The Poison Ivy Chronicles

September 19th, 2013

Day 1: Exposure.

Saturday, August 31, 2013. I’m at a service project, helping clear some land of some green and leafy stuff. After about 15 minutes of helping, I see something that looks like it might be poison ivy. (Internal chant: Leaves of three–let it be!) I don’t seem to be itching, however, so I decide it must not be poison ivy. I help for about 15 more minutes before remembering (by a general creeping itchy sensation [note: this is not from the poison ivy]) that I’m, like, allergic to like, almost everything green and leafy. I decide to help with food prep instead.

 

Days 2-3: Blissful ignorance.

Sunday and Monday, September 1 and 2. La la la.

 

Day 4: Discovery.

Tuesday, September 3. Happen to be getting my allergy shots when my doctor spies a one-inch-wide itchy spot on my knee: Hey, that looks like poison ivy. She makes me wash the area with Tecnu. I think she’s overreacting; besides, even if it is poison ivy, how bad can it be? La la la.

 

Day 5: More blissful ignorance.

Wednesday, September 4. Hmm… Yeah, my knee is a little itchy, and it looks like I might have a couple of tiny spots on my arm as well. I send an e-mail to friends: Hey, look out, you might have poison ivy.

 

Day 6: Slightly less bliss, slightly less ignorance.

Thursday, September 5. The knee and arm are a bit itchy; I wear a long-sleeved shirt so the poison ivy won’t spread further. Receive e-mail from C_H–she’s covered with a nasty rash. Wow, C_H, that looks terrible. I’m glad mine isn’t bad like that. Decide to change sheets as a precaution (have to buy extra set); still only expecting a couple of small patches.

 

Day 7: Less and less bliss. Growing realization. Slight apprehension.

Friday, September 6. Small patch on left knee now covers entire knee and has spread to other knee. Realize wearing long-sleeved shirt yesterday was a very bad idea, as rash has spread from upper arm to forearm and is getting very very itchy. Cover rash with 3-inch band-aids. Still, expect all to be well very soon. Wash more sheets and all clothes.

 

Day 8: Ever-growing realization.

Saturday, September 7. This stuff is getting out of control. My upper left arm is an itchy mess (I cover it with bandages and tape); my left forearm is an itchy mess (I cover it with bandages); both my knees are bright pink and terrible, especially the left one. Weeping blisters on knee have begun to, like, weep. (UGH.) Swelling has commenced. Itching has become nearly unbearable. I visit C_H; we commiserate, shop for creams together, and bandage each other (mummy-style wrappings). We try scrubbing with oatmeal. Doesn’t really do much. I change bedclothes again.

 

Day 9: Terrible reality.

Sunday, September 8. Rash continues to spread. Weeping blisters are weeping. Both knees, entire left arm completely covered in angry pink with amber-colored weeping blisters. (Have I mentioned the weeping blisters? They’re weeping.) Itching is unbearable. Calamine does nothing; hydrocortisone is effective for a while. Have to wrap arm and knees before going to church. (At church, see recipient of service project. He is very very sorry. We discuss poison ivy avoidance strategies [too late]). Get lots of sympathy from cute boys. Maybe there’s an upside to this? I change the sheets and wash all my clothes again.

 

Day 10: ZOMFG. (Grandma, do not look up this acronym.) FREAKING ARMAGEDDON.

Monday, September 9. Furious hot pink fiery rash with weeping blisters (remember the weeping blisters?) covers entire arm and both knees and is creeping down both legs. I’ve begun a regimen that includes washing each affected area twice, rubbing with alcohol, adding Neosporin (to prevent infection), and finishing with giant blobs of hydrocortisone. Then comes the wrapping. Entire regimen takes about 30 minutes and an entire 4-yard roll of bandage. Manage to make it through work, then drive an hour (&^#$ Cambridge traffic) to see allergist. On the way, tear off knee bandages because itching is so COMPLETELY unbearable; weeping blisters weep all over pants. (Ugh.) At allergist, remove other bandages so she can see the horror that my skin has become. ZOMG. I told you it was poison ivy! Yes, thank you. She gives me a prescription for Prednisone but can’t re-wrap my arm and legs because the only gauze she has comes in 2-inch squares. Which means I have to drive back home, another hour, with blisters still weeping. Words cannot express how awful this is. On the way I have to stop and buy more creams and bandages. When I get home I don’t even go fill the prescription because once I’ve washed, anointed, and clothed the rash in the bandages of the holy dressings and have changed into more comfortable (and non-weeped-on) clothes I cannot bear to leave the house. Oh, and, of course, I have to change my sheets AGAIN. I post plaintive poison ivy complaint on Facebook. Replies are along the lines of “Oh, you’ll feel better soon.”

 

Day 11: More Armageddon.

Tuesday, September 10. I wake up at 5:30 AM and would gladly sell my soul for some topical morphine. I scratch and scratch and clean my skin and try to wrap myself up. I go to Target to fill my prescription and buy more bandages; Target doesn’t have enough Prednisone on hand to fill my prescription completely, so I’ll have to take what they have now and come back later. I buy every single 4-yard roll of bandages on the shelf. Pharmacist looks appropriately sympathetic. I wash, anoint, wrap, go to work. Everyone who didn’t ask about my mummified limbs yesterday asks today. Skin is still fiery pink and puffy. Weeping blisters are still weeping. Itching is still unbearable. Knees have swollen and look like elephant knees. I have many, many conversations about poison ivy; I admonish many, many people to find out everything they can about it BEFORE they have to learn by sad, miserable experience. Change sheets again; am SICK AND TIRED of changing the *&^%$ bedclothes.

 

Days 12-13: Still more Armageddon.

Wednesday and Thursday, September 11 and 12. One would think that the washing, anointing, and wrapping would be faster by now, but it still takes 30 minutes every time. (And it still has to happen several times each day.) Weeping blisters have mostly stopped weeping (progress!), but angry pink rash has paid a down payment on arm and legs and intends to stay until forcibly evicted. I think this is normal because I don’t know any better. Poison ivy can stick around for weeks, I read. The idea fills me with dread. People stare at me on the street. Because this is not enough misery, Prednisone is a powerful steroid and is making me eat like a massive truck driver (both massive person and driver of massive trucks). I down a half-pound steak and half a bag of Oreos in one sitting. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?!?

 

Days 14-15: PLEASE MAKE IT STOP.

Friday and Saturday, September 13 and 14. Fiery rash is still so unbearably itchy that I come home on Friday and work from the couch, ice packs on both legs and left arm. Hydrocortisone is no longer working. Everything itches all the time. Skin of left arm and both knees is still bright pink and swollen. Rash has spread to right arm as well. Cannot get used to this hideous body I seem to be inhabiting. Saturday/night spent on the couch with ice packs. Both itch and duration of this trial are unbearable. I have literally scratched holes in my legs and arms.

 

Day 16: Total Loss Of Shit.

Sunday, September 15. I go to church and sit through ward choir (an ordeal on the best of days) with ice packs on arm and legs. Rash is still angry pink and inflamed. I bring extra ice packs because I assume C_H is still suffering as well and I’m generous like that. I see C_H. … HER POISON IVY HAS HEALED.

Sobs. Hysterical sobs. Chest-heaving sobs. I-cannot-believe-this sobs. Body-wracking sobs. WHY-DO-YOU-THINK-I-CAN-HANDLE-THIS-GOD sobs. Kindly fatherly doctor happens to be sitting in front of me. This is the worst case of poison ivy I’ve seen in several years. (VALIDATION. This really IS awful; I’m entitled to be sobbing my guts out.) Have you tried Prednisone? Hydrocortisone? Yes and yes. Continue sobbing because what else can I do? You poor thing–you’ve been trying everything you can, and it’s just not working. On top of that, Prednisone really affects your emotions and doesn’t let you sleep. You must be so exhausted. Of course you’re having trouble coping. You really shouldn’t go to work tomorrow–you need to rest. Let me call some of my dermatologist friends. Also, let’s get you a blessing. I nod, shakily, tears still streaming. Someone understands. This is so hard. I have broken. Friends are patting me, stroking my back, expressing sympathy, trying to help. I express concern that I have no food at home (because I don’t–work caters lunch every day and has lots of free snacks so I mostly eat there); L?J the Earth-Confinèd Angel immediately starts arranging food deliveries for me. I have wonderful, wonderful friends.

So I get a blessing, and the doctor calls in two prescriptions for me. He gets an appointment for me with a dermatologist who is otherwise booked through March. (Bless him forever.) When I pick up the prescriptions, the pharmacist looks at me, looks at the prescriptions, looks back at me, and says, quote, “Oh, you poor thing.” (I’ve heard this a lot recently. That and “Holy &#^@! What happened to you?”) I pick up the prescriptions and immediately apply the Clobetasol and down four Atarax (the maximum I’m allowed). I also down two Benadryl. I slog through the work that I was going to do Monday morning because it has to be ready for a demo on Monday afternoon and go to bed.

 

Day 17: Coma  the First.

Monday, September 16. Thanks to the Benadryl I sleep until 2:00 PM. Thanks to the Clobetasol and the Atarax most of the itching is gone. So is a lot of the inflammation. My skin, instead of fiery hot pink, is now magenta and purple. Mostly quiet day. Wander around house, still a bit dazed.

 

Day 18: Back to work.

Tuesday, September 17. I go to work. I’m not as productive as usual but I’m there and I do manage to do a few things. Hooray for Clobetasol and Atarax!

 

Day 19: Coma the Second.

Wednesday, September 18. At 3:00 AM I wake up. The itching has returned so I stagger over to my desk and down three pills. Then I look at the bottle.

I’ve just taken three sedatives.

I normally take half of one of these sedatives when I need it to help me sleep.

F**K.

I have to be at the dermatologist’s office at 10:45 AM, for an appointment that I was incredibly lucky to get.

DOUBLEF**K.

At 10:00 I somehow manage to drag myself to the dermatologist. Walking to the T is heavy and slow and stumbling. I’m falling asleep on the T. I’m falling asleep in the waiting room. I’m falling asleep in the examination room. Two residents come in to look at me. WOW. The doctor comes in. This is a really bad case. To the residents: See those lines? See the coloring? Classic poison ivy. To me: Do you mind if I take pictures? Sigh–sure. I’d love for my freakishness to be featured in a textbook someday. We talk about why the Prednisone didn’t work, poison ivy sensitivity (one of the residents had a worse case than mine when she was a little kid [shudder]), drug interactions (I shouldn’t take my sedative and Atarax at the same time). I stagger home. A co-worker and friend texts me: I called the advice nurse about your overdose, and she thinks you should call 911. I decide this is way too much effort and anyway, it can’t possibly be that bad, but if she wants she can call me every couple of hours to make sure I’m still alive. Finally, I collapse into another coma, waking up at 6:30 PM. Feel groggy and drugged. Go back to bed relatively early.

 

Day 20: Relaxation.

Thursday, September 19. Drag self out of bed and to work. Still groggy and drugged from previous day’s OD. Make it through day. Spend two hours writing Poison Ivy Chronicles. Realize they’re not perfect and I really should go back and fix matters of style, perspective, et cetera. Cannot be bothered, because, dude, this experience has been freaking EXHAUSTING. Endless trips to pharmacies for prescriptions, creams, and bandages. Hours spent every day washing, anointing, and dressing arm and legs. Constant laundering and changing of sheets, comforter, clothes. Interminable itching and scratching. Steroids destroying sleep and making me eat twice as much as I normally do. Subsequent puffiness in addition to the rash-associated inflammation.

 

Seriously, this has been traumatic. Anytime anyone asks me about it I start talking way too much and too fast and go on for too long. I’ve written about it here more for my own records than anything else. Ugh. I’m really glad it seems to be mostly over–although I’ll still look like I have leprosy for a while, at least it doesn’t itch so badly–and that Clobetasol is such a wonder drug. I’m grateful for friendly fatherly doctors and dermatologists who squeeze me in and fantastically wonderful friends who prayed for me and helped me with my bandages and brought me food and comforted me. And for readers–all four of you. If that many even made it to the end of this.  :-)

[Catching up] Bermuda: Things that sucked

January 4th, 2013

So this is now almost four months overdue, but these two stories are worth telling. I think.

Thing That Sucked #1: The Henry VIII restaurant. As a once-and-future Anglophile, I’m attracted by the name, so we head over to this nice-looking restaurant. We decide to dine al fresco, so the host leads us to a table outside. Some tables have lanterns; ours doesn’t, which is kind of unhandy, but we peruse our options, holding our menus at odd angles to catch what light we can. A while after we order, someone brings us a lantern for our table.

Then, now that we can see, we wait for our food…

And we wait…

And we keep waiting…

After more than 45 minutes (!) the waiter returns, bearing plates. He sets my steak down in front of me. (YES! RED MEAT!) Famished because I was hungry before we arrived at the restaurant, and irritated that it’s taken almost a blessèd hour to get my food, but delighted at the prospect of RED MEAT!, I cut off a piece and take a bite…

And see something moving on my plate.

It’s a bug, about an inch long, wading through my gravy like he’s got nothing better to do.

So I flag down the waiter, with the expectation–not an unreasonable one, I think–that I’ll get a nice new plate of food, sans vermin, double-quick. However, this is not the United States. Here, the waiter explains that the restaurant is very busy, so they don’t have time to cook me another plate of food. (The restaurant is half-full at this time.) He also tells me that this happens sometimes, since we’re eating outside. I take a deep breath, then tell him I have eaten outside many times and this particular experience has NEVER before occurred. I ask him to kindly tell me, then, what he can do. He offers to take the food; he’ll just put it on a new plate. Problem solved!

Wait–WHAT?!?!?!?! (sanitized version)

Dumbstruck, thinking I must have misheard, I stare at the waiter. He takes my plate away while the bug continues lumbering through the sauce. I’m still dumbstruck when the waiter comes back, with the SAME FOOD, just on a new plate. I continue to sit and stare at it, still a bit confused. A couple of my companions are shifting uncomfortably; not wanting to be the psycho chick making a scene, I wonder if I’m being a picky tourist, making too big a deal of this.

And then I remember: THERE WAS A DAMN INSECT CRAWLING THROUGH MY FOOD.

Attempting to control what has become a breakneck slide toward Full Freak Out, I flag down the waiter again and tell him this is NOT OK. I can’t eat this. He asks me if I want anything else. I tell him no, I do not. He’s distressed, saying, “I can tell you’re not happy, and it’s my job to make you happy.”

(Too late, dude. That ship done sailed.)

Finally I agree to let him get me a cup of soup. I am still not happy. But at least the soup seems to be free of multi-leggèd wildlife–or if it isn’t, at least the multi-leggèd wildlife is dead and blends in well with the sausage.

Thing That Sucked #2. Scooter training. I was ill on Sunday, when my companions picked up scooters and completed the 30-minute pre-scooting training. Since I still wanted to drive a scooter, KME and I went to get me trained. I was totally looking forward to it. Scooting! More fun than biking, because you don’t have to, like, pedal, but you can still go fast and feel the breeze.

So the scooter rental attendant sat me down on what he specified was a less-powerful scooter and told me how to make it work. No problem, thinks I; I’m coordinated, I learn fast, I drive a stick shift, I got this. I turn on the scooter and start sputtering and jerking away. I’m not naturally good at it, which thing is embarrassing. and makes me feel self-conscious, which of course makes everything harder. Sputter, jerk, sputter, jerk.

After about 10 minutes (NOT the usual 30), the attendant stops me. “I think you just need to be a passenger today,” he says. I stare at him, once again dumbstruck, unable to process what he’s saying.

He continues, “Most people it takes maybe 30 minutes to learn to ride. You–well, I think you need at least two hours.”

?!?!?!?!

I didn’t even think about arguing with him–my brain doesn’t process surprises very well, but I did have the wherewithal to realize that begging wouldn’t make him change his mind and would only cause me to appear pathetic and/or petulant as well as incompetent. Stunned and humiliated, I climbed on the scooter behind KME, who of course didn’t know what to say but tried to be reassuring (ten thousand points to her), and we headed home.

The rest of the day turned out to be fantastic–see items 6-10 of the previous Bermuda post–so the trip was, all in all, a wonderful success.  And it was a great way to spend Labor Day weekend. I’ll just remember to bring my own food next time.

Guate 2: No hay problema

October 1st, 2012

There’s still so much to say about Guatemala—

about the dogs that roam the streets sin owners to clean up after them (one must watch one’s step) and then bark exuberantly with their friends all the blessèd night long;

the fireworks that one also hears at all hours (people like to wake their friends up at 5 AM on their birthdays by lighting a string of cuetes; I’m not sure what they’re doing with the ones that literally sound like cannons [I’m not exaggerating]);

my three adoptive families (love the people here!);

the service project wherein we’re making dolls (by hand, because who needs sewing machines that could get the job done in less than 10 minutes when one could spend several hours with a needle and thread?);

finding out the hard way that my jacket isn’t waterproof, so that I showed up unexpectedly on the doorstep of one of my adoptive families, wet and pitiful (they gave me herbal tea and loaned me some warm clothes, and we’ve had several good laughs about it);

my TOTAL brownie fail (I may have to turn in my American passport; there were difficulties with both the oven and the ingredients);

how I’m significantly taller than most people here, including the men, which thing is just bizarre (see below for my size relative to my siblings—I’m very much the runt in my family);

(See my little baby sister next to me?)

the hot water baths in a pueblito close to Quetzaltenango, where I was warm for the first time in a week and a half (this was before I realized that one can have hot water—as long as one is OK with no water pressure);

how I start classes at 8:00 every morning, which means I’ve been getting up at a reasonable hour, which thing is truly unSylvian;

traje, which makes everyone pretty (see below for evidence) (¡mira que bonitas somos!)—at least a quarter of the women I see wear it daily, and it may be closer to half; the colors and patterns of the traje show which area one is from, though I still don’t know any specifics;

(see how I’m a giant? Can you imagine my little baby sister next to my host mom?)

how my teacher lulls me into a false sense of security by talking slowly so I think I actually understand this language, but then I go out into the street;

the calling I received to be Sacrament Meeting pianist approximately 90 minutes after I first set foot in the church;

how there are no tree-lined streets, because the streets are paved and the houses are all joined together; one gets one’s dose of nature inside one’s residence;

the transportation, food, markets (I only thought Munch and Mingle was Introvert Hell because I hadn’t yet experienced the Mercado de Democracia), and this $&%# language (these will all be separate posts)—

and future posts will indeed be written. At present, I have a goal to find and ingest some street food, because I haven’t had any digestive problems thus far, for which reason a certain person called me a wuss. ACT, if I die, it’s completely your fault.

 

Guatemala: The first post

September 24th, 2012

So I have a list of literally 47 things to write about—topics abound when pretty much everything about one’s life is completely new and unfamiliar (and will be to most of one’s audience). Methinks I’ll start with the basics.

My house (the green one):

It has a two-story tree growing in the living room. Because the living room is outside. The rooms surround an outdoor central area—to get to the bathroom, or the kitchen, or anywhere else, one goes outdoors. (You’re looking at the door to the kitchen.)

I’m fine with this now; not sure how I’ll feel in December, because…

Homes aren’t heated. (Schools aren’t either.) Installing and using heat is expensive; ’tis much cheaper to don another pair of socks or just wear a coat. Which one has to do upon awakening, because…

Mornings are cold! But the weather is kind of schizophrenic. After two weeks I’ve figured out that it’s cold in the morning, and warm-bordering-on-(and sometimes achieving)-hot from 11:00 AM until 3:00 PM. Then the clouds roll in and everything cools way down again. Dressing in layers is essential, as I’ve found out the hard way more than once.

Other things that are essential: Throwing TP into the trash can instead of the toilet. We’re told that Bad Things Will Happen should we forget this basic instruction, and I believe it—especially if the pipes are as tiny as the streets. I live in Zona 1, the old part of the city, and streets are accordingly almost undriveably narrow, and also made of stone.

Sometimes the stone is even; usually it’s not. I dare you to try running on this:

Which is hard enough given the material. (Really, this picture doesn’t show the depth of the crevasses between each stone.) When one considers that the sidewalks are wide enough for one skinny person (usually) and the streets are wide enough for one skinny car, AND the drivers have no qualms about mowing one down, one realizes that one should probably go running somewhere else next time.

But running is pretty important (despite the whistles, comments, and gestures [from others, not me]), because it warms one up, and in the shower, one must choose between water that occasionally makes it to more-or-less-lukewarm (heroic effort, this) and water pressure. One cannot have both.

As far as the language goes (remember? My whole purpose for being here?): Ay me. Seventeen whole days and I’m not fluent. I’m understanding more, and in church I get about 90% of talks and lessons (dependingonhowrapidlythespeakeristalking)… but when I talk I sound like a drunken three-year-old. “I having much good time. I go to be here three month and half. I studying the Spanish. Also I working like editor. He send me the things and I corrects and to send back.” Sigh. At least I’m told my accent is very good. What’s entertaining is that another student lives here too—a Sami girl from Norway (she and her family are traditional reindeer herders [!!!!])—and she just started learning Spanish last week, and the family doesn’t speak English, so I do a lot of translating. Which makes me feel smart—until people start talking about things that aren’t completely basic, and I’m reminded that my patriarchal blessing says, concerning other languages, that they’ll be difficult to learn initially “but with that difficulty will come humility.” Huzzah (she says unconvincingly).

More in my next. Now must I do the homeworks. Every night I write a story incorporating the day’s vocabulary and grammar. It ain’t literature; one story in particular is as subtle as Ayn Rand. But at least I’m starting to switch between indicative and subjunctive correctly, which thing I once thought was going to kill me.

Bermuda: Things that rocked

September 5th, 2012

About six weeks ago my roommates and I, on a whim, bought tickets to Bermuda for Labor Day weekend. (They had visited a beach with un-swimmably cold [read: typical New England] water the day before and were determined to find someplace warm to swim.) So, last weekend, we went.

(This island getaway-style vacation was a first for me; the one thing my travels usually aren’t is relaxing [had some fun with verbs there], and I’m not entirely convinced that relaxation is actually possible for one so high-strung as myself. However:)

Bermuda is gorgeous. And riding scooters is fun.

So, things that rocked:

1. The water. Pure turquoise. AMAZING:

2. The sand. On the more coral-heavy beaches, it looked like candy canes blown to smithereens:

3. Rock formations that create natural jacuzzis:

KME enjoying the impromptu hot tub:

4. Flowers, flowers everywhere (at least until the tropical storm hits this weekend):

The camera didn’t really capture the haunting dusky purple of this plant:

5. The Horseshoe Bay sand sculpture contest:

6. A conversation with a native Bermudian, part of which went as follows:

Native Bermudian to me, with concern: Have you put on sunblock? Because you’re really white.

(Thanks, Danish/English progenitors!)

(My roommate may have used the PicMonkey “spray tan” effect on this picture–I think I look darker than I really was.) (This was the first day; I do now have some respectable color.)

6.  The Swizzle Inn, where portion sizes are extravagant, to say the least. Here’s KJS’s veritable vat of pasta:

And KME’s giant plate of nachos (this was the JUNIOR size; the poor girl needed help eating them [sigh]):

7. The sunset over Elbow Bay (the colors in this picture have not been modified [as far as I know]):

8. Playing in the rough surf until the lifeguards made everyone get out (the one I talked to said they’d already done a dozen rescues that day). (The video of this is too big to upload; as I’m technologically declined I’ll have to get KME to fix it.) It was fantastic. I had to really dig in several times to avoid being sucked out into the ocean (don’t worry, Mom and Grandma; there wasn’t any real danger), and every time a wave came in it would push me forward several steps, despite sincere efforts on my part to stay planted. At times I was standing in delicious waist-deep swirling turbulence; the water felt like a living force. SO. FREAKING. COOL.

(I told KME and KJS how much I loved this part; their answer: “You would.”)

9. Riding scooters up and down the island:

10. The random swing we found hanging from a tree (and we all tried out):

There were a few things that didn’t go so well; look for stories about those, most likely with (only semi-)disguised swear words (you’ve been warned), very soon. But altogether it was a lovely vacation, and I did manage to relax a little bit, and if you ever have the chance, and you can talk yourself out of thinking it frivolous (I’m such a freaking ISFJ sometimes), and you have some good sunblock, you should TOTALLY go.

 

You think your job is tough?

August 26th, 2012

Yesterday in Sunday School we covered Helaman chapters 1-5, which recount a generational changing of the guard, leadership-wise. The last few chapters of Alma cover a protracted and bloody war between the Nephites and the Lamanites, but by the end things have calmed down for the most part; life has returned to normal, with Moroni retiring from generalship, Pahoran I returning to serve as chief judge, and Helaman I reassuming leadership of the church. The Nephites enjoy a relatively peaceful few years from the end of year 31 until year 39 of the reign of the judges. The leaders of Moroni’s generation pass away—Helaman I in year 35, Moroni in 36, Shiblon (brother of Helaman I, who assumes Church leadership after Helaman) in 39, and Pahoran I presumably in 39 as well. Shiblon has conferred Church record-keeping and leadership upon Helaman II.

And then sh*t starts getting real again.

In year 40 “a serious difficulty” arises (Helaman 1:1). Pahoran I has died, and his sons Pahoran II, Pacumeni, and Paanchi run against each other for the judgment-seat. Pahoran II wins. The vote is cast; decision made. Pacumeni is fine with this.

But Paanchi isn’t happy, so his supporters send Kishkumen to kill Pahoran II. Bam. Done. Pacumeni takes over. His reign is short, however: At this point yet another Lamanite army marches into the relatively undefended center of the land, circumventing Moronihah’s armies in the outlying areas, and the leader “smite[s] him against the wall, insomuch that he died” (Hel. 1:21). Moronihah soon gains the upper hand, though, and drives the Lamanite army out after “an exceedingly bloody battle” (Hel. 1:30).

This leaves the judgment-seat open yet again in year 42. I wonder if it’s perhaps somewhat less appealing than it has been, as Pahoran II’s and Pacumeni’s experiences have had a negative impact on the average life expectancy of the chief judge, but I don’t know. In any case, Helaman II, until now the leader of the Church, is “appointed to fill the judgment-seat, by the voice of the people” (Hel. 2:2).

Did Helaman II want this? This is what I was wondering during Sunday School yesterday. I haven’t the faintest idea. What I do think is that Helaman had to be one of the most stressed-out people in the history of the world. Within the past seven years his father and one uncle have died, his other uncle has gone out to sea, and Moroni and Pahoran I have also died; he can’t turn to any of them for guidance. Pahoran II and Pacumeni, who I imagine were friends and perhaps counselors of his, have been brutally murdered. Helaman is giving up his role as leader of the Church—which he may have been loath to relinquish—to assume one hell of a stressful job, he has no one to advise him, and he’s seen what happens to people who take on this position. And, sure enough, soon after he assumes leadership, along comes Kishkumen again, ready to resume his role as assassin extraordinaire. It’s only Helaman’s servant, who has presumably risked his life to spy on Kishkumen and his cohorts, who saves him.

So when Helaman II says to his sons in Helaman 5:12 “[I]t is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall”—he knows what he’s talking about. In his lifetime he’s seen two short but bloody wars and one long one that doubtless shaped his growing-up years—his father commanded the famous stripling warriors. He’s also been eyewitness to plenty of political intrigue. Before all the later contention over the judgment seat, Helaman’s murdered friend Pahoran II’s father had tried to contend alone against a faction of king-men and was “driven . . . out before them” (Alma 61:5) before Moroni, who was engaged in a desperate war against Lamanite armies, could come to his aid. Helaman isn’t just speaking empty platitudes based on a few shallow experiences. He has seen the devil’s “shafts in the whirlwind,” his “hail,” his “mighty storm.” He’s had to rely on Christ in order to function on the most basic levels.

So what does this mean for me? It’s a powerful testimony that if someone like Helaman can rely on Christ to manage a life full of state-level difficulty and intrigue, protected from “the gulf of misery and endless wo” that appears not only in the next life but sometimes in this one (I’ve battled depression since age 10 and know something of this), then maybe I can too. The cacophony of images, noise, crowds, heat, and smells that is downtown Boston on a summer Saturday doesn’t have to be overwhelming—or if it is, Christ is willing and even glad to hold me as I navigate it. Christ is also willing and glad to help me overcome other fears—including the ones, immobilizing at times, that others will find my thoughts sophomoric and ridiculous, or that the as-yet-undefined life I’ll take up after I return from abroad will be a failure somehow. This is somewhat frightening to write; the idea that a Savior, or really anyone else, actually wants to be involved in my daily life still feels presumptuous, and part of me awaits a what-were-you-thinking smackdown. Perhaps, though, as I try to build on this rock, that part of me will wait in vain, and eventually stop waiting at all.

 

Guatemala, parte dos

August 24th, 2012

So I wrote recently that I’m going to Guatemala for a few months, but I don’t like that post, so I’m pretending it doesn’t exist and will give more specifics here. (Lots more specifics, it turns out. But I cut it from 900+ words to exactly 600. You’re welcome.)

Right after girls’ camp in July, I got a very strong impression—not that I needed to do something, but that I would do something. You are going to Guatemala for the fall to improve your Spanish. I think I stopped, head tilted, considered it for a few seconds, and then thought, “Oh! OK then.”

Why Spanish? Well, I’ve spoken sort-of-decent Spanish since college, but I’ve never made the relatively small effort required to become fluent. The truth is I never really wanted to learn Spanish. I took it in college because I could start in Spanish 102 instead of 101. However, I felt some hesitation; I’ve long been a Europhile, and Spanish wasn’t going to lead me to Europe. (Yes, Spain is in Europe. For some reason that didn’t count. It turns out that by “Europe” I meant “Sweden” or “Germany.”) So after Spanish 202 I let the language fade, even though it would have useful countless times.

So why now, and why Guatemala? Mostly because the impression came and I’m going with it. I’m excited to finally (finally!) learn another language fluently, something I’ve craved for decades (though apparently not enough to actually, like, do anything about it), and it will be useful—my stake has three Spanish branches. Timing-wise, it’s easy to find a subletter in the fall, and I’m only working part-time at the moment. As for Guatemala, not all of it is hot and humid (read: intolerable): Quetzaltenango (or Xela [Shay-la], which is less fun to say), in the western highlands, is temperate. Additionally, several friends have strong ties to Quetzaltenango, which is known for its Spanish schools. I’ll be studying 1:1 with a tutor for 4-5 hours a day, going on afternoon and weekend activities/excursions, and staying with a Guatemalan family, all for less than Cambridge rent.

I leave in 14 days (!!). It’s a little stressful (understatement)—previously when I’ve skipped country for a few months I’ve had more lead time, and England and Germany required less preparation. I’ve bought plane tickets, researched 25 schools, registered with one, studied ways to overcome digestive maladies (ugh), ordered massive quantities of prescriptions, procured a slightly battered-looking suitcase (dilapidated = unappealing to bandits), and finally vanquished that damn stack o’papers on my desk. I’m studying verbs while I run and occasionally translating my thoughts into Spanish (which, given my limited vocabulary, is a multi-lingual game of Taboo). I’m eating my remaining food—even the who-knows-how-old Brussels sprouts—and sorting clothes by utility (the rabid minimalist in me is TOTALLY psyched about living on almost nuthin’ for four months). I’ve found a subletter, the search for which led to a Truly Fantastic Experience (stay tuned), and I’m researching further trips—Tikal, Lake Atitlán, Honduras-El Salvador-Belize-Mexico. I made sure my insurance company covers life-flights (note: I am not expecting to require one) and called a consulate to ensure Immigration won’t deport me if I can’t prove I plan to leave within 90 days.

One drawback is that sleeping has become a bit difficult; even Victor Hugo deconstructing convents in excruciating, narrative-suffocating detail for 44 pages (SRSLY!) isn’t entirely effective. But at this time two weeks from now, after 15+ hours in transit (four on a bus), I’ll be at home with my Guatemalan host family.

Sometimes life freaking rocks.

On the Value of Teachers (or, Fishies Loses Her S**t)

August 8th, 2012

I do not usually get into fights on Facebook. For one thing, I don’t feel strongly enough, or feel I know enough, about most issues to make it worth the emotional investment it will undoubtedly require (I’m a sensitive type). Plus, I think that public Facebook brawls are the epitome of unclassy. However, today I made an exception.

A friend of mine posted the following on her wall:

True, right? I think pretty much all civilized people agree that teachers are ludicrously underpaid and undervalued in our society.

But “pretty much” =/= “all.” Note the following exchange between my friend and a friend of hers:

Now, I know that this was between my friend and a friend of hers–technically none of my business. Even if it were my business, as a friend of mine reminds me, I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to. Also, again, I think Facebook fights are tacky, and in my real life I strongly dislike conflict.

On the other hand, I didn’t think it was right to let someone get away with saying that (yeah, I know, look at me, administering Universal Justice According to Fishies). Also, I know, and am related to, too many teachers. Thus the following.

(Note: I should not have attacked this individual personally. That was way unclassy of me.)

By the time I wrote my last above, I was so angry I was shaking. If everyone valued education as little as this gun-toting mouth breather does, for one thing, the technology to invent the weapons (or cell phones, or pickup trucks) he loves would never have been invented. Also, I’m assuming (perhaps erroneously, but I’m still pretty mad) that this guy is one of those right-wing chest beaters who say “America is the greatest nation in the world!” without thinking about whether that statement is actually valid (and, if so, in which contexts)–and who don’t realize that one reason the U.S. has done so well is that the people are, like, educated. People like this individual take advantage of the benefits this country has to offer without contributing anything that will even help maintain the status quo, let alone make anything better for anyone who isn’t him (or her). He also doesn’t realize that if education in the U.S. doesn’t get better fast, America won’t be the “greatest nation in the world” by any standard–or that if more people were like him, it already wouldn’t be.

Emotions =/= bad

July 23rd, 2012

So I don’t much like my writing lately; the last few posts have felt clumsy and stilted and the normal ease has been missing both during the actual writing and in the finished product. I know why, at least partially—I’ve been feeling really self-conscious about it, which, of course, makes things that are normally routine and easy feel awkward. I’ve also been worried about who might be reading, which makes me even more self-conscious. Thus I kind of want to hit a massive Delete button and get rid of a huge chunk of posts. But I won’t, because that would be silly, and anyway perhaps the stilted posts will make others look better by comparison. Perhaps.

I received some rather disappointing news this morning that’s had me feeling, well, rather disappointed. It wasn’t a surprise; I’ve had my suspicions for a while and I think I’ve been reacting to this eventuality (even the Guatemala plans could be seen as a bit of a pre-emptive strike, though not entirely, and I do think I’m acting more under a prompting than an emotional response). In short, I’m grieving. I just want to crawl under the covers and shut my eyes for a while.

I’m quite acquainted with sadness; there’s something even comforting about it (as the song* goes). But I was really fighting it up until a few days ago. I’ve always been someone with strong emotions—people who feel things this strongly but aren’t as afraid of behaving badly as I am tend to break things when they’re angry (HULK SMASH!) and stop eating for weeks at a time** when they’re sad and go totally manic when they’re happy. I’ve never felt that I had the right to inconvenience other people by doing any of these things and I’ve frequently lamented my lack of an even-tempered disposition. I even went so far as to wish I hadn’t any emotions at all; I felt the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous described me perfectly when it says “We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people.” This is me, I thought; emotions = bad. Strong emotions = very bad.

Thus it was surprising and comforting a few days ago when I was discussing this with a close friend and mentor and she told me I’d misunderstood the Big Book. “It’s not about not having emotions,” she said; “it’s about not being destructive.” It’s OK to be so elated when Peter Sagal says he loves me that I go a little berserk in my kitchen or so upset when I injure myself by slamming into the side mirror of a parked car that I burst into hysterical tears (something I desperately wanted to do but felt it would be stupid, or at best out of proportion). It’s OK to feel angry and hurl pillows at the couch as hard as I can when a horrible and abusive person hurts someone I love (actually, I didn’t do this—but I did drop a few F-bombs that day, two of which were in front of nice Mormons). It’s not OK to go completely crazy and slash someone’s paintings after a breakup (which thing I have even come close to doing; I’ve never even sent a nasty [though entirely justified] e-mail). There’s a difference between controlling an emotional nature and repressing emotions entirely.

Which is good, because emotions can’t be repressed entirely. “Bad blood will out,” says the idiom, and so will feelings. I’ve read about people who wake up with fingernail marks embedded into palms from clenching hands into fists during times of extreme stress; I’ve experienced white-hot rage completely out of all proportion to the event when my headphone wire gets caught on a drawer handle, yanking the headphones out of my phone during the most important part of the podcast (as if I can’t just plug back in and rewind, for pity’s sake). (Yes, I know that threading the wire down one’s shirt largely removes this problem, but I don’t always do it, obviously.) When I react that strongly to a minor irritation, I need to figure out what’s really going on.

Which thing I already knew, of course. I’m self-aware enough for that. But I didn’t know it was OK to first feel and then express feelings, even negative ones—that in fact that’s the only healthy way to deal with whatever underlying issue is plaguing me. I don’t have to sit and feel frustration mounting to anger with myself that I’m sad or angry or even happy because I think I should be “mature” enough to handle every situation with calm serenity, and try in vain not to feel what I’m feeling. This is really a new idea for me and not feeling guilty for having emotions is going to take some practice.*** For now, I can be glad that I have the time and latitude to think about this—something I’m well aware that far too few people can enjoy.

 

 

 

*I’ve actually never heard this song; a friend quoted the “I miss the comfort in being sad” line to me many years ago and I felt an instant connection to it, but I’ve never bothered to look up or listen to the song itself. I kind of don’t want to in case I don’t like it.

**OK, so maybe I have done this, and a few years ago lost 22 pounds in three months. I owe my current small-ish size to this particular ordeal. Thanks, Personal Trauma Weight Loss Program!

***I know that I frequently express strong emotions here on my weblog and in Facebook posts, personal interactions, et cetera. But I also tend to feel afterward that I really could have been a bit more reserved and I worry about overreacting. Thus my internal and external selves aren’t necessarily aligned completely, which is uncomfortable, to say the least.

Opposition in all things (or, the aftermath of Peter Sagal’s love)

July 20th, 2012

Some days are just awesome, and then the Law of Averages takes over.

On Tuesday, I was exchanging e-mails with a delightful young woman who turned out to be the intern from Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! (!!!), which many readers will remember is my all-time favorite radio show—a show whose new episodes I await impatiently every week, that never fails to make me laugh out loud, that I turn to in times of acute distress or just vague crumminess. This e-mail exchange had me completely starstruck in a way that (my therapist tells me) is actually quite normal and not immature or weird or borderline stalkerish. But the rabid fangirl in me was in for an even bigger treat when the intern said, “I even told Peter about our conversation, and told him that you love him, and he says he loves you back.”

PETER SAGAL LOVES ME.

ZOMG DOUBLEPLUSSQUEE!!!11!!!!1!11!!!!!

I cannot adequately express in words what this means to me. The only way to convey the feelings of absolute elation involved spastic dancing, complete with squealing and flailing. (In my kitchen. There is no video.)

(!!!!!!!)

But euphoria can only be allowed to last so long, apparently. The next day I was riding my bike through Cambridge when yet another &$%# cab driver came way too close for comfort. Uncharacteristically, I turned to yell at him. “Hey, watch i—”

Ka-BAM.

I slammed into the driver’s side mirror of a parked Honda. (Irony of hitting something while telling someone else to watch out: noted, thanks.) It hurt. A lot. My arm started to bleed. I came to a stop and started to go into shock, which was weird, because the accident wasn’t that bad. (Isn’t shock for real problems?) Fortunately a good friend of mine happened to be riding by on his Vespa, and he sat me down (the thought hadn’t occurred to me, although I was getting dizzy). A friendly woman gave me a ride home, since I could only walk about 15 feet before the world started spinning, and my roommates set me up on the couch with some ice packs and food and The Bachelorette: Men Tell All (so actually I wasn’t completely enthusiastic about the choice of television; to prevent my IQ from dropping too precipitously I read posts on the Mormon American weblog [which you should do, too]). Self-pity commenced. (What kind of idiot runs into a parked car, especially while telling someone else to be careful?)

Then later—much later, since weather had delayed her flight from 8:30 PM until 1:00 AM—I went to fetch a friend from the airport. No problem, right? I live 10 minutes from Logan and her house is only about 20 minutes away from mine.

Except that summertime is constructiontime* in New England, so all the roads I needed were closed, which meant I got to take badly signed detours through indifferently marked roads (seriously, how hard is it to paint straight lines on pavement?!) in downtown Boston to the airport—where the police weren’t letting anyone stop to look for their passengers, and my friend’s cell phone battery was almost dead, so the first three times I called I got her voice mail. She finally walked up just as a vehicle with flashing blue lights was pulling up behind me; the ticket-bearing vehicle went away (thank goodness). On the way home even more of the roads I needed were closed, so I got to drive around through downtown Boston again. Add to this the trauma of the earlier accident and it leads to a thoroughly discouraged Fishies crawling tiredly into bed at 2:36 AM, then staring at the ceiling, feeling both wired and wretched, until after 4:00.

So I heard from the intern yesterday that she can get me tickets to the Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! show in Maine in three weeks. (!!!!! Peter AND Carl Kasell IN PERSON AND IN THE SAME ROOM!!!! More spastic dances are needed to express the excitement.)

I stayed inside today.
 

 
*Somehow this never makes the roads any better. Boston is a horrible place to drive if one cares about one’s car.