My teef hurt!

•February 23, 2010 • 2 Comments

This is a blog about dentists and memory.

On Monday, I got up very early to go to the endodontist. An endodonist is a dentist with more training and a more confusing title. An edodonist is someone who specializes in root canals, which means they have many, many interesting and frightening tools at their disposal. And because a root canal on my front tooth was infected, I had the pleasure of visiting said super-dentist.

I was not looking forward to it. There was, of course, anesthesia. There was also drilling with tools that sound like lasers from a bad B-movie. I gripped the sides of the chair a lot, closed my eyes, and tried to fall asleep. On the whole, it was painless but it was not pleasant. And, then, when it was all over, the doctor told me something that surprised me: he said the root of the tooth had been broken off by a “trauma,” most like something that happened to me when I was a child.

Trauma. Trauma. What trauma? I tried to think, but nothing came to mind. Yes, I’m the clumsy type, but I also wasn’t very athletic, either. So there really wasn’t a chance I got hit in the face with a baseball, soccer ball or any other flying objects, because typically I wasn’t playing sports. So what was it?

But for about 36 hours, I forgot about what he said. I just popped some Ibuprofen, went to work, came home, went to the gym, came home, popped some more Ibuprofen, went to sleep, woke up the next day and went to work again. And then, tonight, as I left the building, a memory flashed in my brain.

Elementary School. Music class. We had a substitute teacher, who had us playing a game where we passed a blue drumstick-like thing as fast as we could from student to student. Whoever passed it to me — and just, now, as I’m writing this, I think I remember who it was — hit me in the front tooth with the stick. I remember lifting my hand to my mouth, looking down, and seeing that it was covered in blood.

I don’t remember crying. I don’t remember what the teacher said to me. I only remember the metallic taste of blood in mouth, and that I was sent to the nurse. I don’t remember what happened when I got there, or what I said to my parents when I got home from school that day, or if I ever said anything at all. Because school pictures prove I lost my front baby teeth in the first grade, and I’m almost sure this happened later in elementary school, I have a feeling this music-class incident was very likely the trauma that broke the root of my tooth.

I’m not sure why this struck me so much today. I started smiling after the memory came to me, not because it was a happy one but because it was so vivid. And how could one thing in my life now could trigger something so far away in the past? If I’m right, that little elementary school mishap cost me a few hundred dollars two decades later.

Also, I don’t know about you folks out there, but my short-term memory is terrible. And my long-term memory feels farther and farther away. What was important to me, back then? Life can seem so long when you’re in the middle of it, but yet I can’t remember what made my days long when I was a little girl.

Memory is all about triggers. If I think about dentists, or if I think about even teeth, so many different images pop in my mind. I don’t remember my first cleaning, I don’t remember losing my first tooth. But I do remember the small, white pillow my mother gave me when I was little. A tiny pocket was sewn on the front; above it, stitched in blue thread, were the words, “For the tooth fairy.”

Or I think that’s what it said. What I remember for sure is that the pocket was for each baby tooth I lost, to be replaced by a penny or a dime in the morning. I also remember that the pillow was stained from apple juice I spilled, right over the pocket. I wonder now, where did my mother put the baby teeth later, and did she ever tell me? Did I ever ask? And is that kind of thing parents preserve, a tangible thing that recalls the way we are as children?

I have plenty of bad memories about dentists and teeth (and braces. Don’t get me started on the braces). Of course, on a day to day basis, I don’t think about any of these things, nor do I think about what they mean or trigger. But around every little corner, or underneath the sound of a very, very scary endodontist’s drill, float these fleeting, elusive pieces of the past.

Now where the hell is some Ibuprofen?


The Mysteries of 21st Century Adulthood, Jaguar Sharks & Inconclusive evidence

•January 31, 2010 • 4 Comments

My parents are doing a major renovation at their house, which means cleaning out a lot of old boxes, which of course means I recently ended up taking home a bunch of books from my childhood and young adult years. Among them was the Chris Van Allsburg book “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.” Van Allsburg is usually known for illustrating and writing “Jumanji” and the “The Polar Express.” Those are beautiful books, but I think “Harris Burdick” is my favorite. It’s made up of 14 different drawings, each with a title and a brief caption: in one, entitled “Under the Rug” a man holds a chair over his head, as he stares in horror at a giant lump under the carpet; the caption reads, “Two weeks passed and it happened again.” Ah, what a delicious invitation to creativity. I was shy, with a hyperactive imagination, so needless to say, I spent hours looking at the pictures and then sitting in silence as I imagined a back story for each illustration.

I loved the book, because I loved the idea of an endless combination of possibilities. I also loved the idea of mystery, of lives pumped full of excitement and sharp turns of plot at every corner. Didn’t every life unfold in the manner of a classic story? Buildup, conflict, climax and then a neat, lovely denouement?

Dear English teachers, why didn’t you tell me, that my life would be more like The Lady and the Tiger? In other words, there are no easy answers. There are no obvious answers.

This particular blog post won’t have much of a conclusion. It won’t have a conclusion because I haven’t figured things out yet. And that means it’s going to meander. So, sorry.

In my first blog post, I wrote that I’m going through one of those “what does it all mean” periods. And I’m not alone. Lately, it seems like al lot of people I know are at some kind of major crossroads or turning point, whether it be in their careers, their romantic relationships or their friendships. There’s a lot of crying, a lot of hand-wringing, a lot of staring at each other across the table with the same looks in our eyes as if to say, so this is it?

It’s not that life is terrible. There are wonderful things to enjoy. I am one lucky, lucky, lady. I’ve got food, shelter, Internet and Girl Scout Cookies — that is a downright luxurious life.

There are just those days, where you think, wait, wasn’t I just 16, planning the rest of my life yet having no idea what would become of me? Of course, 16 doesn’t exactly sound appealing either. (I could show you a picture of Vianna Davila at that age, but it would have a Medusa-like effect, and then you couldn’t read the rest of this blog post). I just think we naively hope life will be filled with lots of moments like this:

But in reality, I think it’s filled with more moments like this (metaphorically speaking):

No, we are not all in submarines looking for the Jaguar shark that ate our best friend. (although, those red beanies are AWESOME). I think we want to work up the energy to confront things, confront anger, or to make some big kind of splash — but in the end, we are sometimes at a loss to understand it all, and we just have to accept and let go and release all the old frustrations and expectations and love what we have. And that’s the moment when we need all of our friends’ hands on our shoulders.

There’s a great line in this scene, that sums a lot of things up to me, though I couldn’t explain it now. So I’ll just write it.

Cate Blanchett’s character looks down at her soon-to-be-born son. “In 12 years, he’ll be 11 and a half.”

Bill Murray’s Steve Zissou replies, “That was my favorite age.”

Yup, Steve. Ditto.

Blind Spots

•January 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Express-News ran a story and photos today about a visually impaired, transgender drag performer named Alexis Nicole Whitney. I wrote the story, and wonderfully talented photographer Lisa Krantz took the photos.

If you were to click on this story, here, on our Web site and read the accompanying comments section, you would see, at last count, 43 messages. Some are incredibly ugly, some support the article and some don’t make a lot of sense.

Several commenters, when they weren’t decrying our character’s so-called “lifestyle,” said that this wasn’t news.

Let me be upfront. Besides the fact that Alexis is moving to Dallas next weekend, there was no real news hook to this story. That made it a problematic one to run in a Metro news section.

But I argued that this still was news. Well, why? What is news?

I turn again to the comments section. One of the commenters who criticized the piece noted in her diatribe that this isn’t the “San Francisco Express-News.”

Ah, how clever. Point taken. In other words, we are not a liberal city like San Francisco, a metropolis known to be friendly to people with these “different” lifestyles.

Well, first of all, I take the comment as a compliment. If it means I’m challenging someone’s idea of what should happen or should be, then I’ve done my job.

But I think commenters deserve an explanation of why anyone would pursue a story like this, when there is, in theory, nothing inherently newsy about it, at least not in the traditional sense of something happening right this moment: I think this is an ultimately news-worthy story because there are people like Alexis everywhere in this city. Of course, I’m almost entirely surely she is the only visually impaired transgender drag queen in town. But what I mean is, there are transgender people everywhere in San Antonio, and you may just not know it. There are drag shows happening, right now, and you may just not know it. And you don’t have to like it. But I think you should know that it’s out there.

That, to me, is what news is really all about — it’s the story of a place; it’s pulling up the window shade on something, perhaps, you never saw before.

So, in case you missed it, here is Lisa Krantz’s absolutely beautiful slideshow; and the link to my story is above.

Here’s a preview of one of those photos here.


•January 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Holy crap, this song is incredible, and so is the video. The song, “Way Down” is a collaboration between DJs Squeak E. Clean and Dj Zegan, from Brazil. They call their duo N.A.S.A (North America/South America). The video is just….wow.

Here is a link to a very surreal and brief quicktime movie showing the evolution of one scene — the sound seems to cut in and out but it’s still pretty snazzy.

You know, the list of birds I like is a short one: Big Bird; grackles, when they cooperate for a film I’m making; baby birds; I’m sure there are bird dogs that are very nice. In general, I don’t like them. Maybe because a pigeon once slammed into the company vehicle I was driving, knocking out the passenger side mirror. Maybe because I know they used to be dinosaurs, and dinosaurs are definitely more interesting. Who knows why. But I definitely think I will add the birds in this video to the short list of my favorite things from the class Aves.

MLK Edition

•January 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Happy MLK Day, everyone! Sorry, it’s almost over. But one can never learn enough about Martin Luther King Jr. I say this because in recent years, I’ve listened to his most famous speeches again — really listened to them, rather than just paying attention to the snippets they showed us in history class. And they are amazing.

So first, in case anyone needs a little refresher course on Dr. King’s life, specifically the last few years of his life (including a period when he struggled to stay politically relelvant), check out the PBS/American Experience documentary “Citizen King.” It’s amazing! And I’m not supposed to tell you to do this, but it appears several parts of this film are available on YouTube. In order. Ahem, ahem.

Second, I saw this amazing documentary this summer about the days and moments before MLK’s assassination called “The Witness From the Balcony of Room 306”. It’s a lovely film.

Here’s a link to an NPR Morning Edition story on a recently discovered MLK speech.

Here’s a link to the video I did of the MLK march in San Antonio.

Lastly, here’s a video of something I like to remember every now and again, as just a little reminder of how much things have changed since MLK’s life and untimely death.

Yeah, yeah, I know, bleeding heart, bleeding heart, once again. Eh. S’ok.

An earful (or a coffee cup full)

•January 17, 2010 • 3 Comments

The long wait is over. The General Assignment resumes production today. The presses are back on schedule.

The focus of this entry is health, and the adjustments we are forced to make in order to ensure our little bodies stay healthy. It’s also about why, often, these adjustments can be difficult for the habitually unhealthy.

My close friends can tell you that, since I’ve returned home to San Antonio, a week doesn’t pass without me experiencing an incredibly painful ear ache that essentially renders me useless. I get nauseous. I get dizzy. I go through many, many Q-tips in ill-advised attempts to dig the pain out of my ear. Because that’s what it feels like — a knot of highly agitated nerves deep in my ear canal that are tied ever so tightly. I don’t know who else has regular experience with these kinds of things, but if you have, you understand how horrible they can be.

However, since I didn’t have health insurance for a few months, and because when I finally did get insurance, I was lackadaisical about addressing the problem, the ear aches continued, relentlessly. They came up when I was visiting New York in September. They came up at family functions. They came up when a friend was visiting for one night only and I had to tell her we couldn’t go to the VFW for Lone Stars as planned. That’s when I knew how much I hated them.

So, this week, I finally saw an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist. If you’ve never seen one, please, go, right now, just to get a look at the gadgets they have in there! Machines that measure the pressure in your ears and print small receipts with tiny little graphs on them! Machines that measure the waves coming out of your ears! I even did a hearing test, one of those, raise your hand whenever you hear the beep things. It was pretty much the best visit I’ve had at a doctor’s office since my pediatrician used to prescribe that very yummy pink medicine that looked like Pepto Bismal but wasn’t.

But here’s the best part — the doctor told me there’s actually something wrong with me. I may actually have a disease!

Um, ok, you may ask. Why does this make me excited?

Because there’s a NAME for what I’m feeling. And there’s something I can do about it.

The doctor believes I have something called Meniere’s Disease. In complex terms, it’s a change in fluid in the part of the inner ear called the labyrinth (there’s a problem with my labyrinth! Where’s David Bowie??). In simple terms, it means I can feel like crap at any moment, thanks to my ear getting funky. My doctor said the causes are up for debate: some people with the disease suffered from numerous ear infections as a child, which I did; others had previously experienced head trauma, which I haven’t; and there are others who suffer from the problem for no discernible reason.

There’s also no known cure. But one can take preventative measures.

Here’s where the bad news comes in. The doctor suggested four things I can do to lessen the chances I’ll get more ear aches: reduce nicotine use (no problem: I don’t smoke); reduce salt intake (eh, I can deal with that); reduce alcohol intake (oh, well…what?) and reduce caffeine intake (WHAT????).

I delicately asked what he meant by reduce caffeine intake, since I don’t drink every day and decided I would figure that one out on my own. He smiled, in a very kind yet you’re-out-of-luck kid way. One cup of coffee is fine in the morning, he said gently. After that….not so much.

In the doctor’s office, I wasn’t so concerned. He said I could still have coffee, right? And some alcohol is OK, right? No problem! So when the appointment was over, I promptly got in my car and drove to Starbucks for a latte. That evening, I promptly went home and had a little sip of wine.

Then, I moved on to Day 2. I bought my regular cup of coffee in the morning, and I did my best to stretch it out as long as I could. But around 3 or 4 p.m., I was desperate for another caffeine fix. Suddenly, I realized, this meant no more ice tea at lunch or the occasional caffeinated soft drink. No longer could I say “yes” when one of our editors, bound for an afternoon coffee run, asked if I wanted him to bring me back something.

Oh, dear.

On Day 3, I tried to wiggle out of my dilemma — I ordered a Grande coffee at Starbucks instead of my usual Tall. My doctor didn’t specify a size! But again, by the afternoon, I was ready for a ritalin shot. I held strong as far as caffeine goes. Then, that evening, I met some work friends for drinks and I promptly ignored the doctor’s orders.

But what’s more important? Caffeine fix, socializing over a gin and tonic or addressing my health problems?

These are the questions of our adult lives.

I still remember my first cup of coffee. I was studying for an economics midterm my junior year of high school at IHOP. I slowly sipped at it, slightly put off by the bitter taste but wanting to impress my friend Erin, who was already disappointed I’d never tried coffee before. I continued to sip as I studied microeconomics, the language of supply and demand, market failure and fixed costs. I barely made it through that class in high school, and I still have a rudimentary understanding of economics; but I have never, ever lost the taste for coffee I developed that night.

Now it’s strange, to tell the waitress not to refill my coffee cup after getting tacos. It’s strange to think, well do I really need a glass of wine or a beer to relax after a long day at work? I don’t have an addictive personality, but I do like ritual: the ritual of a cup of coffee or tea at my side; the ritual of a little drink with my dinner.

Part of me thinks I shouldn’t write about this at all, because anyone who reads this blog could possibly chide me when they see me entertaining one of the aforementioned vices. But, please, don’t get me wrong — I’m not going to give up all the fun stuff. The doctor also said that, if his diagnosis is right, my case doesn’t seem too severe. So, I’m following Aristotle’s lead on this one: everything in moderation.

Besides, there’s always a chance the doctor’s dianosis is wrong….right?

Oh, and for anyone wondering what a person suffering from Meniere’s disease looks like, here’s the pamphlet the doctor provided me.


•January 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’m at a loss for words about the situation in Haiti following a devastating 7.0 earthquake that struck Tuesday; in fact, I had planned to write about something else today, but the tragedy is so great, and the images are everywhere I look, that I felt compelled to at least devote one blog post to it.

Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. According to the US State Department’s Haiti Web site, “there are no ‘safe’ areas” in the country. This NY Times op-ed by Tracy Kidder offers a brief history of Haiti and how it ended up in an economic and political predicament even before the earthquake hit (and yes, America has played quite a hand in this situation). Also check out the newspaper’s Times Topics section on Haiti, which aggregates numerous articles and summaries about the country and the earthquake.

If you feel like giving, and somehow you missed ways to do it, here are some of the simplest ways I’ve seen to donate a few dollars:

*Text HAITI to 90999, and $10 will be given to the Red Cross; it comes out of your phone bill. It works — you will text the number, get a confirmation text back, and then you reply YES.

*Former President Bill Clinton has mentioned this other means of giving: text HAITI to 20222 and $10 will be given to UN Relief Efforts.

If you’re looking for a long list of ways to give, has listed many resources, some of them local, here: How to Help Haiti’s Quake Victims

Also, here’s a story by San Antonio Express-News reporter Vincent T. Davis, about local aid heading to Haiti.

As far as videos, here’s a Frontline World online rough cut about a Haitian musician and first-time Haitian music festival from 2007.

Also, below is a video showing images of Haiti pre-earthquake, set to Arcade Fire’s beautiful song “Haiti.” The band has also listed ways to help on its Web site. What’s striking about this and the Frontline video is that they show Haiti as a real country, not just a ravaged one. Now I look at the faces and wonder, where are these people now, and are they OK?