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It’s Hard To Be That Guy.

I’ve been sick. As many of you know I have Ulcerative Colitis, and it’s been in remission for many years. In February, I started getting a pain in my side that wouldn’t go away, and went to my doctor looking for answers. Instead of seeing my regular doctor I saw one newer to the practice, who although I have a history of UC insisted that wasn’t the problem. Long story short, after ending up in the ER at Midcoast hooked to a morphine IV, having 6 blood tests and a CT scan ( right before I had the radioactive dye shot into my vein the tech said to me, “This might make you feel like you peed your pants, which is totally normal. Oh, also, this kills about 1 in 100,000 people instantly.) That was pretty awesome. Obviously I didn’t die. Guess what, they diagnosed me with UC, which I ALREADY KNEW I HAD. Then the ER doc puts me on a course of extremely rugged antibiotics, even though I protested pretty loudly about it. I had to take Cipro and Flagyl, together. Cipro, in case you didn’t know, is what they give people for Anthrax poisoning. Oh also, side effect of Cipro – it can cause sudden rupturing of tendons and is known as a ‘black box’ prescription. After about 4 days on those, I had crippling anxiety (another known side effect) as well as terrible diarrhea. When I finally called my regular doctor, she was so mad about all that had happened and immediately told me to stop taking the antibiotics and prescribed for me the very low-side effect meds that I’ve taken in the past for this disease. They worked, but this time, I did get a side effect from them, tinnitus, which has not resolved yet. And it’s been 3 months. Why am I telling you all of this? To get to this part; so I can stop this disease and the unending train of drugs and doctors, I am now on a very strict diet.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet was developed specifically for people with IBD, Chron’s Disease, UC, and interestingly, Autism. On this diet I can eat; meat, eggs, veggies, fruit, nuts, honey, and certain kinds of dairy. That’s it. No grains. No sugar. No additives. I make nearly everything myself. I quit drinking coffee. In fact I don’t have caffeine at all anymore. It’s incredibly challenging, and there are very few doctors that will tell you to go on a diet to fix your gut problems, even though there are thousands of people who have successfully gotten off medication and back to a normal life after eating this way. What’s hard is all the food and diet hate. I can feel people rolling their eyes at me when I explain that I don’t eat all this stuff. They assume I’m ‘Paleo’ and it’s just some part of a dieting fad. It’s not. After being on this diet for 4 weeks, I was able to stop making my medication entirely. It’s been almost 3 months now, and I am 95% symptom free. You have to understand. This is a disease that most doctors will tell you, you will NEVER get over. You will NEVER be symptom free, you will ALWAYS be on drugs for it. Drugs ranging from mild to drugs that they use for chemotherapy.

It’s hard to be that guy. It’s hard to ask every single time when you are getting ready to eat what’s in it. It’s hard to tell your family and friends your limited diet, it makes me feel like an asshole. It really does. No I’m sorry, I can’t have that. Or that. Or that. Does this have grain in it? Nope can’t have that either. Want to meet for a coffee? Nope. I’m sure it will get easier, and I will get a tougher skin. I’m sure my not caring attitude will kick in, why should I care what anyone else thinks about what I’m eating? I shouldn’t, but it’s hard not to. So, what I ask is, next time you hear someone asking what’s in something, or refusing food because it has ingredients they don’t eat, reserve your judgement. You have no idea what their deal is.

What’s Up With All the Instagramming?

Interesting and beautiful things are everywhere.

Interesting and beautiful things are everywhere.

I knooow that’s what you guys are asking yourselves. Well, those of you that ‘follow’ me social media-wise. I’ve had Instagram for awhile, but I didn’t really start using it until a few weeks ago. Now I’m trying to add one post per day. Is it as simple as me just wanting to participate in something fun? No. Nothing is ever that simple.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, more than usual even. Trying to get some new perspectives, change old habits, pay attention to how different things make me feel. ln much the same way that I notice eating certain foods make me feel sick, consuming various types of information and media were also starting to make me feel gross. Now, this isn’t going to be one of those long, ranty posts about how much Facebook sucks, but I will say, that I started noticing that it wasn’t making me feel very good. I’m not going to lie. I friggin’ love Facebook. However, I found myself getting super annoyed and cranky with people that honestly, if Facebook wasn’t around, I would have no contact with whatsoever. I found myself getting wrapped up in the enormous long-winded oversharing dramas swirling around. Spending time wondering, “Gee, I wonder how so and so is doing with her whatserwhosit”. Is that necessarily bad? I don’t know. I’m what’s known as a ‘super-empath’, I know it sounds very new-agey, but whatevs. It’s what I am. Basically, I it’s a really nice way of saying I very easily get wrapped up in other people’s shit on an emotional level.  So, I started to back way off on Facebook. I deleted it from my phone. I did what dieters do when they try to get ahold of eating habits and check-in with myself when I found myself logging on to the blue beast, asking myself “Why?” Why are you checking in? This is what I discovered, most of the time when I was checking in, which honestly was frighteningly frequent, I was either:

  • Bored
  • Lonely
  • Procrastinating

Does FB really help me with any of those things? Sure it kills time, but it’s certainly not helping me achieve any of my goals, and aiding in procrastination isn’t great either. It does help with loneliness, but so does a text of a phone call. Anyhow, I’ve backed way off. Yes, I’m still on FB probably once a day. Sometimes not. I feel a lot better. Does this mean I’ve given up social media? Oh, God no. Which brings me to…

Instagram. (BTW, yes my account auto-posts to my FB and Twitter unless I unselect it. I can’t decide if this is obnoxious or not.) As opposed to FB, Instagram is making me feel pretty good. For one, I’m using it as a tool to find beauty in my everyday life. Well, beauty and humor, but I think those go together. I subscribe to other members that have similar ideas, but also that post amazing photos. So, instead of checking in on political rants or people’s divorces, what I’m seeing are incredible photos of MOMA, sunsets in Hawaii, knitwear, meals people are proud of. It’s a really different vibe, and it makes me feel better about the world around me, and what I’m putting out there. Pretty deep for a photo app, eh? Also, I have GOT to  become a better photographer. No, it’s required. I have new clients, and some that are in the wings, and in the world we live in today, if you are a writer, you better be able to take some decent photos. Publishable photos. I’m trying, you guys. I think I’m getting a little better every day.

Twitter, I love you. You’re a different post altogether.

If you want to see my photos, there’s a button over there —> to follow me on Instagram. You know, if you want to, or whatever.

Put Your Seatbelts On.

I got a text from a friend this morning telling me measles has been confirmed in her town. She’s pregnant with her first and she’s scared. And I’m scared for her. She lives out of state, but I’m scared for me too. For this very reason, I’ve been trying to stay off FB, and limit what I see on Twitter. As the entirely preventable measles outbreak makes it’s way East, I’m afraid. I’m anxious. I live in one of the most undervaccinated counties in the country. This keeps me awake at night.

I’ve been plagued by panic attacks for most of my adult life. I’m only just now learning how to deal with them. When one becomes a parent, the worry about oneself transfers over onto worry about their children. What then, should I do, living in this unvaccinated territory with measles looming.? I already skip the playgroups at local libraries because I’m scared. Is that right? Is that fair to my kid? Not really. But last year whooping cough was rampant in our community, and I wasn’t going to take the risk. Yes, my kids have their shots, but nothing is 100% effective, we need herd immunity to protect everyone. I’m not far off from holing up for the winter and ordering our groceries from Amazon.

The only thing that’s given me any solace lately is my new theory. I call it the ‘seat belt theory’. I drive the kids all over the place without fear. Back and forth every day to school, ballet, violin, the store. As we all know, driving in cars is a very dangerous activity, but I don’t stay up every night worrying about the drunk driver or the texting teen. I put my kids in the car, buckle them up, and trust we’re going to be fine. I have to look at these diseases the same way. I’ve done all I can. They’ve had their vaccines. They’ve got their seat belts on. It’s the best I can do.

Thoughts on an On-line Education

Bahaha! Look at this olde school setup. It is not unlike the USM computer lab.

I just got off the phone with USM tech support about a video issue with one of my classes. It’s a simple, 1 credit class. OK, it’s yoga. Yes, I’m paying to take a one-credit college-level yoga class. Don’t judge. Anyhow, the sound on the video sounds like Greedo:

Now, I’m not a tech-idiot. Here’s what I’ve done to fix the situation: Restarted, checked all software for updates, used 3 different browsers, tried to view it on my phone and iPad. Nothing. It doesn’t work. E-mailed the professor. Apparently I’m the only person with this problem.  * Update* Apparently ALL Mac users are having the same issue. Why? Because the professor created the video THREE YEARS AGO.* E-mailed and finally called tech support. You know what the end diagnosis is? My software and computer are TOO new and TOO updated. Fuck me. I mean come on. They told me to find a windows computer and use that. I do not have a windows computer, nor do I want one. I would be less stabby (maybe) if this didn’t happen every semester. Not this problem exactly, but this is now my 6th or 7th online class, my 3rd and final semester with this method of education and I can tell you, the first week is always spent messing around with problems like this. This is a long segue into my critique of online education.

I was so happy to learn that USM was offering a Liberal Arts major online. When I signed up I only had 36 credits left. I’ve been wanting to finish school for awhile, but I have 2 kids and limited time. I wasn’t interested in finishing up at one of the ‘churn and burn’ online schools either. USM seemed like the perfect solution since I’d done nearly all of my classes there anyway. So far my experience has been…OK, but there are some major issues both with tech and with teachers.

NO ONE USES THE SAME TECH

Every one of my classes has required different tech. They also use the ‘Blackboard Gateway’ but from there teachers go bananas. When you fill out the survey to see if online ed is right for you they ask if you are ‘comfortable using a computer on the internet and visiting various websites’ or something like that. Of course you are! What you should know is, you will have to use at least 2 sometimes 3 or more programs for each class. I’ve had teachers require that we watch lectures via Youtube, Quicktime, and worst of all try to run a Power Point presentation and sound via Itunes simultaneously. That was for one class. You may also be required to use VoiceThread, which actually isn’t that annoying, but another new software that you will have to register for and learn how to use. This semester I’m taking a music class that requires your sign up for and pay $85 for an online text-book/course materials. Well, it’s music, that makes sense right? Oh, guess what, you also need Spotify to listen to the music.  I beg you, USM. Please, please, start making your professors use the same tech. Personally, I would suggest having them use: Youtube for video lectures, and VoiceThread for presentations etc. These two seem to work phenomenally well for everyone.  I understand that Online courses will require different materials, videos etc.  That’s great! But let’s try to condense some of this shit. I never know going into a class what software I’m going to need. It’s stressful and detracts from my education.

SOME TEACHERS SUCK

I am very, very fortunate that most of my professors get it when it comes to online ed. They run it like a regular class as much as they can. That means they give a lecture. Sometimes they even give a real-time lecture and students can ask questions and interact in a sort of regular class discussion format. It works very well, and I like it. I have had a couple of professors that I feel have made my classes completely boring and a total waste of money. This is what they did: assigned reading from a text. Assigned a homework from that text. They did not do any online lectures or offer supplemental materials. It actually really pissed me off. It seemed like they were just saying, “Oh this is awesome, I’ll just make a syllabus once and chuck out the assignments. Easy Peasey” In fact one professor couldn’t even be bothered to make sure that she changed the dates on the assignments from the previous semester to the most recent one. Unfortunately since USM has decided to fire all their professors, I’ve noticed that the good ones I’ve had are being replaced by the half-assed ones. Not cool. A good on-line teacher needs to be engaged as much as a real-time teacher. She needs to give lectures. She needs to at least pretend she’s excited about the materials and the students. That makes a good teacher in general.

ONLINE CLASS MEANS ONLINE

OK, this only happened once and it still pisses me off. Last semester I had an online class that required I travel to an onsite location to take an online, proctored, open book exam. That’s right. I could have taken the test at home easily. In fact, the test was administered THROUGH Blackboard. I had to drive to Portland and sit in the computer lab so that I could show the professor my ID and prove that I’m not cheating on this stupid test. It really, really makes me mad. I’m taking an online class because 1. I hate going places. 2. It’s a pain for me to do so. Why did they feel the need to make us drive there? Basically because they think all students are cheaters, I guess. If you don’t trust a group of grown adults to take the test online in an online class, then don’t offer an online class. And don’t be surprised that people are angry when you make them take time out to drive 50 miles to take a test that they could have taken at home.

WORKSHOPS DON’T WORK

I am currently taking an online creative writing class. For a long time I believed that online writing workshops would be great. They aren’t. Sure, people post their work and other people comment on it, but it’s just not the same as real-time workshops. This summer I was able to attend Stonecoast Writers’ Conference, and have some real life workshopping. It was incredibly valuable. The biggest difference is that the online discussion is too nice. Everyone points out what works but no-one has the courage to say what doesn’t. Yes, I’m saying, and I know how weird this is: on-line workshop students are too nice. I also think there is something that happens when a group of people get together in a same room and discuss their writing in person. You have to trust each other not to be jerks, and you’re sitting in the same space as the person you’re critiquing, so you want to give them good, constructive advice. Now, that said, I think it MIGHT be possible for workshops to work if they were done online in real-time conference call style format. I can’t say for sure, because I haven’t participated in a class like that, but I think it might be an OK medium.

GENERAL ADVICE

Some final thoughts:

  • Do not assume that online classes are going to be easier.
  • Get a good printer
  • Get some good PDF reading software. I like Evernote. I like Evernote for a lot of things actually.
  • Make a schedule for all your work. I put it all in Google Tasks.
  • Software that saves to .docx. If you have Word, no problem. If you use Pages or Google Docs it’s kind of a pain but can be done. Just make sure you learn how to do it before your papers are due.
  • Be patient. A lot of your professors are thrown into this and are just learning how to use the tech too.

ASK ME ANYTHING

Got questions about online classes, NOT tech support 🙂 Drop me a comment.

PS. Han shoots first.

Space Case

Many times I’ve written posts about what I’m going to do with this space.

“Now it’s going to be a cooking and lifestyle blog!”

“Now I’m going to share funny cartoons I draw and scan in!”

“Now I’m going to write deeply personal introspective posts!”

“All humor all the time!”

“I’m going to curate all the awesome things and get off Facebook!”

I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to stop trying to define this space. It’s only taken me about 8 years to come to that decision. That said, I like most of the ideas I’ve had in the past, and I don’t see any reason why I can’t just stick all kinds of things on here. In fact, I can. Because it’s my space. I have a big problem with being overly conscious of audience and branding. That’s what a blog is for, right? Getting your shit out there so somehow you can get a book deal or make some money right? If you’re going to do that you need to FOCUS. You can’t be all wishy washy. (These are all the things that *they* tell you.You know, all the big successful blog people that give conferences and talks and whatnot. Their blogs are all about…blogging)

So, all new for 2015, whatever I want! Will I update more than once a month? I don’t know!

 

Little Goods and The Big Bads

It was even more beautiful in real life.

It was even more beautiful in real life.

My parents put their dogs to sleep yesterday. The dogs were sisters, 18 years-old, and suffering from a variety of ailments ranging from heart disease to deafness and random seizures/strokes. It was time for them to go, for sure. However, this loss was on the heels of a month of pretty hard hits. The loss of my brother in-law. A good friend lost her baby. And these are just things that pertain to my immediate life, the news is also filled with horrible things.

When I told my daughter that her grandparent’s dogs were gone she was pretty unmoved by it. She pointed out that they were really old, and calculated their dog-years at 136. Then, about an hour or so later she said, “When will all this bad stuff stop happening?” I stumbled around for an answer before dropping her off at ballet. I thought about her question for the next two hours. What I did not, and do not want, is a kid or anyone, including myself to become sucked down into the world of “All this bad stuff always happens to me” which is incredibly easy to let happen. I know people like this. People who take no joy in even big amazing happy things, because they are just waiting for the next bad thing. Because as you know, “bad things always happen to me.”  Here’s the thing – (SPOILER ALERT) This is true. Bad things are going to happen to you. They are going to happen to me. Bad shit happens to everyone. It doesn’t matter how good of a person you are. It doesn’t matter what religion you are. Bad shit is going to go down. You are going to get divorced, or lose your parents, or lose your job, or go bankrupt or become disabled. Who knows?  You can’t control it. It’s just the way. What you can control is your perception of life and the world.

I’m going to try to explain this without being too New Agey. Let’s look at the examples I gave you of the bad things I’ve experienced over the past 30 days. 3. 3 really sad horrible things. Obviously bad things carry different weights, the loss of a dog is not as heavy as the loss of a loved one (some people are going to argue withe me here. Don’t. It’s not the same.)But let’s weight them the same and math this out. 3 bad things over 30 days. During those same 30 days, I’ve experienced hundreds of good things. Dozens and dozens of little moments that would be unnoticed if I hadn’t been paying attention. Things like, my son learning the word ‘Happy’ and saying it over and over. Hundreds of hugs and snuggles from both my kids. A nephew is due to arrive any moment. A lovely trip to the apple orchard that resulted in 40lbs of apples and consequently pies and crisps and other treats. I have a refrigerator full of food and a tank full of heating oil. And there are more. Many more. All of these little goods can easily be swallowed up by the big bads if I let them. And in the face of big bads, it takes genuine effort to pick out the little goods and acknowledge them. However, when you do, you start to realize that ‘bad things always happen to me’ is not true. What IS true is ‘bad things and good things happen’. But, how many times have you heard someone say, “Good things ALWAYS happen to me!”? I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that. But it’s just as true as the converse. And honestly, a lot of the time life is about neither. It just is. Nothing is happening to you. You are just doing your thing, going to work, picking up the kids, making dinner, going to bed, etc. I’m going to put that in the good column. You don’t have to though, you can just put it in the neither box.

When I picked up my daughter from her ballet class she was all smiles. She’d had a great class. She loves ballet, she even invented a new stretch for ‘The other girls with long legs like me!’.

“These are the good things” I said. “These things, ballet, your friends, having fun, these are the good things that happen all the time.”  She didn’t say anything. Then, we both noticed that the sunset was incredible. I pulled over and took a picture. “This is another good thing. Look at this beautiful sky. If you are only thinking about bad things, you wouldn’t notice how pretty it is.”

“Mom. I get it. Roll up the window. Did you make tater-tots?”

And I had. And they were good.