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?

Last night’s ER trip
Jan 13th, 2018 by Dr Karma

I haven’t felt right all week. My shoulders and neck are visibly swollen and painful to the touch. I have a stabbing pain in my mid-back on the right side.
I’ve been so exhausted that I have to give myself little talks–assuring myself that I will in fact make it across the quad without falling down.
And then yesterday, my heart was racing and I was sweating.
And I told myself it was nothing.
And then another voice said, “these are the symptoms of a clot or a heart attack.” And then it added: “you have talked about these things with your pre-meds before–about how people need to know that women’s heart attacks often present as severe neck pain, exhaustion, etc.”
And then I was talking to our HR woman about my file, and she said, “Are you okay?”
“No. And I’m aware that I’m changing color right now.”
First, she was afraid that a technical glitch with my file (my application to keep my job and to get a raise) was giving me a heart attack. I had to assure her that it wasn’t, that I would call the advice nurse, etc.
So I called.
“I’m hoping you’ll tell me I’m over-reacting.”
“I’d like you to call 9-1-1.”
I didn’t do that–I called my son. He’s cheaper than the 800$ ambulance. And I walked to my classroom, cause class was about to start. Lacking coherence, I explained what was happening and that we were still going to stay on schedule for their draft next week.
The boy took me to a packed ER–the flu had it filled. But they took blood and did a chest xray and an ekg right away. And then I sat there for several hours.
And then those tests were clear, so they ran more tests on the blood.
Two more hours.
And then it was time for me to go home. Something is wrong–they want me to see my primary guy right away, but I’m stable. ish. The medical mystery continues.

ER doc: Sorry I don’t have an answer for you.
Me: If you were able to diagnose something right now, the news would be really bad.
ER doc: Yeah, you’re right. I never thought of it that way.

2017 By The Numbers
Dec 31st, 2017 by Dr Karma

Daddy’s funerals: 1

Deaths I will never get over: 1

Seeing Hasan Minhaj film his stand-up special here at Davis: 1

Other Mondavi shows: 3

Major Pet Injuries: 0

Dinner parties hosted: about 51

Book contracts obtained: 2

Benefits for Charity with my Stand-Up Club: 3

Countries visited (Colombia, Wales, England, Scotland, Australia): 5

Books read: a lot

First-Aid trainings: 1

Courses taught (including independent studies): 17

Plays seen: 23

New Atwood series binged: 2

Countries with Nando’s visited and enjoyed: 3

Koala butts touched: 1

Kangaroos seen: a bunch

Live platypi seen: 0

Body parts sprained while falling down stairs: 2

Canes my son made me buy: 1

Unsuccessful dates: I don’t wanna go back and count them

Formal whiskey tastings: 1

Castles/Palaces/Prisons toured: 7

Stand-Up Performances about Chronic Pain: 2

Nieces and nephews I got to spend time with: 6

Times I finally got a smartphone: 1

Churches visited: a surprising amount, but never during a service

Visits with the Out of Fucks Writing Group: 1

Times that Margaret’s gluten intolerance got us an amazing free meal: 1

New used cars obtained: 1

Mysterious synchronous flat tires on old car: 2

Salt mines with salt cathedrals entered (of the Virgin of Salty Water): 1

New recipes tried: a lot (and almost all were great!)

Sleepless nights: too many

Conferences Presented at: 8

Weird hotel rooms in Australia: 1

Overheard tourists who had no idea what Alice in Wonderland was: 2

Alice Days in Oxford: 1

Weeks in Oxford: 5

Times I made jokes about studying at Jesus college: too many

Times I’ve met Raj Patel now: 1

Fairy penguins seen: lots!

Aardman exhibits: 1

Harry Potter Studio Tours: 1

Tests of Spinal Cord Stimulators: 1

Museums and Galleries: a lot!

Wonderful students: almost all of them

Times I’ve asked a man holding a machine gun if I can go into the space he’s blocking (in Spanish): 1

Times that’s worked: 1

Reasons Melissa and I will never live in Colombia: 2 (they aren’t a wine drinking culture, and you can’t flush toilet paper)

Margaret Atwood seminars taught: 1

Wisdom teeth removed: 1

Asses I’ve made of myself: a bunch

Medical appts: about 4 a week

Piles of unorganized files, cds, flash drives, etc. that I inherited from Daddy and have to go through and organize: enough to last a lifetime

Sense that I inherited Daddy’s organization skills: diminished

Trips with my work wife: 4

Nights of seeing stand-up: 10

New exotic meats tried (kangaroo): 1

Heat waves in other countries: 1

New favorite Australian fish (barramundi): 1

Amazing bars found in Cincinnati: 1

Nights at the amazing bar in Cincinnati: 2

Mix CDs made: 3

Doctor Who courses taught: 1

Doctor Who Experiences in Wales: 1

Boyfriends obtained: 1

Monkey went with me.

The most dapper on-site coordinator

Things I want in 2018: 8

More movies, more plays, more comedy, more time with friends, more countries, more adventures, more new recipes, more sleep.

The Continuing Adventures of Karma’s Dating: Entry 77
Dec 25th, 2017 by Dr Karma

I hate having to go into my boyfriend’s office. Everywhere one looks, there are naked and nearly naked women–there are three pin-up calendars, signed posters from porn stars, etc.

One day, I had to give up when looking for scissors because I was way too distracted by how many pubic regions I could see from every angle of the room.

Now, I have some pictures of male stars on my computer (David Tennant saying “You Should be Writing,” for example), but they are clothed.

My boyfriend thinks I shouldn’t be upset about the walls of boobs because he knows all of these women and has slept with most of them.

Yes–you read that right.

He thinks it should bother me less that he has naked pictures of his exes in his office than just random naked women. (These are the only pictures of humans in the house–no friends or family.)

(And yes, he’s slept with a lot of models and porn stars.)

I don’t mind people having pictures of their exes. I have pictures of mine. They’re mixed in with the many, many pictures I have of friends and family around the house.

However, one can walk through my house without seeing any of their erect, throbbing penises.

Today, I’m trying a compromise. One of my boyfriend’s presents is two posters of me–one of his favorite picture of me, the other is KarmaZuul. Alas, I don’t have any naked ones, as I’m not a porn star or exotic dancer, though I’ve played them before. Am pretty sure Costco doesn’t want to make a giant poster of a naked me, either.

Readers, I’m gonna take over the wall.

What I Learned in my Atwood Seminar
Dec 22nd, 2017 by Dr Karma

This quarter, I taught a seminar on Margaret Atwood–we read poetry and short fiction, but focused on The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, Alias Grace, and Hag-Seed. It was a great course, and my students were engaged.

A few observations:

  • the current socio-political climate came up during discussions of each book–they’re frighteningly apropos
  • I had to explain second wave feminism, female genital mutilation, the difference between r and x rated films, and many other fascinating things as they came up in discussion
  • my students think Alias is pronounced uh-lie-us
  • a couple of my students, prior to taking the course, thought “feminist” meant its opposite; when one kept saying the commander was being “so feminist,” we cleared it up

My favorite part of the course was on the last day, when we talked about what, if anything, we’d learned together. One of my students said that what all the texts had in common was a warning to pay attention–to wake up to the world around us and to do something about it.

Thank the universe for Atwood.

On Days and Diaries
Dec 17th, 2017 by Dr Karma

I used to be good at keeping a diary.
Now, unless I’m traveling, I almost never do–except here, for you, which is different. This is not just a space for me–there is an audience with needs, to whom I give background, for whom I try to be coherent.
Diaries unfortunately lost their appeal for me when I was married in my late teens.
My brief disastrous marriage had a lot of wrong in it–readers might remember that my ex liked my looks a lot, but not me–not my smarts, not my drive. He misrepresented himself, hoping that marriage (and his god) would change me.
What I haven’t written about as much is his jealousy. We had a bad dynamic. I wanted to be trusted, but he wasn’t capable of giving it. I had watched my mother date possessive man after possessive man (most of whom were cheating on her), so I hated that sense of being watched, being accused. My ex’s mom had been cheated on too–and thus he said he couldn’t trust people.
And so there we were.
Our marriage deteriorated very quickly, and I pulled away emotionally. And I wanted out. And that caused his jealousy to rise. And that caused me to pull away and to want out more. And so on.
And then he started reading my diary. He justified it by saying that married people didn’t need secrets from each other–they were one flesh and all. As soon as I realized that I couldn’t have privacy in my home, I stopped writing.
But he kept reading, going back in time.
I remember once coming home to find him upset and jealous over some guy I’d had a crush on when I was fourteen.
Him: Why didn’t you write about me like that?
Me: I was 14!
I lost everything I wrote when I was younger, so that it couldn’t be used to pressure me, to judge me, to guilt me.
I burned my diaries.



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