Well, something’s lost but something’s gained

20 04 2016

This is the year we all turn 50.

School-year, I mean, so some of us got a head start last fall, but as of this past weekend, only one us is still waiting on her birthday.

B. had left a message for me on my birthday saying Hey, let’s all get together in Chicago in April, and mirabilis dictu, we all got together in Chicago in April.

We’re old now—one of us is soon to be a grandmother—and we have the wrinkles and dyed hair to prove it. And yes, there were discussions of creaking bones and medical tests and demurrals from that last glass of beer or wine. And yes, we talked about high school classmates and who died, who divorced, who married whose ex, and of old crushes and friends who’ve fallen away.

But mostly we talked and walked and laughed. We walked to Millennium Park and the Navy Pier, took distorted pictures of ourselves in the Bean (I have no idea what it’s actually called), wandered through the old Chicago Public Library building and decided that paying 10 bucks to get married by a justice of the peace in one of its splendid halls would be a very good deal. We took an architectural tour via the Chicago River (we were all terribly impressed with the tour guide) and wandered around the WGN building gazing at and occasionally patting the embedded stones from around the world.

We ate Chicago-style pizza.

Now, here I have to mention that I tried really (well, pretty) hard not to be a tiresome New Yorker and comment on everything Second City, but when it came to the deep-dish pizza, I had to say “Chicago-style”. (B. did, however, agree with me that “pizza” really did mean New York pizza.)

Anyway, it was good.

The whole weekend was good. The conversation zipped around and around and we were all quite agreeable with one another. I swore too much and P. and T. competed with how many steps each took, and the four of us in line for the river tour weren’t entirely sure the other two would make it back from the bathroom in time, but as we parted on Sunday we all agreed we should do this again, maybe in Chicago, maybe in Milwaukee, but yes, definitely, we should get together to eat and drink and walk and talk and laugh and laugh and laugh, at ourselves and all we’ve been through and all that’s yet to come.


I got life

29 09 2015

So: “pinched nerve” might be a lay and not medical term, but it does describe a real phenomenon, in my case, an impingement upon the sciatic nerve.

No, I didn’t get this diagnosis from a doctor—there’s not much she could do, so why bother—but it’s pretty clear from my symptoms that my occasional lower back troubles can cause what is literally a pain in my ass.

If I want a more exact diagnosis than “o.l.b.t.”, then, yes, I’d need to see a doctor and undergo a variety of expensive (e.g., MRI) tests, but as a more exact diagnosis would likely lead to no greater precision in treatment—rest, time—there’s seems little point in doing so.

I am gonna have to get more ibuprofen, though.


While I haven’t enjoyed in any way the pain from my grumpy sciatic nerve, I did take interest in the (non-pain) side effects of the jumped-up nerve, namely, the random twitching up and down my lower right side.

At one point early on I watched the middle toe of my right foot flutter like a drunk hummingbird. It didn’t hurt at all, and if I concentrated, I could stop the movement; in any case, after 10 or maybe 20 minutes, it stopped.

Sometimes my glutes twitched, sometimes, the muscles in my calf. It’d start, then stop, seemingly at random.

I still get the occasional muscle-shudder, but as whatever is annoying the nerve is slowly retreating, so to is the twitching.


One of the reasons I love teaching my bioethics course is that I get to talk about human biology, which is so astonishingly jerry-rigged that I can’t help crowing “biology is so cool!”

Most of us Homo sapiens sapiens have 46 chromosomes occupying the nuclei of our somatic cells, but some of us have 45 and some have 47, 48, or even 49 (that’d be one of the varieties of Klinefelter’s).

A woman with Turner syndrome is missing a second sex chromosome (45,XO), and while she’s infertile and may experience some developmental delays, she likely will have normal intelligence and may live out a normal life span. On the other hand, a child born with a deficiency in the short arm of the 5th chromosome will be born with Cri-du-chat syndrome, which affects both her physical and intellectual development, and may leave her unable to communicate.

So, missing an entire chromosome might have fewer effects than missing a portion of an arm of chromosome. A man who is 47,XYY is likely to experience no effects whatsoever, 47,XXY will have Klinefelter’s (and thus be infertile), and 21,XXX (Trisomy 21 or Down syndrome) will experience profound physical and intellectual effects.

Oh, and some women are 46,XY.

Now, one of the things that can be inferred from this little recitation of chromosomal abnormalities is that the genes on these chromosomes are tremendously important, such that the genes on the short arm of the 5th chromosome are involved in aspects of our development that genes on the sex chromosomes are not; similarly, the Y chromosome is so gene-poor (~350) that doubling up on the Y has no discernible effect.

Then again, the few genes—most importantly, the SRY gene—that do remain on the Y are clearly important: their dysfunction, after all, can result in an XY woman.

The second thing that can be inferred from all of this is that biology is messy—I haven’t even discussed mosaicism or chimerism, or situs inversus or any of the other kinds of weirdnesses within us—and that the messes themselves are messy: sometimes they matter a whole lot, and sometimes not at all.


So the first day my sciatic nerve commenced its protest it hurt to stand, was uncomfortable to walk, and running felt fine.

The second and third day, it hurt so much in the morning that shortly after rising I would sit down, gasping, from the screaming in my leg; after moving around a bit, however, the pain receded.

A couple of days I limped. Some days it hurt to put pressure on my right leg, some days it hurt not to put pressure on it. If I positioned my foot this way I was fine, that way, not; later, the fines were reversed.

I can walk quickly, but for the past 4 or 5 days, can’t run. Going up and down stairs was initially problem-free; now I grasp the railing.

Slowly, slowly, I am getting better: while the troubles migrate, they also abate. I was hoping they’d be gone by now, but I expect by next week, they will be.


Aging sucks.


I’d rather not have gone through this and will do my damnedest to forestall a recurrence, but it does make me wonder what is going on beneath my skin.

Yes, I pay attention to my body, but usually when something is wrong I can trace it back to its source: I ate too much, didn’t stretch after a workout, wiped out on an icy sidewalk;  thus having linked effect to cause, I lose interest.

)And with migraines, well, they’re just SO irritating that I become preoccupied with the pain itself; the rare occasions when I get auras I am less fascinated than, well, irritated. Knock it off, shimmering lights, you’re blocking my view.)

In this case, I’m pretty sure I know what set off the latest back pain, but how that migrated down into the sciatic nerve, and how that nerve proceeded to respond to this trespass hopscotched around predictability. Why is my toe shaking? Why is my calf muscle clenching and unclenching?

What the hell is going on?

Oh, I know: what’s happening is that my body is now more assertive in letting me know it is unhappy with my treatment of it, i.e., that I’m getting old.

It’s not that when younger I thought I was in charge of my body, but, yeah, I thought I was in charge of my body.

I’m not humbled, but bothered, to learn otherwise, and I will not be gracious in relinquishing control.

It will be a fight to the death.

Never seen this picture before

1 02 2012

It’s Philip Glass’s birthday today.

I went through a period in grad school where I listened to this cd every day. It was not a good period. Did the music make it better, or worse? Or did I just ride it through?

Anyway, I like Glass, but wouldn’t mention his birthday were it not also my birthday. I’m not as old as the composer, but I almost certainly have more days behind me than in front of me.

It’s odd: to think of one’s life as more than half over but also simultaneously to realize I’ve lived a long time and I’ve got a long stretch in front of me.

I turn around and look at my life and say sing-shout My god, what have I done? but I don’t ever think, wow, that was quick. It’s been a trek, a slog, a marathon, a sojourn—anything but a lark.

Perhaps that’s the one upside to living so much of my life down: I’ve felt so damned many jolts and jangles on my wayfaring through the days that looking ahead the end does not seem near; a bumpy path is a long one.

No guarantees, of course—Mayan apocalypse 2012!—but absent the end of the world or a Newt presidency (do I repeat myself?), well, as Emmylou sang, I’ve still got a ways to go.

Everything everything everything

28 09 2011

Over the hill. Pulled the plug but not yet circling the drain. Old broad. Over half a life gone.

No, I’m not old, nor do I feel old, but I ain’t young, either.

When I was young, I wanted everything. I wanted California and mountains and oceans and Hollywood and a cabin in the woods and nature and cities and people and space and I wanted to sing and dance and act and write and draw and paint and ride dirt bikes and horses and swim and sled and oh if only I could fly, wouldn’t it be lovely to fly?

Now, I am a ma’am with a Ph.D. and I don’t know what I want, don’t even know how to think about what I want. I was so open, then, to everything; how could I not want it?

And now? Ha: you know the answer.

But I still wonder.

“Dancing” from One! Hundred! Demons! By Lynda Barry

“Dancing” from One! Hundred! Demons! By Lynda Barry p. 2

Do you know Lynda J. Barry?

I started reading Ernie Pook’s Comeek in The Isthmus, the Madison alt-weekly, when I was in college. Marlys and Maybonne and Freddie and everyone in that weird little world made me laugh and wonder and sometimes, sometimes, they pierced me clean through.

I found Marlys Magazine again online, then it got stripped way bare, and now it’s back, in full splendor.

Lynda J. Barry draws what she wants, writes what she wants, lives how she wants.

I don’t know if she knows what she wants, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

The thrill is gone

11 06 2010

I’d have been a helluva blogger at twenty.

I tried to take in everything at that age—every last news thing, that is—and I had an opinion about everything, which I was (surprise!) not shy about expressing.

It helped that I had a weekly column with The Daily Cardinal, so I could share my views about, oh, everything, with the world.

Hot schnocolate. Platoon and ‘being there’. Sex ed. Feminism. Class.

I once started started a column with ‘Enough fucking around.’ (It was about the hostages held in Iran. I was wrong.)

Then there was the column I published about [the lack of] tolerance on the Madison campus—the day of an interview with campus officials for a scholarship. (I was asked about the column; I got the scholarship.)

I loved being in the newsroom, that sense of something always going on; I remember standing over the AP machine watching news unspool on the long roll of paper, and thinking, ‘Man, how many other people know this right now?’ And we got to tell them.

Opinions to burn, baby, I had ’em.

Still do; never lost ’em. In fact, at one lunch with a guest to a bioethics center, I introduced myself by stating ‘I have lunch and opinions.’

But I am tired. The news felt new, back then; now, it’s more of the same. There’s a kind of wisdom in that, I guess, or at least knowledge, of the sort that can only be gained with time and experience, but the frisson is missing.

That’s okay. Just as I no longer need to get roaring drunk to have a good time, and rather enjoy pulling the ‘old, old lady’ card on my students, I don’t need bubbles in my brain at the mere sight of updated headlines.

But, oh, what I could have, would have, written, back in the day, how I would have been energized rather than enervated by the constant flow of information, and how I would not have even thought to have paused before adding my own bits to that flow.

It would have been fun. I like this gig, now, this greater reflection and slow pace, but, still.

It would have been fun.

(h/t EmilyLHauser)

I am woman—hear me roar

12 01 2010

I am so fucking tired of having to generate outrage at yet another horrendously stupid or awful comment on or policy regarding women.

It’s not that I’m no longer capable of outrage—note the existence of the ‘Rant’ category (or see this post)—but JesusMary&Joseph can I not simply walk away from idiocy on occasion?

Look, I’m old—an old feminist, and shit that used to rile me is now far more likely to lead me to roll my eyes. Some dickwad thinks women can’t think and menstruate at the time and I’m supposed to engage in a point-by-point rebuttal of this so-called argument?

Can’t I just laugh in his face and move on?

C. and I were discussing our respective positions vis-a-vis feminism the other night; while her views generally might be described as feminist, she declines the term. I’ll leave it to her to explain why—she’s working on a post on the topic—but she was clearly weary of the ‘rules’ of feminism. Do I have to invoke ‘The Patriarchy‘ every time some guy acts like a douche? Can’t I just say, This guy is a douche?

I think patriarchy is a key concept in understanding the development of male-female roles and relationships across societies; I also think such understanding requires a sense of critical distance from the term itself, as well as an ability to distinguish between overarching/underlying structural dynamics and the idiosyncracies of individual behavior.

Translation: Yes, sometimes a douche is just a douche.

But even if I think that scripts for individual behavior are shaped (not determined) by those structural dynamics, it doesn’t necessarily mean I have to go nuclear every time someone tosses a dart my way. Sometimes I can just toss it back—bent, if I so choose. Sometimes I can just duck.

This is called judgment, and one of the benefits of aging is accumulating enough experience on which to base this discretion.

This does not make a bad feminist or a sell-out or blinded by privilege. (Grrrr, now there’s a word that sets me off. . . .) As a long-ago grad school colleague responded to a newly-out woman’s hectoring her on not being a good enough lesbian: I’ve been out since I was fifteen, so I don’t need any lectures from some baby dyke.

Was P. invoking privilege in her put-down? Yeah—an earned one. And P., an exceptional mild person, didn’t go any further in criticizing this woman’s zeal; rather, she made the practical observation that the way one relates one’s sexuality to the world changes over time. Such change, needless to say, can indicate development in as opposed to repudiation of an aspect of one’s identity.

So how I’m a feminist has changed over the last thirty years—which strikes me as a good thing. I was twelve or thirteen when I first identified as a feminist, and took to it with a teenaged zeal. I ain’t knocking adolescent views—they’re entirely appropriate for adolescents—but, really, how sad would it be for an old broad like me to ignore the fact that I am no longer thirteen?

It is true that in those intervening decades I have come to question feminism and to shift where I locate myself within the spectrum of feminisms. It’s not that I’ve abandoned my previous commitment to equality, but in recent years I have focused more intently on issues of liberation and domination.

These are big topics, but here I want simply to make the practical point that domination affects all kinds of people in all kinds of ways. Some people might focus on race or ethnicity or class or sexual orientation or gender identity or disability or any number of other boxes in which we find ourselves, but it seems to me that we can share the general goal of liberation, as pursued in our particular ways.

So while I might have to start calling myself a ‘libber’ to reflect that larger project, my entry into this project was as a feminist. It has formed my thinking and guided my development regarding liberation, and I see no reason to discard it, now.

(There’s also the little matter of rank oppression of women world-wide and the necessity of recognizing that however general the goal of liberation, it is in fact experienced in the particular. Women’s rights may be human rights, but you can’t neglect the former and hope to achieve the latter.)

Still, I share C.’s wariness to some versions of feminism, those which traffic in conversation-stopping jargon and which allow for no nuance in how we actually inhabit this world. We discussed a couple of websites and their contributors, and the constant jackhammering in their posts.

C. was pissed off, but I (uncharacteristically) took more of P.’s mellow line. Look, I said, those websites are geared toward a particular audience—a younger, academically-oriented one. They’re pounding away on stuff that we might already have learned to deal with. In and of itself that’s not a bad thing, but for those of us outside of that target audience, it’s bound to produce its share of irritation.

Then C. asked a very good question: Where the hell are those websites for women our age?

Beyond the mommy blogs, I couldn’t think of any. Katha Pollitt keeps on keeping on, but where is the Gen-X version of Feministing or Jezebel or Pandagon? (Could we call it BabyBust? Or would that just be too cute?)

We need a site which takes account of our nicks and scars, defeats and victories, and which doesn’t expect us to get riled up every damned time someone says something stupid about women, somewhere. Righteous Broads? Crone? Or, to call on an earlier post, how about Mormo, a.k.a. She-monster?

Something which encourages us to laugh and dance and not be perfect, but human, instead. Politics, liberation—yes, but life, too. Life, always.

Closing walls and ticking clocks

11 10 2009

It was my twenti-mhtph class reunion last night.

I didn’t go.

But I did get to talk to folks who were at the reunion. T. called me amidst it all, then passed the phone to one person after another.

It was very loud.

I’m not sad I wasn’t there. I managed to miss all previous reunions, and, unlike in previous years, I wouldn’t have minded attending, but a trip back to SmallTown just was not happening.

B. filled me in a bit, today. I try to remember to call all of my friends and family members on or near their birthdays; B.’s day fell on a mad grading day, so it wasn’t until this weekend that we managed to connect. Anyway, she noted that a lot of people looked much the same as they had, some of the guys had gotten fat, one woman looked really, really old, and one of our classmates had gone completely around the bend.

Cameras-in-the-forest, president-not-born-in-US around the bend.

Everyone else seemed to have retained his or her sanity, however, and even Mr. Alternate Reality apparently entertained more than he offended. (It also apparently helped that another classmate basically served as his minder.)

So we’re halfway to the end. Does this make us old, or young? We are, thank the gods, no longer teenagers, but are we old? We ache and dye our hair and talk about our health, but we still have hair to dye and health to discuss, and we’re mobile enough that we can generate aches.

We’re forty-xmpthish: One lifetime down, one to go. Does that seem like so much more or not much more?

Who knows. It’s all we’ve got.

It’ll have to do.

Some cats know

27 08 2008

How skinny can a cat get before her human realizes she needs to do something?

I have two cats, one fat, one skinny, both old. They have dry food whenever they want, canned food on the weekends, and wheatgrass when I can remember to grow it for them.

Skinny cat, who is 17 1/2, has been getting skinnier and skinnier. For the longest time, I thought, Oh, she’s just getting old, that’s what happens. Her eyes are bright, she’s still fairly agile, she’s in no pain, she eats, drinks, eliminates, does what she’s always done (albeit slower). No problem. Sure, I was worried enough to check some manuals on cat care, but weight loss and age seemed to go together.

Then, the other day, I looked at her—really looked at her. That hanging gut that used to sway from side to side as she ran: gone. It was never fat—it looked more like a wattle, loose skin—so I figured it was simply an artifact from her long-ago spaying. But it was gone. And finally, finally, it hit me: my cat was wasting away.

I know: stupid human, it took you this long to figure it out? I’d been thinking that, hmm, maybe I should do something about this, maybe give her more canned food (but what about Fat Cat, who absolutely does not need more calories? what about the LOGISTICS?), but did nothing. (Oh, and did I even consider that part of the problem may be difficulty in chewing hard food? Did I even bother to check her teeth? You know the answer.) Well, fuck logistics. Skinny Cat is going to get a supplement of canned food EVERY DAY for the REST OF HER LIFE.

It didn’t really hit me, until this past year, about the need to reconsider my approach to my cats. Skinny Cat has gotten messier, needier, more of a pain in the ass, really, and my patience was eroding. And then I thought, What am I going to do? And I going to get rid of her because she’s, oh, inconvenient? Because she’s not that psycho kitty doing a frankenstein walk and cracking me up? She’s old and messy and needy, and I can either resent her for that or reset my expectations.

I don’t have a partner or kids, and my family lives a thousand miles away. My understandings of how to care for aging, messy, needy beings is theoretical, at best. I haven’t taken on the obligations of commitment, haven’t promised to care for someone else, full stop.

Or so I thought.

Running on empty

26 08 2008

I went running yesterday, and, somehow, managed to go running today. Two days in a row after months of non-running—whoo-hooo!

I’m old and slow, and because I haven’t gotten off my fat ass for months, I can’t go very far. The only way I’m able to go running at all is to ignore myself, put on my shoes, and go. And then do it the next day, and the next day, and days and days after that.

Running isn’t hard, of course: there’s nothing technical about it, no particular skill to master. Sure, there are tactics and strategies and blah blah, but, really, for the amateur in reasonable shape, it’s a matter of putting on the shoes (and the sports bra! Don’t forget the sports bra!) and heading out the door. It’s not that expensive—a decent pair of shoes, a pair of running shorts with that nifty little key pocket (which reminds me: why don’t running TIGHTS have that nifty little key pocket? Do we somehow not need to lock our doors when the weather cools?), and, of course, the sports bra—and one doesn’t need a park or special track on which to run. I walk to corner, stretching my legs and warming up my ankles, then take off. A pitiably short time later, I’m home.

But, as with so many things, I find it so easy to get in my way. I ran cross-country in high school, and although its been over twenty years since I’ve run even semi-competitively, I still think that I’m doggin’ it. I was never fast or particularly talented, but I was never last, either. And even in the years when I didn’t run, I still thought of myself as a runner, if in abeyance. So I have this sense that I should run, and when I don’t, I think, christ, what a candy ass. And then when I do, and I can only manage a pitiably short distance, I think, christ, what a candy ass. Hence the need to ignore myself. . . .

My friend L.S has it harder. She was a championship biker, and raced competitively until recently. Then she had some injuries which kept her off her bike and, more seriously, surgery this past summer to repair vascular damage. She’s back on her bike already—she and her girlfriend just got back from a bike tour—which, given how much slicing and dicing was done to her body, astonishes me. And she knows that she should be pleased with her progress. But she’s not, not quite.

L.S was—is—physically talented. She competed in her first biathlon in college as a what-the-hell kind of gesture, and came in second in her age group. On hikes she was always in the lead. When four of us when hiking in the Tetons, L.S was up ahead, traversing the mountains like she was walking down the aisle at 7-Eleven, while the rest of us were HIKING, i.e., working. When it was just the two of us hiking, I always felt like I needed to keep my mouth shut about how hard I was working or proposing yet another break. And while sometimes she was impatient, she was usually pretty cool about having to wait.

But now, for the first time, someone had to wait for her. It threw her off. She has this sense of herself as the one-in-front, and to not be in front, well, what does that mean? There’s also the pleasure in speed. ‘I like to go fast’, she said, and she misses howling down the highway.

So, adjustments. We’re at the fulcrum of our lives, when the teeter begins to totter, and neither of us is very happy about it. But we also decided that this is not a tragedy. We can still find pleasure in our bodies, and, perhaps, in a few other things as well. As L.S put it (more or less), I’d like to find out what else I’ve got going on.