blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: June 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Black, Yellow, and Deadly

Summer is amazing.  It's full of energy and life in a way that no other season can match.  But there's danger, too.  Oddly, enough, though, the danger of summer was captured for me one October afternoon.  It's one of perhaps three times that I've had what I call a near death experience and it is the one I remember most acutely.

As I said, it was October and I was helping mom clean up the kitchen.  It had been warm and there were still mosquitoes out...I had at least one bite on my ankle.  This would become more interesting as the day wore on.  I threw something away and was pushing the garbage down into the bin when it happened.  Just a tiny prick on my thumb between the first and second knuckle.  I gasped a bit and looked down, only to see him sitting there.  He was black and yellow and somewhere looked angry, sullen, groggy.  It was, after all, October.   I said something to my mom and she was surprised - she had apparently killed him and thrown him away earlier.  It would seem he was more resilient than that.  It was a lesson to be learned.

There was not much fear yet.  I had been stung a long, long time ago and had had a terrible reaction, but it was so long ago that there was some level of buffer.  I had become complacent in those long years.

Within a few moments after the sting, the mosquito bite on my ankle began to spread into a full hive that ran nearly to my knee.  It itched.  I felt other hives begin to form and I mentioned them to mom. She sent me up to take a bath in baking soda to relieve the itch.  I may have taken some Benedryl even then, but I don't remember.  I don't really remember any fear at this point, except perhaps the vague stirrings somewhere deep inside.  Somewhere I couldn't place or even identify.  Not yet.

That changed relatively quickly because as I sat in the bath, I could feel my throat begin to close.  I remember licking my lips as the fear became steadily more insistent and my tongue dragged over lips that were beginning to swell.  Eyes, ears, tongue.  I scrambled out of the tub and called down to my mom in a voice edged with the beginnings of panic.  She told me to take my contacts out and get dressed.  Her thought process was far more rapid than mine; she could see my eyes, the swelling and perhaps the fear, too.  Moms know things.  They sense things.  At least mine did.

Later, I learned that there was a different hospital we could have gone to, one that would have been faster and easier.  Mom took me to the one she knew, though, and for that I can't blame her.  She never liked expressway driving so she took me to Thompson.

I don't really remember the car ride...except I remember coughing.  It was getting harder to breathe and I couldn't focus on anything.  My hands were cold, my arms were laced with blotchy hives...the fear clawing at me in ragged breaths drawn between lips turning blue.  I suspect my mother drove faster than she had ever driven up to then or since.

We arrived at the emergency department and mom half dragged, half carried me inside.  She said two words as they came to us, "wasp sting" and they became a blur.  I was in an exam area with a needle in my arm before my mother saw a stitch of paperwork.  I don't remember much - needles, 2800 mg of Benedryl, a blood pressure of 60 / 40, a doctor telling me that when I came in,I was about 10 minutes from a coma.  From there, death.

These days, I carry two Epi-pens with me.  Adrenaline which will not get me out of harm's way, it will only stave it off until I get to a hospital.  I've been stung by a bee since that day, but it only put me on crutches for a week with an angry infection and stretch marks across my ankle.  That hasn't reduced the vigilance; it just focuses it more tightly on what I call the heavy hitters - wasps and yellow jackets.  You see, that's the thing about allergies to stinging insects...I really have no way of knowing if I am more allergic now or if I've grown out of it as I've gotten older.  The only way to know for sure is to get stung again.  So, I am careful.  I remember the fear.  I try hard to not become complacent again.   I have people who help me with that and while I may act exasperated when I am reminded, I get it.

I'm not sure I have any profound words to change the experience into something larger than what it was.  I know I almost died that day and I know my mother paved the way for me to live and while some details are fuzzy, I will never forget the fear and the slow withdrawal of myself from anything around me.  I don't remember parts of it because parts of me were already letting go.  I can still see my blue-tipped fingers in my mind's eye, still see the hives blotting my wrists in awkward patterns.  I remember enough to know I was lucky and in good hands.

We all have these kinds of memories etched into our minds...they remind us how fragile life is and how amazing it is that we draw breath each day and can run through the flowers and walk along the lake on a beautiful summer day.  Some of us just have to remember to bring our Epi-pens along to guard against death in tiny packages of sullen black and yellow...

Friday, June 13, 2014

What's In a Name...

Today I will talk about names.  Names are powerful things.  In a book I am currently reading, the author draws on old magic wherein the knowing the name of a thing gives one a certain power over it.  Sometimes, this is a dangerous use of dark magic and sometimes it is something more subtle and beautiful.  But always, it is power.  From Rothfuss to Rowling to Rumplestiltskin, there are countless examples from fiction, fantasy, and folklore that tell of the power of names.

For me, it works on other levels as well.  We use our given names everywhere (in Pulp Fiction, isn’t it Bruce Willis’ character who says we are in America, and names don’t mean….well, you get the idea).  I don’t think that’s entirely true, but there is a certain amount of familiarity with the names we carry on our birth certificates.  Perhaps that is why it feels like there is power in the bestowing of a name that is accepted by the one who is named.  The giving of a nickname, a pet name, a role name, or the choosing of a name is not something often entered into lightly.  I’ve thought about this a lot lately – partially due to the need to name the kitten that is currently fiercely battling a stuffed mouse under my chair.  Perhaps because of the Baptism I recently attended or the student I have who was brave enough and strong enough to give himself a male name to better reflect who he felt like inside.  Perhaps I’ve always loved names as a writer and a gamer and someone who loves words in general (who amongst you writers and games doesn’t know what I mean when I say a name must have The Ring?)  My husband is more frequently known by the character name from the game in which we met than he is by his given name.  My best friend is called Raven for a million reasons, all of which are fitting and funny and wise and meaningful beyond what I can explain here.  I tend to give nicknames to my dear friends because it ties them closer to me in some way.  Not to sound proprietary, but it makes them mine.  I hate the way that sounds, but I think my readers will know what I mean.  It is a verbal bond – or a verbal marker of a bond that is far more ethereal, in general.   As someone who has long believed that I’m cursed with finding wonderful people only to then lose them, this is a significant emotional investment.  Names of all kinds have power in my world…and if I give you one, it means something.  If you give me one, it means something as well.

That leads me to verbalizing my curiosity about names I’ve gathered over time.  There are a number of reasons for this and a number of names that immediately spring to mind.  JDB has a slew of nicknames for me, Raven has one, my sister has one.  My brother gave me one long ago that he doesn’t use much anymore, really, but it’s still mine.  My father and mother each have names for me, as do my nephews.  And then there are my students.    Many of them call me Dr. T., which is something I like.  Formal, but not.  Kind of like me.  Amongst the larger group of students is a smaller group who, for a variety of reasons, I refer to as my Minions.  They seem completely at ease with this moniker and they consist of students who take every class with me that they can.  They are students who wear the title with something akin to honor and they seem believe they have to earn it and keep earning it.  They work hard; they go above and beyond as students.  And they have given me a name to which I also feel I must continue to earn.  There was a time when the chief among them called me Teacher Lady.  Later, it just became Teacher.  Still later, it was shortened again to Teach.  And then it spread until all the Minions now use it.  I see it in letters, emails, notes on my door, Facebook messages, in the halls and the random places where we meet.  On some level it may seem generic – it is a verb that describes what I do.  I suspect it means a lot more than that and that it carries a lot of weight behind it.  I think.  I’m sometimes not very good at these things. This may sound completely off the wall, but it reminds me of the days when I was called Fang-sama and Sōke (pronounced so-kay).  Which, of course, begs some explanation.

In the game where I met my husband and the people with whom I’ve held the longest friendships I’ve ever had, I played a character that belonged to one of three races.  One race was vaguely Middle Eastern, one was loosely Western European, and the third was based on a blending of various Asian cultures.  The dress, philosophy, culture, and belief system was an amalgamation of mostly Japanese and Chinese cultures of the past.  I chose the third one to play (I was and still am a fan of martial arts movies and even trained Washin-ryu for a little while.  I claim no real knowledge of anything beyond that, I just liked what little I knew).  Since I was the head of the monarchy, which at its largest was 160+ members, it had those same cultural leanings.  We were a role-playing group and so I was my character for many of its members – and I was never anything else.  When they or I left the game, we no longer really existed for one another.  But while we were there, I was Soke – which roughly translates to something like headmaster, head of the family, or even grandmaster.  To some I was Sensei – teacher.  Some went so far as to call me “My Queen” (one still does to this day) or to add –sama to my character’s name.  This last often caused me some measure of embarrassment – for it is an honorific given to one whom is greatly loved, respected, or admired.

Now, this was, of course, in a role-playing game so some amount of hyperbole is to be expected and I certainly don’t personally lay claim to any of those titles or honorifics, though at the time I loved the feel of them in the context of the game.  I was the head of a monarchy and so it was a good feeling to have so many willing to play that role with me and create a vast network of like-minded folks in a game where interactive story telling far surpassed the graphics and story of the game itself. 

Sōke and Teach are very different things, but I treasure them for much the same reasons.  They were given to me by people who chose to give me a name that reflected who I was in their life.  It may seem odd to say, but I've always seen a certain level of parallel to gaming and educating.  I play the role of educator, they play the role of learners.  When the game – the class – is over, they move on and so do I.   We all find new games and new experiences and often, our paths diverge, never more to reunite.  I was their professor, but am no more because they have moved on.  They were my students, but are no more, because our time together has ended.  They may never use the knowledge again in a direct way, but I like to think it has impacted them on some level – just as we may never return to the games of our past, but they forever impact the games we play in the future, even if it is a subtle and indirect and obscure a connection.  But some – some stay, the game changes and the characters change, but they remain.  They are the Minions who let “Hey Teach” roll off their tongues with casual smoothness and grins.  They are the ones who still call me Fang-sama and My Queen – despite that we stopped playing the game over ten years ago.

I started talking about names and ended up talking about teaching and students and, to a larger extent, the impact we have on the people around us.  And games.  There may be names I don’t have anymore, but they are in the Record Book of who I am and how I came to be the person writing this today.  So, I will treasure ‘Teach’ for as long as it is part of my current story…and we will see who keeps using it, who finds a new name, and who fades away leaving good memories and a story behind them as they travel.