Why not...

My last of twenty-seven years in the secondary classroom, my baby just now in college, a government and economy looking like something out of Duck Soup, a pituitary tumor, chronic migraines... Hell, why not write a blog?

(My students are now gone. I'm now a civilian and really no longer a "lame duck." I hope the readers of Mama Duck will come to my new blog for some new writing and new directions. My new blog is at: Writing Isle to Isle.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Overnight Memes and Brilliant Satirical Response

I've been watching in amazement the proliferation of Photoshopped images (now a meme) of the sadistic officer pepper spraying UC Davis students. This article gives a good sampling of some of the better ones if you've missed these popping up on Facebook. http://www.christianpost.com/news/casually-pepper-spraying-cop-internet-meme-uc-davis-pepper-spray-incident-goes-viral-overnight-photos-62728/

The best use of this meme I've seen to date, though, is a dubbed YouTube video done by Sarah Harbin called "Hitler Reacts to Pepper Spray Meme." Had to share it here. (I've noticed that double clicking and going directly to the YouTube page will get better results for some reason. Don't know why this is the case, but it is. Trust me, it's worth the trip.) Thanks to Sergio Toporek who had posted this on his Beware of Images Facebook Page.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A bit scared of red?

This morning I made a quick run to my mailbox in the school office to check for mail. Our union flyer I had hung there last Wednesday that reminded teachers to wear red as a show of solidarity for the opening of the special legislative session today hung over me as I sorted through mail. I caught just a snippet of a conversation leaving through a door questioning if red was appropriate-- "Isn't red the color of Communists?" one teacher questioned, mostly in jest. Still, I sent this quick note to the staff and thought I'd share it with you all as well. 

Why red today?

For those a bit uncomfortable with the Socialist and Communist links to red, a bit of history might allay your worries. Red has long roots as a signifier of defiance. Captain John (a teacher on our staff known for nautical lore) might tell you that late 13th Century records show ships at war sometimes used red flags to indicate ‘no quarter would be given’ meaning surrender was not an option and any prisoners taken would be killed. Red meant business. It’s time we as teachers mean business when we say “no more cuts!” http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/vxt-dvb2.html#baucens

Later on, castles, ports, and towns that refused to surrender during a siege would hoist a red flag, following this tradition. Perhaps we should all hoist red flags above our public school buildings, above each and every crowded classroom. 

Socialists and Communists certainly adopted red in their 19th and 20th Century struggles. Teachers as well, many with Socialist and Communist tendencies, adopted red flags as their symbols. One was Yetta Stromberg who taught at a summer camp that helped working-class kids. She was a dedicated teacher and communist. She was also 19 years old. Her problem was hoisting a red flag daily which violated a California law passed in 1919 that prohibited the public display of red flags—dangerous stuff. Yetta was arrested along with other camp counselors. Their case went to the Supreme Court. Alito and Scalia weren’t on that court, and the Court found for Stromberg. Ah, the good old days when our Supreme Court actually protected individual speech. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0283_0359_ZS.html

Red, of course, has other symbolism. Blood, passion, anger—all of these should fit the circumstances of our teachers in public schools today as this special legislative session opens to figure out what to do with a budget short fall. A short fall not caused by us, but by national circumstances and regressive tax structures within our state. We put our blood and passion into this job, and we should all be damn angry that any legislature would entertain cutting our public schools again.

So time to hoist the red flag gang!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Shopping Stinks

This morning my husband and I marveled at the viral YouTube video, The Waffle Riot, showing Walmart shoppers climbing over each other while showing ample ass crack in an appliance-grabbing frenzy. (I had earlier posted the video, but it appears to no longer be working...hmm. Is Walmart offended?) Anyway, I guess I’m un-American. I don’t get it. Not only would I never hang out for a bargain at a box store, I don’t like to shop. Period. I don’t like the crowds. I don’t like having to cruise row after row of cars, only to in the final moments of actually finding a vacant slot for mine, have to battle for it like Mad Max with some frantic guy in an SUV. The poor bastard, of course, is on his way to fulfill a jewelry-store fantasy planted in his head by a Jared commercial, but the diamonds he’ll buy his wife are no doubt dripping in Congolese blood. I don’t like the plastic bags, or plastic smiles on the salespeople, or plastic sales prices. I don’t like having to stand in a long line to give some corporation my money.

The worst part of shopping for me is the fragrance. Well, calling the stench in malls “fragrance” is like calling midriff tops on middle-aged women “fashion.” Trying to shop in a mall for a migraineur is a process of breath-holding zigzags through pungent clouds of synthetic compounds pumped out of stores like Abercrombie and Fitch. Of course, like radiation, these chemicals don’t stop at their doors. They fallout into the public course ways landing on jackets, hair, and purchases; the benzene derivaties, aldehydes, and other toxins and neuro-sensitizers—many known carcinogens are inhaled by hapless shoppers like me looking for jeans that fit. Nine-five percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are derived from petroleum. Breathe in that middle-eastern oil, shoppers.

These odors not only trigger migraines, but possibly cause cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions—these are all pretty serious allegations. But of course, we have known about these health risks for a long time, or at least our government has. In a study brought before the US House of Representatives in the 1980s in a report --Neurotoxins: At Home and the Workplace, Report by the Committee on Science & Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, Sept. 16, 1986 (Report 99-827)—it was clear that the soup of chemicals used in the various fragrances used to cover the normal odors of life posed health risks. But government opted for "self-regulation" to “protect” consumers from these dangers. After all, fragrance companies are the experts on fragrance. Why should bureaucrats get involved?

Even though both the FDA and EPA have the power to regulate these toxins, government has handed our health and safety over to industry associations like the International Fragrance Association and the Personal Care Products Council aka the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA). Of course, just like the rest of the government regulatory structure, the entries and exits to these private guardians of public consumer health are strictly guarded by revolving doors. Take John Bailey, PhD, the former head of FDA’s cosmetics branch. Guess what lucrative digs he’s in: yep—Vice President of the Personal Care Products Council. Bailey and his friends at the Personal Care Products Council are busy lobbying for over 600 companies in Washington, D.C. to promote “science-based legislation." And on goes the iron-fragrance triangle.

“Science-based legislation.” What could be wrong with that, right? Well, since the cosmetics industry “self regulates” in order to protect their precious ingredients (we could tell you what’s in our fragrance, but we’d then have to kill you), it’s their science we must rely upon. That’s kind of like relying upon BP’s scientists to tell us if the Gulf is safe for manatees, or relying upon PG & E to assess the levels of hexavalent chromium in Hinkley, California. Lobbying organizations, both international and national tell consumers they’ve set “safety standards” and have strict “code of practices” while ensuring their member manufacturers that their trade secrets are kept in the vault. That, of course, prevents governments from moving toward labeling or demanding a knowledge of ingredients that would be required to do independent research for the protection of public health. My favorite PR piece on the Personal Care Products Council website is a “petition” that consumers can click on that reads as follows:

I strongly support the Safe Cosmetics Alliance and am eager to sign this petition. It supports science-based legislation that will modernize and strengthen FDA oversight of personal care products.

I love the personal care products that I use - from my daily moisturizer to bath soap to shaving cream - and want to ensure that they continue to meet the highest safety standards. That's why I support the work of the Safe Cosmetics Alliance and legislation that will modernize the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in ways that will enhance cosmetics regulation and further empower scientists at the FDA. I fully support the Alliance's efforts to enhance FDA oversight and give the Agency the information and flexibility it needs to continue to ensure product safety and safeguard my health. Therefore, I join the members and employees of the Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors, the Professional Beauty Association, the Direct Selling Association, the Personal Care Products Council, and consumers of cosmetics and personal care products in encouraging you to support science-based legislation.

Unfucking believable. You really do have to hand it to the public relations/lobbying world. Somewhere in the fragrance is a whiff of Frank Luntz. In the meantime, malls have become veritable chemical zones. Last summer I needed to run into an Apple store in one of our local malls. I knew the closest exit to the store, I walked directly to the Apple store, purchased the item for my daughter’s computer, and left immediately. I wasn’t in the store five minutes. Unfortunately it’s in the same wing of the mall as Abercrombie and Fitch. I didn’t even walk by that store. When I returned to the truck, my husband, who had been waiting there for me said, “God, you reek! You’ve got to get that sweatshirt off or you’re going to have a migraine.” I shelled off the sweatshirt and stored it in a cubby in the bed of the truck. It was too late. The odor was in my hair, in my jeans, in my skin even. We rolled down the windows and I helplessly felt the pain come on.

Yes, shopping stinks. Literally. But so too does the reason it stinks. And that stench can be followed all the way to Washington, D.C.

Want to read more about the issue? Here are some links:
Environmental Health Network Petition Summary Analysis
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Living in a state of blessedness

Yesterday morning I woke up 52. There’s nothing particularly sea-changing about that number, but there it is. There’s evidently no numerological protection from pain associated with the number, no Mayan calendar significance for 11/19/11, because as I write this, I have the usual morning migraine.

Even so, yesterday and today I awoke in a state of blessedness. I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept over the past week. I sit in a warm, comfortable home with a beautiful view. I get copious amounts of love daily from my husband, my daughter (now from an Iphone), my codependent cat who must be on my lap constantly, and our rescue wonder dog, a high-strung Border Collie who possesses equal amounts of high IQ and emotional baggage from when she had been abused before we got her. Our other cat cuts into the fray with body motions I’ve seen Great White Sharks use on National Geographic shows. She tries to communicate--what I’m not sure. She’s short on social skills (possibly a form of feline Aspergers), so her methods of getting and giving love are hard to figure out sometimes. But she’s part of the family, and we’ve dubbed her “Sharkey” (even though that’s not her name). She sleeps by my side of the bed, and I think that’s her way to tell me she loves me. Or that she loves her cat bed placed there. Regardless, our home is filled with lots of funny, furry love.

For a living I’ve been doing what I love for 27 years—teaching. And my philosophy of teaching is that inspiration and motivation (two things that don’t show up on standardized test scores) are some of the most important components of my lessons. I have a lot of fun in my classes—I laugh a lot with my students. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have done it this long. I believe that laughter is in itself a state of blessedness. Last week I had a student linger after school to open a conversation about possibly studying history or political science next year after he graduates. I encouraged him of course. Then he said, “I’m sorta thinking of teaching…I mean this class makes me want to teach…I can be a real pain if I don’t like a class, but I really like what we’re learning.” I smiled. I told him I used to be a pain if I didn’t like a class as well. He’s a bright young man, the kind we’d hope would find their way into teaching. Let’s hope the powers that be in education with their standardized tests and new acronyms every Thursday will find a way to keep him once he’s in the field. Teachers need support, a simple blessing really—well, that and a better paycheck, especially for entry-level teachers.

My blessings extend beyond my immediate family and my career. I couldn’t talk about this feeling of being in a state of blessedness without talking about my two best friends. I somehow fell into a tripartite accord that has lasted since 1977, the first day I walked into my college dorm at the University of Montana. The three of us have kept the others’ bodies, souls and spirits afloat all these years. One of the greatest blessings that comes from this triangle is to have a language all our own. Over the years we have cobbed together some synthesized trialogue based in Jimmy Buffet lyrics, Steve Martin riffs, and margarita moments. And how comforting it has been to effortlessly fall into the rhythm of that language at moments in my life when I could barely stand on my own. A hair-dye intervention when my dad was dying and my mom had Alzheimers. A call before neuro-surgery. Lifting me after a long bout of migraines. As I’ve told them, we’re as sturdy as a three-legged Montana bar stool.

The etymology of the word blessedness in Christian texts comes from 15th century beatitude, meaning “supreme happiness.” But of course, Christianity mixed “blood” in suggesting Christ’s sacrifice for sins committed by all of us sinners to come. In the writing and re-writing of various books in the Bible, blessedness meant anything from Old Testament blessedness that God bestowed upon Adam and Eve in providing them companionship and a Hawaii-like setting to the kind of blessedness Israel received. “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” (Genesis 22:17). The land of Canaan was later delivered to Israel as a birthright, and “Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry.” (1 Kings 4:20) Later in world history, after the Balfour Declaration, pogroms in Russia, and a couple vicious world wars, the Palestinians scratched their heads and said “whose blessing?”

 Of course the most significant Christian teaching on blessedness comes from Christ’s sermon on the mount (Matthew 5). How the Christian right fails to keep this portion of the Bible in their NRA crosshairs is beyond me, but not being a Christian myself, it’s a part of their scriptures I particularly like:

The Beatitudes
1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Christ was a lot more about doing than saying, and for him, a state of blessedness resulted from deeds. The Hindus likewise believe that a state of blessedness, nirvana, must be earned through deeds. I like that part of their belief structures; I don’t like the notion that poverty is explained by not doing a good enough job in the good deed category in a past life. One life can be challenging enough; I hate to see children in desperate poverty assumed to be guilty for something they did in a past existence. But then America has a status quo way of justifying poverty, and it is just as deeply rooted in the Protestant work ethic and our Puritan roots. Go figure.

Of all religions, I find the teachings of Buddha to resonate most clearly about true blessedness. After all, isn’t blessedness how we cope with the dualities of life? Isn’t it a process of finding rich fulfillment in those we love while living within a world constantly darkened by a pepper-sprayed hate? Aren’t we, especially as we age, losing family and friends by cruel illnesses and tragedies only by pulling ourselves through those losses in finding life-affirming connections and joy in those we still have with us? Don’t I continue to despair at our broken political and economic system and at the same time find enormous humor in its players? Can I prevent the corporatization of public schools or curb testing that doesn’t gauge critical thinking? No. But I can inspire and teach and motivate until the end of the year. And have a hell of a good time doing it.

So here I am in my state of blessedness, continually looking and attempting to learn more as I age. There’s so much to learn and do and be before I grow up, and my fulfillment will continue to be in the people I love and the connections I make with others. And that includes my animals. For who could look into the eyes of a Border Collie and not think of the word nirvana?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A John Gault November Rain

 Joshua Trujillo, from the Seattle PI, took this picture of 84 year old Dorli Rainey who had just been pepper sprayed to remove her and others from Occupy Seattle.

It’s raining today. It’s a God-awful cold, oppressive rain, the kind that feels like a million John Gaults pouring down from the smothering gray. I know each drop is a false prophet sent from FOX News. Miniature Gaultians all boasting and blustering, but few produce grand machines or wet us with brilliant self-reliance or teach kids to read. It’s a kind of rain that drowns us with mortgage-backed securities and horse’s-ass-race politics. It’s a trickle-down kind of rain.

It’s just the kind of rain that soaks kids and old women and priests holding the lines at Occupy Seattle. It’s the kind of rain chilling those in Occupy Portland. It’s a rain full of police truncheons. A rain that smells like pepper spray. It’s a window-pounding rain rapping in a staccato “Zuc-cot-ti Park” “Zuc-cot-ti Park” rhythm. And this damp night cadence that reminds me that kids and women like Dorli Rainey, pepper sprayed at the age of 84 for holding her ground, for being an age at which one knows that dignity comes from endurance, no longer have tents tonight. Tents. Tents are too much to ask when regular people are exercising their First Amendment rights. Our Supreme Court sprinkled corporations with our rights as if those rights were holy water anointing medieval kings. So endorsed and blessed, these corporations exercise their First Amendment from the comfort of leather boardroom chairs and attorney luncheons.   

But our kids and old women like Dorli continue speaking truth in raw sopping cold. How much I owe them. And, God, I do hate November rain.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dr. Jekyll, have you tried herbal tea?

I haven’t updated this blog as of late. I’ve struggled with migraines and haven’t been myself. Or maybe this is my new self.  I don’t know. Cancer survivors talk about “the new normal.” I’ve been living with disabling migraines as my normal for nearly twenty years now.

I have Jekyll and Hyde migraine cycles. I’ve had an especially Hyde run in the past two weeks. Today I sit here without any pain and think about the woman—that agonized and exhausted and dispirited and edgy Ms. Hyde who’s been walking around in my scarves and sunglasses. I drank no potion for her to assume my identity, and there’s no consistency for when she’ll show up for a week or two. I have no real antidote for her arrival either, none that spirits her away to another dimension. I sit here relieved, though, just glad the imposter is taking a break for a while, for I know she could assume my identity by tomorrow morning.

Ms. Hyde looks a lot older than me for starters, partly because her face is contorted by the pain in the right half of her head and partly because she is too exhausted in the mornings to apply makeup. She awakes in my bed almost daily with half of her head skewered by some invisible sharp object. Sometimes I can dull the pain in her right eye and send her packing; sometimes I can’t. She wears sunglasses to class and looks to the world like a bitter mid-lifer with a hangover. She barely smiles at students I happen to adore. They’re enormously patient and indulgent with her. She reads emails from administrators and loses patience too quickly with their inept decision-making. Loud bells, perfume in the halls, and flickering fluorescent lights only elevate my alter ego’s potency. By the end of the school day Ms. Hyde is spent from her forays into my world. She drives my car home (using my driver’s license) where she falls into my bed and sleeps on my pillow for hours. This after kissing my husband. The nerve of the woman!

I’m not bi-polar, and I know Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, from where we get the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde metamorphoses, certainly was not written as an allegory for a migraineur’s cycles. But there’s something to the lack of control I currently feel over my own life that parallels Stevenson’s tale. There’s likewise an echo in his story about a general public lack of understanding (or sometimes even disapproval) and resulting personal shame tied to migraines. And Dr. Jekyll increasingly could not control Mr. Hyde. In the past two weeks, that’s the way I’ve been feeling. I’m losing control over these migraines, and thus, I’m losing myself.

Migraines are different than other chronic diseases. They come with a lot of baggage in public ignorance. People are sympathetic, but often offer well-meaning advice on how to “cure” your “headaches.” Here’s a partial list of advice I’ve received from perfectly lovely people who’ve wanted to help:
“Do you have stress?” (I teach high school…ya think?)
“Use wrist bands.” (The kind with special pressure point balls on them. Useless as teats on a boar hog.)
“Drink herbal tea.” (Very popular in my part of the country. So many herbs to choose from. Cannabis? Now that might work.)
“Have you tried acupuncture?” (I did; it was relaxing but did nothing to prevent or alleviate my migraines.)
 “Have you tried deep-tissue massage?” (I did; and it actually triggered migraines.)
 “Try Vitamin C.” (In all forms…nothing.)
 “Have you tried salty foods? Just eat a bag of chips when you start to get a migraine.” (Eating when getting a migraine is beyond me. I’m a chip slut otherwise. Enough so that I should never have migraines again.)
“Have you tried cold packs?” (Yes. It helps with alleviating the pain some, but it certainly doesn’t get rid of the pain. And that’s only after you get one.)
 “Have you tried feverfew?” (Yes.  Doesn’t work.)
 “Vitamin B2?” (Tried it.)
“Vitamin B6?” (Tried it.)
“Vitamin B-12?” (Yes, I take it daily.)
“Peppermint oil for your temples?” (Peppermint smells better after you vomit.)
 “Masturbation”….honest to god…masturbation. As if when I was getting that kind of pain in my head I’d feel like rubbing myself into ecstasy.  Seriously?
“Jazz music and menthol on the temples.” (I really should introduce the last two people. I envision a great-smelling jazz club.)
“Gingersnaps.” (Might be good for mild nausea but not the kind of full hug-the-porcelain dry heave for hours kind of sick I get with migraines.)
“Ginger root.” (Ditto)
I remember one person telling me that her migraines stopped when she got a divorce. (Yikes. I love my husband so much and couldn’t have survived all these years of migraines without him. But I have met husbands that would trigger migraines. Mine isn’t in that category.)

This list of advice given me illustrates a general lack of understanding of migraines as a neurological disease. And the fact that I’ve tried so many of these things shows both my desperation and journey of understanding myself. Migraineurs fall into magical thinking. “Maybe there will be a simple thing I’ll remove from my diet and migraines will be gone forever.” This comes from anecdotes shared from some of these same people. “My friend removed all cultured dairy products and never had another migraine.” Of course, I know my worst food triggers and have eliminated them from my diet. But as a chronic migraineur, it’s just not that simple. There are so many triggers. And food that triggers a migraine on one day might not trigger one on the next.

But advice keeps coming. This last week an ex-student posted on my Facebook wall (again with the best of intentions) the following: Have you tried juicing before? Or watched the movie "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead"?? It's changed my life and probably my dads. There's a whole piece in there about a woman with migraines improving so I was thinking about you!”

Wow, I thought as I read it in pain. “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” What a title. I don’t really feel all that fat, but sick sure fits the bill. I’d be highly insulted if I didn’t know this young woman’s heart. I felt like posting “I have a juicer—love fresh juice, but it doesn’t do much for neurological disorders like migraines.” I didn’t.

Researchers have much to figure out, but they’re pretty sure now that migraines are largely an inherited genetic abnormality. In short—migraines are a neurological disease. Brains of those of us who get migraines, especially chronic migraines, react differently to types of stimuli, especially visual stimuli. Our brains are hypersensitive and over respond to triggers, which cause profound pain. People with “normal” brains exposed to the same stimuli or triggers have no such response. This puts migraines into a similar category of understanding as epilepsy. Both are chronic neurologic disorders with episodic manifestations. This similarity is a reason anti-seizure medicines epilepsy patients take are also preventatives given to migraineurs.

Do people with epilepsy get told by friends that juicing could change their lives? I hope to hell not. And don’t get me wrong—I know that food and a healthy life style are essential to fighting any chronic disease. But would “remedies” like vitamins and herbal teas and—God help me—masturbation be offered up to those with epilepsy? My hunch is probably not. We have a much different social story around epilepsy (although there’s a tragic history of public misunderstanding there as well).

One diet change that has helped me manage my disease in the past is an anti-inflammatory routine. It helped in prevention, but it didn’t keep me from having all migraines. I’m moving back to that process now. That helps because it pretty much takes just about any food trigger out of my diet because it takes just about all food out of my diet: no dairy, no sugar, no wheat or gluten, no alcohol (which I so rarely drink because of migraines anyway—it’s no problem), no chocolate (certainly a migraine trigger), no red meat (no problem), and heavy on Omega 3s—fish, etc., etc. I’ll really miss bread. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, my mind wanders like Rick Perry’s during a debate. I imagine Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde somewhat differently. What if Dr. Hastie Lanyon had, instead of trying to talk Jekyll into some rational sense, offered him the following advice?
“Dr. Jekyll, what might work is to simply have some herbal tea.” Or
“Dr. Jekyll, have you tried masturbation when a metamorphosis is coming on?” Or
“I say, Dr. Jekyll old friend, have you tried juicing?”