Sunday, May 29, 2005


I learned a new game the other day. One of those amuse the kids on long car trips sorts of games. (Do they still play those anymore? I believe these things last through generations, a long line of fifth graders teaching fourth graders, teaching third graders, etc., despite the keep-'em-quiet DVD method advertised in many family marketed cars these days. I mean, kids still sing some version of "On Top of Old Smokey" that involves the inappropriate demise of their teachers, right?) This one is called Ghost, and I learned it in a car, driving around CT.

Here's how to play. One person thinks of a word. They say the first letter. The next person then adds a letter, also thinking of a word. The next person continues this hypothetical word, and so on. Now, the rules are: if you finish a word (i.e., say the last letter), any word, you lose. This is not a game where you can use compound words. For example, you can claim you really meant to spell 'carburetor', but it doesn't matter because you have spelled 'car' no matter how you slice it. (This begins to suck if you play with people who know lots of obscure three letter words and are sticklers in a competition.) If you add a letter that doesn't spell any word, you can be challenged by the next person. If you are challenged, you must then tell the word that contains the impossible letter combination. If it's a real word, and you can prove it, the challenger loses. If you're bluffing, you lose. When you lose, you are given the letter 'G'. Once you lose again, you are given the letter 'H', until you spell 'GHOST'. And then the game is over. I guess. Or you play it again until your eyes bleed, ot something.

OK, it maybe sounds a little inane, but first of all, it's more challenging than you might think. Depending on the number of people playing, you have to be careful which words you end up spelling. We had four people, and because the English language has lots of five letter words, it took us a bit to realize that being the starter of the word was the surest way to lose. Secondly, you can get out of losing in ingenious suffixlike ways (I was spared from defeat when I added 'I' to C-E-L-E-B-R-A-T, to make 'celebrate' into 'celebrating'). And, as in many of these word games in the car, you actually get silly over them and find random bursts of laughter possessing you.

The thing that seized me about this game was the way the first letter presents you with a whole universe of possibilities. Someone says, 'W' and you are off. Is it 'whispering' or 'wimple'? 'Whiffle,' 'waffle' or 'widget'? Each successive person narrows down the elusive word until it become almost impossible to spell anything else. (I can't help having the slightly gruesome image in my head of a string of letters, nailed to the floor by their little downstrokes, squeaking as the next letter is captured and added. They bulge and turn various colors until the word is done, and poof, you have a turnip that gallops off into the night.)

Often the starter is proprietary. You get a small feeling of frustration when that next person says 'U' after you were thinking the word was 'calliope'. Quickly, it turns out you were spelling cucumber after all. "That's not how you spell 'calliope'!" you say, only half-teasing. It's a funny opening and closing of the universe; a minute example of how choosing closes doorways until a concrete idea or action is born; how deciding something is so may actually make it so. It reminds me of how we create the world between us, by bouncing this word back and forth until it is polished and formed, maybe not the word we originally wanted, but hey, we like cucumbers and really, there's no good place for a calliope in the house anyway.

Don't get me wrong. This is not just some benign cutesy idea, as if we always are happy with the final result, or even able to get there. Have you ever watched two people who have a falling out decide "how it is" between them, meaning the other person has been defined as a "he always" or "she never" and neatly put away to be scorned? And you can't convince them otherwise, because there is no more room for negotiating in that area: the word was chosen, it was a bad word, and we don't say those. Never mind the fact that it may have started out differently, never mind that each person picked a new letter that led inorexably downward. Dearest was really demon all along. Don't get fooled into thinking people are always happy exchanging cucumbers for calliopes.

I'm not happy about ending something with just dark omens. So I can't stop there. But lest this get precious and start to turn into a new positive upswing about isn't it great there are so many possibilities, or, it's all about attitude, isn't it? I'm going to say that isn't it funny what car games bring up in some people? You could either say they often see the world as a fractal universe: greater meaning presed into the mundane activities around us, or you could say, boy, they think too much.

Yup. You're right.


I'm prolific, when I want to be. Or I'm on a roll, but prolific sounds better. Anyway, I thought I'd mention that I'm not actually in the minor outlying islands of eastern MA right now. I'm actually back in my adopted home, Portland, OR. This is where I want to say I'm from, when people ask me that question, but honesty and a funny compulsive attention to minor details keeps me from omitting all those other years when I lived in other, less fond places. (It'll come up eventually, I think, so why bother pretending?)

I think we underestimate how much places define and shape us. I cannot tell you how foreign I felt yesterday. You see, I took up running while in vet school. This is in general a good thing, since I mostly enjoy it (this, coming from someone who failed the presidential fitness test in school every year, with pleasure), I think I need to stave off the circling vultures of my mother's metabolism, and vet school is designed to make you hideously chair-shaped. But I never once ran in the six years I lived here. My friends all looked at me funny as I pulled on my running shoes.

I find in myself some strange mix of New England definitions of daily life and comfortable old Oregon habits. I don't really like where I'm living now. No, let's be candid and say I can't wait to get the hell out of there. But I can't say I dislike all the things I've collected (image of myself, rolling through space, attached as if by velcro to new crumbs and dog hair and books labeled 'obscure facts about goats') in my new habitat. But every time I return places, it's a bit like that hole I left and now re-enter has been closing over, scarring a little, and a little the wrong shape or size. I feel this way often at parties, when people with non-medical lives talk about their day and I'm not sure they want to hear about the prolapsed uterus I helped replace that morning, and that I learned that cheap rain gear is a really good idea in this situation.

However, I'm coming to accept this new feeling as something I might just have to live with. Maybe my two selves will learn to merge. Or maybe I'll be a Clark Kent-like figure, or some kind of secret agent with a top-secret identity: a life of danger, a life of mystery! One self runs while the other eats too many sweets! One self holds forth on the cultural wonders of opera, while the other is covered in blood and uterine juices! So glamorous...Isabella Ninja (another story that's really a you had to be there kind of moment) strikes again. Who was that masked man who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men...yes, I know I do get carried away.

But I have no complaints at all about seeing all my lovely friends and my lovely city. And because I am thinking of them, and I told my friend who henceforth shall be called "Goatcheese" (believe me, his idea, NOT mine) about this blog, and he noticed my penchant for the parathetical and suggested a format which will require me to have a website which I'm not quite ready for but considering, I decided to post the charming example he put up for me here. I have another dear friend who many years ago started her own tarot deck, a project I secretly thought was doomed to atrophy into disinterest, but it turns out it didn't, and I mention this because I was blown away by how beautiful they are. See for yourself. Hooray for homey cities peopled with funny quirky friends.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

today, we honor the cows

Today, I helped deliver a calf. He was a big boy, and his mom was having some trouble. So we helped. Doesn't make me want to give birth, I must say. But he made it out OK. So in the grand scheme of things, if we were all utilitarians at philosophical heart (a pure utilitarian weighs all factors that they can think of in terms of "good" or "bad" and takes the direction which leads to the most "good," much like a nice long pro/con list for any perplexing dilemma. This is, naturally, an oversimplification, since we are supposed to be in a parathetical aside, and not in some huge overblown discussion about philosophy. You might imagine utilitarians get into a bit of trouble--good for you only? Good for all but you? Unforeseen consequences? How much does lying to someone about their new haircut, for example, weigh in regards to the possible ass-whupping you might get if you tell the truth? Etc.), I have added a plus sign to the universe. Take that, universe. So, in honor of you, the cow, a poem. (Whooboy, this blog is sure taking a turn for the verse! Sorry...No, you know what? Not sorry.)

Afternoon With Irish Cows
Billy Collins

There were a few dozen who occupied the field
across the road from where we lived,
stepping all day from tuft to tuft,
their big heads down in the soft grass,
though I would sometimes pass a window
and look out to see the field suddenly empty
as if they had taken wing, flown off to another country.

Then later, I would open the blue front door,
and again the field would be full of their munching,
or they would be lying down
on the black and white maps of their sides,
facing in all directions, waiting for rain.
How mysterious, how patient and dumbfounded
they appeared in the long quiet afternoons.

But every once in a while, one of them

would let out a sound so phenomenal
that I would put down the paper
or the knife I was cutting an apple with
and walk across the road to the stone wall
to see which one of them was being torched
or pierced through the side with a long spear.

Yes, it sounded like pain until I could see
the noisy one, anchored their on all fours,
he neck outstretched, her bellowing head
laboring upward as she gave voice
to the rising, full-bodied cry
that began in the darkness of her belly
and echoed up through her bowed ribs into her gaping mouth.

Then I knew that she was only announcing
the large, unadulterated cowness of herself,
pouring out the ancient apologia of her kind
to all the green fields and the gray clouds,
to the limestone hills and the inlet of the blue bay,
while she regarded my head and shoulders
above the wall with one wild, shocking eye.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

it's time for not me

I can't quite drag myself off to bed without dutifully putting something up here. You know, it's awfully hard to keep in touch with that inner you when she's asleep. I have a case of the humdrums, so it's time for a bit of inspiration (I had a large dose of stupid talk radio today: I think to truly enjoy call-in shows you have to be bitter enough to like listening to fragile misguided people get crushed by their icons. No wonder it's a nasty aftertaste).

Advice to a Prophet
Richard Wilbur

When you come, as soon you must, to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God’s name to have self-pity,

Spare us all word of weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.

Nor shall you scare us with talk of death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?—
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone’s face?

Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters. We could believe,

If you told us so, that the white tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without
The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return,

These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which we beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.

Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

baby photo steps

Ahh the stapes, incus and malleus. Taken by some enterprising folks on a real 'Fantastic Voyage" Posted by Hello


First of all, I'm upset with the lack of photo-ness on my blog. I got as far as the downloading of the photo-doohicky that allows you to upload pics from your computer. But I still haven't installed my scanner software into my new frankensteinian computer. (My old computer, Edith* was euthanized and then reborn into new form. Nice trick. She is now split into neat Freudian categories: the Superego, affectionately known as "Mutt," the id, "Edith Jr." and the ego, "Jeff." This brings me to a brief but hopefully pithy aside about my own love of naming inanimate objects. I'm the embarassing type of person who searches for just the right name for a car. I mean it--it might take days to hit just the right name. Now, you can argue that it's related to some squishy feminine trait, as in, real men would never name a mere machine. I'll ignore you, but you can argue, if you like. And yes, as a matter of fact, I do like quiche, you must be right. Or we can get metaphysical about the attempt to humanize the increasingly mechanized and isolating technological world. Hard to beat that theory. I guess sometimes I'd just call it whimsy. A superstitious but {mostly}amusing whimsy. And sometimes I think it's because it's hard to curse well at something without a name. But there's something decidedly satisfying about finding just the right name. Something about the power of names, maybe, as in the old wizardry of true naming begetting power over a thing; something about the richness that comes with charactering our lives with certain personalities we ourselves create; something about the power of belief. I mean, have you ever named something by accident? That name just stuck. And it comes to mean something to you, the way Jennifer will always mean that girl you hated in elementary school, or how you always find yourself attracted to men named "Chris" {which stinks for you, since that name's awfully common}. Woe betide you if the personality you've accidently created comes to mean inconsistency, or maliganancy--that lemon of a car, or that evil computer--for in these cases you are making your own destiny. That is, if you are the type of person to name inanimate objects.)

Anyway, I was going to say that I'm green with envy over my dear friend's recent travels and housey projects. Recently I have begun longing for a more settled sort of spot, without projected life upheaveals. I can't say I'm unhappy with school. Today, for example, was a great day. And yet...and yet. I have felt so unfinished for so long. I know this desire for "finish" for the compelling illusion it is, but the definition of compelling illustrates the problem. Maybe it's only the Mass disatisfaction kicking in harder. Maybe only the ticking of that infamous bioligical clock (talk about the power of naming--what might we look like as a nation without that cultural mythos?). Maybe it's related to ice cream for lunch (yesterday) and chocolate pecan pie for dinner (today). Maybe spring fever? Are all of these on your current rule-out list? Treatment: supportive care, make-up to conceal that fresh grass cast to the skin, a bolus of see-how-much-fun-vet school can be? We'll have to wait and see how she does...

*I swear to you, the first day I started my computer, the computer icon or some welcome screen said something about my computer, Edith. No, I don't partake of the things you suggest, nor have I ever been hospitalized. For anything. Her name was just Edith. Why do you find this hard to believe?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

other things I'd rather

In other words, I'm typing to that infamous muse, the reader, instead of thinking of good probing questions to ask the dairy farmer tomorrow. We have a herd project (heard of what?) for this rotation, where we look at different aspects of a dairy and try to figure out areas of improvement. And because I imagine that one of the edifying thing about reading blogs is that you get a glimpse of a truly different daily life, here's a doozy for you. You are running a dairy, milking about 300 head, mostly Holsteins (what most people picture when you say "cow"). This means you get up pretty early, milk for 4 to 5 hours, take an hour break to clean the parlour, and then start up all over again. Not to mention that you need to feed the cows, watch them for signs of heat, lameness, general badness, and scrape the barn (a true necessity, if you know cows). The coolest thing about dairymen is that they can tell you what cow it is by looking at them, often only looking from the feet and udder perspective (most parlors being sunk low in the floor). I wish I was as good at names, only I guess most people'd look at you a bit sidelong if you stared at their feet and crotch before you said hello ("Oh, HI Madge, didn't recognize you at first--sitting behind that desk and all."). But to prove a point that was long ago proven, all specialties have their lingo, and dairy farming is no exception. So I'm trying to look cool, here (can't help it, you would too---do you like to look like an idiot? I didn't think so), and come up with some real professional questions. OK, you internet dairyman/woman you, so tell me: TMR or component feeding? How's your average calving interval? What's your cull rate, and from what? LDAs/RDAs common? Ketosis/milk fever/fat cow syndrome (you heard me, fat cow syndrome)? See, you hadn't ever really thought about it, have you? Every subject only becomes infinitely more complicated when you delve into it--could you run a dairy farm? Maybe you already do. But I bet most of you couldn't. This infinite complication fractal-like theory is why I'm a splitter, not a lumper, but that's a different blog. Later.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that I was stuck with talk radio again today, and I could barely stand it. (Do you think I'd fail the rotation if I accidentally pulled out a few crucial wires?) So in self-defense, and to rid my brain of that nasty talk radio aftertaste, I thought it was poem time. And this time I was kind to any poetry haters out there, 'cause I waited till the end. This is one of my favorites, but it really should be read aloud. Don't be shy, unless you're in one of those internet cafe things, in which case, go ahead and be shy. This is why I despair of modern vocabulary. We just don't get to roll our tongue about words the way we used to. I'll admit, for some this one may need an intro: it's about a lovely wet spot, somewhere wild, with a brook ripping through it. Would that today's environmentalists could be so eloquent.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). Poems. 1918.

33. Inversnaid

THIS darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth 5
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through, 10
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet; 15
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

You go, Gerard.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Am' bye le tor i adj., n, pl. -ries. --adj 1. pertaining to or capable of walking. 2. adapted for walking, as in the limbs of many animals. 3. moving about; not stationary. 4. Med. not confined to bed: ambulatory patient. 5. Law. not fixed; alterable or revocable: ambulatory will. --n. 6. Archit. a place for walking: a. the side aisle suurounding the choir or chancel of a church. b. the arcaded walk around a cloister.

Which may mean only that I love my father's old American College Dictionary from 1956 (beat that, you stupid definition websites, who seem to think that ambulatory only means "able to walk" --of course it's simple for your immediate needs, but who can beat the feeling of that thin, fragile paper as it slips between your fingers, and those delicious indentations as your fingers search the alphabet!), and it does indeed have fun illustrations (one of these days I'll scan in the illustration I just passed, the alpaca, which seems more relevant to my life than it used to), but if you're getting the hang of this, you'll guess there's another reason for the definition. You are so smart, my dear. But first, I must still praise the multitudes of definitions provided by my dear dictionary. Can't you imagine? The silent monks thoughtfully contemplating their way around the ambulatory? And I'm afraid I will not be able to go through tomorrow without thinking, "where there's an ambulatory will, there's a way." This is sort of a bad joke, as you will see.

Anyhoo, I've currently just started my ambulatory rotation (A-HA), meaning I drive an hour south every day to ride with many vets to go see many cows, horses, sheep, goats and alpacas (and mules and so forth). And we do some ambulating, but mostly we drive. It has been refreshing to see the back pockets of CT looking so lovely (though I have NO idea what the point of having a small model light house in your yard is, or why this is a common lawn ornament here--do you worry about driving your lawnmower into the rocks while you cut your grass in those stormy CT waters?). And really, this ambulatory thing was only a big lead in to the fact that I am in the car a lot and one of the vets listens to a little talk radio now and again (for me, an awful lot like the mysterious light house lawn ornament question, but hey, at least in this case I know the person in question has a pretty good sense of the ridiculous during these times) and I got to thinking about how the country, and maybe even the world is a lot like vet school social life.

Let me explain. You see, in vet school you are sitting in a classroom with about 80 other people. Not once in a while, but all day. Every day. And when you go home, well, most of the time you can't go run about with your non-vet school friends who might give you some refreshing sense of reality. So it gets pretty incestuously small town gossip around there. As in, the person who you aren't mad at but thought perhaps you needed to discuss something with is pretty sure you're mad five minutes before you mention to another completely different person that you need to talk to the original someone. It's not just the smallness of the fishbowl, it's the twisting of the intent. And hey, unfortunately, people have a little nasty side that loves to speculate and talk. And lately I think that TV news and talk radio are simply big, bored vet students, who are sitting next to you in class, or on your couch, and saying "hey, didja hear about so and so? I hear she/he..." I listened to one radio jock decide that, on pure speculation, that there must be another man involved in some romance scandal. And then everyone who called in was equally convinced. Quite astonishing, in a crap-I-can't believe-the-power-of suggestion-really-works way. But man, are we nosey creatures in this country. And any silence is simply something hidden that we're pretty sure we know about. And you people think your teenage girls are bad, the way they talk about boys!

Slippery words, how we twist you and claim ignorance. And that dictionary seemed so innocent about 20 minutes ago...