Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Getting high

The first time I ever flew out to visit Hulk in Colorado, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park and drove up Trail Ridge Road (tops out at about 12,000 feet). Being from sea level, on the drive up Trail Ridge I got totally loopy without knowing what was going on, and felt like I was drunk (later, we went to a restaurant for dinner and I ordered a glass of wine, and I drank half of it and really WAS drunk because of the altitude. I'm not THAT cheap a date). Altitude does funny things to people, even when one lives in Denver.

On Monday, Hulk's parents kidnapped us from our yard work and drove us up to the top of Mount Evans.

Mount Evans is one of Colorado's 50+ fourteeners (that means its summit is over 14,000 feet above sea level). It's the only one with a paved road to essentially the summit. On Monday it was sunny in Denver, overcast and about 50F at 11,000 feet (the ascent to Evans) and 27F and cloudy at the top of the mountain.

Tree line on 14ers is an alien landscape. Some of the trees are thousands of years old and none of them are more than a few feet high. The trunks are twisted and gnarled, as the trees that survive that climate have to bend and bow to the whims of the wind and snow and ice.

Hulk and I have climbed/hiked 14ers before. It takes a few hours (or more) depending on which trail you take, and while you definitely feel the altitude, it's a more gradual ascent and you're also exercising, so your blood is pumping pretty good. But driving up to the summit in the car on Monday the ascent was rapid and the effects were crazy. I was soooo loopy, I made sure to keep my mouth shut so as not to say anything stupid in front of his parents. My eyes felt weird (the liquids in your eyes compress!) and I was breathing really fast (there's a lot less oxygen in the air the higher up you go) and as we got higher and higher above tree line I saw more and more marmots and pikas because the vegetation and rocks got shorter and shorter.

(Marmots, by the way, are really cool. They basically live above tree line in really exposed rocky areas and they look kind of like large guinea pigs with tails. When we were driving back down the road at one point a marmot stuck his head up out of a hole in the pavement and then ducked back down before we drove over him, like a whack-a-mole)

When we got to the top of the mountain, we all got out for about two minutes, braved the freezing wind and took really deep breaths to get all the oxygen we could, and then got back in the car and drove back down the mountain. Getting out of the car I was unsteady on my feet and a bit dizzy. It sure does feel weird to be up that high. John Denver sang about "Rocky Mountain High," and maybe it was a euphemism, but it didn't have to be. There is definitely a high to be had from summiting a 14er, weird as it may be. Plus drugs and booze don't compress the jelly in your eyes and make them feel like they are popping out, so that's a new feeling.

(After that we shivered through the coldest picnic I've ever consumed. We should probably wait to have a picnic at 11,000 feet until the middle of June.)

Monday, May 22, 2006

I'm 30,000 feet above Tupelo with the members of Stillwater and we're all about to die

Let's just say that my knees are still shaking from the awesome plane ride I just took from Denver to Grand Junction. Let's also say that it isn't my favorite activity in the world to fly over some afternoon-stormy Rocky Mountains in a 17-seater aircraft, seated in the last row so I get the most stomach-unsettling ride possible. I consider it to be a spectacular feat that I did not lose my lunch (tuna and lettuce in pita pocket, orange, handful of walnut pieces) on the descent. Because DAMN. Them was some shakin'. You know that feeling of being on a roller coaster that lasts for like, 30 seconds or a minute after you've waited in line in the hot sun for 45 minutes just to have your lunch jarred a little closer to the upper sphincter than you'd like? Well, forget paying amusement park prices. Just get yourself a ticket on a puddle-jumper aircraft and fly over the Rockies on a summer afternoon. WOOO!

The cool part of the ride was sitting next to this guy who had been a bombadeer in the Air Force in WWII and he had some pretty cool stories. Plus, while waiting for my flight, I got to hear the guy sitting next to me in the waiting area have 209384029384 cell phone conversations dealing with the aftermath of a weekend trip to Vegas (and also, having to drive his laser from Grand Junction to Albequerque after said debaucherous weekend in Vegas for his 21st birthday) and if "drive his laser" isn't the coolest euphemism for SOMETHING than I'm just losing my edge.

The best part of this whole "flying to Grand Junction" thing is that I get to go back to Denver tomorrow in the same plane at the same time - after driving windy mountain roads back from Rangely for 2.5 hours. I think maybe I just won't eat anything tomorrow.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Follow the rules

Last week, for the third year in a row, I served as a reader for a scholarship given out by my work to high school seniors. The scholarship is somewhat prestigious, though not a "full ride" by any means (I think it's $1500 a semester for 4 years), and every year an estimated 150 kids apply. It is only awarded to graduating seniors who must fit a certain academic profile, and we readers score them on several bases, including the application itself, an essay, letters of recommendation, and activities and awards.

I have learned in my three years of reading applications for this scholarship that there are vast differences in writing style and ability between high school seniors. Two of the essays I read this year totally blew me away and seemed as though they had been written by highly educated, well-written adults, not 17-year-olds (though it became obvious as I read the applications that they really WERE written by the students). All of the applications reflected kids who had obviously succeeded both academically and in the categories of service and leadership, but, as always, there were standouts and there were those who looked great "on paper" but reading between the lines one could tell that they were resume-padders, so to speak.

As a reader for this scholarship I am instructed to evaluate each application on adherence to the directions as outlined in the application, in addition to each application's content. It is so sad that every year I end up having to take away major "points" for things like having pages out of order, misspellings, and generic letters of recommendation. It's unfortunate, but it's one of the only fair ways to distinguish between so many highly qualified students. For instance, I took points away from one application because the student had a school-affiliated coach write the "community member" recommendation letter, when it clearly states that the writer of that letter needs to be unaffiliated with the school.

Applications are awarded different points to the different sections, and each one is given a total value. Each application is read by three different readers and the scores are averaged to reflect a final score. The top 85 or so got scholarships this year, and for the first time, I got a "results" email from the scholarship coordinator letting us readers know which students ended up receiving scholarships. As I read through the email, I was glad to know that my favorites all got the money - and the ones I thought were weaker or more "good on paper, no substance" kids didn't.

I also recently spent three days attending a "Grantwriting 101" workshop that I signed up for back when I thought my job was going to expand a little (unfortunately, it didn't, but there were still valuable things about the workshop). I considered ranting about how awful the workshop was in this blog right after I attended the workshop, until I realized that the things I learned could be applied to other areas of my life (Plus, I got out of work for three days and got to actually interact with people who weren't all menopausal women, so that was good. And it was a room full of do-gooders with mostly interesting jobs and causes, so that was cool, too). While I read through the scholarship applications last week and assigned point values, I thought about how much the process mirrored a grant evaluation. One of the things that the instructor harped upon was that companies and organizations that administer grants want you to follow their directions to the letter - and if you don't, you aren't likely to get the grant. Whether it's a grant or a scholarship or some other instance where you're asking someone for money, there's always a process of weeding out the good from the bad - and then weeding out the good that followed directions from the good that didn't.

For better or for worse, I have always been a rule-follower. I was the goody-two-shoes who didn't break any rules when I was a kid; I sucked up to teachers and authority figures; I've always respected my parents (for the most part) and never cursed at them or told them "I hate you!" As a child, seeing someone litter or write in a book made me mad - and I still get mad at people who break rules (like drivers who don't allow pedestrians right-of way, for instance). I am good at things like editing and proofreading and finding the little bits in the language that don't fit within the prescribed rules. Even my current job involves a lot of rules, and part of my job is to train other people how to do their jobs (run the program locally) and follow the rules of the law that allows this program to exist.

I am uncomfortable in situations where Rules are Being Broken, and there are very few laws I'll break (jaywalking notwithstanding). I have always been jealous of people with devil-may-care attitudes, who could just write in the book or drink at the river in high school or look at a printed newspaper and not want to pull out a red pen to mark it all up. Because I just can't. For better or for worse, I've always been one to follow the rules - and it has usually made my life easier.

Experiences with friends, family, and significant others has taught me that many people don't want to follow rules. They'd rather be stubborn, do things their own way, and make life much more difficult for themselves - but that's their thing. And sometimes I envy it, because deep in my heart I know I'm not a bureaucrat or a brownnoser and following the rules is the easy thing to do, so in living my life I'm sometimes taking the easy way out. I often wonder what I would have been like had I grown up in the time that my mom did. Would I have protested the war? Burned my bra? Raged against "the man"? Or would I have still been the goody two-shoes in sensible clothing, telling my peers that they should just follow the rules?

Sometimes following the rules is the only way to get something you want. Sometimes it's a lifelong pattern that makes everything easier. And sometimes it's suffocating to do everything according to what "they" say to do because it's what you're "supposed" to do. I guess the important thing is to know the difference between those times.


I have to say that this is the awesomest awesome that ever awesomed.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Third night

Last night was our third night sleeping in our new place.

The kitties are slowly settling in, though they are acting differently than I would have expected. Loki, always the alpha kitty, so sure of himself, has been slinking around and much less outgoing than usual. Petra, perpetully beta, has been playing and running and flopping over constantly on our bedroom carpet saying "Pet me! Pet me on the largest flopping rug in the world!" (Our old place is all hardwoods/tile and we had a lot of throw rugs around. Petra would flop on a throw rug to ask for pets. Now she just flops on our bedroom carpet or the other bedroom carpet).

Oh yes - we have TWO bedrooms. And there are hardwoods in the living room and dining area/entry way and clean, nice-looking linoleum in the hallway, kitchen, and bathroom - not misinstalled cracking grout-coming-out shows-all-dirt white tile. At Tarjay last night we were contemplating buying a vaccuum. It's so weird, that the idea of buying a vaccuum makes me feel more grown up than anything else I've done, kind of.

It's been so long since I moved (January of 2003, to be precise, when we moved my worldly goods from Berkeley to Denver in Hulk's late, lamented Pontiac Sunfire) that I forgot a lot of things about it. I moved approximately 10 times while I lived in Berkeley (4 of those times within the same co-op but moved rooms) and had it all down to a science. But this place that we are slowly but surely abandoning is the place I have lived in the longest since I moved out of the Ancestral Manse at age 17 to go to Cal, and I've been in there for nearly 3.5 years. Though I only had a carload of stuff when I moved in, combining my stuff with Hulk's when he moved in 6 months later - and the 3 years since then - has added up to a LOT of stuff. I have no idea where some of it came from. We've already donated about two trunkloads of clothes and STUFF and there is more STUFF to be donated before all this is done. Some of our unwanted furniture will be abandoned to the alley, to be snatched up in an hour or two by another resident of the neighborhood.

This whole process has been wonderful if only for the purpose of making us cull through our piles and boxes and closets full of STUFF, thinking hard about what's really worth moving and what we don't need/want/have room for. I used to do this every semester or every year or every 18 months when I'd move into a new place or a new room in the co-op and only moved what I wanted to keep. I had to get rid of a ton of stuff when I moved to Denver (see aforementioned limit of space in car). But nothing has made me go through the letting-go-of-stuff process since I moved here, and I think it's about time. There is some stuff I haven't used or looked at or even remembered that I had that followed me from California, and I decided that if I hadn't thought about it in years, it wasn't worth moving.

I will miss our old place, or at least some things about it. I will miss living two apartments down on the same floor as our good friend/neighbor, who is currently in Atlanta for a couple of months. I will miss the industrial toilet and the fabulous water pressure and the enormous windows that let in sun all day long.

I will not miss the tow trucks towing the idiots at 7 AM every morning who were dumb enough to park overnight in the "6 AM to 7 PM traffic lane" right outside our bedroom window. I will not miss our wee kitchen or the windows that have those stupid hand crank things or the window in the kitchen that wouldn't open at all. I will not miss the sirens and the noise of drunk people on the weekends or the person who lives above us having sex really loudly and thumpily in the middle of the night.

I will be really really glad to be all done with this whole process. We moved 25ish boxes of books and other stuff in the state car I had a week ago, and then we did 5 giant truckloads on Sunday (spent 10 hours loading the truck, driving 6 blocks, unloading the truck, driving 6 blocks, rinse repeat) and another truckload last night. Tonight we are moving the last of the furniture and "stuff" and after this it will all be donation and cleanup. And I am bone tired. Having everything in upheaval, plus the actual physical part of hauling armfulls of stuff up and down stairs for hours, is TIRING. We go to the cabin on Thursday evening and I can't WAIT to get out of the city and just be still for a couple of days. And then we will come back Sunday night, and Monday at lunch and after work I'll be back at the old place cleaning some more. It's gotta be spotless on Wednesday when I do the walkthrough with the property management company and give the keys back so I can make sure I get my whole deposit back. It's got to go to the new landpeople.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The case of the defective brain.

All my life I've had problems with my hearing. It began with a series of neverending ear infections and colds that swelled my tonsils and adenoids to amazingly large proportions when I was a baby and toddler. I started going deaf from the pressure of my adenoids on my eustachian tubes, and I couldn't breathe through my nose starting at about age 3. My mom told me that she came into the room one time when I was watching Mister Rogers with the volume at maximum level and I was sitting 2 feet away from the TV so I could read Mister Rogers' lips. My parents didn't have any health insurance when I was a kid and certainly couldn't afford to pay for a major surgery, so they saved money for a while until they realized I just couldn't wait any longer, and borrowed money from my grandparents so I could have my tonsils and adenoids removed and tubes put in to drain all the fluid that had built up. I had all that done when I was five, recovered just fine, and the tubes fell out within a year.

I had another series of ear infections when I was about 12 and swimming all day long in the summer, and again in high school. At one point I had an inner ear and a middle ear infection in the same ear! During one summer fluid built up behind one of my eardrums until it burst. Let me tell you, that was about the most painful thing I've ever experienced in my life, worse than any of the migraines or throwing-up menstrual crampsI've had. It drained for days and my eardrums to this day are pretty scarred up.

Because of all the ear issues I've spent most of my life reading lips to help me understand what people are saying - particularly men who are softspoken (I have a harder time with lower, quieter tones). I was teased mercilessly in elementary school by kids because I'd say "What?" all the time when I couldn't understand what they were saying in the crowded lunchroom. "Are you deaf?" they'd ask, and I'd say "No!" but I thought I probably kind of was. I learned to kind of put together the words I *did* hear with the sounds I *thought* I heard and figure out what people were saying from context and lip movements and stopped asking people to repeat themselves, because it was just soooo embarassing.

I had a teacher in 6th grade who had a beard and spoke in a quiet monotone in a tone I just couldn't hear very well so I missed out on a lot of what he said (from what I understand, I didn't miss much. He was a bore.). In lecture halls in college I'd always sit near the front so I could hear the professor without the distractions of the other students crumpling chip wrappers and shuffling their feet.

My college boyfriend had braces (and before that, really crooked teeth that he was embarassed by and so would cover his mouth when he spoke out of habit), and a really low-toned, quiet voice. I had to train him to face me when he was speaking and spent a good six months pulling his hand away from his mouth when he was talking so I could understand him in restaurants and on buses. One of the things I like so much about Hulk is that he has a distinctive, enunciated, loud-ish voice that I can always hear or understand. In our early long-distance relationship I kind of fell for his voice before any other part of him - because I could hear it!

For the last two years I tried to get my work to have my cube furniture (built-in, or I would have done it myself) rearranged so my back doesn't face the door. I've always startled easily, because people can sneak up on me (If I'm concentrating on something, or if the copier or fax machine or printer are making noise, footsteps get masked). It took nearly 2 years but they finally did it a couple of months ago, and I love it. Part of that process was having my hearing tested to PROVE that I needed it done. I had the hearing test a year and a half ago only to find out that my hearing is normal.

NORMAL? What? How the hell is that possible? It didn't make any sense, so I approached the audiology consultant here at work (how fortunate that I work with an audiologist, huh?) She listened to my story and gave me some information about auditory processing disorders, and I read up on them on the internets. She tested me a couple of weeks later and wrote an "official" report I could use as part of my case to get the cube rearranged. And lo and behold, in reading about it online and comparing it to my experiences growing up, and in the results of the testing, I DO have an auditory processing disorder.

What does this mean? It means that probably back when I was all going deaf from my Incredible Growing Lymph System, I missed out on a key window in brain development, and so I never made some of the pathways that should have been there. My brain is defective! It's incapable of picking out what sounds are important (attending to sounds, I think is the formal terminology) when there are a lot of sounds. So when I'm on a bus or train, in a restaurant or crowded room, where there are a lot of background noises, I have a really hard time differentiating those sounds from the important sounds (person talking, for instance). Many people consider me a good listener, and I think it's because I have to really make an effort to understand what people are saying, so I pay a lot of attention to people's faces when they talk. In reading the literature, I found that all the suggestions for accomodating kids with auditory processing disorders in classrooms I've just been doing on my own since I was 5 years old.

To sum up? I have a defective brain. And if I can I'll always watch your face when you talk because otherwise I'll never understand you. Unless you're the Hulk, because I can hear your voice better than anyone else's.