Thursday, June 29, 2017

Academically Dead Poetry Students' Society

I wish Robin Williams were still here.

I never actually studied until December of my freshman year of high school. up to that point i had been with students who were essentially my own age. It wasn't difficult to keep pace with or, for that matter, to stay ahead of most of my age-level peers. Even when Matthew and I were moved to eighth grade halfway through our seventh-grade year, it wasn't much of a strain.  I  don't recall ever failing to finish regular homework assignments. Homework in elementary and middle school usually involved an assigned thirty minutes of reading, which had to be done at home. My parents required that we do homework or read for ninety nightly minutes Monday through Thursday anyway, but I've always loved to read, so it wasn't a chore. The only real homework I had up to that point was the two or so times per year that special projects were assigned. 

When i was in ninth grade or a freshman, my English teacher assigned George Orwell's Animal Farm as the second required novel. The previous assigned novel had been Sleep, Two, Three, Four by John Neufeld.  My mom was concerned because one of these books we had read when just before were in second grade, and the other was even less cerebral. (Animal Farm is a great work and can be approached on many different levels, but the level at which it was being approached in our English literature class wasn't suitable for a college preparatory course.) 

My mother made an appointment with our guidance counselor to discuss what she felt was inadequate curriculum. When the guidance counselor didn't see anything wrong with the reading selections, my mother had the two of us switched to another guidance counselor's case load, then made an appointment to meet with our new guidance counselor. The new counselor sympathized with my mom's concerns, but didn't see any clear alternative. She initially said that we would have to stick it out and to supplement our reading with more erudite works, but after looking at even Matthew's test scores, concluded that we didn't necessarily have to remain enrolled in freshman English.

The only remotely suitable English class in fourth period, which was the class period that we had English, was Honors English IV.  It didn't seem wise to disrupt our total schedules, as we would be switching instructors in core subject courses, who taught sub-topics in different sequences. We would inevitably miss some topics and repeat others. The easiest solution, as unpopular as it would make us in the class, was to enroll us in the honors English IV section in fourth period. This change was to be made in early October of the school year, which would have found us not yet thirteen years of age; nearly all of our classmates would have been seventeen at the time. Matthew and I had some experience in being in classrooms with upperclassmen, as enrollment in specific math and science courses was contingent upon what courses a student had successfully completed. I had finished Algebra II in eighth grade. Matthew had completed geometry. It was the norm for such to be the case with regard to math and science, however. English classes, unless they were remedial -- and few were at our school, though our English class was, in some ways, being taught as a remedial course -- were expected to be grouped according to grade level, with the only exceptions being students who had completed grade-level English courses in summer school.

We lived in a small university city with a relatively educated population. Part of our faculty each year included either students attending the local university in doctoral programs, or post-doctoral students who had secured adjunct faculty status at the university; they hoped that by sticking around as part-timers with the university, they would eventually be offered full-time professor positions. Meanwhile, they needed to eat, so they taught at one or the other of the local high schools. An act of violence I suffered two years later at school notwithstanding, the student population at our school was largely civilized.  We were not surrounded by thugs. The girls especially, while they may have been less than thrilled with my presence in the class and were less than welcoming, were no physical threat to me.  Matthew was probably not in any serious danger from the boys in the class, either, but he kept his mouth shut just to be safe. The girls in the class thought Matthew was the most adorable little boy on whom they had never lain eyes. Older women nearly always feel that way about Matthew.

Matthew and I transferred into the class in the first week of October. The instructor was just starting her English (as in from England, or British, not as in in the English language; American literature, including poetry, was part of English III curriculum) poetry unit, which would continue through November and December, with the culminating examination taking place on the next-to-last day prior to winter break.  The last day before break would be a minimum student attendance day, allowing teachers time to mark exams and issue final semester grades. The poetry bored Matthew to an even more senseless state than the one in which he typically wandered about. He would have been more than willing to switch right back to English I and Animal Farm had the option been offered to him. Many of our classmates apparently shared his feelings. They were bored with poetry, they were mildly insulted that a couple of freshmen were thrown into their class, and they seemed to be plagued with worse than average cases of senioritis, which describes a state of complacency and apathy sometimes experienced by high school seniors.

Class attendance began to drop noticeably. On any given day, only roughly half the seniors made appearances.  Those who came were most often not attentive, usually reading other material or completing work from other classes.  Soon we began to discern a pattern: the students who attended one day would not be present on the next day. Those who had been absent that day would  show up the next day. Then on the following day, those who had been absent on the previous day would be in attendance and those who attended wouldn't be present. The only students who attended every day were Matthew, I, and a girl who was a junior, who was, if anything, even more of an outcast then Matthew and I were. Our teacher was clearly puzzled but didn't think it was her problem to do anything other than to take attendance and to report her attendance. She did start giving quizzes once a week to encourage student attendance, but the quizzes seemed not to encourage anything other than maintenance of the status quo.  The attendance office should have and presumably did notify the seniors' parents of their absences through the district's automated absence notification telephone system. Sometimes, if those messages went to home phones, kids erased them before their parents listened to them. I believe the messages now go to parents' cell phones via text messages, but back then, not all parents knew how to send or receive text messages.

Matthew, I, and the girl who was a junior continued to attend class each day and to take notes, along with the one person who appeared to be the designated note-taker for the seniors. The others attended every other day. Class discussions were nonexistent. The teacher asked a question every now and then. I usually answered if no one else did just because the silence was deafening and so very awkward.

The last regular class session preceding the exam was largely a review for the exam. All the students were present that day. They asked questions about the test and took notes regarding the test format and what would be covered. They were all greatly relieved to hear that the test would be open book and open access to notes. The test would not take place until two days later, as our final exam schedule for the semester allowed double-length for each class so that teachers could give more in-depth exams and students' test experiences could more fully prepare them for the intensity of university final exams. 

Even though I had not studied before that semester, I understood that the course was for university credit (with a satisfactory score on the AP exam), which made the stakes higher than they had been in courses I had previously taken. Additionally, there was a bit of parental pressure to perform so that my mother would not appear retroactively as a fool for having insisted that Animal Farm wasn't suitable as reading material for her precocious children.  While it would seem that the three of us who attended class daily were ahead of the game by simple virtue of having shown up for class, each night I painstakingly transcribed and organized my notes from English class. The two nights before the test, after completing what I needed to study for the finals for my other courses, I recopied all of my notes from the entire unit, putting their content on three-inch-by-five-inch note cards according to poet so that they could be indexed, alphabetized, and the material easily located as needed during the exam. It took until the wee hours of Thursday morning to complete this task, and I hid in my bathroom while finishing so that I wouldn't be forced back into bed by whichever parent might have found me. 

When fourth period on the Thursday before vacation had found us all (except for the probably one or two students who were sick, as someone was always sick) in the English classroom, the teacher was dismayed to see all of the seniors in the class with identical photocopies of notes.  As she distributed copies of the test, she announced that it would be, as stated earlier, an open-book test, but that the use of notes would be disallowed. Matthew, the junior, and I groaned. The collective sound from the seniors in the class was more of a unison cry of protest. The teacher told them that at the completion of the test, they were free to complain to counselors or administrators as long as the counselors and administrators cared to listen to them, but the test would proceed in the manner she dictated.  As a way of compensating for the time and trouble a few of us had taken with our notes, she offered twenty-five points extra exam credit for any complete set of notes that were not xerox copies of anyone else's notes. The three of us who actually had notes that were not xeroxed copies of someone else's hurried to locate ours, scrawled our names on them, and handed them to her. Twenty-five points of extra credit on a one-hundred-point test was too good an opportunity on which to pass even if it would make us pariahs to the seniors while adding nails to their respective academic coffins they had effectively constructed around themselves. One of the seniors complained about my note cards and said they weren't class notes. I could have argued with him, but instead, I took out the compilation of both my original notes and the nightly transcriptions of them, put my name on the top sheet, and handed that to the teacher. "Oh, my God!" one of the girls snarled, rolling her eyes as my teacher smiled down at my voluminous notes.

As I began looking over the test, I wasn't especially confident. I had counted on using my notes and didn't commit to memory things that I otherwise might have. Consoling myself with the thought that the gift of twenty-five points on the test could probably dig me out of any hole in which my lack of access to my notes placed me, I began to focus upon the three sections of the test.
The first part consisted of ten poetry passages -- mostly couplets -- to be matched to fifteen listed poets. Silently cursing those who showed up with the photo-copied notes which would have allowed me to easily match, I read more closely. A smile came to my lips as I recognized lines from what I had laboriously hand-written the night before.  Lines from William Blake, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth. Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Donne, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and I cannot remember who else [it's been a long time] stood prominently before my eyes. 

The second portion of the test was multiple choice concerning basics of poetry. It included such particulars as what meter most of Shakespeare's sonnets were written in, what was the configuration of an Italian sonnet, examples of alliteration, assonance, and everyone's favorite, onomatopoeia.  It was so very basic that most of the seniors probably answered most of the questions in this section correctly.

I eased through the matching questions, filled in the blanks more easily still, then went on to the twelve short essay questions. We were asked to respond to just ten of the twelve. A closer look revealed that the test questions had been questions the teacher asked in class during lectures. I could recall having written the questions in my notes, and I could recall answers I had written to the questions. The first question asked for comparison and contrast of "The Waste Land" and "The Hollow Men," both by T.S. Eliot. I hurriedly regurgitated what I had written the night before on the note card, adding a brief original thought just so that the teacher would know that I was capable of original thought.  The next essay  question required an explanation  for the irony found on the statue inscription in "Ozymandius."  This, too, could be answered verbatim from the notes. Though I didn't have the notes upon which to rely, something had magically transpired in the copying of the notes, solidifying the information in my brain. I completed that short essay, again adding my own original thought to the teacher's lecture content. Another question referenced Rudyard Kipling's "Recessional," asking the student whether Kipling's writings likely indicated racism on his part or, rather, a mocking and derisive commentary on pervasive British attitudes toward race at the time. The essay questions that followed were equally straightforward and from lecture notes. I answered questions consecutively until I had completed the first ten. Because I still had twenty minutes remaining, I answered all twelve because I had nothing better to do with the time on the outside chance that the teacher might offer additional extra credit for answering all twelve essay questions. (She didn't.)

The teacher graded our class's papers that night and handed them back to us the following day. It didn't take her long, she said, because many students had not even attempted half of the short essay questions. I ended up with 100% on the test itself; adding the extra credit from the notes gave me a grand total of 125% Matthew and the junior both had scores higher than 100% after adding the 25% extra credit.  Attending only half the class sessions and being inattentive to lectures took its tool on the seniors. Three student managed to eke out scores between seventy and seventy-five per cent, but most of them barely passed or didn't pass. (Some hadn't even bothered to read the notes.) 

My mother was pleased with Matthew's and with my performance.  We hadn't made her look like a moron in front of two guidance counselors. She worked in the district office of the same school district in which we were enrolled, and she really didn't want the guidance counselors, who were technically her job inferiors at the time, spreading rumors of her incompetence. We had dinner Friday night at a restaurant to celebrate. 

It was gratifying to know that I could hold my own with older students in the class. What was most important for me, however, was the understanding I gained of how it was that I most effectively reviewed material and how I best learned. Taking notes, i realized, wasn't of such importance for me personally because I needed to review them. It was the actual act of writing out the notes, then writing them again as I transcribed them, that allowed me to internalize the content of the material. Some people learn by hearing (though not many; we've become a decidedly un-auditory society). Some learn by seeing things. Some learn by repeating things aloud.  We all have our particular learning modalities. The key here is for each individual to discover how he or she best learns and to use that knowledge.

I now use that knowledge almost daily when I'm in school. I keep the note cards that I write out, partly because we go through such an incredible volume of material -- and remembering some of it will morph into life or death scenarios for our future patients --  that I cannot expect to recall it with the ease that I remembered the particulars of the brief overview of English poetry. I now have a practical need for the note cards. Still, the writing of the information is what locks it into my brain in a way that nothing else does for me personally.  

Monday, June 26, 2017

The World of Coca-Cola and Other Atlanta Tourist Traps

one of my favorite rooms in the entire world

n 2003, when I was eight years old, my family toured the South.  Because we only had ten days to see whatever it was that we saw, we almost certainly missed things of relative significance in the region, but I don't know anyone who isn't forced by time constraints to prioritize from among the various tourist attractions at any given vacation destination. My parents first had to decide what cities to visit during our trip.  

Atlanta was a city both of my parents really wanted to see.  We almost didn't see it, though, because one of my father's sisters was living there with her family at the time. None of us wanted to waste any of our precious ten days visiting with my Aunt Claudine and Uncle Virl and however many of their eight obnoxious children had made it to Earth at that point. The decision was ultimately made to visit Atlanta but to do so on the down-low. No one in my father's family was to be told that we visited Atlanta, as the result likely would have involved the hyper-sensitive Claudine taking it personally and having to go back on anti-depressant medication. (Someday I'll get around to sharing the disastrous situations that eventuated from Matthew and me having been told to keep our visit to Atlanta a secret.)

Atlanta was one of the more eventful sites we hit on that trip. I don't remember everything we saw while there, but I do recall going to Centennial Olympic Park, attending an Atlanta Braves' game, touring CNN's studios, touring Margaret Mitchell's house and museum (my mother's payback for having to sit through an Atlanta Braves game), visiting the College Football Hall of Fame (my dad's payback for having to endure the visit to the Margaret Mitchell attraction), touring the Jimmy Carter library and museum, and seeing a Martin Luther King memorial site of some sort.  We skipped out on a reportedly fairly large aquarium there, as my parents concluded that we have perfectly good aquariums on California and it would be silly to travel three thousand miles to look at an aquarium. We always visited the state capitol building of any state capital we happened to be in, so we did a brief and uneventful self-guided tour there. 

I'm not either sure how many states I've actually traveled to or how many state capital buildings I've seen, but the one thing my tours of state capitols have taught me is just how much alike they all look, both inside and out, and what an utter waste of time it is to drag children through those buildings. In my mind it's all one giant tour, with the only one that I've visited noticeably different from the others being Hawaii's capitol building in Honolulu. Even the Alaska capitol looked a whole like all the rest I've seen.  If you are a parent and are planning any trips in the near future that may involve state capitol buildings, take my advice: ditch the state capitol tours.  Visit your own state capitol if your local school district doesn't schedule a field trip there, but those of the other states' buildings are a waste of your kids' time. 

One destination my parents couldn't have skipped out on without having my brother and me pitch major hissy fits was the World of Coca-Cola, as we had heard about the tasting room from cousins who had been there. I don't remember a great deal about the actual tour, but the tasting room at the end filled with machines dispensing [I think] 100 different kinds of soda was, in and of itself, my dream vacation.  We didn't have a whole lot of soda around when Matthew and I were little. It must have been in the house, and my parents probably drank it on the sly, but it was well concealed. We had soda when we went out for meals or were traveling, or for really special occasions like birthdays, but as far as day-to-day consumption of it was concerned, it didn't happen.

My parents decided not to attempt to regulate what we drank in the tasting room.  My dad had a great time drinking the really exotic stuff. I don't remember exactly what was offered, and the Coca-Cola people apparently change it up regularly, but there seemed to be a lot of tropical fruit-flavored sodas there. I recall there being a kiwi-flavored drink. My mom wouldn't try half of the sodas my dad thought were marvelous, but he's always been more adventurous than the rest of us.

I wasted my parents' money, my dad said, because I wouldn't try anything new that day. I had a bit of orange soda, then drank all I wanted of the regular Coke and Barq's root beer. I'm not sure how much soda I consumed. It filled me up but didn't, if I recall correctly, make my stomach hurt.

Matthew wouldn't drink the weird-ass stuff my dad was drinking, but he more than made up for it in sheer volume of Sprite, Coke, root beer, and Fanta orange soda that he drank. We bypassed the gift shop on the way out, which turned out to be a good thing. As soon as we reached the light of day through the exit doors, Matthew bolted for an area of plants between the sidewalks and immediately began puking his guts out. He must have thrown up steadily for two consecutive minutes. I remember him barely being able to catch his breath between barfs. My dad had to move him twice because he had filled up the planter area and it was over-flowing onto the sidewalk. I couldn't even guess at the total volume of fluid he expelled, but it was to the point that my parents were feeling nervous that he might have done serious damage to his gastric system and somewhat guilty about their decision to let him drink as much as he wanted.

Then, as quickly as Matthew had started vomiting, he stopped. It was as if nothing had happened. My mom took his shirt off of him because it had sustained collateral damage, and I would assume his sneakers received some splatter as well, but he was otherwise perfectly fine as he walked to our car in the parking garage. That night he ate a normal dinner and never had another moment of discomfort. I, on the other hand, could not be persuaded to eat any dinner that night. The soda had been more than enough, and my parents weren't about to force the issue and have any sort of a repeat of Matthew's exhibition.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Predators and Other Annoyances

He may look cute and cuddly, but he's not, which I assume you already knew.

In relation to where I might like to spend the first three to five years following medical school, I've given a considerable amount of thought to the animal populations in various locations. I've also thought about animal species in general, and how I feel about them.  In a zoo or similarly contained setting, basically any animal could continue to live and to breed in a controlled manner as far as I'm concerned. I would never work in a zoo, and only visit zoos when there's a really good reason, and I'm cautious while I'm there. We've all read and heard of small children and incredibly foolish adults falling into various animal enclosures. That sort of thing isn't likely to happen to me. 

Within the city of Anchorage, Alaska, more than two hundred black bears and as many as thirty-five grizzlies live. That's not in forests outside of Anchorage. That's WITHIN THE FREAKiNG CITY!  I wouldn't accept a residency there if I were paid two millions dollars a year for the privilege. (If they were paying more than that, I might consider it, but they're not, so it's a non-issue.) And if you're thinking of the TV show Northern Exposure and wondering if I could, as was the protagonist of the show,  be forced to work there in lieu of student loan repayment,  I have just enough money to pay for my final year of medical school. I won't be an indentured servant forced to work anywhere.

Mountain lions, cougars, pumas, or whatever a person wants to call them, are easily my least favorite animal on the planet. If I had my way, they would be extinct. I wouldn't give a damn what their elimination did to the ecosystem or the food chain.  There aren't a whole lot of them running loose around the neighborhoods I inhabit, but they have been seen in the outskirts of many major metropolitan areas, including Sacramento. I understand that they are there because of humans encroaching on their habitat, but I really don't care. I don't like them and never will. If someone wanted to go on a killing spree and get rid of all of them systematically, i would probably contribute to the person's expenses.

I'm not especially fond of either wolves or coyotes, but as long as they stay away from me, I'm willing to allow them to continue to exist.  I bypass their exhibits when I visit zoos because they creep me out  People who keep them as pets are, in my opinion, lacking in sanity. Among people who love wolves and coyotes, the sane ones typically agree that they're no meant to be pets. Someone will probably comment here that he or she knows someone who owns or owned a wolf and that it is or was a sweet-dispositioned and delightful pet. I will say in advance that I do not believe it.

Lice need to disappear. I'm not an expert about any form of lice except for head lice (pediculus humanus capitis). the other forms are creepy, but the less I know about them, the better. If the human race could get its act together, we could rid the world of head lice once and for all by insuring that the entire population had an adequate supply of louse-killing shampoo and both using it and taking the steps for nit removal (and removal from bedding, clothing, furniture, etc.) for roughly twenty-eight days. Lice cannot survive without human hosts. This cannot happen, however, because there are places in the world where water supply is so limited that the resident population could not afford to waste it on lice removal procedures.Furthermore, if people are dying of starvation in a given area, they obviously lack the energy to combat head lice, and doing so is a low priority for them, as it should be. If we ever find a way to eradicate hunger, deal with water shortages, and fight third-world diseases, head lice elimination could be the fourth priority. it won;t, though, because others do not feel as strongly as I do about head lice.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

We're Losing Our Racial Purity!

My grandfather has his sacred undergarments totally in a wad and his blood pressure well into the danger zone over something done by someone in the family other than I.  The recent source of my grandfather's wrath is my cousin Gina, who is a daughter of my Aunt Elyse and Uncle Lee. Gina had the unmitigated gall to announce her engagement to a man who is half Japanese.

Gina's parents have taken the news relatively well considering that they possess far from the most enlightened minds even in the state of Utah.  They did try to talk Gina out of marrying the guy (in his presence; what class my relatives display on an ongoing basis!) , but when Gina dug her heels into the carpet and said it was too late to change her plans because she and Spencer, her betrothed (counting my cousins, my cousins' offspring, and my cousins' spouses, he will be the sixth person in our family named Spencer, assuming the wedding goes off as planned and my grandfather doesn't send out a Danite hit squad to take care of the problem and preserve the family bloodline) have already registered at Target, Gina's parents conceded.  Is this my family demonstrating their characteristic tackiness, or is it Mormons in general who register for gifts before they've even informed their parents that they're engaged? And beyond that, if an engagement truly were a mistake, which it probably isn't in this particular case (an infusion of Asian ethnicity into an Arian bloodline can only be an improvement), why would a gift registry be a reason it couldn't be undone?

My Uncle Mahonri, despite his inclusion in the family being only by virtue of his having married into it, considers himself some sort of de facto patriarch in light of my grandfather's senility and my degenerate father's (the oldest son's) abdication of the role by having denounced the family religion, went to my Uncle Lee and offered the benefit of his wisdom. "Call it off, Lee," Mahonri told him. "Just refuse to sign the consent forms, and they can't get married."

"Mahonri," Lee told his brother-in-law, "There are no consent forms for me to sign.  Gina's twenty-three years old. She doesn't need my consent to get married."

"You're wrong, Lee!" Mahonri said. "I had to sign forms for my girls!"

"That's because both of your daughters got married at the age of sixteen," Lee told Mahonri.

Mahonri probably failed his eighth-grade U.S. Constitution exam. "Never mind," Mahonri said as he let himself out of Lee's house the same way he let himself in. Mahonri has helped himself to keys to the homes of everyone in the family except the California relatives.  

Uncle Lee felt obligated to try to rationalize the situation to my grandfather in such a way that it would seem almost acceptable to the old geezer. "Think of it this way, " Lee explained. "It's better if she marries a guy who's half-Japanese who treats her right than if she marries a white guy who beats her or cheats on her or drinks coffee."  

My relatives are so damned enlightened that it almost kills me.

Textile-Optional Tennis (which means some of the people playing tennis are naked)

I spoke with my sweet Aunt Cristelle earlier this evening. I mainly called to ask how things are going with her newly adopted infant, who is named Greenwich Marzipan Coriolis, if anyone is keeping track. The name is vaguely of interest to me at the moment, as it relates to a response to Jono that I very recently wrote.  In my response, I wrote of the slippery slope that is embarked upon when a government becomes in any way involved in the process of granting permission to procreate. A person can apparently be so deficient in cognition as to lack the ability to differentiate between his or her own rectum and a sidewalk sewer access hole and yet still possess the ability to impregnate or to be impregnated.  The act of sex, it would seem, does not rank tremendously high on Bloom's Taxonomy of Critical Thinking Skills.

Like begets like.  Morons typically produce other morons.  This process could possibly be stopped, or at least slowed, by the government involving itself in the right to procreate. Most of us agree, however, that governmental involvement in anything seldom improves a situation.  Jono and I were lamenting all of this, or at least part of it, in relation to the asinine names that truly stupid parents bestow upon their children.

I proposed a solution that establishment of evidence of minimum competency be required before a parent is allowed to name a kid.  If the parent is too damned stupid to pass whatever test we agree upon to establish said minimum competency, the hospital registrar would get the privilege of naming the child. If the parent, in addition to being too stupid to establish minimum competency, is also too stupid to go to a hospital to give birth, the county birth certificate registrar would get the privilege. What, some might ask, would guarantee that a hospital or county registrar would also possess standards of minimum competency? There's no iron-clad guarantee, I concede, but odds are in favor of the employee being smarter than the parents who are giving their children names like La-a (pronounced La-DASH-a, of course, because a dash isn't silent).
We'll ignore for the present the obvious discrepancy of - within a word or name technically being a hyphen and not a dash, because who among us has ever heard of anyone named La HYPHEN-a?

It occurs to me that many people would look at the names my Aunt Cristelle and Uncle Mendel have given their children and would assume they must be among the parents who fail to meet minimum competency standards. Yet my Aunt Cristelle is a licensed pharmacist and my Uncle Mendel has a PhD in philosophy and a Master of Science degree in geology. I wholeheartedly agree that the names they have given their children are fucking stupid. In their defense, I will say, however, that their children's names are all spelled correctly.

Anyway, in the course of my conversation with Cristelle, she told me of a vacation she took with her husband and children to Finland right before their new baby was born [to another mother and given to them]. At their resort there was, among other things, a textile-optional family tennis facility.(Textile-optional  means clothing is not required.) Cristelle and Mendel and their two children, I am pleased to report, kept their clothing on while they played tennis. At least that is what my aunt told me, and I choose to believe her because visualizing any other possibility is too repulsive a prospect even to consider.

Seriously, textile-optional tennis? With the possible exception of gymnastics, I cannot come up with many activities I would rather not engage in or observe others as they engage in  sans clothing than tennis. What person on the face of the Earth who has attained sufficient stature life to have accrued the necessary financial wherewithal to build or to buy a resort would then decide to designate tennis at the facility to be textile-optional?  The world is going to Hell even faster than we think.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Road Not Taken

A critical point in my education has arrived.  I now need to decide, as in in the next thirty-six hours (give or take thirty minutes or so), what branch of medicine I wish to pursue.  It's not as though I will be contractually obligated to stick with that branch of medicine forever or to face dire consequences. Hell, I could, halfway through a residency, change courses and go with a totally new specialty. For that matter, I don't even have to continue to practice medicine if I decide at some point that I don't like it. When I complete my residency if things go as I'm currently planning, I will be twenty-eight.  Some people, as hard as it seems to imagine, haven't even decided what to do with their lives by then. It's also not as though a formal declaration of specialization is required, but, rather, I need to apply for a sub-internship; my choice of sub-internship specialization may limit to some degree the areas in which I will be considered a desirable candidate for residency.It's not totally closing out any given option, but it is a major step in the decision-making process.

Medical school itself has been a jarring experience. Most of us, though not all of us, in medical school went through elementary school, high school, and undergraduate education being the brightest students in most of our classes. Suddenly we're thrown into a setting in which we're no longer cognitively superior to our peers, or, if I'm going to be perfectly honest in stating it, to the competition. It is a competition. It always has been and always will be. The powers that be can implement any snowflake-facilitating grading system they can possibly dream up, but we're still going to compete for stature and superiority. Only one of us can claim to be the smartest in the group now. That person is, unfortunately, not I.

Now I'm in a position of serious self-assessment. What can I bring to the table that is stronger than what the competition has to offer?  The ability to take in information, commit it to memory, and synthesize it, which has made me a virtual genius in every other educational setting in which I've found myself, is no longer, in and of itself,  enough. Close to  half of the cohort is in my league in regard to the ability to process and retain information quickly. It could be worse, of course; I could be in the half of the cohort who cannot process and quickly commit to memory vast amounts of content.  Then I would be working even longer and harder than I'm currently working.

In addition to discovering some domain within the practice of medicine at which I'm actually proficient, I also have to find an area I like. Sometimes what we would enjoy doing and what we're good at are two circles in a Venn Diagram with no intersection. Being proficient is most important, as the patient recovers from acne or doesn't, has an arm that mends as it is supposed to or doesn't, or even lives or dies in  some cases based largely upon how well a doctor does his or her job.  How personally fulfilled I am at the end of the day is a secondary consideration at the very most. Still, a doctor probably isn't going to be all that proficient in the long haul if he or she is unhappy in doing his or her job.

Much can happen yet to derail my plans or at least to cause them to change course.  Still, it is time to devise a plan and to set the course in motion to achieve it.  Two proverbial roads have diverged in a proverbial yellow wood. I can't stand here staring as far as I can for much longer. It's time to go down one path or the other . . .  and Robert Frost has been no help at all.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

NAMES Revisited: My Friend's Dissertation

Warning: This post is less politically correct than are my usual posts.

One of my high school friends is writing her doctoral dissertation in educational psychology. I don't want to post her title, but the topic concerns the effects of names on children's social and academic success.  She picked a great topic. I suggested to her that once she has turned everything in, it's been approved, and her degree has been conferred, she should edit the content, removing the boring educational statistics and other pedantic material that's only there to satisfy requirements for fulfillment of her degree, informalize the language if doing so would make it more readable, and either look for a publisher or self-publish through or a similar outlet.  She said that if she's not so sick of the entire project by the time she has completed it, she will probably publish it in some form.  Meanwhile, she has a few tips for prospective parents or anyone else who cares, which everyone is free to consider or to ignore.

I've written about names here before. Names are a particular concern of my mom's. My friend, Caitlyn, who is writing the dissertation, interviewed my mom for the project. My mom has charted statistics regarding names since she entered the field of education thirty years ago. She firmly believes that the average parent can set a child up for success or doom the child for failure based on the name alone. I don't think my mom seriously believes that you don't have to talk to your child, or even  feed your kid regularly or change its diaper if you pick a sufficiently good name, or at least I hope that's not what she would want someone to get from her research. I would hope, rather, that her point is that a name can be a deciding factor in a child's academic, and to an even greater degree, social success.

What Caitlyn has concluded after looking at my mother's data and that of many other researchers, is that some parents are highly intelligent and were successful as students. If those parents find each other, boink each other, and raise any children they happen to create  in the process in a somewhat sensible fashion, unless some sort of mishap occurs with genetics, gestation, or the standard roll of the dice that is inherent in making a baby, the children will likely experience academic success as well. Likewise, some parents have considerable social success as individuals. They're probably naturally cool people. We all know a few of those people. Most of us, unfortunately,  aren't those people. If those cool people marry or otherwise become a cohesive unit,  barring the same mishaps with genetics, gestation, or the luck that is always involved in creating a baby, any babies created by these cool parents will, with a high degree of probability, turn out to be cool individuals who experience social success in every direction they turn. 

If you are one of those smart people who has experienced nothing but success in academics,  unless you get something like a third twenty-first chromosome thrown into the mix or something equally flukish, and assuming you can forego booze for the better part of nine months,  your child will probably turn out to be smart and academically successful. Whatever name you choose for your child will, henceforth and forever, in the minds of all who come to know your child, be associated with a high degree of intelligence and academic success, even if you name your kid something like Quasar, Colo-recto, Blaze, Sha Nay Nay, Bambi, or Na'Tequila.

The same is true of the cool people who co-mingle their gametes, except they have a chance of producing an ultra-cool child who is the epitome of social success even  with the addition of an extra twenty-first chromosome.  Those parents will make any name cool with the mere act of bestowing it upon their kid.  Those parents could name their child or children Guy, Cliburne, Don Juan Quixote, Barxalotte, Fartsalotte, or Pelvicia, and instantly propel those names into local eternal cool-dom by the simple act of having graced the name with their child's or children's association and associated coolness. 

In the extremely rare case of parents who are both socially and cognitively/academically successful [Note: it doesn't usually work if one parent is smart and the other is cool; in such cases, Murphy's Law usually comes into fruition, and the resulting offspring wind(s) up neither all that intelligent nor in possession of the social skills needed to locate the cool kids' table in a cafeteria of a school exclusively for students with behavior disorders, or to find the cool seat on the short bus even if you give the kid a color-coded diagram or smart phone app to assist him in finding it. Any child resulting from the unprotected coupling of such parents must be named Isabella, Sophia, Aiden, or Jackson, or something else on the Top Ten list. One must take no chances with the naming of the result of such a potentially meteoric pairing.], any name will do. The parent may take a name from the top 100 list for the decade or the millenium, or the parent may blindly draw eleven scrabble tiles and combine them in some form to produce a pronounceable (or, for that matter, an un-pronounceable) name.  Probably nothing by way of naming the child will screw him or her up, and you are enhancing the local status of any name you choose by virtue of gracing it with your child's identity.

Most of us, however, even if we're lucky enough to be academically successful, do not have any sort of monopoly on all that is cool. Most of us would be wise to consider a few basic extrinsic and intrinsic properties when naming our children.

Don't give your son a name that has been, historically, a male name but is now trending more strongly for the female segment of the population. Consult available Social Security lists or other reliable lists of popular names both for your state or province and for the nation in which your child will most likely reside. (Alexis is a girl's name in English-speaking regions. It's more commonly a boy's name in Spanish-speaking locations.) Perhaps even more important, scan both actors' and characters' names of popular TV programs and movies, and check out lists of high finishers of televised reality- or talent-based competitions.  And if the child you're expecting is a girl, don't give her a name like Daniel just to be different even though it is less likely to be socially stigmatizing to her. Be kind. What if you start a trend? Then all the little boys whose unsuspecting parents named them Daniel will be teased and bullied for having a girl's name even though God himself couldn't have predicted that Daniel wouldn't be a boy's name before their sons were finished using it. If you don't have a conscience, grow one.

Despite what the current list of popular boys' names says, don't name your kid Liam. Almost any child named Liam will grow into a self-centered, narcissistic, whiny, impulse-driven jerk. Ask anyone who has taught elementary school in the past ten years. He or she will back me up on this.

This one can be difficult to predict too far down the line, as new insulting terms find their way into the vernacular of our language all the time, but try not to choose a name for your child that rhymes with an obscenity or with an obvious epithet. (For  that matter, don't rhyme your child's first name with his or her last name, either.) Playground bullies love to torment sweet, unsuspecting children. Don't make it easy for the bullies of the world. Just as you would not send your child to school with a literal target painted on his back, don't send him out with a metaphorical target.

You may want to avoid the incredibly popular names in most instances of naming children. Most children would prefer not to be one of five Isabellas or Aidens in a classroom. If you're absolutely in love with the name, however, go for it; give the name to your child. There are worse things in life than having a popular name. In most cases, names are popular because they are nice names.[ Notable exception: See Liam.] The verdict is that children with overly popular names usually like their names better than do children with extremely obscure or made-up names.

Likewise, most children don't want either to go through life having to spell their names aloud or having to correct the mispronunciation of their names because Mommy and Daddy so wanted to be different that they invented a new spelling of a standard name or, even worse, came up with a name that either phonetically doesn't match its spelling or can be pronounced phonetically in more than one way. It may be either the drugs from labor still in your system that are influencing your brain in not-so-good ways, or it may be the champagne that you drank immediately following the birth to celebrate the fact that your doctor successfully removed the foreign object from your crotch in a single piece so that you no longer are experiencing pain every three minutes -- each time lasting two minutes and thirty-five seconds -- that is so intense that you would be forced to -- with your bare hands or with whatever tools that might be handy ---  kill the person who caused you to be in such a condition  were you to have experienced even one contraction more. Whatever the reason, whatever the inspiration, it's not a positive force that is leading you to believe that Jerremey is a superior alternative to Jeremy, that Gill is somehow better than Jill, or that Mareyea is for any reason a better spelling of either Maria or Mariah -- whichever pronunciation you intended and would have expected every substitute teacher [or regular teacher on the first day of school] your child would ever encounter to possess the psychic power to know which name you were attempting to replicate with your creative or otherwise non-standard version of spelling. If you desire to be creative, make pottery or write haikus.  Do not force the unintended effects of your creativity to inconvenience your child for the entirety of his or her life.  If your child really wants to be different or to be noticed, he or she will find a way of achieving distinction or notoriety.  You do not have to predispose him or her to stand out in a way that is not desirable with your choice of a name or your dumb-ass way of spelling the name.

Think of resulting initials when naming your child.  Consider the implications of a child having to go through life with the  initials created with the following names: Grayson Andrew Young, Amelia Savannah Sorenson, Fabian Alexander Green, Faith Ursula Carter, Bruce Owens, Penelope Michelle Smith, Stephanie Tabitha Davis, David Oscar Anderson, or Samuel Oliver Bennett. I've only scratched the surface.

Despite following all conventions and considering every common sense rule of naming a child, disaster can still strike.  A psycho with your child's first name can commit a heinous crime.  With YouTube and other media, just about anyone who is sufficiently desperate for fame can achieve it by doing something really stupid and then publishing it for all to see. (The fame or infamy resulting from these acts of YouTube idiocy are, fortunately, usually short-lived.) Your daughter can marry a man and take his surname, and it can form something that sounds really silly or worse with her existing name. (Women are not forced to take their husbands' names upon marriage.) Therefore, with everything that can potentially go wrong despite your best intentions, you owe it to your future child to control all the variables associated with his or her name that you have the capacity to control.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Sting of Childhood Criticism

I'm pretty sure I never looked quite this bad because even when my mom was in the hospital, I bathed daily, but this is more or less the mental image I have of myself.

I'm writing this post for myself more than for anyone else. The same is true for many of my posts, but such is especially the case for this one. Above all, I don't want anyone to think I'm asking people to feel sorry for me. My experience may be different than someone else's, but probably neither a whole lot better nor much worse. Not one of us is likely to have gotten through childhood and adolescence entirely unscathed, and we all carry a few scars as a result. If my parents read this, I certainly don't wish for them to feel that am blaming them, as they probably did the best parenting of which they were capable, and most of that of which i'm speaking was beyond their control.

I grew up believing I was almost certainly one of the ugliest people on the planet. I'm reluctant  even to put it into words, because I know there are people who will read this and think I'm practically begging them to say, "Of course you're not ugly, Alexis! How could you even think that?" and I don't think it any more.  Throughout my childhood and teen years, I felt it very strongly, though, and almost everything anyone said to me about my appearance confirmed my feelings.

My parents didn't tell me I was ugly, of course. They would never have been so unkind. They tried instead to teach me that, while fitness and cleanliness were important, physical beauty really wasn't.  It was important to be a good person and to become intelligent.  In teaching me that, however, they reinforced the feeling I already had that I must be ugly or they wouldn't be dwelling so much about how unimportant it was to be pretty.

I had relatively few instances in which others actually told me that I was unattractive, but it doesn't take very many occurrences of being told in one way or another that one isn't especially good-looking before a child starts to believe it.  I mentioned the cousins -- particularly Rilene and Marthalette, but the others joined them -- referred to me as looking like an aborted fetus.  At the time they said it , I didn't know what it meant, but I eventually found out.  And while they didn't continue to address me or refer to me as an aborted fetus because my mom had such a complete meltdown over it, they still called me fetus.  In looking at pictures of myself as a very young child, I get why they called me that, as my features looked underdeveloped when I was a young child, but those children were old enough to know that they were being very unkind to someone who was much too young to defend herself.

I mentioned in a blog a long time ago that in first grade, when our Scholastic Weekly Reader or whatever the classroom news magazine was called featured an article  about tornadoes, a classmate named Sandra raised her hand and volunteered that the picture of the tornado looked like Alexis, because it was skinny and its fragments looked like my hair in the way it was always slipping out of its braids,  and everything around it was messy just like my clothes were always a complete mess.  Everyone in the classroom  laughed. The teacher didn't refute anything that Sandra said and didn't make any attempt to stifle her own laughter.  That was the year my mom was battling leukemia, and my dad spent most of his time in southern California with her. He hired the twenty-five-year-old sister of my uncle-by-marriage to care for us, but she spent most days and evenings lying on the couch watching television, and she spent the food allotment my dad left for all of us ordering take-out food for herself and leaving Matthew and me to fend for ourselves. The only clean clothing I had to wear was whatever I had laundered myself and, at the age of five, I hadn't thoroughly mastered the techniques of laundry. I wasn't allowed to use the iron and wouldn't have known how to iron anything that wasn't flat even had I been allowed access to the iron. The teacher didn't yet know the extent of the poor quality of care my brother and I were being given, but she did know that my mother was hundreds of miles away in a hospital and that my dad was with her. She could have shown just a bit of compassion instead of laughing at me.

Then I had the witch of a fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Moore, who gave the class her beauty lectures aimed at me.  "Not everyone is pretty," she would usually say first. "There is at least one girl in this class who is not pretty at all. But if she -- and other girls who are not pretty -- would just be sweet, other people wouldn't notice so much that she isn't pretty."  Several times, other girls in the class asked me why Mrs. Moore always looked directly at me when she gave the "pretty" talk. I didn't know for certain that Mrs. Moore was staring directly at me. I always looked down in shame during her speech because I knew instinctively that she was talking about me. I remember Cynthia  -- Sandra's much nicer twin; they had attended the same school as I did in first grade, and in fourth grade both of our families moved and we ended up in the same school again -- telling me, "I don't know why Mrs. Moore always has to look right at you when she talks about how important it is for girls who aren't pretty to be sweet. I don't think you're that much uglier than anyone else in the class." Being told you're not that much uglier than anyone else in the class may sound like faint praise, but it was possibly the closest thing to a compliment in regard to my appearance that I had ever heard. Then there was the somewhat devastating incident in the fall of that school year when Mrs. Moore mocked and ridiculed me for how my class picture turned out. The positive outcomes to that situation were that my parents became aware of Mrs. Moore's abuse and removed me from her class, and that by dad took me to a salon and had my hair chemically straightened so that it wouldn't be so hard to keep it looking neat.

Probably the one thing I had working in my favor was that I wasn't overweight. I received my share of criticism for being too skinny, but from everything I've heard, being too thin is a much easier stigma for a child to bear than is being too fat. In looking back at my pictures from my childhood, I can somewhat objectively say that, while I was far from being a flawless beauty, I was at least average in terms of little kid cuteness.  Most of the time it probably didn't occur to my parents to tell me that I was either pretty or cute because they were trying to raise a daughter who placed more value in character and intelligence than in looks. In my after-the-fact assessment of their parenting in that regard, they did the wrong thing for all the right reasons. They would neither have destroyed my character nor squelched my innate desire to learn by telling me that I looked pretty a few times.

I know now, objectively, anyway,  that my appearance is at least average, particularly on occasions when I take a bit of extra time with my hair and makeup and wear clothing that flatters me to some degree.  I also know that I'm not the only female who grew up feeling un-pretty.  My feelings were probably far from unique. Many if not most girls probably grow up far more aware of their flaws than of their attractive features. Most of us are either vain or insecure, or possibly even some unlikely combination of both.  

It's easier, or at least it seems that way to me, for boys. Boys don't have to be pretty. It helps if a boy is not overweight or has no obvious glaring blight to his appearance, and if he's lucky enough to be outrightly handsome, that's all the better. Regardless, society in general has greater willingness to accept a male child for his character, his intelligence, and his capabilities, than to accept the same for a female child. Furthermore, I was thin, sometimes pale,  and messy, but I can now see objectively that my physical features were not unattractive. There are little girls, on the other hand,  who really are a bit homely. And while they may be the best soccer players on their teams, or the best violinists or dancers in their studios, those honors come with huge imaginary asterisks beside the girls' names.  It's as if being unattractive dwarfs their other qualities.

If I ever have a daughter, I will think she is pretty even if other people don't see her as I do, and I will tell her that she is beautiful on a regular basis without worrying that I will cause her to become vain or to value physical appearance over more substantial characteristics.

The Best Gift of All

It's  NOT the sort of gift to which the blog refers, but I would not complain were someone to give this, or one much life it, to me.

Some among us are talented. Some are highly skilled. Others possess actual gifts. Others still merely think they have talents or skills, or  possess gifts. Perhaps it doesn't really matter. Maybe it is all in the eye of the beholder or in the mind of the one who possesses or merely thinks he possesses The Gift.

My mother can tell when someone is lying. As she's a psychologist, some would say this is more of a skill acquired on the job than a talent or gift.  What differentiates my mom's ability to separate a liar from a truth-teller from similar abilities in others is that she can tell when the person is lying even if the liar is so practiced at lying or so invested in a particular falsehood that the person is able to convince himself he is telling the truth. Someone who could beat a polygraph probably couldn't beat my mother's system. She's been a lone holdout more than once on juries.

As a baseball hitter, my brother usually knew what pitch was coming. This wasn't so much a gift  as a knowledge of how coaches reposition fielders depending upon the type of pitch that the pitcher had been asked to throw. 
As a pitcher, my brother could tell by looking at a batter's face when a batter was anticipating a particular pitch based on  my brother's coaches' repositioning of fielders. He then would thrown a different pitch. If it worked out, the batter either whiffed at the ball or hit a dull grounder into the infield, and coaches were happy even though he hadn't thrown the pitch that had been called. Early in his baseball-playing days, sometimes his control as a pitcher wasn't so great, and the batter got a good piece of the ball and hit it where the fielders were not because they had been positioned based on where the ball should have been hit based on a pitch that should have been thrown but wasn't. As my brother got better at putting the ball precisely where he wanted, he came out ahead in most of the challenges, and coaches seldom complained that he didn't always throw the requested pitches. If the road to the major leagues were not so long, poorly-paying, and heavily influenced by luck, my brother might very well be on that road now. If my brother's build were less slight (at [almost] 6'1" and 175, he's big for a person but not for a major league pitcher), he might have rolled the dice and given professional baseball a whirl, but the Tim Lincicums of the baseball world are few and far between. Sometimes a person has to consider biological limitations when  deciding upon a career.

My mom and brother are both good at playing cards. There are things they can tell from looking at people's faces that go right past me.

I have a couple of talents and maybe one real gift. If I master the technique of an instrument, I can play it by reading music or by ear, and i can spontaneously play harmonies or obligatos. Many musicians play either by notation or by ear. It's a bit of a novelty to be able to do both with ease. I'd call this a talent. I have relatively strong  visual and auditory memories. I remember what people say often when they wish I didn't remember. Those all fall under the umbrellas of either skills or talents. I have one actual gift. If I attend a class and pay attention to the lectures, i can predict with very strong (at least 95%) accuracy what will be on tests for the course. Even if a professor hasn't determined for himself or herself precisely what material from lectures or books will make it onto a test, I can still tell. There's a certain emphasis a professor's voice gives to those topics he or she finds important enough to include in exams. There's often even a look in their eyes that gives it away.  I don't like standard highlighters (paper that has been marked with highlighters feels uncomfortable to the touch) so I circled, underlined, and blocked with a purple ink pen anything that came up in lectures  that really set off my test radar during lectures. Many professors use computer test banks provided by textbook publishers, but nearly all professors I had modified the pre-programmed test banks to some degree. Sadly for me, my days as a test-taker of lectured material are over. I still have tests to take, but they're not the sort that are based on anything so user-friendly as lectures.

A lady in my Aunt Victoria's Bible Study Group has the Gift of Tongues. I've been to the group four times with my Aunt Victoria, all because of what I had heard about the woman with the Gift of Tongues, and she did not disappoint. No one else in the group is quite so charismatic, but they essentially take it in their strides when Gracie breaks into an other-worldly language.  I've heard stories of people who practiced speaking in tongues before a religious service so that they would be able to do it convincingly in public. I've seen a version of speaking in tongues that looked like the person was merely spouting gibberish and hoping everyone who saw and heard it didn't realize that he was totally faking a spiritual manifestation.  I cannot say for a fact that it is indeed the Holy Spirit leading Gracie to say the things she says, but I've seen no evidence that she's a phony. The things that come out of her mouth sound like a real language I cannot quite discern. She has the same expression on her face when she's speaking in tongues as when she's speaking as she normally does in English (which is a slightly spacy expression, but it's normal for her).The only thing I question at all is that, according to some scripture my aunt read to me, the gift of tongues exists for the edification of someone who hears it. I've yet to hear of anyone making sense of or otherwise benefiting from Gracie's manifestations. I've no evidence that someone didn't understand or benefit, though.

My cousin Bradford claims to have a gift for locating The Lost Tribes of Israel. He prays over an inflatable globe he picked up at The Dollar Tree. When he has finished praying, he is sometimes inspired to close his eyes, rotate the orb, then point to a particular spot on the globe with his eyes still closed. The spot he's chosen  is supposedly a location with a heavy concentration of members of a Lost Tribe hanging out there. Thus far he's found members of The Lost Tribes in the Pyrenees region between France and Spain heavily populated by individuals with Basque ethnicity, two Azores islands (Terceira and Pico, if it matters to anyone), the northern Michigan peninsula, Louisiana, northern Finland, an Appalachian region spanning parts of Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, Antarctica, and Staten Island.  Bradford, with his father's help, solicits contributions from family members and other Mormons so that he can travel to the locations he has pinpointed to interact with the members of the Lost Tribes.  My take on the contribution angle is that if God specifically were going to bestow upon a person a gift that would tell the person where to locate members of The Lost tribes, and if God genuinely wanted that person to visit the sites where members of The Lost Tribes had been spotted, God would also bestow on that person either the gift of enough money to finance the travels or would bestow upon the person a gift of enough brains that would allow him to earn money that he needed to visit all those places without hitting up every person he knows for money to make the trips. As it stands, Bradford and his wife are barely pulling in enough income to feed, clothe, and shelter their rapidly expanding brood. My parents won't help to finance Bradford's travels, but my mom sends groceries to them monthly because when she looks at Bradford's offspring at family reunions, she sees children who appear every bit as underfed as any of the kids on TV commercials that Sally Struthers is trying to guilt viewers into supporting.

My cousin Ty  feels that he has a gift that would allow him to mediate and create peace between the warring gangs of southern Utah. He, like his cousin Bradford, would like to have the wealthier members of he family offer financial support so that he could pursue this calling full-time and give up his day job (which is actually a night job, technically) as a clerk for a chain motel.  I don't spend enough time in the haunts of Parowan or Kanab or Ephraim or any other one-horse town in Utah to know whether the Bloods and the Crips have staked out their territory in those locations to the extent that one is in danger of getting caught in the cross-fire by simply dropping off a library book or filling one's tank with gas from one of the local self-serve gas stations. I do know, howevver, that if gang warfare in that region has escalated to the extent that specil task forces are required to address the problem, that sending my cousin Ty into southern Utah's equivalent to Desert Storm is not likely to make anything better. If anything, he would find a way to dredge up old squabbles and probably create a few new disputes, and schedule a rumble between warring factions that would never have happened had he stayed in his [mobile] home watching Koko and Greg Valentine battle it out on his 55-inch TV from the comfort of his Cheerio-encrusted sofa with God knows how many rugrats crawling over him.  Bottom Line: need or legitimacy of his cause notwithstanding (I'm not going to argue with Ty over the legitimacy of gang warfare in the barely-populated hamlets of southern Utah. For the sake of argument, I'll go so far as to concede that there is a real need, which is probably a far larger concession than any sane or learned person would make), Ty thrives on conflict to the extent that he's not the man for the job.  If life in the town offered too little action to suit his tastes, Ty would show up at a Priesthood Meeting in Kanab and would assign the men present  to be either Nortenos or Surenos, let them know what colors they needed to wear from that point forward, and would distribute weapons and notify all new gang bangers of the time and location of the next rumble.  Ty has to know deep in his heart that he has no interest whatsoever in curbing gang activity in southern Utah.  He wants to start it and get it going in full force so that he then can jump into the middle of it  with his uniform and badge and start randomly shooting at gang bangers in the name of the law.  Utah does not need this. Actually, no place needs what Ty proposes.

My Uncle Ralph communicates with horses. If anyone called him a horse whisperer, he would laugh at and probably say something profane to the person. He thoroughly disbelieves in any New Age woo woo-ism.  Regardless, he can ride anyone's horse and can get the horse to do what he wants it to do. My uncle probably weighs close to three hundred pounds; a horse would have to take one look at him and be less than jubilant at the idea of carting him around for however long my uncle might need to ride the horse. My uncle says something to the horse, though, then climbs on. The ride, regardless of its duration, goes smoothly until my uncle chooses to end it.  

One of my middle school teachers knew if a kid had gum (not a gun, but gum) in his or her possession. (Gum was strongly disallowed [zero tolerance] at the middle school I attended. It was what I would have considered a trivial issue, but under the previous administration, poor disposal of used gum had caused numerous problems, including the deliberate placement of it in the hair of a girl whose hair had been kept long since early childhood. In that case, all the peanut butter, ice, and every other known remedy were attempted, but not one of the "guaranteed" remedies worked. The principal felt strongly about it, and she was a principal who was liked by the teachers who worked under her direction, so they were supportive of her policy.  All teachers were consistent about noticing anyone who tried chewing it, but one teacher, Mr. Yi, must have had an especially keen sense of smell. He could tell not only that a kid had the gum somewhere on his or her person, but what kind of gum it was. If the kid forked over just a part of it, he would know that the kid was still carrying. Just like any line that is drawn in the sand, students were, of course, tempted to cross it. In retrospect, while a bit of time was wasted, it wasn't the worst  rule over which a school could have made an issue. If kids rebel over the right to possess gum, it does probably far less damage than if  kids were to rebel over the right to possess firearms or drugs.  It was a relatively academic school,  with drug problems almost  nonexistent, There probably wasn't a middle school or high school in the early 2000's in the U.S., other than perhaps in Amish country, where drugs were truly nonexistent. Mr. Yi could sniff out drugs as well. No one dared store them in lockers because Mr. Yi would detect them in passing.  If administration suspected someone of possessing drugs, they would bring the suspect to the office, then call in Mr. Yi for the sniff test. Anyone who tested positive on the Yi Test was given two options: hand it over, or administration would call the police, and law enforcement personnel would perform the search. In the two cases of which I was aware, both kids coughed up the drugs they were smuggling.

This particular skill is probably not so much a gift, talent, or skill, but more of a novelty.  A  guy in my cohort can tell if soda comes from a can, a plastic bottle, a glass bottle, or a tap.  He can tell Nestle chocolate from Hershey's whether in candy form (blindfolded) or syrup form.  He can identify brands of coffee by taste, can correctly tell where any fast food burger or fries came from, and can correctly identify brands or ketchup or mustard (he doesn't eat mayonnaise). There are probably many other things he could  can identify by taste alone of which I'm unaware.

My Aunt Celine can hear a sound that she says is high-pitched before the conventional telephone ring on a land line sounds in the manner that the rest of us hear. When she's around, she always announces just before that the phone is going to ring. I'm not entirely sure who she is trying to impress. We get it, Aunt Celine. You know that the phone is going to ring before the rest of us know. It's not as though it's particularly useful knowledge to have, such as having advance knowledge when an earthquake is going to happen or when a baby is going to choke.

Another aunt of mine by marriage retired from the teaching position recently, where she had spent twenty-eight years not counting the year she spent as a substitute. She had the unique talent, skill, or gift (I'm not sure which it would be) of knowing a few minutes in advance when a kid was going to throw up. And she taught preschool, kindergarten, first, and second grades, which are the prime grades for students themselves not knowing in advance when they were going to toss their cookies.  Part of her success was just paying closer attention than did the average teacher. She conducted a visual scan every few minutes, which a teacher would probably do for safety reasons anyway, but would note each child's face, and could tell if a child had "the look" several minutes before the kid's stomach went into rejection mode. She says it's a slight change in the child's coloring, a peculiar pallor, often with a tinge of gray/green as she describes it. This aunt has a very keen sense of color, which possibly increases her ability to discern a deviation from a child's normal coloring. Early in her career, school office personnel grew tired of her sending what they considered to be asymptomatic children to see the nurse or health aide, although sometimes the children had fevers already.  If the children were not feverish, she had no option but to sit them down with trash cans in front of them. After she had been teaching for several years and her record for prediction became known, the office would accept her early referrals. as a mother, her record wasn't 100%, both because babies don't necessarily look ill before they spit up, and because sometimes a child goes to bed reasonably healthy and becomes ill during the night. Her own children never threw up without her knowing in advance  during waking hours when they were at home with her. 

This last manifestation I will mention is probably neither much of a skill, talent, or gift, but I'll mention it anyway because it is notable in its own way. I have a three-year-old cousin on my dad's side who can tell time to the nearest quarter-hour by the TV and what is playing. this was not uncommon in the days of network television, and probably ten per cent of the population (my own estimation) could have determined time to the nearest quarter-hour by flipping through the three or four network channels.  My three-year-old cousin can accomplish this now by flipping through five or six random channels one through four-hundred on a TV with his family's cable system. He can identify more of the Food Network's chefs than I can.  He knows who probably the top one hundred men's professional golfers are. He knows the Spanish-language  novelas. He can tell you who anyone is who appeared on "The Lawrence Welk Show" at any point in its run. He's a game show expert. The weirdest thing about  it is that I do not believe he is on the autism spectrum. He's otherwise a fairly typical child, at least as Mormon kids go.

This video has nothing to do with my blog other than the song's title, but the children are so cute and funny that I wanted to share it.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bad Seeds, and How They Sometimes Grow Up

Both Marthalette and particularly Rilene had elements of the classic "Bad Seed" personality, but none of the actress' looks or charm.

Even as children, they looked much more like Matilda's nemesis.

I have many first cousins. Some would say that I have too many of them, and I would not argue with anyone who said that.  Lots of people have many cousins if one starts counting all the various step-relationships. I don't even have any step-relationships. These people are all legally my first cousins. One is my first cousin legally but not by blood, as she was adopted a few months ago from a Puerto Rican-Filipina mother living on the isle of Manx where her adoptive parents live. I haven't seen her yet, but I've been told that she looks like a little baby Bruno Mars and is gorgeous. Seeing her this summer is one of the things I most look forward to.

Having so many cousins has been, for the most part, a mixed blessing at best. Cousins are something everyone should have at least a couple of if possible, in my opinion. One can have, however, too much of a good thing. Furthermore, not all cousins are equal. Some are very nice people. Others are rotten to the core. I shall tell you about my two least-redeemable cousins.

Marthalette and Rilene are the first two of my Aunt Marthalene and Uncle Mahonri's thirteen offspring.  Marthalene is the oldest of my father's seven sisters. Aunt Marthalene was born just shortly after my father turned one year old. She married when she was eighteen and started her family right away, while my dad was still serving his LDS mission, and then finishing college and attending medical school afterward. Because she started early and wasted no time in her quest to personally (with the help of her husband) populate the world with dark-haired, not-especially-attractive progeny, all of whom sprouted humongous teeth shortly after they were born, her oldest offspring are considerably older than Matthew and I are.

People are stuck with the looks that are given to them. Because of that, I'm mildly reluctant to criticize the looks of my oldest cousins.  There are subtle things that can be done to make the most of a person's looks, but for the most part, if a person emerges from the womb looking part horse, part Osmond (though their genealogy proves there's no close relationship between them and the equally toothy but exponentially more talented Osmond brood), and part Eddie Munster, all of the tricks of a cosmetician's trade can only do so much to salvage one's appearance.  Even so, as my evil fifth-grade teacher used to say [about me; she found me both physically ugly and character- and personality-challenged], "Even if you aren't pretty, if you will just act sweet all the time, no one will ever notice that you're not pretty." This memo never quite made it to my oldest cousins Marthalette and Rilene.

Despite being on the homely side and not possessing an especially kind or sunny disposition, Marthalene is probably more notable for the thickness of her skull despite there being no clear evidence of a working brain inside her head than for unfortunate appearance or for her unpleasant disposition. Marthalene did not excel academically, though she didn't oten receive failing grades.  She muddled along and got a whole lot of C-minuses as I recall. Marthalette was gullible. Even I, who was eight years younger than she was, could tell her ridiculous things that defied logic that she would, more often than not, believe, then go crying to her parents because sneaky Alexis had tricked poor Marthalette into exchanging five quarters for a dollar because everyone knew that five quarters equaled a dollar.  Marthalene's gullibility caught up with her in high school, and this one she cannot blame on me. Someone far more evil than I told Marthalette that pregnancy could be prevented by douching with Coca-Cola after intercourse.  Marthalette married at the age of sixteen years, one month, and gave birth to her first child at sixteen years and four months of age.  It gets even stupider, though. She popped out four more children like bullets -- BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG -- before she finally deduced that the Coca-cola douche method of birth control wasn't working for her, and if she didn't want to produce roughly one baby every  eleven months, she needed a more reliable form of contraceptive.

Marthalette's sister just younger than she [by one week less than a year], Rilene, wasn't as dull-witted as was her older sister. She certainly wasn't Gifted-and-Talented-Program material by any stretch of the imagination, though as compared to Marthalette, she might have seemed almost like it.  Rilene possessed straight-across-the-board average intelligence, but she (as far as anyone in the family could tell, she was evil from day #1) was born with a malevolence almost unheard of elsewhere.  Young parents are often warned about their dogs in relation to their new babies, particularly if the dogs are of breeds known to be  aggressive.  Pit bulls, for example, who have always previously been gentle, have been known to unespectedly attack and even to kill infant offspring of their owners.  Rilene was a bit like a pit bull in that regard, except that, knowing her nature, the attack shouldn't have been unpredicted or unexpected where Rilene was concerned.  When Rilene's baby brother Bradford was a mere-three-weeks old, one-year-old Rilene was found in his cradle, sitting atop his midsection while simultaneously pinching his nose closed and holding a stuffed animal over his mouth. Fortunately this happened when my Aunt Celine was visiting, and Aunt Celine usually paid at least a little attention to what the children were doing. Since Bradford's intelligence is roughly the same as that of most of his siblings (they're all smarter than Marthalette), it's assumed that he probably wouldn't have been a nuclear physicist even without Rilene's attempt to send him back from where he came.

Aunt Marthalene kept Bradford behind a locked screen door in his bedroom whenever she wasn't holding him after the attempt on his life until he was considered strong enough to fend for himself. (Had it been up to me, I would have kept the diabolical Rilene under lock and key.)  When Marthalene gave birth to Moriancumr (the name is from the Book of Mormon, not that that in and of itself is a justification for saddling an innocent baby with such a hideous name), she assumed it was just Bradford with whom Rilene had an issue, so she took no special precautions with Moriancumer with respect to Rilene's fratricidal tendencies. When Moriancumr was less than a month old, two-year-old Rilene was found placing baby Moriancumr in the toilet head-first in apparent attempt to drown the poor child. My mother was at their house at that time, and rescued
Moriancumr  from serious brain damage or worse. Moriancumr had to be kept in the same bedroom behind a locked screen door.

At this point other cousins came on the scene, and Rilene discovered that it was light years more fun to torment them than to pick on her own siblings, because her parents would believe her claims of innocence and ridiculous denials of deliberately hurting anyone when it involved her attacks on children other than their own.  It was shared knowledge among my dad's other siblings and their spouses that Rilene would have no qualms about causing serious injury or even death to one of her cousins, so they took turns watching the children as they played rather than leaving Rilene to her own devices.  

In addition to physically hurting others, Rilene was also prone to theft.  (So was and is her father, though whether it's a strange genetic tendency or learned behavior is anyone's guess.)  Her theft was largely ignored and rationalized (my mom never put her purse down even for a minute at family functions at which Rilene was present) until her father became an LDS Bishop. (How possibly the biggest petty thief in the state of Utah became an LDS Bishop is testimony to the divine inspiration that goes into all LDS callings.) As bishop, Mahonri was responsible for collecting tithing from members. On Sundays at church, Rilene would often find reasons she wanted to sit on her father's lap.  Eventually the amount of tithing people claimed to have paid could not be reconciled with what Mahonri deposited and what the church records reflected. It happened with too many different families for  it to be the ward members lying. As much as he liked to gain at the expense of others, Mahonri had never been known to steal money. Miscellaneous household goods and personal items (toilet paper, Vaseline, sugar, Kool-Aid, and toothpaste, for example) were more to his liking. For the record, Rilene apparently tore up the checks in tithing envelopes; she wasn't so sophisticated as to attempt to forge and cash the checks. Strangely enough, though,  some people actually put cash in tithing envelopes; those were the envelopes Rilene apparently sought. Tithing envelopes containing money were found in Rilene's possession one Sunday morning by a primary teacher.  

Mahonri was released as bishop shortly after tithing money was found on Rilene.
You or I would have considered this a good time, even had we not thought of it earlier when she was attempting to harm babies,  to seek counseling for Rilene. Mahonri and Marthalene just tried to laugh it off and to offer by way of excuse that Rilene was "smarter than the average bear."   I don't recall Yogi either trying to kill siblings or stealing from church coffers, but perhaps my memory is faulty.

Marthalette and Rilene in tandem were dangerous.  Rilene would suggest to Marthalene that cousin Todd should be pushed off the bridge into the creek, but that she really didn't have the time to do it because the adults were always watching her. Marthalene, slow as she might have been, took Rilene's not-so-subtle suggestion and pushed Cousin Todd off the bridge and into the cold and swiftly-moving (but probably not deep enough to be life-threatening to Todd) creek, where he landed on jagged rocks and emerged with all sorts of gashes. Rilene just looked innocent while Marthalette was screamed at by Aunt Angelie.

Rilene and Marthalene both took a special dislike to me. I was not yet two and they were nearly ten and nine when my dad caught them as they were propelling me up the rungs of a ladder of a water tower on rural mountain property where a family reunion was being held. They offered no explanation as to what they planned to do with me once they got me to the top of the ladder. Their intent could not  have been anything good.

My mom cornered both Marthalette and Rilene individually that week and made dire threats concerning what would happen to them if either Matthew or I were harmed and there was any possibility either or both of them were responsible. Mom said that it was easy with Marthalette -- that she just said she'd call the police, and Marthalette would go to juvey. She was more specific with Rilene. She told her that she had a lot of acquaintances in the area who presided over juvenile justice, family welfare, and issues involving mental health of minors. She told Rilene she had the connections, based especially on Rilene's history of trying to harm her brothers, pushing a much smaller cousin off a bridge and injuring him, and feeding a bottle of children's Tylenol to her younger brother, and made allusions to a few incidents of which she was aware because school mental health professionals had called her off-the-record when Rilene's school behaviors had been disturbing at times. She told Rilene she already had enough evidence to have her removed from her family and placed either in a group home setting or in a lock-up mental health facility until she was eighteen at the very least, and possibly until she was twenty-five.  My mom said she would not hesitate to rely on her connections to make sure Rilene paid if any of the cousins were hurt because of her, but that she would  make it happen even faster if Matthew or I were harmed.  My mom  went on to say that the burden of proof if we were ever hurt at a family function would be on Rilene to prove her innocence just based on her track record. That was bullshit, of course, but Rilene didn't know it.

My grandparents began to hire "counselors" to supervise the children at family functions, and the "counselors" were told that Rilene and Marthalene were dangerous and that the "counselors" were responsible for keeping all children safe.

It was at that point that Rilene decided it was better to resort to psychological cruelty to me. That's when she started to call me first "fetus," then "aborted fetus."  My mom told both of the two oldest cousins that psychological cruelty was prosecutable, too (it wasn't, but my mom had no problem with lying to the little psychopaths) but that she didn't want to waste her time. Instead, she would withhold Christmas and birthday presents from every cousin who had called me that who did not apologize. If any future name-calling campaigns against any of the children were started, my mom told Rilene and Marthalene, she would permanently stop giving gifts to the children who were considered responsible. And she would ALWAYS consider Rilene and Marthalene, as the oldest, the ones responsible unless they had iron-clad proof to the contrary.

My parents at that time gave probably the only nice gifts most of those children received from Christmases and birthdays, so the threat of losing gifts was a very real threat to them.   We skipped the next two family functions until all of the apologies were received. Then, when we returned to the next reunion, my parents hired my Aunt Cristelle to protect us, which Aunt Cristelle did very diligently.

Marthalette now has eight children, and Rilene has six. (Chances are that neither one is finished popping out crotch parasites.) My mom always looks at their children (especially Rilene's) very closely at any event when she sees them. She also observes interaction between the children and their parents. She thinks both cousins have transferred their narcissism over to their offspring to the extent that they consider the children extensions of themselves and treat them well accordingly.  She says if she sees or hears of any signs of abuse of any of their children, she'll be on the 1-800 CPS number immediately and will also call the local police if either sister  commits crimes against her children in my mom's presence. The kids will probably be treated well, but Rilene has enough loose screws that almost anything is possible.