Ode to My Ranger

Today, I finished the rough draft (no actual links, need to spell particulars properly, need to tighten to word count specifications, etc.) of an essay on my truck. Hooray, me.

Originally, I thought that 400 words would be plenty to describe the love for my little white truck. Turns out, that isn’t actually the case. I could spend pages and pages explaining ad infinitum why and how much I love my truck. (Looking back at it, I may need some psychological help. Oh well. There are many reasons for why I am so crazy; one more probably won’t hurt.)

When I accepted the assignment to write about my truck, my first thought was along the lines of: “This won’t be too hard. Four hundred words are EASY!” After I spent twenty minutes trying to think up a title (I’m not good with titles; I don’t know why), I thought: “Holy carp! There’s no way I can write 400 words about a truck, of all things! What was I thinking?”

Three days later, I came to the insane realization that 400 words was nowhere near enough to properly explain how much I love my truck, and why my little Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is so awesome.  She has little spots of rust popping up all along the sides of her bed–I blame the now-broken Tonneau cover for that–like acne on a teenager, even though she’s closer to geriatric time for a vehicle. I’ve had to have her transmission rebuilt. She needed her alternator replaced. I had to replace the gasket on her oil pan.

And yet.

CCBB helped me through a disastrous marriage. (Too young, too broke, you know: the usual.) She took me, my books, and five days worth of clothes from Georgia to Maryland after that marriage died. She moved me and my boys halfway across the state when I bought my house–the first piece of property I have ever owned. She helped get my cancer-riddled cat to and from his appointments and helped E. and me pick up his ashes once he had died.

We’ve done a lot of living in this little truck. I hope to do a lot more.

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NaNoWriMo 2009

Just in case any of you were wondering, yes, I did complete 2009’s National Novel Writing Month.  Hooray!

It was one of the most liberating, frustrating, and enjoyable things I have ever done.  I wrote a novel–beginning to end–in one month, and it turned out rather well.  Yes, I was surprised by that, too.  I took an idea that I got from talking with a friend of mine, and from a tragedy that happened to someone I knew.  It was not an auspicious start to a novel, but it turned into something fascinating, and slightly trippy, and wonderful–despite its mood whiplash.

Also, I tried out a creativity exercise that I had read in Writer’s Digest’s Creativity Workbook.  It came out at the absolute perfect time for me.  I love writing exercises, and I try to do several each week.  This one involved writing down six “To Do” lists for one character, to better flesh out the character.  He turned out to be one of my favorites.

The scary part now is editing.  Lots of typos show up when I have been writing 3000-5000 words per day…

NaNoWriMo Day 15

I have officially crossed the hump–25,504 words for NaNoWriMo! 🙂 I’m hoping to get another 4,496 throughout Sunday to reach my goal of 30,000 for the weekend. …I’m going to need a lot of hot chocolate and buttered toast…

In case you were wondering, this is why I haven’t been blogging as much as I wanted.  Perhaps by the end of the month, I will have more interesting things to say. 😉

Let’s Play the Radical Honesty Game…

I just finished my recent copy of The Week. (It’s one of the best investments that I’ve ever made.) Near the end of the magazine (right before the page of games that is the last page), they run an essay entitled The Last Word. Now, in The Last Word, the editors of The Week have placed some really fun essays–one about a mom who let her kid ride the NYC subway home alone (and yes, the kid turned out fine), one about why folks have trouble with spouses (there have actually been a few of those; must be a recurring problem), etc.  In this last issue, their Last Word essay is all about one man’s quest to understand the concept of Radical Honesty and use it in his life, if possible.

Radical Honesty is a…well…radical concept.  The basis of the idea is a theory posited by Brad Blanton–he doesn’t want us simply not to lie, he wants us to eliminate the “public filter” that we have imposed upon ourselves in polite society. In his eyes, everyone in this world should say everything we think–whether it is hateful or loving, hurtful or healing or neutral.  No matter the immediate cost to ourselves, we should be completely honest with each other because Blanton thinks that only then will we be able to really “contribute” to other people’s beings.

We create little (sometimes big) fictions not just to keep ourselves safe, but to protect those around us as well.  Imagine telling your mother that you think she is horrendously obese. Or telling your dad that you think he is a shiftless moron.  These things hurt people.  Once you have said something, you can never ever really take it back.  It’s always in the air like smog in LA.  Even if you cannot see it all the time, the echoes of those words will not completely fade away.  They will sit there, biding their time, until they catch you unaware–maybe it is a great day for you, otherwise; maybe it has been the worst day of the year–and punch you in the gut. Not only does Radical Honesty have the likelihood of emotionally maiming the people at whom it is aimed, it also contains the potential to harm the one doing the directing.

Yes, honesty is touted as the best policy–and it certainly keeps things simple–but is it truly the best possible option? Always? Granted, telling your best friend that she has gained some weight may coerce her into going to the gym, but being super-blunt about it could wreck the friendship–odds are she already thinks she is fat, anyway, and your telling her this only breaks her heart, so a better option might be to talk to her about going to the gym as your workout buddy or joining you on your evening walk. …On the other hand, honesty can save you a heck of a lot of time. What if you would rather skip the boring meeting about running the copier? (Seriously? Is it that hard?) I told one of my co-workers that I would certainly not like to go to the meeting to “be taught” how to use our brand-new copier. I didn’t have to go to the teaching session, and I still have my job.

Generally, though, I’m only brutally honest about resentments when I am really mad. For instance, I was dating a guy for a while, and I really didn’t like him. (Somehow, I let myself get cajoled into it. That will never happen again. I think I can safely say that I learned my lesson.) After we finally broke up, and he had started “seeing other people”, we hung out every now and then. I started meeting other people. Fun stuff. Then he rained all over my parade with his self-pity and condescension-to-others-who-are-not-him. Not acceptable. Once he realized I was getting really serious in a relationship with someone else, he got very confrontational. I mostly ignored it. What I really should have said was something along the lines of:

“No, you don’t deserve the hottest girl you see–you’re getting grossly obese, you tend to have an inflated sense of self, and you were really mean to “the chubby girl” in your office who had the utter audacity to talk to you like she was an equal. What is wrong with you?”
“Get over yourself.”
“How dare you insult my children and wish them bad things!” (Though, this, I actually did say to him.)
“I resent you for trying to make me feel guilty about breaking up.”
“I resent you for being so overly obnoxious all the time.”
“I resent you for being so hateful to/about my sports teams. Yes, it really does upset me (25 years later) that the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis, and that Paul Tagliabue and Jack Kent Cooke seemingly tag-teamed Baltimore out of a football franchise for decades, thus losing us the “Colts” name and the colors. Jerk.”
“I resent you for wearing an Indianapolis jersey to meet my Dad and thinking it was funny. You’re lucky he’s a pacifist. You’re lucky that I mostly am, too.”
“I almost wish I had allowed that angry fan to pummel you when you were being obnoxious. The first time we hung out.”
“I resent you for driving like a maniac in your stupid little car all through the streets of Bethesda and into the parking garage, and then trying to pick a fight with a girl and her boyfriend because she was having a hard time getting her (rather large) vehicle into the teeny-tiny spots in the parking garage. Those spots are almost too small for a motorcycle, no less a full-size vehicle. Seriously, dude: Lose the road rage. And don’t brag about how you can take a punch and then call the cops on the guy. You instigated, and the DC-Metro-area police have better things to do. I wish I had walked the six blocks to the Metro and ridden it to Rachael’s place, instead of consenting to continue listening to you bitch the whole way to the restaurant. At least the food was good.”
“I resent you for wishing bad things on my fiance. You need to learn to grow up and take responsibility for your own actions and inactions.”
“I resent you for ridiculing the candidate that I favored. Politics isn’t that important day-to-day; quit being a schmuck.”
“I resent you for convincing me to like you, even though all signs pointed to ‘No!'”
“I resent you for whining about how much you hate living in this area while refusing to leave.”
“I resent you for whining about pretty much everything in the whole world. That doesn’t make you “punk”–that makes you a malcontent. Nobody likes those.”
“I resent you for being so hateful to tourists and foreigners–they have as much right to ride the mass transit as you do. Also, you weren’t born knowing where to go, so cut them a break.”
“I resent you for hating on overwieght people–you’re not skinny in the least, so not only are you a mean individual, you are also a hypocrite.”
“I resent you for hating on the mass transit system all the time. Lighten up. Enjoy the chance to experience of all kinds of new people. Accept that you do not dictate when the trains and buses arrive. Bring a book.”

You know…now that I think about it, Radical Honesty might be a pretty good idea. At least in moderation.

Letter to the Walter Reed Medical Board

President

US Army Physical Evaluation Board

Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Washington, DC 20307-5001

Re: Results of PEB, Convened on 02 June 2009

Dear Mr. _____,

I am concerned about the results of my recent Physical Evaluation Board.  I think I understand your concerns regarding my fitness for duty, and I agree that I am likely no longer fit for duty.  However, I disagree with some of the reasons stated on the DA 199, and I wish to present my case for consideration.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a soldier.  I was not born into a military family, but the Army always symbolized solidarity and honor to me.  The Army accepted nearly everyone, so even those who had nowhere else to go could find a home as a soldier, and it provided many ways for us to excel.  That is inspiring.  My family supported my joining the Army as a language analyst, though we all knew that would entail deployment.  Before I was even allowed to enlist, I—along with every recruit—underwent a complete evaluation at my nearest MEPS.  At no time during my processing was anything suspect discovered in my body.  If military doctors thoroughly trained to screen for physical and mental discrepancies were unable to find any issues with my back, ankles, blood pressure, cardiovascular system, or nuero-pathways, that leads me to believe that the problems were non-existent or minor enough to be invisible when I enlisted.

My back issues began a few weeks into Basic Training, sometime in early July 1997.  Though I would not exchange that experience for anything, as Basic Training taught me that I was capable of far more than I had imagined, some days it was hard for me to move properly after marching for hours or doing hundreds of sit-ups each day.  As I had never really done sit-ups prior to enlisting, I thought that feeling was normal even though I could barely walk upright sometimes.  (No, I do not know why I would think that would qualify as normal, but I am a big believer in working through challenges, so I mentally wrote that off as just another challenge to handle.)  After being seen by unit medics and doctors, they posited the theory that I was having difficulty adjusting to my new active life, and they prescribed Motrin and Flexeril.  I took both of those drugs until I graduated Basic Training in September 1997.

Approximately one month into Basic Training, I severely sprained my left ankle when I fell into a hole. We were on a several mile ruck march, prior to Basic Rifle Marksmanship training.  I continued on the ruck march until our Drill Sergeants had us stop for bivouac, when I explained to them what had happened.  After we returned to the company area the following afternoon, my Drill Sergeant sent me to the clinic to have my ankle checked.  After conferring with the doctor and with my Drill Sergeant, we decided that, in lieu of missing BRM, rolling back into a holding platoon, and restarting training, I would tape up my ankle, take more medication (including Tylenol 3), participate in BRM, and try to stay off my ankle as much as possible for the next six weeks, until graduation. I passed an APFT at the end of Basic Training, without a profile of any kind.

After graduation from Basic at Ft. Jackson, the Army sent me to California for the first part of my follow-on training.  While in California, doing required physical training, my back and my ankle started causing trouble again, possibly due, in part, to the terrain.  I was sent to the on-post clinic several times, and the doctors there started me on a regimen of weekly steroid injections into my back.  That helped stifle the pain in my back, and it helped improve my motility.  They also initiated my weekly physical therapy sessions for my back and my ankle.  Both back and ankle continued to cause me intermittent difficulties, and my command sent me to a specialist in orthopedic issues. They noticed small issues in my ankle and my foot.  Six months after I delivered my first son and eight months after graduation, in November 2009, I passed an APFT without a profile in order to continue my training.

Throughout my four months of training in Texas, I was recurrently on profiles for my back, my ankle, or both.  Shortly after arrival, perhaps partly due to the rather severe ‘reinforcement’ training we underwent as platoons, administered by another drill instructor, my back began causing difficulties again.  Some days, the pain would get so bad, it would shoot down into my legs, and I wouldn’t be able to sit at all or stand comfortably.  Sometimes, I hurt so bad, not even lying down would improve it. My muscles would seize around my thoracic spine and in my neck. I started having severe back spasms while on a field exercise near the end of my training.  My platoon sergeant took me immediately to a clinic where I saw a Doctor of Osteopathy.  After examining me, this D.O. told me that I had subluxation of the spine—mild-to-moderate in my lower back, moderate-to-severe in my mid-back and my neck.  He prescribed more medication, electrotherapy, and physical therapy.

Also while stationed in Texas, at my annual exam my provider referred me to a neurologist because I was having some difficulties with certain fine motor tasks, and certain involuntary bodily processes had ceased functioning one year prior.  After the MRI, I was told that there were some inconsistencies that could have been caused by head trauma.  (While we were in Basic, some of the Drill Sergeants would kick me in the head if they thought I was insufficiently focused while in our fighting positions during BRM.  Some of the side effects of the Flexeril that I was taking at the time are fatigue and loss of clarity and focus.  Those side effects can be compounded by other medications such as Tylenol 3.)  Throughout the remainder of my time in Texas, I participated in a modified PT program, easing the workload on my back and ankle while maintaining physical readiness. At the end of my training there, I was waived from taking an APFT due to a temporary profile so that I could complete the last portion of my follow-on training in Arizona without delay.

While at training in Arizona, I injured my right ankle when I fell down a hill while on a run during organized Physical Training.  I was treated at the clinic in our barracks building.  We did not take an APFT in Arizona, as we were not stationed there long enough.  I graduated in May 2000.

During our in-processing at Ft. Hood, TX, the medics administered a pregnancy test on me before having me receive any immunizations.  The test came back positive.  I chose to leave my career in order to raise two children with my then-husband and accepted a Chapter 8 discharge.  While I was undergoing out-processing at Ft. Hood in September 2000, I underwent the requisite medical screening.  After reviewing my records and giving me a physical, the attending physician recommended that I see the VA after my discharge.  Never at any time was I aware of being evaluated for a PEB.

I spent a little more than three years in the IRR after I left active duty. I received no notice of pending Medical Board action, though I did receive a notice that I had to fill out the SF 86 to renew my security clearance.

I renewed my enlistment contract in December 2003, accepting an assignment as a drilling Reservist at the ATCAE Augmentation Detachment on Ft. Meade, MD.  In August 2004, I re-enlisted as a drilling reservist, after having passed an APFT while not under profile.  In late 2005, I began the process for my five-year physical.  I was processed at the Ft. Meade MEPS, where one of the doctors referred me to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center for further evaluation for my back, my vision, and my heart.  In August 2006, I received an email from HR St. Louis, indicating that I needed to undergo an evaluation, but I received no further information from them.  I thought that they were just waiting on my physical to get uploaded into the system.  I never received a DA 3349 from them.  The physical that the physicians at Bethesda wrote up for me was 111111.

In November 2006, I collapsed while running an APFT at Ft. Indiantown Gap during my Warrior Leadership Course. At the time, I was platoon leader.  From what I understand, the combat medics attempted to treat me at the scene, but I was unresponsive.  An ambulance was called, and the paramedics took me to Hershey Medical Center where I was admitted and where I remained for two days.  The doctors and physicians’ assistants who evaluated me told me it appeared that I had developed Atrial Fibrillation and that it was compounded by my low blood pressure.  They were also concerned by what they considered abnormal activity in some of my brain waves.  As I did not live in the area, they recommended my disenrollment from training, so that I could return home and see my regular practitioner immediately.  I have not taken an APFT since that time because of my illness.  The doctors have been trying to decide the best ways to treat me.  I have never been issued an updated DA 3349.

In July 2007, I collapsed after morning formation while walking back to our building.  Someone called the ambulance, and I was taken to Baltimore Washington Medical Center.  The paramedics stated that I looked like I had a stroke or a seizure.  After blood work and EKGs, the attending doctor noted that my heart rate was severely irregular and I should get evaluated for Atrial Fibrillation.

Over the next year, I was admitted to the hospital three more times.  In June 2008, I was walking around St. Paul, MN with my family when I had to be rushed to Hennepin County Medical Center via ambulance because I was experiencing crushing chest pain and had stopped breathing. In July 2008 while at our unit Battle Assembly, I was again rushed to Baltimore Washington Medical Center from Ft. Meade for the same symptoms.  In September 2008, the paramedics treated me on scene at my drilling unit and relieved me from duty for the weekend.

Finally, in October 2008, I collapsed while at an APFT for our unit.  The paramedics were called and took me to Laurel Regional Medical Center.  I was at the hospital for five days.  After the plethora of tests the multitude of doctors ran on me, they diagnosed me with Atrial Fibrillation and with Complex Partial Seizure Disorder.  My neurologist says that the seizure disorder is not something that is genetic.  It is not innate; I was not born with it.  She says it was something that was done TO me and has since become worse.  Most likely, it was incurred during Initial Entry Training and aggravated thereafter.  I currently have to take 2000 mg of Keppra XR every day, and both my neurologist and my electrophysiologist have mentioned the possibility that I will need more medication in the near-future.  I have to have an Electrophysiology Study done next week at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

I had never had any issues of this nature before I joined the Army.

After I left Active Duty, my back was beginning to feel better.  I have been seeing a chiropractor on a relatively regular basis, and he has noticed great improvement in my mobility, alignment, and pain management.

However, my seizure disorder may never allow me to be completely normal again.  Currently, I cannot drive.  I understand that having seizures that may not be completely controlled by medicine means that I am likely undeployable.  Were I to have a seizure, I could get someone killed, and that is not an option.

Also, I had received notification in March 2008 that I was being processed for PEB via the 81st RSC in Alabama.  I sent them all my information at the time, along with the letter from my Commanding Officer at the time.  I do not know what happened to that paperwork, as it seems to have vanished around the time that our unit was transferred back under purview of the 99th RSC.

I have spent most of my adult life as a soldier, and as a language analyst.  I love my job, and I have performed at levels higher than my rank for much of that time.  I was our Assistant Command Language Program Manager for years.  I have been squad leader, class leader, platoon leader, and acting team NCOIC.  I do not believe that my now-mitigated back condition should disqualify me from service, but I can understand how my seizure disorder would disqualify me from deployment and thus from the Army.  All I ask is that you review my supporting documentation.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.  Have a wonderful day!

Sincerely,

Super Bowls

Was anyone else watching the Super Bowl tonight and thinking: “Perhaps the officials are not entirely impartial”? Also: “Perhaps  they are willfully blind to the blatant penalties and unsportmanslike conduct being perpetrated by the Steelers”? And: “You know, that Harrison guy who pummelled the Cardinal should have been ejected from the game, not just given a penalty?” And: “What the heck is going on with the change-of-possession penalties?”

Caveat: I love football. I’m also a Baltimore girl, ergo I’m not much of a Steelers fan: Kind of sick of them and many of the Pittsburgh fans picking on my town. Therefore, I’m not completely unbiased. At all. (My friend, Jill, is a Steelers fan, and I love her anyway. Best buddy.)

At the end of the day, it is just a game–but it’s also more than that: It is an amalgamation of the combined hopes and dreams and wishes of many, many people. We anthropomorphize entire teams (yes, that usage counts–a team isn’t a person on its own; it’s a big bunch of people who sometimes act in unison), and imbue them with parts of ourselves, so when a team we root for loses, we tend to be way more cranky. Right now, I’m sort of cranky. The Cardinals didn’t win; they could have certainly played better (why does no one cover Holmes? And the interception at the goal line?! Why?), but for the whole game, the officials–for their own mysterious reasons–seemed intent on nearly giving the game away to the Steelers. For a team who has had under 50 penalty yards averaged for both the regular and post-season, receving approximately 100 penalty yards in a game seems a little strange.

Not that I’m pointing fingers. 🙂

Strange Paths to Follow

“The basic problem is that if God exists, what is the point of literature?” Ionesco has said. “And if He doesn’t exist, what is the point of literature? Either way, my writing, the only thing I have ever succeeded in doing, is invalidated.” (Ionesco in 1984, from Playwrights at Work, ed. by George Plimpton, 2000)

This is the problem with living too deeply in one’s own head: suddenly, most of your thoughts are paradoxes, and you begin to look too deeply into the abyss of the existential problem. Who are we? Why are we here? Is there any deeper purpose to anything? If there’s no deeper meaning, why even bother?

When looking that deeply into the recesses of our primeval mind, the longer we think about what the answer could be–or if there even is an answer at all–the scarier it can get. I don’t know if we were meant to look in there at all. When I start thinking about it, my mind starts chasing the trail out into the beginnings of infinity.

Is this line of reasoning valid? I believe that there are some things we will never know as long as we are alive. The “meaning of life” is one of those things. (Although, the meaning of “Life, the Universe, and Everything” (the Ultimate Question) is apparently 42…though we’re not really sure what the actual wording of the question was.)  We could, therefore, spend our lives naval-gazing without ever getting any closer to anything with meaning, or we could do things that improve our lives and the lives of others. Does that give our lives meaning?

Back to the original thought: does a higher power invalidate artistic achievement? Does the lack of a higher power invalidate artistic achievement? Does this make any sense? If two thoughts cancel each other out completely, doesn’t that invalidate both of them? So, if they are both invalidated, then one must develop a new theory. In this instance, a new theory might be that true artistry might improve someone’s life–whether or not there’s a higher power at all.

We are only little tiny somethings on a subjectively tiny planet somewhere in an enormous universe (or multiverse, depending on which physics theory you follow), so what we do probably doesn’t have some huge cosmic effect. However, that doesn’t mean that we do or say etc has no effect whatsoever. We may have a beautiful effect on someone. Or maybe a group of people. Maybe that’s enough…