The Shades of Words

I’m obsessed with words and meanings. I’m a reader. I’m a writer. I’m an English teacher. Words and meanings are my currency. But words and meanings are slippery buggers too.

There’s the denotation of a word – its dictionary definition. Except that any dictionary worth its salt will likely offer a few definitions, not all of which are connected to one another. Then there are words that can be used as different parts of speech, so the denotation depends on the context in which the word was used. Speaker and audience also have to know what all the words in the denotation mean.

Then there’s the connotation of a word – the things different people associate with the word without those associations having to do with the word at all. Some connotations are so widely known that they actually become part of a word’s denotation. But because connotations deal with personal associations, it’s often difficult to know what baggage people are bringing to any given word. Generally, connotations can be sorted into positive or negative.

When teaching the difference between denotation and connotation, I like to use the word “father” as an example. The denotation is male parent; the connotation depends entirely on your relationship with your male parent and whether or not you call him father, dad, daddy, pop, pa, old man etc. We then recognize that certain contexts call for different words that mean the same thing. If you’re trying to butter up your daddio to give you some cash, you might not call him father; you’d use a perhaps more endearing, less severe word. But maybe father connotes an endearment to you and you bristle when I say it’s in any way severe.

That’s what I mean when I say the shades of the word. The light, shadow, color, temperature any given word takes on in a particular context are its shades. And there’s not always an accurate accounting of how others have shaded their words, so meanings often go missed or mixed or lost or assumed.

Love: The English language really fucked this one up when it simplified what the Greeks laid out for us. Philia, eros, platonic, agape… way clearer than a catch all. Thanks, English :::grumble, fist shake:::

Pure: some people think of pure as an alternative to saying virginal or unsoiled or clean. I understand that in some contexts, but where my own writing is concerned, a lean toward a more scientific shade of the word. When I use pure to describe my writing (or what I want my writing to be) I mean “in its most potent form” or undiluted. A while ago when I revisited some of the stuff I wrote in Ireland last summer, I said one piece was approaching pure. It had potential to be one of the purest things I’ve ever written. In that case, I meant undiluted, in its most potent form.

Matter: this word can be used as a noun – what’s the matter? Here it means “problem” usually.  Mind over matter. Here it can mean problem, but might mean circumstance, which has less of a negative connotation.  It can also be used as a verb – You don’t matter. I guess here it means count, belong, have a say in. This one fascinates me because the word sounds so stupid. Some words don’t start to sound stupid until you repeat them a lot, but matter sounds stupid right away.

Fancy: Major bang for your buck because fancy can be used as a noun, a verb, and an adjective. Noun – flight of fancy, meaning some kind of creativity or imagination. Verb – what do you fancy? meaning what do you like (also you fancy him! similar meaning). Adjective – well, it gets even trickier here because one person’s connotation of fancy as an adjective could be very different from another’s. And then there’s “Fancy Dress” in British terms, which might mean you’re going to a costume party even if the costume is decidedly casual.

All of this seemed very important last night when I wasn’t sleeping, though it’s a simple point I’m making: sometimes we have no idea what the fuck another person is talking about because, while we use the same words, we don’t have the same meanings. Whether it’s denotations that include other words we don’t know, connotations that are different from our own or completely unknown even to the speaker’s conscious mind, or all the shades a word’s speaker and audience give it, we are talking past each other if we don’t stop to nail down what someone means by the words s/he uses.

And that’s the difficulty of communication and relating to others.

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Sharing Space

I’m not easy to live with. I know because I’ve lived with myself for nearly 35 and a half years now. God only knows how my mom and older brother managed. I suppose they didn’t have much of a choice because we’re blood. The roommates I’ve had who aren’t blood, well, they deserve consideration for sainthood.

I’ve lived alone for the last seven years, which is a good thing most days. But as I exclaimed “TOO CEREBRAL” last night while I put my face cream on, I thought of all the things my roommates had to put up with for the length of time they chose (were maybe financially forced?) to live with me.

My college roommate, who I was placed with randomly, became my best friend because we were finishing each other’s sentences the day we met. Among other “fun” things she put up with: She allowed me to keep the room at titty-freezing temperatures. She didn’t mind when I decided to block out all natural light in our second semester of freshmen year (I was going through a break up). She was okay with my weird “NO SEX IN THE DORM ROOM” rule (which, of course, I honored too). She got used to and eventually responded when I made random barnyard animal noises because I was bored. Later when we shared an apartment that was only a one bedroom but felt like a palace compared to the shoe boxes we’d shared, she cleaned the bathroom and kitchen because I’m not the best at noticing dirt (low vision and all). She of all my roommates would have had some vague idea of what the hell I was thinking last night when I exclaimed, “TOO CEREBRAL!”

My first NYC roommate came from the John Mayer fan community. We both had specific living requirements for what would be our first apartment in the big bad city. We both also needed our parents to be guarantors on the lease. I paid less rent because I was in a fake bedroom created by putting up a tension wall (now illegal) in the large living room. It was 8 feet by 12 feet, but I made the most of it and could see Broadway from my window. Neither of us were big party girls, so I think the worst thing she had to put up with was one night when I invited some grad school friends back to our place. I was drunk, as were they, but she was not. And she gracefully let us carry on in the living room and didn’t freak out when one of us spilled red wine on the white sectional. I’m pretty sure it stained. I curtailed my random verbal outbursts in the ten months I lived there, so I’m not sure what she would make of my exclamation last night.

My next, and longest, NYC roommate was a girl I’d gone to middle and high school with. We were very close during those years but had gone different ways for college. Back together again, we found a place in Brooklyn that didn’t have a bath tub, but had separate entrances and bathrooms for each of us. It was like living alone except we shared a kitchen and the cat’s attention. In that apartment, she put up with me clogging my toilet and asking her to unclog it. She was used to some exclamations, but they were usually when we were each watching Nip/Tuck in our own side of the apartment and we were shouting commentary to each other instead of watching it together in the same room on the same TV. We had some things to say about Peter Dinklage’s story arch, okay?

We then moved to a two bedroom, one bath in Astoria, Queens. That was my favorite apartment. In that place, she put up with me having my desk in the living room. It was a huge living room, but it was also a huge desk and I was at it frequently. She also let the living room TV be mostly mine because she had a TV in her room. So, by extension, she didn’t complain on weekends when I didn’t leave the couch in front of that TV. I think we were equally messy in the kitchen and bathroom, and neither of us seemed too pressed to clean. Except when our moms came to visit. Or when we had our moms visit with the express purpose of having them clean for us. I think we’re equal with noises in that apartment – she’d play violin in her room in return for allowing me to sing in mine. She would scold the cat when he thought her hand was a chew toy, and I would scare the cat when I came home drunk and danced around to Lady Gaga (roommate was out on those occasions).

I’ve left out the girl I shared a room with for three weeks in Germany. I don’t think she really counts, but it was interesting to arrive and discover that most of the rooms we had in hotels and B&Bs only had one bed, so as strangers we tried not to disturb each other by moving or stealing covers.

You may notice there are no male roommates on the list. I’ve not had a live-in lover, nor did I ever live with a male roommate. No relationship has ever lasted long enough to get to the “Should we try living together?” stage, though when the time comes, I hope that the guy will understand (and possibly appreciate? dare I aim so high!?!) when I make barnyard animal noises to break the monotony… or was that a symptom of being a college kid unchallenged by her classes because she was not living up to her potential? But a live-in lover would hopefully know what I meant by “TOO CEREBRAL” when I shouted it last night. As for male roommates who aren’t lovers, it never came up, but I never pursued it either because I thought I wouldn’t be comfortable lounging in my PJs in front of the TV if a guy were hovering around. What if that second NYC roomie had been a guy and insisted on having his gaming system hooked up to the living room TV? That would not have worked. At all. (Do you like how I stereotyped guys as being gamers?)

But what did I mean, “TOO CEREBRAL!” Well, that’s easy. I was criticizing myself because I’m so hard to live with because I’m too in my own head. Living alone doesn’t necessarily help to cure the thing I was criticizing, but it sure makes it more acceptable to shout my self-ridicule because no one is around to hear.

Fashion is DANGER

If you don’t know the song this entry takes its title from, check it out here because Flight of the Conchords are worth your time.

I bought a sweater from J. Jill. It arrived in the mail today. I love it; however, I don’t feel worthy of its cuteness. It’s stylish. I am not. I have no personal “look” to speak of. In college, I bitched to a friend that I had to get all dressed up for a family thing. Her reply was, “What is dressed up to you, jeans and a t-shirt?” Okay, well, college is a weird time during which you don’t really have to leave your pajamas if you live on campus, which I did all four years. I do know what it means to get dressed up and can do it every now and again, but there’s no overarching theme to my wardrobe. There never has been. I’m all about comfort over style. And this sweater is not only stylish, it is also very comfortable. And I am not worthy of it.

Which makes me think of all the other things that the media tells me I’m not worthy of for various reasons. When did people start caring about the length and thickness of eyelashes? Was it before or after they started to worry about how white their teeth were? My teeth and eyelashes don’t measure up, so I must be a hideous beast. BUT the sweater came in tall sizes, so maybe I’m not doing everything wrong?!

Speaking of advertising, my mom and I have been tracking a trend. Owls in commercials. Mom has a bone spur, so she was fairly inactive when I was home. We watched a lot of MONK, as you do. We observed that an owl is the spokes animal for an allergy medication (xyzal?… wise-all rhymes with, so use an owl… I guess that’s the logic.) Then there’s Trip Advisor. Then we saw one for a different allergy medicine (that one’s name didn’t register in my brain, so YOU FAIL advertising executives!) Since coming back to NYC, I’ve seen an owl advertising glasses and an online university (WGU). That’s five different products or services being represented by an owl. I may even be forgetting one that mom and I saw. Who is doing PR for owls? They are crushing it right now. But it made me wonder because owls are symbolic of wisdom and another societal trend is to de-intellectualize everything and call anyone who values intelligence an “elite.” So while we’re being brainwashed by owl advertising, we’re also rejecting the idea the owl symbolizes (or has symbolized throughout the ages). I don’t get it!

Another ad I really REALLY don’t get, and also find deeply disturbing, like give-me-bad-dreams upsetting, is for a product I can’t identify because I’m so afraid of the … mascot? Is that even the right word? It’s called a puppy monkey baby. It has the head of a pug or bulldog, the body and arms of a monkey (presumably at least, based on the words and the amount of hair) and the butt and legs of a diaper-wearing baby. The… thing… busts through the door of some dudes’ apartment and dances around before waltzing down a hallway. Like I said, I’m not totally sure what it’s selling because it scares me so much that my brain stops working when I see it.

So maybe I shouldn’t worry about my personal style or being worthy of the cute sweater. Maybe I should continue to do whatever I want in terms of my clothing, beauty, and hygiene. Maybe ignoring any and all media messaging is impossible but admirable. Maybe I’m going to go buy every product and service represented by an owl.

Or maybe I’ll just wear the cute sweater and feel like I’m cute for a few hours of my life.

Rainy Day Thoughts

Most of what I’ve been up to this summer has involved finding a routine for myself when I’m not working. I didn’t expect to be in this situation during my leave of absence. I expected to either be teaching internationally or pursuing a second Masters internationally. Both paths would have provided a schedule for me. As is usually the case, plans mean nothing. I’ve faced the challenge of figuring out what a day looks like if I only have myself to answer to.

My cat getting diagnosed with diabetes certainly added a bit of structure, so now the first order of business is to feed him and give him his insulin. If I’m on track, the next item on the “to do” list is stretching. I know this sounds stupid, but I don’t stretch nearly enough and my body makes weird sounds as punishment. I probably don’t stretch the correct way or amount, but I’m working on it. It’s a part of my day. Then I go for a walk. I don’t measure my walks in miles or time really; I just walk.

This morning I walked even though it was drizzling when I left my apartment. I don’t mind clouds and drizzle. I don’t mind heavier rain either. About two thirds of the way through my walk today, the rain picked up. It didn’t bother me at all. It did prevent me from sweating, but the cool temperature did that too. It also got me thinking about other times I’ve been caught in the rain and how mother nature flipped a switch as soon as September rolled around.

My first time in London was to study for a semester in 2002. I arrived in late August to gorgeous blue skies. Everyone had warned me that London would be dreary, dark, damp. I didn’t care. And it didn’t appear to be true all through the rest of August and into September. There were occasional afternoon showers, but nothing lasting. One of my professors warned us that we shouldn’t speak to soon, that come October 1st, there wouldn’t be a single day without rain, even if the sun tried to peek out for a few minutes. I didn’t really believe her, but sure enough, October 1st came and the gloom settled in to stay. It’s not like it was always pouring down rain, but it was noticeably less sunny than it had been my first five or six weeks there. The days also started getting shorter. It was my first experience being that far north, so it took some time to adjust to a 3pm sunset in early December.

It seems like the northeast US has taken a cue from British weather this year. On September 1st the temperature dropped and the rain started late in the day on the 2nd. I’m sure there are a lot of people complaining about that, but I’m not among them. I’ll take cooler temperatures any day. As my walk today showed, I don’t melt in the rain (even though the majority of what I ate yesterday was sugar, I am apparently not as sweet as sugar, melt in the rain).

Two distinct rainy London memories came to mind as I walked, the first more nonsensical than the second. Here’s the second, which I also wrote a song about at the time (ha ha, I thought I could write songs!)

I was living near the Baker Street tube in Regents Park, so if you picture central London as a clock face, I was at 12 o’clock. I’d made plans to visit a friend at her flat in Pimlico/Victoria on a Sunday evening. That’s about 6:30 on the central London clock face. The easiest way to get their would have been the circle line (yellow) because, well, it runs in a circle around central London; however, the fastest way to get there is cutting through the clock, taking Bakerloo (brown) south and changing to Victoria (light blue) at Oxford Circus.  Even with the transfer on a weekend evening, it was faster than all the stops on the Circle line. I hadn’t chosen my footwear, jeans, or coat wisely, nor did I have a mobile phone, especially not one loaded with Google Maps, at the time. The soles of my shoes were too thin, the hem of my jeans was too long, and my jacket was wool, not some high tech  quick dry material made in a lab. I got to Victoria station and remembered that my friend told me to exit through the mall that is attached to it, except I couldn’t remember which direction. Good job some of my wandering around was inside, otherwise I would’ve been drowned. Enough of it was outside, though, that the cold November evening rain soaked me to the bone. My shoes might as well have been flippers. My jeans absorbed the puddled water all the way up to my knees, where the driving rain took over saturating my thighs. While my upper body was warm inside my wool coat, I did begin to smell like a wet dog, as you might expect with a wool pea coat. I didn’t have a hat or umbrella, so my hair was plastered to my face and neck. I wandered around Victoria and Pimlico for at least an hour before I gave up and went back to the dorms.

You might think the tenor of the song I wrote when I finally dried off and got warm would have been reflective of the misery such a failed visit with a friend made me feel. Not so! It’s entitled “I’m Alright” and the sentiment is approximately “sometimes you get caught in a cold downpour, but HEY. It’s okay.”

Remember the Sabbath and Keep It Holy 

It’s Sunday. Sundays have been poetry days, at least a few times this summer. Today still might be a poetry day; it’s only 1pm yet, so there’s no telling. But Sundays are originally church days, and I went to church with mom this morning. 

I woke up before 7 to make sure I was fully alert to give my diabetic fur face his insulin. Every vertebrae in my back said to go back to sleep, but I forced myself to get up for a short walk before grabbing coffee and getting ready to get my God on (does anyone say that? I just did, so someone else might.)
Mama raised me Lutheran. I was baptized, given my First Communion, and Confirmed in the same church my mom still goes to. She was raised Lutheran, but her dad was Irish Catholic, although his family disowned him when he married a Protestant girl. Dad took me to a bunch of different churches when I was growing up, none consistently. The one I remember most was a Baptist church with a scary preacher. Dad goes to an Episcopal church now. Both mom and dad do daily devotions, a habit mom has had as long as I can remember. 

When it was time to be Confirmed after learning my Catechism (at the end of 8th grade when most of the kids were 14) I looked around at other faiths before I committed to being Lutheran. A few Catholic friends let me go to their services and ask questions. A few Mormon friends let me do the same. I’d been going to Lutheran Sunday school since pre-K, going to Lutheran sleep away camp since I was 9, singing in church choir since I was 10, volunteering at church… there was no way I was going to be anything other than Lutheran, but I wanted to look around.

My older brother stopped going to church after he was Confirmed. That was the deal he’d made with mom. I had no such deal because to me, the stuff the high school youth group did was the reward for leaning all the theology. Those guys went to Christian rock concerts. They went on summer mission projects with Habitat for Humanity. They had pool parties and dances. They had county-wide scavenger hunts and progressive dinners. They were so freaking cool! I had only gotten a small taste of all that awesome in middle school, so stopping after Confirmation seemed like giving up before the pay off. 

I was active at church all through high school. I was a little less involved my senior year because I was tired of everything and was focused on my singing. I went to a college associated with the Lutheran church, so I got a lot of scholarship and grant money for being a good little Lutheran during high school. 

I’m typing on my phone right now, so I’m not going to get deep in to theology or my history at church (and outside of it where I’ve lived my faith and it has been tested). I’m taking a minute to write about church though because I’ve noticed things about people who are “churched” and people who aren’t. 

“Churched,” to me, means that you grew up going to church and Sunday School, no matter what denomination. In my mind, you do not have to still go to church or even believe in Jesus to be “churched.” It happened in your childhood, and there’s no erasing it. I’ve noticed that “churched” people tend to be readers. It doesn’t matter what they read, just that they do. I’ve noticed that “churched” people are service oriented, meaning they like to know that what they do (whether for a living or in their free time) has some positive impact on or for others. I see both of these qualities even in people who have completely turned away from religion. Regardless of what they believe now, the tenets of study (reading) and service have remained. 

Then there are the silly things like the call and response that is rote memory. Comedian John Mullaney has a bit about that in one of his stand ups. “Churched” people know what to say when someone says certain phrases. They know there’s one and only one expected and accepted reply. There’s also the songs all “churched” people know. Of course, that gets a little more specific if you’re talking to someone who was not only churched, but who was also a camp kid. 

“Churched” people tend to have a wider vocabulary in my experience. That probably goes along with the reading, but it also has to do with the fact that going to church used to be a huge part of socializing. Church terms used to be a part of daily language because the church was the center of the community. Congregation and parishioner are not archaic words to someone who is “churched.” Then there’s the whole extension of Catholic schooling, and those guys had to study Latin, which totally boosted their lexicon. 

“Churched” people are no better or worse than people who aren’t “churched.” Certainly the conclusions I’ve drawn are limited to my observations. It’s one way to have something in common with someone I guess. It’s also a fun way to be your non-churched friends’ go to girl when they have questions about the Bible or Christianity. 

Memory Lane at the Airport 

I am habitually early for many reasons. The most influential is that my dad’s side of the family is habitually and unapologetically late to a degree that I find disrespectful. I compensate by being everywhere I need to be well before I need to be there. 

The airport is no exception, even though I then find myself wasting my life looking at my phone or thumbing through magazines I know I’m not going to buy. Sometimes I people watch, but more often people are watching me because the airport, any airport, is always full of folks who’ve never seen a woman who is 5’10” and/or a person with albinism, let alone both. 

Sometimes I walk miles if several terminals are connected. I figure that is a good counterbalance to the time I will spend hunching into a seat that is too small for a child, let alone a large adult. Sometimes, like today, there isn’t anywhere to go. I’m in a terminal with only eight gates in a circle. Yes, I could read a book, but I’m not fully awake, so I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep. 
Instead I checked my Timehop. For those who aren’t familiar, Timehop is an app that links to your social media accounts and pictures in your phone to collate a history of your life as far back as those records go. Some days are more exciting than others, but it’s always kind of fun to see what I was thinking or doing on this day X years ago.

Today’s fantastic!

Last year I dreamt about The Americans actor Costa Ronin (he plays Oleg and I love him).

Two years ago I flew to Chicago to visit my brother where we watched a presidential debate with his girlfriend and turned it into a drinking game.

Three years ago I was in Colorado for a family reunion. We went ziplining in the morning and white water rafting in the afternoon. Me and my cousin were the only two people in our raft that didn’t fall out. I’d never seen my dad afraid of anything until that day, and he may or may not think I tried to drown him. I didn’t. 

Four years ago I was on my way to Austin to visit a friend. 

Five years ago I have nothing on record, but I assume I was doing something as amazing as the rest of this list. 

Six years ago I was in Vancouver. Apparently I had chocolate on my face and none of the lovely Canadians told me. There were also crazy riots in London that day, and I was thankful that my best English friend was with me in Van instead of at home.

Seven years ago I was in Edinburgh at a wedding. I had quite a bit of champagne but just one haggis ball. I tried some Scottish dancing, which I’m no good at, and generally had an amazing time. 

Eight years ago I was agonizing over making a decision about whether to take the job at the Tech school or stay at the Arts school even though they didn’t know if I would be teaching English or history or playing substitute whenever they needed. My mom, who is my sounding board, was in Mexico with her boyfriend, so I turned to my former boss and mentor. I decided to decline the Tech school even though I had no idea what I’d be teaching at the Arts school. I felt good about my choice, but it was negated a few weeks later in one of life’s surprise twists. 

That’s as far back as Timehop goes. That’s probably a good thing because I’m full up on memories! And today I’m off to Quebec, so add another fun memory for next year. 

Aromas of Pet Parenting

My current fur-faced baby, Rocky cat, has been thinning out lately. One of the cats I grew up with tipped the scales at 20 pounds, so I like ’em thick. Rocky has never been huge, but recently he’s just fur and bone. He hasn’t changed his eating or pooping habits, so I didn’t think much of it, but I finally took him to the vet today. He hates getting into the carrier. That was our first hurdle.

At the vet, he got good marks for his teeth and his rub down. They took some blood and a urine sample, both of which I should hear about next week. I have to collect a stool sample for him (fun) and bring it in. They said he may need an ultrasound of his tummy if nothing comes up in the various tests just to see what’s going on. We were cleared to go while we “wait and see” if anything is wrong or if he’s just getting old (he’s nearly 12).

On the way home, I walked a different route taking in some Brooklyn scenery. It was more suburban than I’m used to, and I was enjoying the front porches and how the morning sun was burning off the storms that had moved through earlier. I had the carrier on my right shoulder and my right hand stuck through a small unzipped portion so I could pet Rocky to calm him down. He mewed a bit, but I told him we were on our way home.

I don’t know if it was a plant I walked by or the fact that I am a spaz and don’t breathe right, but all of a sudden I was coughing like I had cotton in my throat. I couldn’t get any air. I was just around the corner from my apartment, and I have an inhaler (presumably for allergies, but I’m not totally sure why the doctor prescribed it). I kept walking and coughing. Rocky didn’t protest the odd movements because I kept my hand on him. Once home, I let him out, kept coughing, began sneezing, and started itching all over. I got some water, the inhaler, and some Benadryl. Once I got myself together, I got Rocky a treat.

That’s when I noticed his entire hind half was wet. The vet said he had two patches on his hind legs that would be damp from the alcohol swabs to draw blood. But his tail and legs were soaking wet. I picked him up and sniffed. Yep. He had peed all over himself in the carrier. Which is fabric, not plastic. I hadn’t noticed because I was too busy having a weird allergy attack. I inspected the carrier and it’s trashed. That’s when the Benadryl started to hit, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I put the carrier in the bath tub, tried unsuccessfully to wipe Rocky dry, and passed out on the couch.

I woke up to find that the unmistakable odor of cat piss had permeated the bathroom door and spread throughout the apartment. I decided I’d try to clean Rocky a little more thoroughly, but before I found him, I slipped. On two piles of cat puke. Which also has a less-than-pleasing stench. I prioritized the puke because I didn’t want to slip again and land on my ass. My earlier allergy attack had cleared my nostrils so I got the full bouquet of barf as I cleaned it. Next it was on to the carrier. It’s not salvageable. Somehow, though, it has invaded the entire apartment. Rocky has NEVER peed outside of his litter box. Ever. I don’t have a lot of carpet to soak up the undying smell even if he did, but it’s new for me to be assaulted by the stink of cat piss. Fabreeze-scented garbage bags and “twilight woods” candles to the rescue.

Now I have to trick Rocky into letting me clean his hind half so the dried piss doesn’t cling to his fur. I’m not sure if you know about cats and water – they don’t mix. Needless to say, I’m not having a great day. It’ll be even worse if something IS wrong with him because I hate to put him through the ordeal of going back to the vet or, worse, having to force medicine down his throat.

The Hardest Question

There were A LOT of great quotes from season 7 episode 3 of Game of Thrones. Sam explaining HOW he figured out how to treat grey scale. Sansa trying to understand what the fuck Bran was talking about. And Tyrion pressing Jon Snow, only to hear, “I know it’s a good question. I’m looking for an answer!” (Side note: I want to live on Dragonstone.)

It’s perfect for what I was thinking about after the ophthalmologist today. I’m used to feeling like a freak most places I go, but the technicians today took it to new levels. In a practice of at least 15 eye doctors, I mistakenly assumed the techs and nurses had seem someone with Albinism before. Not so for the many technicians whose minds I blew when they tried to use any of the machines to get a read of my vision. I haven’t had a checkup in over a decade, so I know some technology has changed. There was more computerized stuff than I remember, but therein was the problem. Because my eyes move constantly (nystagmus) the readings probably aren’t accurate. I tried to explain that to two technicians at the first set of machines. They were too busy speaking Spanish to each other about how weird my results were. (NB: I speak enough Spanish to understand everything they said.)  I was then sent to a machine that was intended to take some sort of image of my eyes while I looked at a blue light and a red line. A third technician began the test and got frustrated. A fourth, this one an Asian dude with a rockin’ man bun, helped. He doesn’t even work there regularly I learned later in the appointment, so why is he the only one who didn’t seem to freak the fuck out that these fancy machines aren’t cutting the mustard when it comes to measuring my peepers? Ugh. One of the confused technicians then tried to have me read a vision chart. That was a laugh. Next came a peripheral vision test, which I failed and cheated on by moving my head. Short cuts! I told her before all of that that I’m legally blind, blowing her mind a second time.

“How you get around?”

Well, as I’ve mentioned, ma’am, I’ve been this way since birth and I’ve been adapting that long too. “You’re 35 now.” Yes, that’s what the chart says. “When your vision problems start?” When I was born. It hasn’t gotten any worse. I just need a checkup.

The doctor popped his head in at that point because I assume the other technicians had alerted him to the “alarming” results the machine tests spit out. Thank God he knew what he was doing. Tech One told him I couldn’t do the peripheral vision test and launched into something else. He cut her off, “no, she wouldn’t be able to do that. She has Oculocutaneous Albinism.” (Words the tech had a great deal of difficulty finding in the computer when she was trying to enter my info). So, my ocular muscles suck as does my peripheral vision. I knew that. Can we get on with it?

“Can I give her drops?” Because apparently my eyes are so out of the ordinary to this woman who works in an eye doctors’ office that she wasn’t sure if she could perform the basic exam requirement of dilating my pupils. Y’know what? I wish I had answered for her and escaped without the dreaded drops, but the doctor set her straight.

I got the drops and waited for the doctor. Like I said, thankfully he and his guest doctor (from Chile, so of course I mentioned Neruda) knew their shit. My eyes are great, exactly in the middle of the range of expectations for someone with OCA. The doctor is especially interested in it as a research topic and personally because he has a first cousin with albinism. He wanted to get some residents to look because it would’ve been a great teaching moment. They were all at lunch, which is where I wanted to be.

With a great report, I wanted to find a dark room and lay down until the drops wore off, but I had to get baseline images. A third machine. Three technicians trying to figure out the best way to make the machine work with the freak show, uh, I mean me. Again, Asian man bun was the only one who acted like he had any idea what he was doing. If I didn’t like the doctor so much, I might have had a hissy fit at that point.

With a massive headache and worse vision than usual thanks to the drops of death, I made my way home thinking about the question “how?”

In teaching, we talk about developing thought-provoking, open-ended questions and whatnot. We tend to say WHY questions are the most difficult. I’m not so convinced when it comes to life outside of teaching. Why is often completely inexplicable in life. Why does shit happen? Philosophers have been asking that forever. I get into that sometimes, and it’s fun. But HOW. How is a tricky sucker because people ask all the time and science tries to answer.

There are some HOW questions that I’m sure someone can answer but would be impossible for the layperson to understand, like how does wifi work?

More often people ask me HOW questions that I can’t begin to answer.

“How do you get around?” I don’t know, with my feet. To the best of my ability. The way every other human being “gets around” in that my brain sends a message to a certain part of my body to MOVE and my body does… It’s not like I was given a choice about my vision, so it never occurred to me to do anything differently than the way I perceived other people “get around.”

“How do you teach high school?” Like I was born to do it. I listen to my students. I give a shit about them as human beings. I know that they are probably smarter than I am in tons of ways, so I respect them for that while keeping my place of authority by being an expert in my subject area. How do YOU work in a cubicle? Oh right, you get your ass up and there on time and do what your boss asks because you want/need a paycheck. Next dumb question.

“How did you not have a nervous breakdown?” or “How do you deal with the stress?” or any other HOW questions about depression and anxiety…. It’s so hard to answer. But I think it’s like my vision… It’s not like I have a choice. Yeah, do I feel like it takes everything in me to get out of bed some days? YES YES YES. How do I do it? Because I know staying in bed more than one day isn’t an option. How do I keep it together when something horrible happens, how do I stay calm in crisis situations, how to I put up with this or that? Because it’s not an option to lay face down, pounding my fists into the ground and screaming, so that’s how. I know there’s no choice, so I do what I can.

“How do you know that?” When I know something about a friend’s life that s/he hasn’t told me directly. Intuition. Empathy. I pay attention. I might be a little psychic?

It’s funny because we think HOW can be broken down into steps that are transferable to anyone. But we all know that’s not true. If it were that simple, we could all do things that some people are clearly better at than others. HOW do you hit a home run? Science tells us about speed and force and angles and steroids, which is only part of the answer. Think about it. It’s a process question. That means you have to understand the process and be able to articulate it in a way that makes sense to someone else. That’s a lot harder than the three letters H-O-W lead you to believe.

So, HOW do I do anything? It’s the hardest question.

Measures of Friendship

I’ve been very social for my summer self this week. Dinner with a friend on Tuesday, another Friday, and a Jersey City double header today. That’s well above average for a non-travel summer week. It reminded me of some weird musings I put to paper last summer and other ideas about levels of friendship particular to me.

The core of any friendship has to be laughter, and this week’s hangouts were not disappointing in yielding and/or solidifying inside jokes. I’ll start there, in no particular order:

Girl party!

-You’re his favorite! -Does that title come with a cash prize?

Is that Kavanaugh with a K?

Interrupted work flow.

Y’know that time I got wasted and snorted coke off that guy’s dick.

Grom!

Your hair is white and your legs are white!

I said, “I want,” and he said “no” (one) I said “I want,” he said “no” (two… up to five).

Comparable loss.

A forum… for stuff. And things.

I’m very lucky to have friends who are as weird as I am and/or forgive my weirdness. I know they’re all excited to see what I do with my “gap year,” “time out,” “walk about,” and that is contagious, especially when I remember they’re all cheering for me.

Now, again in no particular order, some measures of friendship – at least in my book.

You’ve invited me to your home (childhood, dorm, adulthood).
I showed up.
I slept there.

I’ve invited you to my home (childhood, dorm, adulthood).
You showed up.
You slept there.

We’ve road tripped together and you didn’t mind that I sang and/or tried to control the radio (car, van, bus).
We were going to a concert.

You steer me away from stepping in dog poop and/or tell me the ground is uneven up ahead and/or tell me how many stairs I have to go down.

You know to hold out a hand for me to hold when there is ice on the ground (whether it’s daylight or night, whether I’m drunk or sober).

You’ve met at least one of my siblings.

We have performed together (school, church, karaoke).

We have gotten shitfaced together.
You’ve been around the next morning/afternoon when we wake up hungover.

You’ve seen me sleeping and/or crying and/or puking.

We’ve played any board and/or card game.

We’ve watched a World and/or Euro Cup match together.

I’m not a very social creature, so you should feel accomplished and special if I’ve ever left my home and/or pajamas to spend time with you.

 

Works in Progress

Sometimes I can tell before getting out of bed that the day is going to be a disappointment. It’s not that my expectations for any given day are all that high, but there’s a sense that some are just duds and you shouldn’t even try.

Today is definitely a losing day. The water in my taps is leaving me thirsty – there’s a poem in the making if ever there was. The vet I usually take my cat to is permanently closed. I went to the grocery store thinking I’d be inspired to decide what I want to eat but walked out with a bagful of stuff I don’t really want. Nothing’s going to satisfy me, which is partially my fault because I don’t know for sure what I want.

There’s no predicting when this kind of day will strike, but it is predictable that everything is a bummer. The best course of action is to curl up with a book to escape into and go to bed as early as possible. Chances are good that the next day will be better, less blah.

But when I’m trying to make new habits, including writing every day and taking care of myself physically, days like this feel like failures. They aren’t. They’re just inevitable down days. They’re opportunities for me to figure out how to go easier on myself, to not beat myself up, to look at the progress I’m making.

I’ve only been at this “new routine” effort for two weeks. It takes at least a month to develop a habit, so trying to break several bad habits while I make better ones is bound to take longer, to have some road blocks along the way.

I’ll remind myself what I’ve been working on. I’m brewing something about invisibility and untouchability that might turn into a poem if I ever pour out the words from where they’re stewing. I’m working on Jeremy from the story about Hannah and Katie, which is proving very emotional because there’s love and loss there, and lots of history. I’m taking care of at least one piece of personal business a day, whether it’s making a doctor’s appointment or researching COBRA for when my leave insurance runs out. I’ve been thinking about a week’s worth of blogs about song lyrics and what I think of them – this might produce something concrete fastest because I realize that I haven’t written much about music yet, which isn’t me at all. Music is air; I have to have it around all the time.

Yeah, today’s a wash. But my iPad is almost charged so I can get back to another world soon. I got a bottle of water because I am literally and metaphorically thirsty, even after drinking the requisite 8 cups of tap water yesterday. The weather is perfect by my standards – cloudy, breezy, cool. I’m going to hang out on the couch by the open window, maybe the cat will come keep me company, and I can go back to bed before I try again tomorrow.