24 December 2011

The Eyes Have It

When I was a teenager I used to have scary dreams in which I was losing my sight, in which I could see only dim and blurred shapes and had to be led around by someone else. I always wondered if those were some kind of portent about my eyes--would I go blind someday? Just this week I remembered those dreams.

Earlier this year--when I finally got an insurance that would pay for it--I went to see an ophthalmologist about the doubled vision I have had for the last couple years. People freak out when you tell them that you see double all the time. But, honestly, it creeps up on you slowly. For me it started many years ago, but only happened when my eyes were tired after a long day of lots of reading or computer work. A good night's sleep and the eyes were normal again. About two years ago I realized it had become a permanent condition.

"How did you cope?" and "how did you drive?" people asked when they found out. The answer is "carefully." What happens is that one eye gradually becomes dominant--in my case it was the left eye. The things you see with the other eye you basically ignore. Sometimes you just close your non-dominant eye and keep going one-eyed. Yes, it does affect your depth perception. Given the problem, I chose not to drive if the conditions were adverse--late night, weird weather, etc. The worst was night time city driving in rain when the lights are all multiplied and reflected off wet streets. If I had to drive in those circumstances I probably annoyed the other drivers by my over-cautiousness behind the wheel.

This year I finally decided something had to be done.

My doctor first did tests to rule out nerve damage, and then an MRI to make sure there was no brain tumor. That was a scary moment. The testing facility gave me a copy of my brain scan (a very cool thing to look at), and in it I saw a huge white mass below my right eye--the one that was turning inward the most. Fortunately the people who know about such things let me know that this was not a tumor--just one of the worst impacted sinuses in Northeast Ohio. With those more serious conditions ruled out, the only option left was surgery to correct the muscles around the eye.

I say "eye" singular, because that was the original plan. Just do the right eye--the worst one. See how that goes and if necessary do the left later down the road. For two weeks before hand I could have no painkillers with aspirin, had to limit certain foods like citrus, tomatoes, almonds, berries. The surgery was supposed to be done in the clinic at my doctor's eye care facility. I would be awake, but under a local anesthesia.  On the afternoon I was scheduled--having eaten noting after midnight the night before--I was prepped, given a mild relaxer, and given a shot into the eye-socket area that would paralyze the eye. Or so they thought. Trust me to be contrary. After two shots and a some considerable time waiting, my eye was still able to move. and I could still feel. The doctor gave up for the day.

That was fine with me as the while prospect of someone coming at my eye and me being able to see and feel it was totally horrifying by this point. They bandaged the eye, told me to leave it alone for 24 hours. That night I was in agony. The eyelids swelled up like a plum and the whole thing was about the same color. Cold compresses were only some help. three days later I was back to normal but looking like I had been punched. Whether it was an allergic reaction to the local or (my suspicion) some small particulate in an already irritated eye, I will never know. I just know I was miserable.

 They rescheduled me for a week later at a local hospital where they would do the procedure under a general anesthesia. As long as I was going under anyway, the doctor said we would do both eyes--make them nice and symmetrical and get it all done at once. Now I was beginning to panic. If it was that painful the first time, and the surgery hadn't even happened, what would both eyes be like?

For entire week before the surgery I annoyed my youngest daughters with my "if anything happens these are my final wishes" proclamations. 2011 has been a year of too many deaths, and I was worried the universe was about to kick me in the ass again.

Day of the surgery my daughter dropped me off at Akron City Hospital. Seven hours later, and this time with some serious painkillers, I was done. Steve came to take me home. They didn't bandage the eyes this time, but I could barely hold them open anyway. That was Tuesday, four days ago.  I went home and slept on the couch (a recliner, had to keep head elevated). I have been spending a lot of time since just sleeping. The doc gave me a prescription for an ointment that was both an antibiotic and a numbing agent--a good thing because the eyes itch and are very tender. My throat is raw as well--apparently I have a very small throat and intubating me for surgery was a problem. Who knew.

By the way, the nurses at Akron City are among the nicest people on the whole planet. Seriously. Angels.

The whole thing has made me think about what I value. The idea of losing my sight is about as scary as it gets. Not being able to read. Never seeing a sunset again. Or my cats. Or a rose. Not being able to watch  my five beautiful grandchildren as they change and grow. That scares me the most.

It has been three days since the surgery. I am happy to say that I am no longer cross-eyed. The white of my eyes in the inner corners is totally red and very sore.  I wake up with my eyes gunked shut, but warm compresses help. Bright light hurts. I found last night that too much TV tires my eyes and they cross a bit when tired. Need to be more careful with these eyes, they are the only ones I have.

27 September 2011

Elusive Golden Cat

Nope. Though I have been known to imitate my cats and I do have blonde hair, I'm not talking about me. And of late I know have been elusive on this blog. But all that is because of too much going on in my life. So since I don't know where to begin talking about this year as it winds down to another ending in a year of far-too-many-things-ending, I will just--for now--give you a glimpse of a different elusive golden cat and promise to write about my elusivity (is that a word?) later. Enjoy the kitteh-ness below for now.

01 September 2011

Un-mindful vs Mindful Eating

Went out to dinner (for sushi and Thai) last night with friends and ate so much I felt bloated. Trying to figure out why I do that. Some part of it is that I can't bear to waste food. I grew up in the era of "clean your plate." I remember lectures from my dad on how there were starving children in other parts of the world and owed it to them to appreciate the food I had. Some of it is about loving to cook and make really good food and the joy of sharing it with others.

This morning somehow I am down 2 lbs from yesterday. I should feel good about that, however, my jeans are still too tight. And I know those 2 lbs will creep back somewhere. Over the past 2 years I have put on too much weight. Some of it is the desk job making me spend more time sitting at the computer. Some if it is sitting in front of the TV where running to the refrigerator on the commercial break gets to be a habit.

Whatever it is I still want to lose 20 lbs. And cleaning my plate at the restaurant is not going to help.

Last night my friend Michelle mentioned she feels that she does "binge eating"--the habit of just eating because it's there, because your taste-buds are bored, not because you need food. Binge eaters eat because they are stressed and want to feel good and, lets face it, good food tastes good and makes you feel good. I don't think I eat because I feel stressed, but I know I am not overeating because I need the food. To be honest, I can't remember the last time I felt hunger pains or felt my stomach rumbling.

My friend Lisa talks about "Mindful Eating." The idea that you choose to eat deliberately--for nourishment, for the sensation of taste, for the beauty of the food and the joy of the moment. I like that. I was thinking I need to pay more attention to whether I am eating out of boredom or out of a real need for food. I like that whole concept. I need to remember to savor the food, not wolf it down like I am starving.

Earlier this year I started keeping a food diary at Fat Secret. This is something Steve's nutritionist told him to do. Just to be aware of what you eat and drink. I was really faithful with it for a while, then in August I got lazy and and busy and just didn't. I'm going back to it again, but I have to admit I don't know if it helps to be aware of the calories in all the foods I eat. I also find the sheer caloric count in prepared foods disturbing. Why do restaurants serve such large portions? Why do I still feel the need to clean my plate after all these years?

Lisa always begins her restaurant eating experience by dividing the food on her plate and asking for a box to take home half of it. Then she's not tempted to just keep eating until it is all gone. I may have to start doing that.

I also need to ask myself more often if I am hungry or if my taste-buds are just bored.

22 July 2011

Pennsic War

It's that time of year again. Tomorrow, or maybe Friday, I need to put my entire house in a car and head to the 12th century. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but this is how I spend my summer vacations. I go to Western PA where I will set up a yurt and live for two weeks among 12,000 Medievalists recreating everything from Romanized Britain to the Vikings to Normans to Elizabethans, with Heian Japan and Karakorum of Chingis Khan tossed in for good measure.

Me? I like to run things, give up my entire vacation to be on the staff year 'round. Then I can haz mini-dragon.

05 July 2011

Nova: Green Energy in China

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

Originally aired on PBS Nova April 2011.

20 April 2011

Future States on PBS

"What will become of America in five, 25, or even 50 years from today? FUTURESTATES is a series of 10 fictional mini-features exploringWhat will become of America in five, 25, or even 50 years from today? FUTURESTATES is a series of 10 fictional mini-features exploring possible future scenarios through the lens of today's global realities. Immerse yourself in the visions of these independent prognosticators as they project a future of their own imagining. possible future scenarios through the lens of today's global realities. Immerse yourself in the visions of these independent prognosticators as they project a future of their own imagining."

08 April 2011

My Cross-off Contest Entry

I have been burning

for hours             just me
and a friend
enormous female
                au naturel
enjoying a
honeymoon       I made
fire         steaming water
all the things one does
covered in veils                        in a
known gay army-surplus hideaway

But I survived

04 April 2011

Crazy Horse Cross-off Contest

The Crazyhorse Cross-Off Contest

Win a free subscription to Crazyhorse by trying this cross-off writing exercise: Take the below paragraph of writing as your start. From it, cross off or delete words, crafting the remaining words into either a poem or a very short story of no more than 40 words. If you love an extra challenge, retain the original paragraph's word order as the word order of your own poem or story; otherwise, feel free to re-arrange the 40 or fewer words as you wish.

E-mail your entry of no more than 40 words to crazyhorse@cofc.edu

The ten winning entries will receive a free one-year subscription to Crazyhorse.

Deadline to enter is next Thursday, April 7, by 5 p.m.

Here is the paragraph to start with, from Andrew Sean Greer's fantastic essay "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines" (originally published in San Francisco Panorama and reprinted in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010) about camping at a NASCAR race for the first time:

"I want to make it clear that I have been camping before, and I'm not just talking about Burning Man. I'm trying to say that I've lived in Montana and backpacked for hours into the wilderness, just me and a friend, where we set up our camp beside a little-known hot spring, and while my friend napped I got in au naturel and was promptly joined by an enormous female moose. There we sat, me and the moose, enjoying the steaming water, looking out blissfully at the sunset together like a honeymooning couple, while I summoned the courage to call in a wee voice: "Help me!" If I had been wearing pants I would have peed them. But I survived my wildlife encounter, and made a fire, and bear-proofed our foodstuffs, and did all the things one does when one is camping. This is not a story of gay San Franciscans setting up a Moroccan hideaway among all the army-surplus tents, complete with mirrored pillows and a Porta-John covered in veils. I am proud to say it is quite the opposite."

31 March 2011

Framing Innocence Author to Speak at CWRU March 31

Framing Innocence Author to Speak at CWRU March 31

Lynn Powell
Lynn Powell
Oberlin author Lynn Powell turned to nonfiction for her latest work, Framing Innocence. The book tells the story of Oberlin resident Cynthia Stewart, who fought for her innocence after being accused of taking obscene photographs of her daughter Nora, 8, bathing.

Powell will read from her book, published last fall, during a reading and discussion sponsored by the Department of English and the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities. The free, public event will take place at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31 in the Guilford House parlor.

Stewart’s story made national headlines in 1999 as the mother, who had taken photographs throughout her daughter’s life, became embroiled in a battle with Lorain County’s legal system. The photographs came to the attention of the police when a Discount Drug Mart employee alerted police to four bathtub images among 11 rolls of film submitted for processing.

Powell chronicles how Oberlin’s residents rallied to support Stewart in her struggle by providing a host of free services to help the family through its struggles. She will elaborate on her methods of research and reporting the story.

Stewart’s plight raises issues of privacy, the psychology and dynamics of the family, first amendment rights, the troubling nature of the “male gaze” and the struggles of an individual vs. the legal bureaucracy, said Mary Grimm, chair of the English department.

For information, email Susan Grimm at sxd290@case.edu.

14 March 2011

Books Everyone Should Read

From Information is Beautiful

I haven't read 19 of these. Better get my reading list in gear.

06 March 2011

Teachers Have Hefty Salaries? Who Knew...

"Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or10 months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do – babysit!

We can get that for less than minimum wage."

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan– that equals 6 1/2 hours). Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day. However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.


That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).
What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year. Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here!

There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student–a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!

Make a teacher smile; repost this to show appreciation for all educators.

[Above text was shamelessly reposted from http://www.eajohansson.net/2011/02/are-you-sick-of-highly-paid-teachers/]

Let me do my own calculations: I teach at The University of Akron and get paid $900/load hour (this is the actual time in the classroom--not counting required office hours or class prep or grading at home on weekends). This semester I am teaching 10 load hours (four classes with three different preps), so my salary for the entire semester (I do not get paid for vacation or sick days) is $9000.00 for five months. I teach 10 classroom hours a week for the 15 weeks that constitutes a semester or $600 a week. On the face of it, that doesn't sound too bad. But that is not a guaranteed salary for each semester, in no way does it take into account the number of hours I really put into teaching, and I get no other benefits at all.

Please, Governor Kasich, do pay me like a babysitter!

Last year I made $19,800.00 total for my teaching for three semesters. That's another issue, as an adjunct (despite having four degrees including a terminal degree) I am not guaranteed a job or a full teaching load in any given semester. I had to work an additional 20+ / per week job doing administrative work to bring my annual income up to $32,000.00.

This semester I have 98 students. If we called this babysitting (although my students are mostly adults and hardly need a babysitter) it would be different numbers.  So let's pay me babysitter wages. I used the calculator at www.sittercity.com and put in my location, age, and experience and it tells me that I should make $9.50 per hour. So 98 students x $9.50 per hour x 10 per week =  $8777.00 or $131,550.00 per semester, or (not counting summers when I am never guaranteed work and sometimes have to live off my credit cards) $263,100.00 per year. (I WISH!) Hell, I'll take the $3.00 per hour mentioned above and happily live on $88,200.00 which is nearly 5 times what I make now teaching. 

But wait, there's more.... That calculation is without the all the time spent grading. In some ways I wish I could just babysit. I could entertain my students with knowledgable lectures and we'd all have a fun time, because I love what I do. But that pesky university has standards and wants to measure achievement.

My job is to teach and teaching also involves assessment of student learning, most often by creating and grading assignments and giving and grading exams. Let's just look at those essays and exams. (I'm not even counting the time it takes to prep these assignments here.) I do two essays a semester (about 15 pages of writing total) and two exams a semester (about 10 pages of writing) in my classes. The average academic copyeditor (and at it's simplest that is what this is--moving through a student's work looking for errors and writing comments on pages) charges somewhere between $35 and $100 / hour and does about 4 pages per hour. So 25 pages divided by 4 = 6.25 pages per hour. Multiply that by $35.00/hour (I'll take the lowest pay rate here) = $218.75.  Multiply by 98 students = an additional $21,437.50 I should be paid out of the classroom. (Note that just the "copyediting" salary is more than I make annually for teaching.) So paying me to babysit and copyedit would give me an annual salary (in a fair and just world) of $284,537.50.

But "fair and just" is not what this world is.

Teachers teach out of love of teaching. Of all the wonderful teachers with whom I work I know of no overpaid teachers. This whole issue is about breaking unions in this country. Shame on you, Governor Walker and Govenor Kasich.

02 March 2011

Newest Grandchild: K. Oskar Russ-Johanson

Karl Oskar Felix

We’re calling him ‘Oskar’…
Born: 3/2/2011 @ 09:45
Weight: 9 lbs. 2 oz. // 4148 grams
Length: 21 inches // 53 centimeters

24 February 2011

Sheryl WuDunn: Our Century's Greatest Injustice

The University of Akron's Confucius Institute will once again sponsor a China Week on campus from October 10th to 14th, 2011. I've been asked to be a co-chair with Dr. Young Lin or the China Week Committee. My hope is that we can get some speakers with a real knowledge of China and an understanding of the current global situation, so of course my first choice is either Sheryl WuDunn or Nicholas Kristof, coauthors of Half The Sky.

Here's why I love WuDunn:

Here's what I love about Kristof: http://www.reporterfilm.com/
And this too:

What do you think? Who would you rather come see at UA?

07 January 2011

Virginia Foxx, the new Dolores Umbridge

There is no doubt about it. Virginia Foxx (R- North Carolina), the new chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Education, may be the next best thing for education since Dolores Umbridge took  over at Hogwarts.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Rachel Maddow on her show yesterday pointed out the incongruities of putting this woman in charge of education. (You might also remember Foxx as the one who called the Matthew Shepard murder and hate crimes against gays "a hoax"). John Amick beautifully summarized the Maddow piece in the Washington Independent, reposted below.

Maddow highlights Foxx’s desire to dismantle student loan reform
By John Amick | 01.07.11 | 4:50 pm from the Washington Independent

The North Carolina Independent News reported this week on the new chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness, North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx and her priorities for the new U.S. Congress. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow took notice and included it in a segment called, “America not getting better at being smarter,” posted below.
Some background: Foxx has received $5,000 in campaign contributions in the last few election cycles from student loan corporation Sallie Mae, an organization that used to provide federally-guaranteed loans to students until Congress passed reform of the practice in 2010, effectively cutting out the middle-man in the process. (Sallie Mae now offers private student loans.) Foxx expressed desire to hold hearings over the loan-reform bill when she assumes the chair of the subcommittee, she told The Chronicle of Higher Education this week:
Ms. Foxx has criticized legislation that ended the bank-based program for supplying federal student loans in favor of 100-percent direct lending, in which students obtain their loans from the Department of Education. She said on Tuesday that the bill “eliminated choice, competition, and innovations from student lending,” and promised hearings aimed at making “improvements to a very flawed law.”
In the clip, Maddow laid out the implications of student loan reform and why it was a “total no-brainer” in easing the deficit and allowing for more loans to students.
Welcome to the dumbing of America. You go Rachel! And you keep telling it too, John!

04 January 2011

Time to Write?

You know that saying about how you have to make time to have time? Whoever said was full of s***. Whoever said that never had jobs like mine. I do 20 hours a week program administrative stuff that often turns into more hours and even weekend hours. Four classes a semester that have three different preps. Not that I am bitching (well, okay I am whining a bit), because I do love my work. I really do. I have a great Program Director for the NEOMFA, and I like the classes I teach: non-western literature, Chinese history, and this last semester a new one "Humanities in the Western Tradition" (think history of the western world from ancient Mesopotamia to Renaissance Europe).

But between herding the MFA cats (and I am not just talking students here), and lecture prep, and grading. I have not written anything worthwhile since July. Random snippets of poems, nothing solid. Sometimes when I haven't been writing in a while it feels like the words just go round and round in my head until it wants to explode. It helps to have friends an family to talk to about the ideas you have, but sooner or later you have to put them down on paper. Writing is how I process things. It's cathartic. The only other thing that works that way for me is reading.

Happily I just spent my last week of Winter Break reading a huge stack of books. You want to know what you should check my list on Good Reads. The only writing I will be doing soon is my syllabi for the Spring semester. Oh, for Spring Break and the next stack of books.