have a free moment after you pay the gas bill, lower this month, since you negotiated that new price per therm.  Try to get hold of a copy of The Thurber Carnival and just read straight through.

My favorite introduction to his world is "The Night the Bed Fell," but all most people seem to remember is Walter Mitty.  Ask them about Bach, and to a person they will tell you he was deaf.  Bring up Ronald Reagan to hear about the Jelly Belly Candy Company, even though it wasn't incorporated until 2001.  People are fickle, so just read straight through, though "More Alarms at Night" makes an obvious companion piece to "The Night the Bed Fell."

Here, wet your whistle on the opening paragraphs of the story:

I suppose that the high-water mark of my youth in Columbus, Ohio, was the night the bed fell on my father. It makes a better recitation (unless, as some friends of mine have said, one has heard it five or six times) than it does a piece of writing, for it is almost necessary to throw furniture around, shake doors, and bark like a dog, to lend the proper atmosphere and verisimilitude to what is admittedly a somewhat incredible tale. Still, it did take place.

It happened, then, that my father had decided to sleep in the attic one night, to be away where he could think. My mother opposed the notion strongly because, she said, the old wooden bed up there was unsafe- it was wobbly and the heavy headboard would crash down on father's head in case the bed fell, and kill him. There was no dissuading him, however, and at a quarter past ten he closed the attic door behind him and went up the narrow twisting stairs. We later heard ominous creakings as he crawled into bed. Grandfather, who usually slept in the attic bed when he was with us, had disappeared some days before. (On these occasions he was usually gone six or seven days and returned growling and out of temper, with the news that the federal Union was run by a passel of blockheads and that the Army of the Potomac didn't have any more chance than a fiddler's bitch.)

We had visiting us at this time a nervous first cousin of mine named Briggs Beall, who believed that he was likely to cease breathing when he was asleep. It was his feeling that if he were not awakened every hour during the night, he might die of suffocation. He had been accustomed to setting an alarm clock to ring at intervals until morning, but I persuaded him to abandon this. He slept in my room and I told him that I was such a light sleeper that if anybody quit breathing in the same room with me, I would wake Instantly. He tested me the first night-which I had suspected he would by holding his breath after my regular breathing had convinced him I was asleep. I was not asleep, however, and called to him. This seemed to allay his fears a little, but he took the precaution of putting a class of spirits of camphor on a little table at the head of his bed. In case I didn't arouse him until he was almost gone, he said, he would sniff the camphor, a powerful reviver.

Briggs was not the only member of his family who had his crotchets. Old Aunt Alelissa Beall (who could whistle like a man, with two fingers in her mouth) suffered under the premonition that she was destined to die on South High Street, because she had been born on South High Street and married on South High Street. Then there was Aunt Sarah Shoaf, who never went to bed at night without the fear that a burglar was going to get in and blow chloroform under her door through a tube. To avert this calamity -for she was in greater dread of anesthetics than of losing her household goods-she always piled her money, silverware, and other valuables in a neat stack just outside her bedroom, with a note reading,: "This is all I have. Please take it and do not use your chloroform, as this is all I have." Aunt Gracie Shoaf also had a burglar phobia, but she met it with more fortitude. She was confident that burglars had been getting into her house every night for four years. The fact that she never missed anything was to her no proof to the contrary. She always claimed that she scared them off before they could take anything, by throwing shoes down the hallway. When she went to bed she piled, where she could get at them handily, all the shoes there were about her house. Five minutes after she had turned off the light, she would sit up in bed and say "Hark!" Her husband, who had learned to ignore the whole situation as long ago as 1903, would either be sound asleep or pretend to be sound asleep. In either case he would not respond to her tugging and pulling, so that presently she would arise, tiptoe to the door, open it slightly and heave a shoe down the hall in one direction, and its mate down the hall in the other direction. Some nights she threw them all, some nights only a couple of pair.

But I am straying from the remarkable incidents that took place during the night that the bed fell on father.  [CONTINUE HERE]

Thurber is the source of a particular sort of chuckle -- a complex guffaw / chortle type of thing that can, and will, if the circumstances permit, cause you physical harm. Were you to read him too soon post-appendectomy, for example. Were you to try and read a story aloud and fall out of your chair, for another.

As a teacher, I've always enjoyed "University Days," and still find young Bolenciecwz's dilemma a compelling one.

It's a pleasure to find a true raconteur in the course of a day's rambling.  I've been a fan of Shadowfax and his blog Movin' Meat for a while, and hereby confess that admiration to be based on pure storytelling knack.  One of several hundred bloggers I follow with Google Reader, he hasn't written much of late, so I checked out a new entry this morning with real hope for entertainment.  He did not disappoint.  After you've finished your Thurber refresher, head on over to Movin' Meat and read "He says he's not dead."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

If you feel that others have not graded you keenly enough

I had not heard from Brother-Unit Grader Boob in a week or so, and was concerned.  Happily, he checked in this morning.

Well, not happily.

Since the USAmerican large public university at which he teaches had its state revenue contribution cut by an insane amount (the initial threat was a 58% reduction, from $178 million to $74 million), Grader Boob has suffered from severe underemployment, on the one hand, and aggravated exploitation in every wee aspect of the tiny bit of teaching he undertook this semester, on the other.  In fact, he is thinking of retiring the compound "Grader Boob" moniker, and going with the simpler, eloquent "Boob."  Desperate times, desperate measures.

He has spent his entire adult working life educating the 18-22 year old population of his state, with the occasional "mature" student or young genius to blur distinctions.  He loves his work and is excellent at it.  [Read:  There is only so much, however, that any soul can take.]

The candid nature of his communications to me about the perils of teaching comes from knowing that I spent all my adult working life doing the same thing -- though there at the end of my career, I baled from university education for the more secure contractual arrangement of an urban public high school.  [Read: Better benefits.]

What I like about his recent evolutions, most of all, is that he's extending candor to his students.  (And I am always heartened by his humor!)

Hi there--
Although I'm grateful for the classes I have, I do get tired of the carping about grades.
So, since I'm still smack in the middle of grading, I've cut and pasted below my latest retreat from advocating any kind of standard. After all, apparently they're all A writers.
Hope you enjoy the spelling and grammar errors in the student email. I did. (I also enjoyed the chalk-drawn announcement, warning of an upcoming motivational lecture, on the sidewalk outside X Hall:  The Path to Succes.)
Love to all--and I have to ask: Shouldn't your bacteria have its own wing at NIH? Goddamn.Sound the retreat!
Boob (Not so sure about the Grader part anymore)

Subject:   Grading Practices
English 4,847
Professor Boob

Dear Proffessor Boob,
There seems to be a HUGE gap in the grading practices of the Proffessors at X . It seems this entire class is favoring poorly. I have never received such poor grades on essays. It seems as if the ENG 4,845 and ENG 4,846, did not do a very good job at preparing the students for your class. An essay that I received an A on in ENG 4,845.05, I would receive a C in your class. This gap needs addressed, because it is not fair to the students.
Eleanor Rigby

Hi Eleanor and everyone else--
I never discuss how other instructors grade, for in order to offer an informed assessment, I'd have to see their curriculum, their grading rubric, the individual assignments, and so on.

But you've hit on a key point. Grade inflation, in which teachers award students grades they've not earned, is rampant in the college system today, and it is an issue that should be addressed. If you feel that I'm holding you to an unattainable standard, be sure to note that when you do the course evaluations at the end of the semester. If you feel that others have not graded you keenly enough to prepare you for upper-level work, mention that as well.

But the key here is to figure out what I can do to help your writing--particularly the Insightful Compositions and the  Edgy Essays. I'm already allowing you to revise 2 of the 3 essays, so let me add the same opportunity to the Insightful Compositions--you can revise 2 of the 3. (Be sure that you have the time to do so, though. Always keep your focus on the current batch of assignments.)

I've posted an announcement, titled "About the grades...", which gives you some hints on how to address your complaints/arguments to me, so that should help.

The key thing, and this is why Ms. Rigby's email is so important, is this: Don't suffer in silence over your grade. Make a case for its regrading or take advantage of the opportunity to revise.

Prelude to a Chase

I love watching these two in the minutes prior to out-and-out battle, head-to-head racing.  They claim opposite sides of the room, they glance, they look away.  One advances, the other retreats. They sidle.  They swagger. The aggressor stalks off, silently pursued by his prey...

Within minutes, they'll fly through here again, ears in the wind, tails whipping, exchanging the lead, tumbling and skidding, setting new land speed records, having the time of their lives...

Next to a decadent chocolate, this note

On my pillow, next to a decadent chocolate, this note:

Dear Retired Educator, You Prof-de-Rien, Vous!

Tonight, when you get depressed and down on yourself as barely qualifying as a waste of space, remember that you did the following things today:

You took care of the animals, meaning the indoor cattery.  Please leave the Petting Zoo Miniatures to the Miniature Experts. [If you are ever sorely tempted to meddle in that domain again, pause and think of Tiny Todd, who might have lived had you not mixed microscopic Egyptian adders with Barely There Anguis fragilis, the amoebic slowworms gifted to The Captain by County Clare for safekeeping. The same admonition, but larger, goes for the Gigantesque Bovines!  They are best herded and milked by classically trained teams of tireless Cistercian Brothers;  Good thing the Haddock ancestral manor has a monastery for its closest neighbor.]  

Anyway, you successfully fed Marmy Fluffy Butt, Buddy the Freakishly Large Kitten, and Dobby the Runt big bowls of basic kibble, as well as providing nutritious treats.  In fact, you catered to their every whim, giving Marmy milk-flavored crunchy nuggets, giving Buddy handfuls of restaurant grade tuna flakes, and teasing Dobby with "liver and cheese" morsels.  You watered them, twice -- a necessity because Dobby polluted the water by giving several spinach tortellini, some stolen eye drops, two yarn balls, and a paper towel a good dunk.  

You brushed all three of them, too, no mean feat.  All praise to the veterinary techs who tag-teamed Buddy last week, successfully lopping off an inch of claw, at least, per bear paw!  Otherwise, your dream of flailed flesh might have come true.  Dobby rolled from side to side from pure joy upon the presentation of a new comb, just for him, and the persistent dandruff at the base of his tail. You tended Marmy and Dobby's runny eyes, a genetic trait, apparently, identical in this mother and offspring.  Marmy hissed at you;  Dobby blew kisses. You put some serious loving on Buddy, who is distressed by his recent virgin hairball experiences.  It turns out that he is afraid of them -- of the actual hairball, itself.  He produced one, looked at it, and ran, screaming as only a Maine Coon can.

He is in a Glom Phase and is never far away -- sniffing at my peeling feet, demonstrating proper tether ball technique, exuding please-don't-abandon-me-to-the-hairballs desperation.  Such a gentle giant.

So you did well, Retired Educator, with these creatures.  Good job!  Do your remember entertaining Dobby with one of your 37 grabbers?  [Insert gratuitous cat video here]

There is more, Madame! You did two (and a half) loads of laundry.  So what if you picked up where you left off on Monday, at week's dawn?  So what if the wet clothes had been sitting all that time in the washer?  You ended up with clean clothes, clean comfy throws, and plenty of fresh and thirsty kitchen towels to throw on the floor the next time you spill water from the cat bowls.

You cleaned the microwave.  Granted, you cursed a bit too much.  There was an incident report to Haddock Family Values, Inc. but the corporate office seems enamored of results over style, so just be more careful in the future.  You may want to review some of The Captain's favorite oaths, all considered socially acceptable, such as "Parasites! Patagonians! Pestilential Pachyderm! Phylloxera! Pickled herrings! Pirates! Pithecanthropic montebanks!"

You did the dishes, three times (and another sink full awaits your attention).  This is one of the harder tasks in your repertoire of daily activities now, and you managed it without too much complaint, and, shockingly, without obscenities. Per your one plaintive request to management, we are sending, under separate cover, the explanation you requested as to "why men think they've 'done the dishes' when they wash, precisely, only those dishes that they were responsible for dirtying?"

You cleaned the stove top.  You did a lousy job.  Do it again tomorrow, and this time, use the correctly purposed grabber to reach all the oily crevasses and boiled potato smears.  

[I mean crevices. No I mean crevasses!] 

Nowhere near exhausted, you mopped the kitchen floor.  However, you then proceeded to vacuum it.  *After* mopping it, not before.  Remember the long ago afternoon in that mountain hideout of a laundromat, with your good friend Jean, the poet, who accused you of putting your dirty clothes directly into the dryer?  You folded them all nicely, piled them in your gold plastic laundry basket, and then into the hatchback before being enlightened by God's Gift to Occasional Verse.  Her poetry was derivative, and anyone who would marry their psychiatrist is clearly troubled.  Remember, too, that she threw a heavy ceramic ashtray in the general direction of your head.  {Green Glass Wings!}

You partially cleaned a bathroom.  Oh okay, you emptied the trashcan, straightened the towels, and retrieved three volumes of Will Shortz' Crossword Puzzle Toilet Omnibus from under a 20-pound ValuPak of three-quarter ply tissue. Then, of course, you vacuumed.  Apparently, when you can no longer bend like a lithesome wood nymph done up in toothsome diaphanous greens -- because, oh, I dunno, you fractured a rib, your glenoid cavity is awash in pus, and you have no knees -- the extension provided by the vacuum is more valuable than a hairless cat.  I mean, gold.  More valuable than gold.

Because we never tire of cleaning cat hair, here in Marlinspike Hall, deep, deep in Tête de Hergé, do we?
[Editorial inquiry:  When was the last time you took your temperature?]

At this point, you were observed by Regional Emergency Gossip Coordinator Tante Louise as you took a short break, slaking your thirst with a generic lemon-lime diet soda.  There were several descriptions submitted to Twitter about your hair, deemed at that juncture to border on inappropriate, and judged by Tante Louise to constitute a fire hazard. 

The Crackhead Lady From Across The Way -- our local claim to fame, being a very well-known, juste comme il faut organic pig farmer -- and the inimitable Bianca Castafiore were seen a-traipsin' across the lowered drawbridge during this interlude, but have not been seen since.  Please contact REGC T. Louise with any sightings.

You went on to vacuum the rest of the Northeast Wing Manor Living Quarters.  We noted your  concentrated efforts at cleaning the new boudoir carpets ordered during the Recent Deliriums, supposed to be a rich, woven black offset with a crisp, beige diamond design.  Kudos, by the way, for your efforts to echo, par terre, the rectangular accents of color, emotion, and primordial memory hung on the walls in the form of black-framed Rothkos. 

The rug design had quickly become covered in weird speckles, however, which turned out to be a collection of massive slough-off from your Little-Old-Lady skin. After dedicating whole days to the mystery of the omnipresent white flakes, doubling and tripling the effort to keep Dobby's dandruff under control, only to learn that the stuff was falling from these hideous peeling CRPS-afflicted legs.  More incentive to clean. [Another reason to hide?]

Time enough tomorrow to ask if peeling, flaking feet are to be expected or whether some odd treatment -- a  grape jelly and duck fat marinade, perhaps -- is called for.  In the interim, flakes, flakes, flakes are everywhere.

You kept going, Dear Prof, you did not cave in to momentary defeat.  

You baked 12 muffins and three individual cakes.  Wonderful result - moist, delicious, healthy.  Bananas, apples, and raisins in a cardamom and cinnamon rich batter. A cup and a half of oats and a generous handful of oat bran.  For some reason, two eggs instead of one.  Radical time management.  Twenty minutes at 400 did not do it.  Twenty-three was perfection.

You tackled some of the mounting issues in Your Office, where it seems everything from stray straw hats to scary rocking chairs are being stored.  You finally contacted the right agency and donated the old power chair and the walker to someone who desperately needs them.  You alphabetized a few sections of books, you cleared a path through the piles of bills, at least sorting it all out into different pile categories -- now one is dedicated solely to Explanation of Benefits and another to Most Creative Collection Agencies, all superceded by the overarching category:  Dear President Obama... [This imaginary epistle might continue with references to how PCIP was supposed to insure that I'd not lose all my possessions in my fight to become and stay healthy... and might end with the reality of my checking account.]

As you put head to pillow tonight, be kind to yourself, for a change.  

Today, you broke free from inertia and the paralyzing effect of outside opinion, at least for a while. You made an appointment for outpatient surgery to have your port removed:  April 20, 9 am.  

You threw away keepsakes that had followed you several times around the world, but that you did not love and did not want.  Dusty postcards, snippets of textile, photographs.

You sometimes cried as you vacuumed, you miss some people like you might miss a left arm.  But you kept moving, now into a laugh, now into new friendship, now into being okay with things as they are.

You did good, girl.  

Tomorrow?  Washing trash cans, repairing blinds, one-pot wonders, more bills, and heightened efforts to recover Fred's sweet smile.

Grosses bises,
The elle est belle la seine la seine elle est belle Editorial Board

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Thank you" will do nicely

I don't think anyone will hear my last words. I will probably be in the bathroom, water running, bubbles in the air -- that odious cheap perfume of the cheap shampoo I begged for, everywhere, in every steamed-open, gaping pore.

Or my audience will consist of cats. A faithful audience and not one to regret, however, I estimate that one of the three currently in residence suffers from a hunger so gnawing that he'd eat me within ten minutes of my surcease. Sure, he'd hold the chipped and sharp-edged round make-up mirror to my mouth, hoping against vapor. Lacking any sign of life, the felines know the ultimate test and Dobby will surely wave a mug of steamy dry-processed Haile Selassie from the Dara area of Ethiopia's Sidamo province under my deceased nose.

Yes, I have been dreaming of a trip to the Farmer's Market Coffee Pavilion.

If Fred finds me, I predict he will promptly take a nap -- after tossing a sheet over me, shooing away the cats, and shutting the door. If I am in the bedroom, he'll crash on the sofa in the library. Or maybe on the futon up in the Computer Turret, though that's a bit far to ask someone in the early stages of mild euphoria to travel.

Anyway, presuming myself, and my self, alone, to be my ultimate audience, what will I say, I wonder? I decided to practice this morning, though I stress to you, Dear Reader (You seem so far away, so dim... come closer!), that this is not theater. No "magic if," no method.

First, though, I laugh, because what I just said to you, I said to myself, as well, and realized how foreign, how divorced from who-i-am is the idea of no theater, no "magic if," no method. Because the first thing I did was the first thing I always do when beginning any inquiry: I begged the question.
Begging the question (Latin petitio principii, "assuming the initial point") is a type of logical fallacy in which a proposition is made that uses its own premise as proof of the proposition. In other words, it is a statement that refers to its own assertion to prove the assertion.
No, no need to get all Aristotelian on me, now.  All I mean by that,  is this:  Why do we say anything?  At any time, to anyone, including to our lone selves as sole interlocutors?  I am not begging the question; I am raising others.  Try and stick me, and in my dying moments, too, with a logical fallacy, will you?  If you applied yourself, I am sure you'd realize that what I'm actually guilty of is... Applied Circuitry.

Oh, I am cracking myself up, and I haven't even started yet.  You don't like "circuitry"?  Okay, use "circuitousness," instead, but it's an ugly word, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.

The first thing that comes to mind is that I will utter some strange neologism, or, as I just demonstrated, I'll misuse some established idiom -- not trying to be clever, just doing what I've always done, cavorting in the margin.  Most likely, whether neologism or perversion, it will come out garbled.  Gobbledygook. 

For some reason, I also think it likely that I will say "Who knew?" --  then give half a laugh, and croak.  Dying mid-laugh has a certain appeal.

What is certain?  Well, it won't be drawn out, or consist of the terribly polysyllabic.  One of the first things to go, you know, is the vital blood supply to the tongue.  So even if your brain isn't completely anemic, your mouth most likely won't cooperate much with complicated goings-on at the tail end of life.  In the bathroom, whiffing lavender suds, wondering who will clean The Manor now, and just generally at wit's end, I won't be inclined to recite the Krebs cycle.

Everything changes, of course, if I am not alone.  Then, be my company animal or human, I think there is only one thing to say:  Thank you.  And maybe, though it seems a little persnickety, "Good luck!"

I would not, though, say it to all life forms.  I would not, for example, say it to an ant, and never, ever to a roach.  O God! Save me from a roach, there at the last!

There are many of you who think I am missing the point.  Do you accuse me of circumlocution, and of having dropped the point off mid-escapade?  Or do you think I never knew the point, and my circuitousness is a failed attempt to mask how utterly lost I am, and will be?  Shouldn't I speak to God, at the moment I come undone?  Well, smarty-pants, that may work for you but I've always felt immensely silly, forcing words on God.

I just don't know.  I do think that last words, thoughts, and expressions don't carry the import that the living give them -- unless, of course, you're identifying your murderer, making a heartfelt confession, or telling Fred the password to the Fidelity account.

We must try to have everything said -- an option that allows for different last words and differing final conversations, attentive and thoughtful, each. Failing that, I think "Thank you" will do nicely.

Today, right now, I am not convinced of the inappropriateness of laughter, or of the stony nature of silence.

In all likelihood, my ending will encompass, but not reflect, the surprise of oncoming traffic, the shock of a gun barrel, or the crushing pain of an infarct.  The blessing of fading into sleep, quiescent, seems a childish hope now, but I do still hope for it. Slipping away during a nap could save me a lot of embarrassment.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

So it goes: Palm Sunday

"Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before," Bokonon tells us. "He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way."                         -- Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

Good Palm Sunday to you, Happy April. Cruelest month, showers, whatever.  Prelude to May, consequence of March.

I just got poetically upset while reading a blog that opened its April offerings with the first seven lines of Eliot's The Wasteland -- with periods punctuating each row of text.  My tongue is now in a sling.

O!  What ingenious segue!

I broke a rib on Friday and spent a good portion of this weekend trying to come up with a swashbuckling story for the sake of provenance, from whence all value comes.  Perhaps the fracture was a result of my ardent defense of Archibald Haddock's manor against reanimated Janissary musketeers.  [Yes, I am reading Jason Goodwin's Investigator Yashim series. Yashim is "one savvy eunuch."]  Maybe I am all busted up after taking down Anderson Silva with some fancy kicks of my own. [Never leave it in the judges' hands.]

Or it could have happened when I reached down to plug in the vacuum cleaner.

Shades of 2004, when my foot was mangled by the Wilde Acte of standing up and taking a step.  I believe the story I went with then involved Extreme Skiing, and an avalanche.

In addition to the Yashim books, I'm rereading one of the Bedside Bedtime Classics, The Birth of the Clinic, by M. Foucault. What really begs reading is Madness and civilization, but I cannot find it, except for this choppy and cheating online version.  If I read The Order of Things one more time, well, I'll just be *stuck*
-- in the gaze, gazing, seeing the studio of Velásquez through the mirrored eyes of Philip IV and Mariana.

So self-conscious, Las Meninas.


I don't so much agree with Foucault as enjoy his more historical discourses, his reading, his elegance.  I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like you, but Foucault doesn't, anymore.

Oh, okay, I value him as a critical ethno-sociologist -- as a historian, for his commentary on social policy. For all I know, he sprang into his black leather britches two feet at a time.

It all makes for interesting dreams, reading too little from too many works, eunuchs, Istanbul, vacuum cleaners, and snapping bones.  Which brings me to my sixth point.  I've been screaming in my sleep.  I don't remember doing it, nor do I remember the intricate explanations of the moment.  Most of the time, according to Fred, I dismiss the verbal gymnastics as a result of momentary fright based on visual miscues.  For the last six months or so, when I first open my eyes, the world appears deformed and ominous.  Overhead ceiling fans seem to be flying apart, with huge blades heading for me.  That kind of thing.  I have glaucoma and cataracts, and my theory is that when first opened, my eyes must be misshapen, and things appear, just for a moment, very odd, due to distortion.

There is nothing so monstrous as the ordinary, altered. [Well, duh!]

Often, I hear myself say, "What is that?"  And sometimes, "Where the hell am I?"

My theory continues:  The mind seeks to make sense of what it sees, so is it more likely to inform me that there is a cat ín a bowler dancing and high-kicking atop my wheelchair's headrest or that there is a huge hunchback of a man tiptoeing toward the bed, a Boris Karloff cartoon?

I am thinking of scrapping the bedside bedtime classics of my scholarly years in favor of he-who-never-really-went-away, Kurt Vonnegut.  And so, for the last of my ninety-six theses (one more than Martin Luther!) shoring up this puff of Palm Sunday ephemera -- I decided to pop open Vonnegut's scrapbook, also called Palm Sunday. He named it an "autobiographical collage."

Kurt and I shared so much.  You may not know it, or even come close to surmising it, but I came *this* close to specializing in cultural anthropology.  With a smidgen of a fascination in primatology, too.  And Vonnegut?  Well, the University of Chicago, that old school, in 1947, rejected his Master's thesis in anthropology,  and with most of his course work done, he moved on.  I attended a school that placed the Anthropology and the Foreign Language Departments on the same floor.  When an overweight, greasy cultural anthropology professor put the moves on me, I migrated to the other end of the hall, and majored in French.  [He asked me to be his personal goddess, and wanted to share me with others during a ceremony that would include pouring honey and beer over my feet.]

Vonnegut’s teachers rejected his initial ambitious idea for his master’s thesis—which would have linked the Cubist painters of Paris to the Indian Wars of the American West—but encouraged his second proposal, “Mythologies of North American Nativistic Movements.”

Which never came to fruition, despite being revived, in 1967, as “The Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tasks." The scholarly powers at that time claimed there was no anthropology involved in the submission.  [Fredric Jameson once returned a paper to me, wondering if I had not turned it in for the wrong course.]

We are both, too, remarkably visual people, with an unfortunate tendency toward reductionism.  Kernels.  Graphs?  The reason I love algebra and geometry and become suicidal over the concept of limits in calculus? Are you with me?  Vonnegut reportedly fell in love with that old staple of anthropology, the kinship chart!  If you ever had to reproduce your professor's crowning achievement in ethnological field work, you're probably choking on chuckles right now.  They look something like this, which is of "the extended family universe" of the Igbo of southeastern Nigeria.

For my part, as my graphic example, I present the pristine Limit at Infinity graph.  Ahem.


Okay, okay, we are not peas of a pod.  He's a famous author;  I'm not.  My reductionism is unfortunate, always hinting and hissing at complications;  His is brilliant and contains multitudes, but simply.  A goodly portion of his formation came from experiencing war. Somewhere up there I referenced elegance, did I not?  [I am so tired.]

The University of Chicago awarded Vonnegut his Master's in 1971, accepting Cat's Cradle as his thesis.  In that work, we are introduced to Bokononism, summarized this way in the ubiquitous Wikipedia:

Many of the sacred texts of Bokononism were written in the form of calypsos.
Bokononism is based on the concept of foma, which are defined as harmless untruths. A foundation of Bokononism is that the religion, including its texts, is formed entirely of lies; however, one who believes and adheres to these lies will have peace of mind, and perhaps live a good life. The primary tenet of Bokononism is to "Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy."

Yes, I am come to Holy Week quoting Kurt Vonnegut, a broken woman in pain, giggling, nonetheless, and regretting every movement of my rib cage.  My best and only realization of the day is an affirmation that yes, a little education goes a long way, and that a life spent forcing meaning on chaos can't be all bad.



Anyone can graph a simple story if he or she will crucify it, so to speak, on the intersecting axes I here depict:

“G” stands for good fortune. “I” stands for ill fortune. “B” stands for the beginning of a story. “E” stands for its end.

A much beloved story in our society is about a person who is leading a bearable life, who experiences misfortune, who overcomes misfortune, and who is happier afterward for having demonstrated resourcefulness and strength. As a graph, that story looks like this:

Another story of which Americans never seem to tire is about a person who becomes happier upon finding something he or she likes a lot. The person loses whatever it is, and then gets it back forever. As a graph, it looks like this:

An American Indian creation myth, in which a god of some sort gives the people the sun and then the moon and then the bow and arrow and then the corn and so on, is essentially a staircase, a tale of accumulation:

Almost all creation myths are staircases like that. Our own creation myth, taken from the Old Testament, is unique, so far as I could discover, in looking like this:

The sudden drop in fortune, of course, is the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” in which an already hopelessly unhappy man turns into a cockroach, looks like this:

Have a look [at "Cinderella"]:

The steps you see, are all the presents the fairy godmother gave to Cinderella….The sudden drop is the stroke of midnight at the ball….But then the prince finds her and marries her, and she is infinitely happy ever after. She gets all the stuff back, and then some. A lot of people think the story is trash, and, on graph paper, it certainly looks like trash.

But then I said to myself, Wait a minute–those steps at the beginning look like the creation myth of virtually every society on earth. And then I saw that the stroke of midnight looked exactly like the unique creation myth in the Old Testament. And then I saw that the rise to bliss at the end was identical with the expectation of redemption as expressed in primitive Christianity.

The tales were identical.