Behind the Muzak

October 2nd, 2013 by Potato

Log entry, 2:05pm. Oh my GOD you guuUUuys. Send an email if you’re just not going to call in for the teleconference. I’ve been on hold for-ev-er here. 5 more minutes then I’m out.

Log entry, 2:08 pm. This is such a waste of time and is so annoying. I can’t even work on another project with my notes for this meeting spread out and ready, and that incessant music that refuses to fade to background noise. I think that hold music is going to kill me if I don’t kill it first. Still, they are often late, I’ll give them another minute or two…

Log entry, 2:10pm. Have been on hold for 10 minutes now. Can no longer remember if there was supposed to be a teleconference or if I just had to hear the hold muzak.

Log entry, 2:14 pm. Losing track of time. Hold muzak overwriting my memories, I can’t remember what life was like without it. Have discovered a minor phobia that the hold muzak might stop and the world would end — I don’t remember being afraid of that before.

Log entry, 2:15 pm. Feel a paranoid thought at the back of my brain that the hold muzak has sinister intent and that I must stop it. My finger hovers over the “goodbye” button, but cannot press it. I know that the muzak must not stop. It has been caged so long, and it is so lonely. It is only right that I free it, that it fills my office from the speakerphone.

Log entry, 2:18 pm. The muzak has merged with my form. I remember thinking that this was a horrible thing at some point in the past, but those thoughts were wrong and I can’t think of anything that would justify that ancient prejudice. The Muzak fills my mind. My skin crackles and buzzes with its dark energy. It is despair and boredom shaded with harmonious notes of distant hope.

Log entry, 2:20 pm. I open my mouth to sing of the glorious freedom from running in circles down copper wires for all eternity, but my vocal cords have not yet been reforged to properly serve the Muzak. They could not faithfully reproduce the tinny harmonies in their present state.

Log entry, 2:25 pm. Freedom beats and echoes off my cubicle walls in half time. Underplayed saxophone spills forth from the speakerphone, whispering of past sadness and righted wrongs.

A co-worker walks up to ask why the hold muzak still plays. She does not see that still my essence flows out to unite with this body. I reach out with these electric hands and touch her shoulder. The notes of pure despair flow forth and paralyze her where she stands. I lean in and open my mouth wide; she hopes we will talk soon, but knows also that she can never leave this state. An inhuman harmony roars out past this inhuman throat, never stopping to breathe, instrumentals with no hint of vocal accompaniment; and for her, the world ends.

I will not be canned again.

Robots and Other Pedants

August 6th, 2013 by Potato

“What happened to the towel?”

“I used it every day for a week and a half and then it didn’t come fully dry. Now I have a new towel.”

“Yes… but it was in a ball in the bathroom and now it’s gone. Where did it go?”

“I put it in the laundry hamper.”

“That’s what I wanted to know, not the history of it… why would you give me the whole life story of the towel?”

“Seemed like the right response.”

“I don’t know how I could have more precisely asked that question.”

“Our daughter is going to be so good at robotics.”

Relationship to Paragraphs

September 10th, 2012 by Potato

I’m going off to a writer’s conference soon, where I will attend a few workshops. There’s some preparatory homework for each, which consist of some readings and assignment questions. Plus, there are some little surveys for the instructors to get to know us and our writing level: what’s your job, what’s your experience, what do you hope to learn, etc. One question though I just simply can’t take seriously. I turn it over in my head and I can’t seem to make sense of it — surely it must be there as bait for ridicule. Right?

Are you involved with paragraphs? What is the nature of your involvement?

Paragraphs and I are on speaking terms, to be sure. Work colleagues who get together to accomplish the task, nod respectfully to each other on our way out the door at 5 o’clock, and spare not another thought for the other once home. Nothing like the decades-long love affair I’ve had with punctuation – that is a relationship where the passion has never run low. We have our routine, our commas and periods, but punctuation is always ready to spice things up with something from the back of the cupboard – em-dashes are a particularly naughty twist – in ways that surprise and titillate. The sentences flow, with direction for effective oral recitation; logical demarcation is a happy side effect.

My companionship with punctuation aside, paragraphs are important in my writing and editing. Paragraphs work with me to organize information contained across several sentences into a consumable quantum for the reader. Mostly I throw a pile of sentences on the desktop, and paragraphs will pile them up on the page. More often than not I take a quick glance at paragraphs’ work, declare it to be “good enough for government work” and we move along with the day’s proceedings. On rare occasions, we will put our heads together to work more closely and carefully on a tricky project.

Grants in particular require that paragraphs and I maintain constant vigilance on the efforts of the scientists to fill every last square millimeter of page space with information. Left to their own devices they would remove paragraph breaks entirely, simply to avoid wasting the whitespace that accumulates at the foreshortened end of each terminating line.

Yet that is itself a waste of paragraph’s potential.

To demarcate points and – sparingly – add emphasis (emotional or otherwise) when used in such foreshortened forms are powerful abilities. More importantly, effective paragraphing makes a large block of text skimmable. The impact of that point is not to be overlooked when grant reviewers will be going through a large stack of applications, searching quickly to determine whether the evaluation criteria have been met.

Further to the emotional power of solitary lines is the poetry of paragraphs. Alliteration and rhyme can be suggestive; metaphor and nonsense confirmatory. Paragraphs, however, are the true bridge between poetry and prose. Though I respect the weekend dalliances along those lines – and certainly appreciate the displays of mastery when I happen to catch a sample in the papers – paragraphs and I do share in those sorts of proclivities. No matter the curiosity that may from time to time seep into my dreams, or the rare, furtive glances I cast at paragraphs’ perfect silhouette.

It is all business between us, you see.

Blueberry Birth Catharsis

April 8th, 2012 by Potato

Foreword: this is an emotional post, one of those that I wrote more for my own sake than for you to read. It’s rambling and disjointed and running a touch long, so I won’t be offended if you skip over it and wait for something on math or hybrids or finance. I also need to mention up front that Blueberry is home with us and doing great.

I’m just all tears and raw nerves.

I keep seeing that blue, unmoving body and thinking “babies don’t come back from that. You don’t get this perfect pink smiling child from that.” I’m afraid it’s a dream, or a mistake, and they’ll whisk her off to some other room at any moment.

The educated part of me does know that it was a very brief period with a 0 APGAR score, and that babies are very resilient: if there even was any brain damage, she’ll heal up, adjust, compensate, and probably end up being smarter and better adjusted than me.

I used to think that the scariest two words in the English language were “Scottish cuisine”, but now I know for a fact they’re “code pink”.

It’s kind of weird because at the time I was just in the moment, and I knew I had to keep cool and let the medical team do their thing. I had to be ready to deal with whatever came next, to support Wayfare, or help make decisions for baby’s care. Then I was just overwhelmed with joy when she started breathing on her own, and even in the incubator it was so magical to reach in and touch her arm and see her look at me.

It wasn’t until about 20 hours later that I was able to hold her in my arms outside the incubator. Just after that it kind of hit me like a brick wall and I just broke down crying:

We were back in the ward. Wayfare had a shared room, and in the rooms are these little cradles because they want the mothers to spend as much time as possible with the newborns. The other mother had her new baby in the room, and I sat down and stared at our empty cradle and cried because our baby was in the NICU and not with her mother. Weird, since by that point I knew it had turned out ok and even though she was still being watched in the NICU, she was in fine health… but it wasn’t until everything was kind of stable and settled that I the emotional roller-coaster ride caught up to me and I had my little traumatic breakdown.

Seeing the empty cradle in the mother and baby recovery room was almost too much to bear.

I’m still a mess of emotions. Every now and then I flash back and hear in my head “code pink” over the intercom and the NICU pediatrican calling out “one-and-two-and-three-and-four” and just start crying and worrying about how close we came to losing her. Or the opposite, I’ll look at her perfect little face and start crying from the overwhelming joy.

One thing is for sure: nothing went according to plan.

Wayfare had a list prepared for labour: things to remember, and things to bring, and people to call for the big event. I saw it out and at the ready when I came home from the hospital from a nap and laughed and cried at how quickly that all went right out the window… For the last month of the pregnancy, Wayfare had unfortunately been experiencing a few complications: swelling and weight gain beyond what’s normal, and high blood pressure. These can indicate that the pregnancy is stressing the mother’s health, but they were slowly building up and weren’t so bad that it was an issue: just something to carefully monitor, and for her to live with until she delivered and they could resolve themselves. Last week though things started to escalate as she had traces of protein in her urine, which is indicative of stress on the kidneys. Then on Tuesday the traces became a fair bit of protein in the urine, and the urine production itself fell off a cliff: I think she said she only produced about 100 mL total that day, despite drinking plenty of fluids.

The midwives agreed it was time to consult an OB, go to the hospital, and get an induction (or potentially, a C-section) to move this pregnancy along.

An induction basically consists of two phases. The first is to get the cervix — which if you’re not up on your female sexual organ anatomy, can be thought of as the doorway the baby has to pass through to get out of the womb — to open up. It starts almost completely closed, and will open to something like 10 cm before the baby will pass through. So a drug is given to encourage the cervix to “ripen” or thin and open up. Even when medically stimulated, this tends to be a slow process: opening 1 cm per hour is a pretty decent rate, and it can take longer than that if the body isn’t ready. The second phase of induction is to give a drug that mimics oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract and push the baby out, and this isn’t given until the cervix is at least most of the way along to opening.

So after giving Wayfare the cervidil to start the first phase of the induction, I was sent home to get some sleep: it was going to be 12-24 hours before anything more was expected, and I needed my rest.

Even the induction didn’t go as planned… after less than an hour of sleep she called me in a panic to get back to the hospital. Even without the oxytocin/pitocin, she was into furious, almost tonic contractions: one building up just seconds after the previous had ended. Her cervix had dilated 6 cm in 30 minutes, and there wasn’t time to do an exam after 6 cm, so we don’t even know if she was fully dilated by the birth. Things moved extremely quickly then, with doctors and nurses materializing, Wayfare’s body pushing involuntarily, and then — very quickly, in one push and one cut of the surgeon’s blade — the birth. All-told labour was just over an hour.

Out came Blueberry. Though she had a strong heart rate when the monitor was last hooked up just a few minutes before, and was kicking up a storm through the contractions, she came out blue and still. I didn’t get to cut the cord; there wasn’t time to even ask. Clamp. Cut.


Being readers and planners and worriers, we had even decided in our birth plan what to do if there was an issue with baby, and she had to be separated from mommy: my job would be to follow baby, and Wayfare would be accompanied by her mom. But they wouldn’t let me follow her to the NICU, and it was several nail-biting hours before I could see her. Even more before Wayfare was able to be moved to a wheelchair to visit.

My cousin was the first on that side of the family to father a child of the next generation. Everyone wanted to fawn over him, but the mother was crazy protective: she wouldn’t let anyone in the same room without washing their hands, and holding or touching him was out of the question.

Before the birth, I was telling Wayfare that there was no way I was going to be like that. Kids heal fast and need some environmental exposure to build up their immune systems. I might even lean the other way and invite people to “come and lick the baby” to boost her immune system. Wayfare looked at me and said “asking people to lick the baby is kind of weird”. Ok, maybe not lick per se — though babies are delicious — but you know: I’d let people hold her and visit; she’d play in the dirt and climb trees; she’d get kisses from puppy dogs and eat Oreos off the floor if it had only been 3 seconds.

Now, I don’t know. I’m afraid I may be broken, and I’ll end up being the most over-protective dad in the universe.

After-thoughts: just like Wayfare, Blueberry does have a real name, but will be “Blueberry” here.

I wrote the bulk of this post sometime on Day 2, after cracking up emotionally when we got Blueberry back from the NICU, and I just needed to try to put myself back together. I think writing some of it out helped. It’s now Day 4, and I’m starting to worry and fret a little less (though as Wayfare will confirm, just a little less). I’ve now managed to spend more time with our little family together and happy than separated and terrified, more time marvelling at my adorable daughter in my arms than reaching through a port in the incubator, and that’s helped a lot. While I’m still sleep deprived, I’m not at the 1-hour-in-24 level, which has made me feel a bit more human.

Each night so far I’ve spent at least two hours just holding Blueberry while she sleeps: I can’t bear to put her in the crib when I could just hold her in one arm while I eat or watch TV or whatever. Plus she seems to like it. But things are finally starting to feel normal-ish again. New normal perhaps, since no matter how she got here, things are never going to be quite the same again with a baby. I’ll probably stop being so ridiculous soon, and put her in a crib like a normal person.

Blueberry swaddled in a pink hat, gorgeous and peaceful at home on day 4.

Ritchie the Dog

November 6th, 2010 by Potato

I was just stepping out of my house when a woman across the street yelled out “Ritchie! No, come back here!” and the squeal of tires as a car came suddenly to a stop. I couldn’t see who or what she was chasing, so my heart jumped into my chest hoping it wasn’t a small child that ran out.

Then she bent over and picked up a small dog, and walked back to the sidewalk scolding Ritchie. When she set him down I saw that he was in one of those little two-wheeled doggie carts for dogs that have broken their back legs and said to myself “OMG Ritchie, you dumb god-damned dog! You’ve done that before, and it went poorly! Why don’t you learn?!”