Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's a horrible cheer!

Give me bilaterally reduced breath sounds! Give me persistent cough with green sputum! Give me pleuritic pain of two days' duration! Give me decreased blood oxygen saturation and fever! What does that spell? Pneumonia! Yaaaaay! I mean, hrgh-haaaaakkk-hrrrrrrghh!

The day at work passed relatively quickly, if only because I was fever-high enough to stare at the computer screen for minutes at a time before realizing that I was supposed to be looking up patients' information, or that the facesheets I'd been waiting to get from the printer had long since emerged from the machine's maw, and were now sitting--cold and desolate--in the out-tray.

So how does a healthy 22-year old woman get pneumonia? Short answer--she doesn't. It's immunocompromised people--whether because of extreme age/youth, chronic illness, or, hmmm, OVERTRAINING--who have problems with it. So what am I gonna do? Gonna take me my Zithromax and steroids, take a toot of that albuterol, grab some chik'n noodle soup and an Eddie Izzard DVD, and lay my ass down. On second though, screw the soup and the DVD. I feel like I may actually be dying (that or the room suddenly tilted by 90 degrees, which is pretty cool considering nothing's fallen off my bookshelf). I think I'll just go to bed.

So what was I for Halloween? A bioweapon. I licked your toothbrush last night after you went to sleep.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I've done a fair number of interviews in my time--from the interviewee side, but also from the vantage point of the interviewer. Frankly, being the interviewer makes me only marginally less nervous. And yes, I am ashamed to admit that on more than one occasion I have used the "What do you consider your greatest weakness?" line. It's not a very good question, in and of itself; its usefulness lies primarily in that it lets you see a)interviewee's bullshitting skills, eg, "I have a tendency to work too hard," or "My perfectionism is an issue sometimes"; b) interviewee's willingness to be idiotically, breathtakingly forthright with someone they've known for fifteen minutes, eg, "I don't like people, and I have issues with authority. Also, I steal." or c) interviewee's ability to squirm like a worm impaled on a hook for minutes at a time without actually answering the question--"I guess it would be my inability to present a full picture of myself in a twenty-minute interview. Ha-ha! But seriously..." It weeds out the obvious brown-nosers and total idiots, I guess, but aside from that it's just a form of torture sanctioned by the Geneva Convention.

I'm really hoping my interview next week goes well. I have a tendency to freeze up a bit in those situations--I find that I'm suddenly unable to form a coherent sentence, much less follow a line of thought across multiple sentences; I sweat so much that I can literally feel a stream of water running down my spine as I sit in the 'hot seat.' I've seriously considered taking, I don't know, an airplane-sized bottle of Jack Daniels with me and guzzling it before the interview. Alcohol frees the tongue, after all--in vino veritas. Just not TOO much veritas, please; total lack of inhibition can be just as unattractive as crippling self-consciousness. As in, "So, what's the medical school's policy on students sleeping with faculty?" or "Where's the nearest gay bar?" or "How much would I have to pay you to get a good recommendation to the committee? No, I'm not trying to bribe you. I just want to know what the price of your soul is."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Meryl Streep has nothing to do with this post, but she was just on the Daily Show and I was reminded how much I would like to get to know her, have coffee, become emotionally intimate, join our souls as one, paint the guest bedroom together...and, of course, have lots of sex. That is all.

Art is not just for show.
Two artists I've recently discovered--meaning I've come to know them, after a good portion of the world (the "art world" especially) have known about them for years. Because I've been busy reading the last of the Sandman decology (that's the '10' version of a trilogy, right?) and getting hepped up on the newest news in healthcare policy, the better to defend my liberal commie positions when it comes time to discuss healthcare reform in my medical school interviews (it's coming, man. I know it's coming. I may or may not be straightforward with my opinions--depending, perhaps, on the quality of the interviewer's tie, or whether they have a "I love Bush--the president, not the innuendo" lapel pin). Strangely, the little bit of time I spend watching the news on the treadmill at the gym has gotten me up to speed on Lindsay Lohan's rehab shenanigans and Britney Spears' access (or lack thereof) to her children, but not on the Blackwater torture scandal or whether Bob Jones University's invite to Mitt Romney indicates they're pulling their support from the McCain candidacy. Priorities, eh?

Chris Jordan's work is a look at American consumerism, and the effects that has on the world at large. A field of toothpicks representing the trees felled to make US junk mailings every month; the number of plastic bottles we discard every minute; cigarettes representing the number of teens who start smoking every month. And all that aside, his work is hauntingly beautiful--especially his pictures of the post-Katrina New Orleans.

Edward Burtynsky is affiliated with a movie called "Manufactured Landscapes" that mirrors his work: he does large-scale pictures of quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines and all the rest of the gorgeously ugly necessities that keep modern life humming along. Unfortunately, the factories that give us light bulbs and batteries, the mines that give us coal for power and gold for jewelry--chew up the landscape of other countries, poison the ground, drive the local populace into poverty or servitude to the factory bosses (or both). The man can make tailings (the streams of detritus--aka, crap--left behind after a mineral or metal has been refined) look beautiful. I'd include an image of his "Nickel Tailings" here if I didn't think I'd immediately get an email from his lawyers.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Three books you have to read. Right now.

I just got these from the library, and these are some of the best books I've gotten hold of in a long time.

Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein. This book will save lives, I have no doubt of it. Some of her alternatives may seem flip, but the introduction alone (which discusses dealing with societal oppression, homo/transphobia, the bully culture that encompasses not just middle-school sluggers but corporations and governments, depression, and a lot more) is worth the price of admission. Her alternatives to suicide include seven self-evident steps suicidal youth/outlaws can take...calling a suicide hotline or a friend, going to an ER, visiting a therapist or alternative medical practitioner, or joining a support group. After that, things get both more playful and more difficult: she suggests making art to express feelings, meditating, asking others for help, providing help for others, accepting your own sexuality (and having sex--orgasms are great mood-boosters!)...but also more self-destructive options that she specifically labels as last resorts. For example: drinking, doing drugs, starving yourself, or cutting. Anything that keeps you alive. Of course, she encourages her readers to try more loving versions of self-care first, but as someone with a history of these sorts of difficulties (suicidality, eating disorders, etc) it was really validating to hear someone say, "I've been there. I've cut. I've been anorexic. I've done drugs. It kept me alive, and that's good. And if it keeps you alive, that's good too." Buy it for you, for the troubled teen you know, for the twenty year old woman you know who was born a man, for the depressed communist omnisexual you do shifts at the co-op with. This should be required reading for everyone who is, or works with, or loves, an adolescent.

Second, Persepolis, a graphic-novel memoir of Marjane Satrapi's childhood in Tehran during the Iranian revolution. It's several years old, and there's a Persepolis 2 on the shelves now, too. Simultaneously poignant and hilarious, thought-provoking and entertaining, this book looks at larger sociopolitical issues like revolution, poverty, religion and war through the eyes of the author's young self--through the eyes of a kid. We often forget that big geopolitical conflicts affect human beings; that each casualty, civilian and soldier has a human face. Persepolis is the perfect antidote.

Last, The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical Christians are Winning the Culture Wars. Let me just say for the record that I think James Dobson is a total douche. He doesn't shout crazy shit from the rooftops like Falwell or Pat Robertson; he tries very hard not to give the impression of being politically involved. The image he projects to the world is that of a loving, patient but firm therapist/father figure who wants what's best for his "children" (ie listeners and those who read his books). In reality (says Anne, who hated him all through middle and high school but didn't have the tools of theoretical feminism in order to mount a proper critique and explain to herself exactly what her dislike stemmed from) he's an old-school Nazarene Patriarchy-Man who suggests that women are happiest as wives and mothers ("It's just biology, the way God created women, and it's a beautiful thing," he says, simultaneously putting women on a pedestal so they can't escape and encouraging subservience to husbands, fathers etc.), that parents need to break their children's wills as early and as completely as possible (in his book Dare to Discipline he opined that spanking with a belt or a switch on occasion was not only acceptable but often neccessary; the belt should be left on prominent display in the child's room as a reminder of the consequences of 'disobedience.') My parents had copies of Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child, both by Dr. Dobson; I for one hold him partially resposible for my mental f*cked-upedness. Since when is a strong will a bad thing? What is the purpose of exercising such control over one's child? Preparation for them to submit to the powers that be after they've grown up, ensuring they never rebel against oppression? For mere convenience, so that parents don't have to deal with childhood exuberance? I won't even get into his stance on homosexuality, but suffice it to say it's SO last-century. Read this book to see what all he's up to; he's a secretive little bastard with a lot of influence in Washington, and the great thing (for evangelicals) is that a lot of folks outside the hardcore Christian community have never heard of him, and so have no idea who or what they should be protesting.

Those are the recommendations for now; more personal stuff to follow.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Secret!

So, a while ago (I realize fully that I am always at least a week, if not a month or more, behind on pop-culturey things...but I knew the same day when Ahmadinejad came to the US, dammit, and I know that the Dalai Lama is coming to the US next week, because I'm going to be seeing him...basically this is an attempt to defend myself and assert that I am not utterly utterly clueless about what goes on in the world) Oprah ran a show about a movie/book called "The Secret." Here's what the Oprah website had to say about it; I'm sure there was something in the magazine, too, and perhaps she even beamed press releases into people's brains while they were sleeping. After all, Oprah is everywhere, and Oprah knows all. In essence, The Secret is that you can create the life you want by being intentional about it and wanting it really badly. It's what Rhonda, the author, calls "the law of attraction." Like attracts like (which is true, except--y'know--in physics, one of the fundamental building blocks of the physical world. What with negative ions attractign positive ions, and positive poles of magnets attracting negative poles of magnets, and what not). When I first heard of this, my bullshit detector began blaring at a volume I usually associate with late-night psychic commercials and emails about herbal "male enhancement" pills.

As she says on the website, "What we do is attract into our lives the things we want, and that is based on what we're thinking and feeling. We create our own circumstances in life." Um. I agree that there's something to be said for setting goals, for deciding what you want and going for it rather than drifting aimlessly through life like a rudderless ship cut from its anchor. I have used visualization when training for races, when practicing speeches, when preparing for interviews. Affirmations can be positive, if cheesy, additions to someone's coping repertoire: "I am competent and charismatic." "I will get the job that's right for me." "I am fast and strong." However. Saying that we attract ALL the things that happen to us, while not demonstrably false (that's the interesting thing--this claim is impossible to prove or disprove) is also not demonstrably true. And how could it be? The scientist in me says, "The Earth is not a closed system. Too many variables. I don't have time to be calculating chi-squared and p values (it's a statistical analysis thing) for the whole universe. Do I look like a supercomputer? Screw this, I'm going to have lunch." So, is Rhonda Byrnes saying that the people in the Twin Towers weren't thinking positively enough? Was it some guy on the eightieth floor who'd been having bad thoughts, therefore had bad stuff coming his way, and just happened to carry three thousand other people down with him? Did Paris Hilton somehow choose to "manifest" wealth in her life? In addition, by the way, to what I think may be herpes encephalitis, which gives rise to erratic behavior and is what happens when herpes somehow gets into someone's brain? I'm not trying to be mean; I'm actually trying to give her the benefit of the doubt by saying that she's sick rather than mind-blowingly stupid.
Never mind that The Secret focuses a lot on acquiring THINGS--abundance, which is a watchword for "money and material possessions;" a job with greater prestige or better pay, etc. Furthermore, the emphasis is solely on the individual. In fact, in one of the Secret videos, a self-help guru proclaims, "It's not your job to change the world; it's your job to go with the flow of the Universe." In other words, you have official permission to stop stressing about the AIDS epidemic in Africa, the 40 million uninsured American citizens, the global warming crisis, or on a smaller scale, the fact that your next door neighbor just lost her job and is going to be having a hard time buying Christmas presents for her kids this year. She wasn't thinking positively, and it's not your job to help her out. The universe helps those who help themselves; leave those other losers in the dust and focus on getting yourself a corner office and a new car. It's the height of self-centeredness and lack of empathy.

It's a Trump-esque philosophy--take what you can from the Universe, get ahead as you're able--wrapped in the trappings of a "genuine" spirituality. What about the primary tenet of ALL major religions (to my knowledge), which is that the most important things in life aren't things, but people? That love will beat covetousness any day of the week? That relationships, whether with other people or with the Spirit, are the supreme good? So, yeah, I know The Secret, and I think it's bullshit.