I remember following my mother into a large department store in the Winrock Shopping Mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As the doors opened, I winced before stepping inside. I shuddered and pulled at my mom’s hand. There was a high-pitched noise and it hurt my ears. I mean really hurt.
My mom didn’t know what was going on with me on that particular day, but after it kept happening, she figured out that the security alarm in the store gave off a noise that most people couldn’t hear, but I could.
I’ve always had sensitive ears. I like to blame it on the fact that I had a lot of ear infections when I was a baby and toddler, but maybe that is counterintuitive. As an adult, I had some ear issues and when an ENT looked deep into my ears they reported that I had a small scar on one of my eardrums. Likely due to all of those ear infections.
Then the doctor looked at my hearing test and commented that I have strange hearing. I hear very well at the very high end and at the very low end, beyond to so-called normal range, but my hearing in the mid-range is far less acute.
This personal auditory feature was endlessly annoying to the musician I once dated. I would pump up the bass and treble on my cheap aftermarket car stereo and drop the midrange. It sounded better to me. He was constantly fiddling with the equalizer to suit his ears dulled by years of standing in front of a guitar amp turned up to eleven. As soon as he exited my car I’d set it back.
So to put it blunt terms, I have weird ears. I always have. I figured I would lose hearing capacity as I aged, and I do think that has happened some, but I still have ears like bat. At my, ahem, advanced age I can still hear those so called “mosquito” tones aimed at shooing away teenagers.
This also means that I have to manage my ears, which has come to my mind lately due to working from home every day and spending four to eight hours a day using Zoom. I share a space with my partner, so I have been using a good pair of in-ear headphones for the many, many Zoom meetings I attend each day. Those in-ear devices fit right up in there. Piping the sounds of Zoom very efficiently and forcefully to my eardrums.
At the end of last week I hit an audiophobic wall. After participating in a lot of work meetings it felt like my head and nerves were jangled. I found it hard to concentrate. I found myself restless. I found it hard to understand and respond to simple questions asked by my partner.
My immediate reaction was to chalk it up to stress, anxiety, and fatigue. And that is not completely wrong, but there was something more going on. I realized that my ears, my tender little ears, were overstimulated. I had hosted my coworker’s voices all up in my head all week long and I couldn’t stand one more sound agitating the cilia. Not one more.
Going outside and sitting in the sun for a little while helped. My neighborhood was gracious in its momentary silence, providing a sliver of peace. I could hear the birds in the trees. I could hear the unmistakable “toot toot” of a BART train in the distance. And I could hear no human voices. It was nice. More than nice, it helped me regain some sanity.
I realize that Zoom meetings aren’t going away any time soon, and my ears aren’t changing anytime soon either. Better managing these adorable little audio problems on the sides of my head is going to be key.
A new set of over ear and noise cancelling headphones has arrived. Switching the types and timing of using each kind of headphone is being considered. Finding time to rest my ears at the end of the day is also being planned.
Next, I need to figure out these hips joints that are tired and cranky from sitting in a not terrible chair in front of a Zoom screen all day long.
I love working from home, but it is not without some costs. Zoom fatigue is real.
This item can also be found on Medium, and you can see more of my work @karenfayeth over there
I was born with a troubling affliction. It’s been difficult to manage my whole life, and is embarrassing to discuss. Today I feel is the time to go public with my ailment.
I am affected by a disorder known colloquially as walnut bladder. Yes, it’s true. I so much as look at a glass of water and I have to pee.
In such times that my walnut bladder-itis impacts the life of my husband, he refers to me as a frog. “You know, you pick up a frog and it piddles in your hand?”
As a child I presented quite a challenge to my folks who liked to take road trips. You see, I had the kind of dad who refused to stop once we were on the road. “Gotta make good time,” he’d say.
The average child has to pee frequently but I was even more prone than normal. It was a problem.
We used to spend summers in a small town in Eastern New Mexico. The drive from our home in Albuquerque took about three hours, plus or minus. Even as an adult, three hours is just too long for me without a pit stop.
This vexed my mother terribly as she had to manage both my bladder and my straight-through-without-stopping father. Once she threatened to use a clothespin to clamp off my leaky plumbing.
Well that got my attention.
From that day forward I planned well ahead for any family road trip. My plan was to cease intake of liquids at least a day in advance of the trip and steadfastly refuse to drink any liquid until we arrived and a toilet was in sight.
In hindsight, not having much liquid while living in the high desert probably wasn’t the best idea, but it worked, thus avoiding any clothespin type of situations.
In my adult life I manage my ailment by working a path between my desk at work and the restroom. At home I get up a minimum of once a night to pee.
There was a recent situation where I again recognized the utter torture of a completely full bladder and no good plan to empty it out.
It was a typical afternoon at work and I was, as usual, drinking lots of good fresh water. Stay hydrated, right? That means ol’ Walnutta has to be actively managed.
Before a work meeting I will use the restroom right before heading into the conference room to help ensure I can get through the hour stretch.
On this day, I was so busy with work and in other meetings that I bumped right up to the top of the hour when my next meeting was due to start. I did an internal gut check and then a clock check and thought, “Yeah, I’m ok.”
Silly, silly me.
At about twenty minutes into the hour and a half long meeting, a job interview with a prospective candidate no less, I had that first twinge of “oh…hmm, I’m going to need to pee here pretty soon.”
As the seconds on the clock ticked by with molasses speed, and the candidate droned on and on and on, things started to get bad.
I began to go through the stages of grief:
First, denial: “Pfft! I’m fine. No big deal. I can make it.”
Then bargaining: “Ok, well, if I can make it just ten more minutes, maybe I can excuse myself and take care of this. Please please bladder don’t let me pee my pants.”
Anger: “Dangblamit why did I drink so much water today! And why is my bladder so tiny? And why can’t I just distract myself and make this feeling go away!?!”
Depression: “Dude, you are such a loser. Look at everyone else at the table, they can hold their liquids. What is wrong with you?”
Acceptance: “It’s going to be ok. I’m going to make it. I’m not going to pee my pants. And if I do, it will be fine, right?”
Over the course of an hour and a half I moved up and down and back and forth through all of those stages while squirming mightily in my chair.
Look, my attention span isn’t that long to begin with, add in a full to bursting bladder and I don’t hear what anybody has to say on any topic.
It was horrible. At one point I thought I might even cry, I had to pee so badly.
And finally! Finally at the hour and forty five minute mark that damn candidate stopped talking and I was free to go use the restroom all the way over on the other side of the building.
Then it becomes that age old question of walking or running in the rain.
Do I walk to the bathroom thus taking longer and upping my odds for peeing my pants?
Or do I run thus jangling my bladder and making it more likely I’ll pee my pants?
I chose the middle road: a sort of tight-legged shuffle which worked and I made it safely to the bathroom stall.
Once in the safe zone my whole world looked a little brighter. A little happier. A little more at peace.
I know everyone has gone through the ballad of the full bladder at one point or another. When you have a walnut bladder it happens a little more often than I’d like.
For any reader who might have questions about my affliction: it’s been this way since I was a kid, I have discussed it with more than one doctor, and it just happens to be a feature (not a bug) of the big Karen machine.
My parents were pretty strict when I was growing up, but I’m not here to complain about that. I think my brother, sister and I turned out pretty well, overall. Well, my brother and sister did, jury is still out on me.
But it’s true, my folks were a bit old fashioned and handed down strict discipline. They kept us in line.
One thing my Dad was all about was his kids answering “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” when addressed by an adult. It’s ingrained in me, automatic. It’s a show of respect for elders, along with respect for a person’s position.
And so when either of my parents would call out “hey Karen?” I would automatically drop a “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” without hesitation.
It’s carried into my adult life and usually has served me well. On a recent visit with one of my favorite Aunties in Michigan, she at one point called out my name and I dutifully replied “yes, ma’am,” and I knew it was right. I felt like a good kid.
As the digits in my age advance, however, I also notice that I get ma’amed here and there. At first I didn’t like it, but then I began to appreciate that for those younger than me, their parents raised them with that same value. Yes sir!
Here’s where it gets weird: My new boss at work? She’s my same age. In fact maybe a year or two younger. She was my peer for the past several years and was recently made the acting manager. It’s also very likely that she will soon be the permanent manager. And I’m okay with that.
I have nothing but respect for her and we’re working out the bounds of going from peers to boss and employee.
Yesterday, she came wheeling into my office, fresh off one of her many meetings each day and with something on her mind. “Hey Karen?” she said sharply.
“Yes ma’am!” I replied.
And she looked at me kind of strangely.
And I looked at her kind of sheepishly.
“Ahem. What can I do for you?” I revised.
It made me think maybe I need to change up the ma’am/sir thing. I mean, it still fits in many cases. For example, if I come across any of the distinguished scientists that I work with, I’m sure as heck going to ma’am or sir them, regardless of age. Or any dignitary.
But maybe I have to realize that I am the grown up now. I am the one to receive the ma’am treatment. I suppose it is time to finally own my own mildly elder status. Right?
It’s just so weeeird! And will take a while to reprogram my brain.
With Thai Basil Tofu, potstickers and spicy eggplant simmering in my tum, I excitedly reached for my fortune cookie, ready to crack it open and read my fate.
I have a mild obsession with fortune cookies and the wise and occasionally silly words inside. I have several of the small slips of paper tucked into my wallet. A few are taped to my work monitor. Some just drift around in my writing workspace like tumbleweeds of clever words intended to poke and prod at my mind.
So it was on this day, celebrating the birth of the kind and patient woman who gave birth to The Good Man, that I cracked open a fortune cookie and found…
“A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works.”
Okay, okay, now wait just a second here. This is not fortune. This is propaganda.
Believe you me I’ve never, not once, rejoiced in a parking ticket. And living where I do, parking tickets are something that find their way into my life more often than I appreciate.
One short Google search later I discovered this happens to be a quote attributed to a man named Bill Vaughan.
Fine, okay. Who in the hell is this Bill Vaughan?
According to Wikipedia, he’s an American columnist who wrote a syndicated column for the Kansas City Star from 1946 to 1977.
We break here for the requisite Roger Miller sing along.
I drive a big old Cadillac with wire wheels, got rhinestones on the spokes
I got credit down at the grocery store
And my barber tells me jokes
I’m the number one attraction every supermarket parkin’ lot
I’m the king of Kansas City, no thanks, Omaha, thanks a lot
Kansas City star, that’s what I are
Yodel-deedle ay-hee, you oughta see my car
Aaaaand we’re back.
So I read the rest of the Wikipedia page trying to understand if this Vaughan guy is a communist or what. Because that quote, ooh damn. That runs a bit into a political spectrum that I’m not sure I run toward.
Turns out Mr. Bill Vaughan was sort of a quippy guy. Here’s some others attributed to him:
“A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.”
“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.”
“The groundhog is like most prophets; it delivers its prediction then disappears.”
“If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.”
Ok, I might be warming up to this guy. Still not sure what he’s doing in my fortune cookie, though.
Maybe the business of fortune cookies has gone from slight puns and fake Confucius quotes to smart, scholarly, and thoughtful fortunes.
To that I say: Harumph
I may be a bit a traditionalist when it comes to the fortune cookie. I guess I’ll just have to keep going to the kind of restaurants where they can be found in order to do additional (delicious) research.
While we’re on the topic, here’s one of my all time favorite fortune cookies. I got it almost a decade ago but it still rings true:
Birds are entangled by their feet and men by their tongues
Now that one is a thinker! And a little more fortune cookie-eque. With all due respect to Mr. Bill Vaughan.