Monday, June 15, 2009

Of Toothbrushes and the TSA

The concept of an electric toothbrush seems about as silly as, say an electric fork, but nonetheless, we have one and Michael loves it. The base unit we’ve had for many years died the other day and we were happy to discover that its replacement was compatible with our existing charger and heads. It was a relatively painless problem to solve and we went on to obsess about more vexing matters. Except.

A “feature” of the “improved” model is that it halts very briefly every 30 seconds to signal that you should move on to brushing a different quadrant of your mouth, as it allots two minutes for the entire procedure. While the old base simply signaled the end of two minutes, the new one has arrogated a whole new level of control to itself. Its bossiness is irritating and every time I brush my teeth, I think about the TSA. My teeth are very clean from the energy brought to the task recently.

The TSA’s job is to keep airplanes flying on their intended routes without molestation or interruption. Fine. I get that they’re balancing a lot of factors that I don’t want to think about and I try to be cheerful about it, given that I do like the airplanes to stay in the air. I wouldn’t mind giving them my date of birth or even a fingerprint for flying. At the same time, the idea stops me cold that the government is going to tell me what my name is and how it must appear in public. It seems incompatible with the concept of America--our concept of individual liberty is part of what separates us from, say, the countries that maintain lists of acceptable and prohibited names. Though this week is a busy one with a three-day hole in it for travel, it’s becoming clear that rather than fuming, I should figure out if there’s a comment period on the coming rule or any group engaging with the implications for what is bound to be a lot of people. Of all the compromises we have made over time in the interests of security, including the many stupid indignities at airports, this one is stopping me cold. And, yes, I’m still thinking about the implications and potential difficulties of going with just “C” as my first name, which until many of you wrote me, I probably hadn’t fully considered. It brought to mind that my father picked up a middle initial in life (informally, not legally, is my understanding) because he got tired of being Irwin NMI (no middle initial), so a little more thought may yet be required.

The most irritating part of this of all--at least the most irritating part so far identified--is that at least the toothbrush is pretending to do be doing it for my own good. The TSA is making their change because it’s easier for their procedures, and everything else is peripheral. It’s like these new personnel systems universities across the country are implementing at unbelievable cost: a place spends scores of millions of dollars (unless it spends hundreds of millions of dollars) to buy software and then must change all its personnel practices to match what the software does. The explanation for being required to change policies that have fit the adopting institutions for years is “the software doesn’t do that.” What is it that makes “us” accept reasoning like this? It’s aggravating.

What isn’t aggravating was our great family weekend.

We celebrated two big birthdays for the girls together this weekend: 18 for Shea and 25 for Kearney. Kearney and Brad came down from Madison and we had a low-key if strenuous weekend: for reasons that are possible to track down but with results that are still a little perplexing, we ended up spending a large chunk of time taking things out of the attic to make room to store a great teak sideboard we found at a resale store for Kearney. To make room, something (well, many things) had to come out. We left it better than we found it, but having all of us spend time in the dirt and the heat was never really the way I imagined the family weekend--nor finishing the packing my law school office, which featured on Friday. I’d gotten sucked back into a task I’d otherwise thought was done on Wednesday and Thursday, so Friday, Shea and Jovanna pitched in to get that task over the hump by the deadline. It’s done now, thanks to their yeoman efforts, and that era of my life is closed. Michael and I have been marveling at how terrific everyone was about the unexpected texture and activities of the weekend--we feel so blessed in our family. Now it’s up to the movers and the facilities people to make the new office possible--and for me to figure out the adventure of a new era.

Today brings some more meetings that, we hope, will advance our understanding of what the next academic year will involve, as well as more physical therapy. The new physical therapy is concentrating on good control within small areas of movement, with the eventual goal of expanding those areas. It’s a more subtle and quiet kind of therapy, which is interesting in and of itself.

As the recovery from the brain tumor adventure consolidates, I’m finding that the experience has left me more tentative and unsure than before, both physically and mentally. My balance is still not solid and I’m unsure on stairs, though the improvement here, as in all else, has been dramatic. More unsettling, though, is that lots of memory seems to be lost: things I used to know are simply absent, from sorting out childhood events between the girls to the origin of family jewelry. I’m not sure my memory is any worse than it ever was; it more feels more like so much of my attention and thinking power got diverted that it just pushed other things out of the way. Maybe some of those memories will come back eventually, but for now my goal is to find a graceful way to incorporate this new grey zone into daily existence and make the best of it. Any way you look at it, uncertainty is likely less insufferable than being a knowitall, so there is a bright side here.

Do any of these thoughts tie together? Probably in some way not yet appreciated. If you see the connections, let me know. I’m always glad to be enlightened.

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