Thursday, January 28, 2010

Memes as mental fibre

Right after EcoGeoFemme pointed out that there haven't been many memes circulating recently, Amanda went and tagged me for one! The assignment is to write about seven things that I've never talked about in my blog.

This is a tricky one for me, because like in real life, I talk/blog too much and with too few filters. It's easy enough to find seven things I've never written about, but that aren't meaningful to me: porcupines, ravioli, WWII tank design, the history of ten pin bowling. My other initial reaction was to go too far in the other direction, into TMI territory, but luckily I decided to tone those ideas down (there still might be TMI for some people). So I present to you a mix of subjects I just haven't got around to, and subjects I've tried to blog about before as a full post but couldn't find the right angle, or that otherwise caused a severe case of writer's block.

1) I have a rather impressive scar on the inside of my left arm.



I got it in a rather embarrassingly cliched middle class way, by falling off a pony at a riding lesson when I was seven and breaking my arm just above the elbow. Contrary to everyone's first reaction, the main scar isn't from the bone breaking through the skin (although I do have a much smaller scar from that - just barely visible in the photo, slightly above and to the right of the mole). It's actually from the multiple surgeries I had to have to repair the blood vessels and nerves that the broken bone cut through at the point where they all bunch together at the elbow joint. My arm swelled up after one surgery, bursting a couple of stitches and stretching the scar tissue out, and it stretched further as I grew. I'm lucky to still have my arm at all; during one surgery that was supposed to last a couple of hours but was well into its seventh (my parents were freaking out at this point, as you can imagine), the surgeons discussed amputation as the best option. Luckily, they persevered and saved my arm. I was in traction for two weeks (apparently there's a published case study about how they set up the traction apparatus - I remember them videoing it - but I can't find it in PubMed), and it took a year or so of intensive physio before I could use my hand properly again. It still sometimes spazzes out on me and I lose my grip on whatever I'm holding with no warning: this is good in that it got me out of playing the viola in high school (the position I had to hold my wrist in seemed to aggravate the problem), but bad in that I once dropped an open 2L bottle of conc HCl while doing my undergrad research project, destroying my lab coat and a patch of the flooring. I've never held anything that scary in my left hand since, even though these incidents are much less common than they used to be.
I remember freaking out when I first saw the scar emerge from inside the cast I'd been wearing; it was hideously red and swollen and flaky and gross. I cried. A lot. However, I soon realised that I could use it to scare younger kids and chase them around the playground, and I almost always win "biggest scar" competitions. It's in such a discrete location, and it's faded and flattened so well, that people sometimes know me for years before they notice it, and it's such a normal part of me now that I barely even remember it's there. Also, the position of one of my moles makes it look like a winky smiley face.

Funnily enough, I have two friends with similar scars in the exact same place, following motorbike accidents. Motorbikes are much cooler than ponies.

OK, that one went longer than I'd intended... I'll try to be more concise in the remaining six points!

2) I sometimes have dreams about people I know that make me think about them in a completely different way. Usually just for the next day, but sometimes permanently. These dreams are sometimes the first conscious sign of something going on subconsciously, e.g. that it was time to let one friendship fizzle out, or that a formerly platonic friendship was heading in a new direction that had to be addressed. But other times they're just completely from left field and make me giggle with their weirdness.

There's a episode of Friends where Phoebe finally remembers why she's mad at Ross:
"Oh, come on! Yes... remember that time on the frozen lake? We were playing chess, you said I was boring, and then you took off your energy mask and you were Cameron Diaz! Okay, there's a chance this may have been a dream"
I couldn't find the clip on YouTube, but it sums up the latter category of dream perfectly.

3) Being around my friends' babies has had a complicated effect on me: it's made me feel very secure in my own decision not to have kids, but also made me less scared of an accident. We had a scare just before last summer's baby boom (my previously 100% reliable record of years of 27 day cycles suddenly disappeared with an unprecedented 42 day cycle) and I totally freaked out. We had another scare in November, and I freaked out considerably less. Although there was still some freaking, obviously.

4) I always used to say that if I won the lottery, I'd still want to work. But the older I get, the more I think I'd just want to bum about, living on a boat (summer) and in a ski cabin (winter) and maybe dabbling in a little writing. I think this is the opposite of how you're supposed to change as you get older.

5) I believe in ghosts. Well, I don't not believe in ghosts. I don't believe in the usual way; I don't think there are self-aware / conscious spirits floating around, trying to avenge their own deaths or otherwise deliberately haunting the living because of unresolved issues from their lives. I cycle through the local cemetery in the dark all the time: I aint afraid of no ghost! (Campfire stories are another matter entirely). But too many people I know and trust have told me too many, too convincing stories. There are also too many examples of multiple people seeing the same thing in the same place and/or at the same time.

The most convincing stories are where the person sees a ghost that doesn't interact with them. "This white apparition rose out of a grave and waved at me" doesn't cut it. But the other stories do. For example, my Dad has a story about a fellow student from his hall of residence who died after breaking his neck in a rugby scrum. A few weeks later my Dad was walking past this student's room (which had been emptied and locked up for the year; no-one else wanted to live there), and saw the dead guy open the door, walk out into the corridor, lock his room door behind him, and walk away without acknowledging my Dad, who was standing a few inches away with his mouth wide open. He says it was unmistakably, undeniably, definitely, the dead guy (in the dead guy's clothes). This student definitely did not have a twin or any other similar looking relatives (my Dad knew him well enough to go to the funeral and meet his family).

Now, I'm no physicist, but I do try to read the complicated physics articles in New Scientist, and I know that our understanding of time is incomplete and there are some unresolved problems with the current theories. Is it possible that we might sometimes catch a glimpse of someone or something from the past? That my Dad, and other people I know and trust who have similar stories, somehow watched a play-back of a moment from this guy's life, like watching a video?

I can almost hear Massimo (and any other physicists who read this) laughing at me right now.

Possible alternative explanations:

a) cognitive dissonance
b) my Dad is crazy
c) my Dad has repeatedly lied to me about this experience (I don't think he his. You should see his face when he tells this story).
d) lots of other people are either crazy or lying
e) I'm crazy
f) I've watched too much sci-fi

6) Um. Baby porcupines are cute?

7) The sad demise of Mad Hatter's blog had really got me thinking. I totally understand her reasons. Don't worry / celebrate, I have no intentions of shutting down my blog. But blogging really is a trigger for wasting lots of time on the internet, time that would be better spent reading, writing, playing my guitar, and hanging with Mr E Man and the kitties. I spend a lot of time reading and commenting on blog posts, and I don't want to stop completely, because I love it. You guys are my friends, and I want to know what you're up to! Also, you can't / shouldn't be a blogger without also contributing to the community by reading and commenting on other people's blogs.

I think the solution (for me) is to try and be more selective. I went through my Google Reader account yesterday and deleted some feeds. I pruned way back to the bare bones, i.e. I unsubscribed from eight blogs (and resubscribed to three of them this morning). It's so hard! There are too many good blogs out there! So I think rather than reading fewer blogs, I need to read fewer posts on each blog. Almost every blog contains a mixture of things I'm really interested in, and things I'm less interested in (speaking of which, I do apologise for the recent flood of posts about Canadian politics. Please bear with me). For example, it's now five years since I last held a pipette, and I really don't have any useful, current advice to contribute to conversations about lab work and related aspects of the grad student / postdoc experience. Similarly, not being a prof or lecturer, I have nothing useful to contribute on posts about teaching methods and such.

So, if you see fewer comments and page hits from me, please forgive me! I'm still skim-reading in Google Reader, but applying more filters to my thorough reading and commenting. And I'll always click through to celebrate your highs and commiserate with your lows.

Unless they're about breaking a pipette while teaching.

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I tag: anyone willing to post their own scar photo!

30 comments:

  1. I have seen a ghost. My best friend died and it took me a long time to get over it. A few months after he died, I felt him beside my bed, telling it will be OK. For the longest time I tried to convince myself I was dreaming, but in my heart I know it was him.

    I too have been selective on the commenting, I'm avoiding getting to the blog arguements etc.. not enough time in my day to do it.

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  2. Two things:

    1) That is quite the scar story you have.

    2) Although I am an atheist and a trained, rational scientist... I, too, have heard just too many odd stories from people I know and trust. Not about ghosts, exactly, but about other things we would label "supernatural." So it makes me wonder... (I suppose I can add Scientistmother now to the count of witnesses?)

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  3. See, the stories are just too common. I trust ScientistMother to not be crazy or lying, and I'm sure you trust your friends in the same way, Bean-Mom.

    Bean-Mom, I'd love to blame my wussiness on the enhanced fear of falling and injury caused by two weeks in traction and more than a year of physio at a young age, but I was already a bit wussy before the whole thing. This actually contributed to the accident; the pony was a contrary little bugger that frequently threw me off and knew I was scared of him.

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  4. I think we have compared scars at some point, right? I put my arm through a glass door when I was about 12. I remember looking at my arm (which was pretty much peeled) and thought it was cool - right up until my Mom started screaming in panic. Nothing as impressive as your injury though.

    I dream about people too. The worst is when you don't really remember initially, and then you run into that person later the same day and the dream flashes into your mind. I tend to blush when that happens, even if the dream is really innocent! Awkward!

    I can also agree with the baby thing. I don't regret my decision too much, but the thought doesn't phase me as much as it used either. Well, other than I am too old - who wants to deal with a teenager when you are retired?

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  5. That is a scary scar story!!

    Sigh. I know what you mean about the blogging thing. I've been trying to find the happy medium as well, which means that I comment a lot less often than I used to although I still read a lot. But that makes me a little sad because I think people must assume I don't read them anymore and am no longer their blog friend....

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  6. Scar... hm, mine is smaller than yours. (But I saw bone when it happened :) )

    Anyhow, I've been mulling over that meme since I read it since I've been a dancer. I was tempted to touch on a few child things since I haven't talked about them, but they seem a bit too personal. Then I guess I can move into politics or something equally boring/annoying?!

    I need to get a grip about my blogging and write more 'important' or "thought out" posts since I feel many are a bit too personal venting (althuogh I try not to vent too much personal issues with someone else - I don't count more general "former fellow post doc" as that though. I did delete some posts from back in the time when I wrote about more obvious things like my present PI or head of the dep. since I couldn't face if someone outed me.)

    long rant :) Like baby porcupine! (although I can't view it from work...)

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  7. That's quite the scar! I don't have anything nearly that large.

    I totally agree with you about winning the lottery. I think we're all "trained" to say that we'd still work, and put in our time, blah blah blah...but come on, really? Why? LOL

    I know what you mean about reading blogs & commenting. I don't think I keep up with too many blogs, and I certainly don't comment on them all unless I have something worthwhile to add. One of my resolutions this year is to get rid of crap I don't like/use, and spending too much time on the computer is something I need to work on. There's so much more out there that I want to enjoy.

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  8. Mermaid, yes we have! Scars and tattoos!

    Yes, the "I had a dream about you!" moment can be mortifying!

    Ruchi, there must be something in the water! Or maybe we all just started blogging at around the same time, and are all hitting the next phase together.

    Chall, I never actually saw the bone poking through the skin, but my Dad did, and I saw him go white!

    This meme was pretty tricky. I mean, we choose not to blog about certain topics for a reason, right?! The dreams, ghosts, scar, and blog commenting items were things I'd tried to write up as a full post before, but hadn't been able to find the right way. The rest was filler :)

    Alyssa, let me know if you find a good way to cut down! It's just so easy to reach for the laptop at the end (or indeed the beginning) of a long day. I do tend to think it's better than just watching TV, because at least it's interactive...

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  9. Your #5 about ghosts gave me chills. I've had a very vivid experience like your dad's, one I couldn't explain, one that was quite unexpected.

    Blog reading and commenting has become irregular for me, at least for the last couple months. I may cut some things from my reader, but they are ones I rarely even skim, so they wouldn't really affect my reading "load." What I try to do is check through blog posts and find a few to comment on - maybe at least weekly, but not on a regualar schedule - in order to keep in touch, because it does matter to me. I'd like to comment when I read at night, but it's harder when using my phone.

    I'm not sure I could think of 7 things to blog about (I like dogs more than cats?), and don't have any impressive scars.

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  10. I've been scaling back on my Google Reader list and only skimming pages, too. There just isn't enough time in the day to keep up with everything.

    Cool scar, btw :)

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  11. Cool scar, but you need a more hard core story for why it happened, dude!

    I've been commenting less as well. There is a core group of blogs that I try to comment on a lot, but a whole bunch I still read religiously without commenting often. Also, I've picked up a few new-to-me blogs recently, but I've been avoiding commenting on them. The reading goes pretty fast and I do most of it over lunch, but the commenting really eats up the time.

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  12. Holy crap! My fading knee scars got nothing on you! It is funny to have a pony story to go with a gnarly scar, though :)

    I hear you on blogging - I keep finding myself wanting to be a better bloggy friend and not having enough time for it, and I am sure it is only going to get worse. Sigh.

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  13. Totally with you on #3 except that I still freak out everytime I have a scare! I'm okay with the idea that I might one day change my mind, but not so okay with the idea that my mind might be forced to change unexpectedly.

    And by the way, I don't seem to be spending significantly less time online. I've just transferred time previously spent blogging to hanging around on FB. Oh, the irony.

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  14. cool meme Cath! Really interesting points.
    I have two interesting scars (and a few less interesting) so I might picture them. They have some good background stories too ...

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  15. Silver Fox, I'd love to hear that story some time if you feel able to tell it.

    With commenting, there must be a happy medium between swamped and barely staying in touch... I'll let you know if I find it!

    PiT, something in the water. Definitely. We all seem to be feeling it at the same time.

    I bet you've got some decent scars!

    Eco, yeah, I know. When people see it they're all impressed and ask how I got it. Then when they find out, they look very disappointed.

    I've been trying to avoid picking up any new blogs, but when you stumble across a good one, it's so hard! And if existing bloggers stop accepting new ones into the circle, the whole thing'll come crashing down. So I try to operate a "one in, one out" policy. That I never really stick to.

    ScienceGirl, yeah, other bloggers who have kids seem to go quiet for a while, until they get into a routine! I'm sure you'll figure out the right balance.

    Mad Hatter, scares are worse than scars!

    I've noticed you being more active on FB (memes and everything!!!) I didn't want to comment on there and risk outing you though!

    Thanks, Nina! I look forward to seeing your scars and reading the stories!

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  16. I have a scar story. I have a scar on my lower back which I haven't seen directly (!), but which others tell me is quite impressive. When I was a student, and in a rock band, I was lifting a heavy electric keyboard into the back of my car (It was a Hohner Clavinet Duo, tech fields!)

    Nothing happened at the time - no twinges, cracks or spasms of pain - but over the next few weeks I got weird feelings in my left leg; unnatural feelings of heat or cold. It turned out I'd ruptured a disk, which had trapped a nerve, and had to have surgery to fix it. Hence the scar. The worst thing was that I was prone for about three weeks and had to be taught how to walk again. Weird.

    I am also open-minded about ghosts...

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  17. My most impressive scar is not very impressive at all, but I got it in a rollerskating accident: I was 13 and I had to take the glass recycling out to the bin, but I also had to meet up with my friend, so I thought it would all be done a lot quicker if I took the glass out on rollerskates and then went straight to her house. I tripped in the doorway, dropped the glass, picked up the bag again, and didn't notice there was now a shard sticking out of the bag. That cut into my leg as I skated away, and I barely felt it because it nicely severed some neurons as well, but you could see quite deep into my leg in the opening it created. I went to the doctor instead of my friend's house. Multitasking fail!

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  18. I don't have any exciting scars (not for lack of trying, I guess I was just lucky) - but my husband has enough for both of us. He's had his ankle completely rebuilt after an ice-climbing accident, but his best scar is from sliding down an icy gully on a small island off the Antarctic Peninsula on his butt.. He hit a rock. The station doctor patched him up with 17 stitches and his was the butt of the jokes for a couple of weeks...

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  19. Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow [etc.]

    I'm afraid the best I can do for a scar is a nick on my knee from high school. I was kneeling down to put something in the bottom of my locker, and when I stood up rammed my knee into the bottom corner of the open locker door.

    No, it's not a very interesting story, is it? Hurt like b*ggery though.

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  20. Cromercrox, back surgery is just scary. And your three weeks prone beats my two weeks, which was bad enough (especially for a seven year old!)

    Y'know, it's interesting that a lot of people automatically assume that ALL atheists will scoff at the notion of ghosts. I've heard (although not seen - that would be the clincher) more to convince me of the existence of ghosts than of gods.

    Eva: what did you learn? [/patronising Mum voice]

    Steffi: ouch! An exotic location is always good. Mr E Man has an abundance of scars, although none as good as mine. Ankle (skydiving), knee (ACL surgery), hand (a ceramic sink broke into several pieces when he leant on it in Mexico when he was 17), other hand (table saw), chin (fell through the attic floor and onto a wood stove when he was a baby and his older siblings were supposed to be watching him), eyebrow (movie set building mishap). It's all very Harrison Ford.

    Ricardipus, do you feel like Chief Brody in Jaws? :)

    The little injuries usually hurt the most. The most pain I've ever been in was when I got my finger trapped in a door (no scar). Like Eva, my scar-making injury damaged the nerves too and I never felt one moment of pain (until I started physio. I still can't look at playdoh).

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  21. I don't have any scars to contribute, I'm afraid, but my mother has a most impressive one on her thumb from being bitten by Thumper, the looks-so-cute-and-cuddly family rabbit. To this day she remains bitter about rabbits.

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  22. "bitter about rabbits" sounds like an excellent title for a novel.

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  23. Hm, so I do have a scar, but I won't show a photo of it (it's right where a C-section scar would be). The surgery lasted twice as long as it should have (R was terribly scared, of course), and fixed a very painful issue I'd had for months and my doctor didn't take seriously. The people in the ER the day before did, thankfully.

    Otherwise, I'm with you on the "we don't blog about certain things for a reason" thing...

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  24. Amelie, fair enough! Long surgeries suck for everyone; I'm glad yours fixed the problem.

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  25. I suppose out of fairness I should comment here, too. :-) Double mileage. But for some reason I can not use "paste" to insert the link.

    I am also unclear on how to get a scar photo in here without uploading first to Flickr, which is just too many links and clicks for my little head today.

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  26. I don't think you can actually insert a photo directly into the comments here - you can just have a link to the photo on Flickr.

    NN is far superior and is the bestest blog platform EVAH, obviously :)

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  27. I have the dream thing happen every so often. Once I woke up pissed at Dr. Man because he didn't set the alarm clock like I asked him to. As I was brushing my teeth, I was thinking, "He just wasn't listening to me. It was like that all last night. Just like with the sharks chasing the fruit..." Then, I realized it was a dream. It was a good thing I realized it then because I was working up a good mad!

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  28. Dude! Your scar is rad! I can't compete with that.
    I am really glad you're not shutting down the blog. I was so excited when I opened my google reader after the grant was submitted and saw that Mad Hatter was posting. I was not so excited when I clicked on the posts and could not access them. :(

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