Thursday, January 31, 2013

Life isn't antiseptic

My housemate recently had the kids for an extended time, and while The Boy thought this was awesome, The Teen Girl appeared to have mixed feelings. Mainly, she thinks our bathroom is unutterably grossly dirty.

Fine, I'll grant you, I only clean the toilet and mop the floor every other week, and the war vs. the soap scum in the shower is a "every other shower, tackle another section", not "spend all day scrubbing once a week" sort of deal. There gets to be a light layer of dust every now and then, and when there does, I clean the sink and counters. A little dust never killed anyone, and if I'm too damned tired after a week of working over fifty hours, I'm going to spend time reading blogs and with my husband, not kneeling on rebuilt knees and scrubbing tiles. If a little mold comes up on the shower curtain, it gets bleached and left until I get to scrubbing that section of the shower.

Now, I was born and raised before the fad of hand-sterilizer gels and anti-biotic everything really found its legs and started to run. My chickenpox vaccination was playing with a friend with chicken pox, and a week of misery and chicken soup. I've run barefoot most of the summer, out in the woods, and swum in ponds and lakes where you couldn't see six inches down. My mother is an ex-pat of a place where you whitewash the house once a year to cover the latest layer of mold, and saw nothing at all abnormal about messy, muddy, and slightly bloody children turn up starving twice a day all glorious summer. (Once I discovered the adult side of the library, I often turned up a lot cleaner and slightly less ravenous from sitting cramped at the base of the library shelves, reading everything that I was "too young" to check out.)

Calmer Half is from Africa, and has been all over that continent.

The Teen Girl, though, is of a generation that thinks "anti-bacterial facial tissues" are normal, and everyone should carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with them at all times, like some pagan charm against all illness.

The week before, when she knew she'd be subjected to this duress, she took a swab of the bathroom and used it for an example for biology class. When she brought the petri dish home from school and whipped it out with great ceremonial unwrapping from the plastic, she gave many warnings of the container wasn't to be opened, for it would smell a stink so foul as to make the heavens cry. I smiled. "Of course. Biology is messy."

She presented the evidence of my misdeeds to me, in petri form. I raised an eyebrow, then grinned. "Hey, cool! It's a monoculture mold!" I was completely unsurprised at the mold - after all, I fight it on the shower curtain pretty regularly. I was surprised that it was such a consistent monoculture, no hint of anything else there.

"But..but... it colonized the control side of the dish!"

"Yeah, that's pretty interesting - you can see how it grew on radial lines."

"But... It's disgusting! I showed it to the whole class and they were disgusted by the bathroom being so gross! The boys even went eeew!"

"Heh. Why don't you go show it to Calmer Half?"

"I don't think he'd take it as well as you did."

"Oh, I find it pretty amusing. Go on, go show him." I chivvied her down the stairs, and leaned back with a grin. She returned, pouting, crestfallen, and completely floundering at the lack of adult reaction (amusement does NOT count) to the repellant drama of the mold culture. Then she stormed off to go "properly clean the bathroom" with all proper drama and bleach. I know the biology teacher was amused; she sent the girl home with lab goggles, an apron, and rubber gloves. I didn't argue because hey, clean bathroom.

Calmer Half came up the stairs, to get another cuppa. The man who knows all too well what gangrene looks like, and what cholera smells like, cocked an ear to the teenage sturm und drang coming from the bathroom, and smiled at me. I shrugged and grinned, and he grinned back. Then he made a fresh mug of tea for me, as well as one for himself. Life is good, but not antiseptic.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Giving parts of myself away

The topic of blood donation is going 'round the blogs, and Calmer Half has already noted that he's had to stop at over a hundred units, because the American Red Cross is scared of African blood cooties.

I'm afraid I'm not even sitting on the fence on this one, I'm on the other side and leaving a dust cloud as I peel rubber in a retreat. When I was younger, I thought I'd try anything twice - the first time for adventure, the second to confirm if it was an isolated incident or how that normally is.

The first time I donated blood, after stabbing me three times in the left arm, the nurse stabbed me in the right arm and said "Oh, I can't get the needle in. It's on top of the vein. Hold still and I'll go get somebody else." That hurt like... well, later, I'd find out it was about like a shoulder right after you reset the dislocated joint. But I was young and didn't know that yet, nor had a vocabulary foul enough to properly express it yet. I got out of there before the juice kicked in, because I fainted about two hundred feet away.

The second time, I warned them that the most luscious-looking spots for the vampires, on both arms, have valves in that exact spot. The nurse, even when warned, nodded, smiled, and stuck me through the valve. And then wiggled the needle around when the blood didn't flow, while I found myself mentally cataloging her ancestry, present worth, and future prospects over the screaming bone-deep pain radiating up my arm. Then she decided it wasn't working, tossed the half-full bag, and took a full pint out of the other arm. Through the other valve. The juice that time was guava, and my body wasn't having any of this placating: it rejected everything out of every orifice about five minutes after I stood up. I still avoid guava juice, though not as strenuously as I avoid blood drives.

Which is why I signed up for organ donation when I got a driver's license, and signed up today for bone marrow donation. You can't pay me enough to get me to donate blood a third time, so I'll focus on the ones I can do, and leave the rest to you.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Flat Tires and Thinking ahead

Yesterday, picked up a nail in the tire (and it predictably went flat.) Calmer Half, who was driving, quickly decided that we were pulling over and searching for the source of that oh-so-familiar thup-thup-thup noise despite the lack of any tactile feedback you expect from a flat. (Note: I was most emphatically not arguing with his decision. You might even call it enthusiastic agreement.)

I am creaky, and disinclined to do more work on the side of a road with no shoulder and cars whizzing by mere feet away than necessary - but I've learned to work around this (it isn't the first time I've had flat tires since getting banged up.) Calmer Half, on the other hand, had a sudden stark look on his face when he realized that he hasn't had a flat tire since being crippled. He suddenly didn't know if he could physically do something that used to be routine. (Driving in Africa, including the bush. I think his youth probably had more tire changes than some mechanics...)

I hate that feeling. I hate seeing it on his face even more. No matter how used to being in constant low-level pain you get, no matter how much life settles into a new normal and you just recalibrate "fine" so life goes on, sometimes reality cuts you wide open with the realization that it's not all good, you're not fine, and what used to be a minor annoyance could now be a major complication. As inured to the slings and arrows of everyday life as I can be, seeing that look on his face cut me to the heart. But I had a plan...

When I was young and full of ignorance and energy, I thought that old folks (like my father) were crafty, devious, treacherous, cunning, and wise because they'd lived long enough to learn all the tricks. Now I realize that it's not age; it's learning to overcome problems with cunning, thinking around the problem, replaying it until you can see where to divert it before it even becomes a problem. It comes because you learn to work around limitations, and complications, small children and second lieutenants, bad nights with little rest and screaming joints from a change in the weather. Some people can grow old without growing wise because nothing ever radically changes their life. Other grow old without growing wise because they give up and let others dictate their limitations. But watch out for old sergeants, officers with gray hair, and mothers of teenagers!

I opened the trunk, and pointed out that I stashed in there not only the spare tire, but also two different cans of fix-a-flat (who plans for the spare tire not being bad?), and an air compressor powered off the cigarette lighter (mostly used for filling the airplane tires.)

Since mechanics hate working on tires with the slime from fix-a-flat on the inside, we started with the air compressor. The tire filled - and if it was slow, well, neither of us had to be kneeling on the January asphalt and fumbling with lug nuts. We could hear the air hissing out, but filled to near-max pressure (not all the way), it was plenty to get the car a mile to the mechanics, and for them to drive it around to the shop's lift.

While the mechanic behind the desk protested that "Oh, it'd have been fine if you needed to use fix-a-flat, ma'am"... The mechanic who actually drove the car around got a grin as wide as his ponytail was long when I told him we'd just hit it with the compressor so he didn't have to deal with the slime. And when they handed the keys back, he told me it was indeed a nail, and there was no charge.

I *heart* Gateway Tire & Auto. And having three different methods of backup. But most of all, I *heart* the look on Calmer Half's face when he realizes that it doesn't matter if he no longer can do something with youth, enthusiasm, and brute force: we already have old age, cunning, and technology laid in to make it even easier than it originally was.

Sets my little heart at ease, that look does...

Friday, January 4, 2013


You know, I wonder whether most of these myths get started because writers feel squeamish about not having control–that they clutch at whatever they can to give them the illusion of control, or at whatever explanation gives them that illusion.


Another way to deal with the lack of control is to cling to someone who will save you. Hence all the agent myths. If you can’t control your own destiny, then find someone who can and hand over everything to them.

-Joe Vasicek

Suddenly, after decades of dealing with people of the most outlandish beliefs and far-left politics, slavish adherence to gun-control and environmental myths, and blind eyes to the misbehavior of their "elites"...

It makes sense now.

If you can’t control your own destiny, then find someone who can and hand over everything to them. And if someone else crosses your path who is completely outside your world, who exists in the self-assured belief that they control their own destiny... either they must be an elite that you can hand your destiny over to, or they are a threat to your entire world, because they challenge your deepest beliefs, your basest fears, and your ego.

And if the person you've handed control over to is a little crazy, and greedy, corrupt, misogynist, inclined to party on the nation's dime... well, they're still the one who will save you, so you turn a blind eye to their shortcomings and still trust in them - because there's no one else, and you believe you can't do it.

So when that vet, or that neighbor, or that other economist, or that immigrant from a country where they've already tried socialism and seen its murderous logic at its fullest, tells you that you and you alone are responsible for your own destiny, and you have failed yourself, your community, your family, and your nation by handing that control over - when they mock your belief in your betters, and point out how the people you trust to make it all better never will, just by existing, then they become a threat to your ego, your worldview, your sanity, your culture, and your religion.

It's not baseless hatred for the NRA - it's fear. It's fear that strikes at their root of who they are, and they respond to that fear with the same hatred self-assured people who protect and defend their own destiny reserve for terrorists who blow up skyscrapers and insane, evil beings who choose to slaughter their schoolmates for revenge, glory, and power.

That's why we are "the domestic terrorists." Because we terrify them with our freedom, our independence. We shame them. We mock them, just by existing. We defy all the myths, do not follow any of the rules, pay no attention to our betters, and nothing bad happens to us.

Worse yet, we win. And we keep winning. And no matter how much they try to get their elite to punish us, to force us to capitulate, we keep on existing, unashamedly, and pushing back. So hold your head high, my friends, and when you run across not just a neighbor who disagrees with you politically, but one who screams "you have blood on your hands because you own a gun / don't believe in global warming / are a capitalist pig"... look at them as the small and terrified soul that they are, and pity them. They're screaming out of fear, because we shatter their myths with the casual arrogance of Godzilla rampaging across Tokyo merely by living our own lives.

You are responsible for yourself, and your destiny is in your own hands. Own it, in all the glory and all the pain that will come - it is only one life, but it is yours, and it is up to you to live it.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

by William Ernest Henley