The Daily Grind
Apr 21st, 2018 by Dr Karma

When ever I read memoirs, especially funny ones, I wonder what the writer’s typical day looks like. Thus, while reading Samantha Irby’s excellent We Are Never Meeting in Real Life this week, I thought I’d keep track of what I did for two weeks, so I could give my readers a sense of what I do, if they’re ever curious.

First, though, I need to establish a baseline. This would get really repetitive if I told you that I wake up in the morning or that I eat every day.

But I do those things.

Here’s what else I do, in no particular order:

1. I feed the cats.

2. Several times a day, I listen to Osiris, my old, arthritic, limping cat, loudly howl for me, when he realizes I’ve left the room and that he doesn’t know where I am.

3. If Anubis, my son’s cat, who is always doing a Ron Funches impression, is in the bathroom when I’m peeing, I suddenly find myself peeing with a cat on my lap. He often stands and tries to put his arms around my neck, not always being careful with his claws. Then he rubs my face with his.

Does he think we’re making out?

If so, it’s extra weird since my son calls me the cat’s grandma. We are not in a Nick Swardon movie, Anubis!

This toilet routine, though, is still nicer than when he does it on the bathroom counter–because then he always chooses to do this when I’m putting on eye makeup.

I’m not sure why he started to do the toilet thing. His now-deceased sister used to, though. And he would watch her. Does he think I’m not happy to pee unless there’s a cat on my lap? Does he know jumping up there will make me think of her?

It does.

4. I spend a lot of time missing my little girl cat and wanting another kitten.

5. Most days, I put on makeup, though not very much. I’ve never had the patience, really. And I’ve never learned how to do smokey eye.

6. I don’t ever take my eye makeup off, because I’m lazy, but I do run an oxy pad over my face after a shower, and that gets the rest of the makeup off.

7. Most days, I shower, but I do so at night because my hair takes too long to dry–hours. I put leave in conditioner in, and then a cream or gel to fight frizz, and then some little clippies on the top, so that in the morning, my hair’s weight hasn’t pulled all the body out.

8. I take medicine. Over the day, I take two different allergy pills, two puffs of allergy nose spray, two hits of a steroid asthma med, another asthma med, seven pills for muscle spasms, five pills for gerd, two pills for bile reflux, birth control, a high blood pressure med, four little pills for migraines. The gerd meds keep me from absorbing all the minerals and vitamins I need from my food, so I have to also take a multivitamin, potassium, calcium, magnesium, coq10, b complex, b12, d, iron, etc.

On some days, when my schedule works, I drink a potion for stomach stuff–but I can’t do it every day since it has to come four hours before any other meds, which is tricky due to how all the others have to be spaced. Sometimes I drink aloe vera juice. I take probiotics. I eat yogurt (which I used to hate, but Nosa has changed me).

Most days, I also have to take pain killers.

Almost every day, I have to take a pill for diarrhea. The trick is not taking it too soon or too late–I have to be able to teach at some point, after all.

9. I cook or I eat leftovers from what I cooked before, since I am incapable of making a normal amount of food. I get this from my grandmother–both the desire to cook and the inability to make only a few servings.

10. And I clean up after myself. Take note, ALMOST EVERY GUY I’VE EVER DATED: that means not just washing the dishes–it means putting away the ingredients, cleaning the counters and the cooking surfaces, and the sink I just dirtied by cleaning the rest.

11. I pee. A lot.

12. I alternate tea and water through the daytime, starting with hot tea, british-style, in the morning, and then moving to iced tea that I make myself–sweetened, but not the way they sweeten in the South. I like to drink a liquid, not a syrup.

I learned to alternate with water when I got a kidney stone when I was 19. The doctor told me that Southerners have a lot of stones–because the sweet tea we drink builds up little calcium balls. I’m still shaky on the details, probably because this was explained to me when I was in a great deal of pain (without even the comfort of insurance).

One of the people in this house has to make a new pitcher of tea everyday.

13. At night, I switch to wine and water, or a cocktail. Or just whiskey.

14. When I am in the car, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, or at my desk, I am either listening to NPR or my music. If it’s music in the car or the bathroom, I am singing, loudly.

15. I check my email several times. I do a Facebook check usually once a day. I have a Twitter, but I almost never look at it.

16. I stretch in the morning and do the light exercises I can handle. Four mornings of the week, I do so while watching the beginning of Seth Meyer’s show from the night before.

17. I argue with my mom–in my head–every single day. Especially since the travesty of the election. I forbid my mother to talk about politics with me because she says things like “Now that Obama’s President, we’re going to lose our rights as white women” and “it sure is cold–why do all those people think the Earth is warmer” and “your insurance company denied that medication because of Obama.”

But every single day, I wake up to news of what my mom’s President has done. And so my brain says, “HOW CAN YOU STILL LIKE HIM? OH, MY GOD! YOU WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN OKAY WITH THIS IF OBAMA HAD DONE IT. HOW CAN YOU THINK HE’S ON YOUR SIDE,” etc.

This argument is not productive or fun, but I don’t know how to make it stop. My mother represents Trump voters in my head–but one I’d like to make see sense, because I love her, but who will never see sense because a) she has no ability to think logically or critically b) she might be brain damaged or mentally ill (she exhibits a lot of symptoms of BPD and is a lifelong alcoholic, which causes damage, evidenced in c) she is a Trump supporter.

Sometimes, I can stop myself–I say, “You are arguing with someone who is not here.”

I learned this technique in a book.

18. So then I’ll start thinking about something else, but there’s a good chance it won’t be productive either.

I’m a worrier–apparently, children who grew up in messed up environments tend to worry. We focus on things that could go wrong and try to figure out how to stop the bad things. We are trying to have control because we grew up without a sense of it. I mentally “script” a lot–sometimes, even though I know I won’t change someone’s mind, my brain keeps rewriting an argument, convinced somehow that if it just finds the right words, everything will be okay.

19. During all of this, I am biting and picking at my cuticles. I don’t realize I’m doing it.

I used to bite my nails, but then I figured out that I could stop by keeping my nails painted.

Yes, that’s why they are always painted.

But it just upped the picking.

20. Another symptom of OCD: I have a song in my head. All. the. time. At least once a week, it’s the theme from The Muppet Show. But that’s not at all the weirdest thing in the never ending jukebox in my head.

If you have no idea what that’s like, you’re very lucky.

21. I have self-critical thoughts about my body several times a day too, whether it’s about my weight or whatever my body is doing wrong. And then sometimes I remind myself that my weight is hard to keep down because it’s doing all these other weird things.

But my most insane thought is when self-critical Karma says, YOU REALLY NEED TO GET IT TOGETHER AND GET MORE WORK DONE!

If you know me, you know this is insane because I can’t do any more work.

I’m actually able to argue with self-critical Karma here: No, I can’t grade papers while I stretch. And watching Seth Meyers is not a waste of time. He’s a delight, and so he probably lowers my blood pressure, which is too high, self-critical Karma, because you make me worry and work so much.

22. Speaking of work, I typically start when I get up at 6:30 or 7. I stop 12-14 hours later. Every day. And I count all the doctors appointments and grocery runs as work because in addition to my regular job and my side job, I’m self-employed. As both boss and employee and machine, I need to make sure I’m lubed, that I have enough printer paper, etc.

For most weeks of the year (summers too), I’m teaching. I have admin work, committee work, official and unofficial mentoring, and the stand-up club (we meet/workshop every week). I’m always prepping the next class, week, term, prepping for a conference, writing and editing my stuff. I’m the editor of a journal and President of a society. Melissa and I are usually talking ourselves into the fourth book after our current one.

I used to work until bedtime.

Then I went to therapy, where we addressed, among other things, workaholism, which we decided was a very . . . um . . . productive response to childhood chaos and feelings and shit.

So now I can give myself permission to stop a couple of hours before bedtime. And I don’t feel as guilty when I have a long lunch with you or when I go to a discount movie on Tuesday evening, or when I take the very rare day off to go pick up wine in Placerville, or when I decide I should try to walk around the block in the middle of day, before I remember while walking on a windy Spring day in Davis simply won’t work.

23. I put on topical analgesic after I exercise, but also at other points during the day. I have a medical center sized vat of it in my bathroom–yes, the downstairs one, which the guests use, because a) I exercise and work downstairs b) I refuse to be ashamed of needing vats of pain relief. And if you love me, you know I need it too. And if you don’t love me, WHY ARE YOU IN MY HOUSE?

24. I also often wish my house were cleaner.

25. And that stuff in it matched. But then it would be even worse when I broke things, I guess, which I constantly do, because I am not practicing mindfulness enough when I get a cup down from a cupboard or walk by a doorknob (this is maybe the nicest way I can say I’m the clumsiest person in the world).

But it’s cute that I still live in a fully geeked out apartment of organized chaos where nothing matches, right? I’m eclectic and adorkable, right?


26. I run my roomba, Sisyphus, in at least one room of the house.

27. At some point in the day, I worry about money a bit and dream about getting out of this cycle where I’m working too much to pay off medical debt and bills (among other things), which keep coming since I’m hurting myself by working so much.

28. Each day, I wake up tired and in pain. I go to sleep that way too.

29. I read before bed, but the piles of New Yorkers and books just keeps getting bigger.

30. I make my bed, not perfectly, but enough that it looks more welcoming when I return. Also, I would rather the cats do their shedding on the comforter.

31. I pack my backpack for the next day and make sure I have everything I need for the errands and classes and Spring allergy nosebleeds.

31. I talk to the boy at some point, to at least coordinate if we’ll be eating together or apart the next day. He says he would rather I text him to let him know I want him to empty the dishwasher instead of yelling in the general direction of upstairs, but

32. I often don’t know exactly where my phone is. Much of the time, it’s on my bedside table or the bottom of my back pack, turned off. That’s usually why I’m not answering–I have no idea you’re trying to reach me.

33. Since I pee a lot (see above), I replace the toilet paper roll. If you hang yours the weird way where you have to search around the back to find the start, I’ll still be friends with you.

But if you’re worried that people might be offended by seeing the roll’s–what?–cleavage?–butt crack?–then we are probably not friends, especially if you’ve seen where and how I live.

one tiny slice of my house


the claws





Paula Poundstone at the PCA Conference
Apr 16th, 2018 by Dr Karma

I love Paula Poundstone.
I have always loved Paula Poundstone, and if I ever get the chance to win on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, her voice will greet you when I don’t pick up the phone.
And I’ll never pick up the phone, just so you can hear her voice.
You’re welcome.
I’ve seen her live several times, and I always include her work on my Stand-Up Class syllabus, because no one does better crowd improv work.
So I was thrilled when she was chosen as our headline speaker at this year’s PCA in Indy. The program said 6:30-8:30, so we gathered on time, only to wait until 7, when a PCA boss came up to introduce her.
The PCA lady told a story about how her husband loves Poundstone SO much and NPR SO much and how he listens to NPR in his car, in their driveway, since the PCA lady apparently won’t shut up.
She then read off a card about how amazing Poundstone was.
But then Poundstone took the stage–and roasted us.
We deserve it. We’re an official association for scholars of popular culture, after all. Our very existence is wonderful in its potential and probable uselessness.
I wish I had sat closer and that she had called on me to talk about what I had presented on–she definitely would have had something to say about “teaching students to tell real news from fake news.”
At 8:30, Poundstone was still going strong, but the PCA lady appeared, right behind Poundstone, scaring her badly.
PCA lady: We need you to stop. The caterers need to leave.
Poundstone: I asked you how long I had, and you said as long as I want.
PCA lady: Well, I didn’t know you would talk all night.
That’s right–the PCA lady, who admitted her husband hides from her because she won’t shut up, was shutting up Poundstone.
And she obviously didn’t know anything about Poundstone, her process, or the glorious way she will go on if you let her.

The Continuing Adventures of Karma’s Dating: Another Suitcase, Another Hall (78)
Apr 8th, 2018 by Dr Karma

Last weekend, I had to break up with a great guy–one who fit me in a lot of ways. During the last couple of months, I found myself being really irritable around him–much more than I should have been, much more than he deserved.

He was just so great in so many ways, and I was trying to overlook the ways that we didn’t fit.

So my subconscious made me bitchy.

It was a hard decision; I’m well aware that there might not be anyone out there who fits me better.

But I can’t walk around being bitchy.


Censoring vs. Censuring
Apr 7th, 2018 by Dr Karma

I teach my students about the difference between the words censor and censure–because I want them to know what words mean and because I want them to be able to participate in conversations about the 1st Amendment.

This is especially important with my freshmen, many of whom are Chinese, learning here in a system that throws around “free speech” like everyone knows what it means.

The problem is that most Americans don’t seem to know what it means.*

I was disappointed by Bill Maher’s show last night,** because it seemed that he doesn’t know what it means.

He was furious that people are calling for a boycott of Laura Ingraham’s sponsors after her awful comments about the Parkland protestors.

I understand Maher’s anger–he is sensitive about this topic, since he lost his job–and his show–after a statement he made on Politically Incorrect after 9/11. Many people were calling the attackers “cowards.” Maher disagreed. The attackers were many things, but they were willing to die for their beliefs, which means they didn’t fit the definition of coward.

Maher’s opponents falsely claimed that he praised the attackers.

No–he was making a semantic point. (A correct one.)

Which is why I’m disappointed that he equated calling for a boycott of Ingraham’s sponsors with attacks on “free speech.”

Free speech means the government can’t shut you down, can’t imprison you.

It doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want without consequences.

It doesn’t mean that you get to have other people pay you to say those things.

Laura Ingraham gets to say whatever she wants. She can blog about it, self-publish about it, yell it to people walking by, mumble it to herself in the insane asylum where she belongs.

But if her speech is no longer profitable, no one has the obligation to pay her to say it.

The old man on the quad who calls women “sluts” when they walk by gets to do that–free speech!

We can call him an asshole–free speech!

But the university doesn’t have to invite him to give a talk, no one has to publish his rantings, and I don’t have to let him follow my students into the classroom, give him “equal time,” or turn the other cheek.

When we disapprove of speech, by saying, “hey, that’s racist,” we’re not censoring anyone–we’re censuring them. Disapproval is not censorship.

My grandparents liked to remind people that my grandfather served to protect free speech–this was of course a form of censure–an attempt to tell liberals they didn’t have the right to speak if the speech didn’t agree with my grandparents’ view of the world.

Like it or not, my grandfather’s job was to fight for my right to criticize his party and to advocate for minorities and for women’s rights.

My job is teaching writing and critical thinking.

Words have meaning. Which is why the 1st Amendment is important in the first place.




*Of course, the 1st Amendment isn’t the only misunderstood one. Ummmm . . . militias . . . ?

** I have to add that Louie Anderson was on the show. And I love him. Desperately.



Knowing What the Students Know (And Don’t)
Mar 28th, 2018 by Dr Karma

How can I tell what my students know?

Melissa and I are at the PCA/ACA 2018 Conference in Indianapolis. We’re talking about activities we do with students, related to our forthcoming book on evaluating sources.

But today I’m pondering: how do evaluate my students in terms of what they’re learning/what they know?

An informal survey I did with my students this quarter revealed that 90% feel that they know how to find scholarly sources on the internet.

However, only 63% of those same students say they know how to tell scholarly sources from nonscholarly ones.

Ummm . . .

Our inability to know what we don’t know is prevalent in college and beyond. It’s difficult, of course, for educators to know how to do our jobs better when so many uncertainties abound.

In my classes, I do a whole day on finding sources. We talk about genre (in an attempt to stop the students from calling articles “journals” and essays “novels”); we talk about the limits of open sources, including Wikipedia; we talk about what peer review is and why it’s important. I show them the subject guides, how to figure out who their librarian is, and how to work the databases.

These skills are tested later, of course. I have them do a basic quiz (find me a book on this topic, find me a peer-reviewed article on this topic), but applied knowledge is required when they do their later research. In upper division classes, I ask my students, as part of getting ready for their term paper, to find a peer-reviewed article on their topic and to write up an evaluation. (Many students tell me it’s their first time reading an academic article in their field.)

Quite a few students have problems finding one, never mind doing the analytical work I’m asking for. They try to do the assignment on magazine articles, on news pieces, on book chapters, and frequently on book reviews.

And this is where I get stuck. When my student thinks a short review of a book on subject x is the same things as a peer-reviewed article on x, what’s gone wrong?

Did the student skip that day in class?

Was the student there but not paying attention?

Was the student just rushing/half-assing the assignment?

Did the student know better but was hoping I wouldn’t notice?

Did I explain something badly, even though most people found the right type of source?

Is there a question I should be asking that I’m not even thinking of here?

I’m tempted to put a little check box on all of my assignments.

How did this assignment go?

  • awesome
  • it could have gone better, but I rushed it
  • I never actually understood what you wanted because you were confusing
  • I never actually understood what you wanted because I didn’t pay attention
  • I never actually understood what you wanted because I don’t care

Because I do care.

St. Urho’s Day Eve
Mar 15th, 2018 by Dr Karma

Tomorrow is St. Urho’s Day. I’ve talked about it here, but the important point to know is that it’s a Finnish-American holiday I celebrate with my family.

For the past thirty-something years, I’ve made two batches of Ginger Chip Cookies (a cross between gingerbread and chocolate chip)–a Finnish recipe I Americanized–something perfect for our holiday. One batch is for me and my nearby family and friends.

The other batch was for my Daddy.

This is the first year I won’t be making and mailing that second batch.

St. Urho Statue

Office Hour at Berkeley Rep (Review)
Mar 7th, 2018 by Dr Karma

Last Saturday, I saw Office Hour at Berkeley Rep (it runs through 3/25).

Office Hour is about a writing teacher who tries to reach a student so disturbed that other teachers are afraid he’ll shoot up the school.

Guns and gunshots are involved.

I was with Melissa, another writing teacher, and Marcus, a teacher at a middle school, where three students have been expelled in the last two weeks for threatening to kill their teachers and peers.

In other words, it’s timely.

The script is by Julia Cho (I’d seen another play, Aubergine, by her before). Lisa Peterson directs.

It was thought provoking, provoking-provoking (a woman seated behind us gasped loudly several times), and very well done overall.

There were a few things that bugged me, though–that have been bugging me since I left the theatre.

One is that one of the teachers complains about intellectual freedom. In the play, intellectual freedom is presented as something that restricts the teachers from telling a disturbed student that he can’t write about violent rape and murder in a way that is triggering the other students.

Teachers can tell students what they’re allowed to write about for an assignment. Intellectual freedom protects teachers–we can bring in the works we want, make the assignments we want for a class, even if some of the students don’t like them.

In other words, teachers don’t complain about intellectual freedom.

The second issue we had was with a particular moment. A teacher is afraid of a student–concerned that he may be a shooter. He goes to leave her office. She yells at him that he has to stay.

Um, what?

I can’t imagine anyone yelling at a student to stay in an office hour. Much less one you’re afraid of. When you’re alone.

There’s also a new character added in the last few minutes–confusingly & distractedly.

Finally, the two main characters of Cho’s script are Asian-American. At one point, another character says one character should be able to “reach” the other because they share that race. The audience cringed. But later, it seemed to be true. So what was the message?

Berkeley Rep is a great theatre–I have season tickets.

I do recommend this play. I’m still thinking about it, after all.


a problematic post-script
Feb 15th, 2018 by Dr Karma

Many years ago, when I was teaching at American River College, I had a student who touched my heart. He came from a poor area of Sacramento and was a first generation college student. He needed extra help, due to a mild intellectual disability. He sought that help, and he worked hard. He was sweet and humble. He managed to get a C and asked if he could write extra papers over the break–for no credit–to get stronger. Thus, we worked together for a few months after the course ended.
I used our story in my diversity statement for jobs.
Then, a year later, he asked if he could talk to me. He came to UCD and explained that he had gotten married to a young mother (after a problematically short courtship) and had promised that he would support her and the baby.
He didn’t have a job, but he was pretending to. He was in debt to his uncle, who was actually supporting them. But his young wife was suspicious.
So he asked me to lie for him–to write, on official UCD letterhead, that I was employing him as my assistant. He wanted me to lie if she called.
I couldn’t do that.
I told him he was asking for a band-aid–that the truth would come out–that marriage had to have honesty–that his wife would prefer honesty to a false belief about her husband as a provider. And I told him I couldn’t lie.
I saw his eyes harden against me.
He left quickly, and I never heard from him again.
I wonder if he’s okay, if he’s still married, if he went back to school, if he blames me for not “helping” him. I can’t bring myself to use our feel-good story anymore.

Jan 28th, 2018 by Dr Karma

I don’t remember my father punching my mother when she told him she was leaving, that she would not be cheated on again. I don’t remember her fleeing into the night, with me and ten dollars in coins.

I don’t remember being told that my father had died, though they must have told me, several times, for it to just seem like it was always known.

I don’t remember moving in with my grandparents, when I was two, when my mom couldn’t take care of me.

I do remember being taken back by my mother when I was five and hating it. And getting slapped for comparing myself to Heidi, in the middle part of the book, when she is taken from the mountain, from the safety of her gruff grandfather’s love.

I don’t remember each drunken argument between my mother and step-father. The most memorable ones were whenever we had to evacuate during a hurricane. Them and me and my little brother and two Great Danes in a van, with them always screaming at each other, threatening divorce.

I remember the time I had to ask why her windshield was cracked and her explaining that her husband had done it, jealous that she’d stayed too long at a female friend’s house.

I seem to remember each of the many times I was left at school, alone, wondering when my unemployed step-father was going to finally remember to pick me up.

I remember being told about strangers and about what they wanted to do to me.

And then night after night in a lifetime of insomnia.

And feeling a bit safer if I slept with a sheet on, even though it was too hot, because I hoped if a man ever broke in, he wouldn’t realize I was a girl and would leave me alone.

I vividly remember being a little girl and answering the phone and a man pretended to be doing a survey. It was only at the very end of the call that I realized he was masturbating.

I remember all the times my step-father locked me out of the house when I was out on dates, because he forgot I was gone. Or that I existed. Or something.

I remember my mother and step-father explaining that police were going to be staking out our house one night because a man had been overheard a bar saying he was going to break in, to rob us, to murder us in our sleep.

I remember being told that they caught him.

I remember all of the times I almost died because I couldn’t breathe. How I gasped for air between each word. Every winter. Several times. When I was with my grandparents, I was hospitalized several times. But away from the metaphorical mountain, I had to make do with the now off the market primatene mist. I slept with it in my right hand.

I remember lying there, day after day, barely breathing, and knocking my knees together. Bruising my knees. My mother would put pillow between them, which my knees would then deform with the knocking. I couldn’t stop.

I remember being relieved when she finally left my step-father, but then her explaining that she had only married him to give me a father and then prostituted herself to stay with him for me and how I should be grateful.

I remember her moving in with her new boyfriend when I said he was another abuser and when he said she had to choose between us.

I remember being somewhat relieved because my boyfriend was better about getting me to school on time than she was.

I remember her boyfriend attacking me.

I remember being bereft when my boyfriend–whom I thought I would marry–left me two weeks before I gave birth to our child, three weeks before I was eighteen.


People are talking about the NPR story about how childhood trauma correlates–strongly–with illness–cancer, asthma, chronic pain.

But I remember my doctor explaining it to me years ago, as I tried to understand how I can be so sick. So sick. All the time. And how my PTSD doctor confirmed it.

I remember explaining to my at-risk students that I am a chronic worrier because my childhood was chaotic–how my coping mechanism is to worry all the time, to try to understand what could go wrong, to script a solution, to futilely attempt to control the chaos.

I remember my students thanking me, saying they understood now why they can’t sleep, why their stomachs hurt all the time.

When Heidi was taken from the mountain into civilization, she became ill–so ill she almost died.

Not all Heidis make it back to the mountain.

Medical Update
Jan 21st, 2018 by Dr Karma

In my last blog, I wrote about an ER trip last weekend. My neck is less swollen, but it still hurts; I also still have a stabbing pain in my back. Not sure if it’s more than muscle tension, which, my PT says, could be tied to the neck.
So no news really.
Psychologically, though, I’m much more anxious and sleeping much more poorly because of some work-related bullshit. And so my muscle tension has no hope of receding soon.
In other news, some might remember that I fell down some stairs in London in July. My knee is still acting up, so we’ve had imaging. On Friday, I was called into a sports doctor so he could “comfort” me that although there was a tear, it would heal.
I pretended to be grateful for his comfort.
I think I hid the internal monologue.
You couldn’t have just emailed me?
I have other shit to do.
*This* is not what I need comforting about.
You haven’t read the rest of my chart at all, have you?
Wait, did I just pay $20 for a pointless conversation?
Can I go now?

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