Before I Moved to California
Nov 18th, 2017 by Dr Karma

Before I moved to California, I had never

had Indian food

had decent wine (you know, the kind from a bottle instead of a jug or box)

met an out kinky or poly person

had gin

met a Hmong person

had goat cheese (or any good cheese, really)

had lamb

had been able to send my son to a school where they had enough money for classroom supplies like toilet paper and thus didn’t make each family buy a big list of stuff

tasted Thai food

met a Jewish person

had Vietnamese food

experienced a drought

known there were “asian” pears–and that they’re awesome!

had a good tomato that hadn’t been refrigerated prior to serving

seen heavy snow

seen an apple in the grocery store that wasn’t a Granny Smith or the ironically named Red Delicious

met an out transgender person

understood how black and white my upbringing had been

tried Afghani food

had to think about writing less American-centric prompts, since I only had American students

met a Sikh person

felt an earthquake (although it was so minor that I thought it was the neighbors waking me up with exceptionally brief sex that shook the wall)

had the opportunity to join a union

gone wine tasting

had access to healthcare as an adult


Some of this is because I was in Florbama . . . there are more cosmopolitan areas of Florida.

Some of this is because I was raised fairly white trash. It’s probably possible to get decent wine and cheese in Florida–I just didn’t see it.


But still–I had never had INDIAN FOOD!

If I had consistent access to grouper out here, y’all, I might never go back home.

Close Reading in Kindergarten
Sep 18th, 2017 by Dr Karma

My kindergarten teacher taught us an old rhyme:
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?

A Conversation From My Youth:

Me: What does “dainty” mean?
My teacher: Small.
Me: A pie with 24 blackbirds would be really big. Are we saying this wrong? Should we say “undainty”?
[Long pause.]
My teacher: No one else has ever had a problem with this.

Chronic Pain is Chronically Confusing
May 16th, 2017 by Dr Karma

Tomorrow I’ll have an impacted wisdom tooth taken out. I’m in agony today, but it took me a long time to figure out what was happening.
This kind of thing occurs frequently: chronic pain causes misunderstood pain.
I have TMJ–a disorder of my jaw joint. There’s arthritis there too. I’m in PT (it helps to keep me eating and talking).
I thought it was particularly bad last week.
And then I thought it was getting particularly worse.
And then I wondered at the pain spreading–making the whole jaw sore.
Last night, I couldn’t read, couldn’t focus. My eye on the right side even started to hurt, from the pressure.
And then a little voice inside my head chimed in: haven’t you still got a wisdom tooth up there? wouldn’t it be right by that joint?
Intense pain isn’t unusual. Today–the day before a surgery–is better than most because I have a solvable problem.
But I’m frustrated that I had no idea how to answer my dentist’s question: when did this tooth pain start?

Oh, no–I think my OCD got mistaken for something else!
Jan 20th, 2017 by Dr Karma

So I pulled up outside my office building, got my bag out of my trunk, and then checked to make sure my car was locked.
There was a van parked beside me, with a guy unloading it.
“Hey,” I said.
“Checking that you locked your door, huh? Well, you have a nice day.”
I walked into my building, confused.
Why was he making fun of me–does something about me just scream that I always double check my car, that I always double check my house door, that I always make sure the oven is off before I leave for work (sometimes even if I haven’t used the oven)?
How did he know? And why was he teasing me about it?
And then it hit me–he thought I was checking the car because of him.
I was already inside.
And there’s just no way to put that right.
If I’d gone running outside to try to explain, it would have made it worse.
“Hi, umm, I think you think I’m racist. Or maybe classist, or something. I am just a little neurotic. We could call my son right now–he will tell you that I’m unable to leave the car or house without saying, “did I lock it?” Please don’t think I’m a bad person.”
I just hope I’ve been more time being neurotic about this conversation than he has.

The Continuing Adventures of Karma’s OnLine Dating: Entry 48
Jan 15th, 2017 by Dr Karma

Two guys have been trying to set up dates with me. Both have been annoying because they keep insisting on me going to Sacramento for a first date, leading me to think they’re not really that interested.

Today’s thrilling updates:

I’ve been turning down Guy 1 for a while. I explained to him that I couldn’t see him this weekend because my car is acting up and I don’t want to cross the causeway until I can get it to the shop.

I thought he might propose coming here.

Guy 1: Hi, any car update how about tonight?

Me: I’m not going to be able to make it in to the mechanic until Wednesday.
I’m sensing a great reluctance to come to Davis. 😉
Do you not have a car?

Guy 1: Yea no car these days ..:9

Me: Ah. Wish you’d just told me that in the beginning–I was confused by you asking me out a lot but not seeming willing to cross the causeway for a date.

Now, I’ve gone out on dates with Sacramento guys who didn’t have cars. However, they were upfront about it, rather than skirting the issue until pressed.

Guy 2 has been coming off as strange in a couple of ways–there seems to be an arrogance/control thing, though I could be wrong–there haven’t been all that many messages. He might just seem that way because he only wants to do the minimum to get a date.

At any rate, he kept pushing for Sac, which isn’t always easy for me (and sometimes annoying because if I have a doc appt in Sac during the day, I really don’t want to head back there for a first date, esp for someone who isn’t exactly smooth in his courting).

Guy 2 [a while ago]: When can u come to sac​

I thought I should signal my displeasure:

Me: I’m not sure. I’ll be in Sac later this week, but I’ll have my son with me–we’re going to a show.

Neither of us seems too eager/able to make a special trip across the causeway to see the other person.

[Many days pass. Cut to today.]

Guy 2: Hey u. Would u like to meet​

Me: I’d meet if you wanted to come to Davis, especially since my car is acting up and I would want to take it to the mechanic before I took it across the causeway. But my impression is that you aren’t keen on heading this way.

And then I postulate to myself that two guys are having the same underlying issue, so I send another message.

Me: Or is it that you don’t have a car?

Guy 2: Lol no i do have a car

I have a bad headache today, but is there some pattern I’m missing?

Perhaps understanding human behavior is futile.

Also, on this headache day, I would like to say I didn’t send a message meant for car Guy 1 to car Guy 2.

I guess we can’t always live our dreams.


Iceland (2015)
Jan 5th, 2017 by Dr Karma

In the summer of 2015, Melissa and I got into Iceland in the morning one day. We stocked up on duty free alcohol at the airport (as the guidebook suggested) and tried to stay up to reset our clocks. We breakfasted, saw the Opera House, the famous ship sculpture (The Sun Voyager), walked down the shopping road (which, in one place, had a bunch of lost gloves all huddled together on fencing), hit a hot spring pool, where we learned about a magic swimsuit spinner/dryer, checked into our air b&b (we were expecting a room in a two-bedroom apartment, but we had a whole two-bedroom apartment, centrally located), went out to dinner at a mediterranean place (with the best baba ganoush I’d ever had), and then finally collapsed.

The Opera House from the outside

Opera House from the inside

The Sun Voyager

Monkey in the living room

Thirteen hours later, we woke up and went to the world famous penis museum. I have to say, most penises are gross, especially when in jars. I have now seen many whale penises and many mouse ones. There was only one human one, of a self-proclaimed lothario. A virgin has promised his, so we can see the contrast. And the man with the world’s biggest has promised his as well–they had a picture. It was frightening. One of my favorite things was a jar holding an elf penis (the jar looked empty; Icelandic elves are invisible unless they choose to let you see them (there are several myths about this, including one in which Eve accidentally curses some of her children into invisibility when they are dirty and she doesn’t want God to think her a slovenly mother)). And I learned things, too. For example, I had no idea that almost every other species not only has a dick bone–but a clit bone, too!!!

art at Gló

After having our fill of penises, we found our favorite lunch place: Gló. Highly recommended. Mostly vegetarian. Very fresh. Enormous servings.


Then we ventured to the remains of a viking settlement, where we saw the excavation of a longhouse that would have held a family and 10+ animals.





And it just went on like that–beautifully, amazingly.

The highlights:

  • Convincing Melissa to do a beer tasting flight before dinner, not knowing their idea of that was five full beers. Each.

    4 of the 5 beers

  • Meeting Beth and Charlene, two of my friends from middle/high school, for a breakfast, since they just happened to be there, too.
  • Visiting the museum, with the Thor idol and the viking graves.
  • Seeing Hallgrímskirkja, the famous church.

    This was on the wall in the hotel across from the church–The Simpsons is everywhere!


    The back of the Leifur Eiríksson statue, which is in front of the church.

  • Eating really good food, the whole time. A favorite was a blueberry-marinated thinly sliced lamb at Laejarbrekka.
  • NOT eating “traditional” Icelandic food that ONLY tourists in Iceland eat now (including rotten shark, puffin, and whale). The puffins are endangered, and since we took a boat out to see them, we couldn’t eat one. They are fucking adorable. And they shouldn’t be able to fly–as evidenced by the ridiculous work they are obviously putting into it. They are always on/in/above the water, except when laying eggs. Rubbing their bills together is part of the mating process, and they generally mate for life. I have a note in my diary that says they’re like Cary Grant in My Favorite Wife, which I will assume was a code for: will mate with someone else one year when they can’t find their spouse, but will totally go to back to the spouse if s/he shows up.

    faux puffin

  • Staying up too late. The sun never really went down at all, so it was very hard to tell our bodies to go to bed.
  • Seeing four kids with their bikes and their packed snacks in the sculpture garden–obviously being all free-range and happy like we used to be.
  • Walking through the teddy bear room in the Museum of Modern Art–yes, they’re slightly melted. 

    the teddy bear room

  • Worrying about the UTI I had for most of the trip.
  • Wading into the Blue Lagoon, were Melissa had wanted to go for years and years (it was even worth missing the penultimate bus and having to wait in the cold an hour and a half for the last one). 
  • Attending a great conference and doing well there.
  • Meeting one of our writing assignments collection authors, who also presented at the conference (and who was also in Sweden with us this last summer).
  • Taking a tour of the countryside, where we saw a glacier (that, yes, has been steadily receding over the last couple of decades), and where we saw Kitla, which will likely be the next volcano to blow (every Icelander is signed up to get a mobile alert to evacuate–she’s bigger than the last one and is named after a female criminal who worked for monks with magic pants), and the hell volcano, believed to be the entrance to the underworld, and basalt columns on a black beach, and two waterfalls, and the folk museum (where we learned a lot about Icelandic history–it was settled in an unusually warm period; people ate lamb, lamb, more lamb, and lamb yogurt for variety; you might think they ate fish, but fishing was pretty dangerous, and the fish that were caught were dried and used to barter for all the things they needed to survive; once the first settlers cut down the trees, none grew back, so they didn’t have wood for fires or ships–basically everything had to be bartered for). We greatly enjoyed our guide, who told us legends and let us listen to Icelandic folk music. My boot broke on the black beach, so I hobbled for the second half of the day. All that we left in our Iceland apartment was my pair of broken black boots and a full bottle of alcohol that we didn’t get to.

    basalt columns

    melting glacier: see the drips?

  • Getting a surprise special reading at the conference closing dinner by the award-winning Icelandic author, Einar Már Guðmundsson. (Iceland is home to many authors and many bands. They value art and those who make it.)
  • Learning about the Icelandic language. English is widely and well spoken in Iceland, but Icelandic is valued and protected. They have a language council and a names council (Icelandic children must be given Icelandic names), although sometimes the language council words come too little too late, especially for technological terms–the kids just keep using the English word for dongle instead of whatever the council comes up with. In terms of those of us who might learn Icelandic, Icelanders are not super concerned about our accents or grammar, but the theory I heard for this is that it’s because we would be seen as forever foreigners. If I wanted to be an Icelandic citizen, I would have to change my name. Since I’m a woman, I would have to have “James’s daughter” as my surname, although he didn’t raise me and I didn’t even have his last name after I was four or five. So that’s a weird thought. Icelandic women are proud feminists and point to keeping their own name throughout their lives as evidence, but it’s strange to me to be defined solely by a blood father my whole life. I would ask to be my grandfather’s daughter, legally, if I had to change my name that way. I also learned that mothers of bastards aren’t allowed to give their children a man’s name unless the man consents. (I’m looking at you, John Snow.)

    Karma Walliessdóttir

  • Sensing that there are no cops in Iceland–we didn’t see any. My theory is that the country is run and protected by docents.
  • Missing the conference organized golden circle tour. The bus left at 9 from the conference hotel. Melissa and my b&b was about a 20 minute walk. Melissa’s alarm didn’t go off. I woke up at about 8:55 and ran to Melissa’s door in a panic.

Then she got to panic while I woke up enough to realize that it didn’t matter how fast we got dressed–we were missing it.

We decided to do our own tour–the circle is merely a route to see the natural wonders. We rented a car, and I navigated. The very first parliament in the world was out in the open, in Iceland, and we got to see where it happened. (Do not go to the visitor center–it’s up a steep hill with nothing but pay toilets. The cool part, the waterfall, is at the parliament site.)

One lingering question from the markers around the site: “The worst forms of incest” got the worst punishments. What are the worst forms? (If you were a woman being put to death for whatever reason you got to be executed, they drowned you.)

The golden circle road is beautiful, with goats and rams and cows and horses and purple lupins. 

Since we weren’t with the tour, we could follow the my pocket guide book’s recommendation for lunch: Efstidalur II–a working dairy farm. I had beef from their cows, trout from their river, ice cream from their dairy (a wall was glass against the barn, so we could watch cows sleep and hang out while eating their milk product).

The other sites along the way are The Gullfuss (golden) Waterfall (rumored to have gold coins lost somewhere) and the geysir area. Geysers are named after a particular one–Geysir, which isn’t currently active. But there are lots, including mini geysir and Srokkur (the churner). 

We also learned about Sigiour Tomasdottir, an early environmentalist and activist.

I would like to say that we learned the answer to this riddle: how many PhDs does it take to get the shower to work in our apartment? All we know is that the answer was more than two.

All in all, Iceland was wonderful. We’ll always miss it and long to return.

This wheelchair was meant for me, but I didn’t use it.

Monkey making friends



2016 Wrap Up
Dec 31st, 2016 by Dr Karma

We all know the ways in which 2016 has sucked.

I’ve cried a lot more this year, over the deaths of heroes, over the death of reasonable elections, over the fear of how much worse it might get.

But there were good things in 2016.

Melissa Bender and I had a book come out.

I spoke at conferences in Spain, Sweden, London, San Diego, Portland, and Chicago (twice).

I saw Love and Information, The Deep Blue Sea, The Suicide, Aubergine, Keith Lowell Jensen, Emo Philips, Blackberry Winter, Macbeth, Igudesman & Joo, Mr. Burns, Women of Will, the Cashore Marionettes, Disgraced, To Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, Frankenstein, Latin History for Morons with John Leguizamo, The Totalitarians, the opening of the Shrem Museum, and The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips.

I did guest lectures and interviews and stage talk backs. I taught courses that I love, films that I love, plays that I love, creative nonfiction that I love.

I taught 15 courses, got my first grad student through her PhD, mentored and performed with my stand-up students, got another Atwood journal out, started prepping for next year’s Oxford course, ran a program, and got chosen to run another.

I made old family favorites and tried new recipes, including my first shepherd’s pie, my first souffle, and my first carnitas. I made tons of soups and stews and proved the worth of my crock pot time and again.

I read books, saw movies, and binge-watched tv.
I recommend The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Fool by Christopher Moore, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Crown, Stranger Things, Westworld, Deadpool, Shaun the Sheep, Arrival, Rogue One, Lady Dynamite, American Housewife by Helen Ellis, Galavant, Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, W1A, anything by John Scalzi, People of Earth, new comedy by Margaret Cho, Jim Gaffigan, Ali Wong, Dana Carvey, Louis CK, David Cross, Patton Oswalt (all on Netflix), World of Tomorrow (Netflix), The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Transparent, One Mississippi, and Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood–my favorite book in years.
I have survived another year.
I’m repeating to myself the lessons in World of Tomorrow: “Do not lose time on daily trivialities. Do not dwell on petty detail. For all of these things melt away and drift apart within the obscure traffic of time. Live well and live broadly. You are alive and living now. Now is the envy of all of the dead.”
And, like its protagonist, I am proud of myself for no longer falling in love with rocks.
Happy New Year!
2016, fucking fuck you:
The Force is With Her, Always
Dec 31st, 2016 by Dr Karma

When I heard that Carrie Fisher had a heart attack on a flight, I thought, “Oh, no–not her, too. Please, no.”

I felt really hopeless about it, though. Of course 2017 would take her away from us.

Now, a few days later, I remind myself that she’ll never be really gone–never be forgotten.

Like every geeky girl, I desperately wanted to be Princess Leia. I had Star Wars memorized. My favorite shirt was an iron-on with the Princess.

Once, I was wearing it when I was sick.

I threw up and then sobbed so uncontrollably that my mother thought I must have cracked a rib. Eventually, I was able to settle down enough to tell her that the crying was because my Princess Leia shirt was ruined. My mother was able to reassure me that the vomit would wash out.

When I outgrew the shirt, I didn’t want to let it go. One day, I decided to turn it into a pillow. Now, I don’t really know how to sew, but I knew I could stumble my way through sewing up the ends. I didn’t know what went into pillows, so I filled it with cotton balls.

As soon as I did so, I realized that must not be what’s in pillows, but the project was almost done!

That pillow has survived a lot of trauma and a lot of moves, including one across the country. It currently lives with the R2D2 in my room.

As I grew up, I began to see Carrie Fisher in new ways–as a writer, a powerful actress, a survivor, and an advocate for mental health.

(Those of us who’d read so much about her relationship with her mother were less surprised by her mother following her into death–it was completely in character.)

I think the most powerful way in which I connected with Fisher, though, was in the use of comedy as a coping mechanism. I’ve often joked that my family crest should have a Byron quote: And if I laugh at any mortal thing, tis that I may not weep.

But I could just as easily use my favorite thing she ever said: If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true.

Chronic Pain: A Comedy
Dec 19th, 2016 by Dr Karma

As some of you know, in the summer, I was in Spain at a narrative health conference. The talks are all addressed to professionals–doctors and teachers talking to doctors and teachers. I participated as a teacher, but listened as a chronic pain patient.

The conference was really interesting, but I kept finding myself frustrated. There were all of these techniques–aimed at letting the patient tell his/her story to the doctor. In other words, instead of just having a doctor actually listen (and take the time to, which is sometimes the hard part), there were “activities” to force it.

And then someone in the audience would ask how they could streamline the activity–you know, to save all that time of listening.

There was also a lot of emphasis on art therapy, which I am behind to an extent, but the idealism at the conference annoyed me sometimes.

One of the organizers asked, “wouldn’t it be great if your doctor put away his diagnostic tool and got out a guitar?”

I leaned over to Melissa and said, “I would punch my doctor if he did that.”

I believe in holistic care, and I mix Western and Eastern techniques in my fight to feel better.

But hey, there’s literally bile in my stomach. And my discs are “desiccated.” And so on. Laughing makes me feel better, but it won’t fix my stomach lining or discs.

That said, stories are immensely important.

After watching me give a couple of presentations in the last few years, a woman suggested I do one woman shows.

“Well, I sort of do–just in shorter form with stand-up comedy.”

(This woman also seemed relieved when she learned I’m originally from the South: “Oh, that makes sense. I was trying to figure you out. I’m normally suspicious of charismatic people, but you always seemed so nice. You’re just Southern.)

This woman is right. I am nice. I am charismatic. I should do a one woman show.

And so that was on my mind when I saw the call for The Storytelling in Health conference this summer in Wales.

I sent them an exploratory email: hey, I could do a regular panel on this, or I could come in as a chronic pain patient and give my narrative–in stand-up form.

And so that’s what we’re going to do.

I’ll have 45 minutes, including a Q&A.

Thrilled. Terrified.

Wondering if a bunch of medical professionals will know they’re supposed to say, “break a leg.”


Turkey Days in Davis
Dec 11th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Many years ago, I was surprised to see a couple of wild turkeys wandering around downtown Davis.

Then, when my backyard shared a fence with the cemetery, I discovered their main hangout–among the graves. The city had to put up a warning.

The cats were fascinated by the turkeys, who would often jump on to our roof. Mahahes would do his bird call to them, but I think he didn’t really understand that if they got close to him, he would be fighting something his own size or bigger.

Turkeys on my roof

Now, our turkey population is estimated to be about 80. They’re stupid and aggressive (like alt-right voters). They’re attacking people and prompting 911 calls (like alt-right voters).

The city council is figuring out what to do.

In the meantime, they’re providing experiences that are uniquely Davis.

A few weeks ago, I was crossing the quad. A couple of people were doing tai chi. A turkey was right up on a small Asian woman. He followed her through the moves, swinging his head to follow her arms, surprised when the arms would swing back toward him. She and her partner (and I) were trying very hard not to laugh.

And failing.

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa