21 December 2013

like the railroad

Ahoy! J'essaie de l'essai.

Reading for fun is hard. I'm ok reading shampoo bottles (methylchloroisothiazolinone!) at a glance, but a few pages of pleasure prose can leave me unenlightened - or worse, stuck in an infinite reread loop. Ugh. (Commence irony!)

I'm not going to oppose the value of the particular nature of reading in school. I think that being taught to read with such high intensity and immense pressure is infinitely more valuable than not being exposed to literature at all. However, homework-style reading pretty consistently ruins people for quite some time after graduation! Students are forever driven to read at a breakneck pace while memorizing every detail, and it's hard to kick that habit.

I'm still in that stage. I never did master the speed aspect; I think speed and ridiculous attention to detail are inversely proportional, and reading quickly doesn't fetch any extra points on the test. (Note: efficiency does.) Thus, I've always been a slow reader, rereading sentences and paragraphs until I've essentially memorized whatever my eyeballs are scanning. One must hope to have mastered every banality when one's AP English teacher asks something as incredibly important as how many coils of rope lay in Santiago's boat on the The Old Man and the Sea exam...

I doubled down on the memorize-everything mandate when I opted to study math and computer science. There is so much rereading and stopping to think involved in learning math from a book - unlike Santiago's irrelevant rope organization, every detail is connected to everything else, including stuff from previous chapters and even earlier math education! Nothing like memorizing everything you've ever, ever read, just so you can hope to understand the next book.

The trick with this detail-oriented, internalize-everything reading methodology is that I like it! That is, I like it when I can do it on my own terms. It feels right to me to read carefully and spend time processing - one book at a time, with a break between books so they don't run together and I can commit thoughts to memory. Obviously my terms do not coincide with those of a "voracious" reader, or really even a "competent" one (regarding for-pleasure, that is). Like other things I do, though, I want to get something out of whatever I read. I want to learn something. I want to feel something. If nothing else, I want to be able to regurgitate a detail or two a week later. If I've read an entire book and gotten nothing out of it but hours taken off my lifespan, I could have conserved the eye strain and rotted in front of the TV instead.

Another significant trouble I have with the printed page is a bit of a pathological one: my mind wanders rampantly. There's so much stuff going on in direct proximity at any moment that I find it difficult to turn it all off and do something as seemingly-unproductive (note emphasis!) as reading a book for fun. In the K-12/uni days, there was always other homework. It did not help that almost everything I read for school was massively, epically uninteresting. In "the real world," thoughts of what I should be doing instead ruin most of what I do for pure pleasure. However, while it's easy to ignore those thoughts (or just multitask) when watching a show or chatting or playing a game, it's nigh impossible to read with any level of absorption when the page seems to say, "Once upon a time, there was a oh I need to reply to that email and it's almost time for my next scheduled medications and -- wait, what?" It's an affliction I surely can and should cure, but that hasn't happened yet.

I'm an awful traditional-style pleasure reader for various other reasons as well. For one, I'm terrible with internal vocalization - I read everything out loud in my head, which is the first thing you're taught to stop in order to read faster. Also, everyone knows I'm a linguist; I see spelling, grammar, syntax, semantics, and structure long before I extract the intended tales and imagery. There are just so many ways I can "read" something and claim nothing more than, "I have looked at every word on all of these pages!"

Audiobooks provide workarounds to many of my troubles. The big kicker for me is that an audiobook has a set pace with generally inconvenient backtracking. While many people can read faster than a narrator might speak (ahem, Morton Sellers), I generally can't. There's no need to read and then vocalize with a recording - it's already spoken for you, no eyeballs necessary. I can only imagine what an audiobook would be like if it was spoken how I would read it:

"Sarah walked the two miles through the fields to get to school every day. What was her last name again? This is the second page of chapter three. She sometimes stopped to play with the dog that lived by the -- remember, it's Sarah. I wonder how long it will take to read the rest of this. She lives on a farm. This author wrote something else about economics in South Africa; I should look that up. Wait, so Sarah walked the two miles..."

No, an audiobook plods along, and the extraneous pondering and meta-lit necessarily stay out of the way. Often I have to [want to] listen to a chunk again, but backtracking is tedious enough that I don't, for example, go over every sentence five times in a row. This most effectively manifests itself when I plan to go to sleep listening to a book - I play audio from my phone via a Bluetooth speakerphone (nerrrd!), and while I can skip around track by track using voice control, I can't do anything like "rewind thirty seconds" that would enable me to obsess.

Another anthropomagically appealing audiobook aspect is the allure of the spoken word. Humans inherently focus on and cogitate speech more than other stimuli; on the other end of the spectrum, we generally place reading at the bottom of the focus list. Just think of where your brain tends to go when you're trying to read something - anything - and someone's having even the most inane conversation in the history of humanity in the next room. That gripping chapter doesn't always clench very tightly. I won't attempt to approach the roots of this phenomenon (really, jl, the only topic you dodge here is the lone interesting one?), but the simplicity of attention and focus involved is quite apparently increased over that of the eyes+letters method of consumption. Listening to something read aloud is almost like cheating, slacking off compared to putting in the effort to read the same material as well. Based on no rigorous research or in-depth knowledge whatsoever, I think it actually is easier to listen - the brain's circuitry has been evolutionarily(!) optimized for speech recognition, and there are simply fewer (and again, more efficient) processing steps involved on the path from sound to thoughts/meaning than when starting with visually-perceived printed characters. This is where I skip over computational models of thought and move on to the next paragraph.

One last bit to mention is that people simply like being read to. Remember childhood? So, summarily, audiobooks are lovely for those like me with, umm, "alternative pleasure-reading styles." They force a steady pace, and they're arguably easier to pay attention to and process. Seashells and butterflies, everyone can be a bookworm! Right? Right?!?!!

Ah, if only. There are indeed some gripes of varying degree pointed toward the conversion of text to speech. The most common, ostensible complaint I'm aware of is about the thief of imagination: the preset narrator. Especially considering internal vocalizers like me, readers like to assign their own "actors" to characters in a book. Material takes on an extra level of personalization and individuated charm when everyone [mentally] maintains a perfectly imperial inflection for each reader. There's no such luck on individual creative license when listening to someone else's performance; the larynx-provider become the narrator, and that person's possibly-awful impersonations of characters' voices predefine those personas for you. This is the worst with computer-generated TTS - it's like going to see one of your favorite musicals... performed entirely by Siri. (Ok, not exactly, because that would likely be hilarious.)

Big Audiobook Problem Number Two comes with the territory when you've opted to consume a book without looking at the words: you're not looking at the words. Hear a word or line you don't understand? Wonder about a person mentioned whom you don't recognize? Need to use proper names in a response paper? Tough rocks, c'est dommage, and enjoy that F. There's a learning gap when you're coasting strictly on phonetics. This ambiguity really gets to me, as I'm rather obsessive about familiarizing myself with odd words ("seneschal") and people ("Goebbels") I encounter. With an audiobook, this means either admitting defeat (boo!) or spending quite a bit of time digging up a copy of the book and running over page after page to find a single word. Regarding that last point, audiobooks are sadly just a bad idea in the world of academics. For shame. In general, though, does the lack of visual recognition make audiobooks occasionally tedious? Indeed. Are they still worth it? Quite.

Before I wrap up, let me remind you (potential employers, admissions counselors and educators!) that this has all been about reading for fun. I chose particular wording all over the place to establish that, but let's crank the point to maximum clarity. Hopefully it's obvious as well that I read critically for content by default. So, please hire/accept me!

Another note: I do read quite a bit. Novel forms of writing need not be in novel form.

So, um, there you go! An answer without a question; a response without a call. Nihilism at its finest (go read about it).

26 October 2013

10kg of month-pounds

Hey there! How about a little updateroo?

I'm still in bed. Yup. It's been 22 months plus two weeks since I was last in/on a human-holder other than a bed, stretcher, or surgery table... And I'm afraid I have some more time to go. It's starting to get to me; anxiety is more of an issue than bipolarity anymore, but bedtrapment contributes to both. Having to ask for absolutely everything, all the time is awwwesome. Why could I not have seen the future at the start of all this and picked up a random MA by now? Ah, yes, perhaps it was that initial "four to six weeks" promise. rg!

On the positive side, at least my health has been steady since my last trip to the hospital at the end of August. That's a start, I suppose? Not much else to report from medicaland.

I read a book! Err, someone famous was paid a ton of money to read a book to an extremely eager and attentive microphone, and I paid taxes in order to listen in on a borrowed reproduction of that storytelling venture. This doesn't happen very often, so I need to brag about it when I can! More on my inability to process long form material some other time; I've been asked many times in the comments about my free time entertainment choices, so I think I'll finally tell you one of these days.

Let's leave it at that for now. Commence stellar weekend.

28 September 2013


Concession: you probably don't want to read this. It's long, poorly-written, and not lighthearted at all. It's... Well, it's a lot of things. If you're not grading me - and you have a bizarre concept of "reading for pleasure" - enjoy?


Hey there!

So I've taken some time off from writing this summer-ish. It's been a bit forced. Health has not been my forte for a bit, and while my positive medical/health-related escapades are occasionally mildly amusing - I am indeed many standard deviations beyond normal in that regard - I still get sick like everyone else. It just sends me to the hospital every time. Nobody wants to read vom stories, so I've kept mostly to myself. So it goes. Moving on...

I suppose I do have a vom tale to spew sloppily all over your reading medium. More accurately, it's a non-vom novella. A couldn't-vom-if-you-wanted-to compilation. An emesis-eluding explication. An... NG!

Nasogastric intubation, ohsoappropriately abbreviated "NG", is the practice of placing and implementing a connecting tube that runs - surprise! - from the nose to the stomach. Odd pathway, indeed. Point A to point B is not exactly a straight shot: the first trajectory is up. The "flexible" plastic tubing eventually traverses down the back of the throat to the stomach via the esophagus, but the real excitement is the initial curvy jaunt through the head's nasal passages. For me, a lengthy individual, the total internal voyage is almost 90 cm. I promise to you, the length is irrelevant.

When the insertion party is over, the tube might be connected to suction equipment (if not being used for short-term feeding purposes), and then the waiting game begins! I'm not going to comment with much authority on all the reasons why this medical monstrosity is ever used because I'm not about to relive the joy extraneously by looking it up, but you can! The general purpose is to empty the stomach and probably keep it that way, whether it's an acute stomach-pumping instance - too much vodka or Drano - or a prolonged implementation, to pause the constant activity of the stomach for whatever reason. No matter the justification, everything in the stomach is coming out.

Anyway, go read a medical textbook; I'm done playing gastroenterologist. Here's the reality of the NG tube experience: it is one of the worst things I've been through in the hospital without any medication or other assistance to make the brute force cranial attack any less... Brutal. Follow me, dear masochists.

They're coming to invade your face. You know it's coming, and you've probably tried to talk your way out of it. Maybe being horribly, unstoppably sick is better? You're not convincing anyone! Eventually (in my experiences, por lo menos) one will come with some syringes to say, "ok, I'm going to give you [every medication you have that stands a chance of holding your hand], and we'll be back in ten minutes!"

Interminably, yet not enough later, a small swarm returns to enhance your digestive system with waaay too much clear plastic tubing and some approximately-useless lubricant.

I've learned that there are two adult sizes of NG tube: "that doesn't go there" and "you're kidding, right?" The 1-2 mm difference in diameter is significant. However, it's negative infinity versus negative infinity plus one. Which one you get really just demonstrates how gracious your nurses are.

Not a single inch of the insertion process is smooth sailing. They've already covered you with towels - I never have (yet), but you're expected to throw up all over - then told you to stay as relaxed as possible and to keep swallowing hard. Ha! Once that mile-long, greased-up pencil approaches your nose, all bets are off. It just doesn't fit. Also, all that lubricant is rubbing off in your nostril. Enjoy that gift for the next few days.

Right away is the first of (at least) three stopping points, and it's the worst. Just a few inches into your nasal cavity is a brick wall. It feels like the tube is trying to crack its way into your brain. There's nothing you can do here; the only way to get through this first line of defense is to keep bashing away until your sinuses open up. If you're unlucky, they'll pull everything out, wait a minute, then attack again. If you're really unlucky, they'll yank it and give it a go violating the other side too.

Once they destroy the first barricade, a bizarre feeling begins. After all, there's a now-slightly-abrasive snake slithering through your skull, taking the scenic route from nose to throat. It's cold. It obviously doesn't belong there. If you've recovered from breakthrough number one (you haven't), you might have a split second to take in just how otherworldly the sensation is. Don't worry, though; if you miss it at that instant, it'll still be there for every second that tube is moving.

Checkpoint number two is Epiglottis Station! Unstoppable force, meet immovable object. Now is when trying to swallow becomes frantically pivotal - from this moment on, you're trying to eat that tube. Swallow swallow swallow and hopefully it will hit the right hole, beating the dangerous odds of entering the airways and causing some serious damage. From there, just keep gulping and peristalsis should logically drag that tube down to your stomach like a scrumptious plastic snack.

Let's sidetrack for a second (me, sidetrack? never!) to think about peristalsis in this situation. The process moves food/drink down your esophagus in blobs, pushing each nom-unit down like squeezing a hose and sliding your hand along to move water. It's dependent on the "blob" part, though. I don't believe it helps at all in moving the tube (GI folks, feel free to disagree). The tube is not a blob: it doesn't have a "back" end - that part is in the fists of the nurse deemed sadist for the day. Alas, peristalsis needs the trailing side to push against in order to have any effect. Imagine, s'il vous plaît, two same-length hoses, one running inside the other. Using the same grab-and-slide maneuver, you'll make trivial progress moving the inner hose through the outer one. NG peristalsis is just that, a tube inside another, one petting the other.

Further and more obviously, peristalsis is not what's setting the pace! Lest we forget, there's a medical professional providing plenty of propulsion on the naso-end of that plumbing. And, while your own system can deliver pie to your pie storage unit in short order, the intent (but not the reality; more on that later, perhaps) is to get that tube down there even faster. The natural push from your slippery innards is irrelevant to the muscles of the nurse. Point made yet?

Circling back around...

The action is to coax that tube into and down your throat. The equal and opposite reaction is your body's struggle to reject it. Pronto. When the tip of that plastic exits your brain, it immediately strikes gag reflex gold. Foreshadow: it stays there. For the duration of insertion, the friction of that no-longer-lubricated tubing will grate at your vom trigger. To add to the rebellion, your esophagus is fully aware that there's a foul plot afoot. If you're managing to swallow maniacally (you're not), then peristalsis has your esophagus clamped shut at at least one point. If the tube isn't at that closure yet, it's very likely right behind it, trying to bash its way through the lining tissue. Stoppage of play. If the tube already exists at the point of contraction... Well, again with the petting. Know what swallowing really feels like? Now you do!

Here we have the real reason for all the swallowing, je pense. You're obviously not pushing that tube down. That part is under someone else's control. However, you're keeping your system from pushing up. You've thrown up before - that's a powerful activity. Your stomach isn't empty (yet) either, so you indeed have some cannon fodder. While swallow-swallow-swallowing won't guarantee the halt of rebel forces (again, common vom-knowledge), it's what you can cling to during this ordeal.

Pro tip: with any luck, sometime during the esophageal traversal your heart will seem to stop. You have to take a break from gulping, yet your innards don't immediately turn upwardly mobile. For a split second, everything stops, relaxes. Slurp! The NG tube slides right down. If you are a Zen master and can somehow control this armistice, you will save yourself quite the trouble.

Your entire body is burned out. You've likely monogrammed all of those artfully-placed towels in front of you. It's been either thirty seconds or an hour. You're almost there! You know, wherever "there" is.

The third arrest is GE Junction. That is, Mr. Tube is knocking on the door to your stomach. This is really the minor of the pauses - it doesn't exactly hurt, and it doesn't last long. It does, though, give enough pause to cause thought of trouble. This synthetic serpent is in essence a giant catheter, and when catheters try to bully their way into organs, they cause bleeding. Stomach bleeding is a big problem, and can be grounds for tube removal at a minimum. Then you'd be sicker(!), and who knows what could happen next. Panic!

Of course, that's unlikely to happen, just as it's unlikely your sinuses will be permanently damaged, and unlikely they'll accidentally intubate your lungs. (Sufficiently comforting?) No, everything has probably gone according to plan... The sick, twisted, demented plan. Stage one complete.


Monsieurs, madames et mademoiselles, that is enough for now. There is more written - much more to the tale, for we haven't even not thrown up yet! But let's not burn it all up at once, shall we?

Been through something awful? Feel like making fun of my whining, or lack of research/proofing/revision? Got something irrelevant to contribute? Comment away!

11 April 2013

creative metaphor denied!

Just dropping by to remind myself that today marks five years since the OMA surgery in Portugal. Happy thoughts; renewed optimism; hooray and more. Ok, reminded.

I can't keep my arm up long enough to tap out the fantastic, poignant metaphor flooding *intended* my thought process today. Feel free to make one up while enjoying the applicable snapshot of our yard:

I'm still flat under "forced bedtime practice" mandates, so that's it for typey-type energy. Catch you again after another set of surgeries! Until then, vote no to horizontality.