Monday, June 30, 2008

Me, a Mosquito, and Mary Tyler Moore

Does anyone remember that episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where she had to get her tonsils out? When asking her boss for time off work to get the surgery done, she was horribly embarrassed. After all, tonsil-removals are for kids. She hemmed and hawed around the subject, not wanting to admit what was really going on.

Embarrassing medical problems are the worst. I'm not talking about hemorrhoids, so commonplace now that nobody bats an eyelash. I'm talking about the ones that are shameful because they seem so minor, or childish, or make you sound like a weakling. "I have bad allergies" just sounds like such a terrible excuse, yet I've had allergies that are at least as bad as the flu.

All my life, my immune system has been a personal cross to bear. For a good portion of my childhood, I spent every waking (and presumably sleeping) moment with a bad case of the sniffles. Doctors were baffled, until finally some well-meaning naturopath decided to run a blood test for food sensitivities. The results were utterly astounding. My immune system was trying to fight off pretty much everything imaginable, from wheat to dairy to eggs to bananas (not kidding). Mom pulled me off the offending foods immediately. Yes, my sniffles and lethargy disappeared, but so did my joie de vie. It was hard, being different. I couldn't eat the food at a party, and when I went for a sleepover I was constantly reading ingredients lists before my midnight snacks. Kids are cruel, but oddly, I was mocked less for my diet restrictions than for pretty much everything else imaginable.

Eventually, I weaned myself back on to regular food. The sniffles never came back. I suppose some of my current health problems might have their roots in food, but there is just not a fucking chance in fucking hell I'm going back to rice "bread."

It was through the food sensitivities that I learned of my overachieving immune system, which also seems to explain my ugly reaction to many insect bites. Summer is a terrible time for me. I wear bug spray outdoors, of course, but if even a single mosquito sneaks inside the house, I could be put out of commission for several days.

As I speak, my foot is soaking in a tub of cold water and is swollen to about 150% of its natural size. As you might guess, I have a particularly greedy mosquito to thank for that. Rather than itching and little red bumps, if I am bitten on particular "hot spots" of my body, I get itching, little red bumps, pain, swelling, throbbing, and lethargy. Cortisone cream barely helps. Benadryl doesn't help at all. Ibuprofen might bring down the swelling a bit, but won't stop me from clawing at my already damaged skin.

In some cases, immediate and aggressive icing can stop the reaction from happening. If I have an ice cube handy, I can usually freeze my immune system out of the area somehow - I'm no doctor, but it seems to work. Unfortunately, according to the red marks on my foot, I was stung approximately six times by said mosquito. That was enough to make all my efforts useless.

Now, I walk with a limp. I really wish I'd just broken my foot (for the third time) so that I could wear a cast and tell everybody a good story. Now, I'm stuck with "sorry, I can't walk because of a mosquito bite" or "sorry I sound drunk, I'm on Benadryl for a mosquito bite." It just sounds lame.

By the way, I killed the mosquito. And I have the blood spot on my wall to prove it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Greetings, PS Folks – Here’s My Secret.

I know I’m getting a lot of new visitors from the PostSecret blogroll, and I’d like to extend a special welcome to you kind folks. We might not have anything in common except for an interest in other people’s secrets, but that’s enough. We’re a union just by sayin’ so.

Because I’ve got you visiting, I’d like to share my own secret. I sent it in to PostSecret a few months ago, but like most of the cards, it never made it onto the site. It was even in tune with the Mother’s Day theme, so I think my big chance has passed.

I’d like to explain this secret further, but I think that would defeat the whole PostSecret concept. So, without further ado:

(The preprinted card is from the PostSecret event at Cornell.)

EDITED TO ADD: Since secrets sit better without mitigating circumstances, I won't respond directly to comments. But I will ask everyone to treat this secret with the same respect they would wish for their own.

Cassandra’s Dream: We’ve Got to Survive

Woody Allen’s most interesting films are often the ones he’s not in. “Different” would be another way of describing it – they become less Woody Allen monologues and more actual movies. When Allen is onscreen, he dominates. Even Diane Keaton can barely get a word in edgewise.

One of his latest efforts, Cassandra’s Dream, is the conspicuously Allen-less story of two brothers (Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor) who get themselves in a bind. Ian (McGregor) is the more successful and scheming of the two, while Terry (Farrell) is more simple-minded and content with his mediocre position in life. But when Terry gets himself neck-deep in debt, he has no choice but to turn to the boys’ rich uncle, Howard (Tom Wilkinson). Howard, as always, is happy to help. But this time, he needs a favor.

If you’ve seen many of Woody Allen’s films, especially the ones he’s not in, you can see where this is going.

Uncle Howard is, of course, in trouble with the law. He needs one of his business associates “taken care of” to make sure that he doesn’t go to the police. Ian, self-centered as usual, sees the potential benefits in having Howard indebted to them forever. Terry is more hesitant.

Ian has big dreams of owning hotels in California, while Terry has big dreams of not getting his knees broken by loan sharks. But Terry would rather roll over and take what’s coming to him, something Ian simply won’t let happen. Between the two of them, they scheme and devise a plan that will take care of Uncle Howard’s problem. But at what cost?

Cassandra’s Dream is all about how life can spiral out of your control, and the lengths to which certain people are willing to go to get a grip. All the actors display painfully real and nerve-wracking emotions, particularly the wonderful Wilkinson in his relatively small role.

Ultimately, like many of his other films, Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream asks you to ponder: how far would you go to save your own life?


Cassandra’s Dream Trailer:

Rotten Tomatoes .:. Wikipedia .:. IMDB

Hopeline – 1-800-SUICIDE

Hi, I’m Liz. Not everyone who’s reading this blog knows a lot about me. Here’s a fun fact – I’m a big fan of PostSecret. I made my fiancé drive me an hour and a half, one way, to see Frank speak and sign books at Cornell.

One thing PostSecret does is support the suicide helpline, 1-800-SUICUIDE. Frank has helped the Hopeline stay in business during the most difficult of times. He wanted to make sure there was a place that people could call when they needed help, when they’d reached the end of their rope, when they really thought they couldn’t go on.

Oh, another thing you should know about me – I’ve been there.

I did call Hopeline once. I hung up because I didn’t have the courage to spill my secrets, but just the experience of dialing the phone and hearing another person on the end made me calmer. I’m sorry, whoever that was – you did help me.

I love PostSecret and I support the work of the Hopeline, because you never know where your life is going to take you. Cutting it short can only hurt.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Children of the Night, Or: Try Getting a Decent Burger at 5 A.M.

In Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Rant, humanity has divided itself into two separate and distinct worlds: Daytimers, and Nighttimers. Naturally, the Daytimers are the respectable folk and the Nighttimers are oppressively ruled with an iron curfew. It’s not an exact reflection of reality…but it’s close enough.

As a night shift worker, you have two choices in life. One is to live in a state of constant sleep deprivation, staying up during the day with the “normal folks” and catching naps when you can. The other is to give yourself over to the night. You sleep at sunrise, get up at sunset, and generally just live like a vampire. A very lonely vampire, because, as it turns out, most of humanity likes to socialize at about 3pm. But that’s not going to work for you. You need to reserve your strength, because fresh blood is hard to come by.

Actually, contrary to popular belief, us Nighttimers don’t actually feed on the blood of the living. But we do enjoy burgers, and it’s impossible to get burgers when we want them.

Imagine – every restaurant serves breakfast at dinnertime and lunch at breakfast time. How fast would you lose your mind?

Imagine – every telemarketer calls you at 2am, waking you from a deep slumber.

Imagine – the hottest hours of the summer are right when you’re trying to get some sleep.

Imagine – every store and restaurant is open for about two hours, unless you want to stay up late.

Imagine – when you need to return someone’s phone call, you have two options. Stay up late and groggily dial, or groggily dial the moment you roll out of bed.

Of course, there are the positive sides. Most of the time, it’s very quiet. I can blog in peace. It’s quite jarring when there is noise, though, such as on Friday and Saturday nights when the drunks stumble home. No matter how “normal” the schedule feels to me after a year, it’s still creepy and unsettling when other people are out and about. This is my time.

I can’t complain too much – I chose this life. It’s my fiancé who is on the night shift, and I’m just along for the ride. But as someone who typically stayed up until 4am on school nights, I’m a natural fit – and I sleep better than ever.

But our poor nocturnal dwarf hamsters are so confused.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Confessions of a Home School Survivor

These days, you hear the term "child abuse" batted around quite a bit. "No Christmas presents? That's child abuse! You didn't have a dog? That's child abuse!" Many of these uses are obviously hyperbolic, but there's always a grain of truth in them - the person who declares "abuse" simply can't imagine growing up without (fill in the blank).

In a world where children are physically and sexually abused on a regular basis, the concept of emotional abuse is always a gray area. One would think that being told that you're worthless and evil is more damaging than a smack on the behind, but who gets to decide this? Whose job is it to judge what is and is not abusive?

When it comes to issues of culture, things get even more complicated. The regular use of harsh physical discipline has been shown to be damaging and ineffective, but just try to explain that to parents who believe in spanking. And what about those cases where there is no science to back you up? How hard is too hard to push your kids to succeed? How tough is too tough? How distant is too distant?

Can you even trust yourself to make the best decisions for your child?

A surprising number of people out there would say "no."

As a graduate of home school, I grew up in a community of 600+ homeschooled kids from every background imaginable. Most were Christians, but then again so is 80% of the U.S. population - self-reportedly. Parents with teaching credentials and/or education in a particular area gathered and formed classes, making a weekly "school" for the kids to learn together and benefit from the knowledge of the community. I attended, signed up for classes, ate lunch with my friends, and pretty much did everything a normal school kid would do. I never thought of myself as weird.

I often had to explain to people that I was homeschooled. Since the Seattle area had always been a hub of home education, few people batted an eye, though I was always asked questions like "how do you like it?" or "do you wish you could go to school?" My standard answers were "fine" and "no."

I was an only child on top of it, so as I got older, people admitted that they'd expect me to be stuck-up or socially retarded. While I was always naturally shy, I didn't feel that the experience of public school would have been any more beneficial than the community I already had. In fact, forcing me to integrate with "peers" I didn't like would probably just force me further into my shell. But hey, what do I know? Apparently, I was a child abuse survivor.

Oh yes. It was the internet that introduced me to this fantastic point of view. When the topic of California banning home school came up on a forum I'd been visiting for years, suddenly anti-HS posters came swarming out of the woodwork. People I'd known (and sometimes liked) for years were suddenly frothing at the mouth, explaining that EVERY HOME SCHOOLER I KNOW IS BACKWARDS AND HAS ROTTEN TEETH AND WANTS TO KILL "THE GAYS." When I explained that I knew 600+ homeschoolers and most of them were lovely, I was either ignored, or implied to be suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

Me, I've suffered real emotional abuse. I've been called lazy, evil, useless, worthless, and told to kill myself. Undoubtedly, the woman who perpetrated all this had ulterior motives of control when she decided to home school me. But, aside from a probable Borderline personality, my mother was also a certified teacher with eleven years of experience, a Master's degree, and the time and ambition to be a full-time stay-at-home teacher/mom. She made efforts to integrate me with the home school community, as well as my would-be public schooled peers through programs like Girl Scouts. I was not isolated in a compound. I was not forced to enter the spelling bee. I was simply taught, at my own pace, choosing which subjects to learn on my own and which I wanted to take classes for. I had both freedom and guidance.

I can honestly say that home schooling was one of the few positive aspects of my childhood. While I won't default to home school for my own kids, if they start to fall behind or have problems integrating with public school, you can bet I will consider unorthodox options. It's not abuse; it's a choice.


The Hammer: Happy Birthday, Jerry!

A lot of people don't like Adam Carolla.

I've always consoled myself with the idea that they don't truly know him. They've never understood that nasally drone that I first heard, many years ago, turning the dial on my Nickelodeon clock radio. Stupid people were calling in, and Adam was telling them exactly what I wanted to tell them. Stop it. Shut up. Pull yourself together. Get help.

From that day, I was addicted. Sure, it took a while to set in - I hadn't yet started obsessively tuning in to Loveline on 100.7 The Buzz every Sunday through Friday at ten PM. But before long, I was doing the unthinkable - crawling into bed half an hour before my bedtime just to catch the show.

I loved everything about it; not just Adam's relate-able rants about everything from traffic lights to religion, but Dr. Drew Pinsky's sage advice and the chemistry between the two. They were a part of my adolescence, and sometimes, my only friends. They were the reason I met my fiancé.

I guess you might say that I owe a lot to Adam.

So when I heard he was starring in his own movie, I had mixed feelings. To put it mildly. I didn't like the idea of him being scrutinized by the media, who had never been kind to him. Entertainment Weekly routinely gave him negative stars (which always confused Adam; he wondered, did he owe them stars now?). On the other hand, YAY ADAM IS IN A MOVIE!

The Hammer, the story of boxer-turned-contractor Jerry Ferro, is basically Adam's life - except he found his success in radio, not in the ring. Like pre-Loveline Adam, Jerry is a loser with no money whose only loyal friend is a Nicaraguan construction worker named Oswaldo (here, Adam's real-life buddy plays himself). Featuring Heather Jurgensen as Jerry's love interest, The Hammer is part romantic comedy and part sports movie, though the two plotlines weave and dance effortlessly.

Many fans say that too much of the movie's comedy relies on Adam's famous rants, which they've heard many times before. I'd agree, but for the pitch-perfect editing that cuts from point to point, making it look as if he ranted for hours. Or maybe he did.

I can find no fault with any of the acting or writing, but for a slightly under-explained conclusion to the romantic subplot. Overall, this is the kind of movie that I would have been proud to act and star in - so I couldn't be prouder of Adam.

The Misinformation Age

I like to call it Mayonnaise Dyslexia.

Adam Carolla, who is without question the funniest man alive, often used the analogy of the confused waitress on the radio show Loveline. When people are stupid, distracted, or careless, they will only process certain key words and fill in the rest later. So if you ask a harried waitress for "no mayonnaise" on your sandwich, there's at least a 50/50 chance that you'll get extra mayonnaise.

The heartbreak of Mayonnaise Dyslexia.

It happens outside of restaurants, of course. And one of the problems with this information age of ours is the sheer speed with which that information can be spread - losing bits and pieces along the way.

And, occasionally, turning into something else entirely.

Recently, Dr. Drew Pinsky - who was Adam Carolla's partner on Loveline until Carolla left for greener pastures - found himself in a Playboy interview being quizzed about celebrities. He mentioned offhand that he wondered why someone like Tom Cruise would be drawn to a "cultish environment" like Scientology. “To me, that’s a function of a very deep emptiness and suggests serious neglect in childhood — maybe some abuse, but mostly neglect."

Compared to the posts on 90% of celebrity-centric blogs, that's tame as a lamb.

But Tom Cruise's lawyer didn't think so. He protested:

“This unqualified television performer, who is obviously just looking for notoriety, is so grotesquely unprofessional as to pretend to diagnose Tom and others without ever meeting them. He seems to be spewing the absurdity that all Scientologists are mentally ill. The last time we heard garbage like this was from Joseph Goebbels.”

Yes, Joseph Goebbels the Nazi. Yes, the "unqualified television performer" who is a full-time physician by day, running a prestigious addiction medicine clinic.

Now, the Mayonnaise Dyslexia sets in.

The ever-fickle media, apparently tired of mocking Tom Cruise, has largely jumped to his defense. My personal favorite? The Dish Rag's interpretation, in which, apparently, Dr. Drew "had to apologize to Tom Cruise for calling him a Nazi."

Yeah, in Bizarro World.

I can't really blame Elizabeth Snead for barely skimming the article she was linking to as a source, even in a professional blog. The time pressure of blogging is enormous, and she's the equivalent of the harried waitress who hears "extra mayonnaise."

But please, everyone, take your news with a grain of salt. We're all human, after all.


Guitar Hero III: Legends of Carpal Tunnel

Ah, Guitar Hero. Are the skills required to play your most difficult of songs analogous to actual guitar playing, or are you - as guitarist John Mayer suggests - an affront to real musicians everywhere? As in most cases of controversy, the truth probably falls somewhere between the extremes.

Guitar Hero is just as fun and frustrating as playing actual guitar. I know this, because I once took a guitar class in junior college. My teacher was a Juliard snob who couldn't teach his way out of a eco-friendly shopping bag, and he expected us to read notes, which, according to my classically-trained father whose Spanish guitar I was borrowing for the class, was ridiculous. Beginning guitar, mind you. Beginning.

As with piano, I abandoned all guitar aspirations when I realized that I had tiny hands. Seriously tiny. They don't really look that small, until you compare them to a slightly larger person's hands - my fiancé, for example - and realize that my thumb is smaller than his pinkie. They don't cover much distance, and so the more complicated chords were impossible for me.

I figured Guitar Hero was safe. It's the friendly version of guitar, without all those pesky finger placements and having to actually know the song. As long as you can reach all the buttons...

Yeah, I can't get to orange.

Here's the thing - when you're playing on Easy and Medium, your hand doesn't move at all. It's easy to associate the colors on the screen with the consistent placement of your fingers, because you don't have to reach the dreaded orange button. Four buttons, four fingers.

With that fifth orange button in the equation...what then?

I haven't figured that one out yet. I did beat "Slow Ride," but you have to be seriously impaired not to beat "Slow Ride." Even if I manage to get past Tom Morello and Slash, what will become of me when I attempt "Knights of Cydonia?"

I'm scared.