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. At least once a day, I go to the computer to send an email. But then I see another email that I need to answer. So I answer that and some others and completely forget to send the initial email.

34. 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





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.

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.



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.

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