05 December 2010


Damn it, the girls at Sunday Scribblings have done it again. I thought I could get away with hiding this in the comments of someone else's blog, but....well, apparently not. So here's the preface: my beloved marathon-running friend Ruby has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, three weeks after dropping out of the Marine Corps Marathon at mile 18 because she couldn't see well enough to continue. They can't remove it. She'll die. They can't leave it in. She'll die. All they can do is "debulk" it (take some of it out), biopsy it for the presences of cancerous cells, and radiate the shit out of it. She can no longer see well enough to type, so she dictates blog posts to her husband, who types them out. And every single one of her blog posts begins and ends not with the litany of symptoms and fears and trials, but with how God is so good to her. In her most recent post, she gave her testimony--with, it must be noted, the caveat, "I hope this doesn't annoy or offend you, but it's my blog and I have a brain tumour, so naa neee naa neeee naa neeeee." God, I love Ruby. She's the only person I know who can make you laugh about something like that.

Anyway, at the conclusion of her post--which took her all day to write, typed one painstaking letter at a time on a hugely magnified, high-contrast screen so she could see what she was doing--she asked us to respond in the comments with our testimony. And, because she is Ruby, I did what I have never ever done. I committed this to print, and put it out there for the limited world to see, figuring only a very few people I know would ever see it, and because they're my running family, they love me unconditionally and would never give me shit about it.

And then Megg and Laini came along. Again.

So, here it is. This is the most naked and vulnerable thing I have ever written. Nothing's been changed. It's as real as I can make it. And it scares the ever-living hell out of me.

Philippians 2:12. I continue to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. This probably comes as a surprise. I talk a good game. But the road for me was never an easy one, and it still isn’t. I was raised Catholic, and Catholic the rest of my family remains (I’m the one responsible for those 37 praying nuns in Chicago, y’all. One of them’s my sister.) In my later high school and college years, I began a years-long struggle with what turned out to be major recurring depression–something that went undiagnosed until I was nearly 25 (whoops) and remain under treatment for, to one degree or another, to this day. I returned to the church my last semester in college, and though I didn’t realise it at the time, it saved my life. The Catholic Center at NYU was such a beacon in such a very, very dark winter that fifteen years later, I got married in the same stone building that had been my refuge, by the same priest who had in 1993 handed me a potato masher when I wandered into the Center in the middle of a Thanksgiving snowstorm contemplating suicide and said gently, “Oh good, you’re here. We need help in the soup kitchen.”

I graduated and moved to the Northwest. Depression came and went. I ached painfully for my church home, but was happy in Spokane in a way I had never been in New York. I got my master’s and came home (crying for Spokane the way I had once cried for the ugly church building on Washington Square South) and promptly started dating a nice, Southern Baptist boy. Oh, it was a match made in….I don’t know, the writers’ room of MadTV or something. But something happened. Actually, several somethings. One was that we started taking turns going to each other’s churches. I would bring him into the city (where the choir was thrilled to have a bass) and he would bring me to his church. Each of us had some culture shock at first. Depression, though, was lowering its wings around me. I was visiting my friend on the campus of Messiah College when I had my first–we don’t know what it is, whether it’s anxiety, or panic, or a flat-out suicidal breakdown. In any case, it wasn’t pretty. He drove me to Holy Spirit Hospital in Harrisburg, where they would have admitted me anyway given my body temperature and blood pressure, which were both alarmingly low, even if I hadn’t been in such mental disarray. I don’t talk about it much, and certainly not on the internet, but this wouldn’t be the last sojourn over the years to what my father insists on referring to as “Hotel Silly” (I myself prefer the phrase “hat factory”).

But something happened the first night, as I lay in my room, which was for the moment unoccupied by a roommate. I was alone in the room, and then….I wasn’t. I knew that the spirit of God was in the room with me. What’s more–and more peculiar–was that I knew the spirit of God was over in the corner, behind the door. At that point I started to second-guess what was happening, but then I figured, what the heck. I was already in the mental health wing, I might as well go with it. Suddenly, the spirit of God was not in the corner anymore. And I knew it was in me. And then, as I watched, my rib cage opened up like a gate, and an ivy plant spilled out from my chest. (Like I said, I figured I was already in the loony bin–what better place to have a hallucination of this sort, especially one that involves God as a plant?) For those of you who’ve seen my ankles, this is why my tattoo is of a tangled vine of ivy leaves.

When my friend came to visit me the next day, I asked him a favour. I asked him to bring me a New Testament. (Being Messiah College, he and his four suitemates fought over who was going to be the one to bring in their extra copy and witness to me!) I also, from a deep-seated habit, asked the nurse to arrange for the chaplain to bring me communion. I think the plant thing had me a little unnerved.

That fall, I asked to be baptised by full immersion. I had brought up the idea to my parents, who were for various reasons less than thrilled. It broke my heart. I had heard that men would have to leave their families to follow Jesus, but I never thought they meant me. My family already knew the Gospel. Didn’t they? On All Souls’ Day of 1997, in front of my friend’s congregation and without the knowledge or presence of my parents, I made my profession of faith and was baptized….again. My feeling at the time was that the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation happened too young, and under too much duress: I was in eighth grade, and my parents were the Confirmation class teachers. There was no way I wasn’t getting confirmed, even though in theory it’s the adult profession of faith made with full understanding. At 14? Not hardly.

Anyway, six months later I proceeded to get diagnosed with cancer. The treatment and recovery process was a whole different box of squeaky-toys, but the spring they found my tumour was one of the most peaceful times of my life. People at my new church prayed with and over me, prayed for healing, prayed for cures. When I prayed, I simply said “thank you.” I told them the truth–that it didn’t matter if I died. If I had just spent the last year of my life getting to know Jesus, that was cool with me. It was a heck of a way to go. Of course, since that was almost 13 years ago, that obviously isn’t how it went down, but I meant it at the time.

That’s where it should end. I found Christ, I kicked cancer’s butt and in the process started running. We’re good, right? It didn’t end there, of course. The church had a political implosion, they ousted the pastor, my deacon resigned and we found out he’d been having an affair with someone at his office. I shut down. Again. Add to that the return of major depression aggravated by “good heavens what have they done with my endocrine system?” and you have a whopping good time. I didn’t pray for something more interesting. I prayed for peace. For forgiveness–forgiveness for me, and for me to forgive God. I was angry. No, let me say that again. I was ANGRY. For a good number of years. I stopped going to church altogether. Worse, I stopped praying.

So here I am. In limbo. A weak candle flame, trying not to gutter out with every gust that comes along. A little lost, a little cynical, a little angry (still), a lot humbled, and yet….still….still, the coming of Advent, a little hopeful.

17 November 2010

"Partial Rat Body Part"

(Bonus points if you can name the episode for that reference!)

I was commenting to a friend online that I had two very rowdy kitties downstairs. Then I went downstairs and decided that the furry little evil glimmer in Jenny Linsky's eye (because she only has one) was more than "I want to kill my fat fuzzy sister." Especially when she stuck the top half of her body behind a bookcase and left it there, tail atwitching.

So I got the flashlight, wondering why this shit always happens when I'm in my bathrobe, since it's not like I spend all that much time in it. Also, rodents in our house seem to keep my parents' vacation schedule on their group calendar. They haven't even been gone for three hours yet this time. Anyway, I noticed quite a bit of plaster dust under said bookcase. And, on closer inspection, an actual hole in the wall. Disco! Houston, we have located the Secret Mouse Portal to the Secret Mouse World.

But what's this? One of the furry aliens has escaped and cannot find his way back to the Secret Mouse Portal for transport! Sound kitty alarm!

I mean, that's what I'm guessing. Because otherwise I would not currently have two twitchy cat butts shoved under the hall radiator, oblivious to all else. I have had cats who have shown an unnatural predilection for staring aimlessly at and under pieces of furniture for hours on end. Neither of these two girls has this habit. So I'm guessing that someone forgot to launch his Mouse Escape Pod.

Sadly, what this means is that later I will most likely have to remember whether Resolve carpet cleaner gets rodent blood out of berber carpets.

02 November 2010

Race Report Marine Corps Marathon Weekend, Code Name: That's What She Said

I cannot even tell you where to begin, y'all. This was the race of my life. It was my family reunion at the Old Folks Home for Calcified Habitually Unrepentant Marathoners (CHUM) and the best 72 hours of my life to date. So be warned. Like Gunz posted on Facebook Saturday, THIS IS GOING TO BE EPIC. You might want to make some popcorn and pour yourself a Makers and Coke.

First, there was drinking and toasting our dear Jimmy Dale, who is stationed in Japan and couldn't make it but ran 500 miles this month in honour of the Semper Fi Injured Marines fund (this is the same idiot who once ran 177.5 miles from Tun Tavern Philadelphia to the Marine Corps barracks on Eye Street and THEN ran the marathon!) Here, fellow Gunnery Sergeant Michael J. Kottmer (aka "Gunz K") toasts our Jimmy:

Then, of course, not to forget the 26.2 miles of running the next morning. Which, in true race-morning style, began with Carl singing at me. Fortunately this time it was only via text message. I don't remember much of the pre-race, which is probably good, because Carl and Karen were dressed as Batman and Batgirl (what? It was Halloween) so Carl decided that my name that morning was Alfred. Here, Alfred, hold this. Alfred, where's my mask? Alfred, go get Nita.

Yeah yeah yeah.

The first thing I remember clearly is a very long line for porta-johns, which I actually mostly didn't need. Just gave it a quick all-clear and then we all stood around waiting for Gunz, whose first choice of porta-johns was not up to his standard so went in for another round of lines.

Met up with the Yellow Pom Poms on Sticks at the start and finalized the hand-off of the colours: because Jimmy was stuck in the Kuni, Mike arranged for all the Marines (and a corpsman) in the group to run with the colours in his honour. On a big honkin pole. For four hours. That's what she said. I left everyone and headed back to The Land of My People (you know, the corral marked "to infinity, and beyond") with Mike, who was searching frantically for our fourth Marine leg. One minute I was talking to Mike, the next he was gone in a blur of flannel, looking for CW. So I snuggled myself into a corral.

Which turned out to be the 4:30 pace group. Oops.

The howitzer goes off, we cheer madly, I ditch my overshirt, and.....we stand around for another 20 minutes. This is what happens at the back of a marathon, people.

Finally, we cross the start line. Here we go. I'm not pumped, but I'm awake. At the first mile, I see our Pom Poms on the right. One sighting, two to go. These are My Crew. These are the people guaranteed to get me from station to station. These are the light at the end of my tunnel. Every six miles, I get Pom Poms, waves, and wild cheering. Most of which is drowned out by Charlotte, who is the loudest of them all. (That's what she said.)

So I settle in. Tra la, tra la. Lots of spectators in costumes. I haven't run this course in three years, and I distinctly remember thinking then, "Oh my god, I'm only at mile three? I am so screwed." This time as we cross Key Bridge I'm thinking, "Wow, I'm here already? Awesome." I'm not running a simple 12/2. At this point I'm just running, seeing where it goes, and how it takes me.

And it takes me far. It feels awesome. The weather is perfect, the crowds are perfect, my fellow runners are perfect, the "European trees" are filled with overhydrated runners at Spout Run (how very aptly named are you, Spout Run) and--holy crap, that was 5k. All right, cool. Whatever. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for my fellow CHUMs coming back past me on the inbound loop. I spot a tall, moving traffic cone. It's Jerry, our own personal Army of One. For once, I can actually get his attention just by calling his name. Usually, he's so in the zone I have to throw Snickers Marathon bars at him. Moments later, I spot the colours flying high (though not quite so high as later, when six-foot-three Gunz is carrying) and get a shout out to Charlie and Nita. I keep my eyes peeled for Gunz and Len, or Carl and Karen. Or CW. Where the hell is CW? (As it turns out, at that point, CW and I were probably within earshot of each other, but the runners are thick enough that we never even knew it. Besides, we've never met in person, so I wouldn't know him if I tripped over him. Which, in a marathon, is entirely possible.)

As I head up the hill, Batman and Batgirl pass me from behind. I spend a few minutes trying to figure out how I was ever in front of them and saying rude things to Carl. Because, you know, I can.

Warning: picture of me ahead. This will almost never happen here, so treasure it while it lasts.

There. And now you know why I never post pictures of me.

Then? There was lots more running. Coming back down the hill out of Spout Run, I hear an incredulous voice: "FireCat??" She actually says this, not my given name. I turn, because it's obvious from the direction and tone of the voice someone has recognised either my ass or the back of my shirt (which is, of course, the lovely Fire Cat herself, complete with VW bus). It's Shell. Oh my God, it's Shell! Shell who I haven't seen since Pittsburgh in 2009, Shell who we missed terribly two nights in a row at supper, Shell of Shell-and-Ike, isIkerunninghowareyou??? People manage to divert around our admittedly girly-scream-filled reunion right there in the middle of Spout Run Parkway. She paces me for about a minute and then I wave her off. She assures me I'll see her again, but I seriously doubt it. I tell her of the new post-race meet-up and beer-fest location, and off she goes.

The last time I ran this course, in 2007, it was diverted out of Georgetown. And it was a damn shame. Because Georgetown, you are the shit. (That's what she said.) Georgetown, you are also downhill. I love you, Georgetown.

A few miles, some orange slices, me having to bellow at the top of my lungs, "Wheelchair on the right, make a hole goddamnit!" and then? More Yellow Pom Poms on Sticks! Well, the same yellow pom poms on sticks, just in a different place. I launch my arm warmers at Lauren, who recoils in horror before she realises what they are. She safely stows them away in Charlotte's bag so I can retrieve them that night at the bar and then promptly leave them on the table, never to be seen again.

Haines Point is lovely when it's earlier in the race. More people, more stuff, more Shell! Her stomach hasn't been great, so she's been slowed down, but she heads out from the latest pit stop, and leaves me to more running, more people, more....uh, mocha Clif gel. Which I think may have been my undoing in a little foil packet. Note to self: this is why you carry your own Gu. Use it.

By the end of Haines Point, I have made friends with Pokey's mom, who is about my pace and a good fifteen years older. Pokey died flying a mission in Iraq in 2007. The picture on the back of his mom's shirt shows a beanpole of a kid, ears the size of Nebraska, smile as wide as the Potomac, barely out of his teens. This race makes me cry, every single time. Semper fi, Pokey.

By the time I round Haines Point, I have lost track of Pokey's mom in that cat-and-mouse game that marathon running is, but I've picked up a couple of Marathon Maniacs and Jenn and Laura, who will end up as my companions for most of the second half. Rounding The End, where The Awakening used to be (where now there is a water stop with the bitchingest cadence I heard all course) it finally occurs to me to look at my watch. Manic cackling ensues as I discover that I have beaten my half-marathon PR by eleven seconds. I turn to Jenn and repeat the words immortalized by Gunz at the Baltimore Marathon on a similar occasion: "The crash is going to be glorious!" In the meantime, I keep cookin.

And urping. The mocha Clif Shot is not happy with me, nor I with it. Or maybe it's the compression shorts squozing my poor little intestines to death. Or I don't know what. But I tuck in with the Maniacs and settle into their Garmin-regimented walk/run pace. It kind of works for me. I can totally do this. Maybe.

We head up onto the Mall, where Rick Nealis has saved our porta-johns from the ravening hordes of unwashed hippies (of which I am one, much to the chagrin of my Marine friends. Did I mention how surreal it is to be surrounded by equal parts Marines with boots and guns and pissed-off liberals with a Jon Stewart fetish? I did not know what to salute. Truly.) I find myself uttering words one never expects to hear out of one's own mouth: "Really? We're at Mile 19? Already?"

The urpage continues. I mention to Jenn (or Laura, or NancyAndMary) that this has the potential to start sucking fairly soon. And then, rather suddenly, we are without Nancy, who has been having trouble all week and warned Mary ahead of time that this might happen. There is a short debate. Should we leave her? Should we stay with her? I know that whatever happens, I'm going. Not because I don't know her, but because if someone tells you beforehand, "If I tell you to leave me, go ahead and leave me," then this means one thing. Leave them. They're not martyring themselves, they're not hitting the wall. They're using their safe word. So to speak. (Dude. I did not just go there. Not during a race report. Really? Did I just go there?)

Anyway. We leave her. Two miles later, there she is again. I think nothing of this in particular, though later I have a thought I shall leave unspoken. Read it if you know the code.

Coming off the Mall, past the horses, there's Holly. Hey! There's Holly! She's handing out 3 Musketeers. Because of the lovely combination of my first marathon partner and chocolate, I decide to recover from the deep sorrow of somehow having missed My Yellow Pom-Pom People at Mile 16. It also seems somehow sort of fitting, since the Mall was really the last time I saw Holly in 2007.

And there we are. There are the wailing female drum corps. (There is also Jeremiah, but at this point I am so out of my gourd it doesn't even occur to me to be looking for him. I'm so fixated on what's about to happen.) And then? Then I see it. The sign. The sign from God.

Ok, actually, the sign is from Tuan at DSG. But it might as well be from God. At this point in the game, it doesn't much matter. The bridge is, in fact, my bitch. I own it. I also have a very interesting conversation about marathon etiquette that causes me to remember the difference between some Marathon Maniacs and other Marathon Maniacs. And again, I refer you to Gunz K, whose first tattoo says it all: Death Before Dishonor. And there it was, and that's all I'm gonna say.

At this point, something begins to dawn on me. I'm actually having fun. Actual, honest to God, marathon-running, where's the wall I'm supposed to hit five miles ago, fun. What the hell? I'm working harder than ever before, I'm definitely feeling it (especially in the part of me that is gurgling and urping and wishing like hell I could take off my fuel belt and throw it at the next person I recognise because I cannot stand one more thing touching my abdomen, and it would be really rude to take off my shorts, which is my other option), I'm pretty tired, and I would really like my nose to stop running for once in my life, but other than that, I'm doing ok. Also? I start doing some serious math in Crystal City, after Batman and Batgirl scare the crap out of me yet again, this time on the turnaround. Ok, I'm getting a little clueless, but I'm still running more than I'm walking, none of my walk breaks are more than a minute, and.....well wait just a minute here. I might make a race time I never even dreamed was possible, let alone possible today.

I tell NancyAndMary that if I have this chance, I'm taking it. They look at me like I'm nuts and immediately shoo me off ahead of them. To my delight--and almost immediately to my eternal and undying gratitude--Jenn comes with me. Jenn becomes my rock. We reset her Garmin and try to pick up the pace. At this point we're at Mile 24 (site of the infamous Len! I Gotta Pee! sighting of 2007). The last two miles are pretty ugly.

I don't just mean that in the sense of that's the closest I came to any wall. Having been fairly touchy all weekend, at this point my stomach is cramping enough to make breathing evenly a problem, and my mouth is dry, which is compounded by the problem that I'm too nauseous to want to take in fluids. I am sloshing and spitting fuel-belt water. It isn't helping. Jenn offers me a cough drop. I could kiss her if I could get my lips to pucker. But dammit, we still have a chance. And we take that chance as we careen down an exit ramp onto a very desolate and ugly stretch of concrete, taking advantage of every bit of gravity and momentum we can muster. I know some people find this part exhilarating. It's the home stretch, the last mile and a half, all sorts of finishers are swimming back upstream with their medals to stand in the stunned exhaustion that passes for encouragement to other runners after you've run your own guts out.

Not me. I just find it endless. And, in this case, nauseating. With each step I watch that impossible time goal become actually impossible again. Jenn tells me that when we hit Mile 26, we have to run it out. Because we have to. Because there is no way we are limping across that finish line. Only I really think I'm about to run till I puke. Which would be fine if I could actually breathe deeply enough to find the energy to puke, which I can't. And there goes my time goal, right at Mile 26. I take a deep enough breath to yell at Jenn for all I'm worth, like she's running for her life and I'm letting the lion eat me instead. Because, in a sense, I am. "Run, Jenn! Run!" I do not know this woman. I have never seen her before this race. I will probably never see her again. But right now, her hitting that timing mat in under six is more important than my taking another step ever again. I watch her disappear around the corner and up the hill.

And oh my god that hill. How am I not going to eat pavement on that hill? What happened to my Spout Run battle cry of "I eat hills for breakfast, Marine!"? And where the hell are Nita and Mike, who promised me under the penalty of beer that they would come back and run me in? I don't feel abandoned so much as worried that something has happened to one of them. Also, deeply annoyed that I have to hump this fucking fuel belt another 0.2 miles. Because these are the stupid things you think of in the last two-tenths of a mile. And then I'm around the corner and my legs remember that they're supposed to have a final kick about now, which is good because I can't feel them, but they appear to still be working because people are falling behind me a little more rapidly now.

And then it's over. It's over and I am bent over hanging onto the corral sucking wind, and I don't particularly give a flying fuck about the medal, or cookies, or even a bottle of Powerade. Which is really unusual for me. Mostly, I want to get out of my shorts (that's what she said) and find out what happened to Nita and Mike.

I'm lying on the ground, trying to figure out how to un-pretzel myself from the most gratifying stretch ever--or even if I want to get up again--and I look up and there's Jenn. Hi Jenn! We did it!

I vaguely recall wandering back to my hotel, spending some quality time with my shorts-free ass in the shower, trying to remember which came first, shampoo or conditioner. Then I walked the three blocks back to the finish, to the cool kids' hotel. Beer-drinking, football-watching, Frito-throwing, and (in certain cases) hamstring-cramping is already in progress in Nita's room.

Despite the fact that I am the last to finish--and I am always the last to finish--I am hailed as victor when I finally haul my ass through the door to join the party in progress. And this is why these are My People. This is why we created the Old Folks Home for Calcified Habitually Unrepentant Marathoners. It doesn't matter that some of them literally run twice as fast as I do, or that some of them run ten marathons a year. They know I'm not racing against them. They know I'm racing against me, and they're as excited for me as I am. They couldn't meet me at the finish line, but they were back in the hotel suite, trying to revive Mike from certain pukedom and tracking my progress online at the same time. You'd think they were the ones who just crashed a 20-minute PR, judging by the reception they give me (even though they mostly can't get out of their chairs yet). Leave no man behind. That's them. These are my people.

That's what she said.

24 October 2010

Curiosity Killed the FireCat (or, The Post That Goes Just About Nowhere)

My curiosity isn't the kind that electrocutes small children, or poisons household pets, or causes cartoon characters to turn into an animal-shaped pile of cinders. For some reason, I've never been the "what happens if I put the knife into the electrical outlet?" kind of curious, or the "gee, what's this green stuff taste like?" kind of curious, or even the "what happens if I pull this string, Allan?" kind of curious. (The answer to that last question, by the way, is apparently, "My shorts will fall off." I wasn't there at the time, but I heard the story for days afterward.)

No, mine is the kind of curious that sends one to grad school. Repeatedly. What's with all the little boats in Dante? Is rose a rose a rose? Why can't we, once and for all, decide how to spell the Wife of Bath's name? And for god's sake, will someone please smack Werther upside the head and give him an SSRI? For the good of all Europe? Seriously.

The alarming result of this particular strain of academic curiosity is that--oh God. I'm about to confess this out loud. On the Internet. Ok. The result of this is that I love writing papers.

There. I said it, ok? I love writing academic research papers. Call the ambulance on me, lock me up in an ivory tower, hit me in the face with a waffle iron, do whatever you want, but it's true. Except, mostly, what I like is the research part. I don't necessarily like sitting my arse on the chair and cobbling the pieces together (which is sometimes what it feels like, especially this past semester), but I love logging into JSTOR and following the thread of my ideas and seeing where it leads. This, despite the fact that more than once in the past several months I have typed in literary search parameters and gotten a certain article about White-Faced Capuchin monkeys. I am not making this up.

Presently, however, it has led me to the most frustrating dead end of my life. I've got all these fabulous ingredients, but they don't make soup. They make smoosh. I know it. Chaucer knows it. My cats know it. My rough draft knows it (and, as a result, is being more recalcitrant than usual). Worst of all, the professor knows it. The Scots-English word "fookt" does not even begin to describe my situation here. I am several pages into nowhere, and need to have been finished already by the time I meet the professor tomorrow to discuss possible solutions. This is due to a glitch in the matrix known as "I have a marathon to run out of town next weekend and am not due to return home until thirty seconds before this paper is actually due, and you can't give me an extension because immediately (as in, the four days type of immediately, so, super-immediately) after that is my qualifying exam, for which I still have 200 pages of reading."

Sorry. This isn't really a post about curiosity. This is really a post about sheer, unmitigated panic. But that's what I'm good for right now.

That, and lots and lots of coffee.

22 October 2010

Chocolate-Flavoured Love

This is not a post about fair trade month, ILRF, the new documentary about child slavery in the cocoa sector, or the musical Hair. Nope, it's about bras. Well, sort of. But it is about chocolate. And breasts.

Slow your roll there, Sparky. I am not about to get kinky. Please. I'm not that kind of nerd. I am, however, about to get amused. Very, very amused.

Because a certain high-end lingerie boutique reviewed in the New York Times last month apparently keeps a bowl of gourmet chocolates by the register. I do not know whether the intent was to be humourous, or whether the proprietress is simply fond of almonds.

Regardless, my delectable treat has a very distinct silhouette.


04 October 2010

Race Report: Hershey Half-Marathon, Codename "Bandito!"

So, let's just get this out of the way right in the first paragraph. I did not register to run this race. I was a slacker, I was between adjunct summer paychecks and fall paychecks, I wasn't sure I felt like spending three hours running around an area of central PA that gives me hives at a time of year that I have most deeply associated with said hives, and frankly I wasn't sure I was up to a half-marathon the weekend between my 18 and my 20. So it sold out in the middle of August while I was still waffling, and I was certain this meant Jesus didn't want me running no Hershey half-marathon.

This was reinforced when, despite my really good half-marathon two weeks ago, my legs were in serious pain afterward for more than a week. The 18 ended badly, I hurt like hell any time I had to do anything involving my legs (which, when you think about it, is a lot), Hershey didn't up and move to New England or anyplace less likely to give me the emotional heebie-jeebies, and on top of that I was in a whopper of a bad mood on Thursday and Friday. So when Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, all I could think was, ".....oh, crap. Now I have to go and pretend to be human for several hours in front of Carl's wife, because I like Carl's wife. I should really spare her the awfulness that is me right now." But no. Into the car I went, and out through Berks County without punching anything and only flipping off two or three exits and the people at the end of them.

Only one pee break on the road (during which I bought a pair of pants--don't ask, but let me just reassure you I did not pee in mine) and then I was at Casa del Blur by late afternoon. Chris and I met Deborah for supper downtown, which was swell because neither of us had ever met her before, and lots of fun, pasta, and giggling was had. Turns out Carl does not keep his promises, and what happens at PDR does not stay at PDR, because Chris made reference to some of my digestive habits. So ok. So I farted in bed the night before the race when Carl and I were sharing a hotel room, ok? There was sausage in my lasagna, what do you want from my life? It was dark, I was relaxed, I thought he was asleep, and....well, let's just say I'm used to having the room to myself.

Anywhoodle, Chris and I repaired to Casa del Blur where I snuggled with Andrewblur (whose shades kept falling off) and we finished a bottle of white wine before I retired to the guest suite where I could flatulate in the peace, comfort, and privacy of my own self. (Yes, Carl, not only did I drool on your pillow this weekend, I also farted onto your side of the bed. Just so you wouldn't miss me.)

6:00 came way too early for both of us. I seem to recall suggesting to Chris that it wouldn't be the end of the world if we went back to bed, since I didn't have a bib (actually I believe my exact comment is unprintable), but out we went.

And man, did I have the race of my life. Of course, of course the first person I saw when I got out of the car at the start was Len. There was mad peeing, and just in case I yoinked some extra toilet paper for later in the race. Which I turned out not to need....sort of. Apparently I have a new pre-race ritual. Actually I think there was just too much cheese in my supper the night before. Oops.

I don't remember a lot of the race. Lots of rolling hills, lots of cornfields. Lots of running out of Gatorade and only water from about the third aid station. At the second one, they'd had Gatorade and water but no cups. So they had teams of people lifting the igloo jugs and you stuck your head under the spigot. For my troubles I got an earful of Gatorade. Needed to go shower under the water spigot afterwards just to counteract some of the sticky. It was not entirely successful.

There was some serious cross-breeze and/or headwind (it changed, the road curved again, it followed you.....I spent much of the race butt-freezing, dude) but I'd given my long-sleeve shirt to Chris at the first mile, where she surprised me by having the hugest pair of lungs on the teeniest little sweet lady you could ever imagine. Everyone within a three-mile radius knows my name. By the time I met up with her at mile 8.5, my arms were still cold but putting the shirt on would have made the rest of me too warm. Now I know why people wear those stupid armwarmers.

So. Could have done without the lack of Gatorade, could have done without the freaking crosswind, and could have COMPLETELY done without the fact that for several miles in the middle (most notably Clark and Bachmanville) despite cops holding traffic so you could cross, they were allowing cars to travel on the roads. Clark is curvy and hilly and has no shoulder. And there are CARS COMING AT ME IN BOTH DIRECTIONS. WHAT. THE. HELL. Yeah, that was no fun. People are idjits. Anyway.

My legs and lungs still had some in me, but my hip and lower back has been out of whack all month, so by about mile 11 my arse hurt rather a lot (my right foot spent most of the middle half of the race sound asleep. Let me tell you, pins and needles as it wakes back up at mile ten is a treat). By the time I got to the stadium I was ready to be done, but not nearly as cranky as PDR. Not by a long shot! I've never had a stadium ending, so that was fun, and again Chris was there with her lungs (she got me to split into a grin as I was hauling towards the finish) and in the process I almost mowed down a couple who slowed down to hold hands and cross the finish line together. Dude, if there's one thing you need to know before racing, it's DO NOT GET IN MY WAY AT THE FINISH. I will mow your ass down.

Disclaimer: no half-marathoners were actually hurt in the process of this mowing. The woman just got a solid hip check because dammit, you do not stop to pose for the effing camera. You run. That is what you came here to do.

Really, that's all I remember about the afternoon, except that I did not get the hiccups while eating my bagel, Deb let me shower in her hotel room for which I will love her forever, I cried when I saw Nita and two hours later when she left again, and at some point during my second drink I got up from my seat and bit Jerry.

Oh, and I totally touched his new Mustang. And no, that's not a euphemism for anything.

(oh yeah, and I totally PR'ed by like three minutes, but I got so caught up in busting on Jerry that I almost forgot to mention it here.)

28 September 2010

A Bit of Change

Welcome to the new digs at thefirecat.net! You will notice that the front doormat is missing. Hopefully I will have it unpacked soon. In the meantime, wipe your feet on the cat.

20 September 2010

Race Report: Race Formerly Known as Philly Distance Run, aka "Shut Your Face, Carl."

Our story begins Saturday, around 11:45 AM, when I am fresh from the shower, robed and dripping wet. And my phone rings. And it's Carl. And he's in Philly, when his train shouldn't even have left yet. We're supposed to meet at the hotel at 2. I'm not packed. I'm not even dressed. Fortunately I am an expert in the subcategory of "Throwing Shit into Backpacks and Hopping in the Car." I proceed to do just that. Also fortunately, I've already had the race gear laid out for about a day and a half, because that's a whole different category of packing. Lube? Check. Socks? Check. Extra hair ties? Check. Gu? Check. Safety pins? Check. Lucky snot bandana? Um, check. But I'll get to that later.

So, I fly down 95 with the tunes cranked and avail myself of the generously included valet parking (Carl, if you're lying about that, I owe you $36 and then I'll smack you NCIS-style.) Carl does some pointing and laughing at my LETS GO METS keychain. I drop my gear on the bed closest to the bathroom, of course, and we hit the expo and met Charlotte and Bill. Charlotte and I proceed to lose Carl because he's still shopping, I hit the main expo floor and score some deeply discounted Mizunos--and MAN ARE THEY PINK--and visit the Power Balance booth. In part because I'm curious, in part because I want to piss off Jerry.

Then, we meet up with Mike--hey Carl, who is that hot Marine in the tie-dye and flipflops?!--and Len for the obligatory Maggiano's dinner. Charlotte meets Smart-Car cake. Her reaction is almost as good as the cake. Sit around in the hotel lobby shooting the shit until 8:15 or so. Lots of cackling and interpretive-dance type flailing. Then upstairs for a few episodes of NCIS, which Carl has to explain to me. Interspersed with all this activity are certain pre-race rituals that cannot be discussed. Some of them, in fact, cannot be explained. Like the part with the lemming and the Body Glide--but that would violate the non-disclosure agreement that Carl made me sign.

Ahem. Anyway, Sunday morning dawns as predicted--with the very loud strains of Bach on Carl's cell phone, a yodel of "Good morning, Morning Glory!" from the other bed, and me muttering, "Shut your face, Carl." Things only deteriorate further when he emerges from the bathroom singing and I am forced to use my stuffed bear as a missile. Seriously, man, how does your wife stand you before noon? When I emerge from the bathroom, Carl has bought Starbucks and pumpkin bread. What a mensch. I take back at least a couple of the mean things I said about him. We indulge in more weird pre-race rituals (as you can imagine, mine involves a lot of peeing.) We go downstairs to meet the crew. Mike is nowhere to be found. Eventually we figure he must have struck out on his own because he's not answering his house phone. So much for leave no man behind.

We find Len at Logan Circle and continue our trek to our respective corrals. We dump Carl at Corral 5, where apparently we stop and pose for a photo that I don't remember. We continue on to Corral 13, where we realise that portajohn lines are not getting any shorter. So we get in one. Charlotte and I are in line long enough to make friends with the women in front of us. Someone up at the front passes back a bog roll, thank god. We're still in line when they sing the National Anthem. We're almost at the front of the line when--oh god, Starbucks. Oh god. Starbucks.

Yeah. Despite the kindness of strangers who carry bog roll to races, I end up sacrificing my lucky blue snot bandana to The Cause. I am remarkably displeased about this, er, turn of events. Charlotte gives me a tissue when I finally emerge, in case I--you know--actually have to blow my nose during the damn race. But needless to say, my mind is not particularly on the run at this point. It's mostly about things like my favourite blue bandana. And anti-bacterial wipes. And adult diapers. This is not a normal part of my race-day ritual. It customarily occurs early in the pre-race festivities. Like, the night before. So I'm feeling a little off my game.

Anywhoodle. I leave Charlotte and Len (and Bill, with his collapsible yellow pom-pom on a stick, which always reminds me of something from The Lorax) and continue on my way to the end of the starting area, to a corral marked To Infinity, And Beyond. Here, there are walkers, teenagers,Team in Training noobs, pregnant women, disabled veterans, the juggling man, and a 74-year-old grandfather. These are my people.

Twenty minutes later, we are finally approaching the start. And here come the elite runners, who are at Mile 5. And the elite women. And the elite hand-racer. At which point the female announcer makes a comment over the loudspeaker that seriously pisses me off: "And the people over here who are about to start, they're a bit more casual." Yeah? Yeah??? Fuck you lady. We're not any more casual. We're just more slow. So go screw. (Seriously, I'm emailing my displeasure with that to the RD. That's not ok with me. Way to make me feel three inches tall. There is nothing casual about running 28 miles a week. I don't see you out here training, bitch.)

Ok, I'm over it. Really. We cross the mat, I start my watch, and follow the crowd ahead of me the frack knows where. Seriously. I am less than intimate with the geography of downtown Philly. All I know is we passed my hotel twice and the convention center like, eight times. I'm just following the--oh look, there's the Reading Market. Again. I'm feeling pretty good, mostly just thinking about running at this point, and not falling into any of the Smart-Car-Cake-sized potholes for which Philly is notorious (not to mention the whole train tracks in the street thing) and--oh look, it's JFK Boulevard. I totally know where we are. We're heading back towards the start, where the elite runners passed us before we even started. Cool.

Mile 5: some band is playing Margaritaville. I start giggling and make a mental note to tell Lee and Nita.

Mile 6: another band, a tunnel through the side of a rock, and--oh hey, there's Bill! He doesn't see me, so I do a superman-style leap in front of him. Because, what the heck, I still can. He's got Cytomax and a Clif bar in his backpack for me, but I don't need anything. Except maybe a brain that would remind me to have some Gu, because while other people don't take Gu at six and a half miles, I've been out here for almost an hour and a half. It is what we runners call Time for Gu. And my time is still pretty much either on pace or ahead of pace. I don't really pay much attention, actually. I feel pretty good. I'm in a running groove, the scenery is lovely (the only other time I've run this part of the course was during Midnight Madness for BOMF, so I've never actually seen it) and--oh, hey. Runner down. Not ok. She looks as if she fell and hurt her arm, but she's already strapped on a gurney. Poor dear.

Mile 8 and some change: I discover that I really like blackberry flavoured Gu that they've set out. Much better than the lemon-lime crap that makes my teeth hurt (which is not even as sweet as some of the other flavours). Score. Oh, and hey, here's that bridge that I remember from Midnight Madness. Left turn, Clyde. I'm coming down off the bridge, past the gaggle of middle or high school band members with, like, one trumpet, one trombone, and a couple of saxes, getting ready to feel kind of down and think about a walk break.....and they start playing the Rocky theme. And I am, after all, in Philly. Damn. Damn those pesky kids. I can't help but perk up. Plus, it's downhill and in the shade. Awesome.

I hit mile 10 at a pretty good time (for me) but am starting to get a little cranky. (That's why I make the announcement, Carl.) Mile eleven is seriously the longest mile of the race. All in the sun, I'm hot, I'm cranky, I'm sore, my mouth is dry even though I've got plenty of hydration (thank you radioactive iodine and its effects on salivary glands). I've just had enough of this. Grr.

Last water stop. Some college kid at the water station is saying, "One more mile, one mile to go." I don't take water from him, but I pound over and kiss him smack on the cheek. He is totally my new best friend.

Of course, it's more like a mile and a half. A few minutes later, which coincidentally are the ugliest miles of the course if you ask me--one side of you has a stunning view of the concrete holding up an exit ramp--and everybody's Team in Training coaches are meeting them and encouraging them and running with them and congratulating them on a job well done, and.......here's me, slogging along by myself, dragging ass. Grr. Where's my cheeseburger, dammit? I ask one of the coaches, seriously, how long? She says maybe 2/10. Well hell, I can run that. I pick up my shuffle to an actual run. Plod plod plod. Just around the corner and up the hill.

Why hello, finish line spectators. Why hello, passing people. Why hello, all summer of training in the absurd heat and humidity and forcing myself to pick up the pace in the last mile. Why hello, strong finish. Why hello, BIG HONKING HILL whose butt I am kicking. Why hello, passing two people AT the finish mat.

Why hello, folding over sucking wind behind a race staffer so no one will see me. Points deducted for no one at the finish (race staff, medic, or fellow runner) asking if I was ok. I was, but still, if someone is bent in two sucking air after they finish, it's just polite to ask. Especially if you are an EMT and are stationed there for that purpose. So, I wander through the post-race, get my bagel, my bottle of water, my banana--someday I will eat a bagel post-race and not get the hiccups. But as Aragorn says, today is not that day.

I find my cell phone, which is coated in salt from a mishap with a ziploc bag during the race, and text Carl. COME GET ME. He's already gone back to the hotel and showered. How mortifying. He immediately calls back. "Are you a cheeseburger? Then don't talk to me." He asks where I am. Dude. I have no idea. I'm near some portajohns. I can't operate my banana. I see the Somalian flag. That's what I know. You figure it out. We start walking and meet somewhere in Logan Circle. I have managed to figure out this new-fangled packaging on the banana, but now cannot open my free Dove chocolate with peanut butter sample. Crap. I want my mommy. Fortunately, I have Carl, and what I usually call him starts with "mother," which at this point is close enough for me.

My next coherent memory is being back at the hotel bathroom, getting trapped in my sports bra. I hate that. You men have no idea, truly. Next stop, hotel lobby. Charlotte asks about my time. I have no idea because I forgot to stop my watch, but it was under three. Which is all that really matters to me. Oh, and I beat the 74-year-old guy.

Soul food and more hilarity ensues. We get to hear the story of why all ING race shirts are that unique colour called "holy crap neon inmate orange." I eat the best storebought mac and cheese I've ever had and get props for ordering collards. I mourn the lack of beer. We watch some amazing video coverage Bill got of race course geese. Run like the wind, geese! Carl makes more references to my bodily functions. I tell him to shut his face.

The party breaks up around 2:15 after Carl's left for his train and the rest of us realise we have places to drive. Some of them several hours away. I get home in time to watch the Mets lose to the Bravos, about which I have mixed feelings. I mean, it sucks that they lost, but at least they lost in a way that does the most damage to the Phillies, who are actually in the pennant race. After that it's kind of a blur of discount technical shirts, Advil, and smelly socks. And naps. Of course, let us not neglect to mention the naps.

Some damage to the upper quads today, but I'm chalking that up to sprinting up a hill at the finish line. My brain is still a little less than coherent, but that's also fairly normal after a long hard run.

Shut your face, Carl.

22 August 2010

Danger Mouse

When I was younger, I wanted to live a life of adventure and danger (though I did not actually want to be an Air Force Ranger, contrary to the lyrics). I wanted to swash, and I wanted to buckle. Climb mountains, swing from vines, leap tall buildings in a single bound--you name it. At some point in my twenties, something vital about my life crystallised for me one night as I navigated my 1967 VW squareback down the back roads towards an apartment I dearly cherished.

No, I did not lose control and plummet into the icy waters of the canal. I didn't even slide into a tree (try to remember that in a VW, the engine is the back, leaving nothing between you and what you are about to hit but two thin layers of steel and....well, a lot of air. Oh--and the gas tank. Can we say "design flaw"?) If memory serves me, I simply looked at the gas gauge.

A word or two here about the instrument panels of air-cooled Volkswagens. They are deceptively plain. The average Volkswagen comes with two lights: a green one, which means there is a problem with the oil pressure and you should turn off the car immediately--even before steering it to the side of the road out of traffic. Since there is no cooling fluid in a VW, the oil is the only thing your engine has going for it in terms of not turning into one solid block of molten, frictionless, basically useless metal. A green light means trouble. A green light says YIKES. OUCH. HELP. DANGER. I've been lucky enough through several years of Volkswagen ownership (including a '65 split-windscreen bus of notorious instability) to never actually have to test the green light strategy.

The other light on a VW's dash panel is the red light. Generally speaking, the red light means "Um, excuse me, I don't mean to interrupt you, but there's something slightly amiss here." It doesn't really get more specific than that. It could mean you're not generating enough voltage. It could mean that somewhere in the spaghetti system of wiring, something is touching something else in an inappropriate manner. It could mean you've blown a fuse or six. It could also just mean your Volkswagen is bored and wants attention. The bus used to do that, going up the west side of mountains in Montana and Wyoming after dark. Any time I tried to push the speed above 45 mph, the light would come on. After several panicked stops to consult my Idiot Guide, I eventually discovered that when this happened nothing in particular was wrong with the bus. It was just its way of saying hello.

(This, incidentally, is why it takes a certain brand of crazy to own a pre-67 bus, and why my particular vehicle was christened the Kobiyashi Maru. Sometimes the only way to pass the test is to cheat. What is being judged here is simply your reaction to being doomed to failure. Mine was to buy a Honda.)

The gas gauge--which on the bus never worked at all, no matter how many times I repaired it--is in most other models not actually a gauge. It's more like a suggestion. Contrary to the manual, the "R" does not actually stand for raus, the German word for "empty." In actuality, it stands for "random." In the squareback, once the needle moved past 1/2, weird things began to happen. The needle would start to shimmy, fluctuating back and forth between R and 1/2 in ever widening arcs. Or, it wouldn't. It would sometimes sit at 1/2 for a good week before plummeting firmly to R. This was not the result of a faulty float in the gas tank. It was just what happened.

That night, chattering and tappeting my way south along the canal road, it occurred to me to wonder why I thought always being on the verge of running out of gas was an acceptable version of living on the edge. It wasn't that I had had to purchase a cell phone against my preference, because I was so likely to be stranded. It wasn't that many of my most frequent routes had limited cellular signal anyway because of a quirk known as geography. It wasn't even that, as a general rule, I carry my vagina with me while traveling and despite having been lucky so far it was only a matter of time until the person who stopped to render aid was a chain-saw wielding lunatic rapist who ate small children and microwaved kittens in his spare time. It was just that I was done living like this. The adventure was no longer fun. I wanted to get into a car and know I would eventually arrive at my destination. I wanted to be able to plan without adding three hours for unseen roadside activity involving my socket set. I wanted someone else to change my oil for a change.

Don't get me wrong. I still have the Volkswagen. During my disaster of a marriage, my husband frequently pressured me to sell it, arguing that we really needed the chunk of cash that was parked under a blue weatherproof cover in my parents' front yard, slowly oxidizing to itself. Even when I asked him by way of comparison why selling his motorcycle was never an option (knowing it was his parents' graduation gift to him when he finished culinary school and thus off-limits because of emotional attachment) he never quite got it. The last spring we were married we spent Easter weekend trying to get it back in running order, even if not driveable. It turned over happily, but even after hefty (and lung-clogging) doses of carb cleaner, it wouldn't stay running long enough to settle into its characteristic stuttering purr. But no matter. I still wasn't selling.

My husband ended up leaving me less than six weeks later. I guess his theory was, if you can't get it running in an afternoon, might as well pack up your tools and go look for another model. But not me. I know that someday, when I have the time, the money, and the emotional stability needed for such ventures, I'll clear off the square of Astroturf in the trunk hatch (don't ask), open the engine compartment, put on my striped Exxon work shirt that for reasons too convoluted to explain says JOEL on the pocket, lay out my tools, and begin a full resto. The difference next time is that I won't need it. Rather than being my daily driver, it will be my weekend excursion car. It will be fun. And by god the horn will work this time, whether or not I'm turning left.

But I will have another set of wheels, one chosen for practicality, reliability, sturdiness, and for god's sake its crash rating. I want this one to take me safely all the way home.

20 August 2010

Bats in the Belfry

Or, more accurately, the dining room.

Yes, lovely. There I was, minding my own business, doing some stealth knitting for someone who has no idea she's about to get a present, watching the Mets suck (as they are sadly wont to do this time of year), and.......flappityflappityflappityflap.....thunk....!

A bat. In my house.

Let me say that again, just so we're clear here.

A bat.

In. My. House.

Needless to say, the next thing that happened was I dropped a stitch. Meanwhile, cats came screeching in from every corner of the house to investigate this new, exciting, flying treat. Look! It's a mouse! But it flies! like! a! bird! Thereitgoes!

Of course, these things never happen when there's anyone around to deal with them properly, like, say, anyone with a Y chromosome and better hand-eye coordination (not to mention a longer arm-span), so.....yeah. I went upstairs and changed into jeans and running shoes, guessing that a bathrobe was inappropriate attire for what was about to occur. (Although now I'm looking at it, a bat-robe might not have been a bad choice, if only for punditry's sake. But I digress.)

Anyway, my first thought was to sequester the bat in the dining room and kitchen, and shoo it out through an open screen door. But that involved rounding up the kitties and shutting them away. And also wasn't working as I'd planned, since the door from the kitchen to the hallway apparently doesn't shut anymore. Which is good to know for future reference.

Then it occurred to me to wonder how (the hell) this fist-sized flying rodent with spiky little teeth and a voice more annoying than Ethel Merman got in, exactly. Turns out that it's fairly easy to breach the inside/outside barrier when someone doesn't firmly reattach the screen after painting the window moulding. Not mentioning any names of course, Dad.

Ahem. So. After a few rounds of bat-ball (base-bat? stick-bat? rodent-hockey with repeated high sticking penalties?) and one stern admonishment not to climb up my mother's sheer curtains if he knew what was good for him, we reached an impasse.

The bat did not want to be found.

I, truthfully, did not really want to find the bat. At least, not at close range in a dimly lit room with a lot of antique furniture--some of which is fairly wobbly and none of which is mine--and breakable objects. Not to mention a rabies vaccine that's probably no good after nine years. (side note: I used to work as a vet tech, so yes I have actually been vaccinated against rabies. The nurses all thought I was kidding when I walked in and said I was here for my rabies vaccine. The serum is fuchsia. The needle is longer than my index finger. It was good times.)

My next plan was to close the dining room doors tightly and let the bat show himself out. My friend Loosey suggested I tape a note to the door:

Bat in here.
Drunk in bed.
Do not disturb either.

This would be counterproductive, though. The cats already knew all of that, and besides which, their reading comprehension skills pretty much suck.

28 July 2010

At Last! The Shocking Conclusion of the Epic Pus Volcano Chronicles!

It's true. My dentist finally sealed off my root canal this afternoon.

Of course, it couldn't just be a simple post and crown, could it? No. Of course not. Of course, his mainframe had to have died last week, so he's got this loaner unit that mills crowns (yeah, he's all high-tech like that) only apparently? This loaner unit? Is on quaaludes or something.

Because it froze while preparing the image. Twice. Yay.

Ok, I realise this makes mostly no sense unless you've seen one of these in action. It's sort of like auto-CAD for teeth (now there's something you don't hear every day). It takes a before picture, and then after your tooth is ground down and the post is in, it takes an after picture, and then you go in and sort of auto-CAD the patient's tooth until it looks exactly right, and then you hit "ok" and it mills a brandy-new shiny porcelain crown.

Except it didn't.


My half-hour appointment? Was three hours. Fortunately I had lots of Dante's Divine Comedy to keep me occupied, but boy was the dentist pissed. And by 2:15, my ass was sound asleep in the chair.

But seriously. Did he really think that anything about this whole procedure was going to happen easily, as planned? Really-really?

Yeah, me either.

Anyway, IT'S OVER. Except when I go back for one more post-op visit to the surgeon at the end of next month. Done done done no more pus volcanoes hooray.

(In other news, apparently my brain has gone on strike because I cannot make myself grade the eight papers I have to turn back tomorrow morning. Cannot. Make. Myself. They've been staring at me all day. And I can't pick up the pen.)

14 July 2010

Grand Finale!, Wherein FireCat Finally Conquers the Pus Volcano!

Coming soon to an oral cavity near you.

Interlude, Wherein FireCat Solves a Ghastly Household Mystery (2 days ago)

Meanwhile, I have solved a ghastly mystery in my house. I had been noticing sporadically since the first of the month (the change date in these parts) that on occasion my toothbrush felt kind of damp in the mornings. I attributed it to its placement in the cup near other people's toothbrushes that had been recently used, the fact that it's been so damn humid, evaporation, etc.

This morning it was sopping wet, and I went stomping downstairs with my toothbrush in my fist: Did someone use this toothbrush this morning?

Turns out that my dad thinks the purple toothbrush is his. And has been using it twice a day lo these past two weeks.

(and the reason I didn't immediately switch toothbrushes and start using the blue one is because hello--it's huge. How could he think that that toothbrush could fit in anyone else's mouth around here???)

Thank God I'll be having oral surgery this afternoon and will not be allowed to brush my teeth for at least 24 hours, which will give me enough time for (a) the evil to wear off, and (b) someone else to go buy a new shiny toothbrush for me. And his name is John.

Just sayin.

Toothgate Continues (14 days ago)

I've been off antibiotics since Thursday night. I have an appointment tomorrow to actually finally finish this root canal.
And my face is swelling up again, with associated tooth pain.


Someone you know will be having oral surgery very, very soon.

The thing that annoys me greatly right now is that I start teaching summer classes today. Which means that either (a) I will be teaching the day after having oral surgery, or (b) I will have to either cancel or find a fill-in for my class. And that is deeply frustrating (especially since--hello, this has been going on since Memorial Day.)

I just can't imagine that aspect of it being fun. I'm more or less ok with the idea of the surgery. It won't be the worst thing that's happened to me.

Plus, we still have lime popsicles in the freezer.

Here is a portrait of me, opening wide:

Spongeworthy (22 days ago)

So. You know that sponge? Sponge to fill the hole in my tooth and allow the abscess to continue to drain, while I'm still too infected for a temporary filling?

I ate it.

Seriously. I looked in my mouth this afternoon whilst flossing, and.....it's gone. And I didn't notice it any time I spat into the sink in the past 24 hours. Which means there's only one place it could have gone.

I don't know why the idea of eating a teeny, orange little pus-filled piece of dental sponge is more disgusting to me than.....well, no, wait. I think I do know why.

Ew ew ew ew. Fortunately, I'm going in tomorrow for an update. And my face is still partly swollen, thankyouverymuch.

Thanks, though, for allowing me to tell funny stories about this. Otherwise, it'd be LAME AND HORRIBLE. Now it's just funny. And lame. And mostly funny.

No, well, mostly lame, but at least very funny.

FireCat vs. the Pus Volcano (25 days ago)

Oh my god, the saga continues! Isn't this awesome? You get serial installments of the pus volcano story! (mmm, cereal....)

Anyway. I went to the dentist today, for what was supposed to be the end of my root canal. I told him that I'd taken Flagyl for five days and couldn't stand it anymore, that I stopped yesterday morning and could almost eat again, and to please take a look at that one small, hard bump at the root of the tooth he was working on.

He poked it.

I leapt out of the chair.

He poked it again.

I considered the mechanics involved in garrotting him with his tie (which was a lovely blue silk abstract, btw).

He poked it again.

Dude. Mark. CUT THAT OUT.

He decided at that point that there was no way he could lance it from the gumline at the moment, give him a minute while he put on his jacket so as not to get the pus volcano all over his lovely tie.


Yes, more draining, more pus and infection, more orangeness, more stank and gack and ewwwww and omg why are there chunks in my mouth?

All activity halts while the tech fills me up a cup of mouthwash so fast I thought she'd get whiplash and I rinse the chunky bits out of my mouth and say things that would make my mother blush and my father proud (and curious).

He then proceeds to start massaging my gum, which in addition to producing more....stuff....makes me realise the specifics of what he's actually doing in there. Fortunately I have a very well-trained gag reflex (and let's not even go there).

Short version: MOAR ANTIBIOTICS, hopefully a kind that will keep me from puking. Seriously, I haven't been on penicillin since I was like, twelve.

I remain, however, a little bit alarmed that the first side effect listed is "black hairy tongue."

Really, could they get any more foul??

Cris suggested I might need a face-ectomy. Now there's an idea.

I am now off to google "black hairy tongue" so I know what to be on the lookout for. Somehow, I'm picturing something akin to my fat, one-eyed cat asleep on my bed. It's probably not that cute, is it.

(update: Nope. It is not.)

Although, I don't know. The idea of my tongue having its own moustache is kind of intriguing, on second thought.

What in Plaid Rabbit Hell? Again? (30 days ago)

I woke up this morning at 5 AM with a painfully familiar feeling in my lower right jaw......

.....that's right, kids, my face is swelling up again and my dentist is in Vermont! (he either has way too much free time on his hands or his junior-in-high-school daughter is looking at UVM)

He called in a prescription for another antibiotic. I can't take e-mycin because it makes my head spin round and I puke yellow bile with red-and-white spots. (which might have been the pill, actually.) So instead he put me on flagyl.

What the hell, dude? Flagyl is like, antibiotics on steroids. They give you flagyl when you have giardia. They give you flagyl when you have flesh-eating bacteria that is trying to take your face off.

Oh, wait.

So, yeah. And I'm leaving the pharmacy counter when I get this gem of advice: "NO ALCOHOL. Seriously. None. You'll puke. A lot. I've done it. It's awful. So don't drink."

Whaaaaaat? A weekend in June when the limes are ripe and my parents aren't around? And I can't drink???

Nope. Apparently not even the communion wine (the pharmacy tech happens to go to my parents' church, so she actually was very thoughtful to bring that up. Not that I go all that often, but it wouldn't even have occurred to me.)

Um.......seriously. What......theeee......hell? Apparently my pain tolerance is too high, because there's no way this should have gotten where it did before it started to hurt. In the meantime, here's hoping they don't have to drain the abscess again, since apparently, you know, there still is one, and everything. In the meantime, I'll just be sitting here, impersonating my very tubby-faced cat Daphne:

( )

The good news? There's less pain the more it swells. Wait. Is that really good news? Anyway, I'm down to two Advil before bedtime and two when I wake up in the morning. Much better than four Advil every four hours.

The bad news? Have I mentioned the part about no wine?

Wowie (38 days ago)

First of all, before you ask if I feel better, no--I feel numb. And for the next twelve hours I'll likely feel worse. But after that, I'll feel better.

Second, wowie! I've never managed to make my dentist go "eeeeew!" before. Apparently there's a first time for everything. Remember that pus that Cris sure was there, even though there was no visible infection on the x-ray? Yeah. He drilled, and created a little ol' tooth geyser. Yellow, green, orange--we're talking a veritable rainbow of infectious matter squirting out of what had once been the nerve of my tooth.


Now, mind you, I did not get to see any of this, because (a) I am not flexible enough to see into my own mouth, and (b) I make a habit of keeping my eyes firmly squinched shut whilst at the dentist, but let me tell you, I smelled it.

Oh. My. God. The stench? Of an infected root, coming into contact with air for the first time? Dude. I've smelled dead bodies that were less offensive than this. And I'm not even kidding. At one point he had to take the stuff out of my mouth so I could gag unencumbered.

So--yeah. The short version is, I in fact had a raging infection in my jaw, which unlike the BP oil disaster has now successfully been siphoned off and capped....at least temporarily, since, of course, we have to make sure the infection's all gone. But My. Goodness. Of all the offensive things! Phew!

He also said that for such a petite lady, I had the longest damn teeth he'd ever seen. So....wait a minute, dude, did you just call me long in the tooth? Hmmmm.

Drill Baby Drill (40 days ago)

My face has not fallen off. I am still on drugs (as you can probably tell). There is apparently not a single dentist in the tri-state area who has office hours on Friday. My dentist is opening his office at 8 tomorrow morning--which reminds me, I forgot to ask who's bringing the coffee--to rectify the situation.

Yeah, my face is still swollen, and I'm having fun scaring the cats. The ice pack is delightful, the percocet is even better, and apparently being slightly delirious doesn't affect research on A Midsummer Night's Dream at all, because the play itself is so trippy.

That's the scoop from here.

The really good news about temporary disfigurement is that, really, I haven't had to go out in public. I mean, I've had to go to Shakespeare class three times, but....I mean, it's grad school. They've all seen me in worse shape than this.

We Are No Longer Amused (42 days ago)

Well, the painkillers are mostly working (though, as many of you know, they have amusing unintended side effects and I apparently am much more fun when improperly medicated).

Apparently the antibiotics are not. I woke up at ten minutes to six this morning, not because there was a furry one-eyed monster tap-dancing on my head and meowing that it was breakfast time, but because I tried to roll over onto the right side of my face.....and it wasn't where I'd left it.

I have swollen up like a balloon. Or, more precisely, half a balloon.

Excuse me? I'm taking 1500 mg of amoxicillin a day, and 800 mg of ibuprofen (an anti-inflammatory, you may recall) every four hours, and instead of better, this thing is getting worse?

Yeah, I don't think so.

However, it was in fact ten of six, so I went downstairs, did a little proactive cat-feeding, grabbed an ice pack, stuck it on my face, took four more Advil, and went back to bed for a few hours.

And woke up at 9:00 still looking and feeling like a chipmunk. Awesome. My dentist is out of town today, and the on-call guy doesn't open until 10:30. Which is good, because now I have time to shower and have my morning mug of tea so I can be human when I call him and say "OH MY GOD THERE'S AN ALIEN GROWING OUT OF MY MANDIBLE."

The good news is, it doesn't really hurt. Apparently in the course of the swelling, it must be pressing on some nerves, because instead? It's sort of...tingling. Awesome.

Yeah. So totally not the look and feel I was going for today.

So, my friend Cris (a former dental tech) was right. There undoubtedly is an abscess going on there that we just couldn't see on film. Because, really, what are the chances of an actual tooth-eating alien?

Ohmygod, I Can't Feel My Face (43 days ago)

Mind you, it's not that my face has gone numb, but get this--I'm not in mind-bending discomfort! Woooooo!

Yeah, the percocet is working waaaay better than the vicodin did. And, the antibiotics. Which, by the way, are going to kill every microorganism within a ten foot radius of my face, so you might want to keep your pet amoeba away from me for the next while.
And yes, I will be ODing on yoghurt as well, since we're in the habit of oversharing.

Oh god, I cannot tell you how happy I am that this stuff works. I'd been taking Advil all day, because my first summer session started tonight, so I couldn't take the painkiller until now. Yeah, three hours of un-air-conditioned Shakespeare on percocet? There's a fun time, no?


Yayayayayayay, I only feel moderate stupidity in the area of that tooth! Not exactly pain, more like....concentrated stupidity. And, really, I'm ok with the idea of a root canal. At this point, it will be a relief. I know people say they hurt, but seriously? Compared to last night? It'll be like a bowl of ice cream. With sprinkles, and chocolate sauce.

The Saga Begins (45 days ago)

Y'all, I have a toothache the size of Chicago. Long about Friday morning five o'clock, I realised this. My dentist, of course, does not have office hours on Fridays, so I made a mental note to call first thing Tuesday morning (since, of course, nobody works Memorial Day if they can help it). In the meantime, I dosed myself with Advil.

Well, here it is Monday night, and I can't freaking stand it. Two Advil and two Tylenol every four hours (as prescribed by said dentist for a previous weekend pain while he was away for the weekend.....did I mention I live in a really small town and actually have my dentist's cell phone number? Also, my dad is his deacon. Anyway.) has stopped being even remotely effective, as of sometime last night. Even gin and tonics weren't quite as soothing as they usually are.

But today? Oh. My. God. Before supper I was sitting on the front porch, among the begonias and hanging plants, with A Midsummer Night's Dream critical contexts (summer school's idea of fun) and a glass of white wine....crying because it hurt so bad. My dad noticed during supper and bequeathed me a bottle of leftover painkillers. Yes, I am admitting to prescription fraud in public. I'm taking my daddy's hydrocodone and I don't care who knows it.

But seriously? I took one at 7:30, right during my salad. At ten, I took another one, because it was having no effect.

I have now had 1000 mg of Vicodin (which isn't even old, it's from Christmas) and it hasn't even made a dent in the pain. I should be comatose. What the hell, yo?

13 July 2010

A Post about a Series of Posts

Since Memorial Day, I've been undergoing one of the weirdest dental experiences ever--or at least, in my limited experience. I've been updating some message board friends about the Pus Volcano Chronicles, as they've come to be rather graphically known in those parts, and apparently the story is equal parts horrifying and amusing.

Well, the Pus Volcano Chronicles came to a head yesterday afternoon (um, ew) in the form of oral surgery. So today, here I sit, with plenty of free time, a box of lime popsicles, and almost as many ice packs surrounding my jaw. It might be the painkillers, but I've decided to migrate the Pus Volcano Chronicles to this blog. Stay tuned.

05 July 2010

Land of the Free, Home of the Whatever. No, Really.

On our little plot of land, there are three or four houses surrounded by a lot of trees, a couple of cornfields, and...well, some donkeys. The neighbours on one side are Italian-American. We're Irish-American. Neighbours on the other side are Mexican immigrants. The kids are all citizens, born here in the last seven years or so. Their parents are working on it, in the slow and paper-filled process of the INS. Maybe someday. A little up the road is a family of big, honkin' Greeks. About fifteen of them. Actually, they're pretty much the whole rest of the town I live in.

Fourth of July weekend here means one thing that you can get nowhere else in the world: the town's "Big Fat Greek Festival" on one side, with souvlaki and balalaika music in one ear, and Tejano and salsa music in the other ear as Tómas keeps trying to teach me the words to his favourite Los Tigres del Norte song and laughing like a lunatic when I mess it up, while mucking out stalls and waiting for it to be dark enough to light sparklers for his sons and nieces. They used to have a barbecue on Cinco de Mayo, but lately they've stopped doing that unless it falls on a weekend. These days they celebrate the Fourth with us, because "my kids are American, just like you. And me? Me maybe someday too."

18 June 2010

Welcome Home

I had a bit of a surreal experience today. I walked into a local antique store, just browsing. I turned a dark, rickety corner around a hatrack and a stack of old 78s (remember those?) and saw this hanging on the wall:

Those of you quick on the uptake might recognise this dwelling. I, in fact, recognised it so well that it took me a minute to notice that there was something peculiar about it. Like, the fact that it was hanging on a wall in some stranger's business establishment (well, that and the fact that they took liberties with the location of the outhouse and the enormous pine tree).

Have you ever walked into your own life head-on, and taken a moment to register the fact that it's indeed yours, and that to everyone else you are just a stranger? My best friend has this happen to him all the time, both because of his father and because he's pretty well-known these days in his own right. But it's never really happened to me before. My friend Noni (hi Noni!) says it's a sign from the cosmos, and I agree, but I'm not sure what it might be saying other than "You are about to be $175 poorer."

Maybe it's just a reminder, though. Either that we are all outsiders, looking in--or that we are all insiders, coming home again to a place we know so well we forgot how to look.

17 June 2010

Perchance to Dream

I just spend some time catching up on my friend Al's blog. Haven't been there in far too long, apparently. Oops. Either that or I think everyone's a slacker like me. Anyhow, it made me think about just how slack it is, exactly, I've become. And it led me (among other things) to ponder this.

One of the reasons I feel like a slacker (other than, of course, my complete inability to update my blog on anything resembling a regular basis) is the fact that I sleep noticeably later than everyone in my household at the moment. In part that is because the other two members of it are in their sixties and have embraced that transition to late-adulthood known as "Getting Up at the Ass-Crack of Dawn Because Your Body Has Decided It Is Done Lying Around," but it is also apparently because (I have figured out) I set unrealistic sleep expectations for myself and then get angry and down on myself when I don't fulfill them and get up as early as I've set the alarm for. How's that for fucked-up stupid? To be angry about myself for needing sleep. Especially since my sleep needs were radically altered twelve summers ago by that teeny niggling thing known as, oh, cancer. Yeah. Amazing, the way that six-letter word fucks with even the most unrelated, teeny aspects of your life that you didn't realise were so precious to you. Like the ability to recognise when you are hungry, or tired, or hanging upside-down from a tree branch over the Delaware River in your undies.

Ok, I'm making that last one up. Or if I'm not, I'll never admit it in public. You can't prove it was me.

However. Back to the sleep thing. The reason I figured this out on this particularly (lovely, breezy) June morning is that I was going to meet my dad for a run today at 9, which involved getting up at 7. Which is totally doable, I left the house at seven for an entire semester this spring, and seven was an unheard of luxury back in the days of community college teaching, remember? Maybe not. Me either. It was a long, horrible winter or three. Anyway. I stayed up until 10:30, which actually isn't necessarily too bad, but then I tossed for a bit, and because of the antibiotics and stuff, got up to use the bathroom about forty-seven times, one of which was at FIVE AM (totally annoying because my body goes all neolithic-circadian on me and is, "Oh! Daylight! Try to wake up!" Um, how about no.) So I turned off my alarm at ten to seven. In my infinite wisdom. Because I needed more sleep. This seems normal, right? But this is where it gets stupid.

Because I realise part of this is the antibiotics I'm currently on for a dental mishap that ganged totally agley, but a good part of it is the inability to go to bed at 10:00, or even 9:30, which--let's face it--is just how much goddamn sleep I need. And for some reason, I can't get my brain over that. WTH?

Oh, yeah. Speaking of which. The antibiotics? I stopped taking them yesterday. I'm not done them, and I know that's a medical no-no, but seriously people. I could not eat. This is the stuff they give people with giardia, or flesh-eating bacteria that's trying to take their face off. (Oh, wait.) And a dinner of baked chicken thigh and boiled sage potatoes? Made me nauseous. The only thing that hasn't made me nauseous in five days is yoghurt. And that one bowl of Lipton's chicken noodle soup, though I did get fairly urpy during class that night.

And the kicker--the worst part of all of this--is that despite my inability to eat, and my massive ability to eject food from every known orifice with remarkable speed and consistency (me, not the food)--I haven't even lost any weight.

No wonder I woke up this morning dreaming about homemade gourmet ice cream.

02 June 2010

Everyone Should Have a Samira

Sadly, I don't get to take credit for most of this post. Most of it originated with my friend Samira, and the number of times she's had to listen to the story called That Time in Grad School (Round One, MFA) When I Walked into the Comps, Got Handed My Questions, Turned to the Person Next to Me, and Said, "What the Fuck Is Anaphoric Free Verse?" (Needless to say, I have never again forgotten in the intervening years, probably never will, and my current graduate advisor for the MA program is fond of teasing me about it.)

Anyway, earlier today I got an email that eventually morphed into this list.

Anthropomorphic Verse: Poetry read by a mouse wearing a waistcoat and horn-rimmed glasses

Anthropogenic Verse: Poetry that causes global warming

Anagrammatical Verse: Poetry that sounds exactly the same when read either forwards or backwards

Amphoric Verse: Poetry stored in large earthenware vessels

Anaphylactic Verse: Poetry that makes it so hard to breathe, you’d rather stab yourself with a needle

Anaphasic Verse: Poetry that suddenly, and inexplicably, splits itself in two

Antibiotic Verse: Poetry that fights infection (this one was in response to a concurrent conversation about my recent dentistry woes)

Antidisestablishmentarianism verse: the longest poem in the English language, but nobody knows what it means or how to use it in a sentence

Nota Bene: Amphoric Verse should not be confused with Canopic Verse (poetry that has been prepared for its journey through the afterlife)

Mangia Bene: Italian restaurant located on the state highway in Three Feathers

Also not to be confused with Cannabis Verse (poetry written by Bob Marley)

Apopleptic Verse: poetry that induces fits

Amphibious verse: poetry written by frogs; alternately, poetry to be read one if by land, two if by sea

The best part about this whole thing is that Samira was never even an English major and doesn't consider herself well-read, an opinion I personally do not share. She knows more about Jane Austen than I do, for heaven's sake. So what if most of it comes from the BBC Colin Firth version of Austen, not the Jane Austen version of Austen? A better Mr. Darcy there could never be. But I digress.

Every once in a while, someone enters your life who just gets you on a molecular level. Samira is so often that person for me.

30 May 2010


Yesterday at about supper time, I was presented with this fellow. My neighbour called me over by asking if I'd ever taken care of a bird with a broken wing.

Well, no, and I have no intention of starting now. For one thing, I have two very hungry kitties. For another, I would presently find myself without a home, because frankly certain members of this domicile (namely, the ones with their names on the mortgage) have had About Enough of the coming home with the wounded beasties, already.

Technically, his wing wasn't broken, either. It was sort of....gnawed on, looking for all the world as if, before pulling away from whatever was clamped firmly on the other end, Mr. Bird forgot to tell his wrestling partner to please let go. (In my world, of course, the aggressor would most certainly have obliged--but that might just be my personal experience with klutziness: when caught in the act with anything, or even distracted momentarily, I am bound to drop it, whether or not it's in my mouth--though stolen or sneaked-in cookies are not an exception. As a stunning example, I randomly flung salad across most of the dinner table yesterday, for reasons entirely unrelated to the conversation we were having at the time. But I digress.)

On his return from the County Wildlife Refuge, my neighbour told me he was impressed that I'd known it was a woodpecker. Really? Didn't we both grow up on this stretch of river? Given the black-and-white stripey spots, the red head, the bill useful for boring holes in trees, and the fact that earlier yesterday morning I'd seen possibly this very bird--well, pecking wood--what else could it have possibly been? Maybe he was expecting a woodpecker to look more like this?

It's not that my neighbour is stupid, either. Far from it. The man has a PhD in some sort of clinical pyschology, and has taught seminars at Princeton, for god's sake. I'm just continually astounded by how unfamiliar most of us our with our surroundings. With, for instance, the fact that while Louisiana's Gulf Coast might not be the only place there are shrimp Mr. Randy Prescott of British Petroleum Not To Get On a Political Tear, but--to even leave out of the equation the livelihoods of Louisiana and Mississippi shrimpers--it's the only place these particular shrimp live, and I suspect that to these individual shrimp, as much as shrimp are able to have an opinion on things, it matters quite a bit actually, whether they live or die.

Am I naive for wondering if these two mindsets are, at the end of it, any different? I know most of my human neighbours by name (even if I can't pronounce some of them, since my Spanish still generally sucks). Why is it that so many of us don't bother to learn the rest of our neighbours by name? Am I still a starry-eyed, Thoreau-worshipping romantic (well, yes, but there's a qualifier coming) if I maintain that it might make the beginnings of a difference?

26 April 2010

The World's Largest Doily

Apparently, I've knit it. It's actually a circular shawl, and even unblocked it takes up the majority of the living room floor. This thing is, in fact, bigger than the kitchen table. The bulk of this thing was done while avoiding homework or watching all nine hours of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah. I finished the edging on the bus on the way home from Washington after a trip to the National Holocaust Museum. Let's just say knitting in the dark takes a certain determination.

This is the first time I've really embarked on an extended lace project, so I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. I've yet to weave in the ends and block it (so it will only get bigger) but am already wearing it about my shoulders while listening to Zoe Keating and working on the interminable pile of work I have to do in the next ten days. Which is a post unto itself.

Anyway, behold my Shipwreck. Pardon the crappy lighting, I don't have Photoshop on the laptop, so I didn't get a chance to colour-correct before posting. At some point I'll fix that, as well as photograph it on something less stripey.

21 March 2010

Well Played

(Scene: Kitchen. Intricate choreography of two people fixing breakfast, gone awry to the point where ME is now puckishly anticipating HER moves and consciously getting in HER way.)

Me: It's a good thing you love me....otherwise one of us would probably be in jail by now.

Her: Well, it wouldn't be me. In my case it would be justifiable homicide.

24 January 2010

Stepping Out From the Page

...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes

(Don't worry. This isn't really going to be a post about Ulysses. It was just the first thing I thought of when I saw the prompt; furthermore, for my trouble I now have a Kate Bush song stuck in my head as well. Instead, this is going to be a post about some other, mostly unrelated, things.)

All writing comes from the place of Yes. All life comes from the place of Yes. My study this semester has been within the context of Yes or No--I'm doing readings on representations of the Holocaust, and on violence, visuality, and race. Questions have come up about whether or not to look, whether or not to speak, to acknowledge. And I am torn. Because to me, all life comes from the place of Yes. And yet, so many of my mistakes have also come from what seems like a Yes, that should have been a No. (I sort of have boundary issues.)

How can we measure? How can we speak? How can we look?

How can we bear to turn away?

This week I read Susan Sontag's essay "On Photography" and it made me viscerally angry in a way her other writing doesn't. Especially the part where she talks about photojournalists choosing a photo op over a life. It made me want to fling this in her face, the life of the greatest man I have known, a man who has chosen life, a man whose life is one big Yes, a man who has given his own life over and over again for the lives of those he photographs. It made me want to tell her to get up from behind the barricade of her own desk, her own death, and say Yes.

Right now I am waiting--here, I'm about to say this out loud for the first time in public--application decisions to three PhD programs (the fourth has a deadline in February). Right now my own future hangs in the balance of Yes or No. This has not made me a happy puppy. In fact, it's made me a very spastic puppy. For some reason, this past week has been particularly difficult, with the starting up of two new spring semesters and the waiting and a personal issue all bundling into one big fuzzy Maybe. I'm not liking it. It's resulted in tears almost daily, long sleepless nights, and--just yesterday--one half-full box of paperbacks launched in outraged frustration against the back wall of the storage facility where most of my belongings are (still) housed. Not my finest moment, though I was impressed with my upper body strength for a minute there.

It's made me realise how much of my life has been lived in the Maybe, in the interstices between Yes and No, how much I try to get away with foisting the decision on someone else. How not saying Yes is not the same as saying No. How much responsibility I try to avoid. We all try to avoid. How little I like feeling powerless. I wish this post had an uplifting ending, a kick at the end like Molly Bloom's Yes, but right now that apparently isn't my lesson. Because right now I am being asked to say Yes to the Maybe, and I am not liking it one bit.

How am I supposed to say Yes to something that is bigger than me? How can I measure? How can I speak? How can I look?

How can I bear to turn away?