Sunday, May 30, 2010

Clorox Was My Cologne

When I was fifteen, on Memorial Day weekend, I would've been somewhere swimming and getting sunburned. At the local pool, I was the big showoff on the diving boards, because my mother, who was a swimmer and diver at SFU, had taught me a few things. I'd also taken diving lessons on vacations to Sea Island- although an overthrown dive on an untested board is what caused the first shoulder dislocation and ended any thoughts on my part of competing. The breaks would find me sitting on the concrete deck, frying, drinking diet Double Cola, Walkman on and with some cryptic paperback in hand. Oh, and the absolute worst part was that I swam so often that by the time I was supposed to be over at the ball diamonds to manage/coach, I wasn't able to put my contacts back in. I'd change into dry clothes, schlep down the path, and hope nobody saw me in glasses and without makeup.

Since people felt that my family "had money", a summer job was out of the question because those went to kids who needed them. My mother routinely purchased us a pool pass, dropping Little Sister and me off every day and picking us up late in the afternoon at closing time. Looking back at pictures of myself, I can really tell how red my hair turned from the chlorine every year...and I smelled like bleach a lot of the time, too.

I was the only kid who did inversion dives. My mother scolded me over it every time somebody brought it to her attention; she had seen a teammate accidentally scalp herself in college by misjudging her kickback going off the board- but even Greg Louganis did that once during the Olympics- it happens. I was pretty gutless about a lot of sports, especially after I lost my hearing due to getting clocked with an aluminum softball bat, but put me in water and I'm fearless. I put up with a lot of taunting about my weight from a friend's brother who was a lifeguard, but being naturally sarcastic and intolerant of him in particular, I'd wait a while into the day and land a well-calculated cannonball near his chair. He was forced to sit there, damp and clammy, until he could swim during the next break.

Ah, youth. If I could get just a pool membership at the Y, I'd do it. Water's the only place I've never felt borne down by gravity. Swimming is something that I miss. No, I don't look too hot in a swimsuit, but I really don't care. It's like going to a club to dance- I'm not there for the show, I'm there to swim, and smell like a load of whites on washday.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

On my class night, which is celebrated the night before commencement at my high school, I read Longfellow's "A Psalm of Life". It was my benediction, a painful bow to the hollow year leading up to that moment. The line that keeps floating back to the surface these days is "let the dead past bury its dead".

I think we all hope to be remembered, and remembered fondly, but sometimes...we're forgotten, and deliberately so. People have their reasons; moreover, they have the right to excise from memory that which is unpleasant, painful, or useless to them.

Depending on your point of view, I'm either blessed or cursed with an excellent memory from which I have trouble deleting things, events, and people. Part of it may lie in the fact that I don't make friends easily. Part of it may also be that I'm fairly lonely at the moment, which supplies an inordinate amount of time to dwell on this. My mother is fairly critical of social media, but that vicarious contact is pretty much all I have at present.

Someday when I feel like crawling out of this hole, I might make some vague stab at living again. For now, I really don't feel like trying.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It Feels Just Like a Mosquito Bite...

When I was fifteen, my father decided to test me for diabetes, and in those days, they didn't just lance your finger and use a blood sugar monitor to do a preliminary test...they drew a full vial of blood, fasting, and ran an entire workup.

I've had chronic allergies for as long as I can remember- they started testing me by lancing my fingers for blood samples when I was two, and the pads of my fingertips all bear small scars as a permanent reminder. I was, shall we say, somewhat averse to giving blood samples, despite my father's office nurses being the best phlebotomists in the county.

I did the only thing a mature teenage girl would do: I crawled under my father's desk and wouldn't come out, for over an hour.

The nurse in question that day has a daughter who is year younger than me, so she levelled her best weapon: "If you do not come out from under that desk RIGHT NOW, I will make sure that Hopkins finds out that you hid under your daddy's desk like a two year-old!", using her daughter as the conduit for that piece of information, no doubt- trust me, nobody could've gotten out from under the desk any faster.

Oh, and the tests were negative. They're always negative. Dad kept testing me because I was overweight, and two of my great-grandmothers were Type II diabetics. The only time I ever exhibited insulin resistance was when my weight peaked at close to 400lbs., six years ago...and yet, it never occurred to him to test my thin younger sister.

Yes, that's the same sister who is a brittle Type I diabetic.

Much as I hate to admit it, it's better to know than not, although try getting that logic past your teenager. Predisposition to diabetes is hereditary, and in my case, although I'm as white as WonderBread if you're standing right in front of me, I'm part Cherokee- which elevates my risk factor. After spending time with my father's side of the family last weekend, where we are somewhat deceptively (if not obviously) of mixed race, I had a long conversation with my sister about this...and then a scenario that we discussed began unfolding this morning.

I hope not, oh, how I hope not. We cannot change what is, and genetically, we cannot alter what will come if our DNA conspires against us. The full panel results will not be back for a few days, and in those days, let us pray...

No, Sweetie, I'm Just Fat

Irony, thou art a cold-hearted b*tch- apropos of two of my recent blogs, one dealing with my unmarried, childless state and another about the painful nature of being judged on one's appearance, something happened that totally blew me out of the water. It's not the first time, but it's been several years (in fact, I can pinpoint it as when I had my very first library job right out of grad school in '95) since the previous incident.

Last night, as I stood patiently waiting to join the iPhone Nation via my local WalMart, a woman wandered up to the iPhone display with her young son, a boy about twelve or so years old. We started talking about the advantages and disadvantages of various cellular plans and phones, until about five minutes into the conversation when she reached out, touched my waist, and asked, "Are you having a boy or a girl?"

In her defense, I was standing with my back swayed, hand on my abdomen, and I was wearing a high-waisted maxi dress that could've easily been misconstrued as a maternity dress, but still...I realized she was earnest, and responded, "Oh, no, sweetie, I'm just fat." Of course, I was thinking, "Wow, that was just one of the rudest things anyone has ever said to me!"

Her son turned beet red and started looking for the nearest rock under which he could crawl. She immediately began apologizing, which only made it worse, because after about the seventeenth, "I'm really, really, REALLY sorry!" I was getting a little tired of excusing her for it.

Adding insult to injury, it turns out that her sister-in-law works with me and her mother-in-law is also a native of the town where I grew up. EXTRA BONUS! The poor kid was standing there about to spontaneously combust; I didn't know that people were still capable of blushing that hard.

I'm not really sure why, but I felt compelled to try to put her at ease...I think mostly for the sake of her son. I guess I should be used to it by now, since my size has made me fair game all my life. Most of the time, I'm simply invisible. Last night, I wished I could've vanished.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spinsterhood and Bluestockings

A couple of times in the past, I was engaged to be married, and for various reasons, it just never happened. In retrospect, it's probably just as well...I've discovered, in the course of the last year, that in many ways I haven't had a whole heart to give to anyone since I was about fifteen. It's unfair to every man who's ever crossed my path; I try to be as present in the moment as I can, but it cheats them so terribly. It took me a very long time to recognize the truth, let alone admit it. It's my fault. There's nobody else to blame but me, myself, and I.

It never really bothered me so much that I didn't have children (since I always thought I'd make a lousy parent) until my father's best friend recently became a grandfather. My parents went nuts over the baby. Dad ran out and bought him a Red Ryder BB gun and a tiny little baseball glove. Mom ordered some excruciatingly cute baby clothes, both for the shower and also at Christmas. There are pictures of little Avery on their refrigerator. I admit that I participated in the hoopla, finding one of those little hooded bath towels done up to look like a turtle- I've always been fond of the child's father, who is quite possibly the only baby whom I ever asked to hold.

I'm thankful that so many of my friends have children, by all accounts good, decent children, to carry on their legacy. Given my sister's brittle Type I diabetes, I seriously doubt that I'll ever have the opportunity to even be an aunt. It would've been fun to be an aunt...or to be like my godparents, and at least spoil someone's children dead rotten a couple of weeks every summer. Two of my friends from back home who also blog write at some length about their children, who seem normal, healthy, and well-adjusted (although my sister's college roommate has a teenager, with a big, neon, capital "T" right now). Wow, I never thought I'd miss having the opportunity to be a band booster or soccer mom, you know?

My godfather is in his early eighties now, my godmother, in her mid-seventies. I worry about them, and who will take care of them. It's difficult enough to be one of two caregivers for aging parents- but what about the people who don't have children or extended families? I see myself in that situation eventually, and quite probably alone. That's the price of independence, I guess, and being so single-minded about my career that I have almost no life beyond it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What We Leave Behind

(Ed. note: just after I posted this, I recalled the horrifying moment during which Her Honor's mother, my sixth grade math teacher, said to me on the first day in her class, "Oh, yes, I certainly remember you. You had such a lovely little white dress for kindergarten graduation, that you pulled up over your head." I wanted to d-i-e when she said it. Miss Bernadean scares me to this day, although I count her daughter among my friends in Hopkins' graduating class.)

I've just been reminded that I was in kindergarten for three years- not because I was that slow, mind you, but because I started when I was three years old.

You're reading that correctly. I should've graduated from high school in 1985, two years ahead of when I actually did. I was precocious enough that I was starting to get on my mother's nerves by the time I turned two; I was already fully articulate and could read and speak well enough to order coherently from a restaurant menu without assistance. After fending off a couple of well-meaning little old ladies who thought I was a Little Person while we were having lunch at Kunz's The Dutchman in Louisville, Mom decided she needed to do something with me.

I was a big pain in the butt to the ladies at the daycare center, too. The private kindergarten was housed in the same church, and they were tired of my incessant lobbying to go across the hallway where the kids were reading books. On the daycare side, we had our choice of blocks, Lincoln Logs, or Tinker Toys, and vegging out to the employees' "stories" on television. I was considered a problem because I wouldn't sit quietly and play, or mindlessly watch soap operas- I'd harass the ladies about everything from ancient Egypt to my dog to the mythological creatures in my books at home. I also wouldn't take the obligatory nap. Yes, I was a total daycare failure!

By mutual agreement, Miss Margie accepted me into the kindergarten a couple of years early, after my parents presented her with my off-the-scale Stanford-Binet scores. It was that or endure my disassembly of a few more small appliances because I wanted to see how they worked.

The biggest problem with kindergarten was that I couldn't understand it at the end of the year when my friends Abbe, Ann, and Will promoted to the first grade and I didn't. I took the test with Miss Bernice, who lived up the street from us, and apparently I passed it, because Miss Lucille, the superintendent, talked to my parents. Still, the next fall, back to Miss Margie and the kindergarten for yours truly.

Again, at the end of the year, everybody took the test. This time, Tim, Kay, Katy, and yes, Hopkins, all promoted to the first grade without me.

When school started again in the fall, guess what? Back to kindergarten, to a third set of classmates. At the end of that year, I was allowed to promote, with Beverley, Kelli, Danny, Eric, Joey, Melane, Kasey, the Keltner Twins, and a bunch of other people. We were more or less together until May of 1987, when we all graduated from high school.

What my parents failed to anticipate about any of this is that so many of my friends, most of the closest ones, anyway, were one or two years older. While I had friends in my own class and did befriend some folks younger than myself, my senior year was fairly lonely. My parents meant well, but I wish they had promoted me, instead of holding me back due to my age. Mom's logic was that she had "missed out" by skipping the fourth grade, and she didn't want me to feel the same way...but my situation was vastly different.

I remember that Tim pulled my hair every day, and we had to sit up front on either side of Miss Margie. I remember that Hopkins pulled the nose off my precious Snoopy doll. I remember Dawn's cowgirl outfit that I thought was THE most awesome set of clothing ever. I don't remember anything from the next year except the fall that caused the scar through my right eyebrow and put me in the pirate eye patch for two weeks.

Man, it's weird what stays with me, and what's already gone...

Hanging Fire

In honor of Geek Pride Day, a little something about quick recall team...

Every once in a great while, I hit upon a seriously bad idea.

Take, for example, my recent thoughts on choice of a new hobby: fencing or roller derby. Fencing isn't really a new one, as my father fenced in college and taught me a few basic moves as a kid; I have, however, dislocated each of my shoulders, so it's difficult for me to hold up a foil for an extended period of time...that's pretty much out. Roller derby ended up nixed for a fairly simple reason as well: you have to be able to recover, handless, from a knee fall, within two seconds. I shattered my left kneecap in high school, so I can't put any weight on it- I have to use my hands to get out of a kneeling stance. Oh, well. Back to the drawing board!

The other remotely poor idea centers around the Kentucky Association for Academic Competition's annual Alumni Shootout. This year is the *cough**cough* twenty-fifth anniversary of the association...and I'm a charter player from the 1985-86 season. We played in a regional league for a couple of years, before the state association was established- but we were there at the beginning, Hopkins officially helming this happy band of misfits as Our Fearless Leader, i.e., varsity captain.

My job, as second chair, was to sit there and glare at him during bonuses until he either answered or designated me to do it. As captain in my senior year, part of my job, apparently (and unintentionally) was to shriek, at one of the long-suffering juniors (who incidentally, followed me as captain), "SHUT UP, Wayne!"

And yes, bless his heart, that's the same Wayne who is accompanying me to the Weird Al concert in July...

So, all things being equal and having come up with this idea about doing the Alumni Shootout with the original team quite a while back and very much prior to digging Hopkins up, I finally e-mailed him about it a couple of days ago.

I've heard absolutely nothing, which makes me a little nervous. So, yeah, we're forty-odd years old and it's kind of a wacky idea, but...I coached quick recall at the college level for ten years. I have a response system (buzzers) and enough question sets to keep everybody hoppin' well before actually making this appearance. As I explained to him, I'm not throwing anybody up onstage without some practice.

I thought it would be fun, but perhaps as a coach I'm the only one who'd think so, simply because I've remained close to the activity as an adult. The thing is, without Hopkins, it won't work. I haven't even floated this idea to the other two, Her Honor having the most difficult schedule to clear as a district judge- it would be pointless if Hopkins refuses.

So I'm sitting here on my hands, hoping for the best and expecting the worst. It's silly, really, but how many things in life that are silly seem to end up mattering far more than they should?

Monday, May 24, 2010


The word "frenemies" has entered our ergot to illustrate the expression "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer." There was one such girl I knew in both high school and college who fits the description, and for the sake of anonymity, I will refer to her as Nemesis, a mythological reference that is both appropriate and accurate. We were civil to one another, had one really close friend in common, and hated each other's guts.

Nemesis was in Hopkins' class, that is to say she was a year older than yours truly. We had never gotten along, since she viewed anyone of a relative IQ as competition, whether we were interested in competing or not. She especially loathed Hopkins because they were the same age and directly competing for teachers' attention, praise, and acknowledgement- not to mention awards and scholarships.

If you had any weakness she could exploit, she'd zero in on you and that would be the end of it.

Hopkins spoke with a slight lisp that became increasingly pronounced as his level of anxiety elevated (one particularly vicious English teacher exploited it during his senior year, resulting in the release of a small snake in her classroom by some of our friends). Nemesis would often sidle up at random moments and start baiting him, just to see how much she could embarrass him. I quickly got in the habit of sliding in between them, backing her down, and demanding, "Don't you have anything better to do?"

Since they were a year older, after she graduated I never gave her a second thought. It was a tactical error I came to deeply regret my sophomore year in college.

Through a series of unfortunate events, 1988-89 was a pretty bad year in my world. It began with my stupendously humiliating washout of sorority rush at SFU (both my parents were Greek), followed two weeks later by my younger sister's near-fatal car accident. The boy to whom I was engaged was angry that I spent all of my time in class or attempting to run my family's household from a hundred miles away, decreeing that I'd be dropping out to marry him that summer- so add to the litany of woe the end of my first engagement.

Oh, and Hopkins was back home. I'm not revisiting it right now, but that was another self-encapsulated disaster on-the-hoof. Timing is everything and by gum, we do not, nor have we ever, had it...

One Friday night, I schlepped over to the campus grill to get something to eat and visit my roommate, who'd taken a job there. We talked for a minute and I left, noticing that the other girl on-shift was a sorority sister of Nemesis's who dated a boy in my cousin's fraternity. I said hello to her to be polite. I thought nothing of it until the next day.

Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., I called home. While I was talking to my mother, my roommate rolled over in bed and said, "Oh, hey, the funniest should tell your mom...that sorority girl I work with, the brunette? She wanted to know why I spoke to you last night. When I said you were my roommate, she goes, 'Oh, wow, everybody knows she's a huge whore! One of my sorority sisters went to high school with her and she was the town tramp!'"

Nothing could've been further from the truth. I burst into tears. My Achilles' heel had always been my reputation, and although no one back home would've believed any of it, I felt a paralyzing fear that this lie would somehow reach Smalltownland, and God forbid, Hopkins. I had walked into it blindly and I couldn't see a way out.

The only sister from my hometown in that house was Nemesis, and it suddenly became clear why even my good friend Ashley, for all her pull in a much better sorority, couldn't finagle a bid for me. I was even rejected by my mother's sorority, and on closer inspection after learning of the rumor, I found out that they'd ditched me because of my "bad reputation"- Nemesis roomed with their rush chairperson.

Nemesis had bided her time for two years in order to inflict maximum damage. SFU might be huge, but it's an SEC school and has all the bells and whistles of a small Southern town- she had damned me with an outright lie. For the rest of my undergraduate career at SFU, I endured pointing and whispering from students who did not otherwise know me, all because I had dared challenge her in high school.

In each class, there's someone who keeps folks from coming to the reunion. In Hopkins' class, that's Nemesis. I wonder how many people will avoid their 25th next year because of her- but I will be'd better believe I'm not backing down from her ever again. I paid too much for it many years ago to let it slide that easily.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

It's Not Home Cookin' Without Some Cat Hair

I promised I'd do something a little lighter in tone, so forgive me if this gets a little off-track- I have a migraine and have taken the medication for it. This could get, ah, interesting.

I'm currently visiting my sister, who lives, with her husband, in Louisville, Kentucky. They're not exactly broke out with excess cash, so I try to pitch in and do things like feed myself while I'm there. Between my food allergies and the LapBand, it's just easier for me to do my own cooking.

My brother-in-law is attending a round of graduation parties hosted by the parents of his parochial school students, so he was out when dinnertime rolled around tonight. My sister took a phone call from a close friend, and since I'd already started cooking, I went ahead and finished preparing my meal, sat down at the kitchen table, and began eating.

I wasn't alone, though. Jack, the Golden Retriever I helped them pick out at the breeder's about three years ago, parked next to the table and stared soulfully at my plate before oozing into the floor. While my Airedales have mastered the intent food-related gaze, nothing tops a retriever of any breed for sloe-eyed guilt. Every once in a while, I'd hear a sigh from the floor. It takes a lot of self-control to not look, and even more to not fall for it. Let's just say that Jack got a few treats from my plate and be done with it...

The interesting part of the meal, however, was the weird tickling sensation I experienced as I chewed a small piece of the round steak I'd pan-seared. Rolling it around on my tongue for a second, I reached into my mouth and extracted the offending object: a long, beige cat hair.

My sister has three cats, only one of whom, Puddy, has long hair. He's a big marmalade tom with a beige undercoat, and there are clumps of his fur attached to the monitor as I type. He was nowhere near the kitchen either while I cooked or as I was eating, so he must've made his deposit earlier in the day.

Some people would've been put off by the idea of a cat hair in their food. I, however, put myself through graduate school waiting tables, and my father was an FDA plant inspector between his masters' degree and med school. One cat hair isn't going to ruin a meal in my world. When it comes to things on the plate, you just can't scare me. It's just not a home-cooked meal around here unless it's got a cat hair in it...

Appearances are Everything

Several years ago, I underwent weight loss surgery. After the collapse of my engagement, I pretty much stopped caring about what I ate and essentially, ate whatever I wanted to eat, whenever I wanted to eat it. I edged up to nearly four hundred pounds, couldn't walk, couldn't breathe...and...adding insult to injury, when I was measured by the seamstress for the maid of honor dress for my sister's wedding, my waist measurement was only an inch shorter than my height.

It was time to do something. The insurance approval process is long and arduous, and it began just after my sister's wedding. In the first series of labs, I came back as mildly insulin-resistant, i.e., on the fast track for Type II diabetes- it proved helpful, since my sister was already diagnosed as a brittle Type I diabetic. The history of hypertension and heart disease on both sides of my family sped the process. When the last of the required information was submitted to my insurance carrier, I was approved in forty-eight hours- and then the real battle began.

One of my second cousins died on the table during the Roux-en-Y bypass surgery a few years ago, orphaning her children. Although the surgeon thought I should pursue it (because I'd lose a lot more weight and at a faster rate), I refused in favor of the LapBand. There was a pretty voluble argument, concluding with my explaining to him about my cousin's death. I'm happy with the results of the LapBand, but...I'm still fat, and I still have a complex about it. Days like today, I wonder whether I made the right choice.

It's bad enough to be rejected by the cool guys, which is to be anticipated if you're a. fat, and b. smart, but getting blown off by your fellow nerds really sucks. Yes, at the end of the day, even if you can converse with them into the wee hours about theoretical physics, Star Trek, and the finer points of Weird Al, you will still find yourself adjudged on the basis that your dress size is a double digit, beginning with a two. No corset or cool boots are going to obviate it, although you may get superficial props for the costuming.

I have never been comfortable in my skin, and I doubt that I ever will be. Bright, check; funny, check; intelligent, check; such a pretty face, check; still skewering myself over the same things after twenty-five years, big, honking check. I guess it's just easier to blame my size when I don't want to accept that the rejections in my life could stem from something else. Meanwhile, I'll just sit over here, be quiet, and wonder what all else is wrong with me...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

There is, as I've mentioned, a Weird Al concert coming up in Knoxville in July. Given my resistance to going by myself, I asked a friend from high school who is also a fan. Initially, he had other plans, but those changed. I still have to confirm, but I think I'm probably good to go now.

Since I'm (infrequently) corresponding with Hopkins, I mentioned it to him because he loves Weird fact, he's the one who put me onto Weird Al in the first place...along with the name of the mutual friend (let's say it together, kids: This is not a date!) to indicate that I was not attending alone.

Hopkins is a code monkey of the first water, and I didn't think for a second that it was an unreasonable expectation that he'd figure out where to get tickets if he wanted them. If he bought them and then said, "Oh, see you there!", fine. I just wasn't going to be creepy and issue a direct invitation.

He couldn't find the right link for tickets, and aired his disappointment that he believed the concert was sold out. I happened to know better; enter Airedalebrarian.

Time being somewhat of the essence, because the tickets are selling, I shot back an e-mail that night (violating the established 48-hour response delay protocol- don't ask, it will only make your head hurt) in case he wanted to get on it right away. The following morning, I got a reply thanking me for the invitation, but declining on the basis that he can't get off work.

I'm sitting there thinking, "What invitation?" when it hit me that he'd interpreted the fact that I'd sent him the link to tickets from the venue's website, which at the Historic Tennessee Theater is labeled 'invite', as my asking him to the concert. I also sent him the URL in an e-mail because as I explained, I thought the spam filter might catch the 'invite'-generated link.


So now, even though all I did was refer him to correct information, he likely thinks I was being pushy. Is there somewhere I can hide? Explaining would only make it worse, so I wrote a slightly flip response that perhaps Weird Al would eventually swing back through at a more convenient time. As much as I want to see him, he's sort of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory...he's like a little baby deer, he spooks if you move too sudden...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Self-Rescuing Princess, v. 2.0

A while back, before I had an actual blog, after watching several of my childhood friends go through relationship meltdowns, I thought two things: first, there but for the grace go I and indeed-I have more than once already in my lifetime- and second, it's our choice whether we push forward with strength in the wake of these trials or fold up into a neat little pile to weep in the corner. Where I grew up, girls have a lot of what old folks call 'moxie', and we aren't bred to take anything lying down. What I wrote at the time was further inspired by a Think Geek t-shirt that I bought shortly thereafter that reads "Self-Rescuing Princess". I wrote it all up as a Facebook note and just haven't gotten around to transferring it here.

One of the things I mentioned is that I, who was never considered particularly mechanically-inclined growing up, have rewired several items in my home, including a major repair of my oven. I couldn't sit around waiting for Prince Charming to show up and do it for me, so I downloaded the schematics from the Web, ordered the parts and a couple of specialized appliance tools, and got to work. I didn't electrocute myself and at the end of it, the oven worked again, so one assumes that I did it correctly.

Yesterday as I was on the way out the front door to make a three-hour trip to attend laser tag for a friend's birthday, the doorknob literally fell off in my hand. I remember my landlord telling me when I rented the house ten years ago that he'd put all new locks on the front door and that they were tandem-keyed. I suppose ten years is a pretty good run, although my parents' house was built in 1972 and all of the original locks are still fully functional...oh, well. Today's project consists of getting over to Lowe's, finding a new front doorknob with a lock in it, and getting it put on. Wish me luck. At least the doorknob can't potentially electrocute me!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Year and a Day

In magick, many rites of passage are accorded a year and a day to resolve themselves. Handfasting lasts a year and a day. Study for ascension to the next level of knowledge lasts a year and a day. Because it is a traditional period for instrospection and growth, I accorded my midlife crisis a year and a day.

It resolved itself with a stunningly quiet grace. For once in my life, what was the most complex and, at the same time, simple wish was granted. It is the finest gift I have received in what seems like an eternity.

At just shy of two p.m., an e-mail posted to my account...from Hopkins- in exactly one year and one day.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

Several months ago, I wrote about the traumatic process by which those of us in academe advance in our careers, promotion and tenure, otherwise known as Hell on Earth. It involves years of student activity sponsorship, publication, presentations at conferences, community service, and a host of other things that tend to keep you hoppin'.

This morning, I arrived in the parking lot at the same time as the provost's assistant, who called out to me that she needed me to come to her office to sign my new contract...causing me to ask why I had a new contract. (It was really early and I hadn't had any coffee yet.) She laughed and said, "Oh, the letters only went out yesterday, but you got your promotion!" I never have to do another promotion folder AGAIN!

When I was an undergraduate, I committed an egregious academic foul from which my father refused to permit me to recover, although I received two masters' degrees afterward. Whenever he was angry with me, he'd bring it up, along with his disappointment in's a lot more storied than this, but this is as far as I'm willing to go in telling it at the two things finally lifted me past that killshot: the day that I received tenure (before I turned 35), and the day that I paid off the student loans for graduate school for which my father, still punishing me for my earlier failure, refused to co-sign.

Today, two days shy of turning forty-one, I have achieved a full professorship. I have finally earned my spurs, and for this I am eternally grateful...and relieved.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

If I Could Talk With the Animals...

Last night, I drove home to present my mother with her belated Mother's Day gift, which wasn't much, but a few things that I knew that she either wanted or needed. My father followed me out through their garage as I was leaving. As we stood there chatting about the recent floods and a friend's house that was destroyed, I heard a sort of deep, baying sound from the direction of the cliff. It was nearby, so I scanned the trees at the end of the driveway before registering the outline on a high branch: silhouetted against the twilight sky was a medium-sized owl of a horned variety. I pointed it out to Dad, who immediately began imitating its hoot.

The owl responded, eventually flying to a tree nearer to where we were standing. They continued the bizarre conversation until I realized that I just needed to get in my car and go, because Dad would stand there for an hour 'talking' with the owl.

It may seem a little weird at first glance, but my father was a zoologist before he was a physician. He's interested in animals, particularly winged ones- his M.S. thesis was on the Little Brown Bat. The cliff on which we lived attracted all manner of birds, particularly (and somewhat unfortunately) many girls do you know who appreciate their home being known as "The Buzzard Hole"? We were also often graced with numerous types of woodpecker, including the endangered pileated kind.

This owl, however, was not our first, nor will it likely be our last. It was probably a male Great Horned Owl, given its size and general configuration. When I was in high school, a large female Great Horned Owl turned up, disoriented, in the side yard during broad daylight. Dad dragged me outside, warning me to keep a good distance, because the owl was angrily pacing back and forth, hissing; she was a magnificent bird, and only about four feet away. Dad finally shuffled us back inside to let the owl fly away undisturbed.

The funniest owl incident was when I was a little girl, though. During the winter, we always kept a fire going in the family room fireplace. The chimney is larger than the modern standard, and had a large cap on it to keep out birds and other fauna. One night, as my mother was checking the flue with a newspaper torch, she noticed a pair of feet resting on the flue frame. Lifting the torch higher, she saw a young barn owl sitting on the narrow iron ledge. It was too far up the chimney to reach, so we left it there, thinking that the heat would drive it up the chimney and outside.

Wrong. The next morning, we awoke to the small, pissed-off owl perched on the banked ashes of the previous night's fire...with the iron-mesh fire curtain keeping it from flying out into the room.
My father, ever the biology nerd, fetched his leather handyman's gloves, a large Hefty bag, and a towel. I, who was probably nine or so at the time, was designated to hold the Hefty bag open. Dad, still clad in his ratty blue terrycloth bathrobe, pulled back the fire curtain, threw the towel on the unsuspecting owl, and stuffed the whole nine yards into the Hefty bag. He snatched the bag, ran out the back door, and hurled it out into the yard.

The bag opened as it hit the ground, releasing the owl into the yard. It promptly flew to the patio wall, where it perched, glaring accusingly at Dad before flying off. I don't think it was very interested in what Dr. Doolittle had to say at that point...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Calm as a Hummingbird on Crack

I'm going to lead with the old chestnut, "With great power comes great responsibility," of late employed on Big Bang Theory when Penny obtained Sheldon's "kryptonite": his mother's phone number. I'm on round two of my own kryptonite here; I avoided it as if it were the code for unleashing Ragnarok when I was in high school...then, it was an address at Johns Hopkins. I'd completely forgotten that I was in possession of it until I recently found my high school address book, and there it was- along with the memory of the gut-wrenching internal debate over whether to use it.

I'm not known for deferring to anyone, with a sole exception, and that deferral has been in force for twenty-four years. Although I was a prolific letter-writer in my youth, that's the one letter I could never bring myself to write. Much of what it might've contained or at least alluded to has come out over the course of the four-plus months during which I've been keeping this blog. Now it's thrown up into strong relief, in the present tense, and I feel a gasping desperation that usually attends job interviews, public speaking, or social events at which I don't really know anyone.

The second piece of kryptonite dropped last night. Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it, and now I'm well and truly scared. My sangfroid just imploded.

I become manic when I'm frightened and desperate for something to not go badly. I overdo it. I try too hard. My lizard brain kicks in and my IQ drops precipitously to a moronic, babbling level. I'm torn between leading with some smartass comment or doing the compositional equivalent of faux-casually leaning up against the nearest wall and tossing out, "So, what up, dog?" My BFF has already advised that I not fire off the first draft into the ether without sitting on it for a day or so. Hell, I don't even know where to begin.

Cross the Rubicon, child, and don't look back. That's what the voice in the depth of my soul says. You said you wanted closure, and whether it's closure or evolution remains to be seen. Time to stop being a hypocrite, suck it up, and step off the line. Wish me luck, because it's the most difficult step I've ever taken.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Basic Biology

I'm charmed by the media coverage of Melchizeduck and her eggs, at Blue Valley Baptist Church out in Overland Park, Kansas. Mel has a 24/7 webcam, so you can track her nesting progress and eventual hatching. She's an ordinary wild Mallard duck.

I grew up on cliff overlooking the Green River. One of my mother's closest friends had a home situated along the riverbank on a lower elevation; their 1960s ranch home had a glass wall at the back of the living room, overlooking the river. There were frequently all sorts of waterfowl gathered there, and her husband would point out the various breeds of ducks, explaining which were the males and which were the females, based on their markings and plumage. Those lessons were reinforced by my father, who prior to medical school was a zoologist; he bought me a copy of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds and a pair of really good binoculars, and told me to bring him the book if I had questions about a bird that I'd seen (my father really didn't know how to relate to children, although he could relate to intellectual curiosity).

Just a few years ago, I was in the Big City for a three-day software immersion seminar, which coincided with the hospitalization of my then-boyfriend's next-door neighbor at State Flagship U's teaching hospital. He was commuting about fifty miles round-trip to stay with a college friend in the state capital, so I offered to let him stay with me instead. The hotel has a large pond behind it that's always hosted a contingent of wild ducks, since its construction sometime in the 1980s. They are largely tame, often coming up to the patio restaurants in the adjacent mall complex to beg for food. They're really sort of a fixture...everyone who's ever lived there (as I did, for nearly ten years) expects the ducks. I'd miss them if something happened and they disappeared.

On the morning that I checked out, I left said boyfriend sitting in the car under the hotel's port-cochiere, and went in to get my receipt. As I walked out, I spotted two Mallard drakes sitting in front of the car, and went around to shoo them off, saying, as I did, "Hey, boys, come on, move it. I don't want dead ducks on my conscience all day." They eyed me somewhat arrogantly and waddled off, fussing and ruffling their feathers as they went.

When I got into the car, the boyfriend turned to me and asked, "How did you know they were male without turning them over?"

It took me a second to register what he meant, i.e., how could I tell that the birds were male without inspecting their genitalia. This man had three years at SFU before his family's money ran out; he grew up on the banks of the Tug Fork River in eastern Kentucky. I couldn't believe it.

"Don't tell me that you grew up next to a river and you don't know this! Haven't you ever had a biology class?" I asked, stunned. He shook his head. I took a deep breath, tried to suppress my natural sarcasm, and told him, "The male of the species always has the brighter plumage. A Mallard drake has a blue-green head; the duck's is dull, speckled brown. You don't have to turn them over. It's obvious from their markings!" He gave me so much hell about it (we were having problems anyway) that we broke up not long after; I can take a lot of things, but aggressive stupidity is not one of them.

Melchizeduck is definitely a duck, and I can tell it from pictures on the Internet coming from all the way out in Kansas. Sheesh.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nerd is the Loneliest Number

The prospect of this summer's Weird Al concert in Knoxville has thrown me into a little navel-gazing in which I really didn't want to engage. I can't find anyone to go with me. Al's kind of an acquired taste and it takes a real trouper to sit through three hours or so of his melodic stylings. The concert is on a Thursday night, which precludes a great many people of my acquaintance from attending, although I'm not sure I really know anyone else who would be willing, let alone eager, to go.

This is probably the third or fourth thing I wanted to do this year that I haven't been able to, simply because I had no escort. Being of a certain age and not churchy or married or a parent kind of obviates the normal social routes in the area where I live. I tried taking ballroom lessons a while back, but without a regular partner, I ended up paired with the seventy year-old gent who reminded me of my uncle or the KKK biker guy who made me cringe every time I had to let him lead (i.e., touch me). Because I work a couple of nights a week, too, it was difficult for me to find any other social outlets that fell when I could attend, like the local kennel club meetings.

What I'm getting at is that, well, most people who've known me for a long time tend to think I'm outgoing to the point of being overwhelming. I hate to break this to everybody, but I'm one hell of an actress. I'm painfully shy, I am fundamentally bad at meeting people and/or making new friends, and when it comes down to things like this concert, my tastes are so very narrowly defined that despite having a few close friends, I can't find anyone who would really want to go to this.

As I've said before, precious few people actually know me. Those who do, really well, anyway, realize that my overwhelming fear of rejection is a driving factor, almost to crippling levels- and therein lies my cowardice and refusal to seek out the only other person I know who might be interested in this concert.

I probably need to give up on the idea of attending public events. While I don't mind things like dining by myself, usually at a restaurant bar, or going shopping unaccompanied, there are a lot of things it's just not too bright to try to do alone. Guess I'm passing on Weird Al.