Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Introduction -or- why bother?

My favorite part about having a blog is definitely the "log". I like looking back over my own words and seeing the comments left by my friends and family. It's like having the faint essence of a conversation frozen in time. I think our ancestors had something like it that they called "letters". My first blog was on The Myspace and sadly, when I moved it over to The Blogspot, I lost a lot of the comments that were left on the earlier stories. I also like how the public venue makes me feel like I should work harder to entertain. Having that constraint really helps me boil down my stories to a manageable few pages. More importantly, the desire to entertain allows me to find the humor in situations that otherwise might only be stressful or dreary.

I think my least favorite part of having a blog is the feeling that I occasionally have to deeply censor what I write to protect the privacy of myself and my friends. Because of this I still have never written about a few of the bigger events in my life over the last few years. I also have to be very careful when I talk about "Froggie". There are four stories in this blog (so far) that are wholly or in part about my "Little Sister". It is a sad commentary on the progress of AIDS awareness that in 2008 we are still unable to speak about HIV/AIDS in a more open and accepting format. This lack of progress has had a huge and negative impact on her quality of life. As her one of her caregivers it has also made it difficult for me to find the support that I need to replenish my own stores of strength.

Initially, I started "Days like this since 1974" as a way to express my feelings about being an older graduate student. I have found that very little of that has crept into my stories even though it completely dominates my life. Perhaps I needed a place to feel like a human with value outside of my last experiment. Maybe I'm just deeply in denial. Either way, it's been nice to write some and laugh some and bitch lots (and lots!). I haven't written much in the last month. I have a few good stories to get down. One is about quitting (almost? really?) graduate school. Another one is about driving over my mom's foot and then there was the time I sat in a dirty room full of nerf-covered couches and dust bunnies while doctors tried to decide if I should be committed to the psych ward.

Well, maybe I'll just wait for something more eventful.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Apparently you have a time machine

So I'm sitting at the Bottletree with Meg, Wen, and T. We get angry with the early reporting and send the following snarky e-mail cause we are HILARIOUS. Also, we are PISSED off AND ourah nurves is toe-up!* They are calling the election seconds after the polls have closed in only a handful of states.

Dear Dedicated Reporters and Staff at Reuters,

It is Tuesday night in Birmingham, Alabama. While we are often accused of being behind the times we have recently recieved a shipment of calendars into our Walmarts. In this way we are able to determine that it is November 4th...which is a ding-dang-dawg Tuesday.
Imagine our surprise when we read (just having learned that too) that you are already calling states for Obama not to mention that these results were collected on Wednesday, November 5th.
We sure hope you send that technology down here soon.
Olabama Lovahs in Bama

(Seriously, how can you justify calling results so soon? It has only been minutes since the polls closed.)

Dear Reader,

Thank you for contacting Reuters with your comments and feedback. Your comments have been passed on to our editorial team.
We appreciate reader feedback, and all e-mails to are read by a senior editor. Please note that due to the huge volume of e-mails sent to the Editors daily, we may be unable to provide a personal response. However, we take your compliments, comments and criticisms very seriously, and we invite you to see what some readers are thinking on our Reader Feedback Page.
We appreciate your feedback and we hope that you continue to use and enjoy the Reuters website.
Kind regards

Reuters Editor


(Ha ha, jokes on us...turns out it IS Wednesday in Reutersville which is obviously around the world somewheres.... he he he....blush)

* Yankee translation: Our nerves are some what frayed

Don't forget to breath

I woke up this morning and was already on pins and needles. I cried. Not because of school, or the break up, but because today I wish that my grandfather, and grandmother, and my cousin Mgn, and all of my black relatives who died could be here today. I'm scared. I'm hopeful. I'm scared.

Rr called me this morning and we went down to the Fire Station together. We voted. My friend KD sent me text messages about hope, and history. She told me that he would be the first black president of the USA four years ago. I voted for Hillary in the primary. KD and I had fought about it. She called me a chicken then. She might have been right.

I'm a hopeful chicken right now. I'm also sort of frantic. I miss CNK like crazy. I want to talk to him. I want to know what he's thinking about all of this.

My mom sent me the best e-mail and she gave me permission to paraphrase and then post it here. She's been calling people in Indiana on behalf of Barack Obama. Mostly just leaving messages about where the message recipient can go to vote. Here is her story:

"So I called people in Indiana again today. Didn't get too many -- in
fact got lots of disconnected numbers. Must be dragging the bottom of
the barrel. Of the people who did answer here is the best conversation I had...

Woman on phone in Indiana: Well I voted already

Mom [in her head]: [she sounds so friendly I assume she means for Obama]

Woman: I gotta tell you... I don't go with that Obama

Mom [in her head]: [Oh no! I'm chatting up a McCain voter... my heart is breaking]

Woman : No... I don't usually go with that. And he really doesn't have any

Mom [ihh]: [Why argue with her... she's already voted.]

Woman: People say that and it's true. But you know what. You aren't born
with experience. No one is born with president tattooed on their
forehead. No, he'll get it. I had to go for him.

Mom [ihh]: [What IS she saying? She DIDN'T go for him, she DID go for him? Put me out of my

Woman: I did. I voted for him. Usually I don't go for those kind of people. Well I never have. But you know. We can change. We can learn. NOW I'M STILL NOT FOR MIXING 'EM UP. NO NO NO, I DON'T GO FOR THAT. But I had to vote for him. I had to do it. We're in big trouble here. Well things aren't going to change overnight. But at least he'll get us going in the right direction. And you know what?! My neighbor voted for him too! We all did.
None of us had ever gone for one of them before... but we all voted for him."

My mom told me that is made her cry a little when she got off the phone.

We can change. We can learn.

I'm completely terrified. It's 6:45pm CST and so far McCain is up...I'm hopeful anyway.

We can change. We can learn. Just a few hours now. Don't forget to breath.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lady Diva

Froggie called me yesterday. She sounded funny, like maybe she was crying, and my heart sank. I was in the middle of an experiment and didn’t want to spend 45 minutes consoling her about what ever her latest problem with her boyfriend was. I’ve been having a hard enough time consoling myself lately.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her.

“Nothing! I just wanted to tell you the good news.”

But really she sounded bad and I was not optimistic.

“My doctors just called me and told me that my T cells are up. I have 15 now and last week I only had 9!”

For the last few months Froggie has made an effort to take all of her AIDS meds and go to her weekly doctors visits. At various points in her life, her health has been in real danger from secondary infections and yet it has always been a struggle to get her to comply with her doctors orders, even after weeks in the hospital she would refuse to swallow pills.

It is a source of embarrassment for me that I don’t know more about immunology, given my insistence that I am a biologist. Even worse, I’ve been caring for a child with HIV/AIDS for more than a decade and I still have to think hard about relative value when I hear numbers like “viral load” and “T cell count”. I was pretty sure that 15 was not a high number even for an AIDS diagnosis.

“How many are you supposed to try for?”

“It’s like 500 or something. That would be really good but I didn’t have any and now I have 15. The medicine is working!”

“Honey? Why are you crying?”

She really let loose with the tears and while it was hard to understand, it became clear after a minute that she was saying, “I’m just so happy!”

She went on to thank me. She missed her mom and wanted to be able to show her how well she was doing. She said that my mom and I had never given up on her. That even when she would fight and fight we still made her take her medicine and now she could do it on her own and every thing was going to be alright.

I cringe when she says things like that. I’m afraid that her body, after so many years of “non compliant” medicinal abuse will give up on her even if she really tries to stay healthy. Even a few bad days can send her into a funk that makes it seem worthwhile to her to attempt life without the hassle of trying to stay alive.

“I think that’s great. I’m really extremely proud of you. Just…there are going to be days when your counts don’t go up, or they go down a little and I don’t want you to be too disappointed when that happens. You know, life can be pretty up and down.”

I’m currently nursing my own disappointments and I realized as I said it that maybe I was projecting just a little. Or just a lot.

She smiled and I could hear it in her voice. “I know, but don’t worry okay? I know there is going to be bad things but at least I won’t ever again have the bad thing be swallowing a little pill. I can do that now!”

I catch myself trying to dampen her optimism more times than I like to admit. Here she is telling me that she feels like she made it over a huge hurdle in her life and all I can think is that I have to protect her from any and all other disappointing days to come.

Last year Froggie’s mom died. It was a horrible mixture of crack and alcohol and having exhausted the medical system. In the end her mother couldn’t speak because there was so much yeast and bacteria clogging her throat. Froggie was left alone in the house with her while she died slowly for months, most days unable to leave her bed. We couldn’t get the State to take her out of there, even when she used a razor blade to carve “I hate me” into her arm and underlined it twice. When her mother died Froggie was 17 and could barely read. She now lives on social services and food stamps. She graduated from high school and is learning how to cook, trying to practice her reading, and cleaning up the apartment after her brother. She has a life-long and life-threatening illness. She’s 18.

So there she was, telling me that she was having a great day because she had risen from about 2% to 3% of the T cells she will need to get out of AIDS and back to HIV. And there I was, trying to warn her about hard times because I’m 34 and my boyfriend dumped me.

I thought about what CNK said when I had asked for his impressions of Froggie after we had dropped her off at her apartment on my last visit home.

“It wasn’t what I expected. I mean, maybe it’s different out here…but at home in Alabama I haven’t had that experience with, you know. Like African-American urban culture isn’t usually so demonstrative…they were just so taken with you. I guess I didn’t expect them to be so demonstrative, and so taken with you.”

“Who are you talking about?” I asked him.

I was trying to remain open to him so I didn’t say anything about how much the term “African-American” bores me in any context other than academia.

“Who are ‘they’ or ‘them’? Those kids are my family. Of course they are taken with me, I helped raise them!”

Then I spent the next few miles reassuring him that I wasn’t uncomfortable with his comments when all I wanted to do was talk about how great both kids looked and how much better my heart felt seeing them after a long, hard year in Alabama. I should have known that he was headed out the figurative door then. I should have opened it myself before he could tell me that our relationship was mostly ‘fun’ and ‘convenient’ but not ‘sustainable’. My relationship with Froggie and her brother has often been extremely un-‘fun’ and the least ‘convenient’ thing for everyone involved. There have been times when I thought caring about them might literally end my ability to get out of bed, but somehow ‘sustainable’ has always been achieved. I think the difference must be love.

I tuned back into Froggie. She was off on a long story about her biological father and his second family. There is a Tweety Bird jacket she wants for her 19th birthday next week. The jacket says “Lady Diva” on it and she thinks that would be accurate and classy on her. She wants to learn how to make spaghetti because she already knows how to make tacos. Her brother is still working at the job he got last week and now she doesn’t mind cleaning up the kitchen after him because he’s really contributing. She doesn’t want him to buy her something for her birthday because they shouldn’t waste their money but maybe he could take her to the movies or to get something to eat in a restaurant.

“I just want to do something that is spending time with him. I don’t care as much about all that stuff that you buy because you barely remember that stuff anyways. Like when you used to take me for a ride on the ferries and we would have hot chocolate.”
I couldn’t help it; I had to smile because sometimes talking to her for ten minutes makes me feel like I’m co-staring in an Original Inspirational Story presented by Hallmark…but with a lot more drug abuse and real curse words.

Froggie and I ended our phone call with the promise of talking again soon, I-love-youes and hints about Tweety Bird birthday presents, which I rebuffed. I got back to my experiment. I wasn’t all better. I didn’t want to dance around the room yet. But I did stop thinking that I wasn’t going to make it to the end of the day and started thinking about what to have for dinner out with B. I could feel, just a little, my value climb.

She’s totally going to get that jacket.

Friday, July 25, 2008

When last we met...

So again, a long time since the last entry. Both of my fans (me and my mom) have stopped checking the site. I blame my lack of updates on two events in January:

1) I started dating CNK again.
2) A week after we got back together my house was broken into and my computer stolen.

I am not saying that there was any kind of causal relationship between those two events. CNK is an engineer and not a crack-head.

Please don't write in to tell me that not all crack-heads will steal your computer and that not all engineers won't...I know.

Regardless, I'm pretty sure that if CNK had broken into my house and stolen my computer he would have given it back by now because I definitely made him, and everyone around me, sorry that it happened.

So now it's July, nearly August, and here is the update in abridged form:

January 2008 - CNK and I give it another go. I am thrilled. I get ready to make him a "so-glad-we're-back" dinner and come home with a bag full of groceries to find my front door has been smashed in with a shovel. I know it's a shovel because I don't own the one inside my front door and my neighbor is missing the one she keeps on our shared front porch. She was home at the time that it happened but just "figured [I was] making a lot of noise at the front door". I think she must have been confusing me with her roommate who installed a full drum kit beneath my study. I call CNK and B to come rescue me. Neighbor and her roommate also hang around with us. Cops take TWO hours to show up and three phone calls. We all freeze on the porch while the squad car drives past us and doesn't stop.

On my third call, the dispatcher asks me if there is any kind of landmark that the officer can look for. "There are five people standing on the front porch waving and shouting at cop cars" I tell her. Among the items stolen were: my computer, my DVD player, my backpack, my ability to shut the front door for two days, my ability to sleep comfortably in the apartment for one month, and a half-full bottle of Chambord raspberry liquor.

February 2008 - I don't really remember anything of significance. I mean, it's not like my house got broken into again. Oh, CNK takes me on an awesome valentines date. We have the worst meal ever but it's so bad that we laugh about it the whole time and then he takes me to a show at the Virginia Samford. It was fun but we get sleepy and so leave early to sit by his apartment's pool, wrapped in jackets, eating jelly beans and chatting.

March 2008 - - People continue to not break into my house. I really appreciate it.

April 2008 - B turns 28. This is infuriating because I have been getting even deeper into my 30's and he's still only in his 20's. Jerk. CNK and I throw him a little sushi birthday bash and we all have a great time.
In addition, CNK takes his PE exam so suddenly we can see each other more often and not only from 10pm-10:30pm on Fridays. It is a difficult adjustment but we make it. I have a successful committee meeting where they tell me I have enough to graduate in December! YES!...(spoiler alert, the July entry will dash all excitement you may have for me). My friend DP comes for a visit and we see Allison Kraus and Robert Plant which was surprisingly fabulous.

May 2008 - I try to write a paper. I fail. I try to write a paper. I fail. I try to write a paper. I fail. I try to write a paper. I fail. My boss yells at me. I yell at her and then cry. I try to write a paper. I fail.

June 2008 - - Everybody moves or gets married. I help CNK move. He helps his friends move. My friend's Lx2 get married, I miss the wedding because my cousin gets married in ATL on the same day. My mom comes out for the cousin's wedding. We also see our dearest old family friends and spend an entire day in IKEA. It's my birthday month. I refuse to get my hopes up and end up having a truly nice time, making a large dinner of crab legs and salmon, which I don't eat...I'm a vegetarian. I receive absolutely lovely gifts from everyone. Wine, cookies, shoes, serving bowls, a backpack to replace the one that was stolen, bookcases, flowers, and paper masks of my face mounted on bendy straws that say on the back "The world would be a better place if everyone was a little more like M---"
I'm very relieved that they say "a little more" because it saves us all the trouble of picturing the petty, stressed-out, crabby, snarky horror that would be if the world were a LOT more like me.

Most significant though, my distant cousin, Mgn, dies. I find out at the wedding when I ask after her as I was expecting that we would be at the same reception table. Her death was sudden and efficient, just like her. The funeral at Spelman College is amazing. Her family legacy is amazing. I get to see people who I will miss by not attending this year's family reunion and I wish I could thank her for the opportunity, as strange as that sounds.

July 2008 - Work continues. My training grant is renewed for a year and suddenly my mentor doesn't think I'll finish in December. Now it seems like it will be next June but I'm sure that has nothing to do with the additional six months of free funding. More people move. CNK and I help his sister in T'loosa and his friend in B'ham. I try to write a paper...I sort of manage but not really. I collect more data, it's actually decent.

And there it is, seven months in a nutshell. Nothing to it. As of this morning my house was still okay. I think it helped to remove the shovel from the porch and to get a real doorframe that's not made out of rotten wood. I haven't replaced the computer or the chambord but it's been really nice to have a backpack again.

If you get a chance, check out the links to my cousin Mgn. She really was an amazing woman and worth knowing.

I'll write again soon, or at least in the next seven months. Honest.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Just as good the second time around

I talked to my grandmother for an hour today. I’m a bad granddaughter because my aunt was going out of town so my mother made me promise that I would call my grandma every day from Saturday through Tuesday. I only remembered to do it today…Tuesday. I come by it honestly, the forgetfulness. My grandma has been forgetting things too and that’s why she recently moved into a retirement center. I shouldn’t say that she forgets, she just never remembers in the first place. Her brain is no longer bothering with information about how many yogurts she has in the refrigerator or what movie she just watched on TV and instead is laying out her memories of growing up on a farm in Stanwood, Washington with abundant detail.

We have all been taking her…I don’t want to say decline…her shift, in very different ways. My youngest aunt, who is the only daughter living close to my grandmother is shouldering most of the responsibility and it clearly worries her. My oldest aunt gets a little frustrated and tries to jog my grandmother’s memory by telling her when a story or fact has been repeated too many times. My grandfather, who doesn’t live with my grandmother, is losing one of his oldest friends and being constantly reminded of his own age. He can rebuild Packard cars from scratch, even sew the upholstery, but he can’t fix her. Me, I have found that I appreciate my grandma in a way that I never could when we were both younger.

I called from work, while I shuffled data around on my computer. We started our conversation by talking about the weather. It was 70 degrees in Birmingham but snowing heavily in Nevada City. Then she asks me about my mother, who is currently out of the country. We talk about water aerobics and agree that it is too cold for her to walk up to the pool in her bathing suit. She tells me that the center will send a van to pick her up at her door and then asks me to forget that she told me that because she would rather have an excuse to skip the pool. “Let’s just say I don’t have a good bathing suit for the snow in case anyone asks okay?” and then she laughs at her own joke. A few days ago, or maybe more, she had dinner with my youngest Aunt in the dinning hall and they had some Very Good Salmon. The Salmon, and some meatballs she had one other time were so good that she wondered if maybe the facility had hired a new, Norwegian cook.

I know when she mentions the cook that I will get to hear something about her childhood. Both of her brothers died in WWII and when I was growing up she didn't like to talk about them very often but lately that rule has been relaxed. She tells me about going to church when she lived in Stanwood. She and her twin brother would feign sick every Sunday but their mom would never fall for it and when they made it to the church they were always glad because all the other kids were there too. Before that, they lived in a county so rural that their cousin, who was 13, was allowed to drive the car every Sunday to take them to church. She tells me about lying to people when she got to college in Seattle so that they wouldn’t know she was Norwegian. When I ask her why she lied, she says that she just wanted to be an American.
“But you are an American, you were born here.”
“Well I know that. I guess it just seemed so corny to be Norwegian” she tells me.

I tell her that I have a first date planned for Saturday. She asks what he does for a living and when I tell her that he teaches liberal arts at a university she sighs with pleasure. I tell her that I had been dating an engineer and that makes her happy too. I never used to tell her about any dating unless it was quite serious. That sort of information would too quickly become family property and pressure. I always felt somehow guilty when it inevitably didn’t work out. I’m one of only two grandkids and the only one currently old enough to have children.

“That’s great! I might forget that you are going on a date so please remember to call me and tell me all about it.”

She asks me how old he is and when I tell her she says that she doesn’t think that the age difference (four years) means anything at my age.

“At least your not 17 and he is in his 30’s!” she says. She is talking about my mother’s first boyfriend and I ask her if she wanted to rip my mom’s face off when she went out with a man that much older.

“Rip her face off? No, I never wanted to do that. It was just very worrying. But I never wanted to rip her face off. I just loved her. Boy, it is really snowing outside! You know, I was thinking of going for a walk but I’m afraid that I’ll just break something.”

And then we are back to water aerobics and the Very Good Salmon with my aunt. She asks about my mom—still out of the country. When is she coming home? Still next week. I tell her again that I’m going on a date on Saturday just because it’s nice to say out loud and if she remembers me saying it before; she is just as enthusiastic as the first time and doesn’t seem to mind my repetition. We reprise our entire conversation in a slightly different order but this time leave out the part about Stanwood and being Norwegian. We are our own chorus.

I finish compiling documents together and reluctantly end the conversation.

“I have to go Grandma. I should really get back to work.”

“Okay, well I sure love you. I still have your note on my refrigerator.”

The note she is referring to is one that I left when my mother and I visited her just before Christmas. My grandfather installed the board on her refrigerator so that he could leave her reminders about appointments. When we arrived in California it had the dates of our arrival and departure listed. Upon leaving I erased the dates and replaced it with a note of our own: ‘M—-- and M--- love you very much. You have lots of yogurt in the fridge. Look in the crisper drawers when you want apples and tangerines.’

I ask her what she’s going to do for the rest of the day and she says that she’s headed down to the lobby to see if anything is going on. It’s really snowing and she might see if they are having salmon or meatballs for dinner which can both be Very Good. She says goodbye again and tells me again that she sure does love me -- it sounds just as good the second time around.