Thursday, December 29, 2005

My Katrina Sabbatical

My Katrina sabbatical (read: G Bitch got fired) is nearly over and the University will hire me back on a temporary, no-tenure-track, no-guarantees basis. I have no idea where exactly I will be teaching--office building or hotel?--or what kind of facilities that might mean--computers? dry erase boards? chalkboards? easel and paper pad? desks? chairs? seminar tables? pews? windows?--or where students will be living--conflicting reports. The University--I can no longer use "my"--has a reliably dysfunctional "way" of disseminating information and since my temporary contract doesn't start until January 2, I’m not doing research.

My Kat sabbat has taught me a few things:
  1. I do not love teaching, it is something I do. Well.
  2. I love writing, it is something I do not do. Much. For myriad reasons.
  3. The insomnia and its echoes have erased a part of my personality I am working to rediscover. Or discover.

Turf wars over trailers, improperly built levees, great pictures after the levees broke by Ted Jackson of the Times-Picayune, contractor prices (for what the feds pay to put a blue tarp on your damaged roof, a local roofer could REPLACE your fucking roof) and mold and housing discrimination in Houston topped off by the Houston mayor (Mayor White, no less) wanting extra money because 8 of over 100 violent crimes since Katrina involved Louisiana evacuees....The local news has become unbearable to me. Sometimes I feel like I can't breathe.

Then I take my own advice--just drink a little more than pre-Kat.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The 20% who stayed

Many made fatal choice to stay behind

Most of the MSM and the Republicans who grilled Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin want the rest of you to believe that New Orleans and the state of Louisiana abandoned hundreds of thousands of people in the metro area—poor, disabled, elderly and not—to die out of ignorance, incompetence, heartless racism and “corruption,” a word thrown around by Congressional Republicans as if there is corruption only in Louisiana or black city mayors, not in House majority leaders or lobbyists or government contractors. Almost all the finger-pointers, congressional and otherwise, have no experiential understanding of evacuation, especially of living in an area that calls evacuations of some sort at least once if not three times in a 6-month period. To get 80% of people to do anything, much less anything as drastic, stressful and uncertain as leaving their homes and 99% of all they know, own and love, is something to be applauded. If 80% of my students turn in an assignment, I’m pleasantly shocked. If 80% of faculty showed up for a meeting, the provost would serve champagne! If 80% of people used turn signals or condoms or acetaminophen correctly—shit, if 80% of registered voters bothered to vote!

There were folks, black, white, poor, rich, in between, who didn’t want to leave their homes, their pets, their city, who “simply said God would take care of them.” I mourn all those losses and feel them weighing down the air around me but when your great-auntie says God will spare her or take her Home, what can you say or do?

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

The "recovery"

Twelve weeks after that bitch Katrina, the branches, utility pole pieces, cables, insulaters, transformers (thanks Entergy) and trash dumped overnight from elsewhere in the neighborhood (a toilet, meat grinder and shovel included) were still on our street.

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Men in Trucks

Our hotel/restaurant/retail economy has become a men-in-trucks economy, 1 man or 2 men or 5 men in Dodge Rams, old Toyotas and Nissans, dump trucks, Ford F250s and F350s or F450s with massive trailers all garbage hauling, house gutting, tree removing, rewiring, fumigating, inspecting, roofing, reconnecting gas and cable and electricity, everything. They were a novelty until I had to drive with them—too fast then too slow, vague and contradictory turn signals if any at all, near sideswipes, speeding around me to cut me off or crowd me out of the lane on their way to the next job or to wait in line with the other men in trucks at Wendy’s, Popeye’s, Subway, McDonald’s or to Baton Rouge or the French Quarter running on men in trucks’ $5, $10 and $20 bills. They run red lights and stop signs and turn in front of you like you're not there. They have no use for civil society. I'm glad they're here--a nice pair of them gutted my mama's house--but I can't wait 'til they're fucking gone.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Five Years of Insomnia

I woke at 3 a.m. for almost 3 years. Three times in those three years I slept what I now call through the night—straight through until 4 or 5 pm, once after a long walk that left my muscles twitchy and sparking like Pop Rocks, another the first time I took Sonata my g.p. prescribed, and the third a fluke or sheer exhaustion even the insomnia couldn’t interrupt. After each of these nights, I felt clearer-headed but physically weaker—a mild sore throat or headache, a few more muscle aches than usual, yawning by 5 pm instead of 8.

Year 4 was more irregular. 3 days of sleeping until 4 or 5 followed by a 2 am awakening and a 3 am awakening, another night of sleep (which still ended between 4 and 5 am), a 1 am wake-up, a 3 am wakeup, and a stretch of 5 days I woke no earlier than 4:30 am no matter what time I went to bed, at 8:30 or 11 or in between. I’ve tried everything but sleeping pills twice. In year 5, I started trying it all over again. I’m still waking up at 3 or 4. I consider myself lucky if i get to 5 am.

“Sleep hygiene” is the first front of attack suggested. Hygiene makes it sound dirty, like the insomnia is caused by sour sheets, unwashed hair, unclean thoughts about sleep or beds or other people or the president. It implies your sleep problems are all bad habits acquired that the body and mind need to be purified of. I hate sleep hygiene. It seems developed by someone who had nothing to do but regulate sleep; if all I had to do in a day was regulate my sleep, I’m sure I’d sleep 12 hours a day every day 7 days a week:

Establish a regular sleeping schedule

If I could do that, if I could wake at the same time every morning, I’d have no insomnia and if I could wake at the same time every morning, in less than a week I’d go to bed at a regular time since I’d know when I’d be getting sleepy, not guessing I’ll feel tired and yawny sometime after lunch.

Get out of bed if you are awake for more than 15 minutes, read or do something quiet and/or boring until you are sleepy again

I hate this one the most. Only someone who sleeps through the night almost every night thinks that getting out of bed, away from the anxiety about not sleeping, does any good. Or that reading is boring. When I wake in the night I am AWAKE. Reading doesn’t make me sleepy. TV is said to be too bright and stimulating. Physical activity, like sweeping, makes me more awake. What usually happens is this: I wake at 1, I roll back and forth a few times, hoping to feel sleepy, trying to avoid looking at the clock. Then I finally do. Lately it’s said 1:25 or 1:17 more often than 2 or 3. I wait another 15 minutes. Sometimes I feel too physically comfortable or exhausted to get up right away but eventually I do. I go to the bathroom sometimes. I sit on the sofa and read. Maybe it’s a quirk that I don’t find reading boring or don’t have books in my house I think are boring, plus, my reaction to a boring book is to throw it across the room, hopefully into the garbage, and pick up an interesting book. But trying to stick to the sleep hygiene plan for the 20th time in 5 years, I sit and read. 2:30 not a single yawn. 3:30, still not tired. By a quarter to 4, I’m sick and tired of sitting on the sofa and tired of reading and tired of being the only person in the house awake. I go back to bed. I look at the clock only once when I get back in bed. Then I wait. I try to relax. I try to empty my mind. Even with a relaxed body and empty mind, I am awake. By 5 am, sunlight haloes the Venetian blinds and I am still awake. By 5:30, I get up, get dressed in stinky clothes and go for a walk. By 4 PM, my eyes are sometimes sore with tiredness. By 6 PM, I’m yawning my way through dinner. After my daughter goes to bed, I sit or lay on the sofa, groggy but awake, occasionally slipping off into a 10- or 30-minute nap, sometimes completely unconscious until my husband, around 10 or so asks me if I am ready to go to bed.

I fall asleep almost immediately; I always feel like I have been awake for 3 days instead of 1. I hope I am tired enough this time to sleep to 5 am, a full 7 hours, but I wake again at 1 after 3 hours of sleep (or 4 or 5 if I count my sofa time). I try to stay awake past 10 at night to push my sleeping time forward but I can’t make it past 10:30 with any coherence. If I hold out until 10:30, I find I drop my toothbrush brushing my teeth or don’t seem to have the muscle strength to take off my bra. I weakly toss clothes that end up not in the dirty clothes hamper but stuck on the Venetian blinds, half in the closet, hanging off the edge of the bed a foot away from me. And I still wake at 1. Or 2.

Don’t stay in bed longer than you need to sleep

Another piece of advice from someone who has never had chronic insomnia. It’s like “cheer up” advice from someone who’s never been depressed. If I could go to bed at midnight and wake at 5 feeling like I’d slept, I’d do it. If I go to bed at 10 and wake at 3, I’m incoherent with sleepiness by 10 am but can’t take a nap (see the next bit of sleep hygiene “advice”) because I’ll ruin what sleep I do get. I have gone to bed at midnight and woken at 3 am. I have gone to bed at 1 or 2 am and woken an hour later, painfully tired, and stayed awake the rest of the night, except for 20-minute intervals when I pass out. And getting out of bed for 1-3 hours a night means I’m NOT spending too much time in bed, right?

It’s not just about sleep. It’s about the pain I feel in my body from too little rest. Burning pain in one shoulder. Hip stiffness. A dull headache though my sinuses are clear. Yawning if I sit still more than 10 minutes. When I read during the day, I nearly fall asleep, the words blurring until I see just white space and shake my head like I’ve been in a trance. Stiffness like I need to be stretched on a rack.

Reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex

As soon as the insomnia started, I stopped reading in bed even though it relaxed me more than made me alert or tense. Why do these guidelines seem to be written by people who think reading is boring, sleep-inducing AND too stimulating? And sex? I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep and make a comment that I don’t mean. There’s no TV in my bedroom (most people I know have a TV in their bedroom and sleep like rocks 6-9 hours a night).

Make the bedroom comfortable

Another guideline that pisses me off—do you really think I am so stupid as to complain I can’t sleep because the window is open and sunlight streaming in? Because my stereo is on? Because I wear a bike helmet to bed? I sleep as badly with fans and no AC as I do with central AC. I sleep as badly alone as I do with my husband deeply unconscious next to me. Being furious at the guidelines don’t help my sleep.

Relaxation techniques

An admitted weakness. I do not relax easily. I have tried for over an hour to relax, instead of getting out of bed, and it makes me feel like Sonata—relaxed enough to not be able to move, groggy enough to think disjointedly but never sleepy or asleep.

Find your optimal sleep length

How did I do this with insomnia? This implies I can sleep, right? And that I just get too little or too much? And I hate sleep diaries. They tell me what I already know—that I woke at 2, 3 or 5 and felt lousy 6 days out of 7.

Don’t nap

Even as a child, I didn’t like to nap. The only times I sleep during the day are when I have the flu and only the first day or two when I feel worst. Yet when I have been awake since 2 am, gotten a 2d grader ready for school, prepared for and taught 3 classes and still have 2 office hours, 28 emails, a meeting and 40-plus papers to grade, a nap seems like a vaguely religious experience. Instead I yawn, snack, smear eucalyptus oil on a tissue and breathe until I can feel the smell coming out of my eyeballs and dig in for the rest of the day. How do you resist a nap without caffeine? Another indication these guideline writers don’t know what the fuck they are talking about.

Make sleep a priority

Another one I hate so much I can taste sulfur. If it wasn’t a priority, would I care? And what does that mean? Do I put sleep before my daughter? Her homework or her dinner? Before work? Should I cancel classes? Not wash my hair in favor of sleep? Remove windows from the bedroom—though that doesn’t make a difference because I wake up in the middle of the night when it is already dark. Put sleep before my husband? Tell him it’s over because I have got to focus on all this sleep I am not getting?

Replace your coffee break with a 20 minute nap

Aren’t I not supposed to nap? And what coffee break? You mean the bag of microwave popcorn I have while talking to a student, with 3 hovering outside, and the chair of my department emailing and phoning? What coffee break? Who are these people?


If you had only a dozen nights of solid sleep in 5 years, you’d be depressed, too, pissant bitch.

Put away the clock, don’t obsess about the time you spend awake

If I put away the clock, how the fuck am I supposed to know I’ve been awake more than 15—20 minutes? How do I know what time I woke up if there is no clock? If I do end up falling asleep again, I need the clock to know if I have even fallen asleep. When I do go back to sleep at night, the only indication I have that I slept is the time on the clock. I “wake” every day tired, cranky, slow, craving caffeine or some other pick-me-up to get me moving. Once I’m moving, sheer force of will keeps me awake and going (I said “awake and going,” not “alert”).

I yawn everywhere. 10 am doctor appointments, 5 pm faculty meetings, dinner, lunch, over the one cup of tea I allow myself every morning (once I cut down from 3 cups), while reading to my daughter, while driving, esp. mid-afternoon when I pick her up. When my head nods beyond my control while I’m driving 40 mph, I get scared. By my second or third yawn in conversation, usually so big my eyes water and I have to dry them to see, I say I’m not bored or forgive me, I’m a chronic insomniac. I yawn all day and night except in the idle of the night when I have an alertness I wish I had mid-afternoon driving across town with my kid in the back seat.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bash a Barbie for a Girl Today

‘Babyish’ Barbie under attack from little girls, study shows

My daughter has never been a doll kind of girl but for about 2 years, she had Barbies, some hand-me-downs from friends of an aunt and others bought by her grandmother, but she never liked them as much as blocks or Play-Doh or running. I encouraged her to pop the heads off (and put them back on) and encouraged a jaundiced view of Barbie as a doll and model for life.

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Afghan Man Killed by Taliban for Teaching Girls

Afghan Man Killed by Taliban for Teaching Girls

I hope this is not like the bombing of the New Orleans levees story. Though I like a good lie that tells the truth, some lies are too big. The truth behind the bombing lie is that this can be a harsh place for black folks. What’s not true is that some They intentionally flooded a part of the city to save another, a part of the city the conspiracy theorists forget to mention actually flooded (Lakeview, St. Bernard Parish and Chalmette). Yes, the 9th Ward floods. There have been street flooding problems there for as long as I can remember. My great-grandmother said it was swamp land. And it was cheaper to live there because of the risks, because it was low-lying land in a city below sea level. And economics made it majority black. Sad, unfair, despicable but true.

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G Bitch on Rove-Plame

A sample of readings off the top of my head:Plame's Identity Marked As Secret
Rove's role
Karl Rove: The Architect—Interview with Wayne Slater (PBS Frontline)

For Karl Rove to say he didn’t name Ms. Plame because he only referred to her as Wilson’s wife is as disingenuous as asking the special prosecutor to define what he meant by “is.” Any reporter good enough to get paid and have a White House contact could find her full name, if he or she didn’t already know it, in about 5 minutes. And none of this explains why Rove, his boss and the rest of the Administration crew honed in on not just who might have sent Wilson but the possible role of his wife in not writing his report or guiding his findings or telling him who or who not to talk to but sending him in the first place. It still baffles why a small group of men---Karl Rove, Matthew Cooper, Robert Novak, Scooter Libby—cared whether James Wilson IV’s wife had anything to do with his mission to Niger, whether she “sent” him or offered his name for consideration. The false controversy over Wilson allegedly saying he was sent to Niger by the Vice President’s office is not only unbelievable—why would the office of a man still publicly asserting that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11 send someone to investigate a piece of the rationale (I use the word loosely) behind the invasion of Iraq?—but a smoke screen, beside the point. An alternate truth, that Valerie Plame (Valerie Wilson in the CIA memo) sent her husband to Niger to confirm or deny reports Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger, still leaves doubt as to why her name or her alleged involvement matters more than finding the memo behind the yellowcake allegation was forged and the allegation unfounded. If Wilson did slip and say Vice President Cheney himself sent Wilson to Niger, it still doesn’t explain what any of that has to do with intentionally or unintentionally outing or supporting the outing of the name of a CIA employee whose name appeared in a memo paragraph marked as secret.

More than likely, it is Karl Rove’s usual Machiavellian interpretation of how political reality works—that one doubt, as in a criminal trial, can derail any lie, truth, scandal or mistake, that what matters isn’t the result or end but the means and who controls the means. Or is it that anything a man does is suspect if his wife is involved? Or because he has a wife at all? That men with wives who work can’t be trusted? That wives twist husbands into non-thinking shells that can be filled by any rain storm or Time reporter? In all the speculation, leaking, covering and ducking, no one has stated why Valerie Plame was relevant to the past or present discussion. Is she a partisan? Did she tell her husband to nail the Administration to the wall? Did she manipulate the machinery put in place to make sure her husband went? Why? The purpose of the tainting is unclear except if seen in the context of Karl Rove’s MO as played out in previous Bush campaigns and in the cases of John DiIulio, Paul O’Neill and Richard Clarke—naming Plame as a threat, as an attempt to discredit not the information Wilson found, or didn’t find, in Niger but to discredit him as a Man, a husband, painting a target on the chest of the messenger and setting up the press and public to pull the trigger so that Wilson would retract from his op-ed piece every word, comma and period.

Zimbabwean women want Dignity.Period!

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