Need to get on that evaluation thing

So, one of my courses (a full-year course) prohibits laptops in class.

This is a problem. I essentially can’t take notes without my laptop. Because my handwriting is illegible if I write at note-taking speed and even then it cramps up in pain fifteen minutes in to a 3-hr course. And, because I’ve been doing my writing and note-taking exclusively with my laptop for the past 4 years, I have much less tolerance for the discomfort before it becomes unbearable than I used to.

But I have no formal diagnosis, so I can’t ask for accommodation from the uni. Experience tells me that when profs are this adamant in their syllabus, they’re unwilling to make an exception unless word comes from the accessibility center.

Shit.

Well, I have a good memory & prof puts the slides and all course material online, so I hope I’ll be able to cope without notes. 

I knew this would happen eventually.

I really need to get on that evaluation. Once my paperwork is sorted, I’ll set it up.

 

People who extort others to walk in Kelli Stapleton’s shoes make me roll my eyes.

Why?

Leaving aside the fact that it ignores the fact that we really should be trying to walk in Issy’s shoes, since she’s the one whose mother tried to kill her, I have walked in shoes very close to Kelli Stapleton’s. And I didn’t hurt anyone.

Short version: My mother decided she wanted foster kids. One such foster kid was very violent. More than Issy is claimed to be even by the worst attempts at painting her as the villain. My mother, claiming mental health, abdicated carer responsibility for this kid and forced it on me when I was 14 rather than, y’know, asking social services to place the kid elsewhere for mental health reasons like a responsible parent. So I was dragooned into acting teen mom for an extremely violent special needs kid for a few years, a duty I shared with my younger sibling.

You do not want to know the shit that kid did to me. I doubt you’d believe some of it if I told you. Suffice to say it tops anything I’ve ever seen in the self-martyring “mommy blogs” out there, I have scars, I still have nightmares, and glimpsing someone who looks like the kid on the street can make me break out in a cold sweat and start shaking.

And I never, not once, harmed that kid. I restrained the kid when xe came at me with weapons and tried to kill me in my sleep, and I cursed in fear, but that’s it. I didn’t hit hir. I didn’t emotionally abuse hir. I didn’t call hir a monster or spread horror stories about hir by name on the internet. And I didn’t try to kill hir. I won’t even identify hir gender, age, ethnicity, or social background here because xe has more than enough on hir plate as impediments to building a happy life without me piling on more shit just to satisfy my urge for revenge (… and I do have it, I admit. I will never act on it, but I do admit that I hate my parents, social services, and that kid for stealing my adolescence and forcing me into a years-long fight for survival. I will never, ever try to ruin that kid’s life, though, because I recognize that someone should not have to be held accountable their whole life for actions committed in grade school, however abhorrent those actions may have been).

I should have never been forced to parent that kid. It scares me that I might have been the best parent that kid ever had, when I was still a kid myself and had no fucking clue what I was doing and had all my attention on not dying.

So fuck you and your, “you just don’t understand how stressful it is to deal with a kid like that!” Fuck you. I do understand. I’ve been there, as a teenager with a mother who would watch TV 16 hours a day and a father who only came home to rant, throw shit, and threaten to destroy all of my things because I hadn’t managed to clean the house and cook his fucking supper while I was fending off this kid’s violence and 4-hour tantrums every day and dealing with bullying at school. I had more on my plate than Kelli Stapleton with less help and less life experience.

Forget being at the end of my rope, I was two feet under it and falling fast. And yeah, I developed mental health problems in that situation, some of which I still deal with. Who wouldn’t?

Yet, somehow, I managed to not try to kill a child. It’s almost like I realize it’s wrong to do that.

It’s almost like I realize it’s wrong.

This really shouldn’t be hard.

If you are overwhelmed, don’t kill someone else.

Even if they annoy you.

Even if they’re hard to deal with.

Even if you have to take care of them.

Even if you have to take care of them all the time.

Even if you don’t get a break.

Even if you’re upset at how they’re being treated.

Even if you’re their relative.

Even if you think they’d be better off dead.

Even if you need to stop and are scared of what will happen to them without you.

Because being overwhelmed = no justification for murder. Ever. 

body awareness: a rant

My general body awareness is typically really low, so I don’t notice I’m getting sick until it hits the impossible-to-ignore threshold. I don’t know what “mild” pain feels like because I don’t notice pain at all unless it’s on the severe end of what most people would call moderate. I don’t know what malaise feels like because I don’t notice it unless I’m can-barely-move-and-every-muscle-hurts exhausted. There were times even when I was a kid that the docs would check my ears because my sister had a contagious ear infection, and my ear would look as bad if not worse than hers but I wouldn’t notice it at all. Like one time, my sister came down with an ear infection on an international flight and spent most of it screaming. Docs check her ears: Raging swimmer’s ear. They think, hmm. Swimmer’s ear is contagious. Let’s check her sister’s, since her sister was swimming, too. Same thing then as I have now: both middle and outer ear infection. Mine looked worse than my sister’s and I was all, “Naw, my ears don’t hurt. I feel fine. I don’t need to be checked.” Mom, thankfully, knew by then that I have shit body awareness and might just not notice it. Same with throat infections. Plus all the times that I went from playing soccer or something in gym to ER in <30 minutes as a kid because I didn’t notice my breathing was off.

My parents got me exempted from gym from kindergarden through grade three because my body awareness was so poor that they weren’t comfortable with me exercising unless they were right there to respond if I had trouble because I wouldn’t even notice breathing trouble until I was in a severe flareup. If my asthma hadn’t improved, I probably would’ve had an exemption all the way through school.

Because of that, I usually accidentally leave stuff go until it’s agonizing, just because for my body, I’m either writhing ball of pain and misery, or I’m fine. No in between.

Case in point: I was running a fever of 39C two nights ago, and I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t have a night sweat and check my temperature out of curiosity. Then I was like, “Holy shit. My temperature is 39C! I guess I am feverish. Whoops.” Because when I went to see the doc earlier, I didn’t notice a feverish feeling so I didn’t think to check my temperature, so I told her I had no fever.

I always have bruises and such that I’m not sure how I got them, because they weren’t painful enough to notice at the time. I got cellulitis on my forehead a while back because I smashed my head off a desk corner bad enough that I lacerated my scalp but I didn’t realize it and so I didn’t clean it and so it got infected. Then there was the time I didn’t notice orbital cellulitis until it swelled my eye shut (and I still don’t know how I caught that one).

It’s annoying because I probably wouldn’t be in this spot right now if I had enough body awareness to have caught it early. And this lack of body awareness has gotten me into potentially life-threatening health problems before (orbital cellulitis can cause meningitis, for example, plus all the times as a kid when I didn’t even notice breathing problems even though I was cyanotic). I really, really wish I was able to catch this shit early. Because it’s not like I’m toughing it out to be all macho about it. It’s that I literally am unaware there’s a problem until it’s really bad and then I’m almost too aware of it and I’m completely miserable. And that’s really fucking aggravating.

Ow.

So, I’d planned to have a nice post written up for today about science article red flags, but then my ear became a lot more sore, and then it became a lot less sore because my eardrum ruptured.

And now I’m vaguely queasy. And my ear isn’t hearing too good.

Medical hotline said it’s fine unless my ear becomes severely painful again, or unless I develop symptoms of meningitis (well, they didn’t call it that, but trying to talk around it doesn’t really work when you’re talking to someone who knows medical stuff…) or unless my earache doesn’t disappear by Saturday.

But that’s why I haven’t finished the post I’d planned for today.

Quite a pair

So, a coworker has a throat infection making it hard for him to talk. I have an ear infection making it hard for me to hear. I’m going to the doctor’s tonight, but until then I have to put up with moderate-to-severe pain and partial hearing loss on my left side (everything from the left side sounds like I’m hearing it through head phones playing white noise on top of ear plugs – as for why I know how that sounds, when you have super-sensitive hearing and are stuck in a party residence in your first year at uni, you find ways to make studying work).

Anyway, there is a lot of “what?” “huh?” and “sorry” happening in our conversations today. Or there was. Then we gave up and started communicating by email.

Noticing something

I just noticed that when I’m sick (like right now with an ear infection that kind of followed the same trajectory as my abscessed throat earlier this year – feel weird for 3 days, wake up with mild pain and by noon am a whining and writhing ball of pain and misery), I fidget a lot more.

I have been in constant motion all day. My calves are actually getting sore from how much leg-jiggling I’ve been doing. And I normally jiggle my leg a lot. And normally don’t get sore calves.

When it’s worse, I add in rocking. When it’s worst, I’ve gnawed on my knuckles or hit my thighs and whimpered a bit. Whilst rocking and jiggling my legs.

I took ibuprofen earlier, and it helped some. That’s why I’m just leg jiggling and occasionally rocking a bit. I’m going to switch to Naproxen this evening once it’s safe to because it’s already wearing off and I still have two hours before I can take anything else.

It’s funny. People like my partner get lethargic and move less when they’re in pain/sick. Seems like I’m wired to do the opposite and actually move more.

Which, if you’ve ever seen me fidget my way through a work day, you’d know that’s saying something.

Academicese: How it’s done right, why it’s done wrong, and why it’s important to do it right

So, there’s currently an internet shitstorm over a cognitive accessibility fail going on.

I’m not going to comment on that particular fail, except to say this: I am an academic, and I had a very hard time understanding what they were getting at. Some of it, I still can’t. And I think that is due to a misuse of academic dialect.

So, now I’m going to talk about the academic dialect that some like to call academicese.

I would go so far as to argue that academic jargon is a necessary evil to help eliminate confusion caused by subtext, euphemism, and dialect. Have problems with dialectal incompatibility? Make your own standardized dialect that everyone is equally fluent in. That’s the ideal behind academicese, anyway.

Done right, academicese should pack a maximum of information in a minimum of space. And it should do so in such a way that anyone who knows that field’s form of academicese gets the same takeaway message from the passage.

Academicese done well fits a lot of information into each sentence. An example: “Titrations were performed on 50mL of a 100 g/L solution, and the equivalence point came at a pH of 2.3 after addition of 14 mL of 0.1 M NaOH.”

That’s one sentence. Admittedly, it’s a compound sentence, but it’s a single sentence with a relatively uncomplicated sentence structure. From that one sentence, I can pull out at least six important pieces of information, above and beyond what the words say:

  1. Because I know how much of what concentration of NaOH was required to kill off half of the acid and the starting volume and mass concentration of solution, I can back calculate the molar concentration of their sample.
  2. This material is an acid. They used a base to titrate it.
  3. It is a monoprotic acid (otherwise there would be >1 equivalence point).
  4. The material is a weak acid with
  5. a pKa of 2.3. I can now estimate the acidity of any concentration of solution of this material.
  6. Exactly what lab procedure they used to get those numbers so that I can replicate it.
  7. If I already know the molar mass, I can find the purity of their sample. If I don’t already know the molar mass but I have an estimate of the purity (through melting point or what have you), I can estimate molar mass because I know the mass concentration.

I can tell all of that from one sentence. Any other chemist could tell the same things from that one sentence. Furthermore, a dedicated layperson with a lot of time and access to Wikipedia could pull out that information. It would take them a lot longer, though, I admit.

So, academicese done well serves to pack as much information as possible into each sentence in a fairly straightforward way.

By contrast, academicese done poorly serves no purpose other than to act as a gatekeeper to the message. You must be able to decipher this convoluted a sentence before participating.

The easiest way for academics to tell the difference between the two is this: Are academics fluent in academicese getting annoyed with the passage in question? If yes, you might be falling prey to academicese-as-gatekeeping, as opposed to academicese-as-necessary-dialect-for-efficient-discussion. Because bad academicese is hard even for academics to parse, and good academicese should be understandable at a glance by academics.

The easiest way for laypeople to tell the difference between the two is this: Does it read like something out of a technical manual, or does it read like something out of a postmodernist essay generator? If the latter, you’re running into academicese-as-gatekeeping, and the person whose work you’re reading is acting like an elitist snob. Which annoys the fuck out of me.

Why?

As I said above: I’m an academic. I do academia for a living. It’s my job. It’s what I do. And I like it.

And I feel that people who use academicese-as-gatekeeping are forgetting one important duty of the academic. This duty is especially important in fields of academia that affect day-to-day living of non-academics, like science, tech, engineering, math, and social sciences. And that is: we have the duty to impart our knowledge and make it accessible to non-academics.

That is part of our job. We have to do that. It’s necessary to further human development and quality of life. When we fail at it, the result is a populace vulnerable to shit like the antivaxxers, evo-psych claptrap, eugenics, and climate change denialists. It is our job to make as many people as possible at least somewhat knowledgable about the basic principle of our fields. We are the ones that everyone else calibrates their bullshit detectors to.

And when we fail, it’s disastrous. The environment gets damaged. Bigotry gets justified. And sometimes, people die.

People who use academicese-as-gatekeeping aren’t just failing that duty, they’re willfully failing it. They’re taking it and chucking it out the window. Because it’s better for their egos to stake out their superior elitist camp and defend it from those seeking understanding through the clever use of convoluted sentence structure and impenetrable writing than it is to actually help others learn and keep their stuff as accessible as possible.

And that pisses me right the fuck off.

My hat

A coworker gave me a hat a few months ago. She said it was too small for her and that she noticed me squinting really hard when I go outside and thought the sunlight might bug me (it does, but I’m nearsighted liek whoa and can’t afford prescription sunglasses, and don’t even try to recommend clip-ons because I hate them). So she said instead of returning the hat, she wanted to give it to me.

I was tentative at first. I’m not a hat person. They fall off and itch and sometimes get caught in my hair and tug it and that hurts. But this hat was different. It had an elastic to hold it on my head and was all fabric on the underside so my hair wouldn’t get caught and cotton not wool so it wouldn’t itch, so I tried it. I told myself I’d wear it for three days, and if I still didn’t like it, I didn’t have to wear it anymore (the first day is always an I hate this because it’s different and wrong! day, the second is an ehhhh, getting used to it, I guess day and the third is when I actually make up my opinion on really new things, like brand-new classes of garments).

Now, if I’m outside (and I didn’t forget it at home), I’m wearing my hat. Always. Why didn’t I get one before?! It’s my favorite garment. Better than the soft cotton shirts I lucked into on a sale rack that feel smooth and gentle and even have no tags. Better than shoes with the special custom insoles that prevent my knees from hating how much walking, running and bouncing down stairs I do even though my ankles are wonky and can’t keep them in good alignment without support (I don’t walk down stairs, I bounce down them. Yes, I do realize that I’m twenty-six, not six). Better even than the lucky find of the pants with real pockets. It.  Is. Awesome.

Because with the hat, I can go walking outside in bright sunlight, and I don’t have to close my eyes for four steps out of every 5. It hurts a little, but it’s not eyes-want-to-explode pain.

I ❤ my hat.