SCIENCE

Slash and Burn

enhanced-2956-1398019791-13 So, as loyal readers know, I had surgery last week.  The tl;dr version of what I had done and why is this: due to PCOS it was in my best interests to firebomb my lady bits. More info can be found at that link. Anyway, I wanted to tell you all about my experience (because documenting life is what I do, and also because it was the most positive hospital experience I've had that didn't involve a baby coming home with me.)

(As I write this, the painkillers have kicked in, so if I randomly interject "I love you", or commit egregious typos, you will no why. I'm so mellow right now, my aura is tie-dye.)

So, Wednesday morning I arrived at the Greenbaum Surgical Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. I mention the place because as you'll see it was just that damn good and I recommend it to anyone needing the services they provide. No food or water after midnight, so I was thirsty and nervous enough to not be hungry. One woman checked me in, and she was super sweet. This would set the tone for the rest of the experience. Every nurse, every doctor and every receptionist at this place was fantastic. My comfort was first and unless it was something I couldn't have (like water before surgery), they were very accommodating.

After a short wait in the waiting room where my brain cells died a slow death at the hand of the Today Show, I was escorted back into the prep area. My vitals were taken (my blood pressure rocks! Thanks, Grandpa!) and I was given a purple hospital gown. I had just been lamenting the fact that kids get superheros on their gowns and adults get crap. This gown--while it didn't have TARDISes or Loki--was pretty nice. Purple with straps that wrapped around the body rather than tying in back and leaving my lesser virtues out in the breeze. And there were slits in the sides and shoulders to accommodate the telemetry wires. Also, there was this tiny pocket on the front. I found out later that it wasn't for M&Ms or anything...

"I Love You" in circular Gallifreyan

...the nice nurse led me to my pre-surgery bed where she hooked up a hose to that small pocket. Hot air was blasting through it to keep me warm in the very chilly hospital. SCORE!

I hung out there fore a while, eschewing the television they offered because I was giggling on Twitter or with my mom. Another nurse came to take a bit of blood and test my blood sugar. She went through my name and birthdate for the 30th time that day, verifying that I am who it says I should be on the chart. She also set the IV line and told me what to expect with the upcoming procedure.

Next I met the anaesthesiologist. We talked about my history with surgery and how I typically don't wake up well from a general.

"I tend to come up swinging punches." "I'll be sure to stand far away, then," he answered.

He didn't have to. He set me up with some nice shit. But I get ahead of myself.

So, he injected a clear fluid into the line and within a minute I felt it going to my head. It was, he said, something for anxiety. As they wheeled me into the operating room, my head was spinning inexorably toward bliss and I was ready for anything...as long as it involved kitties and soft meadows and Tom Hiddleston. They were playing country music in the OR and I didn't even snarl! They spread my arms out to my sides and started putting blood pressure cuffs and other monitors on me.

Then it all fades to black. Then I'm dreaming for about 10 seconds before opening my eyes.

"How do you feel, Jamie?" a new voice asks. "Cold," I say from behind a mask.

That was it. No thrashing. No confusion. No panic. Just cold. She cranked up the heat from that hose and put a warm blanket over my bare shoulders. She checked my pain and gave me some painkillers in my IV line before removing that tube. As I woke up, we chatted and she gave me some ice, then eventually some ginger ale.

I was out of the recovery room about 15 minutes after I woke up.

I felt fabulous the rest of the day. I mean, yeah, I hurt a bit or had bouts of sleepy, but considering I'd just been laproscopically spayed, that was amazing. I've got a small incision at my bikini line and one in my bruised navel. No stitches. There's surgical glue or steri-strips.

enhanced-3585-1398019195-3Over the past few days I've been up and down as far as pain is concerned. I'm exhausted after showering, yet feel like I should be doing more. I've only got these two little incisions, right? And everything is still in there. It's not like I had pieces of me taken out.

Anyway... all in all, this has been positive. The pain I'm in is on par with the worst menstrual periods I've had in my life, but manageable. I'm taking minimal amounts of the prescribed painkillers and resting as much as I can.

So that's been me these past few days.  I go back in 2 weeks for a follow-up with my doctor.

This weekend I'll be at LepreCon. (You can read about that here.) And until then I plan on resting up, healing and playing ungodly amounts of FIFA13 on the Wii. (Getting that game into my hands has been an odyssey.)

How are you?

Joy of Discovery

nye_ham_wide-95bd3d0d1113f407915a4633e23675ddf188daf5-s6-c30So, like many people I've been engaged by the debate between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Ken Ham (CEO of the Creation Museum). While I have a cynical side that says this debate was little more than a way to perpetuate the wedge between science-minded individuals and those who eschew science in favor of intelligent design, I am at heart a humanist and optimist. I have to believe in the best of my fellow man and think that this dialogue is a good thing. I've watched the debate, read responses, followed Twitter feeds. I've oscillated between apoplectic rage and fist-pumping excitement at all of the above. And for the most part--other than a few tweets or posts on Facebook--I've promised myself I won't engage this publicly. Not in any lengthy form at least. That would take a while, and I admit fully that I am not an objective observer.

However, there is one part of the debate that when I listened to it, I could not help but react with volcanic magnitude.

DISCLAIMER: This is not going to be about who's "right" or "wrong". This is not going to engage creation vs evolution, or devolve into Team Nye or Team Ham. What follows is my reaction to a specific piece of Ham's testimony.

During the debate, Mr. Nye was asked questions to which he didn't have answers--questions SCIENCE is still trying to answer. When Mr. Nye explained, "I don't know," he did so with great glee and relish. He went on to say that science takes joy in the discovery of the answers to these questions.

Mr. Ham then responded with the following:

"You talk about the 'joy of discovery', but you also say that 'when you die it's over'...If when you die, it's over and you don't even remember being here, and no one who knew you remembers being here, what's the point of the joy of discovery anyway? In an ultimate sense?"

That... that paragraph terrifies me. More than that, it makes me sad. It breaks my heart.

What's the point if we're not going to remember it? What's the point? WHAT'S. THE. POINT?

First of all, I will address the simpler part of this atrocity. "If no one remembers, what's the point?" I admit that my head is all twisty at this sentence. This implies that all action, creation, speech--LIFE--is meaningless unless it is documented or in some other way remembered. It's not hard to see where this idea comes from. Our culture is one of memory sticks and terabyte hard drives. Mr. Ham's religion stems from an oral tradition passed down for centuries before being compiled into the books of the Old Testament. Humanity has always valued the past. Some of this is for survival: remember the footprints of this prey or the breeding grounds of that quarry or the shapes of poisonous leaves. But we are also creatures of sentiment.

aliens

Perhaps family bonds began as evolutionary strategy, maybe we were created with the capacity to love, or perhaps aliens implanted the chemicals that control our emotions: the point is that we assign value to people, places, things and experiences. We remember because--for one reason or another--it is important to do so.

With that in mind, I can see where Mr. Ham would make the leap in his logic that a life that simply ends has therefore carried with it no meaning. I disagree strongly, but I can see where the leap has been made.

And I think it's based on fallacy.

Here's the thing...I don't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but the nutrients--or lack thereof--are still with me today. It matters because of simple cause-effect. Similarly, if I develop Alzheimer's or dementia in my later years, the fact that I would not remember whole portions of my life would not invalidate it. If a man dies alone and no one mourns him, the choices he made in his life still leave echoes in the lives of many. If I die and that's all she wrote, I will not remember, but I *did* remember during my time. I still made discoveries and told stories and touched lives. And though those who would remember me will one day die as well, our very culture ensures that we pass on knowledge. Pluck a single violin string, then mute it and the others will still vibrate. The knowledge of fire didn't die with the first proto-humans to harness it, and thus our discoveries are not made in a vacuum.

Furthermore, I think Mr. Ham's rebuttal fails to understand the very essence of joy itself. Joy is present for joy's sake. Why eat more than bread and water? Why make music beyond one note? Why tell stories or ask questions to begin with if not for joy? Why bother with life at all if not for heart-rending, mind-boggling, skin-tingling joy?

Humanity would never have left the caves if life didn't have some meaning to it. Death wouldn't sting if life wasn't so glorious in and of itself. Our lives are given meaning and value by the experiences, connections, choices and events in them--and the fact that we can be snuffed out as quickly as a candle.

What's the point?

While we all need to figure that out for ourselves and discern why we as individuals continue to carry on breathing every day, I think the answer to the greater question is right there in that befuddling paragraph.

Joy.

If we are created in the image of an intelligent designer, then s/he knew that, too. Why create us at all?

Because it was fun to do it in the first place.

Fail

Last night I heard one of the most glorious stories of epic failure ever conjured by reality. It's so rare that you get something so juicy without a script, but this gem was mined straight from headlines.

Sir John Gurdon, is a British stem-cell researcher. Unless you're a bio-engineering groupie, however, his name might not ring any bells. Doctor Gurdon attended Eton, Oxford and is a Fellow of the Royal Society. His work has garnered several awards over the years, most recently the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Pretty impressive resume, I'd say. However, before he was "Sir" Gurdon, Johnny caused some trouble for his teachers. In fact, one of his high school science teachers said that since Gurdon preferred to "do things his own way" it would be a waste of time for him to continue learning the sciences. Hell, the professor continued saying that it would be a horribly bad idea for anyone who tried to teach this boy science. For sixty years, Sir John Gurdon has carried that report card with him. And now, he's a Nobel Laureate.

Many things about this story make me happy (dude, that stodgy professor--who's probably dead--just got pwned!), but some things just astound me. And some aspects make me think... Sixty Years

That's 1952... That teacher's nay-saying voice has been rattling around this man's head for as long as my mother has been alive. That in and of itself boggles my mind. There were no men on the moon when he took that report card home. Kennedy was alive and not even on the political radar. There were no Beatles. Not even Quarrymen! Just remnant shock from World War II and poodle skirts.

We hear this story--or variations on it--all the time. It's part of the underdog fixation. Tell someone they can't and watch them exceed expectations, right? Hell, I have been told that by a few people in my time. We've all been told at some point that we aren't enough. Most people believe this about themselves and just stop there, letting the broken record of it play into perpetuity. Believe me, I know this. Self-deprecation is the basis of my sense of humor. Without it, I'm a talentless hack whose only chance at a funny bone is banging a circus clown. Anyway, these rejections and slights from childhood/adolescence stick with us. Over time, those infinite loops of "you're not good enough" can erode one's bliss......or it can strengthen it.

You can choose how you let those voices control you. You can choose to listen to those report cards, or you can box them up and ship them straight off to Hell.

This is something I'm consciously working on right now in my personal life. I've got a lot of fat-shaming voices in my head that I'm trying to snuff out, but their roots run deep. Like first grade deep. I have to do this, though. I have to eradicate that shit because it's not healthy. It's not productive...even if it has been worth hours of jokes at my own expense over the past few decades. For a long time, those particular voices have not been helpful, they've hurt me. I've said for a while now that of all the wounds I've survived, I've inflicted most of them upon myself.

It takes work to tell the "good" voices from the "bad" ones. Snarky inner dialogue is a constant for me and is a good motivator. It's what keeps me going. The voices that tell me I am a "talentless, ass-dragging sea creature who couldn't write her way out of a wet paper sack" are toothless tigers at this point in my life. I can laugh at them and gain strength from the knowledge that they're wrong. But it's not always so easy to deal with.

I know authors and artists that are dealing with this, too. I know that every query rejection is another voice to add to the chorus of fear in your head. You get enough of these voices together and it can paralyze you. Don't let it. "What if they laugh at me? What if I fail? What if I'm not good enough?"

Who cares? Fail! Fail gloriously! Write the words you want to write, tell your story, paint your masterpiece, sing your arias and dance rings around the world if that's where it's at for you, but do it. If you fall on your face, you get back up. If you fail, do it with style and pinache. Do it, learn from it, and do it again...only this time better.

That's what goes into every brick on your path. Try try again.

Don't be afraid to fail. Aim for the sun, shoot for the moon, give it everything you can...but just fucking do it. Failure is its own success, so it is always an option.  What about you? What voices are you trying to kick in the junk and evict from your brainpan?

Nerdmaste, my friends.

Things That Make You Go, "WTF?!"

Good morning, folks. I hope your weekend was better than mine. I've got some caffeine and a bit of a rant brewing.

It is, of course, an election year and therefore everyone and their mother is sticking some appendage into their mouth or talking out of their ass.

By now you've probably heard about Republican candidate Todd Akin's outrageous and egregious claim about "legitimate rape" not leading to pregnancy. If you didn't, allow me to inform you. The Missouri nominee for a senate seat said,

"From what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy as a result of rape is] really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist."

Oh, sweethearts and dear ones, I don't know where to start with this one. Okay, that's a bit of a fib, I know exactly where I want to start, but I understand that some of you may not want to get into politics. That's fine. Those of you who do...let's get together after the jump and dive into the cesspool that is Horribly Stupid Soundbytes from Political Figures!

*Possible trigger warning. We will be talking about rape/sexual assault. 

Okay...for one moment let's forget that this is even about abortion. Okay? We're not going to talk about pro-choice/pro-life, ultrasounds, birth control or women's rights. We're going to focus solely on this gem of ignorance brought to us from Mr. Akin.

"Legitimate Rape"  What in the bloody blue blazes of Satan's scrotum constitutes "legitimate rape"? Here's how I understand it: Person A makes an unwanted sexual advance on Person B. Person B makes it known through physical cues or a simple "no" that these advances are unwanted. When Person A presses the issue and forces sexual activity to happen... this equals rape.

I know that our society likes to muddy the waters by taking pages from the Blame the Victim playbook. Rather than educate our youth that rape is wrong, we're telling our girls not to leave the house dressed like sluts. We're conditioning more women who will internalize assault as their fault and therefore be less likely to come forward. It does not help when judges let known rapists go because they feel the women were asking for it. It's true. Click the link and be prepared to calm your gag reflex.

So, is Mr. Akin saying that "legitimate rape" is one where a woman is ushered off the street into a back alley and violated by a stranger? According to Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), nearly 60% of all reported rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Does Mr. Akin feel that "date rape" is a sketchy area because clearly the woman wanted to be with this man, therefore, she can't possibly have been "legitimately raped"? I'd like to know what the would-be senator feels on this matter, but he hasn't clarified this statement. (Sure, he's walked it back and tried to weasel out of it, but he stayed away from explaining this particular phrase.)

Rape is rape. If Person A is told NO, but continues anyway? Done.

"A Really Rare Thing" Mr. Akin seems to be focusing on the idea that getting pregnant as a result of sexual assault is akin to finding a four-leaf clover. (We'll get to his reasoning why shortly, believe me.) But, there is some factual basis to this part. The US Department of Justice estimates that 5% of one-time unprotected sexual encounters will end in pregnancy. That's rather low, to be sure. There are many factors that may contribute to or skew this figure--particularly when trying to apply it to incidences of rape or incest--however, RAINN estimates that in one year, 3,204 assaults (out of the nationally reported 64,080) will end in pregnancy.

The frightening thing about RAINN's statistics, however, is that a woman is more likely to get pregnant from an assault than her attacker is to spend a single day in jail.

"...ways to shut that down..."

This is where Mr. Akin's statement takes a turn for the wacky and truly terrifying. While yes, we women are graced with a body that does amazing things in the nether regions, I think Mr. Akin gives a little too much credit to the feminine mystique. According to his statement, I've got a vagina rigged with trip wire, laser sensors and high explosives that James Bond couldn't get into with all the help from Q. And if he did manage to Mission: Impossible his way in there with his secret agent sperm, I'd have my uterus on lockdown faster than you could say Pussy Galore.

Look, it doesn't work that way. You see, a woman has no natural failsafe. Any college co-ed will tell you that we cannot will ourselves to Please God Don't Let Me Be Pregnant any more than a man can make one big boob by smooshing both of them together. We are not so in touch with our strange and mystical ovaries that we can make them stop the presses.

Funny thing: we all learned this in school. Biology class is nifty. Granted that Mr. Akin comes from the generation of "put an aspirin between your knees" birth control, but I'm pretty sure he went to school before No Child Left Behind started to dumb down the masses.

Akin says that he got this information from doctors. Unless those doctors are the same high school girls who think that you won't get pregnant if you have sex in a pool, spin around 3 times and bark like a dog after he comes... I'm dubious of Mr. Akin's sources. I'm betting they look like that guy up there.

At least he finishes off with a bang, that cooky Mr. Akin. He says that if our wily vaginas don't manage to purge the invader semen, the rapist should be punished. That's fantastic. I'm glad he's on our side. (See above reporting statistics and the average that 97% of rapists walk free.)

There Should Be Some Punishment Here's the thing: Would-Be-Lawmaker Todd Akin is right. There should be some punishment. Rapists should be held accountable, women should feel they can report these attacks without the blame-the-victim bullshit that inevitably ensues and we should live in a world where a football stadium full of people are not assaulted every year. However, there are these roadblocks standing in the way of that utopia. They're called "politicians". Redefining rape, trying to package rape and abortion, using them as wedge issues and ammunition in an onslaught against women's rights... Yeah, to put it bluntly, they suck. And there should be a punishment for that level of stupidity. It's fine to be that ignorant in the privacy of your own home, but when it affects my uterus, you're done.

It reminds me of John Waters (filmmaker of such cult classics as Hairspray, Cry-Baby and Pecker). He once said that if you go home with someone and you can't see any books, don't fuck them. I think we need to impose a similar rule in politics.

So, here's what I want you to do.

If you think that Akin and other such people seeking office on a platform that spews ignorance and outright lies.... Don't vote for them. Period. Don't let this shit into a position of power. If he doesn't have a grasp of 4th grade biology, he doesn't get to play with your rights or money. Savvy?

If you aren't sure, you're still on the fence and want to see what's what? Pick up a book. Educate yourself. Scour Google for hours and use reputable sources, not just Wikipedia. Feed your head with knowledge, then, once you've done that... Don't vote for this shit.

If you agree with Mr. Akin and think he speaks gold-plated gospel... DON'T VOTE. Period. It's your civil right to vote, sure, but if you're completely off reality and scientific fact in the process, you've ceased to live in our country and now inhabit the same plane as unicorns, snozwankers and vermicious knids. Feel free to blow bubbles into your chocolate milk and fuck some electric sheep, but please, don't screw up my reality because you've abandoned it.

Nerdmaste, my friends.

EDIT 8pm, 8/20 - Two things have been brought to my attention since I posted this this morning and I wanted to give them a place here. 1) A dear friend of mine made the comment, "No doesn't mean no. No is implied until removed." This is an excellent point. She went on to explain that the burden of consent should not be on the victim, yet that is where we place it. She finishes off her statement saying that if there is already a blanket consent--for example, in a pre-existing relationship--it is up to the "victim" to communicate when sex is off limits. I think she's got an amazing point when it comes to where we place the burden of consent. It's something to think on.  And 2) Someone shared this open letter to Todd Akin by renowned feminist and writer Eve Ensler. Read it. Have kleenex handy. --jw

iGrieve

  http://jmak.tumblr.com/post/9377189056Like most people in the world, I did not know Steve Jobs personally. I never met him, never sat in the same room while he gave a speech and never so much as caught a glimpse of him through a car window.
Like some people in the world, I'm not a Mac user. I don't have an iPhone and I often joke that some of my friends are tethered to the Apple teat.
But like everyone in the world, my life has been changed because of Steve Jobs. The first computer I used in a school was an Apple II. In college, I learned how to use music writing software on a Mac. My iPod has saved my sanity on more than one occasion.
I think the biggest effect Steve Jobs had on my life, though, wasn't in his inventions, but his attitude. Steve Jobs knew what most of us creative types know: you have to fail. It's always an option and it's the only way we learn. Jobs made mistakes and kept moving forward through them. Steve Jobs took chances. One of the best risks he ever took was backing a tiny upstart group of geeks and writers in Emeryville, California back in the 80s. You know them today as Pixar.
I list Pixar as one of my most prevalent influences. No, I don't write material for kids, but then, that's not what Pixar does either. Pixar tells stories. Plain and simple. And their stories are good. I strive to find that level of mastery in my craft. Toy Story, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Wall-E... The world would not have those stories if someone hadn't given those geeks a chance. I am grateful not just to those at Pixar, but to Steve Jobs for making it all possible. For believing in someone else's skills enough to say, "Go for it."
When I heard the news last night that Steve Jobs had died, I cried. I've been in a state of mourning since then and part of me feels incredibly stupid for feeling so deeply about a man I never met. Say what you will about money and industry and business or bicker about being a PC or a Mac, complain about updates or lack thereof... but Steve Jobs touched our lives in ways we may never understand. The full scope of his life will not fit on a microprocessor or a nano. He was more than tech.

Steve Jobs was a dreamer. A visionary. An artist.

The world is different because he lived.
Thank you, Steve. Shine on.