Thursday, 19 October 2017

It's ba-a-ack...


So. Hey there. Been a while. Sorry. Gonna break this one up into sub-plots because a) there are a lot of them and b) this post is going to go on forever. Maybe I should break it into parts.
Lotta stuff happened in the last, ahem, year(?), and went unreported. At least here. If you are a FB friend then you were treated to a more-or-less real time commentary.

So over last school year, once we got back from the strike and back on some kind of sensible schedule, I managed to develop some enthusiasm for work, extra curriculars, and personal stuff. Started a couple necessary projects, making plans for my second bedroom, looking at my finances, etc. All was good.

One project was developing the plan for the next phase of my research and working out the details. Another was starting a textbook for a class that pretty much only I (in the world) teach the way I teach it.

Part 1 (Adventures in Healthcare)

A couple of years ago I was having trouble with my right shoulder and was diagnosed with frozen shoulder syndrome. Basically the joint capsule seizes up and greatly restricts your movement, often painfully. Typical pattern is 6-9 months coming on, 6-9 months with you, and 6-9 months going. At the end of which you have close to the range of motion you had before. Fortunately, it only really hurt when I tried to do something the capsule just wasn’t in a position to let me do. There are those who experience excruciating, debilitating pain, pretty much constantly through the coming and with-you stages. Saw a physiotherapist off and on for a year who gave me a slew of stretching exercises that we knew weren’t likely to do a whole lot—it’s just the nature of the problem—and did my best to compensate.

At some point I developed a problem with my right Achilles tendon, specifically where it inserts into my heel, and probably involving the bursa between the tendon and the calcaneus (the heel bone). Which found me going back to the physio for a few times. Gave me some stretching and strengthening exercises, but basically not much he could do about the actual ‘injury’ until it healed itself. Which typically it does. Like the shoulder it was mostly ‘make sure nothing gets worse and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again’. He looked at me once and said ‘Usually people come to me, I give them some exercises, they feel better, and I look like a genius. Then you come in with these other things.’ Or something like that.

In the meantime, I’ve done something to my other shoulder, so while I have almost 100% movement in my right shoulder almost anything that isn’t just ‘typical’ movement, especially if it involves any rotation, hurts. A lot. Although not often while I’m doing it, more just after I stop. So after a couple years of making sure I pulled on shirts and jackets over my right arm first and twisting my other arm back to get the thing on, I now basically hurt myself every morning. Also every night when I turn on my CPAP machine and turn off my bedside lamp. Or try to lie on my left side, which seems always to either press on the joint or roll my humerus forward in ways that do not feel good. Sometimes quite a lot. Looked it up and basically whatever it is (it isn’t frozen shoulder, could be rotator cuff, remote possibility of the beginnings of arthritis, but shoulder-specific arthritis is relatively rare. But so is retrocalcaneal bursitis, which is probably most of what is going on with my Achilles tendon, and apparently I beat those odds. So there you go.

Anyway, physically it kind of feels like I’m old and falling apart.*

*Side story: Justice Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court in 1991 at age 83. At a press conference (as I recall with the other Justices) he was asked why he was retiring. His response was “I’m old and falling apart.” Given in an exasperated, cantankerous, ‘what a stupid question’ kind of tone. He became my hero and role-model for cantankerous old man-ness.

Part 2 (Misako Kondo Hagiwara, 1920-2017)

In the spring, my mother (who wasn’t in the best of health) started to decline. She lived with one of my sisters back in the Seattle area, more or less since my father died, and I live 1300 miles away in a foreign country, so there wasn’t much I could do about it and wasn’t really expected to. So the local family experienced more angst preparing for ‘the inevitable’ (which shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone—my mother was 92 and not in the best of health), with trips to doctors and hospitals and convalescent care to hospital to palliative. Which all things considered could have been much worse and gone on a lot longer.

My mother passed on April 17th. I’d talked to another of my sisters a few days earlier with the change to palliative and what would happen then. I’d been expecting, in the worst case, a ‘come home now’ message, which I was actually kind of prepared for. Fortunately the message wasn’t come home now, so much as ‘what’s going to happen is going to happen, probably sooner rather than later, big arrangement issues were made (seriously) decades ago, so local family would figure out how to deal with the rest, and we’d figure out sometime later to get the family together and do the memorial and the interment’ and so on. Which we did Mothers Day weekend. Which was a week with the mishpucheh*, and actually more fun than it should have been, even with the whole mishpucha and the usually getting-on-each-others-nerves. With somber moments, of course, but always punctuated with in-family eyerolls and good humor.

*Side story: I grew up, sort of, believing mishpucheh meant something bigger than a mishigas. Mishigas is a Yiddish-origin word which used to mean something like ‘riotous mess’ from a basic meaning of ‘craziness’ (I think this is the same root as meshuga). I think I learned mishpucheh in the context of something like “Such a mishigas, the whole mishpucheh”. Mishpucheh (or apparently, having just looked it up, mishpocha) is another Yiddish-origin word that means ‘family’, especially ‘extended family’ construed broadly. A gathering of which in a lot of families inevitably means some kind of mishigas. So there you go.

But the upshot of my mother’s decline is that I spent more psychic and emotional energy on the inevitable toward the end of the delayed (due to the strike) winter term than was good for me, and, well, things went haywire. Regular sleep patterns? Out the window. Anything resembling a considered diet and sensible food choices? Gone. Exercise was also, at best, a marginal priority, since at one time or another I couldn’t move my arms or stand or walk comfortably. So that.

Part 3 (… So I’m working on it)

Emotionally, the enthusiasm and momentum I’d worked up basically went ker-poof. And while it wasn’t much trouble to get up in the morning, or the circa-noon, and go about my day in public as a mostly functional person, there wasn’t a lot of available attention span, and almost no energy, for doing anything that wasn’t really immediately necessary. What there was was a lot of staring into space, or at the TV or internet enabled equivalent, not actually paying attention to anything. Also the spending of a lot of money on I’m not entirely sure what. Well, I am, but nothing exciting.

So that sucked. And I didn’t really start to feel like myself again until July, which I devote primarily to the Fringe Festival. Which having committed to not worrying about money, or diet, or blood sugar, or that kind of thing for the 12 days of the festival, I actually enjoyed a lot more than I expected. Of course it helped that two of the new food vendors had a sausage-dog ‘noriyaki’ thing on an egg bun with nori and some kind of amazing barbecue sauce and a flourish of Japanese mayo, and pulled pork and some really juicy brisket on poutine.

August was taken up trying (and often failing) to prepare for classes and trying to wind up our inaugural Winnipeg Theatre Awards season. And trying to get up at a human hour of the morning consistently, and not making any more of a mess of my state of life than I could help.

Then, just before classes started, the class I had managed to do some prep for (although not enough) got cancelled due to low enrollment. Which sucks. A) I (along with others) was sure this topic would be a big draw for students, so when there was little-to-less interest to speak of by mid August things were bad. B) I ‘owe’ a course now, which means I’ll probably end up doing 3 in each term next year.* University people know that teaching expands to take up all the time it can at the best of times, so any discipline I have to get stuff done that isn’t class stuff, which I don’t have a ton of, will be spent trying to get work done, with limited momentum going into it.

*Side story: Although I did read the proposed workload guidelines (which by the contract we got that ended the strike are negotiated between the Faculties (i.e. deans offices) and the faculty (i.e. the academic staff), and it might rend up reducing our teaching loads by one course every two years, so maybe I’ll catch a break and only have a 3-2 as scheduled.

Okay, so the point of this post is to actually publicly promise a few things. I’m more likely to do things if I think other people are watching and waiting for the results, so here goes.
  • I’m actually writing at textbook for that class that only I teach the way I teach it (so if I want a textbook, it’s pretty much up to me to write it). I started that earlier in the year, and kind of lost the thread toward the end of fall term, and my mothers’ decline. Last week I finally opened up a couple of the chapters that I did get some work into before everything blew up. And they were gibberish. I don’t mean poorly organized, full of typos, etc. I mean flat out ‘I can’t imagine a native English speaker with a PhD writing like this, at least not without some kind of brain injury’. I exaggerate. But bad enough that really, I can keep the outline, but I have to throw out the crap I have. But I’m working on it.
  • I’ve also decided to develop a ‘workbook’ of activities relevant to a course in acoustic phonetics (my specialty). I had an idea like this, intending to develop it relative to an existing textbook, but I think I have made peace with the fact that the free, open-source software that ‘everyone’ uses for this kind of thing isn’t the evil, deranged, project I always thought it was. Don’t get me wrong, there are ‘quirks’ galore, and it is far to easy for people to use it without knowing what they’re doing. But that gives me a hook for the workbook. So as with all new projects, I’m excited about this one. But I’m working on it.
  • I’m going to re-start my Mystery Monthly Spectrogram webpage. Maybe as a blog rather than a webpage, but whatever. I haven’t updated it since 2009, when a) I went on leave and b) the computer that ran my preferred software (the one that nobody uses because ‘everybody’ uses the free one) died, and I couldn’t run the software I had on the new computer (there was a DRM ‘dongle’ that plugged into the parallel port to make the program work. Guess what, they don’t make parallel ports anymore.) And replacing it was prohibitive. So maybe not monthly, and I may make more liberal use of the ‘features’ of the free program than I had intended (playing with the format, to make it easier to produce the figures the way I want them—which was one of my objects to the program in the first place, it’s cumbersome graphics system). So maybe not ‘monthly’ (‘quarterly quandary’?), but regular. So I’m playing with the software and the graphics and the presentation, and I’ll try to have something going somewhere by the end of the year. So I’m working on it.
  • I’ve got two things that I need to prepare for the Ethics Board, having to do with my next project. Last year I developed a project for my acoustic phonetics class that a) could end up in the workbook, and b) has some special ethical issues owing to the classroom basis of the data-collection and analysis. And storage. This task is actually a reasonable dry run for a part of the tasks in my next ‘big’ research project, both in terms of general method and as ethics submission. So one and a third birds with one stone. So I’m working on it.

There’s a couple other non-work projects that I’m trying to put into the mix, including this blog, but this is not the time to go into those. But I’m working on them, as well as getting my diet and blood sugar back on track. To that end, I have acquired a new glucometer, because new toys always get me a little more excited to check my blood sugar.