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You should see the other guy!

Dreams about teeth are a fairly common stress dream. Teeth are a frequent element in my bad dreams, but I think I don't have to look hard to find the symbolism. I think my teeth dreams are mostly about my teeth.

I think the last time I was really completely ok with my teeth was when I still had all my baby teeth. At some point, when I was still in the transition, some of my back molars were removed by the dentist (at this point, I couldn't even tell you why) and I had space maintainers on my back teeth for a year or two, until my adult molars grew in. This meant that things like chewing gum and taffy were forbidden. Note: I have always really loved chewing gum and taffy. This meant lots of secret gum chewing and trouble when gum would stuck to and/or pull out the appliances.

Shortly after the space maintainers finally came out, when I was 10, I made a failed attempt at a cartwheel on the school playground and landed face-first on the asphalt. The impact broke of huge chunks of my front upper teeth: one big triangle out of each. Fortunately, the dentists were able to put veneers on both teeth, which made them look normal again. However, they forbid me to drink coffee, tea or colas after that, as all of these things would stain the veneers. At age 10, I wasn't really into coffee or tea yet, but Coca-Cola was a big part of my world. Sometimes colas would be drunk anyway. Ditto for iced tea. Eventually, the veneers would be a little darker than the rest of the tooth. And sometimes a verneer would break off. Either I'd bite something too hard or I'd get smacked in the mouth with something, and it would snap right off. Then I'd be overcome with shame and anxiety at my snaggle-toothed appearance until I was able to get back to the dentist to fix it. The mouth trauma would lead to other issues. More on that in a bit.

When my adult teeth came it, they were a bit too large for my mouth. I ended up with a bit overbite. Shortly after my teeth-smashing accident, it was time for me to get braces. I got braces years before any of my peers, so I was the only person I knew with a mouth full of hardware. It looked terrible. It hurt. It required special care and many appointments. It meant that not only could I not have gum or taffy, but things like corn-on-the-cob and whole apples were added to the forbidden list. And, as my dad frequently mentioned, it was expensive. I was in braces for two years (Including the dreaded and awful headgear--fortunately they only made me wear that at night. Unfortunately, they made me wear that at night. I'm a side-sleeper. Good luck with that.) and then a removable retainer for two years after that.

About a year after the playground accident, I started to have extreme pain in one of those teeth. I had an abscess, which lead to over 20 years of pain, problems, and expense. Over the course of those decades, I had three root canals on two teeth (the right front tooth that had visibly broken and it's right-hand neighbor, which will be known from here on out as #7), two apicoectomies on #7, rounds of anti-biotics, and a fistula. Yeah! Good old #7 was also cracked in the accident, but below the surface.

The crack in the tooth lead to reoccurring infections which were sometimes left untreated for years. I grew up with it, and since the adults in my life (including the dentists) didn't seem too concerned, I just lived with it in the background. The tooth turned brown, which made me extremely self-conscious, particularly about smiling in photos. The infection made my mouth kind of gross, but I had learned to be used to that. By the time of my first apicoectomy, the bone around the tooth had taken a hit. The oral surgeon told me I had a grape-sized whole in the bone. Whee!

The infections returned after that (expensive, painful) surgery, so I had another. And still they came back. Finally, I was told that the tooth would need to come out. Fortunately, they said, I could get an implant. The tooth came out in the summer of 2008 (see photo at the top). Because the degradation of the bone was too severe to hold an implant, I was given a bone graft with "donor bone" to help heal the damage. I got a "temporary" bridge to hold the space and for cosmetic appearance, and given 6 months to heal. There was a chance that the donor bone wouldn't take, and they would need to do a second graft with bone matter from my jaw.

The temporary crown was basically just pasted in place between the two neighboring teeth. It wasn't designed to be used, and would crack off under stress. Once again, I had prohibitions about how I could eat. It is an adventure to only be able to bite things with the far left side of your mouth. Every now and then, I'd have to get the cement fixed, which would come with a lecture on being careful.

After 6 months, I went in for another oral surgery, under twilight sleep. I was told that I would either wake up with the implant or with a new bone graft. Guess which one it was?

The second graft was painful. My mouth was raw and sore on two places, and I ended up with minor nerve damage in the place where the graft was taken. In the time since then, the damage has healed quite a bit, but it will always be there: a slightly numb, tingling sensation in my cheek and gum.

The new graft took quite well. Too well, in fact. The bone grew right on out through the gum, in the weak space that had been the fistula. It took several more visited to the oral surgeon to grind down the extra growth and encourage gum tissue to grow over it. Even now, it is still healing. Eventually, I was allowed to get the implant. Then, after over four years with the delicate "temporary" crown, I finally have a porcelain tooth that will stand up to normal eating stress. My smile looks normal again.

Amidst all of this, I have also had a lifetime of cavities, fillings, crowns, and lectures on how I should be taking better care of my teeth. Brushing more, flossing more, using different products. Wisdom teeth came out, more crowns went in. A back tooth got a cracked filling which lead to a root canal. More lectures, more fillings, more crowns.

I've gotten very used to hearing lectures from dentists and hygienists. I've almost taken it as a given that I will be told I am doing something wrong. I try my best, but my best is never good enough, and I know that pain, expense, and a lecture is going to follow. If I could ever find a dentist that did a good job with my teeth and didn't make me feel guilty every time I came in for an exam, I'd stick with them for life. As it is, the best I have been able to do is refuse to go back to the dentist with the "we cater to cowards" sign in the waiting room. (Fuck you, not wanting dental pain doesn't make me a coward, asshole.) I also stopped going back to the dentist who seemed actively mean. Right now, my main option has been avuncular and condescending. Very friendly, but always with the lectures. One of these days I want to say, "I've been going to the dentist for over 30 years now. What do you think this particular lecture is going to do that all the others didn't?" But I don't.

Getting the replacement tooth was the end of one long journey, but it isn't smooth sailing yet. Three days from getting the porcelain tooth put onto my implant post, a bit of filling broke off a lower molar. (I wasn't even eating at the time!) The dentist put some temporary filling material on when he was finished working on the implant, and told me that the molar was "more filling than tooth" at this point, and I really should get a crown. And there goes another $600...

At this point, the amount of money that has gone into fixing things in my mouth could probably pay for a house, or at the very least, a hefty downpayment. My teeth have been a major drain on my savings. Any time I have had the chance to get dental insurance, I've jumped on it. Sadly, dental concerns are considered to be separate from "health" for some stupid reason, and even health care reform hasn't touched it. Even with insurance, there is always a hefty out-of-pocket. Still, I am deeply grateful for the privileged life I have lead, in that I have never lacked for dental care. As much trouble as my mouth has been, it would have been a true nightmare if I'd been poor.

Someday, I hope to be at peace with my teeth. I'd like to be able to visit the dentist without dread for yet more bad news and another lecture. I'd like to not put aside several thousands of dollars every year for predicted dental expenses. I'd like my teeth dreams to just be symbolic.


Stand up on it

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I suppose I could say it started with a story. It probably started with Chaz Villette, Daphne Worth, and Elizabeth Bear, all three of whom were friends of mine on LJ. (Two out of those three were fictional characters, but that hardly matters for this context.) All three were climbers, two starting out fairly new to the sport.

From the comfort of the internet, I watched as Elizabeth and Daphne pushed themselves and became better climbers. I watched as the bonds of friendship were strengthened over the shared activity, the trust, and the adrenaline. Saw the problem solving and determination honed on the rocks come into play when grappling with life. And I thought, gee, that looks like fun. Too bad I'm scared of heights.

That thought simmered from the summer of 2008 until the fall of 2011, when I decided that I wasn't going to let my brain push me around, recruited a friend, and headed to the local climbing gym on "newbies get in for half off" day.

It. Was. Terrifying. Sweaty palms, dizzy head, why-am-I-doing-this terrifying. But I got to the top of the first easy wall and then the second. I wasn't following any routes. Simply making it to the ceiling of the warehouse in which the gym lived was a feat. And I was hooked. Hooked enough to give myself tendonitis in my elbow during my first month of climbing, because I didn't know when to say when.

The tendonitis put me on a forced rest from Christmas to June. It was hard, and I kicked myself for being so stupid in my enthusiasm. I read up on stretches, visited a PT, and vowed to pay attention to my body in the future.

When my arm was ready, I slowly and cautiously headed back to the gym. It was nice. There was still the feeling of "I hate this? Why am I doing this?!" partway up the first wall. There was still the several minutes at the top when I forced myself to relax, let go of the wall, lean back, and let my climbing partner lower me. And I still climbed the "rainbow route."

Part of that changed when I took a late summer climbing class. Once we were belaying with our partners, the instructors encouraged us to start trying the routes. I stuck to the 5.6s and the occasional rainbow. It worked for me.

Lately I've been climbing a lot at a tiny gym with four ropes on an autobelay. I can stop in on my way home from work, do a quick climb, and continue on towards supper. The autobelay means you don't require a partner, but it also means that it will start to drop you as soon as you put your weight on it. The size of the gym pushed me to start doing routes just to give myself a challenge. The autobelay pushed me to get comfortable letting go and dropping without coaxing and hesitation.

In the past couple of months, I went from 5.6 routes to 5.7 and recently to 5.8. Each time went in fits and starts. Climbing makes me push my own boundaries, but it is also an area in which I give myself permission to quit. I listen to my arms and know when to say, "not this, not today." I don't beat myself up for giving up halfway up if my arms weren't up for it anymore, because I know that the problem I am trying to solve will likely still be there next time. At the same time, having permission to fail and to quit can also prompt me to go just a bit higher and farther, because why not?

Lately, I've been inching my way up a 5.8. Even just a month ago, I couldn't even get started on this route. Each time I've tried it, I've gotten a little higher and farther before I dropped. Each day I added at least one new handhold to my list. The last time I was at it, I was within one handhold of sending the route when I tried to push up and pushed back instead, yet I'd almost given up entirely a little earlier. I'd made it past a particularly thorny bit and had thought, "well, my arms are jelly, time to go back down," when part of rebelled. "No," I thought, "push on to the next one. So what if you go for it and fall? That's what the rope is for."

So I tried for that next, distant handhold, and soon found myself pushing for the next and the next. I made it about three more moves before the accidental drop. I saw my limit and I pushed past it this time. I stood up on it. It was then that I realized how much I want to make it to a 5.10 and beyond someday. It also made me realized that there were other areas in my life where I need to stand up on it and muscle past my limits. Maybe I'll fall, but my life is not without ropes to catch me. The important part is to go for the next thing.

Stand up on it.




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Mighty Girl is one of the blogs I have been reading since shortly after I discovered blogs, over a decade ago. I love the writing, I love the photos, I love the ideas. Today's post really made me think.

Playing the video and thinking about what it says, this has an awful lot of merit. At the same time, I think there is a lot of privilege in the idea of "just do what you love and the money will follow." It may be true that the money will follow, but life doesn't stop costing money just because you are starting to follow your passion. The "DWYLATMWF" premise assumes that you have a support system to keep you going in the meantime: parents, a significant other, savings, a patron, a government grant... Otherwise what do you eat? Where do you live? How do you pay your medical bills? For anyone who isn't starting out from a position of privilege, Do What You Love is going to be a hell of a lot harder. There are a lot of people for which "Do What You Gotta and Maybe You Can Pay the Bills" feels like an aspiration.

What are your thoughts? How do we make DWYLATMWF realistic for more people? I'd certainly love to make it work in my own life. Is passion enough to build the bridge from that point A to point B, or does it also require circumstances that may be beyond your control.

In my own life, in my own family, I look at how to make this work. What does it take to make this work? What does it mean if you can't?



Every spring, an interactive installation takes over a high-traffic area in Montréal's Quartier des spectacles and sets a collective ritual. The installation offers a fresh look at the idea of cooperation, the notion that we can achieve more together than separately.

The result is a giant instrument made of 21 musical swings; each swing in motion triggers different notes, all the swings together compose a piece, but some sounds only emerge from cooperation.

This is truly lovely. I would like to see this someday, and getting back to Montreal is already on my life list. I think I would definitely want to try to get there while this is up some spring.



This was a really good weekend, the kind that you need to hold in your heart, to get you through January.

Thursday was CSA pick-up and some rowboat time of Lake Wingra with the nephew.

Friday involved a sailing lesson, a lovely outdoor dinner at Buraka on State Street (their chicken peanut stew with injera is one of the best things I have ever eaten, and I often crave it mightily), followed by a starlight sail on Lake Mendota that ended just before midnight, and a balmy bike ride home (a drunk-dodging slalom up State).

Saturday was mostly taken up by a 45 mile bike ride to Mount Horeb and back. (If you stop for a meal at The Grumpy Troll, I can highly recommend the Trempeleau Hotel Walnut burgers, the Dragon Boat Wit, and the Trailside Wheat beers.) This was our third use of our state trail passes, bring us up to $12 worth. Two more rides and we break even for use, though I'm ok with the donation if we don't make it, for some reason.

Saturday night was supposed to involve another starlight sail, but I was pretty exhausted and had been haunted all day by a recurring headache, so I begged off. There was more sailing for me today, however, as I got in some more practice on the tech dinghies. Learning how to capsize/turtle the boats and recover went much better after I figured out that removing my shoes was key. I was having a lot of trouble getting a good kick while wearing them. I had been able to right it with a lot of effort, but it was exhausting. So I took them off, tied them to the painter (to keep from losing them) and tossed them into the boat. After that, I was able to kick and pull myself all the way into the boat.

Side note: purposely capsizing a perfectly good boat feels so very counter-intuitive. "Why the hell am I doing this?" But you need to know what to do, and so much better to learn under controlled circumstances. I did lose my bandanna in the process, but c'est la vie.

In the end, I did not obtain a Tech Light rating, as I need more practice with my landings. I am hoping to have it by the end of summer, though.

Further plans for the evening included yoga class and a barbecue, but rain and general tiredness curtailed those. Instead, I think this calls for turning on the paper lanterns and chilling on the porch for as long as I can. Long live summer!



Under the Sun, Under the Moon

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I have started to learn to sail, having joined the UW Madison Hoofers Sailing Club. I had previously taken a Union Mini-course on sailing, and that 3-day course let me know that I wanted to learn more.

The mini-course had been over the course of three very windy (blue flag) days in late June. In contrast, the first Hoofers "Intro to Sailing" for which I had signed up was canceled due to lack of wind. I was able to make it to a second session of that class last Friday afternoon. It was also a day of light winds (green flag) but we had enough to get us out onto the water. The sun was high and bright and if there were any clouds, they were minimal.

There were three of us in a Badger Sloop, two students and the instructor. As we sailed, we shifted our positions around the boat, so that both students had a turn at the tiller and working the sheets. Because the wind was so light, we actually lost the breeze a few times, and had to work the tiller back and forth get us moving toward the windier areas. It was hot, sweaty work, but it was also three hours of fun.

Later in the evening I returned for a moonlight cruise on Spray, a cruising keelboat owned by Hoofers. On board was the skipper, Barry, two crew, and ten others who had signed up. Of course, since it was technically a lesson, we all had to pitch in when needed, and Barry offered some time at the tiller to anyone who wanted it. I considered it, but ultimately chose to stay at my perch up at the bow end of the boat, watching the magic that was the rise of the full moon over the water.

The breeze had picked up a bit since the afternoon, and we were able to move along across the water at a nice clip. The temperature was a perfect blend of warm and cool. There were a few other boats out on the water, but mostly the lake was ours. I'm pretty sure I was grinning the whole time.

The three-hour cruise (a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour!) passed by too quickly, and before I knew it we had put the boat away and I was back on land. The time had come to hop on my bike and head off to find midnight breakfast.

I am particularly excited for this coming Saturday, when I will do it again on the Knotty Rascal. Hopefully, we will see some of the Perseid meteor shower during the cruise. Looking forward to it!



Life List: A Work in Progress

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Inspired, in part, by Maggie Mason, of Might Girl I started my own Life List back in November. I think it is time to post it, and see what I have done so far (completed items will be crossed out).

• Own my own home
• Take voice lessons
• Swim at a beach with warm, crystal clear ocean water
• Take a train trip coast to coast (and back?)
• Own a dog (or two?)
• Revisit NYC
• Visit San Francisco
• Visit Seattle
• Visit New Orleans
• Visit Savannah
• Pass the Madison Parks and Beaches swim test and get out to the diving platform at B.B. Clarke Beach
• Go canoe camping on the Wisconsin River
• Get belay certified at Boulders
• Throw an event/party for at least 100 people
• Have my art for sale in a brick and mortar business
• Take part in (and finish) a bike ride of at least 100 miles
• Have an entire outfit that is tailor made for me
• Learn how to go underwater without having to plug my nose
• Take the car ferry across Lake Michigan
• Spend some time in Door County
• Spend some time in the Apostle Islands
• Learn to ballroom dance without tripping over my own feet
• Learn to contra dance without tripping over my own feet
• Healthy 125
• Learn to use a chef's knife like a pro
• Revisit Cape Breton
• Revisit Montreal
• Set foot in every continent (except maybe way)
• Go to a session and play at least 50% of the songs
• Busk
• Stay with friends at Camp Lake Resort (Fairyland!) for at least a long weekend
• Raise chickens
• Go to grad school
• Act in a play
• Get my CPR and First Aid re-certification
• Go to Comic-Con with my brother
• Take the Union sailing course
• Learn to whistle
• Update my blog more regularly
• Update the look and feel of my blog

Also, while I haven't yet learned to use a chef's knife like a pro, I did take an hour-long class on it through the Willy St. Co-op, and have been practicing the techniques we were shown. Practice is the thing.

The last two items currently on that list are things I just added today, but I think they are important. I used to blog on a daily basis, and then things got in the way. Not important things. Just things. I'd like to get back to it. I also need to update the design and the back-end, because the comment spam is getting redonkulous.



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