dermatological detective

Just in case someday someone else would need to Google "Bikram yoga ear blisters," I'm going to tell this story.

A few weeks ago, my gf pointed out that I had a blister on the back of my right ear. Since it didn't itch or hurt, I hadn't realized it was even there. I forgot about it for a couple of weeks until I happened to see it in the mirror. Then I tried a hot compress, a sterilized needle, and various other things to get it to go away. No dice. In the meantime, I got a blister on the outside edge of my other ear. I'm not someone who's ever had skin sensitivities, contact dermatitis, or chemical allergies, so this was kind of strange. I hadn't changed soap, or gotten sunburned. The only thing I was doing was a lot of yoga, but I couldn't figure out how that would blister my ear.

And then, after a couple days of thinking about this, I got the bright idea to take out my earrings. The same little silver earrings I've worn for years. And within a day, the blisters were clearing up -- and so was my face, which had been unusually splotchy and irritated. Within three days all was clear. The problem? I seem to have developed a nickel sensitivity induced by sweating while wearing earrings. Silver earrings, (and in fact, almost all gold earrings, too) contain small amounts of nickel (the metal most people with such sensitivities react to). Sweat releases the nickel from the metal and often creates skin reactions. With the rise of body piercing among Westerners, nickel sensitivity is increasing too. The EU has recently issued guidelines for the reduction of nickel in jewelry for pierced wear, and has been performing tests with artificial sweat on the new euro coins to determine the potential public health issues.

So: if you're exercising a lot, do yourself a favor and take out your earrings. I had no idea that after 28 years of pierced ears I could develop a problem. And since my ear piercings themselves weren't affected, it took me a long time to figure it out. In hindsight, I now see that my skin was showing the reaction elsewhere on my face and neck, but I wasn't concerned enough about it to really pay attention. I just figured it was part of the hormonal weirdness of nearing 40.

my dog is on drugs

Our eldest, aka The Boss, had surgery today to remove a tumor. We'll know in a few days the full lab results on the thing. This is her second go-round with cancer -- the last time was a couple years ago and she made a full recovery. This time the lump was smaller and the surgery seems to have gone very well. Plus, her bloodwork all came back good. She's a tough little girl and I'm sure she'll be OK, though of course I've been a nervous mom for the past few days about it. So she is glassy-eyed and staring off into space having doggy visions as the anesthesia wears off. Meanwhile her sister Speedy is pacing around wondering why The Boss won't wrestle with her. The real challenge will be in a day or so when The Boss wants to run around and we're supposed to "limit her activity." Hah.

better 3 days late than never

jo(e)s meme (thanks New Kid for the tag):

Is your blogging persona more serious than your real life persona? No, if anything it would be the other way around. My gf has told me several times that Mel is funnier than I am around the house, or that she wants Mel to show up again soon. Mel is a part of me that doesn't always get expressed in the day-to-day.

Do you think the only safe way an academic can write publicly is to write anonymously? No. But each person should have the freedom to define "safe," "publicly," and "anonymously" to their own liking. For me to feel safe-ish writing about some of the things that I have written about here, I choose a pseudonym. How "public" these words are is something that varies -- it could always be anyone reading them, although most days it's just a couple of folks.

Do you think that your blog could ruin your career? No. And I'm usually pretty careful so that even if it were discovered by my own department, nothing bad would happen beyond a bit of social discomfort. I'm ethical and responsible in real life and pretty much so on my blog.

Do you use a pseudonym out of fear? No. It's more out of playfulness. It's been immensely freeing to write under another name and construct another version of my identity. I've had different online identities over the years and probably different realtime ones too. I'm very comfortable with a fluid notion of the self.

What is the biggest drawback to writing pseudonymously? On occasion I have had to deliberately not write about local events because it would be really obvious where I live, which would make discovering my identity easier.

Has anyone stumbled on your blog and found it accidentally? Not to my knowledge.

Have you outed yourself to any other bloggers?
Yes, several, who I've had email contact with. Only one blogger meet-up so far, but it was delightful and I'd love to meet others if the opportunity presents itself.

Has your blog allowed you to experiment with writing? Yes. I like the way that the blog offers a mediation between completely the "personal" (reflective journaling for self-knowledge) and the "professional."

Why do you use a pseudonym? Because I do very little online under my real name. Because I'm very guarded about my privacy. Because I don't want my students or my colleagues to google my name and come up with my blog. I prefer to live most of my life not on campus, not at work, not in that space of unequal power relations. Here, online, there are opportunities to explore new kinds of communities, new kinds of equality. It's not always better than RL, not often worse. Just different. I know plenty of people who use different names for different situations in RL too and it usually doesn't freak people out. Why, just because those people say it's because of heterosexual marriage, or because of the need for a cool stage name, should their choice be any less valid than a writer's decision to publish under another name, online or in another venue?


quick movie notes

I took the afternoon off today and we went to see Eight Below -- yes, it's a Disney movie, and yes, it's fairly predictable in the way it pulls at your emotions -- but I enjoyed watching the dogs and wept through most of it anyway. I'm all for certain kinds of genre movies -- they can be perfectly satisfying if you know what you're getting in for. Now if only the movie theatre would have a "bring your dog" show the way they do for the "babies welcome" matinee (which we try to avoid) -- I know our eldest, who loves to watch animal shows on TV, would really love it. We're definitely going to get the DVD when it comes out so she can dream of being a sled dog.

We rented Red Eye recently, and I was really surprised at how much I liked it. It came out around the same time as Flight Plan, which we did see in the theater -- I was interested in that coincidence/conjunction and what it says about cultural anxieties about air travel. But seeing Red Eye made me realize how much both films are also about anxieties about women's professionalism. Seems like Jodie Foster's been all about anxious mom movies lately, but one of the premises of FP is that her character's career is what makes her valuable to the highjackers. Same thing is true in RE, but it's a much more engaging and surprisingly feminist movie (who would have expected this from Wes Craven?). Over and over the film suggests that the heroine has to put up with condescending crap from her father and Dr Phil, disguised as "caring." One of her first tips that Creepy Guy Gillian Murphy is a bit off is when he pulls the same thing. Her response: a protective white lie. Women's instincts at observing trouble are lauded (even down to the 11 year old solo traveler) and so is fighting back. Thoroughly enjoyable, even on our moderately sized TV.

Chumscrubber, an indy film that we missed in the theater, was a real gem -- group it with Edward Scissorhands, Donnie Darko, and maybe Elephant -- though it's much more like the former two in tone and style. Suburbia is bad, and no one understands teenagers. And loss is hard to manage. It's quirky, but has real feeling driving the story.


yoga challenge: 22/60

I started writing this post on Monday, when it was 20/60 -- which seemed like more of a round number, the one-third marker. But the challenge continues on...It's been a really great experience so far. I've been a regular Bikram student for about two years, and was up to four or five days a week as my regular routine. But doing it every day consecutively really has bumped my yoga up to another level. This practice really intensifies when you do consecutive classes -- the detoxifying aspects of the heat, the strength and flexibilty improvements all really build upon the previous day's class. My body is changing, really rapidly, even though I'd been practicing for a long while. I hadn't really expected those kind of results (loss of inches, visible changes) since I'm not a complete beginner.

One of the many things I like about Bikram is that we do the same sequence of poses every class. It's meditative and really helps me focus my attention inwards -- both towards the physical details of the poses and towards calming my monkey mind. Like a martial arts form, the Bikram series thoroughly works all the systems of the body in a healthful sequence that serves as a basic daily tuneup, correcting alignment problems, healing injuries, and strengthening the spine. One of the other benefits for both beginners and advanced students is that you can easily mark your progress: the same pose that caused difficulty three months before gets easier; a pose that you thought was easy gets more challenging as you learn its subtleties and improve your form. Definitely, the challenge has improved specific poses for me, like Toestand and Balancing Stick. Both of these were very difficult for me because of my bad ankle and so-so knees. But I've gained stability and strength around those joints and can really feel the difference.

I was tired for a couple of days around 8-9, but at this point I'm really feeling great. The yoga is not the hard part -- scheduling your day around it is. It's a 90 minute class, plus drive time and shower time -- about a 2 1/2 hour block all together. I'm lucky that my partner has been incredibly supportive, taking on some extra chores some days to make sure I can get to yoga.

It's been really great to have the support of people at my studio, too -- there's a wall where if you're doing a challenge, you have a chart where your progress is tracked. A star for every day.

I've never had an athletic goal before. And rarely have I had a goal and action plan that is so crystal clear: go to yoga. every day. that's all. It's really given me clarity and focus in the rest of my life. I'm always setting plans for reforming myself, and I'm sometimes moderately successful with them -- but I don't think I've ever managed to do something for 22 days straight. I'm hoping some of my success with this will carry over to other areas.

4 am and I'm feeling low

Fleh. Pluh. Wfffw. I give in. I must sleep.

I've been staying up late cranking out words for a deadline. I know by now that this is how I usually wind up working, but I'm also feeling frustrated with myself. It's such a disruption of how I prefer to live my life. I've been so healthy this year so far -- getting mostly enough sleep, working out once or twice every day. Now I've gone and thrown a wrench into all of that. And this essay I'm working on is still not where I'd like it to be.

If only I could just blow off my stupid meetings tomorrow. But I think I have to show up for a few hours, wearing my administrator's hat. And then I'll head home again to wrestle with this essay.

As always, I'm busy promising myself that it will be different next time. . .



I didn't mean to be silent for so long. It was just one of those weeks. I certainly didn't mean for my last post before the silence to be so ominous-sounding. True, I was feeling cranky and paranoid when I wrote it -- but several friends pointed out two obvious things to me (regarding the colleague who might know my blog). One, I can always scrutinize my stats daily to see if I'm getting local hits. And two, even if she does know, it really shouldn't/wouldn't change things that much.

More the issue, I think, is that my paranoia about the blog is a symptom of how I've been feeling about this particular person lately. (paranoid, insecure, competitive, irritated)

I've mostly kept pretty clear boundaries with my colleagues -- some I'm friendlier with than others, of course -- regular chats at the office, even occasional lunches. In my first couple of years here I did more weekend/evening socializing with a few of the younger ones, but that has trailed off as we have all developed richer, more complicated lives. I like my colleagues -- but by and large, they aren't people I'd select as close personal friends. So keeping them in the "casual at-work friend" group has been fine. But I'm realizing that sometimes I don't even really feel like making that much effort. Especially if it's going to involve my Sunday afternoons.



I had to go to five different drugstores this week to find my contact lens disinfecting solution. The other stores just didn't have it at all -- some had space on the shelves, but some didn't even have that. Yes, they had other brands, other systems. But I like this one. Finally found two slightly dusty boxes at the grocery store. I'm just hoping that a Target trip this weekend will prove fruitful.

The mascara I've been using for something like 15 years seems to have been discontinued in favor of new super-ultra-pumped-up formulas. The whole reason for buying drugstore mega-brand mascara is that it is widely available and consistent. I hate it when they change these things.

I ordered new running shoes online (since I have big bones and terrible feet, I have to wear special motion control shoes which they don't stock in my size even at the specialty running shops) and when they arrived this week it appears that Saucony has redesigned them. I'm not entirely a fan of the new version.

So, clearly, I am past the freshness date. It's not that I don't like new things, when they are an improvement on the old ways. But once I find something I like, I tend to stick with it.

But, in brighter news, our computer support person let me know that apparently some in the department are getting laptops in addition to their desk machines. . . it's not widely known and depends on what kind of deal you can strike with the Chair. But if I am crafty and successful in my plea, then I could actually have a laptop to use this summer!

I am feeling increasingly paranoid about my blog. More specifically, about the fear that a certain junior colleague who may or may not be a friend of mine (I'm not being coy -- I really can't tell if I think she's in the friend category or not) might have discovered me. Because my fear is that she wouldn't tell me if she did. She would just tell other people. I'm hanging onto my perception that she's so time-conscious she wouldn't waste time online reading about other people's lives. . .

I'm going to have to re-hem a pair of pants I got last fall because I've apparently slimmed down enough that they are now dragging on the floor even with my tall boots on. Yay yoga!


why academics should care about Frey

I haven't been following the James Frey case blow-by-blow, nor do I have the patience to dig up ten zillion links for you all -- you can google search them yourselves if you want to. But it seems really clear to me that this ever-growing network of texts (his "memoir," its initial reviews, the exposes, the follow-ups, etc) creates a wonderful opportunity for literature teachers to engage students with questions about many of the basic questions of our discipline:
  • who is the writer of the text? does it matter if we know or not (pseudonym, anonymous publication)? does it matter if we know the age/race/gender/nationality of the writer?
  • what kind of text is this? how does it signal its genre or form to us? how has it been packaged or presented by cultural institutions and agents like the publisher, library, school, bookseller, or reviewer?
  • what does the text mean (and to whom)? what did it mean at the time of its writing? at the time of its original publication? what does it mean to us today? how has this meaning changed?
Recently, I've heard several colleagues complaining dismissively up and down these hallways about the media frenzy -- some because they think Oprah shouldn't be in the business of recommending books at all and some because they think the reading public are dupes. I don't agree with either of those positions. But it's clear that teachers of critical thinking and writing can do a lot with this example to encourage readers to think critically about all texts, no matter their source -- no matter if they were purportedly vetted by an authority or not.

I haven't read Frey's book yet, and I'm not sure if I will. (Although now that I've said all this, I suppose I need to work up a course unit and fit it in somewhere.) But to have a book that people actually care about enough to be upset about -- that's a perfect opportunity for teachers of literature.


literary speed dating meme

I'm late to the meme table, but since it's Julie's I kinda have to play. (Or I'll never hear the end of it.) But I'll just say in advance that this kind of question (or your top 5 songs/films ever, etc) is incredibly difficult for me -- all the more so since I handle books professionally. There are novels that I didn't like much on first reading but then decided to teach them and grew to really appreciate, even enjoy them. I have different kinds of preferences depending on the time of year and available braincells to process things. And the whole wrinkle of speed dating -- picking books that would maybe say something about me and be recognizable to someone else? that's extra difficult. And only 3??

But I guess here's what I'd bring:
  • George Eliot, Daniel Deronda
  • Emma Donoghue, Hood
  • Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass
The first because it's the book that converted me to GE, who is still probably my favorite 19thc novelist. (I'll defend Middlemarch any day, Julie!) It's rich and powerful and dramatic and full of interesting psychological investigations -- the complex interiors of her characters are what draw me in every time, along with the beautiful complexities of her language.

Emma Donoghue is my favorite contemporary lesbian novelist -- she's trained academically (an Oxbridge PhD I think) and has done a huge array of projects -- several novels, some plays, short stories, two scholarly studies, an edited anthology, etc etc. I think she's brilliant. This book in particular is incredibly moving, following a bereaved lesbian in the days immediately after her partner's sudden death.

And the final choice signals that yes, I do read fantasy and SF, but I'm incredibly picky about it. Plus this book is itself para-academic in its setting, the Oxford and Cambridge of the future in an alternative alchemical universe. It's Milton inspired, so if you're an English major you'll get the references -- but if you're not you'll just enjoy a damn good story. And it's the first in a trilogy -- so there's more, when you're finished with it! Plus I love a plucky female hero/ine in my novels and in my relationships...


a new kind of goal

I'm not an athletic person, and never have been. What I mean by that: I throw and catch badly, I don't enjoy team sports, I'll never be faster than someone else, and I'm not into physical risk of any sort. I was always the short fat kid, last to be picked for a team (or next-to-last, during the years that Richie, the kid who peed his pants, was in my elementary school). I loathed gym. It was basically one torture session after another, for a kid who wore glasses and didn't ever understand the rules. (The first day we were supposed to play kickball, I asked what we were supposed to do, and was told "it's just like baseball." But of course, being a super-nerdy girl from Egghead Family, I didn't know how baseball was played, never having seen it done. Gym was always like that for me, veering from completely incomprehensible to humiliating to downright painful (dodge ball, anyone?)).

But as I grew older and could go explore my own options, I discovered plenty of types of exercise that I do enjoy -- I was a dedicated aerobics junkie in the 80s (and boy do my knees feel the damage now!), and I've always loved lifting weights and doing the cardio machines at the gym. I flirted with running off and on, too, but it's not the best choice for me. I studied martial arts, and then eventually found my way to yoga. I need to exercise in order to stay sane -- but I'm not athletic. Athletic is a goal-oriented, competitive, mindset that I just don't have.

But as of today, I've set myself a goal that feels closer to something athletic than I've ever done in my life. Like most yoga traditions, Bikram yoga emphasizes the value of regular, consistent practice. The more days a week you can come to class, the better you will feel -- it's that simple. Consecutive classes really help detoxify your body and heal injuries and alignment. Advanced students are encouraged to do 30, 60 , 90, or 120 consecutive days of Bikram yoga to take their practice to the next level -- one of Bikram's mottoes that gets repeated a lot is "give me 60 days and I'll change your life."

So, I'm going to do 60 consecutive days of Bikram yoga. The most consecutive days I've done until now has been 6. This is going to be a huge challenge for me -- not so much physically, I don't think (although there will be tough days, no doubt) as in terms of scheduling, time, and priorities. I know someone else who's going to do this at the same time, so we'll have some support that way. And I've told several people in my life (and now, you, dear internet) which will keep me accountable.

Everyone already knows I love Bikram yoga, and that I do it regularly. And I usually keep track of how many times I attend class in a month, to get enough value out of my class card. But saying I'm going to do the 60 feels to me way more goal-oriented than even I usually am about it. It feels more like an athletic goal -- like training for a race or something. (Or what I imagine such a thing would feel like, never having done a race.)

So, today was the first of 60. You can expect the occasional progress report as I work my way down this path. I expect a lot of change -- physically, spiritually, mentally. I know how transformative this yoga is. I'm curious to see who emerges at the end of two months.