Category Archives: Essays

My ghostly guilty pleasures

I’ve always been a skeptic. From a young age, I was drawn to facts and fascinated by science. That’s not to say I didn’t love magic and fairytales, but I never forgot they were pretend. Reality always had a way of interfering before I could even consider it.

My unwillingness to believe made for some awkwardness around Christmas, since my family had a tradition of having Santa Claus deliver presents to the house on Christmas Eve. I quickly figured out that my father was always conveniently gone when Santa arrived, because he had a burning need to go buy cigarettes. And the plastic mask Santa wore was unconvincing. Finally, at about 4 years old, I confronted my mom about the issue. Read more

RA Diaries: Feats of strength

hands I’ve never been into sports.

Partly, this is because I’m female, and girls and women, at least where I grew up (Mexico and Italy) weren’t really encouraged to be fans of sports like football or baseball, much less play them. When I moved to the United States as a teenager, my high school had girls’ teams for track and swimming, but the boys’ teams were still the ones who were lionized. Read more

Mathochism: The joys of MOOCulus

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

AK_Math_small When my second community college calculus experience ended on a bad note at the end of 2012, I was really depressed. And furious; mostly furious, really, since I felt like the whole semester was one big game of bait-and-switch, with the second professor as bad as the first, except in a far subtler way.

But unlike previous bad experiences, this didn’t sour me on math. Nor did it take away from my interest in learning more calculus, which was actually one of the most satisfying chapters in my short math career.

Yep, I really love calculus. I adore limits, derivatives, and integration. I tolerate related rates and optimization – but then again, no romance is perfect. As long as they leave the toilet seat down, we’re cool.

This development feels like a miracle, or maturity, or something. Let’s go with something. Read more

Family baggage

When my parents moved back to Sweden last year, they didn’t just give me old photographs. They also gave me several pieces of furniture, including a trunk.

It is a beautiful piece, at least 130 years old, wood with metal bindings, sturdy handles, a lock and a painted inlay. It holds a lot, and I keep my wedding outfit in there — dress, shoes, veil.

Since I live in a tiny house already crammed with furniture, the trunk lives at my mother-in-law’s. I think it’s happy there, because she loves to polish furniture, and has treated the trunk to some expensive beeswax, making its dark wood glow. I don’t remember the trunk ever looking this good, even though I grew up with it, and saw it in a succession of houses in a succession of different countries. For many years, it was just there, in a corner, kind of glum.

If ever an object was haunted, I think this trunk would be. But I may think this because I know something of its first owner, my great-great-grandmother Anna. Read more

RA Diaries: Not hideous after all

It’s been almost a year since my parents moved back to their country of origin. Since it wasn’t just a transcontinental trip, but also one into a smaller home, they did a lot of downsizing. And part of that downsizing was going through myriad photos they had collected over the years.

Many of these photos were strays, or copies of photos that were already in albums. Many were of me, and since they were a record of my childhood and adolescence, my parents gave them to me.

A few months ago, I made my own album, charting my growth from age three to 15. (The photo in the banner is me at three, with my favorite grandmother. I still take great pleasure in drinking tea.)

As I look through that album, I can see exactly when I started thinking I was hideous. I can see exactly when being in a picture became something I had to endure. Read more

Mathochism: One more down

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

I’m done with the final, and all I can say is damn. Wait — make that da-yum.

That was one bear of a test! There were 66 problems, plus two extra credit, and we had three hours. Three hours may sound like a lot, but that’s less than three minutes a problem. And some of those problems were 5- or 6-minute problems!

Also, by the time I got to problem 50, my brain was starting to tire. None of the problems were hard, exactly, but with so many, they started to blur.

Blegh. Well, it’s over. I am hoping that I only got 10-12 wrong, so my B is assured.

Overall, it’s been a good, but tough, class. I have a month and a half to recover, then I go into my final Mathochism chapter.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

RA Diaries: My year in titanium

A year ago at about this time, two anesthesiology residents were trying to find a vein. They weren’t having much success; I’m a hard stick at the best of times, and I hadn’t had anything to drink or eat in 15 hours.

Many jabs later (including multiple ones in my left foot), they were able to put in an IV. A later attempt at an epidural failed miserably, requiring intubation. And yes, I am also very difficult to intubate.

It was not a good start to what’s been, to date, my largest and most complex surgery — a complete hip replacement. But by the end of the day, bruised and woozy and aching, I had a piece of metal where my bone used to be.
Read more

RA Diaries: Bad values

Earlier this year, I wrote about my experiences with people who see illness as punishment for character flaws or alleged incorrect behavior, and believe that if they act a certain way they will never get sick.

The lone person who commented on the post (well, other than those offering to sell me designer purses at a low, low price) pointed out, rightly, that this is part of the cult of “positive thinking,” and that this mindset can be quite insidious to people who randomly got sick.
Read more

« Older Entries