Polymath Puberty Ponder

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There are times when all my roles in life — mother, graduate student, writer, and professional — threaten to draw and quarter me.  I’m pulled in different directions and the pain of not doing my best at anything rips me apart.  Then there are other times that epiphanies happen, and could only happen, because I see the world from so many angles.

It started with the note home from school.  The anticipated but dreaded permission form for my daughter’s puberty class.  The coming-of-age embarrassment of all children when they start to stink, have to think about a bra, or experience “nocturnal emissions”.  Nocturnal emissions?  When did wet dreams get such a fancy name?  I reread the note to make sure it meant a boy waking up in sticky sheets.  Yep.  The note clearly said “nocturnal emissions.”  Apparently it’s not just new math these kids are learning, but new puberty too.

That same week, I had to submit my graduate school capstone project proposal.  I’m leveraging a work project on alternative fuel corridors to examine how the climate impacts of the World Cup and Olympics could be mitigated by utilizing alternative fuel.  It’s a great proposal that hits the sweet spot of a school project for me: something that extends a work project and gets me credit from both school and clients.  As I was researching my proposal I found some fascinating journal articles that discussed the importance of delivery timing during mega-events.  The goal is to ensure that souvenir and food deliveries don’t impact spectators getting to events, and one of the strategies is to make deliveries at night.

Without warning, my writer brain engaged.  I had the perfect proposal topic.  If I shifted my focus to the Women’s World Cup happening in France this summer and refocused on the temporal aspects of the study I could title my capstone: Calculating Nocturnal Emissions resulting from the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

Now who wouldn’t want to read that?


Photo by Seb Creativo on Unsplash

Jobs I Do Not Want

Last night, I was lucky enough to sit directly behind the bench at a collegiate hockey game.  There I witnessed a job that I do not want: a hockey skate maintainer.  Hockey equipment manager?  Whatever this guy is doing, I don’t want to do it.  One of my phobias is slicing.  I hate movies that feature knives or swords.  Every hockey game I anticipate the moment when a player’s Achilles, leg, or face will be sliced open by an errant skate.  This guy has to pry blades out with a wimpy plastic tool, sharpen them, and then use his bare hand to press them back in wall while pucks and sticks and players fly about.  I couldn’t stop watching him, anticipating his hand being cut in two.   Gak.

My list of jobs I don’t want now includes:

  • Hockey skate maintainer
  • Glass sharpener
  • Spider wrangler

Please don’t recommend me for any of the above opportunities.  Thank you.

Work is Raunchier than Fiction

Note: Image above used in a real webinar.  Transcript below has been adjusted to better align with the image’s message. 

Ally:  Okay, so there was a question about the potential fueling options in the New York Metro area.  Johanna can you do a quick on-the-fly evaluation?

Johanna:  Sure!  Let me zoom into the region.  Remember earlier we showed an analysis indicating that natural gas has some penetration in this area, so I’ll turn on the natural gas layers.  As you can see, there are three distinct strategic thrust areas:  the areas outlined in blue.  Those shafts indicate where we have a deep penetration of natural gas stations — indicated by the blue dots — along an interstate.

Johanna:  First consider the shaft from Scranton heading east.  There we have an exciting opportunity for double penetration into both New York and New Jersey.  Next while there is only a single station in White Plains, with some attention, that shaft could rise and stimulate the upstate New York market.  Finally the shaft along the Long Island Expressway has so many stations it almost seems to be ready to explode with potential.

Johanna:  This map makes me so excited about the growing opportunities in the New York region.  Transforming these shafts into natural gas corridors isn’t going to be easy — in fact it’s going to be hard, very hard.  In the end, with a little political and technical stroking, I know our strategic thrusts will climax into a robust natural gas fueling infrastructure in this region.

Ally:  Gosh, you’ve got me worked up!  I can’t believe how huge this opportunity is.  That was a stimulating question and a really deep analysis by Johanna.  Thanks!  Are there any other regions folks would like to explore?

My favorite Christmas Present? A Benign Biopsy

My new favorite word is benign.  Say it with me: benign.  It’s a little choppy and doesn’t really flow off the tongue;  there may be too many syllables for the length.  It wasn’t a word I’d given much thought before last week.  In fact, if you’d asked me before that, I would have said I liked the word malignant better.  It has a force to it, a weight, and a power that is scary as heck when it might be related to your own body.

Last Friday I was presented with that glorious word, benign.  All day I sat by the phone waiting for my biopsy results.  Before the biopsy, the mammography center had warned  that I might not hear the results until after Christmas, but the surgical center seemed certain that I’d hear on Friday.  My husband and I had discussed the uncertainty and decided that if the sample was cancerous we didn’t want to hear until after Christmas.  I rationalized that I could fake my way through the holiday not knowing, but would likely ruin everyone’s Christmas if I did know.  However, when I discussed my plan with the biopsy nurse practitioner and doctor they looked at me like I was crazy.  “I mean, I’ll have questions and I’ll need to know what the plan is if it isn’t benign.”  I told them.  They assured me that there would be a plan – nay a whole team ready – if the sample was not benign so I capitulated and agreed that they could call, which seemed to satisfy their need for procedure and protocol. (“Not benign” is such a stupid euphemism.)

My arms were deep in the sink, soaking my brother’s Christmas scarf for blocking when my daughter ran in, “Mom, your phone is ringing.”  I dripped while sprinting into the study and grabbed my phone.  Better to ruin my phone with soggy hands then miss this call.  They were going to tell me if the turtle ripped from my body was a good turtle or an evil turtle.

There is no situation that is beyond the absurd in my life.  While I was laying face down on a surgical table, my clamped and bleeding boob protruding through a hole, the doctor put up the image of the sample taken from my flesh.  It looked exactly like a turtle with a bulbous middle, a head, and four smaller blob appendages.  Of course, I shared my interpretation of this image with my medical team.  Appeasing me, they pointed out the lighter squiggles on one turtle foot.  That was the sample they wanted.  The worrying parts of the turtle were now outside of me ready to be analyzed and tested.

The call had no preamble before the nurse practitioner – the one who convinced me that I wanted to talk to her no matter what she was going to tell me – said, “I have good news for you.  Your sample is benign.”

That moment is clear in my head.  As unclear as the medical guidance given to me by my doctor during the biopsy procedure.  He was very kind, but the nurse assigned to me seemed hellbent to ensure any medical information provided was covered up by cheery banter.  She entered with the doctor and was “there for me” in some role perfectly clear to her.  At the moment the biopsy was about to happen the doctor said, “I’m going to take the sample now.  You might feel…” but whatever I might have felt was drowned out by the nurse screaming in my face, “WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE CHRISTMAS COOKIE?” I still don’t know what I was supposed to feel, but Nurse Rose knows I like sugar cookies the best.  Her question wasn’t a total non sequitur.  She’d drowned out the anesthetic information by asking me my plans for the day, which involved making Christmas cookies.

Sure, maybe making Christmas cookies they day you get a biopsy might seem a little strange, but that’s what happens when you get an irregular mammogram less than two weeks before Christmas.  My brother’s scarf was carried with me from waiting room to procedure room to waiting room the day of the biopsy, because I had knitting to finish before the holiday.  My potential cancer worries were all wrapped up with holiday concerns – pun intended.

The decision to have the mammogram right before Christmas was an odd one for me.  In a flash of uncharacteristic optimism I took the appointment offered because, after my first irregular mammogram in June, my doctor and I looked at the films together.  She’d assured me that the worrying spots had been on my mammogram in 2015, disappeared in 2016 and were back in 2017.  She said it was probably nothing, but cautioned me that I needed to go every 6 months, just in case.

At the time, the mammogram didn’t seem like it was “just in case,” but in hindsight the lady doing my mammogram got less and less chatty as she took more and more pictures.  Since this was my first followup appointment, I just figured she didn’t find my demeanor charming.  Or maybe she was also unsure how she was going to get everything done before Christmas.  When she asked me to sit in the waiting room I didn’t wonder, but when she asked me to come back into the bowels of the mammography center I got concerned.  She led me into a dimly lit room with faux leather chairs around a small conference table and I panicked.  The room looked exactly like the special room my vet has for euthanasia appointments.  When the radiologist arrived and didn’t bring me a warm blanket and a cocktail of life-ending drugs it was a relief, until he suggested a biopsy.

The warm blanket came right before they strapped my legs to the biopsy table and raised me into the air on the worst amusement park ride ever.  Nurse Rose did not find my amusement park ride jokes funny as the table made herkey jerks and my boob was smashed and smushed and poked.  I feel like being “there for me” should have involved laughing at my jokes.

The benign call ended awkwardly.  When asked if I had any questions I mentioned that I thought the incision was bleeding more than it should.  The nurse practitioner seemed taken aback, like the invitation for questions was rhetorical.  I was supposed to just hang up in a blaze of relief and joy.  When I told her that the bloody spot under my bandage was much bigger than a dime or nickel she said, “Well, if it’s still a problem on Tuesday give us a call” then said goodbye.  My Christmas cancer worry was replaced by a smaller bleeding-out worry.  Nothing I couldn’t fake my way through, but enough to make me drift off to sleep with images of bloody wounds dancing in my head.  (Spoiler alert, I haven’t bled out yet.)

When people ask me what I got for Christmas this year I go blank.  I got benign, but almost everyone doesn’t know I had a biopsy.  A few friends and family members along with an astute coworker who caught me at a bad time know, but I didn’t tell anyone else.   When was the right time?  During the band concert?  The school holiday party?  During our work calendar exchange?  At my friend’s dad’s funeral?  Had the ending been different I would have had to tell, but now I’m just awkwardly hugging on one side and randomly asking people to carry heavy things for me.

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Along with my constant appreciation of the absurd are my rose colored glasses.  Even after my Magic 8 Ball told me I didn’t have cancer (this was before the actual diagnosis) I couldn’t help planning for the worst.  The silver lining of the cancer scare was my evaluation of the things I was afraid of losing:  my family, my friends, my book, my stories and – surprising to me – my Master’s degree.  In the week between mammogram and biopsy I planned how to transition my work role to others, write my book at chemo so my mom could read it, and make countless videos and knit objects for my kid to remember me by.  (Because a box of hand-knits is almost the same as having a mom, right?)  I also hoped I would feel well enough during treatment to go to school.  It’s interesting the things that rise to important when you are considering th….

“WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE CHRISTMAS COOKIE?!?!?!”

Now when things start to get serious around here, you’ll understand why I’m screaming cookie gibberish.  My surgical pamphlet tells me that one in eight women develop breast cancer and four in five biopsies like mine end up benign.  That means many women are having these procedures and it’s all okay, but for each four of me, one other woman is dealing with all the fears I had the past two weeks.  If you find yourself in this same uncomfortable situation, my hope is that your turtles turn out benign and your warm blankets just make your uncomfortable amusement park ride a little bit more pleasant.

Toothpaste Magic

The Afthead family has a secret, and as a family of scientists and engineers you need know know we are a trustworthy source of this information.  Toothpaste is magically regenerating.  If you squeeze the tube hard enough each toothpaste molecules will split and create two toothpaste molecules.  Do this enough and you will never run out of toothpaste.  You can only really get enough force out of the squeeze when the toothpaste is almost empty, and, of course, even if you did squeeze the tube hard enough when it’s full you are just going to end up with toothpaste all over.  But when you get to the end just keep squeezing.  If you don’t you will be shamed and labeled a heretic for not believing in the magical toothpaste properties.

(I did not throw this tube away, but Mr. Afthead did.  I’m so disappointed in him.)

When I am an old woman

Tuesday, I was a chaperone for a group of third graders at the zoo, and as we were leaving I met the woman I want to be when I am very old.  Racing to the rendezvous point by our deadline I encouraged the kids, “We’ve made it this far and no one has lost a leg.  Keep going…”  Well the hurrying stopped and the kids proceeded to pretend body parts were falling off.  They limped, dragged and moaned themselves to the exit of the zoo.  Thankfully we had three minutes and I could see the teachers, so I just laughed and kept encouraging them to move forward while the zombie leprosy overtook them.

Of course, while my kids were emulating disastrous disabilities we lurched past a group of really old people in wheelchairs.  Some had oxygen.  All had a helper pushing them.  One was staring at me and my kids.  Her red lipstick both matched the smart red jacket she was wearing and framed the beautiful smile on her face.  She clapped her hands in delight and then held her clasped hands to her chest watching the loud silly kids parade past her.  I don’t think one of them noticed her, but she noticed them, and we noticed each other.  As I walked past she smiled at me and gave me a little wave while she kept laughing.

The kids weren’t being insensitive to people who couldn’t walk, or who were missing body parts.  They were just playing and having fun.  The old lady could have been grouchy.  She could have wished that those loud kids would quiet down so she could enjoy the zoo sounds.  Other old ladies might have shook their heads at me for not making my group of six urchins behave.  But she didn’t.   She recognized the joy of the moment.  The fun that comes after six kids and one grown up have spent the day watching peacocks dance their mating dance, learning about assassin bugs, and picking which fish resembles their daddy.  The excitement of getting to ride back on the bus.  The pride of finishing their whole packet of zoo worksheets before lunch.  It was a great day for us and it was like that old lady had a crystal ball and could see the entire joy of the trip in that last single moment our group had together.

While we were doing our last count of the kids before boarding the bus, the old woman was wheeled past our giant group of 82 kids and chaperones, and still she was smiling.  Even as the kids did obnoxious kid things like play with toys they weren’t going to buy from the gift shop and try to trip each other.  Then she saw me and reached out, so I stepped forward and held her hand, just for a moment, and smiled at her.  As her dry paper skinned hand pulled out of mine I thought, I want to be like her when I grow up.

Octothorp NewFavoriteWord

Prepare yourself readers, for your new favorite word.  It will change your modern day existence.  The word is octothorp.  Now, before you go rushing to Google or your dictionary, be honest.  Do you know this word?  I did not.  In fact, it’s even missing from my Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: nothing between octosyllable and ocul-.  Now that I know this word, I love it.


What is an octothorp?  It’s a pound sign.  A #.  A symbol that has taken on such an important role.  Imagine with me, if you will, calling into any automated phone system.  Maybe you are refilling a prescription, joining a conference call, or calling your bank.  Inevitably you are requested to:

enter in your something followed by the pound sign

I bet reading that you can hear the computer’s voice in your head, and feel the anxiousness.  Was that the right number?  Should I have pressed the 2 menu instead of the 4 menu?  Now just replace that computerized request for a pound sign with the word octothorp.  It’s still accurate, but what would people do if such a request was made?  Imagine the chaos.

Octothorp confused.  Octothorp hatemybank.

Right?  People would race to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and write about their bad customer experience using the newest, most succinct way to convey emotion, sarcasm and cynicism.  The hashtag, which are denoted by the preceding octothorp.

Do it now, go to your favorite social media site and just enjoy reading all those octothorps.  My Twitter feed has Octothorp persist.  Octothorp champs.  Octothorp amwriting.

Oh yeah.   I’m writing.  About Octothorps.

Octothorp awesome.

#NewFavoriteWord #Octothorp

 

Afthead Takes Pictures

More Afthead upgrades came with the new year!  Can you believe it?  I mentioned in my last post that I started list of books I’m reading because I “can’t handle another social media time sucker like Goodreads.”  Well, I snubbed Goodreads because I had already started another social media time sucker.  Yes, dear readers, Afthead is now on Twitter and Instagram!  (Instagram is the new one.)  So exciting!

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Snow Chicken – Instagram Post

I picked Instagram because the past year I found myself taking pictures with the thought “I’m going to write a blog post about this.”  However, life and time move on and I don’t always write the post.  Instagram gives me a platform for writing microstories about little things that tickle my Afthead.

Threek – Instagram Post

So if you want to follow my Instagram feed you can either check it out on my blog – I added the Instagram widget – or you can click the Instagram button in my “Socially Inept” section or you can just look for “Aftheaded” on Instagram.  (This is all if you just didn’t click the links in the post already.)  Already there are sixteen pictures ranging from a snowchicken, bird poop, a threek, and inappropriate rocks: note only two of my pictures actually made it into blog posts, so my experiment is working.  (I mean, if you ignore this post…)  Join my 16 followers for a peek into the visual Afthead world.

 


Oh, and if anyone else has ever wanted to add the Instagram widget to their blog and ended up weeping in frustration, let me direct you to this support post.  I had to add the widget from the WordPress Admin, not from the page where you customize your theme.  Ah, the work I do to keep things fresh and interesting around here.  

 

 

Living Nightmare

Public speaking.  I know it’s something that gives some people chills, makes them sick to their stomach and causes dread to course through their body.  Personally, I’ve always enjoyed public speaking.  I like standing in front of a crowd, any size, and delivering prepared remarks, unprepared remarks, or off-the-cuff thoughts.  I don’t know if my ease is due to my years in high school drama, or a genetic predisposition, but public speaking is fun.

Today I had a presentation at 8:00a.m.  Before I got settled at the speaker table at the room’s front I ran to the bathroom, because we were going to be there for two hours between the presentations and time for questions.  My section went really well.  There were some laughs, lots of head nods, and good eye contact.  The other presentations were interesting, and the question and answer sessions provided insight.  It was a really good experience.

I finished and hurried out to get on a conference call with a colleague.  We sat on the floor, because all the chairs we could see were taken, and shared her Apple earbuds to talk and listen.  Then I confidently strode around the exhibit hall learning all about the wide variety of things you find in any conference exhibit hall.  Famished, I texted a friend, and we met up for a crappy lunch at the convention center food court.  After lunch I wandered trying to find the speaker ready room to complete my last speaker task:  making sure they had the right version of my presentation to distribute with the conference materials.

Cue the nightmare.

While I was inspecting a map of the conference facilities a strange man came up to me and softly said, “Your pants are unzipped.”

“Oh, thank you!” I exclaimed and reached down to zip.  The zipper didn’t go all the way up, I could feel the gap, but rather than mess around with my crotch in a busy hallway I decided to duck into somewhere private to fix the issue.  There was a restroom close by, so I pushed through the door, looked up and saw three men.  Crap.  I was in the men’s restroom.

My fly forgotten I bolted out and headed for the exit of the convention center doing math in my head.  Five hours.   I’d had my pants unzipped for five hours.  For most of the presentation I was behind a lectern or a table which was skirted, so probably no one saw my underwear.  The rest of the time?  Ugh.

End nightmare

Whenever someone afraid of public speaking asks me “How do you do it?  How do you get up there and talk in front of everyone?”  I always reply, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”  Now, I’ll have a real world example to share with them.  Once I got back to my hotel room and appropriately dressed myself I grabbed for my phone and started texting my friends and family.  Really the story is hysterical.  I hope I never see any of those three bathroom men again, but thank goodness for the one stranger who was brave enough to tell me about my grooming lapse.  So…uh…yay public speaking!

Painting Knew Year

Lest you think knitting was my only New Year’s accomplishment let me show you my second completed project.  July 3rd I had a cockamamie idea to change the color of our basement bathroom from light Grimace to radioactive sea foam.  The old color was bad but the green was so bright it literally changed the color of other objects in the bathroom.  

Unfortunately, there is nothing like making a bad paint color choice to hamper the ability to make a new color choice.  “What if I pick something worse?”  (Like that’s possible.)  So the paint stayed, but I never took off the blue painters’ tape as an acknowledgement of my terrible mistake.

Then as part of our post holiday stuff-purge Mr. Afthead happened upon an almost full half gallon of paint we had from long ago: a color we both loved, but replaced when our daughter asked for a blue room.   It was eggshell finish, not my preferred semigloss for bathrooms, but I wasn’t going to be picky.  Thus it came to pass that I was sick on New Years Eve – too sick to party but not too sick to take to bed – and upon that night where an old year changes to new I did paint the dreaded bathroom.  It was glorious.  Note the toilet is again white!  A New Year’s miracle.  

If anyone needs most of a half gallon of paint for something that really needs to be seen, even in the darkest night, you let me know.  I probably won’t get to the paint store to recycle it for a bit.

Wow!  So productive!  What else could an Afthead accomplish in the new year?  Just you wait and see…