Sunday, November 29, 2009

Moving on

I helped the Shaw family pack their moving van last night. The university that Glen is going to didn't allow much for moving expenses so he rented 16 ft of a moving van. Some of the Lopez boys were there helping pack the van. They are strong (Larry can lift 300 pounds easily) and gentle (there are 11 kids in their family and the oldest boys are so sweet to the little ones..... and to women...though they were kind to me and accepted my suggestions, I could tell that they thought I shouldn't have to help load a moving is something that their mom and sisters don't do...but I am friends with the Shaw's and I needed to be there so that I could give them my time as a token of my fondness for them) and they took especially good care of the possessions that they could tell meant the most to Anna Shaw. We had a good time. We all started swapping stories about how many times we have moved. It seems that moving is something we were all good at.

Moving on is another matter entirely. I remember going through culture shock for the first time and realizing that misunderstanding the people around me was not nearly as bad as being uncertain about how to be the person I was. Being one who drives up the canyon to listen to a river that is larger than the problems of the day is irrelevant in a place where "hiking" is walking down a paved and possibly hilly path in a city park. I started knitting instead and as soon as I got back to a place with real mountains, I realized I hate knitting, and I have never gone back to it.

So much harder than leaving behind the ways of being me, has been leaving behind the people in my life. They become a part of who I am and then suddenly they are gone and the places they occupied become like ghost towns in a Ray Bradbury story, houses conditioned by the habits and personalities of their precious inhabitants that keep functioning as though someone still lived there. It's strange to realize that there are cells in my brain that have been owned by another person more than by myself. As I have tried to sweep away the hollow husks of relationships that are no longer possible, I have found that there is little I can do, or not do to directly deal with them. But there are solutions to everything, even if they come from an unexpected direction.

President Monson is always encouraging people to serve each other. For his birthday, that was the only thing he wanted, that people do kind things for each other. I have been working on doing this. While I have always been willing to serve when asked, that simply wasn't good enough. I had to start identifying needs and addressing them without being asked. I had to look and reach outside of myself to help others. Doing this has changed and mended me. While I am not that different in most ways, I feel as though my hard drive has been reformatted and equipped with a different operating system. It has stamped an identity of "Miriam Barlow" on every cell in my body and that identity is not dependent on a particular location or the company of a particular person. An identity of helping others is something that I can take with me wherever I go, and it is something that I can use in any situation.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Family

My 4th great grandfather, Joseph Fielding, was one of the first Mormon missionaries to Great Britain and the second president of the Great Britain mission. When he left to Great Britain he was a financially stable farmer and when he came back to the U. S. he was was completely impoverished. He was able to farm some on Hyrum Smith's land in Nauvoo, probably because his sister, Mary Fielding was Hyrum's wife. But not long after, Hyrum went to Carthage jail with his brother Joseph Smith, where both were killed by a mob. Most of the Mormons then left Nauvoo and headed to Utah.

Joseph Smith's family stayed behind and were the heirs of the physical posessions of the Church, which had been held in Joseph's name. His descendants have held and cared for many sites that are historically important to Mormons. They also hid and guarded the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum until it became safe to provide them properly marked graves.

Hyrum's family left Nauvoo and they became Joseph's spiritual heirs. His descendants have included many leaders of the Church including Joseph F. Smith, George Albert Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith. My grandfather, Joseph Fielding cared for Mary and her son, Joseph F. Smith while they travelled to Utah and then afterwards.

Mary died while her son was still young and though my grandfather cared for him, it couldn't have been a very pleasant situation. My grandfather's journals indicate that he was poor until he died, that his two wives bickered a lot over the few possessions they had, and that it was a generally unhappy domestic situation. Joseph F. Smith was called to be a missionary in Hawaii when he was 15 years old. He had a dream that was very important to him while he was there.

This is how it went: "I was very much oppressed [when I was] on a mission. I was almost naked and entirely friendless, except [for] the friendship of a poor, benighted . . . people. I felt as if I was so debased in my condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge, just a boy, that I hardly dared look a . . . man in the face.

"While in that condition I dreamed [one night] that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry—hurry with all my might, for fear I might be too late. I rushed on my way as fast as I possibly could, and I was only conscious of having just a little bundle, a handkerchief with a small bundle wrapped in it. I did not realize . . . what it was, when I was hurrying as fast as I could; but finally I came to a wonderful mansion. . . . I thought I knew that was my destination.

As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice [which read B-A-T-H], 'Bath.' I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was [some] white, clean [clothing], a thing I had not seen for a long time, because the people I was with did not think very much of making things exceedingly clean. But my [clothing was] clean, and I put [it] on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: 'Joseph, you are late.' Yet I took confidence and [replied]:

" 'Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!'

"He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the great door. I felt his hand just as tangible as I ever felt the hand of man. I knew him, and when I entered I saw my father, and Brigham [Young] and Heber [C. Kimball], and Willard [Richards], and other good men that I had known, standing in a row. I looked as if it were across this valley, and it seemed to be filled with a vast multitude of people, but on the stage were all the people that I had known. My mother was there, and she sat with a child in her lap; and I could name over as many as I remember of their names, who sat there, who seemed to be among the chosen, among the exalted. . . .

"[When I had this dream,] I was alone on a mat, away up in the mountains of Hawaii—no one was with me. But in this vision I pressed my hand up against the Prophet, and I saw a smile cross his countenance. . . .

"When I awoke that morning I was a man, although only [still] a boy. There was not anything in the world that I feared [after that]."

To me, this story is mostly about growing up and returning to family and loved ones. Laura told me about this dream shortly after her divorce when she was coming back to our family. It is one of her favorite stories and one of mine as well.

I made my own little trek to Utah so that I could have dinner with my family today. There were 50 chairs set up, and most were filled. My grandfather, who is in his 90's was there, beaming that I had made it. He doesn't see me as often as he'd like. My aunts and uncles all took time to visit with me. All of my cousins fell into the comfortable teasing and banter that we have shared since we were very young. We told our troubles and triumphs to each other and it became clear (as it always does) that while the details of our lives are important, it is only because we want to show our love and support to each other in the best ways we are able.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Decorating for Thanksgiving

I made a resolution to decorate for the holidays this year, and I plan to stick with it, but I honestly hate looking at effigies of turkeys and yams and I do not plan to put any up any time soon. I might be willing to roast a turkey shaped marshmallow peep over a fire, but that doesn't help with the decorating problem. So I have been tackling it in a different way.

I remember one time Tom Fife was teaching an institute lesson about making our homes holy places and he suggested having good things in them. He showed us some beautiful pictures and books from his home. Though it wasn't his intent, I felt a little bad that I couldn't afford beautiful books or pictures to put in my home. Before I could feel too bad about it though, I had the thought that I pray, read the scriptures, and serve people in my home and that those things make it a beautiful and a holy place. So, in sort of the same way, I am decorating my home with gratitude for Thanksgiving. I have wondered if this was a good idea, because it seems like something Oprah might suggest, but I somehow think President Hinckley might have liked the idea, so maybe it's okay after all.

The gratitude decorating my home these days has kind of floated in the air like a mist, except that it has been warm and bright which is actually nothing like a mist at all. Here are a few of the decorations that have filled my home and made it beautiful.

-Dad's cancer went into remission on it's own after he incorporated heart healthy lifestyle changes, and he is alive and well after his heart attack.

-My brain is almost better. I think the last change I have to go through is adjusting to new ways of dealing with stress. I have been working on this for 3 months and nothing else has turned up, so hopefully this is the end of it. I feel stress more acutely than I used to and there is a sort of buzzing in my head when I get stressed out. From this sort of buzzing feeling, I have learned what stresses me out most. It requires a combination of four things. 1) Having PMS, 2)Feeling rushed, 3)Either being really hungry, or needing to go to the bathroom really badly, and 4)Having to listen to or read boring scientific material about a subject that I don't know very well. Perhaps pulling my fingernails out one by one would be worse than the combination of those four things, but I am not certain of that. However, I am grateful that needing to go to the bathroom badly is among the most stressful things in my life. The buzzing sensation is almost gone too I think. I'll probably find out next time I have PMS.

-I think I finally understand my problems with men. I am terrified of being attacked by them. That's it. I can work with that. I am grateful for the many blessings I have had in which I have been promised that God will protect me, if necessary, by the encircling of angels. They give me the courage that I need to prevent my fear from stopping me.

-I am grateful for Ofelia's exercise classes. They give me something to look forward to nearly every day.

-My writing skills are improving. This enabled me to write a letter that brought back Ofelia's Friday classes after they were cancelled by the gym coordinator. While grudgingly reinstating the classes, the coordinator said "Miriam, I have got to complement you on your writing skills." She did not look happy at that moment. I think I was experiencing the power of language for the first time in my life. I was enormously happy at that moment.

-People keep offering me money to do things that I am already doing anyway. I just got an offer today to review 3 chapters from I text book I already use for my class. I read those chapters every semester already.

-My Mom listens to all of my little worries and concerns and helps me with them. She is planning Thanksgiving for a celiac, a heart patient, and a vegetarian. If Mike were at home, I am sure she would find a way of working with his poultry allergy as well.

-Knowing I am a celiac (which has improved every aspect of my health) and finding the things that make a gluten free life livable (Trader Joe's, Vitamix, millet flour, xanthan gum, vitamins and gluten free peanut butter.) Also, I can eat lettuce again! Salad is awesome.

-Family and friends who love me and give me advice and support and encouragement.

I have much to be grateful for.

Though I haven't pointed these things out to anyone, the people who have come to my home recently have told me how beautiful it is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Hobby!

The stock market is fun! I guess reading the WSJ almost every day has finally done it. I started investing in stocks. It seemed like a good idea because they are one of the best ways of keeping up with inflation. (A financial investor told me this and I assume he knew what he was talking about because he was a VP for Chase or Morgan Stanley of some place like that.) I kept thinking that maybe I should invest in Campbell's soup of hair buzzers or ebay or amazon or something, but secretly, I don't really understand the stock market so I just went for a managed growth fund.

I am treating the stock market like a Vegas slot machine. I am only putting money into it that I can comfortably afford to lose (which means not much). Then I read the WSJ and it is sort of like watching the wheels spin around in a slot machine. Every once in a while I check on my stocks to see if any money is coming out.

I once put four quarters into a slot machine and it was about as exciting as throwing money down a storm drain, except that when you throw money down a storm drain you might hear a clink when the coin hits the bottom and that tells you something about how deep the drain is. All said, I have developed a fondness for storm drains based on that perspective.

The stock market is way better than a storm drain and infinitely better than a slot machine. There is a lot of information to be had from it. Even though I don't really understand it, I do get that it is an indicator of numerous economic factors like economic growth and trade deficits and the federal deficit and interest rates and the weather and the cost saving strategies of housewives. Good stuff in that. So far, it is profitable. I have made $27.00 in two weeks. At some point, I may lose it all and my fondness for storm drains may increase even more. However, I think that the recreational/educational value of the stock market may be ultimately worth it even if I don't make a dime when all is said and done.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sticky situations

I dreamed about ice cream last night. I was with some little children, Hazel perhaps since she loves ice cream so much, and we didn't have any spoons so we ate ice cream with our fingers. It was sticky and cold, but very sweet and good. I was as messy as a child and having just as much fun. It was a good dream, but a little uncomfortable because I felt kind of embarrassed too.

I don't think anyone would accuse me of being immature, but a lot of people call me "kiddo" and tell me that I'm a youngster (which is often true because in most professional situations, I am the youngest person by anywhere from ~10-30 years). Mostly people think that I am a "wonderkid" or something, but some people....particularly MDs older than 50 won't listen to me at all because I am a youngish woman.

The students in my Sunday school class (ages 14-17) love me because they see me as someone who is at the same place in life as they are, only I have been there a lot longer and so maybe I really do know what they are going through. They give me as much dating advice as I give them. That is the basic dynamic we have going on in the class. They mostly listen to what I have to say and feel that their opinions are welcome. We frequently have members of the bishopric open the door and check on us when things are getting loud. They look at me with surprise, and ask me if I'm okay, I always apologize and they say "Oh, it's no problem, just as long as you are okay." I am not only okay, I am quite possibly the instigator of the noise. I get bored and the students get bored and Church is much better when we are all having fun and participating in the lesson... even if it does get a little loud. (I know you don't get fired from church callings, but I sometimes worry that I might.)

Sometimes at Church events, I have been asked to sit with the little children, because they are comfortable around me. I mostly make sure they don't hurt themselves or each other, and that they are actively involved in something. I like being there even if my knees are at chin level because the chairs are so small. Good times are to be had at the kids table. Sometimes, the other adults seem to forget that I am also an adult and they look at me with a stern look, put a finger to their lips and say "Shhh". I guess I deserve it if I am the one organizing an anarchy of 3 year olds.

I think that I have been at the kids table my entire life, except perhaps for when I was small enough that the adults wanted to hold me, and they passed me around the adult table. I like the kids table, it's a good place, and a fun place, and I make the most of it. I am also trying to graduate from the kids table and I have been trying for years. My attempts are probably something like when Matty at age two would say "Me do it meself!" and then she would mostly be okay but sometimes she would get really stuck and start crying. Except that I am not doing it myself , at least not anymore.

Lynda Dyas called me last Friday to remind me about a photography class and she asked me about the latest guy that I am going out with and approved. My friend Maria (who gave me the best dating advice of my life....."Your only job on dates at this point is to have fun!") was there and overheard our conversation and when I hung up the phone she asked "Good Heavens Miriam! How many cheerleaders do you have?" I told her I had no idea. Since then I have estimated nearly 200. Collectively, it seems like too many, but individually, there is not one I would want excluded. The list goes from Grandpa, in his 90's, through the widows of Merced first ward, in their 80's, on down through Katie, Megan, Matty and Emma, all under age 8 who ask "Miriam, when will you have children so we can play with them?"

The answer is that I have no idea. I am indefinitely stuck at the kids table and until I graduate, I guess they will have to settle for playing with me instead of my children. We have good times I think.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hot Body

The brilliance of Ofelia is that she knows how to build muscle without bulking up. I feel like I have very well developed muscles, but it isn't visibly obvious. It is however becoming thermally obvious. I have not started heating my house yet. I swear that I will once it becomes uncomfortable, but I am not sure at what temperature that will occur. Last night, my house was 58º. My feet were a little cold, and I considered the furnace because 58º seems like it should be cold, but heating my house does little to heat the floor since it isn't insulated, so I just put on socks and I was perfectly comfortable.

When I went to bed, the temperature was dropping, but I have a down comforter which is quite cozy so I wasn't worried about getting cold. I actually woke up in the middle of the night and again this morning because I was roasting hot. The house was at 53º when I climbed out of bed and it was cool, but I just put on some slippers and it felt pretty good after roasting in my bed all night long.

I actually think I would sleep better if my house was in the high 40s or perhaps lower. No, I do not have a fever, just a super hot body.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Art of Drowning

I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.

How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.

Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,

a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.

Billy Collins

Marie suggested I read this poem and I like it quite a lot. My only experience even close to drowning was when I fell over a waterfall. The things I thought of as I was going down were
#1 Getting flipped around so that my feet would go in first
#2 That if I kept my body pulled in as tightly as I could in the center of the main flow of water, maybe erosion would have cleared a smooth path and dug a hole at the bottom.
Thankfully Erosion was on my side and I survived. I was a little annoyed when others who had seen me fall and survive decided to go over the waterfall recreationally.

Since I haven't died I can't be sure, but it seems that perhaps you are less likely to drown if you are actively assessing the current situation rather than reminiscing over good and bad deeds done in the past.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I spent last weekend stoned. It was legal for me to be stoned. (Well, maybe legal, since I think a person untrained in anesthesia was responsible for getting me stoned, but at least legal from my side).

My friend Maria gave me a ride home from the doctors office. She told me that I was cute while stoned. I told her thanks and that no one had told me that before. She laughed and said that she was the only person who had ever seen me stoned. She was probably correct.

I made breakfast for Maria and myself while stoned. It was the least I could do for asking her to pick me up early on a Saturday morning. I did most of the prep before going to the doctors including putting muffin batter in a pan, and preheating the oven, and frying bacon. I can't remember what else we ate. There were eggs I think. I didn't prepare those in advance so I don't remember them. I hope it was good food. I don't remember.

My friend Chanelle came over for breakfast too. I didn't think I would be as stoned as I was and I had missed seeing her and Chanelle is always up at five, and she likes going places for why not make a party of breakfast? I think it is a bad idea probably to entertain while stoned because my main memory of the event is that I was trying very hard to remember to introduce Chanelle and Maria and that then I was aware that they were introducing themselves to each other.

I think that the anesthesia was badly applied because I remember less and less from the day as it went on, when instead I should have been remembering more and more. I was a little sensible though, because after my friends left, I climbed into bed and slept. I woke up in the evening with a splitting headache and after a few hours went back to bed and slept through the night.

When I woke up the next morning, it felt like someone had put a hatchet into the middle of my skull. I drank a glass of water and ate some carbs thinking that maybe I had a headache from not eating. The headache got worse and worse and at some point, it occurred to me that I was fitting the description of a hang-over. I recalled that drinking lots of water was supposed to help with hang-over, so I drank lots of water. After a few hours it seemed to help some. I think I was still somewhat stoned though because I don't remember much of Sunday either.

By Monday, I was fit as a fiddle and even did step aerobics, though I took it a bit easy.

To me, it seems that there should be a moral to this story, like don't do drugs, or drink a lot after doing drugs, or something, but I don't think that they apply super well to the story because I was simply being medically responsible for myself. However, as I have never reacted like that to anesthesia before, the moral of the story may be that one should avoid medical procedures in Merced. I have five years until I have to get anesthetized again. My goal is to be in a medically developed place before that becomes necessary. The clock is now ticking.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nerdy enough for this!

I got good news today! I won the Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics Young Investigator Award. They said that I had done a whole lot of research in a very little bit of time and so I deserved the award!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Not Nerdy Enough

After I wore a free t-shirt featuring a centrifuge jumping rope, Marie became convinced that I am especially nerdy, which is true. I have discovered however, that even within my own field of research, I am not the nerdiest. For example, I am not nerdy enough to appreciate microbial art. I like microbes a lot, but it is impossible for me to appreciate "art" that has been produced by painting an agar plate with them. Perhaps it is because I know how they smell. Perhaps it is also because I have seen three year olds do just as well with dull crayons.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I don't think that I have dreamed properly for years. My dreams were always brief and dim and I would wake up after them. Some one's face would appear, or a few words, but nothing in depth or developed. Now my dreams have plots and multiple characters. They start the same way that they used to with a face or a few words, but then when I near the edge of consciousness, instead of waking me up, the dream develops and becomes more complex. I sleep through the night now, which I have not done in many years. To say that my dreams are pleasant and good is simultaneously true and false. The content of my dreams is violent, hellish stuff, but I am not afraid of any of it. As I dream, I find that I relax and sink into a deeper sleep. There is almost a sense of relief that I feel.

Since I have started dreaming, it has become easier to put unpleasant things behind me. I think that I might be capable of handling horror movies now without feeling terrified for months afterwards (though I have no intention of watching any). I obsess over things less and in general, there is less going on in my head and it is easier to concentrate....almost like dreams are making room for new things.

Perhaps what dreams are doing for my head has a physical manifestation as well. I am becoming a good housekeeper. This is not something I have been trying for very much, but I find myself making my bed each morning, dusting the house every week, folding laundry as soon as it is done in the dryer and organizing things in better ways. These changes have been nearly as effortless as dreaming. They just sort of happened and I am only just noticing.