Saturday, January 28, 2012

Poem of the week - "Knowledge" by Philip Memmer

I had not heard of Philip Memmer before this poem. A friend posted this poem on facebook, and I really liked it. Don't have anything more to add since I don't know much about Memmer or his style.


My philosopher friend is explaining again
that the bottle of well-chilled beer in my hand
might not be a bottle of beer,
that the trickle of bottle-sweat cooling in my palm
might not be wet, might not be cool,
that in fact it’s impossible ever to know
if I’m holding a bottle at all.
I try to follow his logic, flipping the steaks
that are almost certainly hissing
over the bed of coals – coals I’d swear
were black at first, then gray, then red –
coals we could spread out and walk on
and why not, I ask, since we’ll never be sure
if our feet burn, if our soles
blister and peel, if our faithlessness
is any better or worse a tool
than the firewalker’s can-do extreme.
Exactly, he smiles. Behind the fence
the moon rises, or seems to.
Have another. Whatever else is true,
the coals feel hotter than ever
as the darkness begins to do
what darkness does. Another what? I ask.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I sold my precious urine for $20

So here's how it went: I met the guy in a parking lot, took a vial out and quickly exchanged it for a crumpled twenty....

Obviously that's not how it happened. That would be too easy and too convenient.  Brace yourselves for the real story. If you are squeamish or weak of the heart, close the browser window now (or maybe you were about to do that anyway).

I surmounted unfathomable obstacles to win this rare honor. I had to vault over a herd of overeager first-years to grab this opportunity. I crushed hopes, mangled dreams on my way to the finish line. Bloodied and bruised but my spirit unbowed, I picked up the pen and signed myself up for a urine study sponsored by my renal physiology professor. Somewhere in the background, the "Rocky" theme song began playing spontaneously. Wiping the sweat off my glistening forehead, I sauntered out of the class like a champion, savoring the ruined landscape around me. And that is how it really happened.

Join me on Monday when I, along with 11 other vicious warriors from my class, piss every 30 minutes for 2 hours and give 4 10 ml samples for analysis. All for a $20 gift card to Panera. A lucky competitor will win an additional $20 for having the most concentrated urine.

Here are the tools of the competition: a beaker, a plastic test tube and a dropper.

Lethal weapons

Here are the rules:

1. Wake up Monday morning and measure volume of urine. Take 10 ml sample to class. DO NOT consume any liquid or food between then and class. Diuretics are forbidden.

2. Participants will be divided into three groups in class: dehydration, isotonic saline, and water. Each will consume (or not, if he/she is in the dehydration group) an amount of liquid proportional to one's body weight.

3. Every 30 minutes, each participant will visit the bathroom (or do it under a blanket, as was suggested by our professor) and bring back a 10 ml sample. A total of four samples will be collected.

4. Everyone will receive a $20 gift card to Panera (or St. Louis Bread Co., as it is known here) for his/her graciousness and magnanimity. 

4. Results will be announced on Thursday. One with the most concentrated urine will be crowned champion for eternity and get exclusive rights to be called "ratboy" or "ratgirl" (apparently, kangaroo rats have very concentrated urine). The others will weep with despair and will be in a state of inconsolable grief.

Are you ready? I know I am.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What's happening this week

Here's what's happening, man:

  • Girl Scouts cookies go on sale!!! (For the record, that is the most number of exclamation points I've ever used in my life in a single sentence) In less than four days, I will be able to stock up on Thanks-a-lots like there is no tomorrow. Starting tomorrow you may find me camped outside the local precinct. I am telling you, the very first box of cookies sold in the entire St. Louis metro area will be bought by me. Gotta get the fresh goods. Gunning.
  • Swing dancing. Coerced by a couple of my classmates and by my curious mind, I caved in and finally attended a swing dance session last Thursday. I was terrible on the floor and kept apologizing every two minutes for my colossal ineptitude. Swing dancing (supposedly the easiest form of ballroom dancing to learn) is tougher than med school (at least right now) but it also has the potential to be a lot more fun if I practice hard. Kinda looking forward to the second session this week. 
  • I developed an interest in photography back in Dec 2010 and since then, I have taken quite a few pictures in different settings. Most of them have been seen only by friends and family. Starting tomorrow, two of my photos will be part of the WashU annual art show. Faculty and students submit their artwork and it is displayed for a month in the main atrium of the med school building. Here's one of the pictures I submitted. I took it during my road trip to northern California during last year's spring break.

  • Take home exam for physiology. The entire concept of take home exams may be foreign to undergraduates accustomed to high-pressure exams where every point counts towards the almighty grade. I've never taken a take home exam (hey two forms of take in one sentence!) before, so I am curious how this will be. We are currently studying respiratory physiology, which is dreadfully boring and severely counter-intuitive at times. I guess not having the stress of taking an in-class exam will be nice.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"My funny valentine" by Miles Davis

Miles Davis was a pioneering jazz musician, trumpeter of highest caliber and an all-around badass. His innovations in the field of jazz inspired generations of musicians and have triumphantly stood the test of time. Davis swayed millions through his soulful instrumentals and maintained a famously flash lifestyle off the stage, riding around in Porsches and sporting stylish sunglasses.

"My funny valentine" is a well-known jazz standard that had been recorded many times by many different people before Davis recorded his take on it. Regardless, it sounds fresh. I like the arrangement of the piano (and the prominent part it takes towards the end) and the sombre interjections of the trumpet played by the master himself.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Anatomy professor stealing computers and other weird dreams

Dreams. Topic of many senseless treatises, utterly worthless books and countless superstitions. Everyone from Sigmund Freud (dude, sometimes a pipe is just a pipe, ok?) to your best friend from fifth grade has tried to interpret these wisps of memories, with equal part trepidation and giddiness.

The funniest dreams are ones loaded with outrageous events. Events you 100% know would never ever happen in real life - even if pigs started flying and the sun came out in the west. Other interesting ones include those where I can tell I am in a dream with certainty but am still eager to see how they end.

It is always interesting to me to go back and try and reason out the dream. What piece of my daily life inspired this dream? Was it the conversation about Dexter that created a serial killer dream? Did the burrito I had for dinner made me dream about going to a crappy Taco Bell?

Here are couple recent ones that I thought were fantastically absurd:

Poem of the week - "Wires" by Philip Larkin

Taking a break from Borges this week. Philip Larkin was a British poet and a somewhat morose, dude. Most of his poems deal with issues like getting old, forgetting things, and other such tragedies of life. Larkin didn't publish much in his lifetime and his entire production of poetry has been published as a slim book.

Without further ado here is "Wires":

The widest prairies have electric fences,
 For though old cattle know they must not stray
 Young steers are always scenting purer water
 Not here but anywhere. Beyond the wires

 Leads them to blunder up against the wires
 Whose muscles-shredding violence gives no quarter.
 Young steers become old cattle from that day,
 Electric limits to their widest senses.

Short, jarring ("muscles-shredding violence"), and downright gloomy. Just the way I like I poetry.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pushing a car across two blocks in 19 degrees AKA a "warm" welcome back

The lame bunny ears around warm in the title should clue you in that this is going to be about my return to frighteningly chilly St. Louis after an all-too-short winter break in improbably warm southern California.

(The weather here has improved dramatically, as if right on cue, but it was pretty awful the day I got back)

Block 2 at the med school started on Tuesday. My flight left LAX at 11:40 am on Monday. My last view of Los Angeles was a gloriously sunny cityscape with the Westin hotel at the center. Which is why I smiled a wry smile 4 hours later when I collected my bag and exited St. Louis airport, and was greeted by a blast of very cold air. My trusty iPhone informed me it was 19 degrees.

A cheery good evening to you too, St. Louis.

Later that night, I hitched a ride with couple friends from my class to Walmart. You see, Walmart is our fairy Godmother here. We drive out there and get down on our knees to beg for groceries (mostly Totino's frozen pizza and Ramen). And we are rewarded admirably. So just as usual we stacked up on life-sustaining merchandise and came back.

So far so mundane. Here's the twist: our driver's car broke down. At 10 pm. Right outside my apartment. He came upstairs to help me unload my stuff, and when he went down again his car wouldn't start. Uh oh.

Now let me name some names here. Let's call my driver friend LY  and my other friend SR (I use initials partly because I want to, and partly because I am sure they would be too embarrassed to be associated with this flimsy blog.). 

There we were, LY and I, scratching our chins and staring accusingly at the car. We called up SR mostly for moral support. He came over and almost immediately said, "Hey why don't we push this car back to your apartment. You can wait till tomorrow morning to call tow service." There was silence for about 8 seconds. We frowned, looked at each other and after some thought, agreed.

Why the hell not?

One man in the driver's seat (to steer), two at the back of the car to push. 30 minutes, 2 stoplights, a lot of hysterical laughter, and one difficult right turn later, we reached the promised land.

Guess what I crossed off my bucket list that night?