Friday, March 30, 2007
And who am I to reject the teachings of the Lord...especially when I haveth PMS?
Just think of all the heathen children around the world who could be fed by the uneaten brussel sprouts of all the bad children, and who haven't heard the Good News of Hair Empowerment!
THAT'S really why we invaded Iraq. You're welcome, heathen children.
Luckily, they didn't choose to go that route.
Anyway, while Katie was doing the girl's Secret Date Preparation Ritual, Dane and I were talking about when they first started dating. He said that he came over and I made fun of him, and after they left Katie said, "My mom really likes you! If she didn't, she'd be polite and distant. But if she's already mocking you, that's a good sign!"
So I guess I see where Carrie gets it.
First the good one.
Carrie and Robbie's favorite elementary school teacher came into the lab last night, nine months pregnant. We instantly recognized each other and had a chance to visit while I drew her blood. She's about to have her fourth (!!) child. She asked about the kids, and I had a chance to tell her that she had a huge impact on the kid's lives and their love of books and of learning.
I'll bet teachers need to hear that sometimes to offset all the times they feel like they're beating their heads against a wall.
Okay...here's the second. The bad one.
A kid from the local high school was struck by lightning and killed instantly at the high school stadium during a track meet.
This is awful on so many levels. First, he was, by all accounts, a good kid. Well liked, good student and good athlete. Second, several hundred other kids had to witness it, and they'll be stuck with that image in their heads forever. Third, he was so instantly cooked by the lightning that none of his organs were viable for donation.
But this is the worst part. The part I couldn't stop fretting over on the drive home. His parents were at work, living their normal lives, and didn't know that their lives were going to be destroyed. At some point, someone called them and said, "Your son is dead." Their healthy, beautiful, vibrant, Nintendo-playing, squabbling-with-his-sister, grumbling-about-chores son. Dead.
And a stadium-full of people and then a hospital-full of people knew about it before the parents did. That's the really awful part to me. That a thousand other people knew what they were going to be faced with before they did.
I'm not sure why that makes it worse for me.
I feel sick thinking about it.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
It appears that the property was bought up by the State of Illinois in 1996 and has never reopened, which is too bad since it's an important piece of our history.
From Haunted Illinois:
He built Hickory Hill in 1842 and began a new scheme that would bring him even more money than the salt mines could. He devised a plan to kidnap free blacks and put them to work in the salt mines. He also sold these people back to slave owners in the south, creating a sort of reverse "underground railroad."
Once the house was completed, Crenshaw added a few finishing touches like a carriage door that opened directly into the house so that slaves could be taken up a secret passage directly to the attic. In was in the attic that the slaves were imprisoned during the night and some say, subjected to brutal torture. According to the stories, there was also an underground tunnel that led from the basement to the river, where slaves could be loaded at night.
Crenshaw devised another plan, this one to create slaves of his own. He selected a slave for his size and stamina and set him to breeding more slaves with the females that could bear children. This man, known simply as "Uncle Bob" was said to have fathered as many as 300 children. He lived until the age of 112 and died in 1948.The attic at Hickory Hill was a chamber of horrors. A dozen cells opened off a wide corridor. They were small rooms with bars on the windows and with iron rings where shackles could be bolted to the floor. The attic had only a small window at either end, so the air was stifling. A whipping post was also constantly in use and many of the valuable slaves were said to have died at the cruel hands of Crenshaw and his men.
In 1842, Crenshaw was brought to trial for selling a free family into slavery. The case could not be proven until after the trial and by then it was too late. The prosecutor would try again in 1846, the same year that one of Crenshaw's slaves attacked him with an ax, severing his leg. His slave trade days were over and his mill was burned to the ground. He died in 1871 and he and his wife were buried at Hickory Hill Cemetery.
Many years later, the house was opened as a tourist attraction and it was no secret that strange things were going on in the house. Tourist were reporting hearing strange noises coming from the attic. . .noises that sounded like cries and whimpers, and even rattling chains.The legends say that on one could ever spend the night in the attic of the house, especially after an event in the 1920's that got the attention of ghost researchers all over the country.
An "exorcist" from Benton, Illinois named Hickman Whittington wrote an article about the house in a local newspaper. He was in perfect health when he came to visit the old mansion but took ill later than same night and died just hours later.
As the years passed, no one dared to spend the night in the room. In the late 1960's, two soldiers who had seen action in Vietnam ran screaming from the house after being surrounded by ghostly shapes. A year or so later, the owner stopped letting people in the house after dark. A small fire had accidentally been started by a lantern.
In 1978, he finally relented and a reporter from Harrisburg named David Rodgers was allowed to spend the night. Despite hearing a lot of strange noises, he managed to beat out 150 previous challengers to become the first to brave the night in the former slave quarters.
Today, the Old Slave House has been closed down. Because of poor health, the owner, Mr. George Sisk, cannot continue the operation of the house. He tried to get the state of Illinois to step in and take over the location but negotiations are still at a stand still.
The house was closed down at the end of 1996, possibly never to reopen.A few years ago, I asked Mr. Sisk if he believes that the house is haunted. He told me that he never goes to the attic and if he does for some reason, he leaves as soon as possible. He has never encountered a ghost in the house. . .but his wife hasn't been so lucky. She refuses to set foot in the former slave quarters.
The Old Slave House is located near the junction of Highway 45 and Highway 13 in Southern Illinois. It is 14 miles east of Harrisburg.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
I may end up with a reprieve, though...It's been 75 degrees and sunny since Saturday, but since I have the day off...it's dark and rainy. If it doesn't improve some I may end up spending the day in the house, reading. :-)
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I got home late-ish...at about 11:30...because Lori had left her purse at work and I went to pick it up from her coworker's house. I parked alongside of her car, which has had the top down, since the back window is gone anyway. When I walked past it to go into the house, I heard a little noise. I went back and looked inside the car, and there was a enormous black lab sprawled out on her passenger seat. When he saw me, he sat up alertly, in case I was planning to take him for a car ride. I laughed and petted him and told him that he was very handsome.
Lori came out to see who I was talking to, and she didn't think it was nearly as funny as I did. I opened the door and tried to encourage him to get out. He was very friendly, but pretty much committed to the car ride. He wagged and thumped his tail and grinned at me...but wouldn't budge.
Finally, I reached in and dragged him out while Lori raised the top and closed the windows. He was so sad looking that I put down the tailgate to my truck and he jumped up in there.
This morning, when Dane arrived to pick up Katie for school, he said, "Do you know there's a big dog in your truck?"
I wonder when he'll realize that the car ride probably isn't going to happen?
Monday, March 26, 2007
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I was thinking about listening to the message we're trying to send ourselves when we call it depression, and I got to thinking about the other messages we send ourselves all the time, and how we don't really pay enough attention to them, either.
Somehow that led to thinking about how inundated we are with information, and whether or not that's a good thing. I haven't really formulated a firm answer, but that never stopped me from talking before, so why should it now?
It seems to me that we have enough stuff to fret over that we can actually do something about without adding to the stress with a lot of stuff we can only fret about and can't do anything about.
When I ponder how much information we take in about the world around us, I start pondering whether it's of any benefit to me to know, for instance, how many countries hate us and might be building weapons to blow us off the planet. I'm going to vote ... no.
If I knew a nuclear weapon were hurtling toward my house right now there's not a damn thing I could do about it but be terrified. I'd rather that when death comes for me it just plucks me out of my life without a lot of warning. I want to be happily doing something, oblivious to the oncoming cataclysm, and then ... not be.
I don't read the news as much as Ev does, and I think maybe it's because it just makes me worry about things I can't do anything about. I can't stop North Korea from making nuclear weapons. I can't get the troops out of Iraq. I can't force Medicare to stay in business until I need it. I can't make FEMA show up when and where they're needed. I can't even get my kid to pay his rent on time.
When I vote, I do the best I can to vote for someone who I hope, in most instances, will think pretty much along the same lines I do, because he or she is going to be my proxy when it comes to foreign policy, environmental issues, budget decisions, civil rights legislation and all of the other decisions that are part of that job description and not part of mine. My responsibility is to choose wisely who I put in that position, and then hope for the best. After that, I can only deal with the consequences to my own life created by the collective choice of all of us.
What I can influence is me, and how I impact the people around me. That's where listening to the messages I send myself comes in.
When people say they do want to be forewarned about global dangers, or they would like to know the hour of their death, they often say it's because they want a chance to finish unfinished business or make unmade amends or say unsaid things to people. Hello? If I have unfinished business, unmade amends or unsaid things, then my life is already out of balance, and it's going to continue to come apart in small ways until I put it back in balance. How long do I want to wait to do that? And if we're all rushing around trying to do that last minute cleanup before nuclear winter sets in, my guess is that we aren't going to hear each other anyway.
For the past month my car ... correction, my dream car ... the car I love ... the car I thought ought to be illegal to drive because it was so exhiliratingly nirvanic ... my car has had "issues." One of it's issues was that the rear window was coming loose from the weatherstripping, but it's a convertible, so repairing it was going to cost several hundred dollars. Ev and I were planning an expensive vacation and I knew we couldn't afford both. So I drove the car with the weatherstripping getting flappier and flappier, hoping that it just wouldn't get any worse. Then I stopped enjoying driving the car, because I couldn't stop watching the flappy weatherstripping in the rearview mirror. Then I started to resent the car and not want the car, and consider getting rid of the car ... all over a piece of weatherstripping. Finally the whole window came loose on the highway and took the decision out of my hands. It's still going to cost a few hundred dollars, and we have to cancel the vaction just like I knew we would, but I no longer have to worry about when it's going to happen ... and oddly ... I no longer dislike the car. In fact, I love it again. It was the anticipation, coupled with the knowledge that I was ignoring a clear message from myself, that had me anxious and out of balance.
So, if there are other places in my life where the weatherstripping is coming loose, and if it's inevitable that I'm going to have to do something about that, what good does it do me to ignore it? If there are things I need to get in balance in the last fifteen minutes of my life, there are things I need to get in balance now ... just in case I have another fifty years to enjoy not feeling anxious and wondering when my rear window is going to fall out.
I can't do anything about North Korea's weatherstripping, but I can refer them to a good automotive upholsterer if they're interested.
I found the following passage about transition periods in our lives on the website of Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD ...
In the midst of a winter solstice phase, help does come through relationships, but there is also a deep need for solitude to know what matters to the soul, and wonder if we have the faith and courage to do whatever we must do. To go outside the safe circle of supportive others, into the cold night and face the possibility of going through the fire. Major life transitions, especially when others do not understand us or want us to behave differently, call upon us to do this.
I first encountered the idea of depression as a gift in the book Circle of Stones by Judith Duerk. She suggests that we look at depression as a vehicle for transition and a time to stop putting out energy and recharge. If we listen to our depression, it may have something to tell us that we can't hear if we never stop and pay attention.
Transition times in our lives, especially as women, are typically those times when we go from one aspect of womanhood to another ... from maiden to mother ... from mother to crone ... from crone to death. At each of these stages it's not unusual to experience depression, and everywhere we turn we're told to fight it and beat it ... and we're handed pills with which to do that ... but no one ever suggests we sink into it and let it do its work.
Every winter, people experience a state of depression clinicians call Seasonal Affective Disorder. We're told to buy full-spectrum lights for our house, lie in tanning beds, take more anti-depressants ... but we're never invited to just lie fallow like the fields, or go to ground like the animals.
When I lived in a city of 10 million people my occasional bouts of depression seemed weak and made me feel guilty. Life goes on ... I should be able to keep going, too. Now that I live in a town of 5,000 people who actually live in harmony with the seasons, Judith Duerks makes a lot of sense.
This weekend our landlord came over and started measuring our rickety porch and getting ready to tear it down and rebuild it. I went out and polished my car inside and out. People are out on their mowers. The flowering trees are also blooming like crazy this week, and the crocuses and daffodils are springing up everywhere. It's as if we all emerged from underground all at once, full of energy and ready to burst into a flurry of activity.
Depression is like winter. It's the time when we can get quiet and not have a lot of expectations of ourselves. We can realize that our emotional weather is too inclement to do anything very demanding, and we're best served by sitting quietly with a good book, cocooned under the covers with our own thoughts, or enveloped in the relationships that support us. We can rest. The little seeds of happiness and hopefulness in us have a chance to germinate. Hothouse vegetables, forced to grow and produce year round, lose a percentage of their nutritional value in the process. Humans are even more complicated than tomatoes.
I suspect that when people lived more seasonally and did "natural work" like building and farming, instead of "manmade work" like banking and telemarketing, they experienced what we call depression, but they recognized it as a natural part of life that would lift when the sun came out and they didn't feel an unnatural urge to defeat it or any shame about feeling it.
So now it's Spring, and it's time to fold up the throw blankets, sweep out the cobwebs, Armor-All the dashboard, clean out the shed, rebuild the porch and go fishing.
She recently heard from an old friend who's battling a bout of depression. It's the usual stuff with young mothers...exhaustion, isolation, a dearth of down time and an excess of responsibility. We could totally relate; we were mommies too.
But in addition to that specific case, depression is rampant in America in the 21st century. It seems to me that it's partially related to the amount of time we spend running around like chickens with their heads cut off versus the amount of satisfaction we get from all that effort. It's the treadmill effect: we run like crazy and sweat hard, but in the end we're in exactly the same place...just more tired.
My favorite work story is about shoemakers. Once upon a time, shoemakers made shoes. They cut out the sole, cut out uppers, sewed them together and hammered on a heel. From nothing, a pair of shoes were born.
Now shoes are made in a factory. One guy runs the saw that cuts out the sole. One guy runs the machine that cuts out the uppers. One guy operates the machine that sews them together, and one guy glues on the heel. They all have carpal tunnel, and hate their jobs. None of them actually know how to make a pair of shoes, they just know how to operate their machine and send their work down the line. They never get the satisfaction of seeing a customer thrilled with her new shoes. Their work seems meaningless and lacking any context.
I don't know the actual numbers on depression, but my anecdotal observation is that at least a quarter of adults are on antidepressants. Our worklives are largely unsatisfying, which wouldn't be so bad if our personal lives were emotionally enriching. But they're mostly not. We spend a significant amount of our off-work time driving...taking kids to practice, acquiring food for the upcoming meal, or picking up the things that make it possible to continue to work...and very little time doing the things that recharge our personal batteries.
And we generally don't spend nearly enough time doing quiet, comtemplative things...fishing, hiking in the woods, reading, connecting with people who value us.
When we moved back to Southern Illinois, people were incredulous. "Why in the world do you want to live there?"
It's easy. We want to be here because it has let us reconnect with our lives. It's helped us realize how stressful our urbal life was, and how much more relaxed we are now. We've been able to learn to appreciate a starry night and a sunny afternoon, a day sitting together on the porch talking about nothing much, an evening at the lake watching for signs of fish and looking for tadpoles, sitting on the tailgate of the truck and enjoying the night air.
Sometimes the circumstances of life sneak up on you. You don't feel the crushing weight because it's added one brick at a time. And then one day, you realize that it's more than you can carry. You have to set it down before it breaks you.
I was lucky; When it became more than I could carry, I had Lori to encouraging me to put it down and change my life. I suspect that a lot of people don't have that kind of support.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
I know my own personal biases: Sex between Lori and I is a wondrous experience worthy of Hosannas and choirs. From there on out, it's a sliding scale of considerability.
Sex involving either my parents or my children is not to be considered, even in the abstract. Although I'm willing to vaguely admit that my parents did it at least four times in order to produce the four of us, I'm absolutely unwilling to consider the prospect that they did it recreationally.
My two elder children both live in sin with their Significant Others. Once again, I'm willing to concede in the abstract that there's probably more going on there than a common love of cats and compatible television habits...but I ain't going there.
Beyond my own family though, I can at least explore the possibility that other consenting adults are having...well...satisfying consensual sex. And while some of those people seem like sexual creatures and I can sort of comprehend how that must work, others are absolutely incomprehensible. Does my boss have sex? My elderly neighbors? The Christian fundamentalists down the road? Do they all get the feeling of post-coital chakra realignment that tells them that they are right with the universe?
We used to live next door to the most angry, hateful couple I've ever known. They scowled constantly, never had a kind word to say to or about anyone, and approached life with the kind of grim determination that other people reserve for de-skunking the dog. The idea that they would occasionally be locked in a passionate embrace was sort of a standing joke at our house. That they saved up all their joy and zest for life for the bedroom, and had none to spare for anything else.
But one summer day we were outside when their grown children pulled up the driveway with their toddler grandchildren, and those sour old people lit up with the brightest smiles I'd ever seen. That angry, bitter, shuffling old man walked his little grandson around the yard all afternoon, teaching him the word for things like garden and whirligig, and riding him around on the tractor.
I almost felt like a voyeur. Like I'd seen him naked...or at least emotionally naked. I could see that at least on some level, he had a passion for something.
We know a lesbian couple in which one partner is a sort of hulking gender-neutral humanoid, and the other is an attractive blond girl who wouldn't stand out in a group of average people. What's going on in their house? Is it an egalitarian exchange, or is there homage involved? Self-esteem issues? Is it Beauty and the Beast? Does the Beast have a secret reservoir of wonderfulness that can't be immediately recognized at face value?
Considering that sex is a universal need, it's difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that people all over the world do it for love and money. Every person I pass is a sexual being. The nebbishy guy buying the birthday cake in front of me in Kroger, the stalwart schoolteacher, the slate-faced administrator of my hospital...they all feel that desperate need, that swirling desire?
Friday, March 23, 2007
See? There are some advantages to winning the midterm elections.
We get to hold the gavel now. :-)
However, I did get up at the the ungodly hour of 7 am, so I have the rosy glow of moral rectitude with supplemental eye bags. Unfortunately, I have time-sensitive projects to attend to, mostly taking Lori's car in for it's pre-window replacement consultation with the convertible-top replacement specialist. I'm absolutely certain, by the way, that they make this convertible-top recovery project as intricate and solemn as possible, so you'll feel that the obscene costs associated with it are justified.
But we'll pay it. Like convenience store owners being shaken down by mob thugs for protection money, we can recognize the immorality of it, and pragmatically fork over the cash. After all, we need the car so we can continue to go to work to earn more money to pay for more things that will allow us to continue to go to work to earn more money...
So that's the "gotta" part of my day. And since I'm all about the carrot and stick, there is, of course, a reward in store. My reward for being a good car-repairing girlfriend is that I'm going to come home and find my box of unread books in the shed. I keep looking at our woefully uncrowded bookshelves, hoping that during the night the Book Fairies have replaced all the "done"books with new, virgin books. However, one of the sad realizations of life is that virginity can never be restored, either to books or to people. Not that Whoredom doesn't have it's own unique advantages...
Which reminds me...Lori and I figured out one of the great biblical mysteries. Remember the bible story about Jesus feeding all the hungry people with a loaf and a fish? In a flash of revelation, I realized the other day that that story is actually an exhortation from Jesus to loaf and fish!
That's right! Jesus wants us to take more days off and spend them fishing! There's no longer any need to feel guilty...we're in accordance with God's will. This will probably buy us back some points for the whole lesbian thing.
Anyway, that's enough bible study for one day. The important message here is...our Book Fairies suck, and I'm going to have to take matters into my own hands. I've got Son of a Witch in a box of hastily packed books, and I'm going to ferret it out (but with less ferrets...the cats are plenty, thank you). And then, Good Lord willing and the creeks don't rise, I plan to piddle away the afternoon reading in the backyard and grilling some dead animal product for my hardworking non-day-off sweetie.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Portland, as you may recall, worked tirelessly to develop a "lesbian-free" team. And while an untold number of lesbians slunk away quietly after being shown the door by Portland, one straight girl was indignant enough to pursue the matter. It caused a huge stink for Penn State, and Portland was no doubt invited to resign. After all, it's hard to imagine women's sports without lesbians. By implementing this bizarre policy, whether it was overt of not, Portland did a disservice to both the student-athletes and the school's fan base. How she ever expected to win without lesbians is a mystery, and a testament to the power of faith.
So good riddance, Ms. Portland. As I was recently motivated to say elsewhere...don't let the door hit you on the way out. Maybe Liberty Baptist or Bob Jones U. has a position for you.
Southern Illinoisans are a hopeful lot.
They plant trees even though they won't be around to see them grown ... and they love the Dawgs.
I was never a sports fan before I became an imported Southern Illinoisan, but tonight I found myself standing in my living room, four feet from the TV, alternately whooping, cussing, squealing and slapping my forehead.
I'm new at this NCAA business, so I don't take it like a real Illinoisan.
On the bright side, I'm learning a lot about where the love of my life developed her loyalty, forgiving nature and pragmatic optimism. She loves me like she loves her Bears and her Dawgs ... warts and all ... and without unrealistic expections. Sports in Illinois, like the love of a good Southern Illinoisan, isn't always perfect, but once you've experienced it you pretty much can't imagine life without it.
Oh, and if he can't end his college career with an NCAA championship, please God, give Jamaal Tatum an NBA contract and let him keep his hair.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
For those of you unaware of it's existence, I'm not surprised. It's a shadowy group of mercenaries, mostly ex-soldiers, that operate in a variety of paramilitary capacities as federal contractors. They've been used as security guards to protect Paul Bremer when he was head of the Regional Coalition Authority in Iraq. They've also turned up among the foot soldiers there, and most famously, in the helicopter crash that caused the first loss of American lives after our invasion of that country.
Oddly, the firm was also hired to provide it's special brand of thuggish, gun-toting security to prevent looting in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, charging the federal government over $200,000 a day to protect the city's closed businesses.
Wouldn't it have been cheaper to pass out provisions to the desperate citizenry? And what was Blackwater, a paramilitary organization not trained in crowd control and diplomacy, planning to do...shoot those people taking the loaves of bread from the closed Safeway?
Blackwater is more than disturbing to me. It operates in a kind of reverse Catch 22 with regard to government oversight. They claim to not be subject to the military legal system, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, because they're a private firm, not an arm of the military. But they also claim to be immune from the civilian legal system because they're operating in a secret military capacity.
Rep. Henry Waxman has been trying to gather information on Blackwater since 2004 for a Congressional inquiry, and so far has been unable to get much cooperation from the company. The inquiry stems from a lawsuit brought by the families of the Blackwater soldiers killed in the initial helicopter crash in Iraq. The Blackwater employees were ostensibly hired as security guards, not combat soldiers. Inquiries by the families about why their loved ones were in a combat helicopter have thus far been met with silence by Blackwater officials, citing security reasons.
When the families eventually brought suit against Blackwater for violating the employees contracted obligations, Blackwater counter sued the families, stating that their employees sign statements promising not to sue in the event of their deaths. The families contend that, because the employment contract was violated by Blackwater, the statement is void.
Enter Rep. Waxman, who initially began investigations of Blackwater at the behest of the families, and subsequently was driven by the odd lack of oversight that allows this company to operate within the federal government, seemingly with impunity. His question, rightly, is to whom is this organization accountable? If not to the military court system, nor the civilian authorities...then who?
Blackwater's Board of Directors include a number of current and former White House staffers and consultants who might be anxious to obscure a paper trail that leads back to the Bush Administration.
Blackwater's legal team also comes from the top tier of Republican operatives, including chief Whitewater investigator Kenneth Starr, and White House lead counsel Fred Fielding. They've been aggressively pursuing the counter suit against the Blackwater families as a way to continue to operate their corporation in secrecy.
This looks like another Iran/Contra type story to me. It's so tangled up in the machinations of the White House secrecy machine that it doesn't make for a sexy read, and the press has mostly ignored it. However, we probably ought to stop ignoring it, and pay some some attention to the more distasteful facts:
1. Our government is funding an organization of mercenary soldiers who operate without oversight all over the world.
2. The families of contractors who died in the employment of Blackwater are being stonewalled, harassed and sued for asking specific questions about the deaths of their loved ones.
3. The congressional committee charged with investigating this federal contractor is unable to get any information or cooperation as to it's activities under government contract from it's officers or board of directors.
4. In the tradition of Haliburton, KBR, and other corporate friends of this Administration, Blackwater has received a number of lucrative no-bit federal contracts that have subsequently been found to be inflated, and could be better performed by federal and military organizations with existing procedures for oversight and accountability.
I'll be watching this story play out in the coming years. I have no doubt that it's even uglier than it currently looks.
Secret paramilitary organizations that report to unknown Administration officials sounds like the plot of a John LeCarrè Cold War spy novel, but it's proving to be just another day at the office for the Bush Team.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Girls Will Be Boys
By MARY ROACH
THE FIRST MAN-MADE MAN
The Story of Two Sex Changes, One Love Affair, and a Twentieth-Century Medical Revolution.
By Pagan Kennedy.
Illustrated. 214 pp. Bloomsbury. $23.95.
Michael Dillon wanted nothing more than to be invisible, to be one of the guys. Problem: he was born with a woman’s body. Everything he did toward realizing his humble dream — the cross-dressing, the hormones and surgeries and the chimera that resulted — pushed it further from his grasp. He went through life as the most visible sort of human being: a physical anomaly. He was the first person on record to undergo surgery (13 operations between 1946 and 1949) to change his gender.
Pagan Kennedy, the author of “Black Livingstone” and other books, does for Dillon what he never succeeded in doing for himself. She makes us see him as an ordinary, sane Englishman, worthy of respect and acceptance. Her compassion and restraint are laudable. She had access to before-and-after close-up medical photographs of Dillon but omits them. Her description of the surgeries is brief and devoid of graphic detail. She resists the temptation to highlight the comically surreal nature of her material. If you read this book, you will not gawk or laugh at Michael Dillon.
Dillon’s story, as Kennedy tells it, is itself a chimera: part biography, part medical history. Here the surgery is seamless, the hybrid better than the sum of its parts. “The First Man-Made Man” is oddly mesmerizing, as close to Shakespearean tragedy as you can come with the words “tube pedicle” and “mast of cartilage” in your book. It’s Romiette and Julio.
Dillon fell in love but once in his life. In 1950, he met Roberta Cowell, the only woman who might understand and even love him. Cowell, born (and equipped) Robert Cowell, came to him for advice. Dillon, who became a doctor, had written an obscure book about hormones and transsexuality, which Cowell read. With Dillon’s help, Roberta Cowell could become Dillon’s modest fantasy: a woman to whom he could reveal his secret (“a semierect, mostly numb sexual organ that resembled a small party balloon”), and who might have him anyway.
Alas, Roberta didn’t love Michael Dillon. She led him on, because, well, she needed him to remove her testicles. Owing to an obscure bit of British law, the physical mutilation of a man who would otherwise be fit for military service was then illegal. Later in the 1950s and through the 1960s, British men seeking sex-change surgery could travel to Continental Europe for the prerequisite amputation of their gonads — “castrated abroad,” the medical records would say, lending an aura of worldliness and class to the proceeding — but for Roberta this was not yet an option.
The besotted Dillon risked not getting his medical license for Cowell: he performed the castration himself. For the actual construction of a vagina, he introduced Cowell to Harold Gillies, the maverick British surgeon who had recently engineered Dillon’s own transformation. Cowell’s genital makeover was another surgical first, predating by almost a year the hyper-publicized metamorphosis of Christine (née George) Jorgensen, in Copenhagen. Shortly after the operation, Dillon proposed marriage and Cowell promptly jilted him. You could see it coming. As a man, Cowell flew fighter planes and raced sports cars. As a woman, she wore “va-va-voom” peroxide wigs and high heels. It wasn’t so much Dillon’s anatomy that put her off, it was the prospect of a quiet life as a doctor’s wife.
I’m afraid I jilted Dillon too. I wanted to stand by him through all 200 pages, but I fell hard for Dr. Gillies. It is no small feat to make a romance between the world’s first two transsexuals seem ho-hum, but Gillies almost manages. During World War I, he persuaded the British government to devote one wing of a military hospital to the cosmetic repair of burned and maimed soldiers — a subspecialty all but unknown at the time. “Gillies made up plastic surgery as he went along, smoking furiously, operating for a dozen hours a day, sketching noses on the backs of envelopes,” Kennedy writes. She describes him preparing for the world’s first male-to-female transsexual surgery: cigarette in hand, doing a dry run on a cadaver while Cowell sits nervously in the waiting room in a skirt and blond wig. It’s heady stuff.
Gillies was altering not merely faces and bodies, but the very nature of surgery. For the first time, operations were being done not out of medical necessity, but for the patient’s emotional well-being. “If it gives real happiness,” Gillies reasoned, “that is the most that any surgeon or medicine can give.”
Happiness eluded Michael Dillon. Isolated, depressed, hounded by the press, he traveled to India and, bizarrely, to a series of ever more remote Tibetan monasteries. He could not speak the language of his fellow novices, but with his shaved head and robes, he felt he fit in someplace. Sadly, he faced prejudice in the monasteries too, and his visa ran out before he was allowed to become a full-fledged monk. In 1962, he died impoverished near the border of Ladakh. He was 47, and had been trying to get back to the monastery where he’d felt at home. Dillon’s is the tragedy of a man born too soon.
Mary Roach, a frequent contributor to the Book Review, is the author of “Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife” and “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.”
We loved Stiff. It was all the stuff you didn't know you wanted to know about corpses. How they're disposed of, how they're put to use for research, how they decompose...
It was a fascinating exposure to a semi-taboo subject: What happens to corporeal bodies after death.
I'm inclined to accept a recommendation from Mary Roach at face value, since I love her books. I've just bumped this book to the top of my book-buying list. If it's anywhere near as well-written and engaging as Stiff was, it'll be fabulous.
So...I like that. I like the orderliness and consistency of my little life. Occasionally, though, someone will IM me during my morning ritual. Usually it's someone who wants to talk about sex with a real-live-honest-to-God-lesbian. And I'm friendly, so I'll talk to anyone who's not a total pig. But I'm intentionally obtuse about their objective.
And most people won't come right out and say, "Wanna fuck?" They dance around it, ask if I've ever considered a younger woman, tell me they're attracted to older women, etc. I've pretty much perfected my "clueless" schtick.
AIM kid: I think older women are hot.
Me: Me too. My girlfriend is a little older that me, and she's a total babe.
AIM kid: Do you ever think about younger women?
Me: Not since I was younger. How about you? Do you date kids your own age? Are you seeing someone now? Is she nice?
AIM kid: I guess so.
Me: That's good. Does your mother like her?
AIM kid: Yeah.
Me: Why aren't you in school?
AIM kid: I'm waiting for my next class.
Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
AIM kid: Do you ever fantasize about group sex?
Me: No. I'm old. I'm grateful I can manage one-on-one sex without having a heart attack.
AIM kid: I do. I fantasize about it.
Me: I fantasize about a vacation. What's your major?
AIM kid: Nursing. (or Education or English or...)
Me: Have you ever considered a lab job?
AIM kid: No. Can I have a picture?
Me: Sure. Want one of our cat?
AIM kid: I want one of you.
Me: The cat's cuter.
AIM kid: Well...gtg. Bye.
Me: Bye. :-)
And that's it. Presumably they move on to more amenable middle-aged lesbians who do wanna fuck with them online. And I get back to my coffee and my New York Times ritual.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
The remaining 5 can't stand us, and they're looking for some opportunity to discover a weakness that they can exploit to make us feel bad on some AOL board later.
So to those of you looking for dirt, I say...Haha...you're going to hate this post. :-)
Lori and I have been together for three years. Three years ago I was attracted to her and intrigued by her wit and zest for life, her compassion and intellect...but frequently frustrated by her inclination to be deferential.
Them days is passed.
She has apparently worked through whatever issues caused her to defer to me, and she's come roaring out of the gate. She's feisty and funny and full of piss and vinegar and I love the hell out of her. I feel a kind of exultant joy at this relationship that surprises even me. I love that she's as smart as me, as funny as me, as opinionated as me. Neither one of us has to carry the other or explain the joke. I love the sideways glances, the quick caresses, the eyes that melt my heart, and the laser jabs from nowhere. I love that she'll sneak up behind me, kiss my ear and whisper, "Bitch."...and then laugh.
Every other weekend we have two days off together, and I fall more deeply in love. And every time, I think "Okay...this is as big as it gets." But so far I just keep finding more stuff that delights me.
I don't think I've ever had this much fun with anyone in my life. For the first time ever, I feel sort of panicky at the prospect of dying someday. Forty more years won't be enough with her.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
acne cream, but they won't feed you anymore, you can't soothe your frazzled nerves with a cigarette, your toddler better not put up a fuss (even if you spend several hours on the tarmac) ... and now they may not let you pee.
Who's kidding who? This isn't air travel anymore. It's Greyhound with wings. The on board toilet is out of order, they don't know where the hell your luggage went, you need to pack a lunch (but you can't, because it might be used as a weapon), you haven't got six inches of space to wiggle around in ... and the driver is a self-important megalomaniac who'll throw your sorry ass out in Salt Lake City if you pee in his airsick bags ...
Airline Apologizes to Man Who Urinated in Bag
SALT LAKE CITY (March 17) -
SkyWest Airlines apologized to a passenger who said he wasn't allowed to use the restroom during a one-hour flight and ended up urinating in an air-sickness bag.
James Whipple said he had two "really big beers" at the Boise, Idaho airport. While on a flight to Salt Lake City on March 7 he wanted to use the cabin restroom.
The captain had declared it off-limits during the short flight because a light wasn't working.
Whipple said he had used the cabin restroom before the plane departed but had to go again and finally reached for the air-sickness bag.
"It was like I had no choice," Whipple told The Salt Lake Tribune, which posted the story on its Web site Friday.
No other passengers noticed Whipple using the bag, but a flight attendant asked him about it and told the captain, who called airport police.
Here's an idea, SkyWest ... charge an extra nickle per passenger and CHANGE THE FRIGGIN' LIGHT BULB.
Friday, March 16, 2007
And that reminded me that I recently heard a segment on NPR about some trisomy diseases but I can't remember what they were. Since tonight is my blood bank night, and blood bank is usually a feast-or-famine department, I might get a chance to do some research on trisomy diseases. And since (as I've stated ad nauseum) it's my blog and it interests me, I'll probably post about it here.
Ooooh, Goody! Something to look forward to! Genetic diseases!
Hey, it beats scrotal fungus.
Several hours later:
Okay...trisomy on chromosome 21 causes Down's Syndrome. Trisomy on chromosome 9, 13, and 18 cause other rare and unpleasant problems, including microcephaly, disfigurement of the skull and facial region, skeletal defects, heart defects, mental retardation and a host of other unpleasantness.
Therefore, upon further review, I would prefer that Katie NOT wash her hair with Trisomy shampoo anymore, since it will be difficult enough to get into the University of Chicago with a normal sized head, and significantly more challenging with microcephaly.
But at least now we know.
What it will actually mean is that now I'll begin watching the calender with dread, knowing that I should be doing those things. Eventually, when my anxiety reaches critical mass, I'll do it. And it'll be so easy and quick that I'll wonder why I dragged my feet and put myself through all that stress.
How can you understand your own psychology and still fall victim to it??
It's also the Friday that preceeds my every-other-weekend with Lori, so we're looking around for some fun things to do with it. Maybe a day trip to Nashville or Memphis? I think it's going to be too cold to go fishing.....
Maybe we can go to Rural King!
Maybe...and this is almost too cool to contemplate...we could go to Rural King in Nashville!
I actually don't have any idea what's in Nashville besides the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. I used to drive through it a lot when Carol was living in North Carolina and I was in Illinois, but I was somewhat focused on the goal, so I didn't stop to investigate much except the bathrooms on the highway.
But people go to Nashville, and we're people...ergo, we should go to Nashville. Maybe it's full of cool regional Nashville-y stuff, like sparkly electric guitars and ostrich boots...not that I've ever seen an ostrich in boots.
And yes, if all the other kids jumped off a bridge I would jump, Mom.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
I haven't had time to study the seedings yet since I've been busy palpitating, but I'll look at it today with the steely, unsentimental gaze of the oft-disappointed Illinoisan and decide when I believe the big choke-a-thon will happen for my Dawgs.
Oh...and Robin, the only Hoosier worth mentioning (sorry Gorgy and Steve), has observed the seasonal rituals of her adopted home:
"...Work officially stopped here in Indiana at 11:00 AM today in honor of the kickoff of the blessed event. It's a great time to be living in Indiana - in groups, with client's, at bus stops, etc., we all whip out our rankings and begin comparing and arguing in loud, Hoosierish voices. I've picked Florida to win again solely on my unnatural fixation on Joaqin Noah - that boy is something to watch! "
Of course, I'm fond of Robin, but it's never a great time to be a Hoosier. It's just a slightly less embarrassing time. At least they're spared the annual ritual of trying to explain away Bobby Knight.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
You remember Gorgy; in the last few months, she's been variously assigned the blame for everyone's bad behavior from Idi Amin to the Special Dope. According to the new folklore, Gorgy virtually invented flaming, and can be directly held responsible for all the woes of WWET since the days when blogs were carved onto rocks by cave dwellers. In spite of the fact that she hasn't posted there in years, she still gets to hold the Evilest Villian Ever trophy whenever the Special Dope is feeling any heat.
I want to be the first to accuse her of also causing global warming, the Holocaust, and the Bush Administration too.
So welcome back, you evil Machiavellian thing, you. Pull up a (brown) chair and stay a while. We can plot world domination and acts of terrorism on the elderly and the otherly-abled. Don't try to steal the "rappelling" threat though. That one's mine.
oh...and Gorgiavelli? If you send me a picture of your dog, I'll immortalize her here as the Special Guest Dog.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
The other night we were sitting in the back yard by the fire and we realized that we were hearing the frogs for the first time this year. The Spring Peepers are back!
Having been a lifelong frogophobic, it surprised me to be excited about that, but even a scaredy-cat like me can see the beauty in a frog this tiny. The really great thing about the Spring Peepers is that I'll probably never actually see one except in pictures. They seem to be hard to find even if you're looking for them ... and looking for a frog is something I can't imagine I'd ever do ... so I'm betting that accidentally coming across one is even rarer. Unless they leap out of trees and land on you ... and touch you with their creepy feet ... and puff out their throats ... and hop.
Okay, enough about the Spring Peepers.
The spiders are back! I saw three house spiders spinning webs on the front porch last night, and that's a sure sign of Spring. Time to remind Katie not to leave her clothes and wet towels on the floor, and watch for the tiny brown recluses.
The lightning bugs are back! Ev said she saw a couple of them the other night, just before we heard the Spring Peepers. We didn't see anymore after that, so the frogs probably got 'em.
The fleas are back! Ev spent $70 on flea dope for all the pets the other day ... so that ought to last a month or so ...
Can the chiggers be far behind?
It's Spring again in Wild Fuckin' Kingdom! Woooohooooooo!
Saturday, March 10, 2007
We had a discussion about cat IQ a while back and talked about the cats we have known, on a scale of 1 to 10.
E was at least a 9. She could open the back door and let the dog out, snag food off the table with the stealth of a jewel thief, and use humans as a bridge to get to her bowl on top of the deep freeze. She would sit on laps, but only if you had a pillow for her to lay on to cushion her old bones.
Slipper is a 5. A large, serviceable congenial gullumphing sort of a cat. We call him Loaf, short for Meatloaf, which he resembles.
Brian, alas, makes Slipper look like the Rhodes Scholar of Catdom. Brian is undone by the simplest of obstacles, and under pressure, he cries and falls to the ground like a fainting goat. He likes to lick things and chase things, but he's afraid of everything, including his toys.
Brian and his sibling were all trussed up in their intertwined umbilical cords for some unknown number of hours after their birth. I think the combination of oxygen deprivation and bad genes (his mother was previously the holder of the title of the Dumbest Cat I've Ever Known) Has made Brian, well...what's the PC word? Oh, yeah.
Retarded. Dumb as a sack of hammers.
Brian's only recognizable talent is to make a running start at the windows and cling to the frame six feet off the ground, all four limbs extended like he's being stretched on the rack. When he does this on the porch door, we can open it and go in and out seemingly without disturbing him, while he clings to it like vertical roadkill.
My theory about cats is that it takes them several years to go from irritating kittens to satisfyingly lazy cats. Brian has almost reached two year mark, and he'll still chase a T-shirt strip with as much clueless enthusiasm as he did at three months.
I suspect that Brian will outlive all the other cats, since he's not overburdened with deep thoughts. He'll probably die in another 30 years while batting a pill bottle or running under the dining room table with his T-shirt strip.
And it'll take him an hour to figure out he's dead. He's just that dumb.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Well, that and chiggers, but we can get them ourselves.
This is a decision we can feel good about: we'll be infusing some desperately needed cash into the treasury, helping to clean up the unsightly clutter in Arkansas, and embarking on our ultimate life strategy of rural hermitude...all for only $7000, plus the cost of the 60 acres. At a whopping $1,500 per Pulaski County acre (and believe me, you get what you pay for in Pulaski County), we can have the ultimate in splendid white trash livin' for less that $100,000.
The trailers come in colors ranging from white to white, and offer over 800 square feet of living space in which to spread out.
From where I'm sitting, I can't see a problem with this plan.
I'm just sayin'.
It's telling that the Russians were fairly uncomplaining about their harsh lives in general, but balked at the hardships and ineptitude that resulted from the poor administration of WWI. Food was scarce, young men were being sent into battle ill-equipped and poorly trained...in some cases with ammunition that was incompatible with their guns.
The uprising against the nation's out-of-touch leadership began in St. Petersburg with bread riots, but swelled when soldiers sent to quell the uprising instead deserted and joined forces with the rioters.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Okay, now that I got that out of my system...
Does his conviction on four of the five counts actually mean anything?
It means something to Scooter. It means 20 to 24 months in a minimum security federal prison.
But does it have any wider implications for the Bush Administration?
It appears that Libby has fallen on his sword for Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. That's too bad. My dream was to have Libby on the stand, disclosing all the perfidious manipulating, arm-twisting and back-stabbing of the Shadow President. Instead, Libby chose not to testify, which certainly saved him from a scathing cross-examination, but also left his recorded Grand Jury testimony standing as undisputed evidence of perjury. But maybe it's worth a brief stint in federal prison to avoid the wrath of Cheney. It beats the hell out of having your CIA cover exposed.
But the question in all the papers this morning is, "How will this affect Cheney?"
I believe the answer is, "Not at all."
Since Cheney and Bush never actually admit that Dick's running the show, they can continue to pretend that this exposure and conviction didn't touch the presidency, and is just the kind of low-level bureaucratic kerfuffle that sometimes happens in a large organization.
My dream, of course, is to see Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld tried for war crimes. And since this is my blog and my dream...what I REALLY wish is that after they're convicted, they're sent off to Gitmo to spend the rest of their lives being driven insane using the same means currently being used on the prisoners...whoops, "detainees."
That seems more humane that stringing them up from a light pole, a la Mussolini. More humane, but less satisfying.
At least Libby got a trial in front of a judge and jury. Now how about giving the detainees the same consideration?
Remember the Constitution? It's like gravity...it's not just a good idea, it's the law.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Monday, March 05, 2007
I had a friend who worked at the VA hospital in Tucson, and she said it was bleak. The people who were being treated there were pretty much only vets who didn't have any other treatment options. If they had a choice, they'd be somewhere else.
The part that gets to me about the Walter Reed scandal is the callousness. I can understand hospitals that are underfunded and bogged down with a huge influx of of fresh war casualties needing treatment for everything from missing limbs to brain injuries to PTSD...and sometimes a combination of several problems at once. But come on...take out their garbage. Give 'em clean sheets and pajamas without holes. They're not prisoners, they're the young men and women who are putting their lives at risk for crummy pay so that George Bush can realize his imperialist vision.
The least they deserve is a safe, comfortable recuperation in return.
Friday, March 02, 2007
Thursday, March 01, 2007
For one thing, I've never even been in Congress, but I'm pretty sure there's no sex there, Ms. Know-it-all!
And for another thing...I've never, ever gotten along with any men, ever. I spit on them when I see them on the street! Those kids? I bought them from a Lithuanian baby broker. That's why their English is so bad.
And what about you, Ms. Male-Identified-Faux-Lesbian? Who is it that waits for the Male Man to bring the bills?? Who has a son?? Hmmm? I know you're just coercively manipulating me into thinking...something.
(Honey...what was I supposed to be thinking again?)
Well, your little plan won't work. You can't scare me with your death threats and your coercive ways. That's right...you have ways. I didn't want to be the one to tell you, but there's no depths too low when I'm forced to defend myself against your vicious attacks.
Just for that, I'm going to drive by your house tonight. Then, I'm coming in. Don't try to stop me.
Your Internet Stalker