Where the soul meets body …

I haven’t been writing here lately for a number of reasons. Mostly I’ve just been incredibly busy with class and the News & Review. I’m teaching two classes including one I’ve never taught before and the workload is exhausting. There’s a lot of grading but mostly I think it’s the prep work for the new class. I keep telling myself this will get easier. It has to, right? What keeps me going is that I like being in the classroom; I like interacting with students and I like that sometimes I get to learn things that are new to me as well.

In addition to the workload I’ve also been consumed with taking care of my cat Sophie. Some of you know the full Sophie story. I won’t go into all the details today but let me assure you that she is one special cat for a million reasons, not the least of which includes having a pacemaker.

Sophie received her pacemaker in August 2007 after she started to suffer a series of seizure-like episodes. Extensive and exhaustive testing at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital showed an irregular heartbeat and one long, scary surgery later my cat was just like Dick Cheney — only much sweeter and cuter.

That was nearly three years ago. After some initial complications, Sophie seemed like a new cat after she got the pacemaker. We hadn’t even noticed how much she’d slowed down until she got the pacemaker and sped up to kitten-like behavior–playing, running, loving life. It was pretty incredible to see and we felt more than justified our decision to go ahead with that surgery.

And so it went. Life was mostly uneventful until about six months ago when Sophie started to suffer from more seizure-like episodes. I don’t have it into me to go into all the details right now but numerous tests seemed to rule out everything except epilepsy — well mostly anyway. She can’t have an MRI because of the pacemaker but the doctors over at UCD put her on phenobarbital and that seemed to stop the seizures.

It also created a drastic change in her behavior, slowing her down and making her very uncoordinated. Still, we reasoned, she continued to be loving, continued to want to be around people, continued to eat like a champion. On the doctor’s advice we tinkered with the medicine a little to try to strike a balance between coping and doped up

But now, several months later things are getting worse and to be honest nobody has any idea why or what should be done about it. In the last few weeks we’ve watched Sophie become increasingly less coordinated to the point where sometimes she can’t walk more than a few steps without lying down in frustration. She falls over, her back legs sometimes seem to move as if they were attached to another cat. She’s undergone numerous tests in the last few weeks and has had pronouncements ranging from “terminal cancer” to “too much medicine, maybe” to “who knows, we just need to monitor her.” She’s had ultrasounds and X-rays and blood tests. We know that, aside from the brain, there is no cancer except for maybe this one tiny spot on the spleen that could be something but it’s too tiny to tell right now so let’s check that again later. Sophie's Pacemaker

We know her pacemaker is working and nearly three years later we got to see for the first time what it looks like inside of her. It’s kind of amazing to look at the x-ray and see that contraption with all its wires and fixtures, incredible to realize how big and clunky as it is in relation to her tiny, seven-pound body

We also know that her blood work came back OK except for slight variations here and there. We know that her medicine levels are technically OK, we know that she is slightly anemic, we know (we already knew) that, yep, she has irritable bowel disease.

I’m not blaming the doctors, not even for that horrible terminal cancer misdiagnosis that left me crying uncontrollably. I know they are, truly, doing the best that they can. I know that they are mystified as they hold her up in the exam room and test her neurological reflexes and try to decide if her increasing yet still intermittent inability to control her hind legs has something to do with the phenobarbital or if it’s something much, much worse.

The only thing they can all agree on is that she’s adorable and loving and so, so sweet.

Of course,  I didn’t come here to just go on and on about what it is or what it isn’t. I only wanted to write this because my heart is breaking watching her. On Friday the vet told us she doesn’t believe Sophie is ready to go — “she’s still eating, she’s still bathing, she still wants love, she still wants to be here” — and of course I wanted to hear that, I wanted to hear that we’re doing the right thing, trying to figure out what’s going on.

But we also talked about all the what-ifs. What if she has cancer? She’s 16 goddamned years old with a pacemaker. I think that speaks for itself.

“I don’t want Sophie to feel as though we’re giving up on her,” Cory said to me as I picked through my lunch while we waited out more testing on Friday.

I assured him that we weren’t, that we wouldn’t. But we both know that at some point — a point that may come very fast — we may have to make a decision for her, for us.

And of course it hurts to even think about it. As I type this she’s sleeping in her bed next to my chair in the office and I’m just trying to enjoy every moment I have with her. This morning she’s already eaten at least three times, sat in my lap as I typed and also engaged in one of her favorite hobbies:  chewing on the cord to the blinds on the office window. I know, weird – but chewing on blind cords has always been one of her favorite things. Seeing her do that this morning made me laugh but she’s also stumbled around quite a bit and, just a while ago, knocked herself over with a sneeze. That’s a new one, the sneezing – she’s never had colds or allergies before but in the last week, there you go, we add it to the list.

Right now we are listening to Death Cab for Cutie because, along with the Smiths, they are one of Sophie’s favorite bands. For reals. Go ahead, laugh. Maybe it’s just a little in-joke that Cory and I have but maybe, also, I believe that animals have souls, if not favorite bands. I’ve been reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and I’m only about one-third of the way through and every now and then he mentions that, despite his growing unwillingness to eat meat, he’s still not convinced that animals have souls, that they have the capability to love, the ability to feel something other than hunger or thirst or pain.

When I look at my cat, who likes to sit in my lap when I grade papers, who greets me at the front door when I get home from work, who gets jealous when I give too much attention to our other cat Trixie and will literally snake her way between my hands and Trixie’s fur so that she gets the pets — well obviously, I couldn’t disagree with him more.

The F Word

I was feeling pretty uninspired this week and so I ended writing a column about how much I love “30 Rock” even when it occasionally annoys me.

Elsewhere, I wrote about being a 40-year-old feminist. At first this was a really tough essay to write. I hadn’t thought about what it meant for me to be a feminist for quite a while. It’s not that any of my convictions had changed or that I thought, perhaps, the equality had finally shifted to the center and that we didn’t need to think about it anymore–it just wasn’t, at this point in my life, an all-consuming issue.

But then when I heard that one of our contributors who, if you connected the dots of her ideology is most certainly a feminist, claimed she didn’t identify with the movement, didn’t want to be called that F word. That got me thinking about my own beliefs and how they formed.

My feminist beliefs were, most certainly, formed first and foremost by my mother although, to be honest, I don’t know if she’d use the F word to describe herself that way either. My mom is a mix of old-school ladylike and modern toughness which meant that even as she advised me not to bite my nails so that my hands would “feel nice as you hold a boy’s hand” she also pushed me to think beyond any society-imposed gender boundaries when it came to thinking about a career.

I wasn’t allowed to call boys but I also wasn’t allowed to take shit from boys.

I couldn’t dress provocatively or wear too much make-up but she thought the school was absolutely ridiculous for sending me home for wearing knee-length shorts.

I could watch “Charlies Angels” but she subtly encouraged me to  like the Kate Jackson character best of all because she was smart and resourceful.

I’d better not sleep around but if I did I had options, I had choice.

I don’t know if I ever heard her use the word “feminist” and I know she never participated in a single protest, rally or group but, to this day, she is insanely independent, smart and resourceful and I admire her and aspire to live my life as such.

So, maybe it’s not a big deal that young women don’t want to use the F word – maybe it’s outdated, maybe its connotations don’t resonate, maybe there’s another word that better defines what it is we are and what we do.

That’s not to say I won’t still call myself a feminist — I am one, I always will be one, even when I don’t think about it all the time.  That said, I won’t get freaked out when some woman 20 years (or younger) my junior speak a different cultural language of change (maybe it’s similar to how I cringe at the word “lady” or “ma’am” in certain contexts) at least not as long as she’s actually out there living the life.

Shyness is Vulgar

I’m a big fan of Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog because it’s an interesting and brutally honest mix of career, love and life advice.

Trunk is a newspaper columnist who gives weekly career advice and also the founder of three start-up companies including Brazen Careerist, a social networking-styled “career management tool for next-generation professionals.”

She also has Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome, if you’re not familiar with it, is  an autism spectrum disorder. People diagnosed with Asperger’s typically exhibit difficulties with social interaction. These difficulties usually manifest in behaviors that cause the person to appear at best, aloof, disinterested or merely awkward and, more commonly, inappropriate and rude.

Trunk, who frequently writes about her autism,  is aware of how others often view her but that doesn’t mean she can easily change her behaviors. After all this is the woman who set off an Internet firestorm after she infamously tweeted her miscarriage

The tweet in question: “”I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.”

Reaction, not surprisingly, was intense.

Here’s just a snippet of Trunk’s response to the vitriol.

To all of you who said I should not be happy about having a miscarriage: You are the ones short on empathy. Any woman who is pregnant but wishes she weren’t would of course be grateful when she has a miscarriage. Yes, there are many women who want the baby and have a miscarriage. I was one of them. I cried for days. I get it.

But if you have ever had an abortion, which I have, you would know that a miscarriage is preferable to an abortion. Even the Pope would agree with that.

And what is up with the fact that just one, single person commented about how Wisconsin has a three-week waiting period for abortions? It is absolutely outrageous how difficult it was going to be for me to get an abortion, and it’s outrageous that no one is outraged.

Go read the rest of that post, please.  It’s honest in a way that’s both cringe-inducing and admirable. I only wish I had the guts to be so forthright.

In November, she wrote a post about how to “leverage the advantages to being an introvert at work.”

As someone with Asperger’s, Trunk wrote, it’s often difficult to have “normal” workplace relationships–she has to try much harder than most to fit in – even at the company she founded:

The workplace is set up to reward extroverts. The bias against introverts in American society is well documented, including research that shows that a spot on the cheerleading team foreshadows career success much more reliably than a spot on the honor roll. Also, workplace catch phrases that annoy everyone are especially annoying if you’re not an extrovert: Toot your own horn! Your career is only as strong as your network! Let’s do lunch!

I’m not autistic but I am extremely introverted and I know this has, at times, affected everything from the kind of projects I work on and what kind of support I seek to my overall job satisfaction.

The first time I worked at the News & Review I had the luck to fall in with two smart, extremely talented women – one is something of an extrovert, the other more reserved, like me. We formed a tight-knit group within which I felt confident and happy. I believe this affected how I related to others and, as a result, I was a little more extroverted.

My next job was at an online music magazine in New York. The building was in a Wall Street high-rise, everyone wore designer clothes (seriously), partied late into the night and hobnobbed with famous people. They were nice to me and polite but I had trouble connecting with even one person on anything but the most superficial of levels. This came as a blow to me after the SNR and I know it affected not just my happiness but the job itself.

Subsequently, I’ve learned that one of my challenges is to push at my own social boundaries, to reach out to others, to initiate conversations. Of course, that’s easier said than done. And it’s even more difficult these days because I work two part-time jobs. I’m an adjunct professor — which means I’m part-time, have no office and am only on campus for a few hours each week. I also work part-time at the SNR and I’m typically in the office for about 10-15 hours a week; the rest of my work happens at home or in the field. Sometimes if I’m working on a cover story I’m there even less which means I have to try that much harder to build and maintain those relationships.

Trunk’s advice, however, is  to try — but not by completely negating what makes you you.

“Introversion is an important thing to have in a workplace – the trick is having introverts that understand why they’re so valuable,” she writes.

Among the advice she gives introverts is to “take control of your work” and “have confidence in your knowledge” and, perhaps, just as important, “give 10 minutes than go”

“Make a  connection, really contribute to the conversation, and then ten minutes is enough. …. (E)xtroverts often have anxiety that they cannot get access to the introverts in their life – because they are always leaving to be alone. Introverts can alleviate this problem by being fully attentive for a short time and then leaving.”

With that in mind, sometimes I think I got lucky with my choice of profession. Being a journalist and now a teacher forces me to regularly interact with people. It’s nearly beside the point that I dread the seconds before an interview or the moments before I step into a classroom. Once I’m there, especially if I feel confident with what I know, what I want to ask, what I want to say, then I find it easier to talk and forget why I was so anxious to begin with. Journalism in particular has been such an asset to my life in this way – I say, only half-joking, that I wouldn’t have any friends were it not for my job. It forces me out of my shell, it gives me the confidence to talk to others, hell, it’s how I met my best friend and my husband.

Which isn’t to say that my shyness still doesn’t present a struggle but the advantage of growing older, I guess, is that I recognize this and can at least endeavor to make small changes or,  better yet, sometimes give myself the freedom to just not give a shit if someone thinks I’m weird for sitting at my desk with headphones on, working in my own little world.

Happy New Year – Whoa is Me?

The other day I received a message in my Facebook in-box. It was from somebody named “Jennie Her” and it read: “Are you a lesbian? You’re so wo is me. It’s a turn-off. People don’t like that.”

I pondered over that message for a few minutes. I don’t know this Jennie Her and when I tried to look at her Facebook page, I couldn’t see anything except her photo because she’d set up her profile to “only share certain information with friends” although apparently Facebook deemed it OK for her to share insults with anybody.

Cory thought it was just a spam message and although I marked it as such (and so it disappeared forever from my in-box)  I couldn’t stop thinking about that whole “wo is me” part and how it related to the idea that I may or may not be a lesbian and how this was making me less desirable to the world at large …

Wo is me…what did “Wo” mean? Did she mean “woe”? That would be the most obvious, of course and she wouldn’t be the first to tell me that, sometimes, I can be a bit too “woe is me,” a bit too mired in the misery, too down, too fixated on what isn’t going right. I can see how people might not like that trait but how it relates to being a lesbian is beyond me. Is woefulness a same-sex preference characteristic?

But then I thought, maybe she meant “whoa is me” – that perhaps I’m just too laid-back. Maybe I’ve been Spicoli-ing my way through life and people are finally tired of my stoner ways, they want me to stop, it’s such a turn-off.

Again, though, how does this possibly make me someone who is so out-of-touch with her own sexual preferences that she’s been living a marital lie for 10-plus years?  Dude, I’m so confused.

I do know this, however: wo, woe or whoa I don’t really care what people like or don’t like about me or what does or doesn’t turn them on.  And by “people” I mean those I don’t know or with whom I’m not already friends. My friends and family know me and, last time I checked they liked me. Oh sure, they occasionally tell me to (take your pick) snap out of it, get over yourself, lighten up, et al…but they do it with care because that’s what friends and family do.

So, sitting here at the dawn of 2010, sipping coffee and listening to the Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard record, I’m struck with the idea of how my life has seemingly shaped up to be what it’s supposed to be.

I have goals and resolutions for this coming year….some are the usual (lose that 5 pounds, read & write everyday, cook more, buy less, be more adventurous), some are deeply personal, others are just seedlings of inspiration, ambition and desire.

Wo, woe or whoa, I’m eager to see where and who I am at the end of this year’s journey – but I’m also ready to enjoy every little step it takes to get there.

My guess is that 365 days from now I’ll be just as wo, woe or whoa as ever and I probably still won’t be a lesbian although I do understand from first-hand observations that these things can suddenly change in mid-life and if that does happen I’ll be very sorry for Cory’s sake but, you know, shit happens….

So fuck you Jennie Her – whether you’re real or a spambot — and to everyone else, a very Happy New Year …..

The Year in Song

Over at the New Yorker, John Donohue has posted a story called “The Year of the Songstress” in which he writes that “Dozens upon dozens of albums cross my desk every day. A few from this year that stand out share a common trait—they each have female vocalists.”
What is this, 1995? Have we just come down from our Liz Phair, early-Hole high and discovered that women can make music too? Sing to me Alanis, rock that guitar Meredith!

To me, Donohue’s post is as offensive as if he’d pointed out that several notable releases shared a common trait because they came from, you know, black people.

Idiot.

Moving cheerily along, I had a tough time coming up with my annual top 10 list this year and the one I threw together for the annual Pazz & Jop poll seems, in retrospect, a little half-assed and definitely half-hearted.

I’m not sure exactly where my apathy stems from. Perhaps I didn’t listen to as much new music this year — certainly leaving the Bee meant that less came my way. I felt as though I did make a point to seek out new artists or listen to new releases by old favorites but perhaps not as much in years past.

I think maybe it’s that as this year was so much about starting over that I simply found comfort in old music. There were old favorites by the likes of Whiskeytown, Yo La Tengo and Jeff Buckley.

There were plenty of decades-old tunes as well. I listened to a lot of Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee, Memphis Minnie, Etta Fitzgerald, Kay Starr, George Jones and Dolly Parton this year. That’s just what sounded right to my ears.

That said, here are my favorite albums of 2009, pared down from the Village Voice entry into a more enthusiastic Top 5 list

1. “Merriweather Post Pavilion” – Animal Collective

I’ve always been sort of on the fence with this group but this epic pop album sealed the deal.

2. “It’s Not You, It’s Me” – Lily Allen

I was worried Lily Allen would let me down after her debut album – a disc I thoroughly wore out with constant rotation – but this album is just as saucy, sassy and sarcastically fun.

3. “Wilco (The Album)” – Wilco

Another Wilco album, another favorite. What can I say? I like even their worst albums but thankfully this one proved to be a great one.

4. “Actor” – St. Vincent. Took me a long time to warm up to this one but once I did I was glad I gave it all those chances.

5.  “Hazards of Love” – The Decemberists. Epic album that finally fulfilled this band’s potential.

I also really like the new Raveonettes album but I just got it a week ago so it seems premature to declare it a 2009 favorite.

It was easier to pick out songs that I loved …

  1. “My Girls” – Animal Collective
  2. “Heavy Cross” – The Gossip
  3. “Fuck You” – Lily Allen
  4. “I’ll Fight” – Wilco
  5. “Nothing to Hide” – Yo La Tengo
  6. “”What We Know” – Sonic Youth
  7. “Led to the Sea” – Jenny Owens Young
  8. “”High Horses” – the Swell Season
  9. “”Laughing with a Mouth of Blood” – St. Vincent
  10. “Everytime I’m With You” – Sparklehorse, featuring Jason Lytle
  11. “The Gold” – Sea of Bees
  12. “Dull Life” – the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  13. “Palace of Bone” – Peter Doherty
  14. “Eager to Die” – Mike Hale
  15. “Hideaway” – Karen O. & the Kids
  16. “Voodoo” – Ganglians
  17. “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer” – A.C. Newman
  18. “Primitive Man” – Fruit Bats
  19. “The Hazards of Love” – The Decemberists
  20. “Life’s a Dream” – Built to Spill
  21. “My Life Would Suck Without You” – Kelly Clarkson

Friday Night Lights

Pacers 4 Life

I’ve spent the last five weeks of my life immersed in this Grant High School football story. The Grant High Paers won the 2008 CIF championship. It was the first time any Sacramento-area team won a state football title.

At first I wasn’t exactly sure of the story’s focus; generally I thought it would be a look at how that win did–or didn’t–change the team. But ultimately, although that idea lingered, it also shifted as I got to know some of the players. Running back Devontae Butler – the undisputed star of the team– and his best friend quarterback Glenn Deary were both nice enough to talk to me, answer my stupid questions about football and, more important, open up about their lives and their ambitions. Along the way, I learned that Butler and Deary have been best friends since age 6 and are now thinking about playing ball for the same college team. These are two extraordinary kids, on and off the field and I really enjoyed getting to know them.

It probably goes without saying that, along the way, I became extremely invested in these kids. No journalistic non-bias going on here, at least not when it came to hoping that they’d go all the way to the next bowl game.

But life happens and that win was not meant to be. It was difficult to walk out on the field after Rocklin’s win and see 16 and 17-year-old young men crying.

A heartbreaker but I think that with the support of family and friends, these players – Butler and Deary in particular– will  do just fine. I hope so. I never really kept up with local high school football before this story but researching it I learned of the many former Grant players who started out strong only to stumble —Tommy Hall is the worst recent example.

That cliche “It takes a village ….” ? Never more true. These kids are smart and talented but they’ll need the whole damn neighborhood to succeed. But, really, don’t we all?

Revolution Snuggie

Snuggies let me raise the roof
Raise the roof in your snuggie

Yikes, I didn’t realize it’d been so long since the last update; the last two weeks didn’t get away from me–they clobbered me. Papers to grade, holidays to hold, cover stories to write. It feels like I’m only just now coming up for air and still the semester isn’t even over yet. Anyone want to grade final papers for me? I’ll pay you in cookies (kidding LRCC, kidding…).

I’ve basically been in survival mode the last few weeks, grading and writing non-stop, not seeing much of friends, my only downtime coming late at night when I finally head to the couch and Cory pours me a glass of wine and I try to bring my breathing down to something normal, something that will let me approach sleep.

As it’s finally and blissfully cold, this ritual also includes the nightly donning of fleecy pants, hoodies and slippers (sexy, right?). Lately I’ve been joking about how I want a Snuggie— you know, the fleecy “blanket with sleeves.” It started when Cory and I were trying to figure out our Halloween costumes and nearly settled on the laziest costume of all time: Snuggies. Seriously, how rad would that have been? Well, I thought it would be anyway–cozy, drink-friendly, cheap and effortless.

That didn’t happen but, still I joked and then, spurred on by a suggestion from Becca, I decided to write my column about Snuggies.

I didn’t tell Cory this so imagine my surprise when he came home from work on Monday–just hours after I filed my column–with a gift: My very own forest green Snuggie!

I opened it that night all set to get as snuggie as possible….but ….

Well, here’s how the Snuggie web site tries to sell you on this fleecy invention:

The Snuggie is perfect for:

* Traveling in the Car
* Night Time Pub Crawls
* Chilly Office Buildings
* Sporting Events
* Cold Movie Theaters

Here’s what they don’t tell you about the Snuggie:

* It’s constructed for an NBA player – seriously it’s long enough for me to wear while standing on Beno Udrih’s shoulders
* It’s got extra long, baggy arms, it kind of looks like you’re wearing a Hogwarts robe — one constructed for Hagrid
* It looks like it was constructed in one of Kathie Lee Gifford’s sweatshops — yeah, it’s that bad.

And yet I wear it. I wear it on the couch, I wear it while typing, I wear it while I’m napping. So far, however, I think I have too much of a personal sense of shame to ever–ever–wear this damn thing in public. If I ever do, stick a fork in me, I’m done ….