Friday, December 30, 2011

The Christmas Letter I Meant to Send

Every year, it seems like the holidays almost sneak up on me.  That doesn't make any logical sense, since I know full well that December 25th is Christmas and it's not a moveable feast.  Still - this year, there were a few too many irons in the fire and I never got cards sent out.  That's a shame, since I like Christmas cards (or "holiday greetings," if you prefer; whatever hangs your holly) a lot.  I actually like sitting down with a stack of cards, an address book, and festive stamps.  Alas, this year, it simply was not to be.  At first, I told myself that I'd get them out as New Year's cards, or maybe Epiphany - nope, that's not going to happen either.

And since one of my pseudo-resolutions is to decreased the amount of beating myself up for not being a constantly efficient juggler of the fiery swords of home/work/writing/personal lives, I'm letting it go.  I'm sorry for that, but I'm also accepting of it.

But if I had written a Christmas letter, it might have gone something like this:

Dear Family and Friends:

It's been an eventful year here in the Nest.  FryDaddy and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary and he's now a semester away from being a bachelor - at least on paper!  (And while there may certainly be a graduation party in May, it will in no way be a "bachelor party."  I've made my voice heard on this one!)  So let's look back on 2011:

January - A freak snow and ice storms caused the semester to get off to a late start.  I resolved to ask myself often during this year, "How can I enjoy this more?"  Not bad as resolutions go, and it's one I'm going to continue to work on in the coming year.  I started teaching an introduction to film course that focused on science fiction and enjoyed it quite a bit.   FryDaddy and I celebrated our joint birthday (weird, I know) and kept slogging through the long-distance marriage trial as he continued with his studies at UNC-Greensboro.
March - FryDaddy and I spent spring break in the exotic locale of the hospital.  All is well, and he's now an improved cyborg.  No mutant powers seem to have manifested.
April - We both traveled to San Antonio, Texas to present original work at the national Popular Culture/American Culture Association conference.  We always enjoy the PCA conferences and this one involved Tex-Mex food and the Alamo.  A beautiful, hospitable city that we hope to visit again.
May - For our first anniversary, we took a sightseeing trip up to Washington, DC.  While we certainly didn't see everything, we had a blast and it was fun to get reacquainted after a semester of (mostly) being separated.  We continued the separation with summer school sessions, though.  Eyes on the prize, people!
June - I hosted what I hope becomes an annual event - a "girls only" party involving big hats and the Belmont horse race.  We also added a small grey kitten to our household in June.  We were a little concerned about what Spooky (60 plus pound shepherd mix) would think, but no worries.  The two are best friends and often curl up together to sleep.  That's cute - seeing Spooky attempting to groom a kitten, though - that's priceless!
July - With FryDaddy home for the last part of the summer, we spent a few days finally re-arranging the kitchen to suit a 6'4" cook.  It's amazing how much room a pot rack can buy you!
August - It was my turn to be in the hospital bed as I had sinus and throat surgery.  Minor in the big scheme of things, but uncomfortable and I'm glad it's in the rear view mirror of the year.  Much improvement, though, so yes, it was worth it!
October - With the fall semester in full swing, we took off to spend fall break (where else?) at a conference.  The regional PCA was held in New Orleans and we had  bon temps galore, mon amis!  I'd go back again in a heartbeat!  Fantastic people, warm reception for the work we'd been doing and did I mention the food?  In October, Dad was also inducted into the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame - his college baseball team [he played catcher] won the college World Series in 1955.

Throughout the year, we were involved in the Great Buffy Rewatch of 2011, which was run by a Canadian we met through (where else?) conferences.  Both of us had individual work published as part of this, as well as working together on a few pieces.

In no way does this cover everything that happened this year, but it's a good sampling.  2011 was actually pretty good to us and we're hoping the Mayans were wrong about 2012!

Love to all in the coming year!

Mockingbird and FryDaddy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holly-Trimmed Musings

Let the holidays commence!  The final papers are commented upon and graded.  Final projects have been graded and returned.  The last communication journals have been (you guessed it) graded and all numbers have been crunched.  For good or ill, the semester is done.

The Christmas holiday, however, is not.

Here at the Nest, holiday preparations are somewhat incomplete.  We have a tree, which has been strung with lights.  We held off on ornaments to give the kitten (it's her first Christmas, you see) a chance to get used to the outside being inside.  It seems that she's not much of a climber (quite interested in the wrapping paper under the tree, though), so we hope to hang at least some ornaments.

Other decorations - well, I hope to at least get the mantel decked.  The halls very well may be on their own this year.  There are a few lights strung around the porch roof, a Christmas flag flutters in the yard, and most windows are adorned with an electric candle, thanks to an elaborate system of drop cords.  It's not Martha Stewart, but it surely is not John Prine, either.

I was getting in quite a snit about this - I felt like a slacker.  I mean, it's the evening of the 20th and my house is decorated in a style which can kindly be called "Early Box."  I have family who begins baking for Christmas a month early and I have friends who go all out (and I mean "all out" in the Southern use of the term, which basically means that everything that doesn't move is spray-painted gold and tastefully gathered and grouped) and have their houses "holidayed" by Dec. 1.

You know what?

I finally figured out that it doesn't matter.  My house will never cause an editor of House Beautiful to say, "By George, I must share this sight with the general public!"    Doesn't matter.  The bank account is a bit thin and the credit card balances seem higher than they should.  Doesn't matter.  The Nest is warm and cozy, populated by a friendly-to-the-point-of-goofy white mutt and a not-so-little-anymore grey kitten who can wipe out a day of grumpiness by curling up on my lap for ten minutes.  FryDaddy and I are together, with clean bills of health.  Our problems are the relatively small problems of people living in a stable, industrialized society - too much food, too many friends who haven't been sent cards, too many choices of what to watch and where to go.

Think about it - what lovely problems to have.

The angels will come to proclaim the Good News.  It's up to me to stop whirling long enough to listen.

Come on in, friends.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Amendment One, Part Four

I know this has become a lengthy series and I promise I'll write about other things.  However, to me, this is an important issue which deserves some concentrated attention.  (Also, it's my blog, so I get to decide what I'll write about.)

This post - the last in the series - will focus on the elephant in the argument; namely, the religious angle.  Many people have a knee-jerk reaction to this amendment because of a particular religious point of view.  It's a point of view that focuses only on the sexual aspect of a relationship and depends heavily on some flawed arguments.  Let me deal with this briefly and then show how a particular court case comes into play.

1.  God made Adam and Steve and a whole bunch of other people.  Or maybe just Adam and Eve - Genesis will make your head spin.  Chapter 1 says humans were created after the animals and that male and female came about simultaneously (1:24 - 27), while chapter 2 says that man came first, then the critters, then the female of the human species (2:7 - 22).  Which account is correct?  And if that's confusing, hang on.  It's a wacky book.

2.  Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed by tolerance shown to gays.  Go back and really read the story - chapter 19 in Genesis.  (By the way, don't you ever get curious as to what "gomorrahy" might be?  No?  Maybe it's just me.)  Don't have a copy handy?  Well then - angels came to town and stayed with Lot, a "righteous man."  Wicked men of Sodom came to the house and demanded that Lot turn the strangers over to them for (there's not delicate way of putting this) a gang rape.  Lot refused (good guy) and offered his virgin daughters to the crowd instead (what??).  If you're going to be honest about what got Sodom smote/smited/smitten by the angelic host, you have to admit that it wasn't consensual homosexual sex.

3.  Gay relationships are an Biblical abomination in the same way that sowing a field with both beans and corn is.  The laws in Leviticus (where the term "abomination" is used to describe any number of actions; some of which are awful (child sacrifice to Moloch) and some of which are far less serious to us today (don't eat at Red Lobster) are hard to figure out.  And it's especially hard to suss out exactly which of these outdated laws I'm really ought to obey and which I can shrug and ignore.  I'm from the heart of barbecue country in North Carolina - the swine is hardly an unclean animal to me.  Especially when you add in the New Testament.

4.  Paul isn't to be totally trusted, either.  In his letter to the Romans,  Paul makes quite a big deal out of men who have chosen to go against God's "natural plan" (wording varies on translations).  The problem here is that  Paul often contradicts himself - look at Corinthians.  In the very same chapter (14), he first says that all who have the gift of prophecy shall speak so all can hear and learn.  Three verses later he orders that women are to stay silent in church.  Hope none of them have the gift of prophecy, or things could get dicey.

5.  Christ says nothing on the subject.  Nothing.  Zip.  Zilch.  I've always thought that if homosexuality was so all-fired important, somewhere in the four Gospels, His thoughts on the matter would be clearly recorded.  Don't take my word for it - get yourself a copy of the New Testament and read the Gospels.  If you limit yourself to reading Christ's words (the so-called "words in red" because they're often printed in red ink), you'll see what I mean.  Instead of condemnation and contempt, we have accounts of Christ preaching through his actions a ministry of acceptance that doesn't just border on radical; it upends the status quo entirely.  (My favorite is the bit of telling his disciples to  get the room for the Last Supper from a man they'll meet who is carrying a jar of water, which was totally woman's work.  May as well as told them to look for a drag queen.)

So the court case.  Legal Lesson 4 - Any law must pass the "Lemon test," named for the 1971 case of Lemon v. Kurtzman.  Here's the case, by the way.  Governmental action must meet three tests to pass muster.  If the action fails any of the three tests, it's unconstitutional as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (which way trumps Amendment One of North Carolina, remember.)  First, the action must have a secular legislative purpose.  Second, the action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion.  Third, the action must not result in an 'excessive government entanglement" with religion.  Lemon makes it hard to say with a straight face that Amendment One is all about secular concerns.

I've heard patently ridiculous arguments on this issue.  Such as . . . gays can't have kids (well, not "naturally," whatever that means in this day and age of in-vitro and surrogacy, not to mention adoption), so we can't let this happen.  Or married gay couples will come into North Carolina and have legal issues (property division, child support, etc.) that our courts just aren't set up to handle. (That's from Rep. Kelly Hastings.)  Really?  Our courts can't determine and protect the rights of our citizens?  Then we have bigger problems to concentrate on.  Or that if we let this happen, soon we'll have 40-year-old men marrying 8-year old girls. (That one's also from Rep. Hastings, who apparently never met a slippery slope he didn't like.)  Really?  Even now, a bride has to be old enough to pay full price at the movies and I don't see that moving backwards.  We're talking about consenting, loving adults.  C'mon.  Are we so scared that we're really willing to use the Constitution of North Carolina to codify discrimination and fear and intolerance?  Shame on us if we are.

Watch this, if you will.  There's nothing to be afraid of.  This is a young man to be proud of.




And then watch this.  The one thing both sides seem to have right is that it's all about family.  I just believe in a bigger definition of that than some others do.




And then vote against inequality.  I know I will.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Amendment One, Part Three

The third in a series.  This installment is also known as "it doesn't count if you move."

Remember playing Hide ‘n’ Seek when you were a kid?  The whole idea was to hide from “It” then make a run for home base when the coast was clear.  Once "home," you were safe.  Well, some folks take the same approach to marriage with reasoning that goes something like this – if I can’t get married in my home state, but can somewhere else, I’ll cross state lines to have the shindig and get the certificate, then high-tail it back home.

It’s a good strategy and it worked for years.  Across the Great Pond, Gretna Green was just a sleepy village in Scotland until England passed a law stating that those under 21 couldn’t marry without parental consent.  Scotland let lovebirds as young as 16 get hitched, so Gretna Green (which was conveniently located just over the English border) became the “go to” wedding locale for teen sweethearts.  Read the history here – it wasn’t easy, but the weddings were recognized as valid, since they were valid where they were performed.

In the United States, it’s different.  While your driver’s license is recognized as giving you the right to operate a motor vehicle when you cross state lines, your marriage may not be as portable.  We’ll use the example of first cousins getting married.  (In all states, second cousins can marry, so let’s just ride right past that.)  North Carolina allows those marriages, although NC prohibits double first cousins from marrying.  (The statutory language is a bit confusing, so just think of it this way – two sisters marry two brothers.  Those couples have children.  Those children cannot marry in NC which, genetically speaking, just may be for the best.  Then again, we also have a law on the books validating marriage between former slaves, so any number of wacky things are considered to be possible in North Carolina.)  

Anyway, back to cousin marriage.  A number of states say, “No way, no how.”  Such states include Ohio and Nevada (with Las Vegas in its borders, I’ll admit to a certain level of surprise).  A number of states say, “Don’t do it here, but if you come back here married to your cousin, well, that’s okay by us.”  Such states include West Virginia and Louisiana.  Look here for an entertaining comparison of state laws.
 
Interestingly, divorces are viewed entirely differently.  So – Legal Lesson Three:  If you get a legal divorce wherever, it’s going to be recognized in another state either under something called the Full Faith & Credit Clause or through a legal principle known as“comity” (which is a legal way of saying “courtesy.”  We want them to respect our public acts and records, so we respect theirs).  Interesting to note that this applies to the dissolution of a marriage, but not the establishment of a marriage, since both involve state action – let’s be clear here, you’re not married when the preacher says so; you’re married when that state-issued piece of paper is signed and filed at the Clerk of Court.  The rest is lovely, but not legally required, nor legally binding.  The paper is non-negotiable.  

Back to the topic at hand.  Full Faith & Credit (and comity, for that matter) doesn’t apply if the marriage “offends the public policies” of another state, which is why a marriage between two committed gay folks done legally in Massachusetts or wherever has no legal effect here in North Carolina under the current law.  Amendment One, with its ham-hocked language about marriage being the ONLY valid domestic union, makes it worse.  You’ve done everything right and move here to enjoy our mountains and beaches, invest millions in our hard-working manufacturing force, and pay the second-lowest business taxes in the country – well, your marriage has no legal protection here.  And with that missing sentence that won’t be on the ballot, the validity of any contracts you may have drawn up (such as a pre-nuptial agreement) are in question. 

I dislike second-class citizenship and ultimately, that’s what Amendment One is about.  I get that gay marriage makes many people uncomfortable, which is why the next post will deal with Leviticus, Romans, and - believe it or not - Lemon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Amendment One, Part Two

In this post, I look at the title of the amendment - the "Defense of Marriage Act" - and ask just what exactly I'm supposed to be afraid of.

In Part One, I discussed the fact that the language that will appear on the ballot is not the same language that was passed by the legislature and the problems that may cause.  Click here for the link to that post and this link goes into more depth about the problems with the current language.

Here, I'm going to look at the language that will be on the ballot next May.  It's deceptively simple.  "Marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."  With this single sentence, North Carolina seeks to not only outlaw gay marriage (which is already prohibited by law in this state), but also invalidate the concept of domestic unions and civil partnerships - domestic unions that permit unmarried couples (gay or straight) to receive the benefits of married couples without using the word "marriage."  There is evidence that there is support in North Carolina for these sorts of domestic arrangements - but it all hinges on just how the question is asked.

This is where things begin to boil down to the basic.  In my case, no one blinked when I politely requested that I be allowed to stay overnight in my husband's hospital room - I've got the ring and the last name.  For many gay couples, that's not a given, despite changes in the law.  See here for the law (which affects all hospitals receiving Medicaid and Medicare funds, so it covers pretty much everybody) and here for Wisconsin's approach.  Keep this in mind when you hear the argument, "Oh, it won't affect that.  A patient can see anyone they want to."  If you're in a committed relationship, there are certain things you are expected to do - visit your sick spouse in the hospital.  Pick your kids up from soccer practice.  File a joint tax return.  Maintain life insurance to benefit the other in case of some terrible accident.  Empty the dishwasher when it's clean.  Only the last one isn't up for debate under this bone-headed law.

Also -"Defense of Marriage Act"?  What's with the name?  I most certainly don't need the National Guard called out to defend my marriage.  That's the job of me and my husband - to protect this marriage and defend it from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  No one else's marriage - be it Paul Newman and Joane Woodward's 50 year marriage or Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage (my, she hasn't finished writing the thank-you notes yet!) - attacks my own.

In North Carolina, we're very pro-marriage.  So much so, that we'll let a 14-year-old walk down the aisle, provided she's pregnant or has already had a child and is marrying the child's father.  (A 14-year-old boy can also take advantage of this provision to marry his pregnant girlfriend, provided the pregnant girlfriend is at least 14.)  Seriously.  Click here - and remember that not too long ago, the age for a pregnant girl to marry the "putative father" (to get all legal-like on you) was TWELVE.  I'll let that serve as Legal Lesson Two - marriage is such a bedrock institution of our society that children who can't test for a driver's license can enter into it, yet it's too fragile to permit a committed gay couple to get within two furlongs of it.

The other argument seems to be, "Well, we're the only state in the Southeast that hasn't amended the constitution in this way."  To me, this is the "if everybody jumped off a bridge" argument.  Not to mention, following South Carolina's lead on social issues turned out so very well for us back around 1860, didn't it?

Next Post:  Why saying "but it was legal where we got married!" probably won't cut it when you move.
 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Amendment One, Part One

Please note that this is in no way to be confused with the FIRST AMENDMENT, of which I am a strong supporter.  Nope, Amendment One is a measure due to be voted on in May in my home state of North Carolina.  It was passed during this last legislative session and is one of the most ham-handed, badly worded, and downright wrong pieces of legislation I've seen.  And I've written legislation before,* so I know a little something about this.  Here's the text of the amendment as it will appear on the May ballot.

"Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State."

Sigh.  It's bad when lawyers write legislation, but it's so very much worse when others do.  I'm going to look at this very closely over the next few posts, as I think it's terrible for the state on a number of levels.

First, some background.  The amendment is the brainchild of one particular state senator, James Forrester, who had (until his death on Halloween; write your own snarky comment about the timing) a remarkable gift for saying truly bone-headed things.  There are also some allegations that he padded his resume, but as in the South we don't speak ill of the dead (mostly), that controversy, much like the senator, has been laid to rest.

The amendment, however, has not.  Mind you, North Carolina already has a law on the books prohibiting the marriage of anyone other than one man/one woman, so a constitutional amendment seems to be a bit of overkill.  That's my first issue with it; but don't worry - it's not the only one.

Originally, the amendment contained a second sentence - one that will NOT appear on the ballot due to somebody's error.**  Only the sentence I included at the top of the post will be voted on.  The other, which read "This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts," is that language that was intended to guarantee that private business could extend benefits to same-sex couples (or, for that matter, unmarried hetero couples).  Without that language, those protections become much murkier.  This single sentence amendment also puts domestic violence protections, child custody agreements, and a host of other legal matters into muddy water for both same-sex and unmarried couples.  Don't be fooled by anyone who says, "Well, that's not what it's about and it won't come up."  Yes, it will and there's no clear path of which way a court will interpret the language.  Let's go to Legal Lesson One.

Legal Lesson One:  When it comes to interpreting language in contracts and legislation, courts look to something called the "Four Corners Rule."  No, this has nothing to do with the basketball offense made famous by Dean Smith.  You want a court to rule on a provision in a written document - the court is going to look at the language IN THE DOCUMENT, not the stuff that you tell the court should have been there, but gee, somehow got left out.  If it's not in the "four corners" of the document, it doesn't exist and won't be brought into existence just because someone really, really wishes it was there.

So before you ask the fine folks of North Carolina to vote on an amendment, let's make sure it's the one you really mean us to vote on.  There are no "backsies" in the law.

Next Post:  There ought to be a law - Oh, wait, there is one!  (or "Why my marriage is supposed to be threatened more by a committed gay couple than by the fact that 14-year-olds can marry in North Carolina")

*'Struth.  Back in my old life working in the State and Local Tax division of a major accounting firm, I drafted legislation to be considered by another Southeastern state that was intended to grant incentives to film and TV productions doing business in the state.  It's an interesting life I've led.

**For more on the winding path of the amendment, please access this link.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Come Ye Thankful People Come

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us.  A holiday I greatly enjoy, although I'm thinking that I ought to give Evacuation Day a try.  Sounds like quite a fun time (pole climbing?  Really?) and I hate that it has been pushed off the national stage in place of Black Friday melees as we are encouraged to go into debt to save money on things we don't really need, but the retailers are trying mightily to convince us that out lives will be but hollow shells without having.

Then again, melees are getting to be quite common with us.  Let's see . . .

In Berkeley, where you'd think they have some experience with student protesters, an English professor was grabbed by her hair and hurled to the ground.  Look at the clip - she's the first one who gets so hurled (but not the last) - and tell me what she's doing that warrants such treatment.  Her specialty is British Romanticism - obviously a clear and present danger to the cops decked out in full riot gear.  At the same protest, English professor Geoffrey O'Brien was beaten while on the ground and suffered broken ribs.  Robert Hass, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet who once held the rank of United States Poet Laureate, was repeatedly jabbed with a police baton.  He's 70 years old.  Guess the cops were fearful of blank verse.  Don't take my word for it - check out the link and watch the video.  Cameras are everywhere these days.

In solidarity with their Berkeley brethren, students at UC-Davis sat down with linked arms on the quadrangle, refusing to move.  That's okay, said the cops, we know how to deal with such uppity, meddling kids!  Open wide!  The chancellor, Linda Katehi, had called in the UC-Davis police to clear the quad and had since minimized the actions of the police.  (That's her, at the top of the post.)  Again, cameras are everywhere.  In a reaction that I find nearly poetic, her students watched her leave the administration building after an hours-long impasse during which she refused to address the students.


That's all.  Just watched.  And it's not with the cries of rabid wolves, or even the baleful eyes of the defeated upon seeing their conquerors.  No, this is much, much worse - it's the cold contempt of those who find the coward in their midst not even worth the trouble it takes to call the coward names.

Oddly enough, I find this heartening.  Look, even if you think the student protesters and the Occupy Wall Street ilk are malcontents, the undeniable truth is this - they have the same Constitutional rights as you do.  And to borrow from George Orwell, "When I see a policeman with a club beating a man on the ground, I don't have to ask whose side I'm on."

Our country is in trouble.  The super-committee is about to admit they can't agree on how to cut the deficit, so they're just going to go home.  The trigger that was to punish such milquetoast behavior may be "untriggered," in which case why are we even bothering to pretend that our representatives are grown-ups, as they all seem to merrily dance as the ground crumbles.  Newt Gingrich (very close to "Grinch," I'd like to point out) thinks that we need to put 10-year-olds to work with caustic chemicals to teach them the value of a dollar (wouldn't it be better to find opportunities for their PARENTS to find work?  Just askin') - an idea so loony, so out-and-out crazypants that I went to FoxNews for the link.

Maybe we should all line the sidewalks, watch these architects of disaster leave their workplace and not talk to them.  I'm not sure what is left to say.

And yet I'm grateful.  I'm grateful for a country in which excessive force used on students takes the form of pepper spray, not bullets.  I'm grateful for youthful enthusiasm and idealism that says that dammit, this time, things CAN change.  I'm grateful for the presence of cameras to document what happens so the spin stops.  And I'm grateful for students who understand the power of shame.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keeping Your Eye on the Balls

Sports do a lot of good.  I really believe that, done properly, sports can teach valuable skills such as cooperation and team-building.  Heck, I teared up upon viewing The Blind Side.  I'm not heartless.  However, done improperly, sports can also teach that bullying the weak and uncoordinated is good, that physical prowess makes you better and deserving of special treatment, and that the ability to hit, kick, and/or catch a ball somehow is a direct measure of your worth.  Mind you, I am no advocate of the "everyone gets a trophy!" mindset.  Not everyone has athletic ability, just as not everyone has artistic or intellectual ability.

I think it's always a good idea to follow the money and there's just too much money in sports.  We no longer build cathedrals to the Divine, but we pass bond referendums to finance sports palaces for multimillionaires.  We expect our children to learn in trailers propped up on cinderblock foundations, but Booster Clubs find the cashy money for a new field house.  Why?  Because there's money in sports.  TV revenues are huge and everybody wants a piece of the pie.  Student athletes get breaks that ordinary ramen-noodle eating students don't.  (Sorry, but in my world, if you live out-of-state, that scholarship should be valued at the out-of-state price and if that means the school gets fewer of them, oh, well.  Blame geography.  Or better yet, teach geography!  [Side note - highest paid geography major?  Michael Jordan.  Seriously]).  At the same time, those student-athletes put their still-developing bodies through the wringer for a school that's making a fortune off of their efforts, yet they receive no compensation if their ACL blows out, thus ending their careers.  And college is just practice for the meat grinder that is professional sports.

It becomes easy to ignore the wrong.  The player who gropes girls.  The student tutor who has too much of a hand in the term paper.  The wealthy booster who gives a car to a prospective star player as an enticement to attend a particular school.  And then there's Penn State, which goes so far beyond "scandal" that a new word needs to be coined.  (And The Citadel is expressing "regret" for its lack of action.  Same story, different day.)


Sports aren't bad.  Slavish devotion to them is.  John Scalzi explains this better than I could, so I'll re-post him here.  The language he uses is a little harsh, but  (in my opinion) completely justified in this case.  As an occasional reader of H.P. Lovecraft, I was delighted to receive a sweatshirt for Miskatonic University as a gift.  But I never, never want to be an alumna of Omelas University (look at Scalzi's post - it'll make sense then).


Paterno was a great coach.

And that excuses absolutely nothing.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Windfalls

Life has been a bit challenging lately.  I always hesitate to talk about this sort of thing, because I know full well that my "challenges" often aren't a blip on the radar to other folks and no one likes a whiner.  But I also believe that there's a great difference between whining (which involves demanding that the Universe change its approach just because I'm in the flight path) and remarking at how troubles seem to come in battalions some days.

I wrote here a few weeks ago about the loss of my friend, an amazing, talented, generous woman who taught me some very valuable lessons about teaching, work, and life.  At work, we've just finished our review by the regional accreditation agency and, while we came through it unscathed, there was a certain amount of stress, mental bruising, and the occasional hive outbreak from that experience as we put our best face forward.  (I doubt I was the only one who kept thinking of Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island exhorting his staff "Smiles, everyone, smiles!")  Then, last weekend, on a night that was certainly dark and rainy, if not actually stormy, my faithful car simply dropped in the harness.  It's pre-registration for the spring semester at my college and that never fails to bring out the jumpy ones.

Yike.

You know, problems tend to be as large as we let them grow.  I had the privilege of knowing my friend for nearly a decade.  Students often simply need someone to shut up and listen.  FryDaddy's sister and brother-in-law loaned me their still-smelling-like-new car for a couple of days so I could get to work without having to hitch rides.  FryDaddy drove all over western North Carolina to ferry me up to a doctor's appointment, where my post-surgical sinuses got a clean bill of health and my mother and I had some time to spend together.  FryDaddy and I headed up to Asheville (look closely and you'll see "evil" smack in the middle of that town's name.  Weird.) for me to collect my last few continuing legal education credit hours, a very non-painful process that involved staying in a nice resort hotel surrounded by fall-colored mountains.  The conference got me fired up about a legal organization I volunteer with and we had a few hours in the sparkling November sunshine to stroll around downtown Asheville and sample handmade chocolates (dark covered crystallized ginger is fabulous!  FryDaddy unwisely left the rest of the truffles here with me.  Perhaps I shall blame the kitten), look at exotic spice blends, and browse that rarest of critters, the successful independent bookshop.  Then, upon our return home, we found our car troubles were, if not solved, at least the first cousin to solved through a long-term loan of a "so tough you can't kill it with an axe" Jetta.  It has a few scars, but who among us doesn't?  Plus the unexpected (and undeserved, to speak truthfully) generosity of two friends has eased a few burdens.

I'm not kidding or exaggerating - sometimes we think the storm is there to punish us when it's really loosening the fruit from the tall branches so we can reach it on the ground.

Look around.  There's a lot to be grateful for, both in what you have and in what you don't.

I've gotta try to remember that more.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tea for Two!

A few weeks back, I'd made plans with my friend Stacked Librarian to go to tea at the Ritz-Carlton.  Stacked is about half way through her first pregnancy - she's expecting a little girl in early March.  After the busy-ness of the last few months and the sadness of the last few weeks, we thought we could use a little "girl time."  So we got all dressed up (it has to be a special occasion for me to wear heels on a Saturday!) and drove past the Occupy Charlotte protesters at Trade and Tryon (yep, the cross streets were named for the intersection where, back in the day, people assembled to both "trade" and "try on" goods).  Bonnie was valet parked by uniformed folks who kept a professionally straight face at the gently ageing and highly dependable vehicle in the midst of the Jaguars and BMWs and we strolled into the imported marble lobby as if we belonged there.  (Jimmy Buffett wrote about a similar experience in "Gypsies in the Palace" - check it out sometime!)

The "chocolate tea" at the Bar Cocoa was simply fabulous!  We were taken care of by John, who made quite a fuss over the two of us.  Stacked stuck with hot chocolate (thick as gravy and rich as gold) and I had a variety of teas - John switched up the teas to go with the savory and the sweet parts of the tea.  Pixie-sized sandwiches were followed by scones with lemon custard and Devonshire cream, then teensy desserts with hazelnut creme, chocolate mousse, and edible silver.

Ooh-la-la!

We even picked up a few truffles to take home to make the experience last a little bit longer.  Just looking at the light green box with its chocolate-colored ribbon makes me happy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sadness and Light

It's been a very strange 24 hours.  A friend and mentor of mine has been very sick with advanced pancreatic cancer.  The disease had metastasized throughout her body and everyone knew it was simply a matter of time before - well, before time ran out.  Over the last four months, she had struggled as one function after another shut down in response to the disease.  Her time ended on Saturday.  I am told that the end was peaceful; she was not alone nor was she in pain.  I am grateful to the wonderful folks at Hospice as well as her other caregivers who helped to ease her journey.

The funeral was today - a bit quick, I know, but those are the decisions that were made.  I cried for my friend, whose life was cut short by a cruel disease that didn't care in the least that her plans didn't include debilitating illness.  I cried for her family, who really won't quite know what to do without her.  I cried for her friends and yes, I cried for me.

I believe that our lives are lessons; that we all have things to both learn and teach.  My friend's life contained many lessons for me and one of the big ones that I want to share with you is this one - it's later than you think, so don't waste time.  It'd be a shame to get to the end of your life and not be able to think of the moments in which you were truly happy in your own skin.  For my friend, I think some of those moments involved helping other people - she was heavily involved in her community and I think she derived great satisfaction from that work.  I also hope she had a stash of personal "hey wow!" moments.  I know that a few years back, she took a trip to India - I hope she rode an elephant.  That'd be a "hey, wow!" moment.  Only a few weeks before she died, my friend insisted on taking a cruise to the Bahamas and good on her, I say.  I hope that trip had some "hey, wow!" moments, too.

I have a few "hey wow!" moments that I can recall easily.  Some are profound and some are just silly.  The pure blue of cobalt glass with sunlight behind it, for instance - that's one of mine.  The feeling of connectedness I noticed this past weekend at the last farmers' market of the year - that's another.

The point is, no matter what form they take, you have to be on the lookout for those moments.  There are several religious traditions that believe that when you arrive at the afterlife, you'll be called to account for your life.  Not just the times you were selfish or mean or didn't quite live up to your potential, but also to give an accounting of all the times you could have been joyous in your life and failed to do so.  The first time I heard that, it actually pulled me up short.  What?  There's actually a responsibility to be happy?  Whoa.

It's no good to simply spin and spin and spin and not know why you're working so hard to spin so fast.  The end comes for all of us and all too often, it comes too soon.

Requiescat in pace, my friend.



Note:  Image at top of post courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cobalt/41514857/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Out of the Park!

As you probably know, I've been gone for a little while.  The annual regional PCA conference was held in New Orleans recently and I've been blogging about that experience over at the other blog; the one I reserve for more academic musings.  (The Nest is a bit more free-form in its range of subject matter.)  You can click here to go to the latest conference post over there, if you're interested.  The city of New Orleans was quite interesting but it didn't seem useful to double post.

But a few musings and then some "new stuff."  I really, really enjoyed New Orleans.  Not just the conference (although I heard some quality material and my own presentation was well received), but the city itself was just stupendous.  Can't wait for an opportunity to go back - must buy a lottery ticket!  Also, I had the great experience of seeing for myself that the recent surgery was a success - it was the first presentation in years during which I didn't have to stop - not for a dramatic pause, but to simply catch my breath.  Wow!  It felt great to just be able to concentrate on my paper and the ideas I was trying to convey instead of constantly thinking, "Just breathe.  Stop and breathe.  You're okay."

Last night, it was my dad's turn to be the speaker.  He was chosen to be inducted into the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame for his contributions to his college baseball team's victory in the 1955 College World Series - the only ACC team (so far, anyway) to ever win that contest.  (Click here for the newspaper article - Dad's on page two and you can access the slideshow from there, too.  I've already posted my favorite a little further down.)  That was his senior year of college and he was the catcher, as you can see from the picture at the top of the post.  It was quite an honor and I know how humbled he felt at being inducted.  I must admit to being right proud of my dad, but not exactly for the same reasons.

You see, I like sports.  Quite a bit, actually.  But I especially like the good qualities that sports can (and often do) instill in the participants.  Qualities such as teamwork, accepting responsibility, a strong work ethic, and sportsmanship are all qualities that are useful off the field as well as on.  In my opinion, my dad has used those qualities to make his community as a whole a stronger, better place.  Among the contributions my father has made to his hometown that were left off his blurb in last night's program are his work in establishing a permanent location for the homeless shelter, his work to get a medical ministry up and running in town for indigent folks who find themselves in need of medical care, and keeping a public food pantry supplied.  He also dresses up as Santa Claus and visits seriously ill children in the hospital around Christmas time, a trip I've accompanied him on and had to admit was just too darned hard to do.  Yet Dad does it year after year.

Baseball?  It's a great game.  And that picture at the top of the post doesn't come close to capturing Dad's glory days.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Down a Notch!

Fall weather has hit here at the Nest and it's quite a welcome relief from the nigh-oppressive heat of a Southern summer.  I had the windows of the house open for few days and then needed to close them up and actually cut on the heat at night!  Oh, it's good to need a thick blanket and have it, isn't it?  The leaves haven't started turning just yet, but it's only a matter of time, and a short amount of time at that.  Then it's time to start thinking about hearty stews, mulled cider, and pumpkin pies.  In short, time to slow down a bit and take things down a notch.

It's fall break at my school this week and the county fair's in town.  It's purportedly the largest county fair in North Carolina and, judging from the extensive schedule of events, I have no plans to challenge that claim.  One of these days, I'm going to see an amateur demolition derby and be on the sidelines of the pig races.  (And don't worry; "New Blood Wrestling" doesn't involve a pool of hemoglobin.  At least, I don't think it does.)

But, as Aragorn might say, it is not this day!

This is the week of the PCA/ACA regional conference and I'm in the midst of packing.  I'll be posting about the conference over at the other blog - click here to go over there.  First post should be up Wednesday night (or so - this whole "taking it down a notch" includes me trying to actually have some vacation built in with this conference.  It's New Orleans, after all, and a boatload of far-away friends are scheduled to be there). Check it out, won't you?  Hear how my anime-purple-streaked hair goes over at the conference.  (Or at home, for that matter!)  Yep, I'm channeling my inner Faye Valentine.  FryDaddy's reaction has yet to be recorded.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Update from the Desk

Working weekend.  I'd sigh, but I have to admit that it's pretty cool to see things get marked off my list.  Moreover, I have to remind myself that these weekend "chores" are the result of some pretty darned cosmically-cool opportunities that came my way and it ill-behooves me to whine about good fortune.  So buck up, sunshine.

What had me chained to my desk this weekend?  Mostly, I've been turning a stack of notes and vague ideas into a coherent presentation for the upcoming PCA-South conference which is scheduled for the beginning of October.  I'm fortunate that the conference coincides with my fall break, but getting this paper ready whilst juggling the responsibilities of five good-sized classes along with some other tasks has not been easy and (let's admit it) a few plates have dropped.  The draft isn't quite finished yet - I have about four pages to go - but the hard stuff is done.  I've covered the basics of feng shui (the link isn't one of my sources, but what the heck), the difference between manga  and anime, some of the conventions of anime (not to give too much away, but look for the cherry blossoms!) and discussed why "cartoon" isn't a dirty word.  I've been creating the bibliography and the accompanying Powerpoint as I went along, so once the draft is complete, revising should be fairly simple.  I have no idea if this project will go beyond the conference, but if it does, I don't have to re-create all the initial research this way.  Hopefully, I'll finish the draft by tomorrow night and walk away from it for a few days before working on revisions.

Also, FryDaddy and I had a chance to be part of the Great Buffy Rewatch's super-special "Once More, with Feeling" episode.  It was VERY last minute and I hope our part is entertaining, because - well, let's just say we really can't rely on super-slick production values.  Tune in to Week 39 of the Rewatch Tuesday night when it becomes available - you get to see us dance!  It may be better than Angel's dancing in Season 1, but then again, there's a reason I don't write about us going out dancing.

You make the call!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Television and Work

Or maybe that should be "television AS work"!  Sounds a bit strange, perhaps, but after hearing about what's going on, you might agree with me.

First up, I'm due to hand in my solo write-up for the ongoing Buffy Rewatch project that's being going on all year.  I'm in charge of three mid-Season 6 episodes which focus on Willow and her downward spiral.  I think the post is nearly ready to send off - it'll be a few weeks before it's published and it's a spot on my plate that I'll be glad to have cleared for other projects.  (It's a crowded plate these days!)  Actually, the post is scheduled to be published when I'll be out of town in New Orleans at the annual conference of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association in the South.  Which brings me to . . .

Second, I'm working on my presentation for the PCA-South conference.  The paper explores the links between Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop and Whedon's Firefly.  I've gone from the stage of "It's a cool idea, but is there enough here to write about?" to the stage of "Gaak! I've got too much to possibly narrow it down to my time limit!  What do I do?"  I guess that's good, but I have to tell you - work, work, work!  (In fact, I have three more books to add into the research draft tonight before I can comfortably consider myself as being done for the day.)

Third, working on these two projects (in addition to everything associated with the job I get paid to do) means making some choices.  One of those choices involved NOT attending the 6th annual "Can't Stop the Serenity" event held by the Charlotte Browncoats today.  While I'm sure that was the right decision - I was able to both edit the blog post and start putting quotes and research in the proper places in my presentation outline - it was not an easy decision.  I like that event so much - it gives me a chance to hang out with like-minded people who are Whedon fans and at the same time, raise some coin for good causes, including Equality Now.  Not to mention, seeing Serenity on the big screen with a bunch of Browncoats is always a good time.

Sigh.  Being a grown up is sometimes not the whirligig of fun I thought it would be back when I was nine.  Still - having these opportunities to write and present and be heard and advance the field of credible academic study of quality television in general and Whedon in particular is not to be sneezed at.

By the way - I watched Sarah Michelle Gellar's return to the small screen with the premiere of Ringer this week.  Quite promising, I'd say.  I detached my brain a little (Identical twins?  And both with dark secrets?  Really?) and had a rollicking good time.  And I'll admit, I didn't see the final twist coming, which is what should provide the show with its oomph and staying power.  Let's see what the ratings say over the next few weeks, but give it a try.

Back to the books!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Out . . .

It's inescapable.  Ten years ago on this day, September 11 stopped being the day between the tenth and the twelfth and instead became a synonym for catastrophic.  All through this past week, just about anywhere you looked were reminders, memorials, and loops of footage of dust-covered, shell-shocked people wandering the streets of New York.


I don't like it.  Not one teensy bit.


I have my own ways of remembering that day.  I re-read the story of the first official victim of that day, at least in terms of death certificates issued.  Father Mychal Judge's story is inspiring, not for his death, but for his life.  There is much in his life to instruct those of us left here on Earth.


In the days immediately following that horrible September morn, my country changed.  And in the ten years since, we've changed more.  And in many ways, I dislike what I see.  We've become fragmented and suspicious.  It's harder to simply disagree with the opinions held by another - instead, we rush to demonize that other person as hopelessly naive at best and downright evil at worst.  We talk, often shrilly, but listen very little.  We're losing ourselves.


I think memorials are a fine thing.  It helps us psychologically to have a physical place to leave flowers and notes and teddy bears and combat boots.  But at the end of the day, memorials are still only places.  By all means, lay a wreath.  But also resolve to work to change the world.  


Abraham Lincoln got this right at the Gettysburg battlefield when he stated that dedicating part of the battlefield was "altogether fitting and proper" but "in a larger sense we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow this ground" for that has already been done by those who struggled there.  Rather, President Lincoln challenged his audience "to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on."  The task was to "highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom . . ." 

Mind you, this is much harder than making pretty speeches and flying the flag.  But it must be done.  For if we permit our hearts to harden to amber and use these days and places to only entrench our own dark fears, we dishonor our heritage.  America is a grand experiment in democracy and, for the most part, we've taken that ball and had a good run with it.  However, success in experiments is rarely total.  We've had setbacks and shameful chapters in our collective history and to refuse to acknowledge that is to willfully remain blind.  We're the home of the representative republic and rugged individualism.  We're the birthplace of the interchangeable part and the assembly line.  We invented powered flight and the computer chip.  Those are American footprints on the moon and we rounded up our own citizens and housed them in camps during World War 2 because we feared almond-shaped eyes.  We were the last industrialized country to abolish slavery and we turned attack dogs loose on citizens who dared to vote.  We're Walt Whitman and Bull Connor.  We're Hetty Green and Jane Addams.  We're robber barons and Labor Day.


It's easy to be fearful and it's hard to be brave, but the ability is in all of us.  So today, don't just fly the flag.  Live the best values it represents.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Visual Delights!

This weekend is one of those lovely crossroads - FryDaddy and I have both reached stopping places on our respective writing projects and, while the next one for both of us is gesturing frantically from the wings, we made a conscious decision to spend the long Labor Day weekend resolutely not working.  As experience (that harshest of professors who refuses to grade on a curve) has taught me again and again, taking time off to breathe is necessary to produce quality work.  Just going and going and going results in motion, but not usually of the forward-reaching kind.  So we've spent a chunk of time watching things that we don't intend to turn into articles, presentations, or chapters.

It's been lovely.

First up, I worked to get caught up on Season 4 of Breaking Bad.  I'm still not caught up on past seasons, but that'll come.  Seriously, if you're not watching this, you ought to be.  At least, you ought to be if you enjoy character-driven drama, seeing the effects of hubris, and flat-out gorgeous cinematography.  The look is lush and the story has that sense of impending doom - bad things are coming, and they were set in motion by conscious choices.  You can build the levee, but it won't hold back the tide forever.  What's even worse is that the high water mark from this storm is likely to be so high you don't even see the mark, for the whole house is underwater.

We also treated ourselves to a popcorn matinee.  (Yeah, the "eat healthy" plan took a hike for the afternoon.  Good for it.)  We decided on Apollo 18, which I will heartily recommend.  It's a member of the "found footage" genre, but don't make the mistake of thinking it's "Blair Witch in Space."  The production values are much, much higher and the story is a keeper for anyone who enjoys a slow burn.  (Blair Witch made me jump, but also irritated me - just follow the river, people!  It'll lead to some sort of settlement.  Always.)  By the way, Apollo 18 is not a film for the "whiz-bang-blow-'em-up" crowd.  I was impressed with the film, which I predict will become a cult classic, despite a plot hole or two.  The tricks with the film stock, the marketing ploy with the website given at the end of the film and the reminder that Watergate did indeed change everything about how we view our own government - all of these are reasons the see the film on the big screen.  Having just read Mary Roach's Packing for Mars, which answers many of those questions you may have had about space travel, but never felt comfortable asking (How do you test a space toilet?  How do you shower in zero-g?), the film has a different level.  Astronauts are carefully vetted for psychological stability as well as desirable mission skills.  It's pretty cramped up there and the flip side is that there's an awful lot of nothin' up there, too.  Going bibbledy isn't an option.

I've read some rather vicious criticism of the film, which leads me to my next point.  No one is going to like everything.  However, if your main complaint is that the film takes too long and isn't scary enough, try watching something that wasn't edited together with smash cuts.  Further, if you want a film where the astronauts are slashed apart and their innards are floating in space (1) this isn't the film for you and (2) exactly what's wrong with you?  Disclaimer:  I count myself in the "I don't like everything" category.  For example, I despise slasher films.  I find them to be uncreative, shocking-just-to-shock, and generally very unkind to women.  Some people like that sort of thing.  I try not to leave sharp objects around such individuals.

Also, one of the actors in Apollo 18 plays one of the leads in Alphas, a SyFy series about super-powered (read: mutant) beings.  It has some promise - there are some very interesting characters and anything that brings the amazingly under-rated David Strathairn to television is worth a look.  The fact that it also gives Ryan Cartwright a role that will make your jaw drop to the point of forgetting his very entertaining turn on Bones is simply a bonus.

Work beckons and a stack of books on anime yearns to be gutted for a short presentation on Cowboy Bebop in about a month, but this was the right call for this weekend!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irons in the Fire!

School has started back - the first week was crazybusy, but with fairly easy-to-manage stuff when viewed individually.  The trick is that the stuff didn't come individually, but rather attacked in battalions, which made keeping the importance of various things in perspective a bit of a trick.  (Forced perspective, perhaps?)  Too many irons in the fire . . .

My nose continues to heal from the recent sinus surgery - I spent Friday morning at the doctor's office discovering just how many different suction tools can be utilized to clear out the *ahem* "debris."  I'll have another couple of these appointments for Dr. Nostrildamus to check on his work and my healing.  (I must say, it wasn't something that exactly hurt, but it sure felt weird, even after the "yummy numby" stuff, which is applied to strips of gauze which are then gently stuffed up each nostril and then left to [no kidding] "marinate.")

The blog post I co-wrote with FryDaddy was published as part of the ongoing Buffy Rewatch - check that out here.  I'll have another one in about a month, but this one was specially special, as it concerned the Season Five episode "The Body," which has always packed such an emotional punch for me.

I've spent the last few days fine-tuning my chapter for an upcoming Whedon project which is to be published by Syracuse University Press, who has some very definite ideas about citation style and formatting madness.  I think it's done, but I'm taking one more look at it tomorrow before I send it off to the editors.  So many little things to fix (along with the big one of "switch all of the internal cites and references to Chicago author-date style" which made me go, "Huh?"), it wouldn't surprise me if something slipped by and I want to avoid that if I can.  I'll own my mistakes, but I'd rather they not be the boneheaded kind.

FryDaddy and I are back to our commuter marriage, since classes have also started for him.  In a way, it was fortunate that we both had writing projects this weekend - he's drafting a chapter dealing with Farscape as a allegory for the Cold War - but I'm already looking forward to next weekend, which we have ruled off as a "we're married; let's act like it" weekend.  Between the doctor's delicate anteater-crossed-with-an-Electrolux procedure and the writing, we didn't have much time to enjoy each other this weekend, and we got spoiled over the summer.

Well, this too shall pass.

Post surgery, I'm discovering that I don't have to hack and cough to clear the clutter from my throat, which means I can push myself with exercise more.  Still not training for any marathons, but it feels good to stretch.  As a reward for hitting the gym today, my toenails are now a gleaming shade of dark, dark purple.  Think black and you'd not be far wrong.

It's all about the small rewards.  And surely I deserve one for (a) not biting the doctor, (b) getting a publishing project another step towards completion, and/or (c) keeping my sense of humor during the first week of the semester, among other alphabetized items.

And I like dark purple.  And the glow from the fire with all those irons in it is actually quite pretty.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nosey About Surgery

I try to post here every week, but I'm a bit behind due to some recent surgery.  I'm well on the way to recovery now and thought I should probably update.  Be warned - while none of the following content is exactly graphic, there's a certain amount of ewwww!  That's simply to be expected with Things Surgical, so let's be grown-ups about it.

The surgery itself was considered routine, but let's face it.  Thanks to amazing advances in medical technology, "routine" is used to describe heart bypass surgery.  It is a mistake to confuse "routine" with "no problem."  Even if the procedure has been done to the point of boredom by the surgical team, your body is still undergoing assault and trauma and you're not likely to feel that great afterward.  In my case, I was dealing with two separate and distinct procedures involving two doctors (no, there was no volume discount on the billing, but at least we could double up and not do this twice).  First, Dr. Gullet, my throat specialist, would go into my trachea with a tiny li'l light and a tiny li'l camera and a tiny li'l laser to cut a star pattern in the scar tissue in my windpipe.  Then he'd gently spread the cut tissue and laser away as much excess as possible, thereby widening the airway.  Scar tissue always comes back - the goal is to (pardon the pun) stretch out the time between surgeries through medication, exercise, and diet.  But I'll keep seeing him always.

Now that's the "routine" part to me.  The surgery involves general anesthesia, but it's short - usually less than an hour.  And it's miles better than it would have been say, thirty years ago when the solution was a tracheotomy and I'd have been breathing through a tube forever.

So let's wave a thankful goodbye to Dr. Gullet and let him go off and do other work on vocal disorders.  Next up to the plate, we have Dr. Nostrildamus, whose specialty is nose stuff.  This is the guy who was going to break and reset the deviated septum that had slowly smushed half my sinuses, then painstakingly rebuild my mutant sinuses which had openings that needed to be closed and closures that needed to be opened.  He would be doing very delicate work from inside the nose, just under the eye sockets.  This was going to take time.

And it did.  Both procedures took approximately five hours. We started a bit later than expected - operating rooms are booked, but things sometimes happen and I don't want anybody pounding on the door and rushing my docs, so we have to be patient while being a patient.  Still - that whole "fasting after midnight" thing is easier when you have to be at the day hospital at 6 am than when it's later.

The surgeries went well - or so I'm told.  As with all good anesthesia, it came with amnesia.  Don't remember a thing.  I could very well have declaimed on literary theory in the recovery room or cussed like a longshoreman on leave - I don't know and they (wisely) won't tell.

But - ow.

I've never had "big" surgery before.  I've never had to stay overnight in the hospital before.  I come from very Calvinist stock and, provided you don't see bone, you simply soldier on.  We were having None Of That.  I was so drugged, hungry, and overall puny that my hands were shaking eating my post-operative applesauce. My feet seemed to belong to someone else entirely for all the good I was having in moving them.

So this is the romantic part.  If you're going to be sick and puny and whiny with pain, it's absolutely marvelous to have someone else there with you.  FryDaddy and I have reached a new level of intimacy that has nothing to do with Victoria's Secret and everything to do with those vows we took more than a year ago.  Face it, my health affects him and his affects me.  So we have to be able to talk about all sorts of things that polite company doesn't discuss and we have to be able to do it without averting our eyes or blushing too much.  (This blog is for public consumption, so let's just say this - anesthesia takes a while to wear off and pain medication has some unusual effects on other parts of the body.  As the book may tell us, everybody poops, but things change after surgery for a few days.)

My nose had "discharge" for two days after the surgery and it was heavy enough to be issued a "nasal dressing" which is a fancy way of describing a thingamabob that straps over your ears and runs under your nose to hold a gauze pad in place so you don't constantly dab at your healing schnozz.  (Yes, the name of the device is real.)  Yes, you look ridiculous.  No, the nurses won't loan you a Sharpie to draw a mustache on the gauze.  It's hard to sleep in, too.  As the nose heals, there is a surprising amount of crusty blood and gunk.  You can't breathe all that well, although stents have been inserted in your nose to help with that.  You just have to tough it out and it'll take longer than you think.  If you have good doctors - they ARE Board-certified, right? - you don't even have black eyes after all of this, but don't think that you're okay.  You're not.  I've been running on about half-throttle for the last few days (due some to the lack of sleep and some to the lack of good breathing and some to the drugs - there was infection in those sinuses) and that's pretty much typical.

But yesterday I had the stents taken out.  (The packing in the sinuses stays for about another week.)  Easy-peasy.  Snip, snip and out come the stitches then gentle pressure and gravity remove the stents which OH, MY GOD, THOSE THINGS ARE HUGE!  AND THEY WERE IN MY NOSE?!? WHAT'S GOING ON HERE??  Yes, I asked to keep one.  I washed it carefully to make it pretty before I posted it here.  The almond is only provided for scale - please don't put either of these up your nose yourself.

Two other asides in this lengthy post - one, when taking out the stents, Dr. Nostrildamus wore one of those Norman Rockwell headbands with the metal disk thing.  I suppose it's intended to reflect light up into the nose, but maybe he's a worshiper of the Egyptian sun god Ra.  Having those stents out feels so good that I don't really care.  Also, that doctor's office has a lady on staff who - seriously - pushes a little treat cart around the the waiting room to provide patients with coffee, candy, and granola bars.  Amazing.  Still plenty of healing to do, but the breathing is already improved.

And that's what I did on my summer vacation.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Will Not Bite My Nails . . .

Nail-biting is a bad habit and usually done as an outward sign of anxiety.  I don't usually engage in it, but lately - well, who could really blame me?  After all, among the things that are on my squirrelly little mind these days . . .

1. Congress is behaving like a large group of spoiled children.  Not wanting to make hard decisions that might cost them votes (oh, no!), they elevated foot-dragging to a near art form, reluctantly raised the debt ceiling (sort of) and then skedaddled from D.C. as quickly as possible to pout in their home states, which led to . . .
2. The FAA furlough mess.  Upwards of 70,000 people were facing furloughs (way to go with that job creation stuff!) because the two houses of Congress couldn't decide how to/whether rural airports should be subsidized by tickets purchased at much larger hub airports.  Sure, that wasn't the only issue.  There was a big fuss about how to get around a labor ruling that would make it easier for airport employees to unionize.  (Let's be clear on that one.  The new rule would require a simple majority of the votes cast to be in favor of unionization.  The old rule would require a simple majority of everyone who's eligible to vote to cast votes in favorregardless of how few/many actually show up to vote.  We don't run Presidential elections that way.)
3. Then Standard and Poor's downgrades the credit rating of the United States and investors begin to act like Chicken Little.  These are the same jackwagons, by the way, who kept many investment banks (Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns among them) at "gold" ratings the banks did not deserve as the banks were in the middle of free fall.  So I'm not sure how much weight I want to give this development, but it's still a Something That Must Be Dealt With.
4. On more local news, classes begin next week and, while I've spent my days on the Hamster Wheel of Paperwork, it seems that there is so very much to get done so that the first day is smooth.
5. I have surgery scheduled in a few days and, minor though it is, I'll admit to being a bit jumpy at the prospect of spending the night in the hospital.  FryDaddy is doing  his best (which is quite good) to reassure me that all will be well, but I'm still nervous and want this to be done with.
6. I have a writing project due in less than a month that involves learning and applying the Chicago style of citation, about which I know exactly nothing aside from the fact that I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with adding commas to deep dish pizza.
7. All of which adds up to -- diet? What diet?  Bring on the fried chicken and pimento cheese and just back off so no one needs to get hurt, Drake!

As far as I'm concerned, there's plenty there to cause nail-biting.  So then my job becomes to search for solutions.

Well, I can't do much about the first three.  Write my representatives, be polite, be persistent and know that America is large enough to withstand any number of idiocies.  (But they do seem to be grouping, don't they?) I try to keep in mind that people -- everybody -- really are doing the best they can with what they have, but some days, that's a harder point of view to maintain than others.

As for #4, who am I kidding?  The first day will be smooth, despite the fact that there will be things that are not quite done.  It'll work.

As for #5, I've got some of the best surgeons in the Southeast, if not the country.  We're talking about relatively minor procedures; I'm just a teensy bit of a wuss about being knocked out and out of control as my insides are being reshaped.  (Although the prospect of performing sinus and throat surgery on myself should make me quake with a totally different kind of fear, don't you think?)

As for #6, I'll learn.  Fast.

And #7 - well, that's a battle to be picked another day.

I've been told that there are some days that you just do your level best to get through without screaming at people.  Come home, pet your animals, wash your face, say your prayers, and go to bed.

And I realize that in life, sometimes you give the advice and sometimes you take it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hunger, Satisfaction, and Dessert

I've been hungry a lot lately.  Well, Mockingbird, you might say reasonably, that'll happen when you're trying to lose the last seven pounds or so.  Rumbly tummies are to be expected.

And I say "fie" to reason!  (I actually do that sometimes.  It leads to a great number of very strange looks in public places and to those people, I often add a stout "harrumph!" to my previously-mentioned "fie"! Umm, I'm digressing here, aren't I?)

Strange how things go in groups.  (Shakespeare had something to say about that, as I recall.)  Yesterday, small Ramona, our god-daughter, was doing the readings at church.  I cajoled FryDaddy into getting up early enough on a blissfully sunny, perfect-for-sleeping-in Sunday to go in support of the young one's efforts.  He manfully pulled himself together (and poured himself a travel mug of coffee for the service - unusual for church, but hey! not at all a bad idea, provided he doesn't use the hymnal as a coaster), but I left without breakfast.  Not so bad, until I realized that the first reading was about "eating what satisfies" from Isaiah.  As if I weren't already keenly aware that I had skipped breakfast, the Gospel reading was the re-telling of a very few bits of bread and fishes being made to feed thousands.  By now, I needed a snack!

Later, we took Ramona to see the new version of Winnie the Pooh.  By the way, if you haven't gone, do.  The film is just delightful, old-school animation, complete with a cartoon short (narrated by Billy Connolly!) a the beginning.  But again - all about hunger.  Pooh must ignore his own Rumbly Tummy to search for Eeyore's misplaced tail.  And I'm trying to be all good, foregoing buttery popcorn and Junior Mints for baby carrots and grapes.


Sigh. One can only be so good for so long.  Then the dietary Mr. Hyde comes out.


Supper last night was a large pizza and Klondike bars.  (That's right - "bars," as in plural.) And it was perfection itself!  Heck, due to some cash register glitch, we were even given the pizzas.

I've beaten Mr. Hyde back into submission today, but I don't regret a bite of that crust nor a drip of those bars.  My goal is to get healthier, not saintlier. I'm so very, very fortunate that when I'm hungry, it's because I've chosen to be so, not because I can't find or afford food to keep the rumblies away.  So yeah, I'm back to "being good," but let's not take that too seriously.

But I'll still take absolution for those Klondike bars from anyone who feels qualified to give it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Of Friends, Food, Bullies, and Vita-Rays

Big week here at the Nest. As you may know from my other blog (click here), I have a friend who is going through some bad times just now, of the hospital variety.  Part of the way I dealt with the shock and sadness this last week involved developing a near automatic pilot path to the local Dairy Queen.  (No kidding - they know me now.)  So part of this week is devoted to getting back into the better habits I had been developing.  There are plenty of better and more productive things I can do for my friend instead of wallowing in the self-pitying Blizzard of Despair.  Besides, a few days of that sort of thing just doesn't feel as good as it used to.  Please keep my friend and her family in your thoughts - this is going to be rough road.

In other news, I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and while I'm not quite ready to go as hard-core locavore as her family did, I'm thinking about trying a few things.  Putting up tomatoes, for example, and maybe (just maybe) trying my hand at making mozzarella.  We'll see.  Great book, by the way and it points up the hidden cost of buying out of season (like asparagus in July, which I am guilty of snatching up).

Have you seen Captain America yet?  If so, wasn't it great?  If not, why not?  Seriously - I've got my cred as a comic geek and this is quite likely the best superhero movie I've seen.  Period.  And I'll admit to going in with a few misgivings.  Cap is hard to get right - it's too easy to make him either too gung-ho, "my country right or wrong" or just pitifully naive - and if they get this wrong, next summer's Avengers movie is going to be hard to get right, since Cap is the heart of that team.  For me, they walked a fine line and balanced the story beautifully.  It's amazing what filmmakers can do once they understand that it's about the story, not the whizz-bang stuff.  It was a smart move to approach this as an origin story - you not only get great villains (who aren't Nazis, but are so evil that they believe that the Nazis are just wusses who refuse to aim high enough), but you get a "just war" against a clear-cut enemy.  This Cap is loaded with pluck, courage, and a finely-tuned moral compass - he's not out to "kill anybody.  I just don't like bullies."  It also comes with an amazing cast, including Hugo Weaving (who totally sells the Red Skull character) and Stanley Tucci.  There's even a woman (Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell) who isn't flailing eye candy.  Go.  Be sure to stay through the very end of the credits - there's an "Easter egg" in there for you.

FryDaddy and I were part of a ceremony yesterday to officially become Ramona's god-parents.  Yep, when she gets a little older and thinks her parents, Victorian Marxist and Barefoot, just don't understand her and why it's so crucial to her high school career to pierce her nose or some other bit of teenage rebellion, she's supposed to come running to us.  We plan to offer a listening ear, an open door and a promise to never, ever take her parents' side "just because."  I further solemnly promise to never tell her how pretty she'd look "if only you'd get that hair out of your face."  But it's so much more than that - it's being there for her when she rubs up against the sharp edges of life and trying to set a good example by right living.  It's showing her how spirituality can make life's inevitable sharp edges more bearable and teaching her that not everyone walks the same path.  It's spending time with her and showing her that she's interesting and valuable and deserves respect and consideration.  (It's also sitting through iCarly re-runs and [this weekend] taking her to Winnie-the-Pooh).  It's meeting her for lunch at school and hearing about gymnastics practice.  It's a humbling experience to realize that we're being asked to take on such a role in a little girl's life and that her parents feel we're up to it.

Big week, as I said.  Oddly enough, I think it all ties back to Cap.  Yes, Captain America is a "super soldier" who's been altered by a top-secret serum.  But, as the film points out, really what that stuff does is just amplify what's already there.  A good man becomes great.  Whether we're trying to make sense of the random "gotchas" of the world or growing a garden or trying to help raise an amazing child - aren't we all just doing the best we can?  Or maybe we're not quite reaching that potential.  Cap knows what the right thing to do is - what separates him from most of us is that he then does it.  We don't have Vita-Rays to enhance our natural abilities or a fancy-schmancy vibranium shield, but we can write our representatives to say, "Hey, this is important to me and I'm watching."  We can speak up when we see unkindness.  We can take a few minutes to drop off used clothing to places that'll get it to those who need it.  Kids are going to dress up as Cap this Halloween, and that's good, but wouldn't it be great to start acting like him as well?

He's the Captain, but we're America.