Cite, please.

Someone in one of my social networks posted a quote — “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle” — and attributed it to Plato. Even allowing for translation from ancient Greek, that doesn’t sound like Plato’s territory (like I would know), but it sent me in search of the original.

For those of you who care, I have been deploying this aphorism with greater frequency of late; life with a teenager will do that, especially when they get wound up about their persecution by this or that teacher, or the relative weirdness of this or that classmate. I hate to get all Hallmark on her, but it’s a useful observation that you don’t know what’s going on in another person’s life, that sometimes it expresses itself in persecution or weirdness, which underlines what I think should be the central message of parent to child at this time in their lives: It’s not about you, and it’s hardly ever about you, so chill.

In the past, I would trot off to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, a copy of which I own. Because I am crazy, and because I used to leaf through it when I was bored and stuck for inspiration. For the hell of it and the pre-internet thrill of it all, I just did. Not in there, which shoots the Plato attribution all to hell. So I turn to the mighty internet, and quickly bog down in the Straight Dope discussion boards, where smart people who know everything gather, and have already taken this one apart.

Not Plato. Probably Ian MacLaren, a Scottish author who left us in 1907.

It took more legwork, but part of me misses reference books. Dictionaries, thesauruses, reference grammars, Bartlett’s Familiar, etc. (Not “The Elements of Style.” I read Strunk & White, but I never picked it up again, and writers who hold it up like a beacon through the murky, wordy darkness get on my last goddamn nerve. It’s usually some twit in a bow tie. A useful text if you want to write like E.B. White, but not everyone does.) I miss them like I miss smoking — as a writer’s procrastination device. Stuck? Lean back, light a cigarette, think for a couple minutes. Or select one of your tomes and leaf through it for a minute or two, in search of le mot juste. In fact, there’s a book by that very title, Le Mot Juste, to help you find just the right foreign word or phrase to punctuate your essay. For writers who cannot afford George Will’s quote boy, it’s nice to have.

Perhaps my all-time favorite was “An Incomplete Education,” now in its umpteenth edition, which is a veritable internet full of interesting things you should have learned by now, but probably didn’t. The section on world religions alone is worth the cover price if, like me, your catechism class didn’t cover Zoroastrianism.

All are more or less obsolete in the age of Wikipedia and a billion websites as close as your laptop.

Do you have any favorite reference volumes? That you still use?

I’m running late today, so let’s get to the bloggage:

A nanny by profession, a photographer in her off hours, but she collected some amazing snaps from the streets of Chicago in the 1950s. Vivian Maier, the posthumous tribute.

Something I miss about being a columnist — pulling any old thing out of your ass, and getting it published:

America’s first black female secretary of state is quietly positioning herself to be the top choice of the eventual Republican presidential nominee, ready to deliver bona fide foreign-policy credentials lacking among the candidates. The 56-year-old has recently raised her profile, releasing her memoir in November and embarking on a monthlong book tour.

After 2 1/2 years as a professor at Stanford, Miss Rice is reportedly getting “antsy” to get back into the political game. “She’s ready to go,” said one top source.

Yes, it’s Condi-mania! Oh, and yes, nowadays I pull any old thing out of my ass and publish it, but I no longer get paid for it. Big difference.

I’ve become a fan of Ken Jennings’ Twitter stream. Yes, the “Jeopardy” champion. And you would, too:

BREAKING: Tim Tebow currently in the locker room watching a Bergman film, smoking Gauloises, contemplating “God’s awful silence.”

My phone just autocorrected “dreidels” into “strudels.” Strudels! That is just insult to injury.

Funny guy. OK, gotta run. Have a good one, all.

Posted at 10:56 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |

45 responses to “Cite, please.”

  1. Jolene said on December 20, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I’m a fan of the Jennings Twitter feed too. As you say, he’s a funny guy. His book is also supposed to be good. Have seen it on a couple of end-of-year “best” lists. Could be a good gift idea.

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  2. coozledad said on December 20, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Boopsie here could probably use a rhyming dictionary. Or one of those “I wish these were brains” T-shirts.

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  3. Jolene said on December 20, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Re reference books, I like The American Heritage Dictionary. It’s a big book, beautifully laid out, and it begins w/ a great essay by a usage panel assembled to make judgments as to the appropriateness of various ways of using particular words. Their discussions give rise to mini-essays that appear throughout the dictionary in which they discuss usage controversies and explain their judgments.

    It also has lots of small illustrations and photos in its wide margins.

    I already have two editions, but I see that there’s a new one that comes w/ an iPad app. This leads me to think I may need to buy myself a Christmas present.

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  4. Catherine said on December 20, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Two reference books that are within reach right now: Children’s Writer’s Word Book and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Robert’s Rules. The first is there for its thesaurus — so for instance when you want to use “resourceful,” a 5th grade word, but you’re writing for 2nd graders, it suggests “inventive.” The second is there because I clearly did not do enough student government or Model UN in high school.

    Didn’t have time to comment yesterday but wanted to add congratulations and best wishes! Benefits are beneficial (3rd grade word).

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  5. Julie Robinson said on December 20, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    The best graduation gifts I received were the dictionary and thesaurus, and for years that’s what I gave to new grads. Now it’s just a bookstore certificate with the hope they will go in and browse, touch, and look at some actual books. I still have my much-treasured compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the one with microscopic type and a magnifying glass in its own little drawer. The magnifying glass comes in handy.

    Mom spent about 15 years of her professional life at the library reference desk and it was fantastic continuing ed. She’d tell us about unusual facts or words she had looked up for patrons, and we would marvel at the amazing world out there. She also kept up the vertical file, which was the repository for thousands of pamphlets and maps. Kids used them for writing reports when they needed an additional resource beyond the encyclopedia. And remember the magazine index? Help me out librarians, I can’t recall its name.

    Jim at Sweet Juniper just posted an amazing weekend adventure he had rescuing a hawk. Well worth reading.

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  6. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Philo of Alexandria, isn’t it? Ah, I see it was the movie “Between Strangers” that began that misattribution. (Hangs head in shame.)

    I still use a rhyming dictionary, and concordances for Biblical citations, just because my eye & hand can move faster than a browser window and my internet connection. Plus occasional dips into my Oxford Companion of English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble. It’s just fun, and I jump around like I was . . . on the internet.

    edit: I use the Mitchell rhyming dictionary, for what it’s worth.

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  7. alex said on December 20, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    My old dictionaries have tattered bindings and loose pages and I never use them anymore anyway because I can google just about any unfamiliar word and get an answer instantly.

    Otherwise, I still swear by The Chicago Manual of Style whenever I’m writing or editing something formal enough to require it, which isn’t so often anymore. Because just about everything written/published these days comes out of somebody’s ass.

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  8. crinoidgirl said on December 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Julie, I think you’re talking about the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature.

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  9. Hank Stuever said on December 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    James Hall’s “Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art.” Seldom used, but smart to have. Likewise, “Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945,” John J.-G. Blumenson.

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  10. Julie Robinson said on December 20, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Yes! Thank you, crinoidgirl! That used to be the first place I’d look. What a sad thing is an aging brain.

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  11. David C. said on December 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    I love my compact OED (1991 version) – the whole 20 volumes crammed into one book in microscopic print. I found it at a used book store for $40 without the viewing lens. I found a viewing lens on e-bay for $20. It has most anything you would ever want to know.

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  12. Connie said on December 20, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    You still have a reference source that is equal to the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Your state database program – Inspire in Indiana, MEL in Michigan, includes something comparable to Reader’s Guide. I occasionally hear NPR sponsorship statements from Ebsco and Proquest. They are among the biggest vendors selling online equivalents to Readers Guide plus full text.

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  13. caliban said on December 20, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Condi’s memoirs failed to include any self-examination re: the Invasion.In fact, she comes out as a fairly energetic apologist for the most egregious foreign policy error in the history of the country that didn’t start with Eisenhower in SE Asia.

    I’ve got a compact OED, but it’s in two volumes with a third for errata and additions. Type is minute, but I can read it without magnification in a sunny window. Have a very old leather-bound Bartlett’s and read it occasionally. The Careful Writer is a superb reference, and I still leaf through Elements of Style every once in a while, for its unparalleled, well, style. More entertaining than Stuart Little. I also own a first edition of Mencken’s The American Language. As with many other indispensable reference works, the Mencken is available on line at Bartleby, which I imagine is more a source of pride for it’s father and proprietor than his human production, Matt fing Drudge.

    Old Henry Lewis’ rereading of the Declaration of Independence is worth the price of admission:

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  14. Dan B said on December 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    I love atlases, which I still find more useful and more compelling than the internet equivalents. And I am more likely to use a hard-copy dictionary than an internet one.

    My favorite reference books, though, are the ones with a real voice, which can lead to reading a bunch of other entries beyond the one you actually wanted. An Incomplete Education is one of those. I also love Fowler’s Modern English Usage (the original, not the one redone by other people). And used to browse Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable while waiting for books to arrive in a library I did research in, though I’ve never owned a copy.

    Not a fan of the thesaurus, which, from the student papers I’ve read, is more likely to make writing worse than better.

    Good riddance to the Reader’s Guide; that kind of indexing is far better done with computers. Even with the clunky interfaces that most of the databases have, they’re still infinitely more efficient than the paper volumes.

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  15. brian stouder said on December 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    My mother in law (who is a genuinely wonderful person) does her crossword puzzle every day, and absolutely wears out her crossword puzzle dictionary, over the course of a year.

    The thing is, she has added many (many) words to its text over the years, and it is therefore pretty much irreplaceable.

    Aside from that, here’s a fun fact I read today. You know how Russia is very well-stocked with natural resources like oil, and therefore has a huge petroleum industry?

    The consensus is – they spill at least 1% of all they handle, every year.

    So if you see a million-gallon tank, figure that they lose 10,000 gallons every time it is filled; or a 50 million gallon super-tanker represents 500,000 spilled gallons, everytime they fill it.

    Another example of why the United States should do away with job-killing regulations and environmental protection, and just let the robber barons run the world.

    (just ask Newtie patootie, or Cooz’s racist college girl [upthread])

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  16. moe99 said on December 20, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    quite a Christmas story from Sweet Juniper:

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  17. Rana said on December 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    The Chicago Manual of Style, hands down. The online version is more expensive, and not conducive to propping up beside the computer for digital editing, or on the arm of my chair when editing hard copy. Plus I have the honor of knowing the indexer who indexed the thing; she is both a bona fide Indexing God and a down-to-earth woman with a great sense of humor.

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  18. brian stouder said on December 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    See, now there’s a possible book title…

    God’s Down to Earth Index Finger

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  19. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Why have I been humming all day “strudel, strudel, strudel, I made it out of clay; strudel, strudel, strudel, I eat it every day”?

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  20. Jolene said on December 20, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Last week’s news: For one more especially good take on Christopher Hitchens, it’s worth a look at what James Fallows has to say and also following the links in his piece. As always, Ta-Nehisi Coates digs deep and faces straightforwardly the truth re the mass of contradictions that is human nature–and does some/ great eloquence.

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  21. Jolene said on December 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Today, the Post published an essay by, of all people Bruce Springsteen. The essay introduces Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression, a new book chronicling our hard times. Photos by the brilliant Michael Williamson and text by Dale Maharidge. Good for anyone who’d like a depressing Christmas present.

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  22. Peter said on December 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Chicago Manual of Style for me, or as I call it, the Turabian. We had to buy those freshman year of high school and I still use mine. In fact, last year my son got marked down on an english essay because the teacher said that he didn’t capitalize Constitutional Monarchy – my son copied the appropriate page and slapped it on his desk.

    I love atlases as well. And sorry Nancy, but I still like my Strunk and White.

    CIA World Factbook is pretty good.

    Oh, and for you construction types out there, Architectural Graphic Standards – I can’t remember if it’s the fourth or fifth edition that was all hand drawn/lettered.

    And Nancy, geeks like me knew Zoroastrianism because of 2001 and Also Sprach Zarathustra…

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  23. Peter said on December 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Oh, and I forgot – Chicago Magazine did a profile on Vivian Maier – in my book she’s pretty close to Henry Darger, in more ways than one.

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  24. Bitter Scribe said on December 20, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Thank you for dissing “The Elements of Style,” which has to be the most overrated reference work in history.

    My one indispensible reference is my Cassell’s French-English Dictionary. I splurged a few years ago and got the deluxe version, and it was worth every franc. (Outdated reference, I know.) It has context, examples and all sorts of other handy hints.

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  25. Jolene said on December 20, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Yes, hooray for the CIA Factbook. Such a great source for finding out all sorts of things about faraway places. A great resource.

    I never had much to do w/ Strunk & White. It just never entered my life until I’d (mostly) learned its lessons elsewhere. But there’s another, more sophisticated text about writing that I learned a great deal from myself and used as the main text in undergrad and graduate classes of students aiming to work as writers of many sorts. Called Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, it’s more a textbook than a reference book, but it repays careful reading even if you don’t do the exercises. Definitely a text for grown-up writers striving to write clearly about complicated topics, and written w/ a sly wit. Also, it’s short and can be read in small chunks.

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  26. caliban said on December 20, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    CIA factbook is ridiculously great. And pardon me but EB White is more erudite than any Stylebook. It is a written piece of style, unlike some ecitor’s wilful bullshit. Stylebook? Check ’em all on the subject of redheads. Nobody of those editors actually had a clue about Bonnie Raitt, so they are ful of shit on the subject. Nor my mom. My dad’s favorite redhead. Auburn hair actually, and we were brought up on the Animal Faire. My mom was perfectly happy to be the big baboon in the light of the moon, combing her auburn hair. She was actually gorgeous. A beautiful woman that stood out for her children. When things get right down to it, My family is more or less split between Giants and Jets. Jets suck because they have a dogass QB.

    So redhead or red-haired? Let’s stand for good writing. Redhead flows. This is a no=brainer. All of you Game of Shadows fans. Have you ever seen anything like the little guy in The Station Agent? Damn. Peter Dinklage is a good actor. He is little. And he doan give a shit. He is just a good actor.

    Bartleby is amazing on-line. And Matt Drudge is one of the most astounding liars in the history of the net. Would somebody shoot that fedora off his moron skull? This asshole makes shit up like it is going out of style.

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  27. alex said on December 20, 2011 at 6:38 pm


    I knew I’d read about Vivian Maier before and Chicago Magazine was where. It has an expanded gallery of images, should anyone want to see more.

    There was another Chicago artist who became discovered posthumously some years ago, though I can’t recall the name, but he’d led a sheltered life and painted very surreal pictures of women with men’s genitalia because he didn’t know any better. That was some interesting work.

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  28. caliban said on December 20, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Still a shot for Sarah?

    I’d vote for Angela Davis first, if some Teabanger put an over/under Mosberg to my head. I don’t know dick about guns, but what I know from reading The Second Coming. I would have liked to hear a God debate between Hitchens and Walker Percy, his intellectual and literary superior. Over drinks with albumen involved. CS Lewis vs. GB Shaw. God wins. And laughs his ass off. God is logical.

    And Elements of Style is not proscriptive in any way. It’s a brilliant, beautifully written guidebook. And EB was right about just about everything, including serial commas.

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  29. David in Chicago said on December 20, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Clement Wood’s rhyming dictionary – I’ve always liked the way it’s organized, by vowel sound/ending consonant. If it’s good enough for Stephen Sondheim (it’s his preferred rhyming dictionary), it’s good enough for me.

    And one other: The Reader’s Companion to American History – I bought it 20 years ago, probably, but it still helps out if I need a quick overview of the politicking behind the ratification of the Constitution or the career of Henry Kissinger. Not much help on Clinton/Lewinsky, but I was around for that….

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  30. David in Chicago said on December 20, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    And I almost forgot: Nancy, best wishes and congratulations on the new gig!

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  31. Dorothy said on December 20, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Speaking of pulling things out of one’s ass, I had a colonoscopy today, and I’m glad to report all is well. And moe, I was checking my phone on the way to the procedure and found the Sweet Juniper entry. I read it out loud to my husband as we zipped down the road. It was a lovely distraction, even if it was temporary.

    Man but am I having a hard time shaking off the anesthesia. I’m just a big dumb zombie this afternoon and evening. Time to hit the pillows for me.

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  32. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 20, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    Alex, that’s Henry Darger. Truly an outsider artist, but now his one-room apartment is recreated in a Chicago modern art museum (or was until a few years ago, can’t recall if it was a special exhibit or not).

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  33. MarkH said on December 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Completely normal for that, Dorothy. No matter what anyone says about, “Oh, I just went right back to work; nothin’ to it”, don’t believe it. When I had mine five years ago, my boss said I could come right back to work because he did and was just fine. He looked like s***, no pun intended, and acted like it, too. Relax, veg out and you’ll be just like new tomorrow.

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  34. Deborah said on December 20, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Julie that Sweet Juniper link was amazing. We see lots of hawks out here in New Mexico, so I can relate.

    Today we went to Taos to shop and meet with a contractor for building in Abiquiu. I love Taos, I didn’t always love it, it’s an acquired taste. At first I thought it was so tacky, but now I just love its very tackiness, so hard to explain. It has a majestic natural surrounding which can’t be discounted.

    There was quite a bit of snow where we are staying yesterday, in the morning we took our normal walk but ended up going less than half the way but feeling 3 times the effort. Walking in deep snow is quite a workout, we were all sweating profusely.

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  35. Julie Robinson said on December 20, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Dorothy, that stuff they give you takes a while to wear off, but I didn’t get any sleep the night before due to the (ahem) ongoing prep work. I hope you got a good report, after Mike’s earlier diagnosis.

    Someone out there is making robocalls in favor of Hillary Clinton running for President:

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  36. Sue said on December 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Popping in to offer my congratulations to you on your new job, Nancy. Good for you.
    Nancy invited us all over to her new blog – let’s not forget where we are if we do! Otherwise, if people forget which blog we’re reading and commenting on, and it’s anything like the comment thread of a few days ago, Nancy will find herself hauled into her boss’s office to explain why her commenters are talking about Tony Bennett’s misplaced dick.

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  37. Dorothy said on December 20, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Julie – Mike had his 1-year follow up scope last Monday and we got an outstanding report – he’s healed beautifully from last year and he was clean as a whistle (are whistles really all that clean?!) through and through. They gave me a good report today, too, so we’re feeling pretty lucky these days.

    MarkH – I had my first one about 9 years ago and I really did feel fine afterwards. I remember going to a deli in Cincinnati right after and eating a corned beef sandwich with no problem and felt quite spry. This time I grimaced all the way home in the car and then I’ve been very slug-like since I got home. Hot tea, toast and a bowl of soup (and some gradual deflation of the stomach, ahem) made me feel much better. After a good night’s sleep I expect to be back to my old self.

    (DAMN Sue – I missed that Tony Bennett reference – I’ll have to look for that tomorrow!)

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  38. Sue said on December 20, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Dorothy, Nancy’s band of merry pranksters now have Tony’s dick calling to him from high on a hill in San Francisco, right where he left it, I presume.
    I was laughing so hard when I read the song suggestions I couldn’t see the screen.
    But you see how we might get Nancy in trouble, just by being our usual selves.

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  39. brian stouder said on December 20, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Dorothy – hearing that all went well for you is a very nice Christmas present for us.

    You know, I thought the whole colonoscopy experience was somewhat over-rated. I was most concerned about the night-before thing, and that was really no big deal. (other then a bit of nausea from all the stuff they make you ingest)

    As for the procedure itself, the experience was exactly like watching a dvd that skips.

    Pam and I went to the appointment, and after changing out of my clothes and into the gown, and then being rolled into a noticeably colder room, one of the people stuck an IV needle into the back of my hand, and we were bantering about this and that*, and then she turned on whatever drug they use for painkilling.

    I rolled to the right, and Pam asked me to lift my arms, as she was helping me get my clothes back on; I have no memory of anything at all – including any sense of the passage of time – between the beginning of the drug injection and that moment back in the recovery area.

    I vaguely recall heading back to Pam’s car. She tells me we stopped at Best Buy on the way home – I had no recollection of that…until she mentioned that I wanted to see one of those fans that have no blades, and Best Buy had one on display. When she told me that, I suddenly remembered that sliver of that experience, but nothing more.

    In fact, the doctor specifically told us ahead of time NOT to go back to work, as one would make decisions and so on, and not remember them.

    All in all, the experience caused no more discomfort than, say, a platelet donation.

    *Apparently, when they drugged me I was a chatter-box; Pam said I had a big discussion with the medical people about soda pop, when they offered me a drink and then only offered me water or juice.

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  40. Jolene said on December 20, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Isn’t anesthesia amazing? I still marvel about my experience w/ epiglottitis, when I was out cold for more than two days. It’s mind-boggling that they can turn off part of your brain and body and keep the rest of it running. You have to wonder how all this was figured out. Makes me think I should read a book about the history of anesthesia. I’d guess there’s quite a loss ratio in laboratory animals.

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  41. Dexter said on December 21, 2011 at 2:19 am

    Shaking shivering freezing with the heat cranked up.
    How did I get sick seventy-two hours before we leave for Christmas in Columbus?
    One simple book I reference frequently is “Mr. President-The Presidents in American History 1789-1980” by Charles A.Beard with an update by William Beard.

    I blog regularly with some history nuts and I need a little refresher once in a while. A little while ago a discussion broke out regarding all that was happening during the administration of Grover Cleveland. When I was a kid and had to learn an outline of American history, it was boring and I basically just memorized a few events and then forgot about them. As an adult, however, sometimes digging back into time is just fascinating.
    Now I am being egged-on, by a peace activist and an old army resister to write a memoir of my time touring the US southland and then going into the army , into California for a year and then a year in Vietnam. Another guy says he knows how to get it published. Yeah. Right. A vanity book! Ha!

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  42. brian stouder said on December 21, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Jolene, it was an amazing thing, indeed; almost spooky. Gave me a whole new appreciation for “date rape” drugs and the like; I was up and around and operating – and yet not conscious (if we define consciousness as the uninterrupted narrative of our lives). Aside from how the heck drugs like these were developed, an interesting little book I read sometime ago is called Demon Under the Microscope, which explored the development of antibiotics and the like, early in the 20th century (especially around the first World War, by the Germans at Bayer); a fascinating book, and yet another that I was lead to by C-SPAN’s Book TV

    Dexter – I think it was about 54 degrees at 7 am this morning, when the girls and I headed for the bus; and I betcha it’ll be 35 degrees colder within a 72 hours. I’ve had a chest cold (or something) since I-don’t-know-when.

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  43. Connie said on December 21, 2011 at 9:21 am

    One year bowl ban for Ohio State.

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  44. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 21, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Oh, the pain at the dentist’s office this morning. The not-quite-inaudible music system lived down to stereotype, offering up a strings, flute, & alto sax version of “American Pie,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” And I can’t get them out of my head.

    My teeth are fine.

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  45. jcburns said on December 21, 2011 at 9:54 am

    The elevator music versions of Steely Dan are a particular crime against humanity.

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