Saturday, February 22, 2003

Good news for a change: The first full-length paper, on sex determination in an inbreeding wasp, has been submitted to a major journal. We think it'll be accepted, although of course we won't know this for some months. I'm planning to go to work on the second paper, on the quantification of natural inbreeding in the same wasp species next week. Then I'll have to take a couple of weeks off to recover from my scheduled --er, body work, and then finish up the paper as soon as possible. I've also submitted an abstract for a presentation at a conference in Australia, although my ability to attend will depend on whether or not my proposed postdoc there gets funded.

I got a message telling me that I'm not on the short list regarding the application that I sent to the University of British Columbia. As disappointments go, that one's minor; UBC would have been a fun place to work, I think, but the actual work I would have been doing was not really defined in the job posting, and it would have depended somewhat on whether a prospective mentor was interested. At this point, I'm much more comfortable with the idea of lining up a mentor and a project before actually relocating anywhere.

It's amazing how clear it's become that working on the bug stuff is crucial to my physical and mental health. I've read a considerable amount of mind-body self-help stuff, and tend to take what I like and leave the rest; in other words, I'm skeptical of much of it but not all of it. It's fairly clear that I was already having mild symptoms of endometriosis a few years ago, but my body held it at bay until my last semester, when I took on a heavy teaching load much against my better judgment. I got whomped with increasing levels of pain starting in August, when things were beginning to go nuts; although the problem is hormonally cyclic to begin with, it was always much, much worse on teaching days. The one day, near the end of the process, when I had an argument (minor) with a committee member, I hadn't been in any pain until I got angry. Gladys promptly kicked in and did her best impression of a scraped knee for the rest of the night. And, after graduation, the pain began to increase in proportion to my boredom.

Now, when I'm back in the lab, I forget that I'm bummed out and apprehensive about having surgery. The writing and rewriting of the papers has been almost as physically effective as Vicodin; I cheer up by reminding myself that I'll be able to come back to the lab after two weeks or so and write again. Meanwhile, I sporadically read self-help books describing women (and men) whose health improves when they make positive decisions about their lives. Yes, it's anecdotal and subjective. All individual stories are. Many of the stories, at least for women, are related to resolving romantic or family relationships that have become toxic. I'm wondering now whether the most poisonous things in my own life have always been boredom and intellectual self-doubt. Yup, there's other baggage there, of course -- and much of it is related to having put my intellectual and creative life on hold, when I was younger, while remaining in less-than-functional relationships or mismatched jobs.

Now, in my forties, I'm married to a man who loves both me and my bugs (love you too, Rick, though I can't speak on behalf of the bugs!) I've finally completed the Ph.D. that I swore, at 25, that I'd never bother to get. I have friends in at least four different worlds (biological, Unitarian, quizbowl, and peace activism) which occasionally intersect. There are times now when I actually believe that even my mother understands me. :-) The musical part of my life is still missing, but that's going to take more work; I thought I was ready three years ago, but I've had to remember to give myself more time.

But the puzzle piece that's been holding it all in place lately seems to be a small, inconspicuous solitary wasp that hunts leaf-rolling caterpillars, nests in small holes, and, against all odds, mates with its siblings at a level that would be the envy of Egyptian royalty. My next project will almost certainly involve one or more different species. But it's going to happen, and it's worth getting healthy for it.

Sign-off time. Rebecca has arrived. She always knows how to keep me laughing. That's the other thing that keeps my body and brain together ....

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

I'm getting really, really tired of making multiple trips to the hospital, as well as dealing with a barrage of phone calls between here and there. I really miss the days when they admitted you to a hospital the afternoon before surgery, did all the medical tests and interviews at once, and then gave you a nice sleeping pill so that you could get some rest that night. Every time I manage to put out of my mind the fact that I'm getting several organs downsized simultaneously during the first week in March, someone is calling me with the same stupid questions over and over (no, I haven't become diabetic, started smoking, or changed my marital status since my previous admission on January 30) in the same tone of voice usually reserved for a five-year-old who keeps bringing finger paints into the living room. Given my general loathing of being a patient (deep in my psyche, even the best and most compassionate medical care seems simply a milder form of abuse than less compassionate medical care), it's a minor miracle that the phone hasn't hit the wall with great force at least once.

On the brighter side: Every room in that hospital is now a private room, which is a vast improvement over any other arrangement I can imagine. The last time I was an inpatient there, six years ago, I had a roommate who kept surreptitiously injuring herself in order to stay in the hospital; the single night of my stay there was a Thursday, and this unfortunate pain addict insisted on watching "ER". (Yup, just what I needed after major surgery; overhead, a TV blaring an hour of simulated sick and injured people being stuck with simulated needles and subjected to simulated surgical procedures. Nothing like escapism to cheer up someone who's feeling a bit low.) I personally hope she's found some relief from her disease since, but there's a part of me that would gladly let her stand in for me and have my hysterectomy in my stead if it would make her feel better.

Yeah, this sucks, but I suppose I'd rather have endometriosis than Munchausen's syndrome. Then again, if I had Munchausen's syndrome, I'd probably be utterly delighted to have developed something as tangible as endometriosis.

Now as before: It could be worse ....

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Lansing Photos at Michigan Indymedia

Joined the march to the State Capitol yesterday (pictures -- we got pictures!). Freezing weather doesn't turn away determined Michiganders; it only encourages us. I don't know how big the march was; eyeball estimates from all sources tend to be unreliable. All I know is that it stretched for many, many blocks down Michigan Avenue, and that it felt good to be there.

I haven't really gotten political on this blog before; that hasn't been my main intent in keeping the blog, but there's really no way to avoid it now. For the most part, I don't see the sense in arguing political points, head to head, either with friends or with strangers. I wouldn't argue with any of the forty or fifty counterdemonstrators we encountered on the way. I'm sure they were there in good conscience, just like the thousands of us (and there clearly were thousands, even if we can't be sure how many) who showed up to express our opposition to war. The reason I was there, and most likely the reason most people were there, is because the official explanations of what's going on make no sense to us.

The Iraqi population is suffering terribly under a power-obsessed dictator. It is also suffering under crushing sanctions and sporadic bombings. U.S. military planners have openly discussed raining bombs on a city of five million people, as well as installing a military government after overthrowing Hussein. I don't understand. Are Iraqis supposed to welcome "liberation" from dictatorship, first by incineration of civilians and what's left of their infrastructure, and then by a foreign military occupation? The first time the U.S. allegedly attempted such a thing, in 1991, the U.S. military was ordered to stop short of actually overthrowing Hussein, and the Iraqis who were finally emboldened to attempt open dissent against Hussein were left twisting in the wind. All of this happened in the absence of any serious resistance from the Iraqi military. The message to dictators has clearly not been, "We're going to rescue your people from you." Instead, it's been more like "We're going to do the dirty work of crushing your people for you."

In the meantime, diplomacy and inspections are being treated seriously by just about every nation of the world except for the U.S. ("Nope, our inspections aren't turning up any evidence of banned weapons." "Aha! That just proves beyond a doubt that they're cleverly hiding them!") I've read a lot of Joe Orton. He couldn't have written a better script. But, this isn't a comedy; it's all gallows and no humor. This is a policy that's both homicidal and suicidal. Destruction of civilians and infrastructure in the name of "liberation" is not only going to stir up righteous anger; it's likely to bring all kinds of political and religious fanatics out of the woodwork. Violent fanatics alone may be frightening, but violent fanatics who can easily recruit money and followers represent a rapidly-brewing worldwide disaster.

Add to this noxious stew the whittling away of workers' rights and environmental protection in the U.S. and abroad, the continuing misery caused by AIDS in Africa, and the increasing dominance of multinational corporate money in political institutions worldwide, and we've got even more of a mess. Too much of the world is dangerously armed and embroiled in factional conflict already. Why should we be either complacent or complicit in turning it into an even worse perpetual-anger machine? Warfare was horrific enough when people carried it out with swords and arrows; modern weaponry would make Caligula and Hitler and Pol Pot weep for being born too soon. War has never been more than a stop-gap solution anyway; not only was the first World War ghastly, but it carried many of the roots and seeds of the second.

Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft don't make me feel safe. They scare the living crap out of me, and not because of their dire warnings about evil foreigners. The military doesn't make me feel safe, nor does the police force, nor the airport security guards who conduct weapons searches under the shoes of small children. The collective millions of people protesting in the streets of New York and London and Auckland and Toronto and Melbourne and Barcelona and Tokyo and Rome are the ones who make me feel safe. They're the only ones who can hold governments and corporations accountable for the things done in our names.

We don't treat headaches by trepanning any more. We don't subject the mentally ill to exorcisms. We no longer offer human or animal sacrifices to hungry gods to ensure a good crop or a strong city. Why do so many of us believe, uncritically, the story that the best way to avenge or prevent murder is with more murder? Let's figure out something else, while the species is still around and able to do so.