Teaching

Okay, pop quiz! No seriously. I’ve already talked about my love of anatomy and my love of comic books. When I used to teach the class, I was able to combine the two in the form of test questions that would be an endless source of amusement to my students. Not really, but one can dream. So, here’s a few questions for you. Answers are at the end.

  1. Doctor Midnight has his hands full looking after the Justice League and today is no different as he assesses Wonder Woman and her swollen hand. “That must have been some punch,” he says, holding up an x-ray, “ you have a boxer’s fracture, a fracture of the 4th and 5th metacarpal bones.”With your physiology, you’ll heal in no time, but it’ll still be painful, because you have some important muscular attachments there. Do you know what they are?”

Wonder Woman’s correct reply would be:
A) “By Hera’s Bodice, the flexor carpi ulnaris attaches there!”
B) “By Zeus’ codpiece, that’s where the the extensor digitorum attaches!”
C) “By all the popcorn shrimp in Poseidon’s galley, the extensor carpi radialis has an attachment there!”
D) “Oh, I’m just a girl. How would I know of such things?”

2) Hannibal loves it when a plan comes together, but it doesn’t always come together the way one plans. That what he was thinking as they go visit Face in the hospital. The surgery to remove the bullet was a success, but now Face is complaining about his eye. “I’m glad to be out of surgery, but now it feels like I have something in my eye all the time. It’s all gritty and watering. I can’t run a con like this.”
Hannibal pats him on the back. “Ah, it’s just a corneal abrasion, Face. Man up, you’ll be fine in a few days.”
“That’s easy for you to say. It’s driving me nuts. I just want to scratch my eyes all the time.”
Which one of the following would be the most appropriate response from Mr. T?

A) “Well, don’t scratch it, fool! That sensation travels along the oculomotor nerve to the Edinger-Westphal nucleus. You’ll mess up your pupillary reflex!”
B) “Stop it with all your jibber jabber! If you scratch that, the sensation will travel through the facial nerve and you’ll develop ptosis.”
C) “I pity the fool that don’t know the sensations of the cornea travel through the trigeminal nerve!”
D) “You’d be a fool to scratch your eyes! Your watery eyes would overload the nerve signals travelling through the optic nerves themselves!”

3) It was a rousing game of quidditch, but now Harry Potter is in Hogwart’s medical center, along with Ron and Hermione. “Oh, why can’t they pad those broomsticks a little better?” moans Harry, clutching his groin.
“Just try and not move around too much. They said your pubic bone is fractured.” Ron offered, obviously uncomfortable with Harry’s anguish.
“That’s going to affect every muscle in the adductor compartment of the thigh.” Hermione observed.
“No, it bloody will not!” Ron countered, “the adductor magnus has a different attachment.”
“Well, here comes Professor Snape. Let’s ask him who’s right.”

What is Professor Snape’s answer?

A) “Oddly enough, Ron is correct for once; the adductor magnus has no attachment to the pubic bone.”
B) “You’re both wrong; only the gracillis, adductor longus and the pectineus have attachments to the pubic bone.”
C) “Hermione, as annoying as she is, is right. All the adductor muscles of the thigh have attachments to the pubic bone. Young Harry here is in for a world of pain.”
D) “Leave me alone, you vile, little children. It is the posterior compartment of the thigh that has attachments to the pubic bone.”

4) Finn drew his sword and leveled it at the Ice King. “Let Princess Kandy Korn go, Ice King, or we’ll have to get rough with you.”
“Ha, I’d like to see you try.” said the frosty monarch, “I’ve enchanted my castle. You can’t get in without answering a question.”
“Name it! What’s your question?We’ll answer it and then rescue the princess.”
“Alright, smarty pants! Tell me which one of the following nerves is a nerve of the sacral plexus. Is it the genitofemoral, the iliohypogastric, the obturator or the pudendal nerve?”

What is Jake’s (let’s face it, Finn and Jake always take on the Ice King together) answer?

A) “Aw, come on. That’s an easy one, man. It’s the pudendal nerve. Totally lame question.” 
B) “That’s a trick question, ya big dummy. None of those nerve come from the sacral plexus.”
C) “Everyone knows it’s the genitofemoral nerve, dude. Now quit rustling our jimmies and let the princess go.” 
D) “What? You think ‘cause I’m a dog, I don’t know human anatomy? It’s the obturator nerve, ya stinker.”

I love teaching. For me, teaching is like telling people, “Hey, I know this really cool thing. Let me share it with you!” The first time I realized this was right after I had earned my black belt in Kenpo Karate. One of my instructors came up to me and started talking me up. Dominic, you seem to really know your stuff, you have a great ability to relate this material to others, you have a natural talent for this, how would you like to be in charge of teaching some of your own classes? I leapt at the opportunity. Great, he said, you’re in charge of all the kids’ classes. Open the studio at 8AM next Saturday.

I knew I had been conned, he hated teaching kids, but I didn’t care. I was an instructor. I don’t know how I did it, I was only 18 at the time, and completely inexperienced, but I knew enough to make it fun. The parental units weren’t paying us to turn their children into deadly kung fu masters, they wanted an hour of peace and quiet while we tired their little darlings out. The youngest student I’ve taught was 2 ½ years old and the oldest, when I started teaching all the classes, was around 60. I co-ran a studio in Concord, NH for about 2 years, before leaving to go out to school in California.

After that, I tutored calculus, chemistry and anatomy in college, earned a teaching fellowship in medical school and taught anatomy for 8 years at a naturopathic medical school. Whatever form it has taken, I have always found teaching to be one of the most gratifying activities I have ever known. The experience of being able to expand one’s understanding of a subject is indescribable, and I am eternally grateful that I have been able to do this. It’s tough to judge one’s self, but the feedback I have received about my teaching has been for the most part favorable. I attribute this to two techniques I use while teaching. I’ve already said the first one, keep it fun. The second is to use stories.

As humans, we have an innate affinity for stories. We remember them better than just dry facts and figures, and they attach a narrative to knowledge imparted this way that allows one to extrapolate upon this knowledge better. If I just tell my class that the gluteus medius muscle is innervated by the superior gluteal nerve, how the hell are they supposed to remember that? But, if I talk about the police officer I knew, who shot herself in the ass, damaging her superior gluteal nerve, now walked with a limp and had a positive Trendelenburg’s sign, well that’s a story to remember. This story describes the innervation to the gluteus medius, as well as the action of the muscle and the physical exam finding (positive Trendelenburg sign) if there is dysfunction. If I can get the students themselves to come up with a story that relates to them personally, then I know the knowledge will stick with them, though I truly hope all of my students’ superior gluteal nerves are intact.

But, enough about teaching; how about them answers:

  1. A
  2. C
  3. C
  4. A

Keep Your Eyes on the Seatbelt Sign

I make up songs all the time. My wife does it, too, thankfully, because if she didn’t I’d probably drive her nuts. It’s often unconscious, I’ll simply sing something instead of say it. “I’m going to pick up the milk.” “I gotta go to work.” “David’s coming to dinner tomorrow night.” Almost any phrase can be sung instead of spoken. I know I’m not alone in this, although, admittedly, I have not met anyone other than my wife who does this. Many are the times that I considered writing jingles for commercials, but I have no idea how one would go about breaking into that field.

One of the drawbacks to this idiosyncrasy is that I am highly susceptible to earworms. An earworm is defined as “a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.” It could be anything, a song, a jingle, the theme song of a television show, if it’s got a tune, it can stick in my head for weeks. It’s one of the reasons that, despite being a hardcore Star Trek fan, I couldn’t watch the TV show Enterprise. Note to television producers, a theme song should never have lyrics. One time, I made the mistake of visiting the website www.tunnelsnakes.com. If you are as susceptible as I am, I will warn you right now, DO NOT visit that site. I would wake up hearing that song for months. It would not leave and almost drove me insane. Perhaps it did; who am I to judge?

This background sets the scene for the creation of my latest song. Or earworm, because I hear it in my head all the time. It should be noted that I hate flying. The whole process makes me feel like livestock being herded and then trapped in a tiny seat for hours. I can feel the impatience and anxiety of every passenger on the plane. The last time I flew, it was a short flight, but there was some delay on the tarmac and we sat around for what felt like forever. As I sat, stewing in my seat, trying to distract myself with a book, the pilot’s voice droned over the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. We’ll try to have you disboarding as soon as we can. In the meantime, please stay seated with your seatbelts fastened. Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign above and, when it turns off, you’ll be free to move around the cabin.”

It was so bland and rote that it was little more than background noise. Not a single one of the weary, jaded passengers even gave it notice. Everyone, except an energetic, five-year old girl. I can’t imagine how much pent up energy she had inside her, but, right after that message, she leapt up onto her seat, eyes sparkling and fists clenched tight and chanted, “Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign! Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign! Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign!”

That’s all it took. I hear that little girl’s chant, like some punk rock anthem, playing in my head so frequently that it feels like my theme song. The tone is some combination of Rage Against the Machine ferocity and the upbeat poppiness of Pretty Reckless. I made it into a fuller song in a futile effort to purge it’s insane catchiness from my mind, but it’s only been partially successful. I know that, since I can’t sing it for you, something will be lost in translation, but I just wanted to share.

Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign

We’re waiting on the runway
Trapped here in our seats
I need to go to the bathroom
And I want something to eat
At the mercy of the pilot
Stuck here on his plane
And his only words of wisdom
I sing in my refrain

Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign

That’s all that I can think of
My eyes focused on that sign
Trying to will it to go out
With the power of my mind
Claustrophobia starts to grip me
And the rest of the passengers, too
All of us desperate to escape
But there’s only one thing we can do

Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign


Animals

I’ve always been a bit conflicted regarding the subject of pets. On one hand, I hate the concept of ownership of another living thing. On the other hand, I love the adorable, little things. If left on my own, I probably would not have a pet, but my wife was a ferret owner before I came along, so when we moved in together, we all became part of the same family. Since then, our family has grown. Animals take up a significant part of our life now, so allow me to introduce you to our triumvirate of triumvirates.

Ferrets

I’ve already mentioned these guys to you and, since they were our first pets, it seems only right that I should talk about them first. Currently, we have 3; one male, Ollie, and two females, Luna and Harley. They are rescue ferrets, as all of ours have been for the past decade or so. The most ferrets we’ve had at any one time is five, which is a lot of ferrets. They are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active during dawn and dusk, and are obligate carnivores. Mischievous and sly, they have the “fuck you” attitude that I like in my pets. They’ll sleep 20 hours out of a day and spend the rest planning an Oceans 11 style bank heist.

Before you get any ideas about owning a ferret, let me destroy them for you. Ferrets are not for you. I have talked more people out of owning ferrets than I have talked people out of suicide, and I worked on a suicide hotline. Born escape artists, if you don’t tirelessly scrutinize every inch of whatever area you’re going to keep them in, they will find a way out. They will be gone and most likely dead inside of a week. Leave anything around for them to chew on and something will inevitably get stuck in their intestinal track and, boom, dead. That or surgery for a few grand. Courageous to the point of stupidity, they laugh in death’s face every damn day. Oh, did I mention their tendency towards adrenal disease and kidney failure? I’ve fed the little suckers by hand, injected water under their skin (sub-Q) to keep them hydrated and stayed awake over 24 hours at a stretch caring for one post-op. Unless you love ferret enough to see yourself doing those things, ferrets are not for you.

Chickens

When we first expanded our menagerie, chickens were our first non-ferret to join. I gotta admit, these girls are hard to love. They are not cuddly. They do not love you. They are straight up bitches sometimes. That being said, if you had any idea how much chicken art I’ve done, then you know I find them gorgeous. Also, you can’t beat fresh eggs from your own free range chickens. I shit you not. Seriously, the difference between what our girls lay and the bland, uniform monstrosities that you buy in the grocery store is straight up legit.

These guys do demand a degree of vigilance, because everything thinks they are so very tasty. I’ve fought off more than one racoon who was looking for our little Chic-fil-A. We’ve lost at least one to a raccoon and one just disappeared. Could’ve been a hawk that flew off with it, but there weren’t even signs of a struggle. We have an 8 x 8 chicken run, walled in on all sides with fine mesh (about 1cm, I think) wire screening on all sides. When I say all sides, I mean it; four walls, a top and a bottom. Why a bottom? Because you wouldn’t believe the number of things that want to burrow up from below. If not to eat our chickens, then to get to their tasy, tasty feed.

 

Goats

The latest addition to our crew are two Nigerian dwarf goats near the end of 2017, Colleen and Moon Pie. Colleen got bred and, in the summer of 2018, gave birth to our little chocolate chunk, Starfire. We didn’t initially intend to keep Starfire, but she kind of grew on us and now we have three goats, hence, our triumvirate of triumvirates. They are pets, but we milk them, too. Or rather, my wife milks them; I have yet to put in the time in to learn. She uses the milk to make cheese and yogurt.

I lump goats into one of three categories: meat, milk and fiber, depending on their uses. Ours are basically pets, so there’s a fourth category, but goats, in general, are considered livestock, so have been defined by the resources they provide. As much as I love goat meat, the last thing either my wife or I want is a slaughterhouse in our backyard. The neighbors probably wouldn’t be too thrilled either. Since my wife spins and knits her own fiber, I would’ve guessed that we would have fiber goats, but the cheese making won out. No complaints here. I like our goats, and their milk, just fine.

Speaking of our backyard, we actually delivered Starfire ourselves there. It was quite the experience. I can remember, back in medical school and internship, being with an OB/GYN doc and waiting for a patient to go into labor. Just waiting for my pager to go off. Yes, I’m that old, we used pagers. It could be an hour or it could be a day. Every minute that ticked off was one spent in anxious anticipation, like an exam that one was nervous about and the proctor could jump out at any moment, even if you were asleep, and proceed to start the test. Waiting for Starfire to be born was very much like that. Not having any experience in recognizing the signs of goat labor, we probably spent a week or two in that Sword of Damocles state, getting maybe 3-5 hours of sleep a night. Once it began, the delivery itself was over in about 40 minutes, but, boy, that waiting. And, we’re about to breed Colleen and Moon Pie again, so hopefully I’ll handle it better this time. On the plus side, I’ll have a blog post all about new baby goats in a few months, so it’ll all be worth it.

Emergency: Hand Laceration!

During my internship, my fellow interns and I were assigned a different service each month. It was part of a family practice residency, so we rotated through most of the basic things we would be expected to deal with. A few months of pediatrics, a few months of OB/GYN, a few months of internal medicine, etc. Four months out of the year, we were house docs, just staying in house (in the hospital) and taking care of whatever needed a doctor, or to be more accurate, a doctor’s signature. Mostly, this was just keeping things on an even keel. The patients were stable for the most part, with orders written already. We were there in case something came up; complaints of constipation, keeping blood sugars in check, talking with family member who wanted info if the attending wasn’t around, stuff like that.

Two of these months were the day shift, coming in at 6AM for morning report and working until 6PM. Two of those months were night shift, coming in at 6PM and leaving, usually, after morning report, around 7AM. The nights were quiet for the most part, but whoever was on was the only doctor in the hospital. That’s not entirely true; there was an ER doc on overnight, too, but, except for the most life threatening of emergencies, he was never seen. And while the hospital was not large, it consisted of a standard medical/post-surgical floor, an ER, a rehab unit (occupational/physical therapy rehab, not drug rehab), a geropsych lockdown unit and a 5 bed ICU. I loved working nights. I’m a night person, so I never slept when I was working nights and I made sure everything ran smoothly.

I would come in at 6PM and meet with whoever was on day shift and get the report. How many patients were in each unit, what needed to be done, what problems should be anticipated; that sort of thing. Then, and this is the important part, I would meet with the nurses on each unit. They are the boots on the ground and could usually tell me more about the patients than the doctors’ notes. If things were quiet, I’d go back to the residents’ break room and get some food in me. There was cable TV and internet, so I could occupy myself quite well, but I knew that an emergency could arise at any second. So I would round every 3-4 hours, visiting each unit, talking to the nurses, preemptively taking care of whatever I could. For the vast majority of the time, things worked great. Every now and again, however, I would get something story worthy.

One such night was going swimmingly. Quiet Med/Surg floor, empty ICU, empty rehab unit. I was happily surveying our empty ER when I saw two men standing at the admitting desk. Both swayed ever so slightly, one of whom was holding his arm up, a crimson towel wrapped around his right hand. I was slow to realize that the towel had originally been white. Once back in the ER, I learned that the gentleman in question had just recently been fired. He had been a cook at a local bar and, after getting his walking papers, decided a day of drinking would be in order. Evidently, he had drunk enough, with his companion, that it had seemed like a good idea to go back to the fine establishment he had been fired from, to continue his inebriation. Upon encountering the manager that had fired him, my patient had decided that it would be better to put his fist through a plate glass window, rather than his former manager’s face, leading to him now sitting before me.

Unwrapping the bloody towel, I found his hand to be a gory mess, oozing red, with a single, pulsing jet of arterial spray providing dramatic effect to the whole scene. I rewrapped the hand and excused myself, swiftly walking to find the ER doc. Explaining to him that I felt that this man needed more than what I could provide, that he needed an orthopedic hand surgeon, he groggily followed me to inspect the damage. He was nonplussed. Pointing to the spouting arterial, he said, “Tie that off first, then repair that tendon, and that one, and then sew him up. He can follow up with a specialist later.” With that, he wearily went back to bed.

Resigned to the task at hand, I set up my sterile field, gloved up and injected his hand with anesthetic. Luckily, both of the men were so inebriated that I don’t think either of them were feeling much of anything. It took me roughly 90 minutes to put his hand back together. After it was done, I was convinced that I had mutilated and crippled this man. I urged him to follow up with some doctor (any doctor, for the love of God!), fearing infection, fearing disability, and sent him on his way. It was one of the more trying experiences in my life and it remains vivid in my mind and I’m not sure I would be telling anyone any of this, if this were the ending I had. As they say in the infomercials, however, but, wait, there’s more.

Years later, after I had left medicine, I was working out at some gym (I don’t remember which one I was with at the time) and I heard someone say, “Excuse me.” I didn’t recognize the man, but he asked if I was a doctor. After a few more questions, we had determined that I was, indeed, the man that had sewed his hand up. I openly expressed how convinced I had been that I had ruined his hand. He showed me the appendage in question and there wasn’t a single scar upon it. His take on the night, though fuzzy, was very different. He felt very well cared for and said his hand healed better than he expected it would. I don’t live in a world of black and white, but his words allowed me to chalk this experience up to a win. The whole reason for me to go into medicine was to feel like I was helping people, and his thanks to me is an experience I will always cherish.

The Thirsty Carnivore

If anyone has been reading this blog, I apologize to you for being negligent in keeping up with it. The holidays really take it out of me and I’m just recently feeling up to getting back to work. In addition, the urge to create art has taken hold of me and I am deep in the process of completing multiple pieces. If you don’t believe me (and there’s no reason why you should, I could easily be lying to you), just check my gallery. I’ve added a few new pieces to it. I am working towards resuming my outreach to the public and further building this blog, my Instagram, etc. That being said, I haven’t yet finished a blog post to my own satisfaction. I don’t wish to leave anyone high and dry, however, so I’m going to put one of my older writings up and hope it entertains you. The Thirsty Carnivore is one of the blog posts I wrote as a freelancer, for a bar-focused blog. Enjoy!

The Thirsty Carnivore

Vegans be damned! I want meat! I’m such a carnivore that I consider fish to be a vegetable. Which is why it makes me happy when bartenders incorporate meat into their drinks. I can get drunk and get my meat on at the same time. This practice isn’t anything new. The first time I heard about this was when I was leafing through a cook- book from the 1950’s. It was the kind of time capsule throwback that presupposed that only women would be reading it, because what would a man be doing in the kitchen? Ah, those were the days. But I digress. This was the first cookbook I had seen that had an entire chapter dedicated to cocktails. I was looking over all of their concoctions when I came across the Bull Shot.

Rumored to be thought up by some mad chemists from Detroit’s Caucus Club sometime around 1952, the Bull Shot is basically one part vodka to two parts beef broth, with some Worchester and Tabasco thrown in to give it some panache. Garnish with a wedge of lemon and you’ve got a drink straight out of “Mad Men”. With the new found popularity of bone broth, I’m seeing this drink, and others like it, pop up in bars every- where. Right here in Portland, the bar, Three Degrees, has a creation called TD’s Bloody Mary, beef consommé being a main ingredient.

Now that I’ve become more ambitious and experimental in my drinking, I have discovered a myriad of distillers, bartenders and aficionados that have attempted to magically combine the realms of meat and booze. These can be placed into three categories.

The first, and most common, is the garnish. If you happen to be a fan of the bloody mary, you have no doubt noticed an increase in the garnishing flair applied to those drinks. It’s like they’re putting a goddamn flower arrangement on the freakin’ thing, so that you have to eat the equivalent of an entire salad to even take a sip. To have the occasional bacon strip or strip added to this mix is not unusual, but now the kid gloves are off, and I won’t be surprise when I get a rack of ribs on top of my glass. For a refreshing change, I’ll go to Hamlet, that capitalizes on its swine based theme with the Meat vs. Melon. In dramatic counterpoint to the heat of a good bloody, the Meat vs.
Melon combines chilled gin and melon juice, elegantly garnished with a strip of air dried prosciutto.

In the second category, I present to you the infusion. In Portland, where bacon is so revered that I’m surprised we haven’t founded a religion based on it, there’s no shortage of alcoholic bacon creations. Bacon infusion is so common place now, however, that it is almost main stream. The Betty Crocker website has a recipe for it (http:// www.bettycrocker.com/how-to/tipslibrary/ingredients/how-to-make-bacon-infused-vodka) for fucks sake! Take, for instance, Alaska Distillery and their Smoked Salmon Vodka. There are a number of establishments that are utilizing a practice called fat washing. To fat-wash an alcohol, a fat or an oil, such as truffle oil, is poured into a container of booze and allowed to sit for a while at room temperature. The container is then placed in a freezer and the fat content allowed to solidify. Once that happens, the solid layer is re- moved, but the alcohol will have absorbed some of its flavors. There is a recipe for a Duck Fat Sazerac that I’ll be making as soon as I get my hands on some duck fat.

Third is the most unholy of alchemy, making alcohol from meat itself. This isn’t usually done, because the process of fermentation needs sugar to work, not protein. If we’re not too caught up on using actual meat, there are several forms of alcohol that are made from the fermentation of animal products. It’s been conjectured that mead is the earliest alcoholic beverage, made from the fermentation of honey, and there are a number of cultures that have beverages made from fermented milk, such as the drink, Kumis. If we actually want to delve into booze from fermented meat, we can, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. You may wish to stop reading here if you have a weak stomach, or are planning on eating anytime soon.

A winemaker out of Minnesota, Ray Reigstad, has made Army Worm Wine. Also known as Tent Caterpillars, that are native to North America, and can infest and damage certain crops. So when several of them descended on Reigstad’s property, he figured he’d do something useful with them. Having made wine in his basement for over a decade, he had a process in mind. Collecting seven pounds of worms in a bucket, he first poured boiling water over them to kill them. Then he added sugar and yeast, along with a few other ingredients and let it sit. After 4 months, he had a crisp, white wine that has been likened to a pinot grigio.

So, rejoice paleo people! Our love of flesh doesn’t need to stop when we belly up to the bar. You can eat your protein and drink it, too. Next time you’re out drinking, ask your bartender what they do with their meat. Er, maybe not. That got me kicked out the last time I asked.

 

I Hate Christmas

 

I’m about to espouse a view so controversial, so unpopular, that I hesitate to even go on for fear of pitchforks and torch fires. I hate Christmas.

There, I’ve said it.

I know, I know, it has its flaws, it’s over-commercialized, there’s an increase in waste that’s bad for the environment; fuck all that, I HATE Christmas.

Now you’re getting the idea.

Look, I was raised Catholic, so I am well versed in the Christian view of the “Reason for the Season”, and I get that an increased emphasis on the material has diluted the religious nature of the holiday. While I do mourn the loss of this spiritual aspect of the celebration, I’m not overly religious, so, while unfortunate, this is not a major issue for me. I am a believer in climate change and do recognize the stress that periods of increased consumerism puts on the environment, so, yeah, that’s a point against Christmas, but it still doesn’t get to the visceral loathing I have for this holiday.

Since lists seem to be the shit on the interwebs, I will literally count the frickin’ ways that I despise this holiday.

The Music – Oh, good God, the music! I believe that most Christmas music should be considered a war crime. I’m sure it is used by unscrupulous interrogators when waterboarding fails. It’s sappy, capitalizing on myths of a perfect home and loving family. Some of it is a bit rapey. But, the worst part of Christmas music is that it’s been meticulously crafted by the pop music gods to become weaponized earworms. If a virulent insinuation into generations of popular culture can be considered a form of immortality, then Burl Ives has attained a sort of godhood. His velvet smooth baritone instantly triggers unwanted olfactory illusions of Christmas trees and peppermint. My brain will be fucking playing these song, again and again, well into June and they make me want to puncture my eardrums with an ice pick.

The Colors – If you know my art, then you know that I am not one to shy away from color. I would completely own the title garish. But Christmas, with its red and green, its silver and gold? Holy fuck, this entire season is as soothing to the eyes as being peppermint pepper sprayed by angry elves. I mean, I have to give props to the fact that the colors harken back to the holiday’s pagan origins, but then the Christians had to make it way too metal. According to holyfamily.org, the points of the holly leaf represents the thorns of Jesus’ crown and the red berries represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. Totally badass, but does it have to be everywhere? Must we suffer, as well?

Presents – Hear me out here, because I recognise that presents are the biggest selling point for this holiday.Full disclosure: I’m not so much into material things. So take what I say with that in mind. I’ve never felt entirely financially comfortable, so the added expense that comes with gift giving is a bit stressful. A birthday coming around is one thing, but every freaking person I know? And there is the second stressor. Who do I give a gift to? Do I give a present to my boss? My mailman? How much do I spend on my wife vs. my bartender? Then there’s the what to get. Do they already have it? Will they ever use it?

Elf on a shelf – Okay, this is a newer one. No childhood trauma involved. I’ve actually just recently heard about this. WFT? I’ve already got enough paranoia. I’ve already believe in the surveillance state. Now, a children’s story
is telling 10 year olds (I have no idea what age group would be reading this book) is purporting that an inanimate doll is watching, judging their every move? How fucked up is that?

Santacon – Again, not a childhood generated manifestation. Let it be known that I am a drinker. I drink beer. I like beer. I still like beer. No, seriously, I enjoy drinking. That being said, what I’ve seen of Santacon is a walking disaster. I’ve already said that I am a drinker. I have no issue about someone drinking to excess. And, as we are only human, some of us will be total assholes when we are in our cups. Santacon takes this to the next level. As a drinker, New Year’s Eve is a celebration that I avoid, preferring to eschew the company of amateurs. Santacon, on the other hand, is an event I avoid, because they drink competitively and I’m just a hobbyist.

I’m not big on holidays overall. Other than International Nachos Day, I have no personal connection with any holidays. In fact, it doesn’t take much for me to celebrate. Arbor Day. Joe Hill Day. If we get to eat, drink and be merry, then I’m all for it. But Christmas is a holiday societal pressure and existential depression for me. That being said, Merry Christmas everyone. And Happy Holidays! Have fun!

I Love Cooking

 

I love to cook. To be fair, I am a hedonist, with food being a major area of enjoyment. If I had to go out to eat every time I wanted a nice steak, or stir fry or BBQ or anything else, I’d go broke. Not to mention that, there is something special about being able to prepare food “just the way you like it”. Even more hedonistic, I just enjoy the very act of cooking. It is the perfect intersection between science and art, between order and chaos, controlled conditions and crazy randomness.

I credit this love for cooking to my family. I was brought up to believe that a man’s place is in the kitchen. My grandfather was, in addition to being a drill sergeant, a cook in the army. My uncle held a number of food service jobs in his time and their guidance gave me my start in the culinary pursuits. Not to leave out people like my grandmother and my aunt Pat, both have (or had in my grandmother’s case) some mad skills, but, ultimately, I consider cooking to be an essential manly art. Normally, when one talks about food and family, it tends to be a discussion of cultural or ethnic roots, but we just liked food. We were equally happy spending hours layering phillo dough to make baklava as we were wrapping little sausages in Pillsbury croissant rolls out of a tube to make pigs in a blanket. Growing up with the Irish side of my family, we had our share of potatoes and pot roasts and stew, but we made everything from spanakopita to fried chicken to refried beans. When I was a teenager, my aunt Pat married a man from a Lebanese family, and I have made dishes like tabouli, hummus and baba ganoush ever since.

I feel at peace when I am in the kitchen, chopping vegetables or stirring a sauce, just waiting for the moment it takes on the right consistency. My bedtime reading regimen will occasionally include cookbooks and I will often scour the internet for new recipes to try. My favorites are complex, long, drawn out affairs, involving ingredients that must be searched for at specialty shops. Bonus points for ingredients that bring a look of confusion to a shopkeeper’s face when I ask for it. I love toasting and grinding my own chilis for chili powder. There’s something so visceral about touching and smelling and seeing all the different parts that will combine to make something glorious. There have been several times when I don’t even care about eating; the process of creating is the goal unto itself. That being said, I’m usually starving by the time whatever I’m making is finally done.

I’m always surprised that more people don’t cook. I consider it to be an essential life skill. Particularly for anyone with a special diet. I have a friend (I’m looking at you, King Biscuit) who is a strict vegetarian, but does not cook. He is constantly complaining about how hard it is for him to find good food. Of course, it’s going to be hard. There are countless places to get food in most urban areas, but how many of these are actually good? From this group, one must take away any of those that don’t match one’s diet profile, be it vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free, etc. Then, one’s personal tastes must be taken into consideration. For instance, I can (and have) eaten Ethiopian food, but I just don’t like it. I have a thing about texture and I find most Ethiopian food to be too mushy for my tastes. This leaves a very finite number of restaurants to choose from and even these are going to get boring after a while. When one cooks, they are limited by only budget, time and effort.

So, favorite foods. Ceviche, BBQ, almost any meat, sushi. I don’t like sweets, other than a weakness for pie.I love chili, Irish stew, shepherd’s pie. Not a huge pasta fan. Not really into carbs at all mostly, though I do appreciate a good nan. I like heat, spicy food. Not ghost pepper, painful hot, but the complex, numbing type of hot. Kim chee, Sichuan fermented chili-garlic sauce. I love sour. I’ll sip on vinegar, pickle juice and eat limes whole. I hate eggplant, but love baba ganoush. I hate avocado, but love guacamole. Goat is probably my favorite meat, and I’ve had a wide selection. I’ve eaten beef, pork, chicken, rabbit, squirrel, alligator, rattlesnake, bear, elk, venison, boar, buffalo, and those are the ones I can remember. Oh, yes, I’ve even eaten donkey sausage.

Why am I saying all this? Well, I’m hoping to talk about some of the more complex and entertaining recipes I do. I know this is only peripherally related to my work as an artist, but it is such a quintessential part of who I am, that I’m going to be talking about cooking. Figured I might as well lay some groundwork. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and I will come back with some recipes soon.

Anatomy

I love human anatomy. I think that we are one of the most beautiful things in the world, particularly the female of our species. It’s one of the first things that got me into art, but it’s led me down many other paths. Early on, I got the book The Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck and drew from that obsessively. Then something else happened to reinforce this love. I began taking martial arts classes. Suddenly, anatomy wasn’t just something pretty to look at, it was a weapon, a tool, a construct to be strengthened with a whole host of weaknesses. Pressure points, nerve centers, how a joint moves and how to lock one up; new avenues of study opened up before me and I was in heaven. In addition to the structure of the human body, now I also had reason to learn about physiology, the workings of the various organs. I studied diet, exercise, breathing techniques, stretching, even starting some basic yoga poses and meditation. You may already have logically concluded that this path is what led me to medical school, and you’d be part right, but it’s not quite that simple.

I studied Kenpo karate for about 8 years, earning a black belt and working as an instructor for 2 of those. But I travelled out of state for some of my college and stopped training for a while. The next time I studied, it was a school that taught tai chi and qi gong. I loved these disciplines just as much as I did my former hard style art. Mandatory reading was The Tao of Tai-Chi Chuan by Jou, Tsung Hwa, which is excellent. He has a series of three books, the one on tai chi, another on meditation and a third on the I-Ching and I would recommend all of them. While taking classes, I also began learning about tui na, a form of Chinese bodywork, the chakras, the meridians, herbal remedies, etc. I never intended to be a doctor, I was working to enter an acupuncture school.

As fate would have it, the schools I was looking at required MCAT scores as a prerequisite for admission. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really remember much about the MCAT, AKA the Medical College Admissions Test, but I seem to recall it consisted of two 3-4 hour sessions, with four parts. The physical sciences, biologic sciences and verbal reasoning parts were multiple choice and then there was a written essay part. I don’t remember my score either, but, evidently, it was good enough that a few medical schools sent me information packets for their schools. One of these was the University of New England, College of Osteopathic Medicine. So, while I never intended to be a doctor, this school allowed for far more financial aid than any of the acupuncture schools and was located much closer to my family and, to be frank, graduating with a medical degree did seem to offer a more reliable future. I went to medical school and I loved that, too.

One of the first classes was anatomy. I had had anatomy class in college and the lab had a cadaver, but we never got to touch it. It had been pre-dissected. Now in medical school, four medical students were assigned a cadaver and were responsible for its dissection. We even got a box of human bones we could check out of the library and take home to study with. That lab was challenging. I don’t mind saying that I was horrible at dissection when I first began. Nonetheless, we persevered and passed the course and continued with the rest of the curriculum. Most doctors never set foot in the lab again, but I have rarely followed the common path. I was awarded an anatomy teaching fellowship while at the school and spent a year helping to teach and dissect in the cadaver lab. Even this wasn’t enough for me, however.

More recently, I taught anatomy at the National College of Natural Medicine, though now, it’s the National University of Natural Medicine, and was in charge of the cadaver lab. The lab had 6 cadavers, all of which needed to be dissected. I usually had between 4-8 students that assisted me in dissection, but that still left a lot of work for me. I’m not going to lie, I enjoy dissection. There’s a meditative quality to the act that focuses and relaxes me at the same time. And then, through everything I’ve learned and experienced, I still love anatomy. That has stayed with me throughout my entire life. I still refer back to my Netter’s (one of the most commonly used anatomy atlases), I still go life drawing sessions, the human body still fascinates me. Even if it doesn’t seem like that love is reflected in my art.

The Hummingbird is my Spirit Animal

My spirit animal is a hummingbird. This is not an easy admission for me to make. Quite the contrary. I take no pride in having a hummingbird as my spirit animal, or even having a spirit animal at all, but that’s just the way is it. The hummingbird isn’t exactly the paragon of masculinity, nor are they symbolic of wisdom, or generosity, or bravery or many admirable qualities at all for that matter. Would Richard the Hummingbird have been taken as seriously as Richard the Lionhearted? Even more important to my fragile ego, the very notion of having a spirit animal suggests that I adhere to some new agey, woo-woo concepts. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. That being said, there are some facts you just have to accept when they’re staring you in the face and the hummingbird being my spirit animal is one of them.

I consider myself a skeptic, someone with an open mind, but requiring proof to accept some outre ideas. I believe that the evidence supports the beneficial effects of massage therapy, meditation and mirror therapy, but that the science behind homeopathy, astrology and anything that describes itself as “energy medicine” is sorely lacking. I could potentially accept spirit animals as a metaphor, but their actual existence seems ludicrous to me. Until I had a dream.

I remember being in a forest, but you know how dreams go. It was vague, shifting, archetypal primordial forest one moment, claustrophobic, but desolate, city the next. In all of it, I was lost. Every now and then, I would encounter some fantastical, woodland creature or faceless passerby, and they would speak to me, always the same question. “What is your animal? What is your spirit animal?” I was wound tight, I can tell you that. I mean, how the fuck was I supposed to know? I was lost and these dream creatures were hounding me. I sure as shit knew, with that crazy dream logic, that none of this would end until I found the answer. My anxiety reached nightmarish proportions as the questions came quicker and quicker and the landscape became more mazelike.

As dreams usually go, there are no specifics, only an uncertain sense of the details. The one thing that stuck with me was cold sweat and a gut wrenching fear. As I wandered and wandered through the confusing, narrow pathways, a collection of hummingbirds gathered around me, buzzing my head occasionally, some alighting on nearby branches to chirp their discontent. I was so focused on my search that they barely registered, but their numbers grew and grew until I could no longer ignore them. Looking up at the multitude above my head, a voice rose up in unison, a thunderous chorus that shook me violently awake.

“It’s a hummingbird, stupid!”

There are times I have forgotten my own birthday, yet, I remember those words to this day. Those exact words. Could it simply have been a dream, signifying nothing? Perhaps, but it sure didn’t feel that way. To be perfectly honest, it’s those adorable freakin birds giving me sass like a bratty teenager that sold it to me. Their contempt for me was palpable and still ringing in my ears as I sat up in bed. I shit you not. So, while I never wanted a hummingbird as a spirit animal, I never wanted a spirit animal at all, I suppose I’m not really in charge of those decisions. I’m just going to flit away now and find some nectar to drink.

The Process

My first painting was on a piece of wood I found. I had a handful of acrylic paints that I had been carting around with me for years. During a period of unplanned unemployment, I needed things to do that didn’t cost me anything. The paints were a present from some well meaning person in my life and, even though I hadn’t the slightest idea how to use them, I felt guilty throwing them away. I’m not sure where I got brushes from, but I commandeered one of my pot lids as a palette and started painting. Through a combination of trial and error, library books and YouTube videos, I have learned a lot, but there’s still so much I don’t know. Which is why anytime I go to look at art, I’m always interested in hearing about an artist’s technique and process. Mainly because I’m looking for any clue I can as to how to properly do art. I mean, I’m just slapping paint on a surface until it kinda looks like I want it to. I’ve been gessoing my surfaces for a while now, but I just learned about surface levelling gel. Who knew? So, I figured that I would share my process, such that it is right now.

The Sketch

It all starts with a sketch. I have a sketch pad with me at all times and I will be working on it every chance I get. To be honest, it’s my favorite part of art. Creating something new, just drawing lines and letting my unconsciousness take the steering wheel. This is true joy. When I’m staring at the blank page, I rarely have some idea of what I want to draw; I just sketch what is pleasurable. They’re just doodles at first and 90% of the time, they never go beyond this. I have sketchbook after sketchbook filled with pure crap. Seriously, most of it, absolute drek. Every once in a while, though, one of my drawings grabs me. It demands more of my time. I go back to it time and time again, reworking it, refining it. And, if this happens enough, it demands to be painted.

Surface Preparation

The first step for any of my paintings is choosing and preparing the painting surface. I’m partial to wood, I like the firm, unyielding surface, but canvas is cheap and available. Not to mention that wood is heavy; I have some paintings that are so heavy that hanging them is a challenge. While canvas is easy, I hate the course tooth of the surface, so I apply between 4-5 coats of gesso and sand it down to as smooth as I can get it. I am anxious to try the surface levelling gel, but I’m not quite there yet. Once the surface is ready, I used to lay down the basic composition in pencil. It’s just something I’m comfortable with. I played around adding another layer of gesso over that to hide the lines, before putting paint to canvas, but it just smeared the lines and made the surface grey. Now, I spray the pencil with fixative before gessoing it over, but I’m moving away from pencil all together.

Underpainting

I’ve recently started playing around with an underpainting. For now, it’s a monochrome wash, followed by a similar color that is slightly more opaque, to map out the composition. After that, it’s time to lay down some dots. Lots and lots of dots. I’ll lay done a few lines to demarcate general forms, but I really want to forms in the painting to be built up by layer upon layer of dots. When I’m painting a particular area, I will determine a range of colors that I want that area to be. For sky, it’s usually a range of blues. For flesh, a range of yellows, browns and oranges. I start with the lightest color in the group and cover the widest area of that area with dots. Then, I’ll use a color darker and use that to start creating definition.

Television

This is tedious, methodical work and I get bored easily. So, how do have the patience? I watch a lot of TV. Or, to more precise, a lot of streaming online video. I only mention this now, because I will be devoting some of my blog posts to some of the aspects of shows that I find interesting. Consider yourself warned.

The Painting

The least number of layers that I’ve used is around three, the most being six. When is it done? Someone posed this question to me directly not so long ago and the answer isn’t obvious. There’s a certain weight, a solidity that I want my forms to have and I just keep building it up until it’s there. I can see it coming, the development of the shapes, but the exact end usually catches me by surprise. I’ll look at the canvas, palette in one hand, brush poised in the other, seeking the areas I need to build up and I’ll realize that anything more is as likely to ruin the painting, as it is to make it better.


It’s a slow process, but now that I’m doing art full-time, I’m getting faster. My largest piece, a 3’x4’ peacock, took me around 6 months, but I didn’t work on it everyday in those 6 months, and when I did work on it, some days an hour was all I could put in. Now, I have three paintings going at once, as well as various pen and ink/watercolor marker pieces. My latest piece, the one featured in this post, Mine Eye Hath Seen the Glory, took me about a month. It’s really what inspired this post, since it’s the first piece that I have photographed at various stages of development. As boring and basic as it is, there’s my process. I fully expect it to change in a year or so, as I continue to learn, so I’ll have to remember to do a follow up post after a while. Until then, I had better get back to painting.