Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Rocket

The Rocket is a work made by Edward Middleton Manigault, who completed the piece using oil on canvas board in 1909. Though Manigault is considered an early American Modernist painter, The Rocket, measuring 20 x 24, is done in a post-Impressionist style. It depicts an autumn fireworks display over the Hudson River using a distinct palette with bold primary colors. It is an important painting with a unique style and story to tell, that is deserving of far more praise and recognition than it has received to date.
            For context, it is necessary to note a thing or two about the life of the artist. Manigault was born in London in 1887 and began painting very early in his life. At the age of 18 he moved to America to attend the New York School of Art, and the next few years of his life were full of accomplishment. Leaving Realism behind and moving on to post-Impressionist style paintings, he soon had his art on display in an exhibition, and later staged three solo shows, one of which was critically acclaimed. At the age of 28 however, two days after getting married, he returned to Britain to serve as an ambulance driver in WWI for six months. Exposure to mustard gas caused him to have a nervous breakdown, and his life spiraled downward after that. He would practice fasting in an attempt "to approach the spiritual plane and see colors not perceptible to the physical eye,” and this ultimately caused him to die of starvation at the age of 35.
            Walking through the galleries in the Columbus Museum of Art, it is nigh impossible to walk past The Rocket and not take notice of it. The vibrant colors grab ones attention and draw one in to a scene that is immediately recognizable as a fireworks display over a river. It is an incredibly unique subject matter for a painting, and a perfect choice to illustrate some of the central ideas of Impressionism, which are to capture a specific moment in time and focus on the perception of light. Yet he puts his own creative twist on it, using colors that are slightly unrealistic, but not unbelievable, and do well to represent the optical experience of watching fireworks. Short, quick brush strokes of distinctly different colors mimic the dazzling experience of seeing a display in real life. The flat image of the painting on paper or a screen fails to demonstrate how brilliant this effect is in person, as the texture of the thick paint creates even more shimmer and shadow. Bold red and blue hues illuminate the trails and clouds of smoke, and the main rocket explosion front and center is a striking combination of blue, yellow and orange, with a shower of sparks cascading below it in a variety of warm colors. Some depth is created using a horizon line over a river bank, and a background that is primarily darkness. The viewer can perhaps take a second to imagine they are sitting in the small boat shown down on the river, which reflects the excitement happening in the sky above.
            Manigault supposedly destroyed over 200 of his own paintings in fits of hysteria or depression, and there are few of them left to see. But if one were to look through the paintings that remain, it would be evident that none are so colorful and intense as The Rocket. As the years passed, the palette for his paintings became more somber and muted, the subject matter more dark and symbolic. By the end of his life, after his time serving in WWI, he appeared to paint mostly drab and dull still lifes. Do the paintings of Manigault perhaps provide a window into his mind? One might speculate that he had been mentally unwell long before the war, and that his service only exacerbated his troubles, as evidenced by the change in his art style throughout his life. Whether or not this is true, it is at least known that his mental health did decline after the war. The Rocket, then, is not only exemplary of the spirit of Impressionism, but a relic from the best years of its creator’s life, when maybe he was not yet troubled, and capable of seeing life in vivid color without having to starve himself for it.
            This painting is not only important for its style and composition in relation to post-Impressionism, but because it is an icon for those who suffer from mental unhealth. It is symbolic of a time when someone who suffered from his own mind was without strife. Perhaps that is why, of the twenty or so paintings he didn’t destroy, The Rocket was one of them, and why it is so different from the rest. It was a reminder that his life was once different, and he was able to know the world in all of its radiant beauty, something he died longing to see again.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Mental Health Journey

I debated making a post about this as it’s still a “bit early to tell,” but I figured it could be useful for posterity.

I have been seeing a counselor at my university for about two years now. The last time I saw her before summer break, she discussed me the results of a psychological screening, which I took because I don’t think my four year old diagnosis of clinical depression is correct. According to the screening, she said it seemed I had an anxiety disorder. This was not among the things I had considered. I thought perhaps adult ADHD, maybe some mild ASD… I thought it could be any combination of things, but never considered anxiety.

I mulled over this idea for a long time. When I last visited home, I showed the three page results to my dad, who to my surprise was in complete agreement with them. He said reading them was “like watching me grow up.”

Most of my problems are with memory, concentration, and motivation. I didn’t purse further help for awhile because I didn’t need it, but in January I returned to school, and suddenly these were very relevant problems again. So I upped and visited a psychiatrist, who came to the same conclusion as my counselor: I have an anxiety disorder. Because I didn’t respond well to the SSRI I tried four years back (citalopram), he prescribed me a low dosage of a NDRI (bupropion). He also lauded me for doing as well as I have without medicinal help. Apparently some of the things I do (sitting at the front of the class because it’s easier to speak if I can’t see my classmates, little calming rituals like lacing up my corset and boots, etc) are coping behaviors. I had always chalked up my social problems to being an awkward ass introvert.

So I have been taking bupropion for ten days now, and I think I am beginning to see a difference. Things that took me so much effort before, like speaking up in a group, are a little bit easier now. Yesterday I got up the energy to exercise for the first time in months. Seldom in my life have I felt so functional. I feel less stressed out and overwhelmed. And concentration seems to be a bit easier too, though I am definitely still scatterbrained. And still having sleeping troubles, I end up dozing off in class even after nine hours sleep and a latte with two shots of espresso.

These marginal differences are amazing to me, and I almost want to cry thinking about how long I’ve gone without this. What if I had started taking it when I was eighteen? Or fourteen? Or ten? What would my life have been like?

When I told my dad he must have thought the same thing, and he said he regretted not approaching my mental health differently when I was younger. But you know what? I don’t hold a thing against him. He instilled in me a very can-do, no excuses outlook on life, and look how far it’s gotten me. (Just imagine how much more I’ll be capable of with this medication!) And anyway, every person I’ve ever met who started a long-term medication before or during puberty seems to regret it, so I’m kind of glad I didn’t fuck up my brain chemistry while shit was still sorting itself out. (I still wonder how I was affected by taking birth control pills ages fifteen through nineteen.)

So begins a possible new chapter in my life. If I stay on track, I should graduate with my B.S. in Spring 2015 with at least a 3.0
And maybe I’ll finally be able to get in shape, too!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Wet Lab

Nobody warned me not to eat anything beforehand. I was never in any danger of vomiting or the like, I’ve got too strong a stomach for that. But the lingering flavor of shortbread cookies on my palate mingled with the scent of formaldehyde in such a distinct and unpleasant way that I am fairly certain I won’t be eating shortbread cookies again anytime soon.

I walked into my first anatomy lab excited and a little intimidated. An assortment of displays were set up around the perimeter of the room, and I had twenty minutes to get my fill of them. I started off with the sagittal cross sections of preserved cow and sheep heads, with plasticized brains showing the structure of all the blood vessels. I picked up a frontal cross section showing the inside of a cow’s sinus cavity, and my own sinuses briefly stung and my eyes watered from a whiff of preservative fumes that reached my nose. The juices ran down my gloves and for the rest of the lab I walked around with my hands poised in front of me like a stubby-armed dinosaur.

I marveled at the size of the horse heart, it was as large as my head (and for a horse only fifteen hands high)! I’d had no idea. I chuckled immaturely when I came to the reproduction table, where an assistant explained to me the two different kinds of animal penises and how they worked. The assistant by the reconstructed animal skeletons quizzed me on my bone names, and I was impressed with how much I remembered from my physiology class two semesters ago. Compelled by curiosity, I touched and handled as many things as I could, the cow lungs, the horse hooves, and numerous other disembodied parts. An entire preserved calf hung on chains, with a slit cut in its side so one could stick their hand in to feel the placement of the organs. I wanted to do this as well, but there was a line and I would not have gotten a turn in time.

When the time came to leave, I found myself once again with renewed excitement for a possible future in veterinary medicine. I wondered if I’d ever get used to the smell of formaldehyde, and I when my next opportunity would be for a learning experience such as this one.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Puppy Cries and Floppy Cats: Memoir of an Aspiring Veterinarian

I never imagined I would be content to sit and clean the coagulated blood off surgical instruments with a toothbrush. As I picked up each one I recited its name in my mind. I practiced closing and opening the ones with locking mechanisms, taking turns with my left and right hands. I thought to myself, by the time I’m in vet school I will be a pro at this.

            Volunteer work at the low-cost spay/neuter clinic was at times mind-numbingly dull, and at other times a welcome reprieve from my busy and demanding life. On occasion I would have the opportunity to do something more involved, and these times made the slow days more than worth it. Otherwise I just tried to assure myself that each hour of experience here brought me one step closer toward the goal I have been striving for since I was five.

            I had filled a small tub of warm water with scrubbed instruments. Now it was time to move these into a machine that would vibrate them at a very high frequency. Then they are soaked in a white solution, dried, sorted, and made into “packs” that are sterilized in an autoclave. I take a small break from this task to say hello to a husky who has been howling in her kennel the entire time I’ve been on duty. The whole building is permeated by a backdrop of crying dogs and puppies. A technician catches me during my break and asks me to “go out and spin the breathing tubes.

            I carry a laundry basket full of long, forked tubes into the chill autumn air. They are floppy and ridged like the bendy part of a straw. I pick up one at a time and spin them in large circles to draw the water out of them. They “sing” as I do this, making a sound reminiscent of a wet finger sliding around the rim of a crystal goblet. I carry them back inside and hang them on a towel rack.

            The rest of my shift is easy, but busy. I fold and store clean laundry. I scrub out, rinse, and dry tracheal tubes. I start another round of surgical equipment on their cleaning cycle. I wash out a couple kennels of dogs that have gone home. The clock turns quickly and soon it is time for me to leave. Perhaps next week I will be allowed to watch a procedure or help with the patients in the recovery room. This room is filled exclusively with cats during my shift, all waking up slowly and steadily, and then carried back to their kennels while still floppy from sedation.

            When I arrive home I am greeted by a big black dog brimming with enthusiasm, who can’t decide if he’s more excited about the fact that I’ve returned or all the interesting smells I’ve brought with me. I shed my scrubs. My ears and throat itch, as I am unfortunately allergic to both cats and dogs, but this doesn’t deter me. My boyfriend has a delicious meal ready for me, by the end of which I am quite sleepy from my allergy medicine. I curl up on the couch in a nest of pillows and blankets, and my dog lies at my feet.

            I dream of the day I can call myself a veterinarian.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I Miss You

(A letter to some of the people I have called friends in my life.)

I miss you, who used to sit next to me on the bus and play pokemon with me. One time this kid at the back of the bus was trying to kick me (I can't remember why), but you sat there between us so he couldn't. We used to explore the woods and creek together. You thought like me more more than anyone I've ever met. These were some of my fondest childhood memories. I'm sorry if I was an obnoxious kid.

I miss you, who decorated my locker for my birthday in middle school. We used to walk together sometimes, or just hang out. I would share candy and exchange letters with you, and apparently we've saved each other's lives. I can't remember what that was about, either. You were the first friend I had long phone conversations with.

I miss you, who helped me endure the long, dull hours of the "after-care" program. I didn't get along with anyone there, but you made it bearable. We drew together with gel pens and tried to get out of being forced outside.

I miss you two, I always considered you a sort of pair. You were much older than me but were always nice anyway. You'd play with me at the community pool and occasionally let me win in Tekken or Risk. I miss your mother, too. You would take me shopping, or just come over and talk. You even took me to a concert once. I always thought of the three of you like family.

I miss you, who became my penpal when I was young, despite being older than me. You made me feel smart and interesting. I was always delighted to receive your letters, illustrating how you were going to build a cheese empire. I even sent you cheese samplers for Christmas.

I miss you, who used to goof off with me when the teacher wasn't looking in fifth grade. You actually introduced me to pokemon in second grade, and gave me my very first card. A meowth, because I like cats. I always felt like I was competing with you because I thought you were the only kid in class as smart as I was. I ended up getting a crush on you and pretty much never speaking to you again out of embarrassment.

I miss you, who were the first person to come over and talk to me when I started high school. You were kind of a jerk sometimes, but you were a loveable jerk. We got mad at eachother a lot but looking back it was all stupid shit anyway. I loved our vulgar inside jokes, and enjoyed just hanging out with you.

I miss you, who were the other person to greet me when I first started high school. You've got a heart of gold, you know. You were the only friend to call me when my sister was in the hospital to see how she was doing, and you became like family to me. You really kept an eye out for me.

I miss you, who became the next person to reach out to me in high school, some time later. You finally convinced me to cut my hair short. You introduced me to some new things, including my favorite anime. You never had any respect for me, so maybe I don't miss you so much after all. I am still thankful for the interaction we had, though.

I miss you, who became my first "real" boyfriend. You were just so goddamned adorable. I enjoyed our secret cuddling and kisses in corner of the library, and the darkness of the empty lecture hall. We turned out not to be the best fit, but we became like brother and sister afterward. You are such a kind soul, to this day my heart melts when you tell me of your troubles.

I miss you, my first love. You gave me the best and worst days of my life (up until recently). I miss your doleful eyes and your impossible charm. You have the most beautiful way with words. I loved the way you saw life. You told me I was the first thing you thought of every morning and the last thing you thought of before you went to sleep. You gave me so many new ideas and experiences. You really helped shape me into who I've become. Remember holding the water fountain for me and then spraying me with it?

I miss you, and your cheesy Tom Cruise smile. I miss your strange suave dorkiness that is so unique to you. Even now when I finish class on a chill fall day, I feel like I should be getting into my car to go pick you up from school. You really adored me, way more than I deserved. Despite the hurt I caused you later on, I really just did everything I could to please you, which is not something I think I've done for anyone since.

I miss you, who told me I could get any man I wanted. (It's not true, you know.) Anyhow, you are an interesting person with aspiration to admire. I enjoyed hearing about your adventures with sketchy but legal substances. Though sometimes a bit cynical, you are intelligent and clever, and I am glad I got to have some fun times and talks with you.

I miss you, who I've never met in person, but have known for a long time. You hate humanity so much, but get so lonely. I tried my best to understand and be there for you, even tried to help you find a job. Things never seemed to go your way. I loved talking to you, though. Something about you was just so sweet and different.

I miss you, who told me to think of my heart as a sort of pipe where water leaked though. And I could stop it up with a few smaller pieces, it didn't have to be one big one. I didn't get to interact with you much, but I would have liked to.

I miss you, who helped me to realize that I wasn't really a Catholic. Beyond that, you helped me come to terms with my masochism. I became a little side project of yours, I think. I've always enjoyed your presence, but felt like I wasn't really worthy of it. I am diminished by your intelligence, but still seek interaction with you.

I miss you, who I wish I'd befriended earlier in my high school career. On occasion we would go out to a diner at some absurd hour of the morning just to chat. You introduced me to some beautiful new music, and advised me through some hard times. I just had fun talking to you. You are a fantastic human being.

I miss you, who would sit around with me in the physics room sharing philosophies and having strange discussions. You took me fishing once, I didn't catch anything but I didn't mind. We took your dog to the park and surfed /b/ together, among other fun things. You are remarkably intelligent, and I enjoy listening to you talk, especially about physics.

I miss you, who found me on the vastness of the internet by chance of similar music tastes. I think I embarrassed my self in front of you a lot. You never treated me any differently, though. When I had bad days or nights you gave me adorable notes and drawings, or helped me dance the tears away. We stayed up late watching Craig Ferguson and eating pickles with chips and dip.

I miss you, the first and only friend I ever actually made IN a college class. You sparked a conversation in a psych lecture and things took off from there. You invited me to watch shows and play games I'd have otherwise never gotten into. You were there for me at a time when things in my life were a little... whoa... and I wouldn't have had anyone else in your place. I've always admired your confidence, creativity, and sense of humor.

I miss you, who I met off the internet despite you living so near. You took me to the best sushi place in Columbus and I didn't even realize it. You drew me into your comics, which was utterly adorable. You drove me out to adopt the dog I love so dear, and even helped me care for him. You went through a tough time for awhile and you're doing much better, and I'm sorry if it sounds odd, but I'm proud of you. You are all around a pretty neat person, and you make awesome caterpillars.

I miss you, who held my hand through a children's museum. We found constellations on my ceiling, and you told me you'd never feel more comfortable in your own skin than you did then. You asked to kiss me and said you didn't care if I had morning breath. You licked the plate clean - the best compliment I've ever been paid. You wanted to show me off to your fifteen year old self. Things ended terribly but I don't mind. Wasn't meant to be, but it was still good. You introduced me to some new and wonderful ideas, some of which are very important to my life right now.

I miss you, who weren't a friend so much as an acquaintance I was particularly fond of. I consider you to be an arbiter of good taste, and enjoyed the few candid interactions we had. You introduced me to a variety of mixed drinks, and busted out your shotgun when I was being stalked. You are a good role model and I think I unconsciously tried to emulate you in quite a few ways.

I miss you, with whom I spent a lot of time cuddling and watching cartoons. You recited some remarkable original poetry for me. You read your awesome fanfictions to me. You cooked me some mighty fine meals, introduced me to new things, and made me feel wanted.

I miss you, who waited hours for me my first shift at Northstar because I was nervous. You took me on adventures and humored my whims. We played chess on the oval and hollered at people from rooftops. You taught me how to ride a bike. I loved cooking for you because you sincerely enjoyed anything that I made. You are a kind and generous spirit, but unfortunately, way too different from me.

I miss each and every one of you. Some of you are no longer a part of my life. The rest are present, but not in the way you used to be. And I'm sorry for the things I've done that have hurt some of you. Whether it was a byproduct of me not knowing what I wanted, or because I'd gotten overwhelmed and disappeared for exceedingly long lengths of time, or maybe something else. Thank you. I am glad I met you.

The chill autumn weather makes me lonely. It reminds me of every person I've ever known.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Just a Cat

When my parents married, my father brought a cat into the household. His name was Flint. He was named after the trapeze artist Errol Flynn, due to his affinity for kitty acrobatics, but my father didn't like the way Flynn rolled off the tongue, so the name was adapted thusly. When my mother was pregnant with me Flint he used to lay on her stomach and purr, and she claims this is where my love of cats came from, however I do not have any memory of this cat so I cannot give him credit.

When I was a toddler, Flint left the household. Oddly enough neither of my parents seems to remember what became of him; if they gave him away, if he went missing, or if he passed away. But around Easter time when I was three years old, they decided it was time for another cat.

The mall near my childhood home used to have a pet store in it, and I remember the day we visited to choose our new companion. There was a glass enclosure near the front of the store through which you could see kittens frolicking before you even entered. I knew immediately which one I wanted, the only one in the litter with stripes. Even though I don't actually remember my first cat, I know I chose this kitten because he looked exactly the same, and I even insisted he have the same name. I suppose I did not like change much as a child. This was probably not respectful to the memory of Flint, nor fair to Flint II (henceforth referred to as Flint), but I don't think he minded much.

I remember the day my parents took him to be neutered (and declawed, unfortunately). They explained to me he had to have surgery, but that nothing was wrong, it's just something a pet needs to have done. There might have been more detail, but I don't remember because, well, I was three. While he was at the vet, I colored a picture for him from a coloring book. I was quite pleased with myself for finding such a perfect picture, it was of a cartoonish cat sick in bed with a thermometer sticking out of it's mouth. When we brought him home, I eagerly thrust the picture in the face of a rather nonplussed cat, explaining that I drew it for him and that he should feel better soon. I hung at the bottom of the refrigerator so he could enjoy it at his leisure.

My father tells me I was quite the terror for poor Flint. He once caught me picking him up and slamming him against the floor with all my toddler might. He abruptly put a stop to it, explaining how it hurt him and why it was bad. I have no memory of this.

However, I have memory of a similar incident. Here I will tell you something I've never told anyone my entire life. It is something I am ashamed of, something which makes me cringe to think about to this day.

One time my parents were out of the house and my nonna (grandmother) was watching over me. And I started torturing my dear cat again, still just a few months old. I pinned him against the floor under my feet, and pressed on him until he cried out in pain. I didn't know I was hurting him, I was just amused by the noises he was making. My nonna laughed along with me while I did it, I didn't think I was doing anything wrong. I don't know if this was normal for a three year old or if it was the beginnings of a sociopath, but when my mother got home my nonna told her what I did, and she gave me a spanking that I remember for sure. And I'm glad she did. It nailed that memory into my head. I understood what I'd done, and I think she also made the point I could have killed him. I have been guilty over this ever since. I remember the sounds he made.

Out of this guilt however, I believe my true love for cats (and every other animal) was born. Imagine how your life would change if the first living thing you ever empathized with was not human. Somewhere in my tiny head, I think I made up my mind to spend the rest of my life making it up to this cat.

Despite the treatment I gave him early on, Flint forgave me, and I soon considered him my best friend. He was of supreme interest to me, and as the years passed this interest flourished into a great passion. I loved cats. That was my thing. Every time my father took me to the book store or library, I insisted on getting at least one book about cats. The Encyclopedia of the Cat. 100 Facts About Cats. A Guide to Cats. The Best Cat Stories. Flint became a dear part of my family, who greeted me when I came home every day, sat on my lap whenever possible (and on one of my personal effects when not), and slept on my bed every night, tucked up under my arm. When I had to deal with the social hardships of school (for I was awful at making friends), he was always there for me, never judgmental, he just gave me his pure unconditional love.

Flint was fond of the typical cat things, catnip, string, laser pointers. I have plenty of fond memories of using such items to play with him. On Christmas Eve it was tradition to wrap up a catnip toy for him, then watch the antics ensure as he discovered his gift and opened it early. Personality wise he was an excellent cat, playful, affectionate and friendly. Never showed animosity toward anyone. One day when I was about five he got outside on accident, and came home on his own later that evening. After that, going outside was quite normal for him, he loved it and appeared to be able to handle it very well. Flint was quite the hunter, and brought a live mouse into the house at least once. He was the Clint Eastwood of cats, being a frightening tom well into his old age, scaring neighborhood cats out of his territory just by looking at them (despite being neutered). He was also quite fond of drinking out of the toilet.

When I was small we breifly had another cat named Cha-Cha. He and Flint were great buddies who did all sorts of cute things like groom eachother and sleep together. Cha-Cha was a bit more wild however, not as much of a lap cat, and stayed outside for much longer periods of time than Flint, who always came home at nightfall. On nights when the two were both in the house, they would stage great races, where they would noisily run down the stairs, through the house, and crash into the blinds covering the sliding glass doors. Unfortunately we had to give Cha-Cha away because he misbehaved frequently. Flint seemed to hold a sort of grudge over it, and never again warmed up to another cat.

 I took responsibility for Flint as I got older. I started feeding him more carefully, regularly checked him for ticks, brushed him and the like. When his teeth started to fall out I insisted my dad take him to the vet to make sure he wouldn't develop an infection or abscess. When he really started to age and the weight loss began, I took him to the vet with my own money to make sure there were no serious issues.

When I was in high school my mother's housemate bought a dog, a sweet old rescued German Shepherd named Diamond. For the first time in my life, I had some long term interaction with a companion animal other than Flint. I grew to adore her, and now I can honestly say I love cats and dogs equally, though for different reasons.

After I got my first college apartment, I brought Flint out to live with me, but sorely missed having a dog, and that is when I adopted Fort. Fort learned to leave Flint alone, and this was the extent of them getting along. I am sure Fort was an annoyance though, and always felt a little bad Flint had to deal with him. Flint no longer slept on my bed, because he did not want to share it with Fort.

By now Flint had reached the age of sixteen. He aged gracefully, for the most part, but it was still sad to watch. He started to grow very thin. His mentation dulled. He occasionally appeared to get "lost," walking into corners or closets and forgetting what he was doing there. He began meowing loudly and frequently, especially at night. One morning he got out of the house while I was taking out the trash, and went missing for two days. I threw up signs everywhere and looked for him day and night. I was worried I'd never see him again. Fortunately my roommate, Stephen, found him on the sidewalk about four blocks away. I cried from relief, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I enjoyed Flint's companionship for another wonderful year and a half without much to note. In late March of this year I took the hot weather as an opportunity to give Flint a shave. I thought it was a good way to take care of his flea problem (from Fort) and matting (from not grooming himself) in one move. Then the weather took a turn for the chilly and I was ashamed at my lack of foresight. Flint kept getting the shivers and I went to great lengths to try and keep him warm and cozy. I gently secured a small shirt of mine around him with hair ties, and left boxes and blanket caves around the house for him to curl up in.

In early April of this year, I noticed a sharp decline in his health. His appetite waned, he seemed less inclined to climb stairs, and he started to have accidents. I got him a second litterbox so he would have easier access. Fort had stopped sleeping in my bed since my boyfriend Daniel had moved in with me, but Flint stared to again. I made him a vet appointment for later in the month, but his health continued to dive. In the days approaching the appointment, he barely left my bed, and he developed an unusual and worrying potbelly.

At the vet hospital on Friday, I told the veterinarian about Flint's symptoms while she gave him an examination. She noted that his liver seemed large, and definitely abnormal. She asked for permission to do a urinalysis and blood test to help determine was wrong, I gave her my permission and went out to the waiting room.

They called me back much sooner than I expected, and took me to a different exam room than they had previously. As soon as I walked in my heart dropped. It was furnished with couches and paintings and dim lighting. I knew why they'd brought me here.

A vet tech and a vet student stood at the back of the room, and the vet placed Flint in my arms and had a seat on the couch adjacent to mine. She gently started explaining to me that their initial test results meant it was something serious, and detailed her diagnosis and potential treatments as best she could, but couldn't offer much help without narrowing it down further. I started to cry. The vet tech started to cry, and something inside me was comforted by that. She ran up and handed me a tissue. I told the vet how much money I had on my emergency credit card, and told her to use it however she thought best. They whisked him away for an ultrasound while I sat alone. I called my parents and sobbed at them in barely discernible words. A counselor came in and gave me some pamphlets and her number.

The vet and student returned once more and placed Flint in my lap. They had aspirated all the free fluid in his abdomen, so he was more comfortable now. Choosing her words very carefully, she slowly explained to me that Flint had liver cancer. I suppose I had been in denial, because I began to realize just a little at a time what this meant. Even with all the money in the world, nothing could be done for it. He had weeks or days at most, and when his liver failed, he'd have just hours. The vet gave me some support medication and suggested I "consider spending this weekend with him."

I spent the next two days in abject misery. It didn't take long for me to decide what to do... I was going to have him euthanized on Monday morning, I didn't want him to suffer when his liver inevitably failed.

I spent the weekend doting on him. I put a blocker in my bedroom door to keep Fort out, but let Flint come and go as he pleased. I moved a litterbox into my room for easy access. I brought his meals to him, lots of delicious fish, canned salmon, fresh tilapia. Filtered water, pungent catnip and kitten milk. I wrapped his medication in cheese and "pill pockets." I panicked when he didn't have an appetite, I was thrilled when he did. I woke up repeatedly during the night and checked to see if he was alright. I helped him to the litterbox or onto the bed whenever I could. He had a hard time getting onto my bed at this point, and jumped onto the lower platform of my nightstand before making the jump to my bed. I pulled him close, under the sheets. I stayed as still as I could. His whiskers tickled my face. He would only lay on his belly, presumably because it was the only way that was comfortable. His neck muscles were weak and his head would droop down until his nose was pressed against the bed.

I wanted desperately to take him outside one more time. He loved going outside so so much. But the days were cold and windy.

Sunday morning he hopped up next to me just as I awoke. He crawled into my arms, and I declined to get out of bed as long as possible. It was the last time I ever heard him purr.

Sunday night I left breifly for a chemistry review session. Flint followed me down the stairs and sat on the landing. "Where are you going?" was all I could think, and it was heartrending. I couldn't concentrate and came home early. He was still sitting on the landing, shivering. I fed him a feast, and talked to my family on webcam so they could say goodbye, then took him upstairs and made him comfortable.

Monday morning I fed him another feast. He only nibbled at it, but I was still happy for that. I cuddled with him while Daniel got ready.
"I don't want to go."

I wrapped him up in one of my shirts and tucked him in my jacket. On the ride to the hospital, he picked up his head in interest, looking intently at the world whizzing by out the window. It made me laugh-sob.

We went to the same room we were in before. They took Flint breifly to put a catheter in his arm. A few doctors ran in and out, asking me things like what I wanted to with him afterward. I decided to donate his liver for cancer research. They were going to continue growing some of his cells in a lab somewhere. I liked that idea.

Daniel stayed with me. He was not terribly comforting. He did not care for Flint like I (then again, no one did), and he wasn't an "animal person," so he couldn't really empathize. I felt like he kind of resented being there. However, I was still thankful for his presence. We talked a little, but for the most part sat in silence and waited. I stroked Flint on my lap, periodically hugging him and scratching him behind the ears. The doctor came in and asked if I was ready. I said yes, but immediately felt otherwise.

I sprayed some catnip extract in the air and did my best to prepare, but as I've now learned, you really can't prepare for these things.

The vet came in all too soon, sat next to me and began showing me different syringes, explaining what each did. The tears began. She talked too fast, I wished the vet from Friday was there. She asked if I was ready and I nodded my head, but immediately regretted it. She started her work. Wait, I don't feel ready. Wait, I have things I need to tell him. Wait, I'm not holding him the way I want to. But I was powerless to speak. I wept uncontrollably. I desperately wished I could hear him purr one last time.

He went limp in my arms. I felt the life leave his body. I know it's cliche, but it really did seem like a flame had been extinguished. The vet checked for a heartbeat and confirmed he was gone, then asked if I wanted a few minutes with him. Again, I nodded and regretted it. The vet hurried out and I bent over him, sobbing, a voice at the back of my mind screaming, he's dead, he's dead and you're holding him, why in god's name are you still holding him? It disturbed me and I felt awful for it. I felt his body start to grow cold.

When they came back for him I was wailing too hard to speak. I handed him over to a technician and she showed me out. I leaned over to kiss his head one more time and hurried out of the building. I could feel stares in the lobby.

Daniel sat with me on a bench while we waited for our ride home. It was cold, but instead of wearing my jacket I clutched it to my chest, as if I were still holding him.

I was never really given the chance to grieve, I had to go to class that same day. It was hard to bear. Many friends, family members, and even strangers offered condolences, which genuinely improved my mood. A shocking number of people suggested I immediately get a new cat, which I found remarkably insensitive, but I suppose they just don't understand. Daniel helped clean Flint's things and took care of me. I wept intermittently for a couple weeks. Going to bed was especially difficult. I took shitty care of myself, ate and bathed inconsistently, slept late and only for a few hours. I scoured websites and chatrooms for comfort or people I could relate to. I found a passage that made me feel much better. It's just some lousy children's prose poem. It's utter nonsense. I don't believe in a heaven, and yet, the comfort it brings me is incredible. It's just so nice to think about.

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.... 

And then there's this poem, too.

Flint died one month ago today. My great-grandparents aside (when I was very young), it is my first time dealing with the death of a loved one. It still hurts. I still find myself thinking I see him out the corner of my eye. This blog was terribly hard to write, as you might be able to tell from the decline in my quality of writing as it went on.

After the fact, I never expected to feel the massive amount of guilt that I did. Did I pay enough attention to him in his later years? Did I feed him properly? Should I have not shaved him? Should I have taken him to the vet sooner? Should I have waited till he could have one more day outside? Did my distress in his final moments make him unhappy? One of my professors, who is a vet and someone I really look up to, was able to offer me some peace. She said liver cancer attacks hard and fast because the organ metabolizes so fast. She assured me it had developed only in a matter of a couple months, even weeks. She told me it wasn't my fault.

Some part of me has been very angry at myself this past month. Why are you mourning so much? He was just a cat.
Just a cat.

But you know, as I get older and learn more about the world, I see humans as less "special" than other animals. I loved Flint, and I don't use that term loosely. I loved my cat, and there's nothing wrong with that. He gave me and taught me so much. He essentially made me who I am. He gave my life meaning, and in a way I give meaning to his. In the grand scale of life on this planet, he wasn't even a blip on the radar. But by virtue of being important to me, he is important in my reality, and therefore this world. His life continues through his influence on me, and in the cancer research he will be a part of, and in the words on this website.

Here's the video I made about Flint, where I basically say everything I've said here:

Here are more pictures of him than you could ever want:

I plain to draw a picture in his memory, which Daniel has promised to paint for me.

Thank you, Flint. You were a great cat, and a better person than most people I know.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Pupil's Predicament

I love to learn. I have a natural curiosity about the world, it is one of my favorite things about myself. So when I began Chem 123 (final chapter of a three part series on inorganic chemistry for science majors) this spring quarter at OSU, I maintained my optimism, despite the course's rather poor set-up. Our batch of classes were to be test gerbils for the new REEL program, which was intimidating, but meant that I would get the chance to do my very first undergraduate research. I was excited.

Time came for the preliminary project work, and our lab section was divided into groups. I ended up in the only group in class with five members instead of four, but I didn't think this would be a big deal. As I began my interaction with my group I immediately labeled them all as valley girls, but recognized my own harsh judgement and decided to give them all a fair chance. They're in a fairly difficult science course, after all.

If you've ever been in an OSU chem lab, you know the rooms aren't quite designed for group work. The room has four long lab benches in narrow aisles with chest-high dividers, and five people congregating around one packet of information that needs to be utilized ends up being two people actually completing the packet's exercises, two people copying off of them, and one person lagging behind trying to copy off one of the others because they can't hear or see anything else that's going on. And that was me.

At first I was astounded at how fast these girls flew through the work. I couldn't keep up for the life of me. Was my mentation that dull? I could feel contempt emanating from the one girl closest to me, because I was constantly asking her to flip back a page in her notes, or how they'd arrived at an answer. I felt like a dunce. I wondered how on earth they managed to understand concepts and calculate problems so fast, until I realized... they don't. Almost every problem and question they completed, they went back and erased it. Over and over and over again. Up to four or five times, because the thing is, they don't think. They just don't fucking think. They are lazy, they don't want to exert mental effort. They'd write something down they feel is vaguely correct, then have the TA check their answers, only to be told they're wrong and then they'd rinse and repeat. I longed for my own copy of the work to do so I could avoid this nonsense, but it was not doable. I dealt with this shit the entire first phase of the project.

The project deals with the chemical and physical basis of color. I find this exceptionally fascinating, because color is a popular subject for philosophers. If you look up the thought experiment "Mary's Room," it essentially uses the basis of color as an argument against physicalism. It's cool shit, and something I hold close to me, go look it up.

Anyway, I digress. Out project deals with color, and involves a stage where we make "new" pigments by mixing the compounds we're told to, and then Phase II where we are given the freedom to choose what compounds we mix, and basically take the research in any direction we want.

The girls in my group complained incessantly. They whined about how the packets we had to do were just busywork. Well of course, anything is busywork if you don't actually pay attention and learn from it. They went on and on about how stupid this project was and how it wasn't helping them understand the material any better. Well who's fault is that? You're bored, you say? You just had your hands on a $15,000 X-Ray Diffractor. At one of the only institutes in the world that lets undergraduates operate them. Aren't you interested in the slightest?

The girls would chat idly about such vapid bullshit as how their $300 Taylor Swift tickets didn't even get them seats that were that good, and compare how expensive their sororities were (I shit you not), and I interacted with them only when I needed to.

I'd been maintaining my optimism for Phase II of the project, until we were told our entire group had to agree on an objective, and write a single report, and give a communal presentation. Shit, they're already talking about it. I'd had my heart set on and idea. Here goes.

"Hey guys, I have an idea. Why don't we try and make a red pigment?"
They stared at me blankly.
"Dr. Ricciardo said red pigments were the most difficult to make, let's give it a shot and see if we can do it!"
I started to talk about all the different variables we had available to us, but I could tell they rejected the idea before I made it halfway through my first sentence. My heart dropped. Should have pitched that differently.
"We're not being graded based on our success, and we'll have a lot we can talk about in the report. What have we got to lose?"
Any further or different suggestions I offered were not considered in the slightest. There was no compromise. The girls ended up deciding on the most boring thing possible: using the same compounds for every trial while only varying the ratios.
"But that's just going to give us all the same pigment in different shades."

"Exactly, it's easy. We just want to do something simple and basic."

Thusly the fun was sucked out of the entire research project.

I hate you almost as much as I hate "violinists" with long fingernails, you dull, vacuous twats.
I hate you.