Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Treating Asthma

Last night we took my mom and dad to dinner for my mom’s birthday and then went to their friend’s house to play dominoes. On the way to dinner, we got to talking about my brother’s children, with whom Mom had spent the day “playing.” The topic of asthma came up: all three of the kids have moderate asthma. The two older ones (4 and 9) have been taken on numerous midnight visits to the hospital emergency room after waking up unable to breathe. The four year old takes steroids. So, in the midst of this discussion, my mom mentions that yesterday the youngest of the three had gone for his “asthma treatment,” and I ask, “what treatment?” I’m thinking fancifully to myself of iron lungs, giant syringes, and gurneys lined up on a beach. My dad says, “You haven’t heard? Ben (the two year old) goes and sits in a room while someone else gets a backrub,” and my mom hushes him in an exasperated voice and then tells me that the two year old goes with his other grandma once a week to an accupressurist who puts vials full of allergens in his socks, which she rests against his foot. Then, the accupressurist applies pressure to points on the other grandma’s back while the other grandma holds Ben in her lap. When I finally stop guffawing, my dad says, “that’s what I thought, too,” and my mom acts offended and says she guesses she must be more “open minded about alternative treatments.” I try to point out some distinctions between “alternative treatments” and “magical thinking.” I also ask if they’ve tried faith-healing or at least a good dousing in chicken blood. Have they tried mailing toenail clippings to the Pope? I ask if he even has to go to the appointments—could the other grandma go get the massage and Ben still enjoy the relief, maybe while standing on a box of cat hair at home? I go on and on, until my otherwise highly rational mother tells me I can laugh all I want but it works. And like every poor skeptic who runs up against the broad, dumb wall of faith, I can only sit and stare out into the night.

House-Hunting and Some Observations on Children

The Russian and I went house hunting with our agent, Paul, in Kansas City Saturday. We looked at 9 houses in 3 hours. Since we're buying the house as an investment for Russian friends, I have to be careful not to become too concerned about what I like or don't like. I constantly have to remember that I will only be in the house for 2-3 years. It does not need to express my personality or be somewhere I can imagine entertaining my brother's progeny's progeny. All that matters is that in a couple years the place will sell for more than we pay for it now. That's cool. It's just hard to remember. Oleg does not seem to have as much a problem with this as I do. Anyway, we found one house that was 2600 sq. feet with three bedrooms, a huge walk-out basement, and two cat doors--one to the basement and one into the pantry. We don't have cats, but cat doors seem like a real selling point to me.

We're staying at my parents' house in KC, which means being around my dad who is pretty much bonkers. He's entertaining and infuriating, at times terrifying. He is frequently inappropriate--really inappropriate. He's been downstairs opening and closing doors for 15 minutes. We don't know what he's doing and discuss the possibilities. Oleg suggests that he's rearranging the basement or building a safe-room in which to hide from birds. Yesterday, Oleg and I saw a tornado room in one of the houses we viewed--it was a tiny space with one open side and three, three-foot-thick concrete walls and ceiling--so he's got that on his mind. My mom has no guess and simply says, "who knows" and continues her game of spider solitaire--but then supposes he's looking for something. My guess is that he's killing a bug. He's made a lot of noise killing a bug before, so this isn't as stupid as it may seem. Neither is Oleg's idea about the birds, since my dad is terrified of birds and there were two or three thousand of them sitting on the roof of the house earlier in the day. We would hear nothing for five or six minutes, and then the birds would scrabble around, making a sound like the frozen tree branches that scrape our roof in Vermillion on windy nights. Then, all at once, the birds would lift silently and, in a body, pass flickering across the sunlight coming through the windows, settling finally in the limbs of the hackberry trees that line the yard. The trees used to act as a windbreak for the farm field behind the houses on my parents' street. In the summer, starlings gather in the same trees and laugh at us. My mom shoots them with a pellet gun because she claims that otherwise they poop on her new deck. All of this causes my dad distress. He suffered some kind of childhood trauma that involved his mother and an aggressive goose, so he has a true phobia of birds--totally loses his mind when birds fly around near his head. Screeches and whimpers. As it happens, he was not building a shelter from the birds, though, or killing bugs. When he came upstairs later, he said he was looking for something, but nothing in particular--just looking around. That seems reasonable to me, since I like looking around, too.

Today, my brother's kids are here. My mom watches them once or twice a week. They're nine, four, and two. She just gave the younger two a bath and supervised the shower of the nine-year old. Like my dad, the presence of these children puts me in a state verging on catatonia, a deep-seated exhaustion that precedes any effort at entertaining--or bathing--them. It's 11:00, and Oleg is still in bed, evidence of the fact that he experiences an extreme version of the same uneasiness. Plus, he has a cold. Mom has been jumping from room-to-room, running baths, drying hair, putting green or pink frosting on waffles (uh, gross), playing alphabet games, finding socks. All I've done of any note all morning is send the four-year-old girl into hysterics by freaking about her putting a plastic bag on her head. I was trying to find a picture of a cicada on Google Images to scare the two-year-old with, and I look up, and Maggie has a plastic bag over her head. I very sternly told her NEVER to put a plastic bag on her head. Told her about six times in a deep, booming voice with blue fire shooting out of my nose and sharp claws poking out of my fingertips. Her very-large-to-begin-with eyes got bigger and bigger, and I could feel exactly how she felt--frozen with fear and mortification and not knowing why this big person suddenly doesn't like me. But my adult brain, feeble at best, I was thinking, "at least she'll remember not to put a bag on her head. I may be saving her life!" But then the walls crack and it's heartbreak and she's four and I'm her Aunt Mandy and there are tears and we "want GRANDMA!!!" Now, she totally hates me. She's standing on the steps staring down at me. I say, "you have Winnie the Poo on your shirt!" and she goes back up the steps, starts crying, and says quietly to my mom, "I don't want to wear these pants." My mom says, "Why? why are you crying?" And she says, "I don't like Winnie the Poo." Winnie the Poo is on her shirt, not her pants, which my mom points out, and then they change her clothes. After the drama, Mom asks what she wants for lunch, and she says, "birthday cake." The two-year old has poked a head-sized hole in his blanket and is walking around like Pig Pen in Charlie Brown, with the blanket trailing after him. The nine-year old is sick and bored. I have a headache that knows no bounds.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Things were not as bleak as I thought Monday. A couple hours after my Angry Episode with the Toshiba, the Russian (my husband) got out of bed and put the cord back into the converter box whence it had become disconnected. Computer fixed. Then, when I asked him how he wanted to go about retrieving our only working vehicle from the distant parking lot under the current conditions (-15 degrees), the Russian said the car was in the garage, had been in the garage since yesterday evening, that he had not ridden home with another soccer player as he had led me to believe the night before. What a prankster.


Speaking of things that end well, the Shakespeare reading group in which I participate held its last monthly meeting of the semester last week. We meet for 3-4 hours to read a Shakespeare play aloud. I LOVE it. Our hostess is a Shakespeare scholar who brings key info and insights to the material but never seems to be "teaching." I go for the language, the sensuous pleasure of speaking Shakespeare's lines--feeling them on the tongue and hearing them spoken. I like, I guess, the kinesthetics of the tongue, the way saying links to understanding--the song and the sense. I read aloud to myself sometimes; I particularly like to read Hopkins, Yeats, cummings, and Melville--and perhaps oddly, Edward Taylor. Disparate, but they share a lot (besides being all Anglo guys!)--the first and the last, along with Shakespeare, for example, have a great deal of sound play, and all seem to me exemplary of a rich suggestiveness of language, signification that glances off big meanings. I like poems with enough mystery to hold me up--negative capability I think Keats called it. I like to feel on the threshold of an idea. The sound of the line is integral to that enjoyment for me. And plus Shakespeare's words are lovely in the mouth. So, we've been reading the comedies, which are my least favorite Shakespeare works, but I'm not complaining--they're still splendid. I prefer the tragedies. Lear. And I like to teach the sonnets.


One of my students put a book, a gift, in my mailbox yesterday. It's a 1908 copy of Shakespeare's stories--not plays--but stories distilled from the plays and rendered in prose for children. They're wonderfully illustrated, too, with pen drawings of little Kewpie-(Cupie-?) looking children dressed for different scenes of the plays, mainly the comedies and romances. I haven't had a chance to do more than poke around in the book, but it's a quirky, cool gift.

I am feeling disappointed by the blogging experience. I find that much of what I really want to blog about I don't have the guts to write online. A reasonable reservedness or out-of-date fear of transparency? I'm thinking of getting a new, more anonymous blog.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Worser and Worser

To sweeten my already painfully sweet life, today at 6:45 am, my fucking Toshiba, my only computer with Word on it, stopped working while I was grading papers. There has been a short in the place where the power cable plugs in for a long time; it seems to have given out completely. Then, within three minutes, the whole thing went off because I haven't had battery power for a couple years. Now, I have 14 papers to grade, no MS Word. Just this piece of crap with Works and tiny letters that make the windows to my soul ache. Plus it is negative 15 degrees on my outdoor thermometer, and our only working car is a mile and a half away where we left it yesterday afternoon through a delightful bit of mutual idiocy and poor communication.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Just a few things before I rush off to office hours and grading drafts of final papers. Life speeds up in the 15th week of the semester, a measure by which time is divided not into two portions but into 16-week segments of progressively frantic reading and writing and grading that will climax in this and the next week before abruptly bottoming out to a luscious calm in the following week. A long way of saying that I've been too busy to write and still am.
  1. This morning I observed a beautiful sunrise and that my fingernails are growing at significantly different rates, something that has never before been the case.
  2. I've had several peculiar dreams lately. Last night I dreamt that I masturbated and had an orgasm, which was pleasant but also disturbing, since I do not like being uncertain about what my body is up to while I am asleep. I also dreamt that I was in a big house and had a distinct feeling that the house should have something peculiar or hidden in it. I spent a long time in silent distress because I could find nothing mysterious. I kept trying to call my mom, who was also supposed to be there, but the buttons on the phone were so tiny I couldn't dial the right ones and had to start over and over. Several nights ago, I dreamt that I was a nanny and was trying to get some children to make their bed. I caught their attention by pointing out how most things in a home are in the shape of a square or rectangle.

Since the dream, I have been unaccountably preoccupied by the banal thought that so many things are squarish in shape--I pondered it through the whole of my one-hour drive to the therapist's office Monday morning, for instance. It's not even very interesting but I cannot get it out of my head.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanks and No Thanks

Having successfully made it through the end of November, I find myself facing just two more weeks of the penultimate semester of my career as a university professor. I am feeling vaguely apprehensive about who I will be in May and am wondering whether people in other lines of work wrap their identities so closely around their jobs. For the Thanksgiving weekend, the Russian and I went to KC--or, rather, I went to KC. Oleg was already there. This year, he would not attend Thanksgiving Day dinner at my aunt's but insisted on staying behind, alone, at my parents' house. A couple months ago, my uncle and cousin offended him, and he has since determined that eating at their house violates his principles. Maybe it's my medication, but I just could not work up the sense of outrage I thought would be an appropriate response to this defection. I tried, but I wasn't that interested. I wouldn't go if I were him either. I wanted to see my niece and nephews, and that was my only chance on this visit. Thanksgiving always disappoints me. People say they prefer Thanksgiving to Christmas because there's less commercialism associated with Thanksgiving. In my experience, there is nothing associated with Thanksgiving. It's nice to see the family and all that, but the holiday itself strikes me as peculiarly empty. If I were calling the shots for Thanksgiving, I would have every Thanksgiving commence with a reading from The Plymouth Adventure. Then we would listen to the President, who, rather than pardoning a stupid turkey, would deliver a radio address at noon in which he would offer a national thank you. There would always be hot apple cider. And, I would try to have something like an apple press going or some corn to husk. People could rake the yard or shovel snow, if nothing else. And, there would be no television at all, and no video games, and everyone would eat in one room, at one big table, no matter how many people, no matter how squished together. I would most definitely do something like go around and have each person say one thing for which they are thankful. And for dinner, we would first have popcorn and squash, maybe some clams. Then venison and hasty pudding. After dinner, we would sit in front of a fireplace and read a few American Indian tales and think about how everything for which we give thanks comes at a great cost.

While in KC, Oleg and I also went house hunting. He has convinced a friend in Russia to buy a house in the US as an investment. We will live in it for three years and then sell the house--making a profit of some sort for the friend and providing ourselves with a place to live. (I don't even want to get started on all the nightmare scenarios that come to mind in relation to this little scheme.) Anyway, while looking at houses, I kept forgetting what we were doing. I kept thinking about whether I would want to live in the house forever, and I would forget to think about whether someone else would want to buy the house from me later. Apparently, no one else would want any of the houses I like, and all the houses I picked out have now been rejected. So, I've lost interest in the search and am working on reconciling myself to the prospect of living in exactly the kind of house I never wanted to live in, likely located in a neighborhood of the sort I so hated and longed to escape as an adolescent. Life seems such a let-down.