Friday, October 30, 2009

If You REALLY Know Funny...

...then dispense with the string of expletives, sexual references and the same, tired derogatory pokes at racial minorities, gays and women.  I dare you to try that, aspiring comic!  And yes, even you, famous comedian! 

I attended an evening event in DC where new and more experienced comedians gave short, several minute acts to a small audience of maybe 20+ people.  None were super amazing, but most had a few good jokes.  Two guys were great, personable and had original things to say that were also very funny.  All the other acts were replete with expletives and references to the same old things that I never have considered gut-busting funny, but were ok, worth a few laughs here and there.  Some of the acts came across as straight crude humor, or what I like to call caveman humor.

Yeah, and I'm female.  But that doesn't mean I don't find comedic expletives, sexual references and derogatorily-slanted jokes about gender, black/asian/hispanic/gay/lesbian people amusing, if the joke has been thought through and told right.  Caveman humor is enjoyable and hilarious if done well and sprinkled throughout an act tastefully.  And you do need some taste, even with a repertoire of tasteless jokes.  But when every other offering is one about sex, and every other comic swears like their life depends on how many "shits" they can let loose in a row, they lose their charm and their humor fast.  I'm not here to pay testament to your manliness.  Get over yourself and entertain me!  Of course someone's gotta be the butt of a joke, but it doesn't always have to be the same groups.  Saying "fuck" every other sentence, or going through a detailed pantomining of "pussy-checking" at an imaginary store in a world where women have been cloned from the waist down, isn't exactly the most hilarious thing you could be doing.  One person howling away in a corner (probably laughing only because she knew the aforementioned pantomimer on stage) does not a good joke make.  Faced with a long line of these types of jokes, they start to feel like very awkward, very obvious crutches to me and apparently most of the audience, what with the number of times the comics basically pleaded for audience laughter outright over the course of the evening.

So to most comics out there: stop relying on these topics alone.  It really makes you sound desperate.  Try using more jokes that anyone can relate to without having to look around for permission before laughing, stories that cross gender/racial/sexual orientation borders.  Parental issues.  Family issues.  Money.  Jobs.  Traffic.  Internet.  Lawns.  Culture clashes.  Make fun of a different group for a change.  Let's have some equal opportunity mockage!  Not that I'm a prude, not that I'm a feminazi, or can't relate to crude humor or racial jokes.  It just isn't that funny anymore, because everyone does them already.  They're tried, they're old, and I want to be amused and entertained.  Give me clever, give me unusual, give me a new way of phrasing an old joke, or dare to provoke some thinking, and only then will it have the potential to be a damn good show.

Also, dear comic, do you sometimes wonder why people laugh automatically at some things, or find certain people or situations amusing without any effort?  It's among my random musings.  I've heard it said that laugher is a social/biological response to awkward or embarrassing situations, and so it may be.  So if I laugh at you acting out some sex act on stage, or chuckle at you describing in soft-porn detail what you did to your girlfriend last doesn't actually mean I thought it was that funny.  (This goes for you too, Dane Cook!)  Most of it is for your effort...some is to join in with the crowd, and perhaps the rest is just letting that automatic silence-filler laugh come through because face it, we automatically laugh at many awkward situations.  But laughter doesn't necessarily equal appreciation.  Caveman jokes really don't impress me much.  It takes very little imagination to come up with, very little imagination on the part of the audience, and so I find it equals very little actual funniness for me.  Call it a cheap thrill.  Every time I see people laughing at graphic sexual jokes, I wonder how many are laughing because they honestly, truly found it funny.

It's also interesting how sensitive comics can be to racial jokes.  One person told several jokes about Vietnamese and Chinese people, and I noticed they were a bit more toned down than they could have been, at least compared to what you could say were some extremely offensive jokes from a feminist perspective (and even if you aren't a feminist, you might be able to see how a bald portrayal of women as body parts to be bought and sold might be just a tad insulting).  You never know who might be sitting in that audience...  (There was indeed at least one person of Viet and Chinese heritage that night.  Represent!)

And on a last note, it's always amusing when pseudo-science is dragged on stage, told by a non-scientist to a roomful of non-scientists.  Now I understand why good science writing is so important.  The authority with which the comic spoke of the unquestionable results of a recent  "cell-phone brain cancer study" was painfully amusing in a different way than the caveman jokes.

But overall it was an enjoyable evening, and I give those comics much credit for standing up in front of a roomful of strangers, just trying to make everyone laugh.  But if they'd like to help one audience member really laugh, and not just out of politeness, accept her dare to the caveman!  Evolve!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Back to school...I wish?

You know that feeling.

It comes when the summer foliage's just starting to crinkle, and a few overeager leaves have already taken the plunge. The wind's a bit sharper and everything has a hint of the sweet smell of dried grass. There's a spark, a crackle when I step outside, and just the tang of the air carries with it a sense of purpose.

Only problem is, the root of that purpose appears to have passed without warning. Gone are the days of rushing between classes, done are the days of staring at the clock and waiting for a lunch break, finished are those long-ago moments of trading of drug-dealer TI-83 programs and playing chicken with my GPA. And did I mention learning some occasionally cool stuff in-between?

Yeah, I'm really, actually referring to Back To School time. It's probably just me, but despite the reluctance of leaving those long slacking days of summer vacation behind, preparing for school and getting into a new school year is something I've now discovered I enjoyed. Back in the day, I'd organize my plastic binder (TrapperKeeper, anyone?), stick those little white donut-shaped protectors over the torn holes of my folders with the amazing paintings of space and underwater 'scapes, label my stack of spiral-ring notebooks and organize everything in my backpack. I'd note when all the exams and big assignments were in my planner once I got each course syllabus (which would eventually vanish), and write down my daily class schedule several times so I wouldn't forget. Never mind that organization, as always, is futile, and soon my backpack would be stuffed full of wrinkled assignments and candy wrappers and pencil lead and linty tissues. I loved reading a book beneath my desk during a boring lecture. Though tests kicked my butt more often than I kicked theirs, that occasional ace was a high. I liked having a collection of finished essays and assignments at the end of a school year because if not for that deadline, I'd just have a bunch of beginnings with no end. I mean, I'm pretty much writing the equivalent of a "Coming of Age" prompted English essay right now. What the hell is wrong with me?

This has got to be the most obvious embodiment of the saying, "distance makes the heart grow fonder." Do I really miss homework? No. Do I really miss exams? Absolutely not. Pulling crap out of thin air artfully for acceptable bs-ing on assignments? ....maybe. Having to get up before the sun at times to make it to class? Definitely !affirmative.

But what I do miss is that sense of community, of belonging to a class going through the same annoyances and professor-induced torture, of having expectations and being able to fulfill them. Completion. Almost instant gratification. Deadlines. Yes, I said deadlines. Freedom is beautiful, but only if you're the type able to whip yourself out of procrastinatory vegetation to do some unidentified task your brain keeps feeling that you should be doing. It's especially beautiful if you can squelsh that restless need to always be doing something, in which case I envy you your happy-slacker spirit...

It's not that I don't appreciate stability, free time, the power to be my own scheduler and timekeeper. I still do on the currently rare occasion when life is truly hectic. Yet normally, when things are slow and calm and predictable, motivation to do all those things I had been dying to do but put off when I was busy takes a bow and exits, stage left. Boredom can trigger creative muses, but having periods of busyness provides the basis for their inspiration.

This will be my second fall of no classes, no backpack, no textbooks. No assignments, no multitasking, few real timelines, no real guidelines. It's Back To School no more, that's all, folks! And I have to say, sometimes I'm a little wistful. School wasn't a piece of cake, but it was mine to have and sometimes nibble on.
And really, it's not school that I miss, but that strong sense of immediate purpose that buzzes on September air. Back in high school, physics class taught the fundamental truth that human beings aren't speed detectors; they're acceleration detectors. We can be hurtling through life at a breakneck pace, but if it's a constant breakneck pace, it gets old. Crawling along leisure-like for long periods also gets my great surprise. This must be why people have mid-life crises; their brain is screaming for change, some novel stimuli, a new knot to untie, a new goal to direct themselves towards.

So you know the feeling, right?

Ok, so probably normal people don't. Normal people have a solid goal they chip away at, day by day, until they end up with a product, a skill, a purpose. But something about my current situation makes my final goal something more like a fuzzy star on the horizon, elusive, tantalizing and frustratingly intangible. I'm not quite sure how to get there, how long the travel time will be, and not a clue what to do once I arrive.

This just means I've now realized it's time to stop whining and put that sense of purpose to use.
And my next goal is finding me a piece of oily rectangular pizza and a little pint of chocolate milk with a straw and a snac-pac of chocolate pudding so I can properly wallow in my mental regression.

Just for tonight.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Ants are fascinating creatures. In fact, up close, the average little worker is rather cute. The long waving antennae, her preening cleanliness, the delicate little legs, the stubble dotting her shiny exoskeleton, and on some of the little household ants I have ample experience with, the almost iridescent honey-colored stripes ringing her abdomen lend a touch of class. All in all a docile, pixie-like being, silent and subtle.

As a kid I used to dream of catching a newly mated queen and setting up an ant colony in my room. I remember building one of those flat, rectangular little wood and plastic houses for them, and even once nabbing some larvae and workers beneath these large gray bricks lining our garden. I got up early for a week to stare into the little world I made for them because the moment I was conscious, I'd think to myself, "I wonder what the ants are doing!" and killed any chance of further sleep. Once I captured a winged queen and kept her in a plastic tube with honey and a damp sponge, and she even laid eggs which started to develop into babies. But then she died and my hopes of my very own ant kingdom were crushed. The dream lives on, though. Even now when I imagine a collection of little wiggling ant larvae, I get all excited.


...en masse, roving uncontrolled inside your house, ants are disgusting and horrifying in their relentless, mindless swarming, searching and crawling. Their little marching lines across your carpet, across your desk, across your 19 inch LCD screen while you're trying to watch a movie...yeah, that's going a bit far, you little beasts! Time to get out that EDIBLE DEATH and give your Queen a meal to remember. Or better yet, not remember because she'll be DEAD.

One of my personal heroes, the physicist Richard Feynman (and no, he's not my personal hero because he won the Nobel Prize and is a nerdly stud, but rather because he's brilliant yet down-to-earth, disrespects authority, challenges rules, picks locks and isn't afraid to admit he's wrong, though being a decorated nerd certainly ups his awesome factor) has shared the non-violent way in which he rid his house of ants. He basically ferried them on a piece of paper for hours from one point in their chemical scent path to another point, effectively rerouting their advances without killing a single one. A remarkable feat of science, patience and a noble regard for the ant's life.

Unfortunately for me, I'll never be a nobel laureate, and I have no patience to spare when a relentless army of hunger is marching on my kitchen. Do you know how quickly those little suckers can eat in force? I probably overdid the combination of ant bait and scattered offerings of 20 Mule Team Borax (quite effective as claimed by countless other ant-pestered internet folks), but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I thought they would never go away. They kept wandering around my carpet, climbing around my keyboard, and I never saw one enter the baits, though they did form undulating feeding lines around the molasses and borax mix I spread around the door where they were entering. Eat, my pretties. Eat it all...

Now it's been maybe a month since the poison was first set out. Finally, I'm free from the tickly honor of having several ants wander up my arm while typing at the computer. A lone ant meandered across my desk the other day, but I let her be. I think their leader is dead, so she's safe as the lone survivor. Perhaps the army of darkness will return again in the spring, but for now, I can think happy thoughts about wriggling ant babies without wishing death and doom upon their transparent little heads.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

To all my fellow grad students...

...and all those now toiling and who have toiled in the great black hole of science, this one's for you!

I Will Survive (Grad School)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Basic Lasik

Curious what getting lasered in the eyes feels like, and if anyone other than Tiger Woods endorses it?

Do you happen to know what an ophthalmic speculum is? They look like thin metal tongs, and you're going to get each arm of one shoved between your eyelids and your eyeball while you're awake. It'll leave two nice red spots on your sclera and make your eyelids puffy and feeling bruised for a few days. But the good news? That's probably the most physical discomfort you'll end up with, providing you TAKE YOUR PAINKILLERS ON TIME.

But from the beginning now...

My venue was a newly opened clinic in northern New York; the fam drove up in the middle of a snowy Northeast winter to get me lasered. It struck me as a chain operation from the look of the waiting room, which was filled with industrial low black couches and offered paper cups of cheap (but what can you say, it's free!) coffee. You'd think for a thousand bucks an eye (and that was a grand opening 50% discount deal, too) they'd be able to afford better refreshments for their sheep, but now that I think about it, they didn't own the fancy lasik machine, but rented it from a company. Smart company.

I had been given a sheet of instructions, most of which were mundane and so I don't recall them anymore. Stuff like "wear the provided masks at night to avoid rubbing your eyes after the surgery" (or you might dislodge the just cut flaps in your corneas...) The one note that still stays with me is the painkiller notice. I had my ibprofen and took them in the waiting room. (Mistake!)

As a note of warning to people who may run into this situation during their lasik experience: before we signed the final paperwork, a girl took me and the folks into a side room and proceeded to market a "special" lasik procedure that would cost quite a bit more, with better promised results. Being practical, penny-pinching Asian parents and more importantly, ones that don't take any scare tactic bullshit, they declined. Admittedly, the girl, aka sales rep, had me going for a bit - at this point I was minorly freaked and pretty much prepared to come out of this procedure blinded for life - but after some private discussion, the science and cost of the procedure didn't compute. Basically, the claim was that the "basic" procedure only hit a particular diameter of lens, and once your eye dilates in low light levels, there will be uncorrected regions of lens interfering with the corrected vision you get from the lasered diameter. The question, of course, is how much are you willing to pay for 20-20 poor resolution black and white rod vision anyway? If your pupils are dilated that much, there probably isn't much to see. Needless to say, having gotten the "basic" lasik, I still have fine night vision; admittedly some transparent, smeary "light ghosts" (google "ghosting" in conjunction with "lasik" or "vision") pop up every now and again beside bright lights in very dim places, but it's nothing that's affected my quality of nighttime navigation.

When my turn at the laser came, they put numbing drops in my eyes that dilate the pupils and made everything too bright (and me look stoned, apparently). They tapped the surface of each eye to make sure it was properly anesthetized. It's quite weird to be behind those eyes as they're tapped. You see the world ripple but feel nothing.

Properly numbed up and drugged up (for now, anyway), I lay down on a dentistesque chair and the guy propped open my eyelids. Yep, with those speculums. Lovely little things.

I don't recall the exact sequence of events as the actual lasiking began, but there was a lot of "stare straight ahead," "focus on the red light", "don't move your eyes" and seeing the underside of the guy's sleeve and the equipment. I felt nothing throughout this, besides the niggling discomfort of having your eyelids constantly pulled open and not being able to blink. There was a pulling pressure when they used a piece that reminded me of a microscope lens that fit around the cornea, and presumably cut the flap.

When the flap was pulled back, my vision naturally got weird and the red light I had been looking at broke up into strange watery little red lights. What was quite amazing was somewhere during the procedure, they pressed on my eye and left me temporarily looking at complete blackness filled with little sparks of red, green and blue dots. That was quite fascinating, though they warned me ahead of time in case such things freak me out. They don't, so long as it's temporary.

When the laser was doing its thing, it sounded a little like a mini machine gun: a series of small punching noises. They had said it smells like burning hair; I thought it smelled more like a dentist drill. No pain.

When the lasering was over and the cornea flap was replaced over my eye, that miracle happened. Already I was able to see things much more clearly through that eye, and no healing had even begun yet.

Repeat with the second eye. All while the family was gawking at the entire procedure on a tv screen outside the procedure room. I think that was the most awkward part of the whole thing.

My vision got cloudier not long after the procedure was over; I assume cells were dying and would have to regenerate for me to regain my transparent corneas again. Everything in the dimmed recovery room was cloudy but also sharp. And confusing, just like the previous statement. Before we left, there was a lot of warning about not rubbing my eyes, not getting them wet, wearing sunglasses during the day and an eye protector at night, and using a series of eye drops religiously to avoid infection and dryness.

By the time I got outside, the pain hit with the force of a tornado to the face. Even through the agony, I recall noting the interesting fact that the pain came in cycles, like ow ow ow OW OW OW ow ow ow rather than a single long burning OOOOOOW. No idea why that might be, but all I remember was it was intense, it was relentless, it was mothereffin' BAD. I don't normally have a problem with pain, but this was really something else. Once a tiny gnat hit the surface of my eye during a bike ride, and that was enough to almost run me into a tree. That gnat-impacted eye burned for almost half an hour afterwards. This was the concerted screaming pain of two sliced and peeled back corneas and two burnt lenses. OW.


There was nonstop tearing all the way to the hotel, and even at the hotel it continued. I recall having several deathwishes when I crawled into bed and tried to ignore the unignorable. Eventually, finally, the painkillers I took way too late kicked in and I fell asleep.

The weeks after the procedure were annoying but uneventful. I used the drops, I didn't rub out my corneas and the fogginess cleared gradually. No real pain or discomfort besides some grainy sensations that didn't really bother me too much. While I saw halos around any bright lights up until probably 6 months after the procedure, I was able to start using my newfound vision pretty much from post-op Day 1.

One other major concern I had was how tired my eyes would be after getting this done. Having worn glasses for the past 20+ years of my life left them very achy, sore and painful often. Often after staring at a computer screen for umpteen hours. Only taking off my glasses and letting my eyes "rest" would alleiviate the soreness, and I was quite nervous that getting lasik would be the equivalent of gluing the glasses to my eyeballs, leaving my eyes perpetually tired and with no way to "revert" to the "natural" resting, but highly myopic state. I'm happy to say my eyes have not felt that level of tiredness after it was done, and there has been a noticeable lack of eye strain compared to when I wore glasses.

Thank the eye gods! Er, eye docs!

To state my biases outright:
--Would you recommend it? Yes, yes I would.
--How bad was your vision? Generally speaking , it was quite poor without my glasses, about -7.0 to -7.5 for both eyes. My crapulous vision made finding lost glasses without help, identifying people in the pool and reading anything further than a foot from my face well-nigh impossible. It had stabilized for a year or two before I got the procedure done (I was 21 when I was lasered).
--Did it hurt? Ohhhhhhh you betcha it can! My eyes were two flaming balls of searing pain incarnate for about 30 eternal minutes after the local anesthesia wore off. Do note, however, that this was entirely my own fault and would be easily avoided by taking systemic painkillers EARLY. Not 10 min before the procedure begins.
--How's your vision now? It's been over two years since the procedure. The last time I checked, my vision is 20-20 in one eye and 20-15 in the other. Might be a bit different now, but I don't notice it if it is.
--Any side/negative effects? For several months after the procedure, I saw oft-mentioned and somewhat dreaded "halos" around any bright light, especially in dim environments. They gradually vanished, though on a rare occasion nowadays they might reappear briefly, then my eyes do some strange refocusing thing and they clear out. I will sometimes see whispy ghost smears of bright light in dim places like subway tunnels even now, but overall my night vision remains good and I have so far not found myself debilitated in any way. I still drive on highways at night in the rain, I still stare at computer screens in dark rooms all the time and I can still see at 3am where the bathroom door is.
--Should I do it? If your glasses are so thick so your eyes look three times as small as they really are, if you can't or don't want to do contacts, if you can afford it and if you research your clinic so you don't end up blind from some quack, then based on my experience so far, I'd say go for it!