Biology Class 2

In lab we were working with amylase, which is an enzyme that digests starch. Breaks it down. It’s one of the key components in saliva. There was a bottle of it on the table for the lab activity this particular day. If I allowed myself to think about it long enough, it would have bothered me that there was a small bottle of spit-stuff on the table. But I blocked it.
I try to be really grown-up about lab. Not get grossed out or squeamish about stuff. LaShandra and I were the only two people to prick our fingers for the blood-type exercise. We felt very mature and strong, unfettered by the societal constraints of giggly,gaggy girlhood. So what’s the big deal about the bottle of spit?

It’s all cool, because if you put amylase in with your starch solution in one beaker, and just starch solution in the other beaker, then you put iodine in each one… Well, iodine turns dark blue or black in the presence of starch. So guess which beaker turned black? The one without the amylase!

So that’s all going just as planned when the professor says, “Hey just for fun, let’s do this exercise with real saliva. We’ll need two people from each lab group to provide saliva samples. I tended towards being grossed out by the idea of providing a sample of spit. It just seems, I don’t know…gross. Totally unladylike, ungentlemanlike and icky.

But one look at Ebony makes it clear that she is not going to be involved in this. “Eewwwuh, we’re supposed to spit in a beaker?I’m not doing that. No way.” Aniso’s very busy writing something. But LaShandra is already gearing up. So my superiority kicks in. I’m not going to be a big baby like Ebony.

That right there? That’s my inner voice. I feel confident saying at this point that my inner voice is either mean or retarded, possibly both. Because it always seems to be winning arguments against my outer self, who we know and love. But my outer voice seems to be weak in addition to being wise. Because in situations like this, my inner voice prevails.

To understand the humiliation in this story, you have to understand the kind of power-guilt-superiority trips my inner voice plays. And you have to understand that my outer voice really seems tongue-tied and pathetic in comparison.

Inner voice,” Come on! It’s spit. It’s not poop or boogers, it’s so low on the gross-o-meter that it hardly registers. And everyone is having to do it. What? You think your spit is any different than anyone else’s? don’t be an idiot. Spit is Spit. You think you won’t be able to perform at spitting? Babies can spit. This is science, not social hour. Suck it up, Sally. Be a man.”

My outer voice is whimpering, simpering and blithering, “But, but, but…What if I’m no good at spitting? What if my spit is sick and nasty?” And my inner mediator is reasonably saying, “No good at spitting? Abnormally nasty spit? You can do better than that, can’t you?”

Inner voice,”Come on. How old are you? You spit in the freaking beaker. At least one person at every table is doing it. They’re busy spitting in their own beakers, so they’re not going to be watching you. And spitting isn’t exactly a challenging task. Spit Dammit!”

I grab my own beaker. As I do I notice that LaShandra is really going at it. This woman can spit. “Issh eashhy. Jusht rub your tongue on your shaliva glands and swoosh.” And by god, she is having no trouble. As I start to ssshtimulate my shaliva glandsh, someone asks how much saliva we need. “Probably 6 ccs should be good.”

Let me stop here and tell you that 6 ccs is about the amount of liquid in a gallon jug. Which turns out to be about a thousand times more spit than I have in my mouth in a given day. I sat trying to work on my glands, and trying to work up something to spit out. What I come up with is a think white bubbly smear down one side of my beaker. I have no spit.

The more I try, the less spit I have. Not having spit right when I need it, turns out to be very stressful and embarrassing. Ebony looks over, “Eeewwwuh. Why is your spit so thick?Nasty. Why can’t you spit? Do you want me to go get you some gum or something?”

Oh my god, my spit is grosser than most people’s spit! I knew it! My grossness is grosser than the grossness of Ebony! Now I really can’t spit.

And LaShandra is sitting next to me trying to keep her pucker up, but her veritable dairy farm production of spit compared to my saliva Sahara is making her smile.Aniso watched wide-eyed. “I sink you need to go get Lisa some gum.”

In the end, Ebony got me gum (sugar-free so as not to hork up the experiment). But gum didn’t get me spit. I came up with a pathetic and disgusting froth of bubbles and I tried to scale the experiment down. How it turned out doesn’t matter. There’s a bigger lesson here. I just can’t figure out what it is.

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Biology Class 1

Here are the main characters in my biology class, my lab group. There’s ME. The main character because I bothered to write about it. If you want to be the main character, either do something phenomenal in front of me (phenomenal can encompass stupidity, mercy, brilliance,hillarity or just catching my attention. By the way I saw a little person yesterday. I did not stare.), or else write your own essay.

So there’s me. Then there’s LaShandra. LaShandra is smart, she’s an easy laugh and she appreciates my strange humor. She’s black, well, more like caramel colored, but you know, she’s ethnically black. Which isn’t the same as African American, in my book. Or in my essay anyway. She’s got a young son. That’s about all I know aboutLaShandra. I like her.

Then there’s Ebony. Ebony is 18 if she’s a day. And college is like 13th grade to her. She wants to talk about fighting with her best friend, or her mom, or if kissing a guy who used to date your best friend is really doing dirt to your best friend (a phrase usually pronounced “Bust Friend?”). She’s surly with the professor when he reminds her that she can’t bring pop or food into the lab. She always does. And she isn’t all that sneaky, but she likes to say with her head lowered just a little, “I don’t rully care? I’m gonna just hide it. That’s stupud.”

If you remember valley-girl talk, you know what Ebony talks like. Ebony, by the way,is heavy-set and white. Isn’t that mean? The white part I mean. To name your white baby Ebony.
Then there’s Aniso. Aniso is tall, thin and beautiful. She’s Somali. Her head-scarf (tied behind her head) and full length skirts area always coordinated and flattering. It isn’t hard I imagine, to find flattering outfits. She has a fabulous figure with long legs and the most callipyginous shape. It’s either a common figure trait in the Somalis or their skirts and scarves play some trick on the eye. Can I acknowledge that without seeming deviant?
Aniso is smart. Really smart. She’s totally interested in the class and it’s being taught in her second language. She’s writing and reading tests in her second (probably third) language. She’s serious and usually only laughs to be polite.

So that’s the cast of characters. Well that and the professor. The professor isn’t the greatest. Imagine some child you know. Then imagine them much bigger, with facial hair. My professor looks just like an older version of my little neighbor Sammy, who is 4. Somehow, at the same time as he looks like my 4 year old neighbor, he also looks like he is just killing time until he’s a shambling old man. He looks like it wasn’t part of his plan to be 30, which I think he is. He has a baby face, but an old man’s mannerisms.

We had to pick a subject to do a group project and here’s how the discussion went. LaShandra thought Albinism would be a good subject to study, and she has cousins who are Albino, so she could hook us up with good resources. Ebony’s dog just had puppies, so she thought we could do a project about dog breeds.

I like to push the envelope, so I said we should do a project on the genetics of sex. How some species can change their gender, how someone can be female in appearance and yet genetically male, how some animals have male and females who are almost identical, including having what looks and functions almost just like a penis in both the males and females, due to hormones in utero…

We were all polite and listened to each other, nodding and adding our little bits of encouragement. When it came time for Aniso to share her idea with us, she threw us for a little loop. You have to imagine her straight nose and her slightly trilled Rs and her modest dress when you imagine her saying, “Itink we should estudy mucous. I was rrreadink about it and it sounds so interrestink.”

We ended up doing Albinism.

Writing class

I’m taking a class in writing. It’s very Jungian. And at this point, I think Jung is jungk. It’s pretty. It’s poetic and allegorical, but it seems like mysticism, which I find interesting, but rarely helpful. Watch this space for evidence that I am “writing through my shadow”. Or not.

Oh I’m no fun at all. I’m a sceptic.

But I’m very in touch with my inner voice, I can say that much. Sometimes I am too in touch with it.

I think most people get annoyed when they are around people who are in neck braces or who have bad acne or are deformed, smelly or just plain ugly. It sticks in their well tended brain like sand under a wheel. They don’t even know it. But I’m very conscious of that voice that says,

“A doctor. She’s a doctor. I should have been a doctor. Why couldn’t I have my act together enough to be a doctor? Having you around will surely make me feel like a loser. Get thee gone, doctor.” Probably I could never be a doctor because of all the space in my head being taken up with running monologue.

“neck-brace-can’t-turn-his-head-whiplash-car-accident-insurance-settlement-either-in-pain-or running-a-scam-either-way-not-my-kind-of-people” how mean of me. I try not to listen to that voice.

or it says,

“Oooh when you lived in Texas, eh? So you’re the kind of person who moves around?Hmm. Remind me not to bond with you.” I know wonderful people who have moved to and from my home base. Something about it still threatens me. My inner voice calls them “the moving kind of people.”

or dumber yet,

“A writer, eh? Please, oh please don’t make me listen while you read out loud. Writers are so smug. Ick.” This is both self-loathing and stupid. Nonetheless, it pops out.
A lot of times my inner voice is wrong. But it never shuts up. I usually try to tune it out, but we both know that it gets through despite my best intentions (see blogs about race). I think my inner voice is what some people think of as their devil on their shoulder or better yet, their shadow.

Back to the writing class. It was taught by a a woman I can only describ as a plus-sized, dramatic lesbian motivational speaker from the butch-intellectual-spiritual-guide synod. Really interesting to listen to and watch. And she was primed to dip us into the waters of our true self and universal wholeness. I should be more grateful.
What I will heretofor refer to as “My Shadow” pricked up its little pointy, shadowy ears and sneered upon hearing the following quotes:

“Namaste” Pretty much only Indian people can say namaste without gagging me.

“I’m so totally serious. My shadow is totally threatened by this class.” This, from a lovely freckel-faced mother of two in a baseball cap.
“The shadow always brings a gift” This from my dynamic teacher.

“don’t be surprised if your shadow rears its ugly head because of you taking this class. It happens all the time. Sometime during the course, your shadow will make itself known. I like to prepare people for this, so they’re ready. So if you find yourself having trouble in the next 6 weeks with relationships or work… Don’t panic. It’s just your shadow feeling surly because you’re taking this class.”

I know you’ll be amazed at this: Sometime during the course of the class, some people did have relationship trouble. Some had work trouble; some had both. Coincidence? If that makes you feel better, fine. But the shadow knows the truth. And just try to shut it up.

Isn’t it great?

Isn’t it fabulously exciting that we can know things? We can learn things? Aren’t we privileged? What a wonderful thing! I’m in school, so is my dad. I forgot how much I like school. How fun it is to learn stuff and talk to people about stuff they know. I feel so very lucky to be able to go back to school.

I’m not poor, I’m not in a war-torn country, my children and husband are healthy. I’ve been going to bed lately feeling very, very grateful to be me, to be here and to be now. Not proud to be me, American and modern. Because I think of proud as something you earn. I’m blessed.

Isn’t it great we can know joy and ease after traipsing through tension and unhappiness? that we can be content and untroubled after surviving terrible things? What a comfort to know we can feel alive after being knocked to the ground by sadness and badness.

I have a good friend who lost his brother recently. He was too, too young to die. The guy had just sobered up and was really being a human. A new and more whole human. I don’t know that much about this case, but I know some things. They are as follows:

What a rare gift to see someone you love really change for the better. It doesn’t happen to everyone. Too, too many people die without knowing much contentment. Die before they figure things out. Die still slogging, carrying burdens or being chased by demons. It’s a huge thing to love someone and see them get what they need.

I’m in no position to tell someone else to be grateful in the face of such a loss. But I have seen people I love make changes for the better, and people I love slog through their own morass. The latter is so much more common than the former. And the former is such a sweet gift.

Isn’t it strange what a huge gift it is when people you love are whole and happy? Not perfect and totally fulfilled by every moment. Just able to laugh really, and not be broken or fraying or hungry all the time. What a wonderful thing.