People often mention that they become self-conscious upon learning that I have a degree in English. They'd be surprised, however, to learn just what corruptions of speech/writing truly bother me. It's not misspellings. It's not grammatical errors or sloppy punctuation or turgid, dangling participles. I can look the other way during all of those offenses.
But not with ambiguity. Ambiguity will not be ignored. If I ignore your ambiguity, I will have no idea what the hell you're talking about.
So please, for the sake of my sanity and for the sake of you wanting to be understood: avoid the use of this and that as pronouns. They're much more effective as adjectives. Sure, it will take a bit more thought on your end, but if you can't understand what you're trying to say, you can't expect me to.
- Music:"Hitsville UK" by The Clash
One of my fellow interns, Dutch, is a brute. Don't get me wrong--he's a really nice guy, not at all mean--at least, no more so than the next guy. But Dutch is massively bulked up and sometimes expresses thoughts that seem to have been inspired by overuse of anabolic steroids.
This morning, for example, sitting at the break-room table with several of our fellow interns, Dutch held in his hand an unlabeled teabag.
“Guess what brand of tea I’m holding.”
“Hint: it’s named after a famous bear.”
It was near the end of the January interim between classes, which meant that most students were just beginning to return to campus after a month of either idling at home or taking a decadent class in an exotic location, such as learning to ski in Colorado or learning French in Paris or learning to scuba in Aruba. Not me, though—no, I was a pretentious boob back then (okay, I still am, but I didn't realize it then. Can I continue with my story now? Geez…) and thought it wise to take an intensive course on Socrates so as to dazzle my peers (truthfully, to impress girls) with my newfound philosophical insights upon their return to campus.
What I hadn't counted on, however, were two factors that ruined my interim. The first was that an intensive course—that is, five hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks—on any subject was too much for me. My interest and focus were exhausted by the end of day two. And the second factor was that the entire campus was empty of resident students except for one other person. And that person happened to be one of my three roommates. And that one happened to be Wayne, the one person on campus (other than an ex) that I could. Not. Stand.
Y’see, Wayne and I were both needy. We demanded attention. Lots and lots of it. And the audience was nearly always our other roommate, Rob, who would watch and listen to us quietly—yet wryly—as we said and did our attention-grabbing things. Rob’s favorite show was when Wayne and I would get on each other’s nerves as we battled for the spotlight. But it was now interim—Wayne and I had lost our audience. I coped by turning inward and listening to concept albums; Wayne coped by trying to make me his audience. Everywhere I went, it was, “Where you going? Can I come?” Exacerbating the predicament was the fact that both of us were between girlfriends.
So it went, day after day: Wayne and I got up, went to class, went to lunch, went back to class, went back to our room, and read about Socratic philosophy. Day after day after day.
Even the worst of life’s sentences, however, come to an end, and so it eventually was with interim. Thus began the pre-semester, that glorious period between when students would return to campus and when the next semester’s classes began. No responsibilities; just the decadence of young adulthood. That’s the best kind of decadence, when you still have enough innocence not to feel guilt or embarrassment for worshiping Dionysus. Interim was not yet quite over, but students and faculty were only going through the motions at that point, showing up for class and investing the bare minimum.
Schick Hall had always been the party dorm, and its basement the absolute locus of campus revelry. The first notes of “Money for Nothing” from an over-sized stereo speaker propped up against an opened window were a clarion call for all to gather, a call in response to which I sprinted to the scene.
For obvious reasons, my memory of the rest of that day is unreliable. I recall much joy, much hugging and back-slapping, and much, much bingeing. But one memory is crystal clear: from across a dorm room, I saw Wayne speaking with intensity to a striking blonde girl in a black dress. I had never seen her before, and strangers were a rare sight to a senior like me on my small campus. In my delirium, I chuckled with smugness—only a girl in high school would attend a Schick party dressed like that. But that was fine—Wayne finally had someone else to listen (or “listen”) to him. I stumbled out of the room, for I had many more friends to visit.
I did not know it at the time, but the girl—Ellen—had noticed me too. She thought I looked like the Jesus character from the film Godspell, probably because my hair was shoulder length and afro-like.
The next day, I staggered to class, managed not to get called on, and stumbled back to my room. Wayne usually followed me, but not that day. I then should have hit the books, a fact that’s as true now as it was then. But I had just discovered Tommy—not the fact that the album existed, not the many hit songs it contained, but the sheer brilliance and audacity of the entire album. I was listening to it over and over, beginning to end, and back to beginning—which was the most convenient way to listen to audiocassettes anyway.
And then, a miracle happened.
At a lull in the music, between album tracks, I heard a knock at the door through my headphones. (We’re talking actual headphones, not the wee earbuds of today.) Had that knock occurred while music was playing, I would have had very little chance of hearing it.
It was Ellen, looking for Wayne.
“Come in! Come in!” I sang, yanking her into the room. “Wayne will be along any minute now. Would you like some tea?” (I was in a herbal-tea phase, part of my hippie experimentation.) I led her through the bathroom into the living room and played the consummate—I mean, the perfect host, filling the air with effervescent conversation and listening attentively to each word she spoke. For this was Wayne’s girl, and if I could do anything to cement their relationship, he would be around that much less for my final semester of college. Smooth, no?
It turned out that she was not in high school—she was a junior at Carthage—and had been dressed up because she had been to a play earlier that day with her dad and had responded to an invite to the party from another friend. She had had no time to stop home to change her outfit.
Wayne came back to the room, as expected. What was not expected was that my conversation with Ellen had consumed six hours with neither of us noticing. Wayne, as it turned out, had been called in to work—he hadn’t told me because there had been no reason to. We were roommates, not friends. Anyway, he was delighted to find Ellen there and quite willing to borrow my car to drive her home, for it was now quite late. I was thrilled—Wayne’s girlfriend was awesome! I might even enjoy hanging around him while she was around. When he got back to the room, Wayne was in heaven—he had just kissed her goodnight, and now little Cupids were now orbiting his head.
The next day—the last day of the very long interim—I came home from class as usual, this time to find Ellen standing at the door to my room.
“Sorry, Ellen—this time, I know that Wayne’s at work.”
“That’s okay. Can I leave a note for him?”
“Sure! C’mon in!” I led her inside and handed her a pen and paper. “Let me know if you need anything else.” I then climbed up onto my bunk and re-immersed myself in The Who.
Barely a minute into “Amazing Journey,” there was a tug at my sleeve.
“Can I ask you a question?” Ellen asked.
“What is it?”
“How do you say goodbye to someone that you never expect to see again?”
My heart skipped several beats before catching up in a gallop. “What did you say?”
She repeated the question.
I quietly slid down from the bunk, led her once again into the living room, and demanded to know just what the hell she was thinking.
Well, it seems that Ellen had never felt anything for Wayne. When he had spotted the hot blonde at the party, he pinned her into a corner with an interminable monologue. When she graciously allowed him to go on and on, he was smitten. He had insisted that she visit him the next day, and she obliged because Wayne really did have interesting things to say. But she just felt nothing for him, and besides, she was soon heading back to school, sixty-four miles away.
Not good. Not good at all. I was no salesman, but I did my best to sing the praises of my nemesis. To no avail, of course—Ellen saw through my bullshit immediately. And that was the instant I realized that I myself was drawn to her. I had met very few people who could recognize my bullshit, and even fewer who would call me on it. No one, however, had done so within such a short time of knowing me.
Suddenly, six hours had passed. I looked out the window—Wayne’s car was pulling up. I told her that I wasn't ready for our conversation to end. Neither was she.
It was more than romance at work, though. It was a unique moment in my life. It was as though I could hear my future self screaming back in time: “This girl in front of you has a very important role to play in your life. Don’t screw it up!”
We fled from a side entrance to the dorm, darted behind some bushes, and found refuge in a secret place on campus that’s actually in plain sight of everyone but where no one ever looks. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about it because I never know when I’ll need to hide there again.
So that’s about it, really. I accepted that I was breaking the unwritten Guy Code of stealing a friend’s girl, even though Ellen never was his girl and Wayne never was my friend. I didn't like being a traitor, but what alternative did I have?
When Ellen got home that night at a million o’clock, her dad—an Episcopalian priest—was up waiting. “Guess what, Daddy! I met a boy—and he’s an atheist!” Smooth. It took me years to win him over.
Wayne, fortunately, got over it much quicker. When we graduated a few months later, we instantly saw much less of each other—and missed each other. He became one of my closest and dearest friends. When Ellen and I married ten years later—after six months of dating, we agreed that we’d date for ten years, then either split up or get married—Wayne was one of my groomsmen.
So this is the twenty-sixth anniversary of the weekend that I met Ellen. Each anniversary, I mark the occasion with the same ritual: I take a moment to gather my thoughts, concentrate, and reach back in time to tell that stupid kid from the Eighties not to screw it up.
- Music:"Dark Wisdom Fast" by Rigel Orionis
I was only fourteen when The Shining took the world by storm in 1980. The film, I mean—although the novel was a best-seller, it was—is—Jack Nicholson that everyone thinks of when they think of the story. At fourteen, I had no way of seeing the film, so when I discovered the novel in my cousin’s room, I devoured it during my Christmastime visit.
That was my first of many encounters with the works of Stephen King. Even the parts of The Shining that soared over my head—I had to look up the word officious, one of the first three words of the book that immediately yank you in—somehow made a lasting impression with me, so when I did catch the movie on HBO a few months later, I thought a) aha—I get it now, and b) man, that book was good! The power and beauty of the film became intertwined in my mind with the book.
Like most people, I became obsessed with King’s works during my high school years. I read everything he’d published and saw the obligatory films, all in those four years. The last King book I read, oddly enough, was what I considered at the time to have been his finest: Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas, three of which inspired the films Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and Apt Pupil.
But even though I knew that Different Seasons contained King’s finest work to date, I was then in college, ready for…well, different stuff. My major in English introduced me to many of the Great Authors, and I soon came to regard King’s works as just another part of my childhood, like The Six Million Dollar Man and Cub Scouts. Years later, when a friend forced the first of King’s Dark Tower series into my hands, I had trouble finishing it, as though I were listening to all of the albums of a band I was no longer into.
So it was kinda weird for me to find myself fixated on The Shining this morning. At first, just scenes of the film flashed in my mind, then thoughts of each of the characters: Jack Torrance, the amiable psychopath; his wife, Wendy, whom everyone yearned to see die horribly; and Danny, their gifted son.
And then it hit me: now would be the perfect time for a sequel! Danny would be all grown up now, pretty much the same age as his dad was in the story. Enough time has passed where King himself might feel nostalgic for the material, and I would love to return to a treasured element from my past with the maturity of both author and reader.
Well, guess what a quick search turned up?
So I'm sitting in nutrition class, relearning the diagnostic criteria for IBS, when someone passes me a greeting card. It offers condolences to Dr. Vyas, an elderly and much-beloved professor who recently retired. I didn't know what the occasion was, and I didn't want to disrupt the lecture by asking, so I just assumed that the old gent had suffered some sort of personal loss, perhaps that of his wife or other dear one.
An adage that has served me well is, 'if you don't know what to say, don't say anything.' And those words have never been truer than during occasions of mourning. No pretty words can equal the comfort of a bear hug. But then, what to say when only writing is possible?
In those situations, I often resort to another old adage: plus est en vous. Literally, it means 'more is in you,' but a better translation is, 'you're greater than you realize.' I love that sentiment. It's often inspired me, and I share it with others in hopes that it may do the same. I fondly wrote the words onto the card, signed my name, and passed it along.
After the lecture, I overheard one student ask another what was wrong with Dr. Vyas.
The reply: "Prostate cancer."
- Music:"West End Girls" by Pet Shop Boys
Hi Ms. Ouellette—I’m J. (James) McCrackan, and you were my English teacher in 1974-75. I’m so glad that I found you online because I’ve thought about you often over the decades since. I want to join the chorus on Facebook that has been thanking you.
Thank you for introducing us to Poe during our formative years. I suspect that that raised many eyebrows, especially singly—how could fifth-graders be expected to comprehend mid-nineteenth century literature? And that of a raving madman, no less? Ms. Ouellette, I cannot thank you deeply enough for that introduction. Thank you for having faith in us, for believing that we need not comprehend Poe’s pretentious French flings or Greek epigraphs in order for the unequaled emotion and imagery of his works to fascinate us. Of the Great Authors, Poe was my first. I have since read the works of many others—some finer than Poe, some deeper, some even darker—but of the four books in my nightstand drawer that I’m currently savoring, three were written by or analyze the works of Baltimore’s bard.
The other memory that I will forever treasure, one of my favorite memories of childhood, is of my class reading paragraphs of Charlotte’s Web aloud. The entire classroom sobbed over Charlotte’s departure, and the emotion was another fascinating experience for us quasi-innocents. We were sad, of course, very sad, yet at the same time uplifted by the beauty of the story and the power of its telling. And by reading it aloud, we somehow entered the tale—we were right there, standing next to Wilbur, feeling his pain. (I tear up just typing these words.) We were there in that barn, all of us, no matter the cliques we had occupied and would soon return to. We were united in our love for the story.
So thank you, Ms. Ouellette, for being the finest teacher I’ve ever had. You inspired my decision to get a BA in English. I will finish my doctorate in a year, and I’ve promised myself that I will then begin to write the first of several novels that my muse has been patiently waiting to read.
Your grateful student,
As a libertarian atheist who has worked hard to attain and retain an extensive vocabulary, I’m very well-acquainted with what it’s like to be loathed and ridiculed by the masses. Libertarians are accused of being cold-blooded by fiscal liberals, while conservatives decry the immorality of civil liberties. The godless, meanwhile, are universally despised by the godful: in the U.S., only Tea Partiers are less popular.
I get it: skeptics of centralized entities of vast powers are to be shunned. My stilted vocabulary and stand-offishness likely mask the insecurity that results from the knowledge of what has happened throughout history to those whom societies—howsoever otherwise enlightened—have branded Outcast.
Maybe that’s why libertarians and atheists who make the news are so god-awfully (so to speak) annoying. Go ahead—try to name a single advocate for atheism who isn’t an arrogant jerk. Penn Jillette—that’s about it. And libertarians—until Ron Paul did well in Iowa, libertarians were rarely given a mic, and the speakers were never eloquent.
And then there’s chiropractic.
I love manual therapy. I love getting it; I love receiving it. But wouldn’t you know it—it turns out that, in many ways, the chiropractic field is full of poo also. The claims that many DCs have made as to the ability of spinal manipulation to heal, say, cancer are as silly as tales of talking serpents and as dangerous as a government that suspends habeas corpus. I therefore joined an online organization called ChiroTalk, which has the declared purpose of “the critical investigation of chiropractic topics.” Great—how could I not support self-policing?
Well, it turns out that they’re a bunch of jerks too. Their sworn mission is not just to challenge some of the more foolhardy claims made by chiropractors but to ban chiropractic medicine entirely. When I discovered their site’s ulterior motive, I occasionally challenged them in discussions, usually to point out that not all chiropractors are frauds.
And then this email exchange took place this morning. I have never before encountered, even on the Internet, someone who is so obviously both evil and insane. And this guy is a physician. Read from the bottom up:
From: Allen Botnick [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2012 10:40 AM
To: J. McCrackan
Subject: Re: Chirotalk: The Skeptical Chiropractic Discussion Forum - Do you know Sid Williams?
He has no value, he's perpetuated fraud and injury on thousands of people.
From: J. McCrackan
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2012 11:26 AM
Subject: FW: Chirotalk: The Skeptical Chiropractic Discussion Forum - Do you know Sid Williams?
Jesus Christ, dude! Show a little tact, eh? One might get the
impression that you despise the man's values so much that you've lost
sight of his value as a human being. That would reflect very poorly on
you as a physician.
[mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of
Chirotalk: The Skeptical Chiropractic Discussion Forum
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2012 8:46 AM
To: J. McCrackan
Subject: Chirotalk: The Skeptical Chiropractic Discussion Forum - Do
you know Sid Williams?
Sid E. Williams DC, Founder of Life University recently had a stroke
and we are looking for individuals who might have information
If you are aware of anything online or in print which suggests that
Williams advised against using medical care or that chiropractic care
for stroke (etc) would be superior to medical care and if he had high
blood pressure that was untreated please email Dr. Botnick at
Letter to my dad:
You exposed me to a lot of news when I was a kid. At home, it was on the telly; in the car, it was on the radio. When you gave me the AMC Spirit (still miss it), it had only AM radio, and none of the music of my generation was on AM, so I listened to either news radio or silence. And because E lived in another state, I could handle only so much silence.
By the time we replaced the Spirit, FM radio was standard, but I was addicted at that point. I had grown tired of my own music and didn’t like the new stuff. And because even TV news had grown vapid by the ‘90s, I kept news radio on all the time. Even when the news cycle was repeating, I just enjoyed the feeling of being plugged in, of being as aware of the world as humanly possible.
E soon grew sick of the obnoxious ads, though, especially first thing in the morning. I experimented with NPR, and its deeper analysis and Canadian-like civility soon displaced news radio from our airwaves. But I never let go of the top-of-the-hour headlines, the broad coverage being the perfect counterpoint to the vertical-but-narrow coverage of NPR.
Three days ago, the news radio station added an FM frequency. I had expected to be impressed by its crispness and cleanness, but I wasn’t. It was weird, flipping back and forth between AM and FM while listening to the same exact broadcast. Yes, the FM frequency did sound crisper and cleaner—and yet, it just wasn’t doing it for me. I think that, after forty-five years of associating the unique sounds of AM radio with news, I’m just too old to switch.
- Music:"True" by Spandau Ballet
PROFESSOR: The mechanism of neuralgia is demyelination of type 1A afferent (i.e. normal sensory) neurons. Because these neurons run parallel to nociceptive (pain) neurons, action potentials (bursts of incoming data) can leap from the demyelinated sensory neuron onto an adjacent nociceptive (never myelinated) neuron, making any stimulation to the area painful.
J: Does that work both ways? Can nociceptive information likewise be interpreted as basic touch via the same mechanism: painful input leaping over onto the demyelinated sensory neuron?
PROFESSOR: [three-second pause] No.
J: Why not?
PROFESSOR: [five-second pause] I don’t know. Jesus…I suppose that it doesn’t happen because there’s so much more data coming down the 1A turnpike that the addition of any nociceptive information would be imperceptible.
J: [nods in acceptance]
You see, it’s not that my questions express my profound understanding of the topic of discussion. Sarah Palin could have asked the same question without having had any idea of what the hell the prof was talking about. (Or at least the does-that-work-both-ways part.) There’s something about my mind that, when presented with something new to look at, takes a cursory glance, yawns, then scurries around it to get a look from behind in case it’s more interesting back there.
Same thing in cardio this morning. The prof said that an over-exerted heart will hypertrophy to compensate, but that will reduce the volume of the heart’s chambers. I then asked whether adapting a completely sedentary lifestyle would resolve the problem, allowing the heart to atrophy. He liked the question but explained that concurrent issues to heart disease, such as atherosclerosis, would prevent my solution from working.
I'm not clever. I just turn what I'm given upside-down or backwards. There's nothing insightful about that. It's a great attitude to have for alpha-testing software, but beyond that (and my software days are waaaaaay behind me), I have the intellect of a six-month-old puppy.
I'm glad that others seem to appreciate my mind, though. I just hope that I can get it to become useful again. My mind is like Gollum: it’s my greatest nemesis, but I can’t help but believe that it will someday benefit me.
- Music:"Always Something There to Remind Me" by Naked Eyes
Thor asked for my opinion on Dr. Winterstein's lecture (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ao1u48w8
T38). My thoughts on the matter are too verbose for Facebook, so I'll post them here.
First, the video was edited so poorly that I nearly went epileptic. Sorry to put you people thru that.
I think that most DOs have become "allopathized," i.e. their manip skills atrophy from lack of use. And that's because, except for PCPs, few docs need manual skills to do their jobs well. Some of the best manipulators that I've experienced have been DOs, but they're in the "vast minority."
Do I think that DCs should have scrip rights? I don't really care. You all know my mantra: I just want to crack backs. But I'll tell you this: if you're willing to be a DC PCP
for half the pay of a DO/MD, then you need some therapy for your self-esteem.
But regardless of all that, Winterstein is naive to think that he can persuade most politicians to listen to his POV when chiropractic presents itself as a two-headed monster: one screaming for scrip rights, the other screaming for the status quo. We have to get our act together and bridge the schism between Straights and Mixers
before we can progress significantly as a profession.
What do you think?