Monthly Archives: December 2010

Self-Portaiture

So yesterday I found a candle and a camera and scandalized the entire family by taking over 200 photos of myself. I culled about a dozen of the best to put up here. I think I’m inordinately pleased with them mostly because of the constraints I was working under. . .namely the fact that I basically had to lay on my desk and had less than three feet from the desk to the shelf and only two fabric panels with which to conceal the chaos that is the room. And also that I had to work the camera one-handed and guess if it was pointed in the right direction. And, oh yes, the candle. I only spilled hot wax on myself once, and don’t think the singe-damage to my hair is even noticeable.

one

five

six

seven

eight

nine

ten

eleven

twelve

thirteen

I think that in the one above, I look like I’m nine years old and bummed that I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas.

fifteen

Here I look like I am under the command of the great glowing screen. Those “natural” fluorescent lights are anything but.

black and white

cinema2

cinema1

Nostalgia

nos·tal·gia
   [no-stal-juh, -jee-uh, nuh-]
–noun
1.
a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days.

I was looking at old pictures today, and considering nostalgia and what it means and why we get it. The odd thing is that the feeling I identify as “nostalgia” can be evoked even by pictures of other people–entirely unrelated to me–in places I’ve never known, not just by pictures of my own past.

I came a little closer to understanding this when I realized the root of the word nostalgia is actually acute homesickness, with “nostos” being “returning home” and algia being “pain”. What makes us nostalgic depends on what we recognize “home” being constituted of. “Home,” of course, does not merely constitute “the building you dwell in” or “where you grew up.” Home is often defined in such terms as, ” An environment offering security and happiness.” or ” A valued place regarded as a refuge or place of origin.” or “The place where something is discovered, founded, developed, or promoted; a source.” or “Feeling an easy competence and familiarity.” Home can be a place of belonging, a place where you are known and cared for, a place mutuality, a place of carefree-ness, of a feeling of everything being–or will be–okay.

They say a picture paints a thousand words, and the emotions one sees–or infers–into photographs can evoke any number meanings of home. Home is something, I guess, that we all long for, but never seem to quite reach. The-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side of nostalgia is because what we feel to be missing in reality we cannot see missing in photographs. A powerful image can seem to show the Garden of Eden, but the actual presence seems to verberate with the true superficiality of the situation.

It’s like the word ‘idyllic’. One can compose idyllic photographs, but those actually there rarely felt idyllic at the time. But internal turmoil is frequently not shown in the fleeting moments a photograph is snapped. We long for the past not because we long for the past, but because it seems we had something then that we never really had–and something we are fearful we will never truly have.

Perfection. Perfection in peace, in joy, in love. . .

Perhaps that’s why Christmas is such a traditionally nostalgic celebration. More than any other popularized American celebration, it tends to emphasize those very concepts: Peace. Joy. Love. Home. We ache for them all.

I’m me; who are you?

On Friday I went to visit my Grandma and brother. I knew she hadn’t been doing too well, so I wasn’t surprised as she kept giving us updates on how she was now not feeling well. And I wasn’t too surprised when she over-dosed herself with her nitro and dropped her blood pressure by a hundred points; you’d think I would be, but the last time she had just come back from the hospital and I was visiting, she’d done the exact same thing. It’s like we’re starting our own bazaar little tradition. Go to the hospital. Come back. I visit. Take to much nitro. A perfect repeat from earlier in the year.

But this time, having her sit down and taking her through the next 15 minutes while her blood pressure came back up didn’t work. This time, an ambulance was called.

More ambulances than I can count have been called for Grandma, so this shouldn’t have been a surprise, either. But I’ve never been there while the ambulance was called before. I’ve never called 911, and now things began to fade into the surreal as I listened to my brother matter-of-factly talking to the dispatcher. Is this how you call 911? Somehow I always equate “911” with “barely holding down a panic,”–but then, my grandma seemed to have that base covered.

Kind of.

She was alternately sobbing from fear, and directing me to get her PJs to take with her. The pink ones. They were clean.

The surreal feeling intensified. Is this how one prepares to die of a heart attack? Making sure they have clean PJs with them?

I continued to (futilely) attempt to calm her down. Being upset does nothing to help lower your blood pressure nor provide your heart with enough oxygen. The sirens started to come into hearing range.

“I can hear them coming!” Grandma said, and broke down anew. All I could think of were the valkyries riding in, and it did nothing to take away from the surreality.

“They’re coming to help you, Grandma, not–” I blurted out, and then stopped a second short. Saying “kill you” didn’t seem like a good idea.

The EMT people arrived. They looked strangely familiar, but I couldn’t place any of them. My brother could; the head of the team had been Grandma’s nurse at the Emergency Room—oh, I don’t know, a day or so ago. Yes, we are frequent fliers, why do you ask? Awkward!

They started hooking her up to the portable EKG, and then they did something else. They put her on oxygen. It was the weirdest thing; as soon as the oxygen was put on her, Grandma was gone to me–there was only A Patient. The Patient did not have an abnormal EKG (for her, anyway), but the Patient was still to be taken to the hospital. The Patient was transferred from her chair to the EMT wheelchair; once they had the Patient downstairs, they transferred her again, this time to the stretcher. They took the Patient to the ambulance to get an IV started.

When we got to the hospital, the Patient was being examined. The Patient’s EKG had changed on the ride in; it was likely the Patient was having a heart attack. The doctor informed me that the heart specialist would down, and that cath lab notified that they needed to see the Patient.

Maybe it is because I have so rarely been inside a hospital to actually use it; instead, the majority of my hospital time has been sent working in it. Maybe I am too used to making hospitals happen.

Because when the lady came to draw vial after vial of blood, I started helping her as though I were her aide. And when we got the Patient transferred up to the Chest Pain Center, I was so prepared to do what I always do with patients–reposition them in the bed–that the nurse had to gently chide me, teasing me that she couldn’t let me do that since she wasn’t prepared to put me on the payroll. But this is what you do in hospitals; this is what you do with patients. There is a Patient in the bed, and I don’t know what else to do about it.

I went up again on Sunday, and the Patient was slouched so uncomfortably in bed. I couldn’t sit down till I got that fixed. She is crying, complaining of chest pain, certain she will soon die–and I hear myself saying, “Grandma, you’ll feel a lot better once we get in a more comfortable position.”

Yes. Right. I am a staunch believer in Rehab, but even I don’t believe we’re going to cure angina by repositioning the Patient in bed. But what else are you going to do?

I wasn’t all wrong; after getting her repositioned (I was a good girl and asked the staff to do it) and spending 15 minutes helping to convince her to take her meds. . .she did start feeling better. We left her in much better shape than we found her, but I. . .I could not shake the peculiarity of being so distanced from the decline of my grandmother.

It is true that I was always closer to my Grandpa than my Grandma, if nothing else by virtue of our personalities being more similar. And it is true that even with Grandpa, I didn’t always feel the weight of the situation. But I never lost Grandpa. . .Grandpa was Grandpa was Grandpa, right up to the last time conversation I had with him (we were discussing the likelihood of mine ever taking to coffee–slim to none), right up to the last time I saw him. But Grandma is somehow becoming a Patient. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Grandma is existing in a medical setting, whereas Grandpa spent his days at home. This isn’t a complaint; I think Grandma needs to be where she’s at.

But it feels so odd, like talking matter-of-factly on the phone with 911. Matter-of-factly discussing how the doctors tell us now how she is likely to die of a heart aneurysm, her heart literally breaking–rupturing–within her chest. Matter-of-factly considering how her heart is literally failing in every conceivable way, and some was I hadn’t even conceived of. Sitting here thinking about these things like I’m reading them off of A Patient’s chart.

I know it’s my grandmother. I know it is. But I keep seeing A Patient.

Make up your mind!!!

Members of the female gender tend you hear that a lot. My friend and I have actually decided it is our feminine right to be indecisive. We will say things like, “well, right now I’m thinking such-and-such, but I reserve my feminine right to change my mind as many times as necessary!!” I don’t think we’re really all that indecisive, really; I think we just acutely feel our moments of wishy-washing. After a certain point, you realize if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em–rather than bemoan our indecisiveness, we’ll just claim it as a privilege, and it’s all good.

At the moment, I maintain wishy-washiness about my blog. I do like have a blog, so don’t be afraid of it disappearing any time soon. But I am wishing and washing concerning the content of my blog.

If you want to know something that annoys me, it is people who consistently write about what annoys them. (I feel like I shall have to duck a stone for even writing that sentence.) I don’t like reading things of people explaining how everything in the world is wrong, except them, who is right. (Again, I duck.) Overly pontificating whilst at the same time seeming to have a narrow view or an extreme disability to see other sides are distasteful (my face may be on a wanted poster).

I some times, however, do very much so like reading blogs that are willing to discuss, even obliquely, personal struggles; I also like seeing the world through other peoples’ eyes, which makes me think as well.

The problem is that I rarely like writing things like that; I tend to be introspective, and want to write long, pontificating posts that would probably make my eyes glaze over if I was reading from someone elses’ pen (so to speak). It’s not that I regret being introspective, or writing introspectively–it’s just that sometimes I wish I could cultivate the art of, well, I don’t know just how to put it. I guess I want to learn to be a little like Hansel and Gretel and leave a little trail of where I’ve been. I’m not worried about capturing every detail, but I wish I could learn to paint pictures with my words so that later I could look back over them and say “I remember!” the way we do with photographs.

It all seems so present and pointless writing about it when it’s happening, but because of that, it tends to fly right out of your head, never to be grasped again. I don’t need to keep it all; but more often than not I seem to find myself staring blankly at the wall with my head cocked at an angle thinking to myself, “What just happened? I feel like I’ve been picked up by tornado, flung around a dizzingly amount of times and dropped back to the ground. I don’t remember anything!”

But writing about things like that. . .is boring. Not reading it some time later, but the actual act of getting it out there–for goodness sake! It feels like there are million more meaningful ways to spend my time. It just isn’t worth the effort. But then, later, looking back, I regret that I don’t have my rhetoric photographs.

So. . .do I force myself to write boring stuff, or to resign myself to not being able to look back? I don’t like either option. . .

Here I be

In my mind, I’m already on break. Sadly, I have another week to go yet. But really, in my mind, I’m already on my next semester. And in my mind, I’m thinking it’s time to start thinking about the summer. In my mind, next fall doesn’t seem that far away.

All this forward thinking means that I have pretty well accepted situations by the time they roll around, but sometimes I worry that it means I’m not here. It seems the busier I am, the more forward I think. But if I am too un-busy, then I become so caught up in the daily eddies that I can’t seem to be able to see beyond the end of my nose.

To be able to happily live in the present–that is a great gift. That, and not being disturbed by the future.

At clinic, we’re playing whatever radio station is currently NOT playing 100% Christmas music. There is some song who’s refrain is “let it be”, and of course when I come look at the lyrics, I see it is like one of the most famous Beatles songs of all time, but who listens to Beatles music? (That was a rhetorical question; no need to answer.) I sometimes still hear that refrain in my head sometimes when I’m home, and it echos in my mind like another translation of “be still and know that I am God.” Why is it so hard to do that? Both the first half (be still) and the second half (and know)? I feel like I’m in the wilderness complaining that there is no meat. Conscious of that, I’m a little afraid He’ll send meat.

Believing that God is mighty is one thing; believing that He is loving is another. Lord, help my unbelief.

“Christianity”

Today I was driving home, and I decided to flip on the radio. It was a “Christian” radio station, in the middle of a “news” broadcast. The announcer was talking about how some highly decorated military guy (I’m sorry, but I really wasn’t paying attention) was going to be speaking at a church in a near-by(ish) town. He went on and on about how said military guy had been in every major war since Viet Nam, 3 purple hearts, half a dozen other awards, blah blah blah. “Besides all this,” the announcer continued, “he is also a born-again Christian. The question is. . .

. . .what does he think about the army rolling back the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ rule?????!!”

That’s the question?!” I blurted aloud–and shut off the radio.

Okay, so tell me why I was so surprised this was the question du jour, the question of great necessity? How come, when he was doing his dramatic lead-up for why we should all be listening to this grand speaker–how come all I could think of was “love thine enemies; bless and do not curse”? And why was that not on the mind of the announcer?

I’m not talking about war in this world in general, I’m talking specifically about the roll of self-proclaimed “born-again Christians” in the wars that inevitably come upon this world. It hurts my head to hear, without the slightest shred of recognizing paradox or quandary or difficulty, someone claiming to be both very good at the art of war (e.g. killing people) and at the same time claiming to be part of a religion who’s defining hallmark is supposedly “for God so loved the world, He sent His only son to die”–for crimes He didn’t commit, and without resisting. A religion that is supposedly defined by a radical, extreme, defenseless love, a love extended even unto enemies, loving those which do not love–and yet it’s followers don’t even blink to hold the sword in the other hand.

I know, I know, I know. . .it has happened all through the ages, and will continue to happen. But it just seems that in the last several days I have been bombarded with reasons why I hesitate to identify myself with anything that has the tag “Christian.” I want a new word; that one’s spoiled.

When the secretary at clinic asked me what type of music I liked, she was trying to be friendly, share the air-space, maybe find some common ground, and make sure she wasn’t offending me or stepping on my toes or driving me nuts by the music she was playing. It was a profoundly uncomfortable conversation, because I didn’t want to say I listened to “Christian” music. Not because I didn’t want her to know that I believed in God, or believed that I was a sinner incapable of saving myself or any other such thing–but because at a gut level I knew saying that I listened to “Christian” music would be slamming the door in her face, presenting myself as a pious, holier-than-though, I’m-too-good-for-you kinda person.

You can call it profiling if you want, but most people react that way. . .and people covered in Goth tattoos and who are ex-rock band singers I suspect particularly so. A week or so later, I got all the confirmation I needed that I was glad I hadn’t publicly vocalized adherence to the “Christian” tag. First the conversation fell onto how when she enters retail facilities she’s stalked by the staff who suspect her of shop lifting solely on the basis of her tattoos. From there it went on to how, when she worked in a video store, the “Jesus Freaks” would come in and hide pamphlets in all her videos.

“Dude,” she said, “I’m all good with each to their own beliefs and believe what you want to believe, but stop messing with my merchandise!!”

Yeah, like really. What kind of “witness” is it to do something so disrespectful as essentially vandalizing someone elses’s store?

The story continued to progress to how, during her time working at the clinic I’m at, someone had left a tract on her desk, because, as she puts it “somehow they think I look more profane than anyone else around here.” (Please note: she takes care to do her best to cover every tattoo she has while at work. She’s not deliberately going around freaking out the patients.) She found the tract so offensive (not her words, but the gist of her thought) that she kept it. She pulled it out for me and the other PTA to see.

It was horribly offensive. I don’t say that because it claimed a difference “essential” stance than I do–that evolution is false and that God created the world–but it is as though their one deliberate goal was to ridicule and shame anyone who didn’t believe them. It was a mocking, derogatory, condescending, revolting display of “Christianity”.

I see so much of this type of “Christianity” these days, that I don’t want to be a “Christian”. People hear the word “Christian” and they clam up, because they associate (and I cannot say wrongly) the word with people who don’t approve, people who look down on them, people who are snotty and superior toward them, people who have no respect for them.

Do I think our tattooed secretary has never done an un-holy thing in her life? No, but that could also be said of the innocent looking, porcelain doll-like of their PTA, and it could also be said of me. Recognizing God’s standards is not about condemning anyone who hasn’t lived up to them; it’s about recognizing that none of us has met them, and so we’re all equals.

I’m not saying I’m perfect at applying this. I’m not saying I don’t grind my teeth mightily when working with worker’s comp patients who are so obviously trying to game the system. But it leaves me feeling. . .I don’t know; sad, I guess, when you see people sizing you up. “Okay, a pious person; that means when you find out I’m not like you, you’re going to hate me, dis me, look down on me. I’m not good enough for you.”

I don’t like being viewed as the most morally superior person in the room. I am me and you are you, and God is over us both.

I just find it so frustrating, or sad, or pathetic or something, to be sitting here trying to figure out how to love the world and at the same time hearing how “Christianity” is trying to figure out how to judge the world. The time for judgment will come, to be sure, but that time is not now. But if this time was extended a hundred-fold, I still don’t think I’d ever be able to properly comprehend what it means to “love your enemies.” I suppose that’s the exact reason I feel we must to consciously consider such things.

Pessimists are always right, at least 50% of the time.

Don’t laugh; if something had a 50% chance of getting rid of your sickness, you’d be taking it.

(As long as no one told you it had a 50% chance of causing cancer.)

I was dreading observing a surgery this semester because I “knew”–in that creepy, look-behind-you-the-universe-is-conspiring-against-you kind of way–that there was no possible way it would go smoothly.

The fact that it took me several weeks and twice as many phone calls to finally get a hold of a live human being only fueled that fire. Despite the bland assurances that everything would be a piece of cake from people who ought to know, I became increasingly–if subconsciously–paranoid.

By the time the week of my surgery observation date rolled around, I was dreaming consecutive nights in a row that my surgery observation had fallen through. These dreams would actually wake me up, and I would lay there and think, “My goodness, I didn’t think I was that anxious about this.”

I was sure that when I called the day before to re-confirm the time that everything would fall to pieces. It didn’t. I felt so relieved.

This is called, “letting down your guard too early.”

A few scant hours later, I received a phone call that threw everything into doubt. I tried to assure myself that everything would work out, but couldn’t help but get the sneaking suspicion that my subconscious knew something I didn’t.

The next day I attempted several more phone calls, and then a real life appearance. All was futile. The observation fell through, and I became convinced that my dreams were actually premonitions. I don’t think I have ever dreamed about the same subject consecutively before; apparently, I am just developing the ability to prophesy. (Though it seems kind of slimy to just parrot Mr. Murphy and pretend it’s prophesy.)

The crowning touch was that, 3 hours after my anticipated surgery time, I was cleared to observe surgery–after I’d already switched to plan B, of course.

I think the universe is mocking me.

(The universe does revolve around me, you know.)