Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Cat Scale

The events of the last ten days have led me to face some realities about myself, specifically about how I mishandle stress. Now, you'd think that life at the Nest would have settled down after FryDaddy came home to recover from his not-exactly-planned-but-not-quite-emergency surgery. And you'd be right, if you were limiting your observations to how FryDaddy was handling things. However, if you were expanding your observations to include how I was handling things, well, let's just say that the term "basket case" would not have been inappropriate. Face it, I was flat-out crispy.

So much so, that mid-week FryDaddy (who was not yet cleared by the doctors to drive) called a mutual friend of ours, Victorian Marxist, and had him drive FryDaddy to the local dollar store where he went on a little spree of silly gifts to cheer me up. Cheer me up. Sheesh. Yet it's amazing how a sand pail full of bubbles, pinwheels, and cheap candy can make me smile. Oh, sure, Tiffany is great, but even they don't sell a miniature Zen sand garden, much less arrange it on the counter so it appears that little plastic dinosaurs are raking the sand and arranging the rocks.

That made me move to the left on the Cat Scale. What's the "Cat Scale," you ask? Think of it this way. On a continuum of cool, relaxed and contented cats of the cartoon persuasion, over on the far left would be Garfield, a plump, pasta-eating (see, carbs are our friend!) feline. Moving from contentment to "failed experiments in stress management" would be cats such as Chubby Huggs of "Get Fuzzy" fame and Sylvester, especially after mistaking a baby kangaroo ("Hippety Hopper," by the way) for a mouse. At the far extreme, where I was hyperventilating this past week, would be the epitome of burnout, Bloom County's own Bill the Cat. (I'm not sure about the placement of more literary cats, such as the Cheshire, Macavity, or Shere Khan. Perhaps you have suggestions on this matter.)

What I can say with authority, Dear Readers is this - don't spend much time in Bill-Land. It's not a healthy place.

Enough for now. FryDaddy is ready to go back to school. I must go play with my plastic dinosaurs and consult a feng shui manual for optimum pebble placement.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Heart of Steel

It's been an interesting week here in the Nest. While the calendar said it was spring break, Real Life had other, more pressing ideas in store. Sure, there were a few errand-y things - worked one full day, had some tech issues, had a plumber come in (who looked under the sink and said, "Well - that's just wrong.") But more was in store.

You see, FryDaddy is a cyborg. Yep, sort of like Tony Stark, he has a device implanted in his chest. (That's pretty much where the similarities end, though and a good thing. Stark can be a first-class ass and having tons of money doesn't change that.) FryDaddy's device is a combo pacemaker-defibrillator that collects data from a lead that runs from the device in the chest wall to the chambers of the heart. Long story short, the lead fractured. (Get this - this was not an unexpected event. The lead had been recalled, but it's a tad more difficult to take out a wire held in place by human scar tissue than it is to trundle a toaster oven back to Best Buy, so it was left in, hoping there'd never be a problem. Great plan, until there was one.) When this happened on Thursday, the lead was unable to collect information and the device "alarmed" to inform FryDaddy to get thee to a hospital. To put it mildly, it's disconcerting to hear the sound of a British ambulance issuing from your beloved's chest.

Hospital, waiting room, technicians, heart clinic, cardiac unit. Philly cheesesteak for dinner, which doesn't seem quite right, but I wasn't about to argue for rabbit food under the circumstances.

On Friday, the boys in white coats took away his Kindle long enough to dope him up, reopen the incision, attempt to remove the old lead, decide it was less intrusive to "cap it off," inserted a new, shiny, super-sophisticated lead (more on that later), replace the old device with a new, fully charged one (yep, they checked the battery life!), stapled him up and sent him back. All in about four hours, only a little over one of which was the actual "procedure."

How I love modern medical technology!

While not on bed rest, he has to be a bit careful for the next two weeks while the new lead "scars into place" - odd words to bring comfort, but it's a strange world in which we live. No driving, no lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk with that arm, no raising the arm above the shoulder (which makes putting on a shirt somewhat interesting), and a few other restrictions. The incision is neatly bandaged and seems quite small for what it is. The new device is much more advanced than the old one - its sensors are constantly scanning the electrical workings of FryDaddy's heart and it will even page the doctor if certain levels begin to rise and it'll page the doctor long before the device alarms. (Although this requires a landline. Seriously. We're going to add a plan to avoid roaming charges!) And the old lead will now be a "backup" that can be turned on remotely, should that be necessary.

As you can see, humor is my defense. But it's wearing thin. You see, give me a crisis and I'm fine. Come into the house after the table saw goes "crunch" clutching something scarlet and dripping and I'm perfectly okay. But once the shock wears off, I'm a bit of a mess. As Dorothy Parker once said, "It's not the tragedies that kill us, it's the messes." Case in point: last time FryDaddy had an issue with the heart device, I'm told I was a rock. Until about a week later, when I burst into tears when getting a parking pass.

So spring break wasn't the lazy, sun-drenched week it might have been when I was much younger. It wasn't even the "gotta write the paper" week I thought it was going to be. But FryDaddy is home and safe and healthy and sane.

I'll take that.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sometimes You Have to Play

For the last two months, I've been on a diet. I know that's not a pretty word anymore - "diet" is "die" with a "t" at the end - but it's true. I'd put on enough weight that my clothes didn't fit properly and I decided, after about a dozen failed attempts, to Get Serious. So I've been trying to eat proper amounts of healthy food and exercise appropriately. (That's been hard, as my ankle just finally healed enough to get out of the walking boot I've been in for five-plus months.) I've adjusted (mostly) and seen the needle on the scale begin to settle in more friendly territory. Still a little ways to go, though.

But a day doesn't always go into the "win" column based on the overall calorie count.

Let me make this clear - this post isn't any more about a refined-sugar binge than Buffy was about vampires. There is a time in everyone's life when it is appropriate to Get Serious, but (and equally important) there are also times when it's crucial to test the boundaries to the point of finding yourself on the other side of them. I set rules for my "diet plan" that were realistic, but I'm a sugar fiend (Red Hots, you are my downfall). Further, past life lessons have taught me that there is absolutely no sense whatsoever in acquiring good habits only to become miserable.

Add to the mix that FryDaddy is home for his spring break and he spent most of the week working on a conference paper and I spent the week teaching. It was the week before my school's spring break, so the students were a little crispy, I was a little battered-fried and - oh yeah - the school was putting the finishing touches on the documentation that must be provided for our accreditation review, so everyone involved in that was stressed. (Such a high stress level among so many people is another reason ["ammunition," if you will] why weapons should not be allowed on campuses in my opinion, but I digress.) So yesterday, I ate sensibly until about noon, then I finished my work for the day and firmly shut my door. FryDaddy and I loaded up on dollar store candy, bought a bucket of popcorn and hied ourselves to a matinee showing of Rango, followed by dinner out and a decadent evening of cheap chocolate and Cowboy Bebop.

I didn't just marry him for his stunning good looks and devilish smile, you know.

Yeah, the diet is in tatters that I have to stitch back together. But my husband and I had a "play date" that we both sorely needed and, for a few hours, I didn't have to think about work, the toxic environment of American politics, or the devastation of Japan and points east (which are points west for me - it gets confusing). There is still work to do - I have stacks of papers to grade, lessons to prep, and I have a conference presentation that needs to be transformed from piles of highlighted, sticky-noted research into a coherent paper - but yesterday needed to be for play.

I joked that I have given up self-restraint for Lent but I don't think that's it, exactly. I'll Get Serious again later today (or maybe tomorrow, after FryDaddy must leave to return to his school). It's just that here on Earth, we're traveling through space so fast we don't even feel the motion and I don't want to look up amazed one day and say, "How did I get here?" Moreover, at my funeral, I sincerely hope there are other things to say than, "She always got her papers back on time."

It was a very, very good day.

Side note: Rango is a sly, charming film with some wonderful things to say about how we decide who we are, the nature and craft of acting, the myth of the American West, and how natural resources determine the life of entire regions. And you thought it was just Johnny Depp as a talking lizard! And Bebop is - well - gorgeous and heartbreaking and funny and has a soundtrack you want to download into ringtones so you always have it close by. Trust me on that one.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Local Boy Makes Good!

I always love to see headlines like that, don't you? Well, gather 'round, children, and hear the tale. 'Tis an epic story of a starry-eyed young man who fell in love with the moving pitchers and decided that you shouldn't have to go all the way yonder to Hollywood to make movies that people wanted to go to drive-ins to see.

A local venue started doing a monthly Classic Film series this year - January was Jimmy Stewart Month, February was John Wayne Month ('cause nothing says "LUV" like the Duke!), and this month is Earl Owensby Month.

And the crickets begin to chirp, which is a flat-out shame.

Oh, Ed Wood may be better known, but among those who know films, the name Earl Owensby is justly famous. While no one sane person will take a bet on the chances of any of the Owensby stable of films overtaking Citizen Kane on any list of "Great Films That Everyone Ought to Know by Name," Owensby carved out a place for himself in film history and it's one that ought to be celebrated.

See, young Earl loved movies. A lot. And by hook, crook, hard work, a little luck, and a touch of sharp dealing, he created the largest independent film studio outside of Hollywood (at least for a little while). The linked article nicely outlines his career. It's true, the films he churned out were mostly drive-in fare that were thin on frou-frou conventions such as plot and character development, but these movies are valentines to, well, to movies. To the sheer magic of them.

For example, his 1978 Buckstone County Prison, which is a improbable (and possibly unholy) cross between Cool Hand Luke and Walking Tall. Here's the trailer, with Owensby as the hero "Seabo."

Or Rottweiler (later re-named Dogs of Hell, which I think might be catchier), which cashed in on an earlier 3-D craze - and slightly predated the film version of Cujo. Owensby and James Cameron have more than the 3-D notion in common - Cameron's 1989 underwater thriller The Abyss was partially filmed in an Owensby lot - he had the biggest underwater tank in the world, thanks to a not-completed nuclear plant. The sets were eventually demolished in 2007, when Duke Power decided to move ahead with the project. (Yep, this means Owensby bought the site for cheap from Duke then sold it back to them! How can you not love someone who manages that? It's like Malcolm Reynolds, if he had been successful!)

My point is this - by golly, Owensby didn't just whine about how great he'd be if only someone gave him a break. He made it happen! Maybe the movies aren't that great (in fact, it's shocking to me that the MST3K boys never got a hold of these. Then again, Owensby is nothing if not shrewd and he may have wanted more scratch than the Midwestern Magpies could afford), but you know what?

He made them. And he made money on them, too.

Visit the studio, would you? Here's the link. And you can see all sorts of trailers there, too. Even buy a movie or two while you're at it. Or browse this filmography.

All sorts of people blaze the trail for us, if we'll just take the time to notice. And they don't all have to be Harold Bloom or Orson Welles to offer valuable road tips and examples. (That being said, I'm still not naming my kids "Rhett" and/or "Elvis." Seriously. Check that out here.)

Sometimes it's not about waiting until you're convinced that you know enough to be great at what you want to do. Sometimes it's about deciding that you'll figure it out on the way - and then getting going.