On the other hand (backhanded, that is)
Oct 15th, 2016 by Dr Karma

This week, one of my doctors and I had to take a moment to just look at each other.
I was in acute pain. He knew how to make it stop. He couldn’t, unless I wanted to cover the entire cost myself.
“I can’t give you the treatment because insurance wouldn’t authorize it this fast. I can’t give you a shot of pain killer to tide you over–I’m your specialist. Your primary can do that, but I can’t.”
We talked about ERs and cabbages and kings.
I have a lot of complaints about my body–I have chronic issues, including chronic pain.
I have a lot of complaints about insurance and the American model of medicine–I’ve written about some of them here–not all of it. In 2017, I should run a ledger: how many hours do I spend on the phone with my insurance company? How many times are my bills wrong? How many times is my medical care (a prescription, a treatment) denied?
It was an expensive week (next week will be too). In addition to my insurance premiums and my meds (so many meds), I paid $200ish in doctor/procedure fees that weren’t about my acute problem. The acute problem added in another $200ish.
On the other hand, I am thankful I have insurance.
On the other hand, I am so thankful for my team.
With few exceptions, my health care team is incredible, and not just because they’re willing to fight for me.
Let’s look at this week.
First, my chiropractor and my massage therapist have worked very hard. On Monday, I couldn’t walk. I managed to get to classes the rest of the week due to people being willing to fight with my muscles and my misalignments.
On Thursday, my PTSD therapist (who works in the pain clinic) got on the phone with my pain doctor during our appointment to explain that my back had gone from chronic to acute and that I needed intervention asap.
Usually, it’s at least a month to get on the calendar. My pain doc is going to try a fun new intervention Wednesday morning.
That same day, my neurologist and I had the conversation discussed above. He has me on his schedule for Monday, as an intentional overboook, in case I couldn’t get in to see a primary yesterday. He called in a prescription for a patch to apply to my back (I haven’t been able to use it–insurance is being difficult).
Yesterday, I was able to get a same day appt with my primary care physician’s colleague. It was his last of the day–4:45. Still, he was thorough and kind. He listened. When I suggested a tweak on what he wanted to do–one kind of shot instead of another–we talked it through.
His PA came in to give me my shot, but so did the building’s shot nurse–a year before, when my back was acting up like this, we had an issue with this shot (for your sake, I’m being vague here). She wanted to check on me, to make sure I was as okay as possible, to make sure this shot went well.
In other words, the people who take care of me are awesome.
Insurance, I have an amazing group of people trying to tackle amazingly difficult problems. Please let them.

Start of Fall Update
Sep 25th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Remember when I wrote about some changes I was trying to make? Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve still been walking/exercising a lot more. However, I fell behind in doing lots of writing.

In my defense, I taught three classes this summer, went straight to Spain for a conference after the quarter was done, came back to start five more classes, and am heading to Sweden on Tuesday.

There are lots of pics and experiences to share–and I will–I just have to do this other stuff first. 🙂

In the meantime, if you haven’t seen my piece on Star Trek, it’s here.

Mindfulness Poetry
Aug 29th, 2016 by Dr Karma

The other day, I read an amazing humor piece in The New Yorker: Poetry for Modern Mindfulness.

An example:

Swiffering my floor, I offer thanks to the Procter & Gamble company / For a marvellous cleaning product, although I know that / Some people think P. & G. got the idea of electrostatic cleaning cloths from a Japanese firm, / And that the Swiffer Sweeper is based on the “razors and blades” model—that is: I must keep buying expensive new replacement cloths endlessly. / Nevertheless! / I love its silence, so unlike the infernal noise of the vacuum cleaner. / This silence has changed my life, / Allowing me to clean my house, / A chore I do not enjoy, / While talking to my friends on the phone. / A win-win for me.

My mantra this week:

As I head down the stairs

bleary eyed in the morning

I know my demented cat

will have left his business

at the very bottom.

But in what configuration?

Will there be some, almost dry,

that I won’t see

with my eyes,

allowing me to see with my feet,

my nose,


but in this moment

at the top of the stairs

the mystery remains.

The Continuing Adventures of Karma’s OnLine Dating: Entry 45
Aug 25th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Every day, I get an email about who’s been trying to hack this site. Specifically, I am alerted when a distinct IP gets blocked after 20 failed attempts to log on. Usually, these IPs are registered in other countries, but someone in Kansas wants in too.

There are also a lot of spam comments. Hundreds are blocked every day. Some are just ads. Some are in completely different languages. And some pose as real comments, with compliments on content (though never specific)–I think they’re hoping that if a comment gets approved, they’ll have unrestricted access to the comment section from then on.

I’m not alerted to all this spam–my program only shows me actual comments and what might be actual comments so I can choose to approve them.

This week, this spam comment came through for approval on this entry:

What i do not understood is if truth be told how you’re no longer actually much more well-favored than you may be right now.

You are very intelligent. You know thus considerably relating to this subject, produced me individually consider it from
a lot of numerous angles. Its like men and women aren’t involved until it’s
something to do with Lady gaga! Your individual stuffs nice.
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Obviously spam, right?

Actually, I can’t blame the program. Have you seen what real guys write to me on dating sites? The readability level is basically the same. 😉

It’s My Fault They’re Canceling “The Nightly Show”
Aug 16th, 2016 by Dr Karma

When I read that The Nightly Show is being canceled (last show: Thursday), I felt a deep twinge of guilt.

I haven’t been watching lately.

It should be my kind of thing. I was a devoted viewer of Politically Incorrect a long time ago; I still watch Real Time. I’ve seen every episode of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

I like Larry Wilmore a lot. I wanted to like his show.

I kept trying and trying.

And I do still like Larry Wilmore–he does a great opening segment, I admire the way he brings up hard topics, and I liked his Correspondents’ Dinner speech.

But I hated the overall format of the show.

Soon into the series, it became apparent that I would be hearing the same voices on the roundtable again and again–the voices of Larry’s correspondents/writers. Now, people like Ariana Huffington were on Politically Incorrect frequently, but I was guaranteed a different panel from one night to the next. On Larry’s show, there would be a new guest each night, and then his same people over and over. I like some of them, though I wanted more variety on the panel. I didn’t like others, particularly Ricky Velez. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I don’t get any insight from his slacker-persona input on socio-political issues.

I kept watching. Sometimes, I would only watch the opening, saving the nights I would watch the whole show for when someone awesome was the guest.

And then the panel dissed Bill Nye. Yes, they dissed Bill Nye the Science Guy.

I expected more. Larry Wilmore is a self-professed space nerd. He invited Bill Nye on. And then he and two panelists, including Ricky Velez, treated Bill like shit–they interrupted basically every sentence and told him that science, and his work, didn’t matter to their lives.

And that was it.

I’m not the only one who objected to this particular episode, so I know I’m not alone in jumping ship, but I feel badly that Wilmore is leaving Comedy Central.

I’m still rooting for him, but I want him in a better format.

And I’m rooting for Bill Nye too.


Summer Resolutions and Recipes
Aug 12th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Summer is my time of resolutions and new beginnings–the academic calendar warps the mind this way. Since I live in an academic town, though, we’re all warped.

I’ve been trying to take advantage of the significant schedule shift that summer gives me–I’m still teaching, of course, but the hours are different–to do three things:

1. I’m walking every day in the purposeful way (as opposed to the I’m on my way to class way). Unfortunately, my body doesn’t like this, so I can’t go as far as I’d like, but I’m doing it anyway.

2. I’m writing every day in the purposeful way (as opposed to the I have a bunch of emails to answer and papers to grade way). You may notice that you’re getting blog posts more often, and my academic writing is on track.

3. I’m trying new recipes every week (I want to use parallelism here, but of course trying a new recipe is purposeful). Here are our favorites:

Hot Honey Shrimp, which I just served with Pan Roasted Okra and Corn.

Meltingly Tender Chicken with Miso, Ginger, and Carrots: soooo tender, sooo good.

What else would you do with the miso? Try Pancetta Miso Pasta.

Pancetta Miso Pasta and Soy Chicken over Arugula

Pancetta Miso Pasta and Soy Chicken over Arugula

Crock Pot Carnitas: I turned them into tacos, stew, and enchiladas.

Pork in Magic Green Sauce: the sauce also worked well on chicken and shrimp.

Soy Ginger Chicken over Argugula.

Indian-spiced Corn Stew: I used half water and half coconut milk, and I added okra and some leftover cooked chicken.

Below Surface Condition
Aug 10th, 2016 by Dr Karma

A submarine is in surface condition when she has sufficient positive buoyancy to permit running on her main engines. (

“This should take about forty minutes,” says the technician. He pushes a button and I start to slide into the machine. Most people compare an MRI to a coffin, but since I’m not claustrophobic, I don’t quite find that an apt comparison. It is reminiscent of something, however.

I relax. There’s nothing else to do. This is one of the few moments in the day when I cannot do anything but think. Today they are scanning my brain and my spine, but I don’t necessarily want to think about that. I’ve already made the jokes about how they’re scanning to see if I have a brain or if my students’ praises have given me a swelled head. I’m not sure if the jokes are for me or for the audience of my loved ones, but in my family, I know they are a survival strategy.

If we had a family crest, it might well be “And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘Tis that I may not weep.” But we don’t have a family crest. And if we did, I would have to invent it. My family doesn’t read Byron, and I don’t think they’d go for something that artsy. Or that honest.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been in one of these. I’ve had several, for different body parts. I wonder if I’ll be able to get the technician to give me a hint. After my first MRI, the technician said “Good luck” with a tone of sympathy I understood when I saw the report, which indicated I needed surgery to remove a herniated disc. Another technician was kind enough to show me the picture of the cyst in my ankle when I asked.

I tend to like technicians more than surgeons. My back surgeon, with the bad bedside manner and the inability or unwillingness to discuss the future of a back with degenerative disc disease, woke me from my blissful slumber with the news that my hernia was the biggest he’d ever seen. “I showed everybody!” he said. He sounded so proud, you’d think he grew it himself. He remarked upon its size three more times before I was discharged that day.

My ankle surgeon, with a name as unique as mine, Scarlett, was nicer, but was also happy when my cyst turned out to be something she’s never seen before. “I had to look it up!” she proclaimed. “I’ll always remember you because of this.”

As I have several chronic, but nonfatal, diseases, I see doctors a lot. I’ve always found it hard to get them to see the pain in me. Part of living with chronic pain and remaining productive is the ability to mask it. Maybe because of my theatre degree, I can do it better than most. The only person I’ve ever known who was able to tell when I had a singularly bad headache was a former boss—she could read eyes like no one else.

I’ve had a headache, one that changes in form and intensity, since I was twelve. It might be due to TMJ, to stress, to muscular problems in the neck, to the twisted vertebrae there, or, more likely, it is the product of all of these things. I only say I have a headache when I have a guillotine day. These days find me daydreaming of guillotines—of the cold metal relieving the pain by removing the offending part. Guillotine days find me unable to concentrate. The pain reduces my abilities to move information from one synapse to another. I take enough drugs to kill animals bigger than I am. I worry when my breathing slows. I wonder how the medications can be shutting down vital systems while not even taking the edge off the pain. Over the years, my tolerance for these has become dangerous, yet they have not yet put me on anything effective enough to cause addiction.

I can understand their reluctance—we are currently in a political climate where Americans in pain cannot be given anything strong enough to help, unless they’re Rush Limbaugh, because they might become addicted, like Rush Limbaugh.

And I’m young. When I first tried to tackle this problem, one doctor dismissed me completely: “You’re too young to be in that kind of pain.” I agreed, but I still was.

I have had my eyes checked; I have a weekly massage; I do yoga; I take painkillers; I am regularly chiropracted; I have tried cranial-sacral therapy; I have tried herbs; I have tried acupuncture. I even allowed one healer to lance and cup me. When I was younger, and a Christian, I was prayed over. My headaches were attributed to the devil and I underwent Deliverance, the Protestant form of exorcism. It did not deliver me. At home I have various massage toys, a TENS unit, and something that gives electrical charges to my shoulders in vain attempts to make the muscles release.

When one chiropractor I dated proposed after two weeks, I was sorely tempted.

Despite all of this, few people have caught on. It took one practioner several months before he diagnosed me: “The more you’re smiling, the more you’re hurting.”


Lying restfully in the machine, I listen to the different noises. Occasionally, when they hit a certain frequency, I can feel it in my thighs. Other frequencies resonate in my hands. Being in the machine is like living within a loquacious tube that talks in fire alarms and sirens. One of the noises is a pinging. It reminds me of naval movies, and I realize that this machine is more like a submarine than a coffin. Ping. Ping. Ping. The pinging of the torpedo on radar is frequent—the missile is close, but is not coming closer. There is prolonged, impending contact.

It occurs to me that only 10% of the submarines in WWI ever returned home. What relief they must have felt, coming up into the light.

I never cry in doctor’s offices; I save that for when I walk outside, putting my sunglasses on in the inevitable glare. Crying has only happened three times. Once, when a doctor told me that perhaps I should be evaluated for fibromyalgia. My doctor friend told me that fibromyalgia was code for “hypochondriac” in files. Because doctors don’t understand it, it doesn’t exist. Restless leg syndrome did not exist until there was a cure. Yet part of me longs for the fibromyalgia diagnosis. Maybe I could tell myself to take more time off; I could become Flannery O’Connor—sickly, but writing. In my imagination, she is praised for simply getting out of bed every morning, because people understand that what an achievement it is. She has a condition, and there’s great power in naming it.

At one point, I was referred to a neurologist. He put me one medication after another. They constipated me (no one ever warns you about that). After four, he told me that there’s nothing more to try and that he was retiring, anyway. I repressed the urge to question his field—they only have four drugs? I asked him what he was going to do with all that free time. I pretended that he had not just crushed me; that I did not feel abandoned. It took a few minutes of crying in the car before I could drive home.

A year or so later, my primary care physician sent me to him again–he was seeing patients in retirement. I told my doctor the other doctor had given up on me; he couldn’t believe that was true. And then I was greeted with, “What are you doing back here? I told you I can’t help you.”

When I was a graduate student, I was sent to a specialist in neuro-muscular pain. He examined me briefly, told me he was worried about my bitten nails and cold skin. He informed me that there was no reason for me to hurt and suggested I try past life regression therapy. I thought at first that he was making a joke about my name, but he wrote the name of a book on his prescription pad. When I looked at the nurse, she seemed bewildered, but would not meet my eye. I did not understand how knowing that my skull was crushed a few hundred years ago would take the pain away, but I read the book.

I went to a psychic, who told me that one of the women my father cheated on my mother with put a curse on us when I was a baby. She could take it off for $2000. As she was Catholic, she did not believe in past lives. After paying for the consultation and being blessed with holy water, I went home and cried at the absurdity of it all.

Remembering this, I start to tear up in the MRI machine. Crying doesn’t count as moving, but wiping the tears would, so I stay motionless. Saltwater fills my little sub. I have stopped by the time it’s over, when I am moved back into the light.

“See anything interesting?” I ask, feigning disinterest.

“I don’t read them.”

I look into his eyes, but I can’t read them, either.




(I wrote this piece half a decade ago, but realized I’d never shared it with you.)


Osiris Begins the Journey to the West
Aug 8th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Earlier this week, Facebook reminded me that I lost Jareth a year ago (FB suggested I might want to repost the announcement of the loss).

This week, something is wrong with Osiris.

Osiris is an old man now–15 years–and he’s definitely showing it. He’s skinny in the same way my great-grandfather was at the end (though he still has an appetite, especially for human food).

He’s beginning to become a bit unhinged–he tried to pee by the front door two days ago, isn’t coming upstairs to bed with me, etc.

Years ago, Isis had something similar happen. She lost her mind in a similar way (and similar symptoms) to my great-grandmother. Eventually, she wandered off, and we never saw her again.

I fear we’re entering the start of the great decline with Osiris.

Osiris and Jareth, 2013

Osiris and Jareth, 2013

London 2016
Aug 1st, 2016 by Dr Karma

At the start of the summer, Melissa and I got our Spring grades in and headed over to London for the 19th annual Great Writing Conference at Imperial College. The conference was fascinating, and we both did very well on our respective panels. We hope to return next year.

Here’s a look at this year’s highlights:

  • Dinner with Courtney and Liam, before they headed out of town. I got to finally try bubble and squeak!
  • Staying with Chaz and Carmen (and their two year old, Michael). I am exceptionally lucky that Chaz and Carmen are in my life and that they let us crash with them. Not only is there always a pot on for tea, but I love just spending time with them. I was able to introduce them to American-style brownies and a couple of bottles of my favorite California reds.
At the V&A

At the V&A

  • The V&A, where we hit the underwear exhibit, the theatre history exhibit, and one on Botticelli, called Botticelli Reimagined, which started with modern day homages and ended with actual Botticellis. I learned that women during the wars were livid when rationing restricted their access to nylons, etc.–rather than feeling liberated, they felt like the government expected them to leave the house looking indecent, that people made corsets for “active wear” (aka horseback riding and tennis), that I’m really glad tondos (round paintings featuring the Madonna and child) aren’t in fashion anymore (cause once you’ve seen one . . .), and that I want someone to explain this painting to me. What are all the demon-like creatures in this painting doing (look at the bottom)? What do they represent?
The Mystical Nativity

The Mystical Nativity

  • The National Theatre, where we saw two great plays with two great sets. First, The Suicide, a comedy by Suhayla El-Bushra. It’s a satire and reminded me a lot of a play we did in high school–Was He Anyone by N.F. Simpson. Both are about our lack of empathy for others and our ability to make everything in the world about us and our needs. Second, we saw Deep Blue Sea with Helen McCrory–also about suicide and way more depressing, but beautiful.
  • The British Library, which had a Shakespeare exhibit, including a clip of a show Denise and I saw in Chicago years ago, Othello: The Remix. I learned that actress playing Desdemona in 1660 was the first woman on the British stage, that there are no tragedies in traditional hindu theatre, and that Vivian Leigh has played basically every Shakespeare female character, having been trained in British theatre.
  • The Houses of Parliament, which we toured on the same day a member of Parliament was murdered, although we didn’t know that until later. I learned that the Parliament houses are too small for the members of Parliament now, so you have to get there early if you want a seat, that people say, “I spy a stranger” if they want the people around who aren’t members of Parliament to leave, that Oliver Cromwell shouldn’t be the most prominent statue outside (since I don’t like him), that I will get the Monty Python song “Oliver Cromwell” in my head every time I think of the man, including right now, that there are statues and paintings everywhere inside of Kings, Queens, and Consorts, that they used to have bells in nearby pubs that would ring when it was time to vote, and that they have a weird and wonderful tradition: Black Rod–a person/position–has the door of the House of Commons slammed in his face during sessions, to symbolize the House of Commons’s independence from the throne and the lords. One can see years and years of damage the door, because the Black Rod has to knock–with his rod–to be let back in. Melissa said we should institute a similar tradition, slamming the door to our Congress in the face of religious figures to symbolize that they have no place there (but we’re not for letting them back in).
  • My new favorite sign, because it’s both a practical warning and an invitation that some self-assessment may be in order:


  • The British Museum’s Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost World exhibit. I learned that coastal cities in Egypt had active Greek communities before Alexander conquered them and instituted Ptolemy’s rule. In both periods, religious tolerance was high, and thus, the religions melded into each other a bit. Some Egyptian gods were made to look like Greek heroes in certain places (see Serapis/Osiris below), while the strong female influence changed the Greeks in Egypt. I also learned about Egypt’s dark queen (Cleopatra VII was called that, but there was one before her) and Neith, a sort of cross between Athena and Artemis, but in early Egypt.
Osiris as Serapis

Osiris as Serapis

  • Falling down in front of a pub due to my stupid body and its stupid clumsiness was not a high point for me, but the drunken guys standing outside the pub loved it.
  • We also very much enjoyed a quick drink with my friend Tim and his husband. I met Tim when I was in Oxford for a conference last September. Although the drink was too quick, I was able to reassure Tim and the rest of Londontown that I’d be back for sure next summer. Thanks to a very generous Amy, I’ll be in Oxford for four weeks, leading the Fantasy Summer Abroad class! In other words, I’ll be able to do this for real:


The Continuing Adventures of Karma’s OnLine Dating: Entry 44: Poly
Jul 26th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Last summer, before I headed to Iceland, I went on a lot of dates with a poly guy. Let’s call him P.

I have many poly friends, and I’ve been curious about it before–most notably, though, when certain important needs aren’t being met with a partner.

When I first went on OKC again, in early 2015, I decided to be open to the possiblity. I had three dates with one guy (not P) pretty early–but his wife didn’t like me–and something kept nagging at me about him. I realized, on that third date, what it was–I had never heard him actually laugh. Instead, he made another sound–that derisive snort about people he didn’t like.

So that wasn’t going to work, but I was still open to poly.

And, thus, I agreed to a date with P last summer. He was charismatic. He explained his situation: after his wife’s successful cancer treatment, her sex drive died. She refused to go to the doctor, and told him to get used to it. He proposed a compromise: that he could have a girlfriend or two. They spent a couple of years building trust that he wouldn’t leave her for one of them.

It was perfectly understandable. It also sounded functional.

It only took another couple of dates, however, for problems to arise. Our conversations were always about these relationships–and I didn’t like what was happening with the other girlfriend–she was younger, only dating him, wanting, desperately, to marry him and have children with him. He knew this. At one point, while he and I were dating (I think this was the catalyst–him trying to have a relationship with me proved he wasn’t going to leave his wife and become monogamous), she decided she wanted something more traditional. So she started an online profile. However, she posed as single while she was still in a relationship with P. And she could thus decide that each guy who messaged her was nothing compared to P. I told P she just wanted him to get jealous–to whisk her away to normality–that he was standing in her way. He agreed, but wouldn’t do what she couldn’t: end it.

The larger problem, though, was the almost immediate pressure to redefine myself.

After about a week, he thought I should change my status from single to “open relationship,” to announce to every other man I was talking to that I had a boyfriend.

I told him to slow down–that even if it were just the two of us, I wouldn’t want to stop everything and commit after a week.

And then I had to keep begging him to slow down, because that pressure never let up.

In additional to pushing me away, it made me think–fast–about what I wanted, and ultimately to decide that poly–at least his kind–isn’t for me, for several reasons.

  1. Time. In my last LTR, I spent three nights a week with my partner. It worked well, giving me a couple of nights a week with friends and a couple of nights a week on my own. If I were to spend two or three nights a week with one partner, when would I find the time for another partner?
  2. All this guy could talk about–after the first date–was his wife, his girlfriend, and the future he wanted with me. It didn’t seem like he had friends or hobbies other than us–and that scared me off.
  3. Relationship talking in general isn’t something I like to do. On our first day in Iceland, Melissa and I sat in a natural hot-tub and discussed whether I was going to stay in a relationship with P. I was explaining how difficult I found it, as he wanted to talk about relationships all the damn time. Melissa leaned in close and said, “Karma, I’ve known you for 15 years, and you don’t even like to talk about relationships with me. You don’t want this.”
  4. I need to be a primary. Most poly relationships seem to be set up in a hierarchy–you have a primary partner and then one or more secondaries (or a primary partner and one-offs). If I entered into a relationship as a secondary–but it was my main relationship–it wouldn’t be what I wanted or needed. Secondaries are–by definition–interchangeable. Most people will fight to maintain a relationship, but, if life goes wrong, the secondary relationship will be sacrificed for the primary one. I want a my person–and, while that’s possible in poly–it’s excessively difficult to find a primary relationship if you’re starting as someone else’s secondary.

The nail in the coffin, though, was a conversation P and I had before I left for Iceland.

Me: What if I meet a guy named Sven, and I want to fuck him?

P: You wouldn’t, would you?

Me: I’m not going to go looking for someone, but say I did.

P: But you can’t!

Me: Why not?

P: Because that’s not how this works–you can have boyfriends, but you can’t just fuck around!

Me: Why not?

[We argue about safety–he wants a “closed system,” which I argue is never really closed, because it counts too much on other people. He had once dated a woman who had 8 boyfriends–did he really think no one in the extended circle had one-offs?]

Me: So I’m supposed to tell a guy that I want to fuck that I’m not allowed to, because I’ve been dating another guy for two weeks? Even though I haven’t made a commitment to him? And even though that guy is probably fucking someone else in that moment?

Him: It has to be closed–that’s the kind of poly I am.

Me: Well, I’m not poly yet. And how do we know what kind of poly I would be?




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