The Year So Far (February edition)
Feb 24th, 2014 by Dr Karma

I haven’t been in the kind of contact that I want to be with most of you. Part of it is that I’m busy. Part of it is that I don’t necessarily want to talk about how I am.

I was really hoping that this year would be better than last. Last year was busy (no surprise), but also difficult due to my gall bladder, an amazing cervical spine headache that started in summer, and a car accident, which resulted in hours of physical therapy each week (it’s only ended last week).

This year hasn’t been easier so far. I’ve already written about my grandmother dying last month. What I haven’t said yet is that, while she was sick, this particular time of death didn’t have to be. What I haven’t said yet is that I’m angry about some of my mother’s decisions and angrier about her refusal to acknowledge them.

Next month, I will return home during Spring Break. My family is waiting to put the ashes in the ground until I get back. I need to try to have a calm conversation in which I explain to my mother that she can’t change my grandfather’s medicines, etc. without notifying the doctor. But she’s going to get defensive, and we’re going to have a fight, and I’m stressing about it.

The other thing I haven’t said is that it really sucks to be the only woman in the world with the middle name Jewreen. Before, there were two of us.

As for myself, three things are going on physically. Today I have a tube going from my stomach, out of my nose, and to a recorder. It’s testing the ph of my acid reflux and also checking to see if some of the reflux ix actually bile, now that we know I have some bile in my stomach. I am very uncomfortable, doubting I’ll be able to sleep tonight, and looking forward to getting it out after my classes tomorrow. Some of what we’ll learn will determine if the doctor thinks I need surgery for the hernia in my esophagus.

My inclination is not to have surgery; however, the drugs I’m on haven’t been controlling my reflux symptoms like they used to. And I’m on the highest dose of things.

I was finally able to see someone at the pain clinic for this cervical spine headache in December. We are looking at doing a nerve burn in my neck–pain medication isn’t doing anything, nor are the non-invasive things like massage, etc. Friday, I had a nerve block, a sort of test to see if the nerve burn would work. The very temporary block had wonderful effects, although I’m sore and swollen from the procedure. My insurance company wants me to have another test block done before they approve the burn, which would be longer lasting.

Lastly, one of the drugs I need, xolair, is expensive and weird. When my insurance changed at the start of the year, I had to try to get reauthorized for it. It’s now almost the end of Feb–I’ve been off my drug for almost two months. Both my nurse and I have spent hours on the phone with insurance and hours on the phone with the specialty pharmacy. It looks like I might finally be able to get back on the drug next week, though my copay will be lots higher. And then the insurance company wants to reevaluate in June. Every dose they can prevent me from having saves them thousands of dollars.

The other big news is that my aunt Mindy is not doing well. She is now basically too disabled to work. She has been living with my cousin for the past few months. My cousin’s husband, however, is getting transferred to Guam. My aunt has been unsuccessful so far in getting insurance, etc. (The Southern States have not expanded medicaid to poor adults.)

The short version of this is that Mindy will be coming to live with me at the end of Spring. It will be a bit tight–I don’t have the money right now to move us to a three bedroom. But I at least should be able to get her the care she so desperately needs.

Work is fine. The students are understanding about papers coming back two days late the week Gma died. They are understanding and sympathetic about the awkwardness of a tube coming out of my face today. My stand-up class is a joy.

I gave a smart and amazingly attended presentation at a Writing Teacher’s Conference in January. Had a good MLA. I’ve applied to be the coordinator for the Upper Division Comp exam. I’ve got a paper coming out on (a)sexuality in Sherlock. The Prized Writing Ceremony went swimmingly–the Chancellor was there for the first time, and she enjoyed it so much that we’ve already scheduled next year’s so she can be there. I’ll present at pca/aca in April (no more conferences for the year, though–too broke). The Margaret Atwood journal is going online. I’ve been contracted by Cambridge for an Atwood collection. The authors are writing now. Denise and I are putting together a Simpsons collection. Melissa and I are putting together a collection of best comp paper assignments. There are and will be plays and movies and, in April, Willie Nelson. Book group still gathers here for food, wine, and cats. When HBO or BBC is doing something good, there are weekly movie nights too. The boyfriend cooks for me and distracts me and pleases me. Alexander is generally in good spirits. He doesn’t love all of his classes. (His classes are part of me being broke.) But we get along well.

Just today, he reminded me that I wasn’t allowed to use the microwave (due to the weird machine I’m wearing). Then, when I thoughtlessly went to the microwave half an hour later, I got the same tone from him that the cats do when they jump on the counter.

My friends are lovely. I miss you and love you all.

Calling Dr. Laura (a review)
Feb 22nd, 2014 by Dr Karma

Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir is a really quick read, belying the book’s hefty physical weight.

As it’s the memoir of a lesbian cartoonist, there are inevitable parallels to Alison Bechdel’s work. However, Nicole J. Georges’s memoir isn’t as well crafted.

The black and white drawings are fine, but I’m not particularly drawn to them, nor are they doing anything inherently interesting or new. In terms of the story, we basically have Georges in her young adult life, as she remembers her mother’s disfunctional relationships with men, her stress-related health problems, her coming out, her first break-ups, and her discovery of a family secret. There’s enough going on for something interesting to happen, but the jumpiness of the plot lines is jarring. The internal revelations are also clumsy. Rather than allowing the story to reveal the inner conflict of the character, Georges at times relies on direct address to the audience (“Why didn’t I try to . . . For the following reasons).

After reading this, I can put together my own opinions of what I think is going on with Georges, but I’m not particularly convinced that I want to spend much time on it, especially since I don’t think I’ve gotten much encouragement from Georges to do so. She’s told me what she thinks her motivation is point blank.

As we end with the motivation pushing her towards inaction, the ending feels unfinished. No journeys come to an end. No new information will be gained past what we were told very early in the story.

It’s realistic, I suppose, but not necessarily compelling.

I’ve read a lot of memoir in my time (graphic and non). For me, the difference in powerful and not is not necessarily whether I relate to the character or whether I agree with their decisions, or whether they visibly grow as a person, but whether they’ve really done the work to show me a part of themselves–they have to have seen themselves in a non-superficial way first. (For superlative examples, see Maxine Hong Kingston, David B., Lidia Yuknavitch, Ryan Van Meter, etc.)

I just never get that feeling from Georges. The title of the memoir comes from the fact that she liked to listen to Dr. Laura (something her other gay, liberal friends didn’t understand) and that she once called into the show. I’ve read the whole memoir, but I don’t understand the appeal of the show to her either. I just know that she liked it, that she called in, that she cried. I didn’t.

Why I’ve Given Up on Chew (the series)
Feb 16th, 2014 by Dr Karma

     Chew, the graphic novel series by writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory, has won lots of awards recently. I thought I should give it a shot. Chew1Chew1chew03
It’s the story of Tony Chu, who becomes an investigator for the FDA. In this world, the FDA has a lot of power–it needs that power to crack down on illegal chicken after chicken was banned from the US after a virulent bird flu. Chu is aided in his investigations by a special power–the power to experience what his food–animal and vegetable–experienced before being eaten by him. (It’s not a fun power–he’s way skinny. Unfortunately for him, his investigations often involve cannibalism.)
The reading is quick. I like having an Asian-American hero. I like his quirky family and his partner.
However, 3/4ths of the way through the fifth volume, I’m giving up.
While I like some of the characters, I don’t care about what’s going to happen to them. One is kidnapped right now–I don’t really care if she gets out okay. The characters are quirky, but not engaging enough to keep going.
I’m tired of the tits. There’s really only one character without giant knockers–a young women whom it would be creepy to objectify (a few other members of Tony’s family are also more realistic looking). All other women–young and old–have huge tits. Please, comic book artists, remember that some of your readers are women too. And if you have a good story, then only *some* of your characters need to be smokin’ hot–not all.
I’m not really invested in the world. Most of the characters–bad guys and good–believe that the government is lying about the chicken’s connection to the bird flu. I’m 5 volumes in–this hasn’t made our good guys question what they’re doing. It also hasn’t added up to anything other than lots of characters simply repeating the rumor–there’s no speculation about what the government is up to. There’s no smoking man, no hint beyond repetition that the rumor might be something to pay attention to.
I’m also confused by how Tony Chu is supposed to be super-freak because of his power. True, only a few other characters have it, but it seems like half the characters we meet have some food-related power (a guy who’s brilliant if he’s eating, a woman who can write about food so well that a reader can literally taste it, etc.) If Chu is such a freak, then what about these other people? Why are there so many of them? Why so many different powers? Why are none of them being studied if people don’t understand the cause of their powers but yet those powers are public knowledge?
It’s not a bad series, but it’s just not working for me.

A few thoughts on romance
Feb 14th, 2014 by Dr Karma

Valentine’s Day tends to be celebrated in a sexist way. That is, rather than being a celebration of two people’s love, it is a holiday in which men are expected to spend money and plan surprises. I’ve always thought that both women and men should give gifts (if gift giving is part of the holiday for the couple), that both should plan, etc.
One year, with an ex, I decided I wanted a roomba. We went in on it together. Best Valentine’s gift ever–it has spared my back a lot of agony.
Part of the reason that the holiday has morphed into this one-sided money orgy, however, is that, for many women, this is one of the two times a year that romance is possible. Today and on their anniversary, they are told they are loved. They receive physical proof of his love.
And that’s part of why I don’t like the day. If Valentine’s Day is the almost only day you have romance in your life, then what is going on in your relationship?
(It’s also why I don’t like the idea of what many men refer to as “Steak and Blowjob” day. Why would you only want that once a year?)
In the relationships wherein I’ve been happiest, romance has happened all year long.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not getting flowers all the time or serenades or chocolate.
The key, you see, is having two things:
–a thoughtful partner
–a better understanding of what romance is
To illustrate, let me share a story of my favorite couple, my grandparents. My grandmother, a great lover of romance novels, had a more traditional understanding of romance–flowers and candy and whatnot.
My grandfather’s children would sometimes find things my grandmother would like for Valentine’s Day and prompt him to buy them. One such weird object was a rose that had been dipped in gold. He bought it for her. She loved it. I’m not sure he would have ever thought to buy it himself. I’m not sure he should have thought of it.
My grandfather demonstrated romance every day. Whatever little thing might bother my grandmother was something he attempted to fix. Her back hurts? Here’s a hot tub. The phone cord keeps getting tangled? Here’s one guaranteed not to do that.
When she got older and had trouble going outside, he would go out every morning, pick a rose from their garden, and present it to her.
Women often complain that men don’t just *know* what they want. Even when they drop hints.
Women: what hints are you dropping?
For example, if you mentioned that you were having trouble having a healthy lunch and he started packed them for you, then perhaps it’s time to forgive him for not just *knowing* that you want a cliche heart necklace today.
Of course, I’m presupposing that your partner does love you, does listen to you. Not every partner is giving. Not every partner is loving. Not every partner is attentive. In those cases, him giving you chocolate on the one day that all of society tells him to isn’t romantic, either. Obligation doesn’t equal love.
I’m also framing this critique with men giving to women. Women can be just as guilty of not being romantic, loving, giving, attentive. Ladies, do you know what he really wants as a gift? Do you present him with surprises throughout the year? Love should go both ways.
It should also be noted that romance doesn’t always equal love in the way we think it does. One of my most chivalrous lovers was also the one who left me when I was almost nine months pregnant with his child. I’ve had a man hitchhike across Canada and then sneak across the border to be with me. I’ve had men write songs about me. I’ve had flowers and candy and people climbing trees to woo me on my balcony. I’m not with those people now, for various reasons.
Tonight I will have cocktails, wine, fancy appetizers, dinner, and dessert. It’s a gift my guy and I are giving to each other.
The bottom line?
Ladies, if you want something *special* this year, then tell him what you want. And don’t tell me it will take away the surprise. The fact that you and society believe he HAS to do something special today and only today means there’s no real surprise anyway.
If you do want actual surprises, then V Day is a silly time to want them.
And think about surprises. What if, on a Tuesday in June, he did something really thoughtful for you? Would that surprise you? If so, that’s sad, because wouldn’t you like him to be thoughtful all year?
And shouldn’t you be thoughtful back?
Maybe the best way to be thoughtful, by the way, is to take some of the more extreme expectations off of this day.
Your question shouldn’t be: What will he do for Valentine’s Day?
Here are the questions:
Does he love me?
Does he show it (whether or not showing it means money for you)?
Does he accept me for who I am?
Does he make me want to love him, to show it, to accept him?
Gee, would he like some flowers and candy?


Here’s one of my favorite pictures of my grandparents, from two years ago when they renewed their vows.


Grandma’s Hamburger Casserole Recipe
Feb 6th, 2014 by Dr Karma

Warning: this is not healthy or sophisticated. It’s comfort food!

This month, I’ll be honoring my grandmother by sharing a few of her recipes. Today, it’s Hamburger Casserole.

Ingredients: 1 lb hamburger; 1/2 chopped bell pepper; salt; one box macaroni noodles (or whatever shape you want–shells are nice); can of tomato soup; shredded cheese; milk. (Note: I don’t have an amount for the cheese–we just eyeball it. Grandma would actually shred American cheese, but I usually use cheddar.)

Brown the meat, bell pepper, and salt. Bring water to boil and cook noodles. Add the can of soup and a little bit of water to the meat. In a greased casserole, layer half of the noodles, a layer of cheese, half of the meat mixture. Repeat. Top with enough milk to even the top.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

(I often use tomato sauce, leftover pizza sauce, or leftover spaghetti sauce in this casserole instead of soup. Fancy cheeses are allowed. Vegetarian fake-meat has also worked–when I take it to a pot-luck, vegetarians and carnivores alike eat it and find it comforting, which is what it’s supposed to be.)

It let me upload pics today!



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