Fear Factor

Copenhagen Metro escalators from www.wikipedia.org.
Copenhagen Metro escalators from http://www.wikipedia.org.

Thankfully, I outgrew my fear of escalators, because I had to ride them endlessly to entertain my small children on rainy days.

I still a harbor a garden variety of phobias, however:


The dentist




Awkward phone calls

Small, enclosed spaces


Nuclear waste



Teratoma with teeth, or hair, or partially formed limbs, for that matter

I don’t spend much time thinking about any of the above, though.

Lately, my biggest fears–and hopes–are for my children and what may lie ahead for them.

It’s a big, crazy, amazing world.


Posted for today’s Daily Prompt–a strange topic for Thanksgiving.

My mission, should I choose to accept it: Haiku

The Daily Post issued a challenge to write five haikus this week. Yesterday’s post featured my first attempt. Here are #2, 3, and 4. They are–as you will soon see–completely unrelated. The first is about the book I just finished, which was terrifying.

From Amazon.com
From play.google.com

Beautiful Boy

I read this book fast

like pulling off a bandaid

to lessen the sting.



The ability

to see possibility

in the status quo


On Google

One finds anything

with a touch of a button

and targeted ads.

Iceland: Haiku #1

©2012 Beret Olsen
©2012 Beret Olsen

Yesterday, The Daily Post issued a haiku challenge for the week:  five haikus in five days. Please be kind; I’m a little rusty. I haven’t written one of these since puberty.


Volcanoes erupt

from bare rock like cone-shaped swords

A land with no trees

©2012 Beret Olsen
©2012 Beret Olsen
©2012 Beret Olsen
This post is for http://www.redterrain.wordpress.com!   ©2012 Beret Olsen

Dacryocystorhinostomy: When Youtube is a Terrible Invention

When I was twenty, my tear duct closed, which only happens to infants, the elderly, and me. No one could figure it out.

Tears leaked continuously down my right cheek, except when I walked across campus that winter, and my eye froze shut. There were many other downsides, and only one up that I can recall. I sought assistance from my microeconomics professor that semester, and he was unbelievably kind to me. And patient. And helpful. It wasn’t until after I left his office that I realized he must have thought I was weeping through class every day. Lord knows I felt like doing so.

Treatment began with “wait,”and “warm compresses,” followed by eyedrops and ointments. Incidentally, being able to smear ointment in my eye came in handy for the twelve times I got pinkeye from my students and children.

But when those ointments did nothing, they tried three unsuccessful rounds of irrigation—that is, stabbing a gigantic syringe into the opening, cranking the needle around parallel with my eyeball, and flooding it with saline.

It is terrifying to see a three-inch needle come straight at your eye—but I was not allowed to blink or flinch, as that might not end well.

Finally, surgery was scheduled.

I asked how long it would take.

Answer: about fifteen to twenty minutes, but they allow 90 minutes in case they hit a nearby artery while drilling a hole in the nose, in which case it could take upwards of 45 minutes to control the blood flow.

I’m all for honesty and disclosure and all that, but I really didn’t want to hear the whole story. Let’s leave out the part about when you might seriously botch it and I am spurting blood uncontrollably for an hour.

I could tell you a lot more about the surgery and the aftermath, about how I was severely bruised, with black stitches under my eye, and everyone was afraid to ask me what had happened. Or how they sewed a red rubber tube into my nose so it didn’t scar shut. Or how the stitches were too loose and the tube would dangle out the end of my nose…and how I did not get great tips during that period of time.

I had a lot more to add, actually, but I then googled dacryocystorhinostomy to check my spelling and discovered that I could watch the procedure on youtube. Why, oh why would I want to look? Though I managed to watch while they cut into the eye socket, I freaked out 20 seconds in, because DID YOU KNOW THEY PRY INCISIONS OPEN WITH OYSTER FORKS??

As I said, I don’t want to know the whole story.

By now, you would think I would remember not to go looking for it.

No longer a country girl

A Hogna Wolf Spider from www.commonswikimedia.org.
A Hogna Wolf Spider from http://www.commonswikimedia.org.

I used to pride myself on being part country/part city.  Hey, I’ve handled mice AND muggers.  That might have made me feel a wee bit superior now and then.  I was once in front of my inner-city classroom, going over the daily schedule, when I noticed a half-dead mouse wriggling maniacally, stuck irretrievably on a glue trap in the front of the classroom.  As I continued to talk my students, I walked to the closet, fished out a plastic bag, scooped the poor creature into it, sealed it, and handed it to some unsuspecting truant in the hall to “please dispose of in the bathroom.”  My eight-year-old posse never suspected a thing.  (If I have disturbed your pacifist nature, remember that a) rodent fecal matter in an elementary school is a serious health issue, and b) glue traps are the only legal means available from our school district.  And what was I going to do?  Scrape it off and rush it to the vet?  Let it flail there indefinitely?)

Sadly, last year’s trip to the country convinced me that I am mostly just a run of the mill city girl/coward these days.

The first clue was after a very difficult bedtime.  Not my bedtime.  I would love to go to bed at a reasonable hour.  The spouse was dog-tired, and had fallen asleep long before the girls.  I tried semi-successfully to get them into bed.  I read and gave kisses. Next thing I knew, one or the other was screaming, “there’s something on my leg!!”  Lights back on, we would examine their beds inch by inch, inspecting the covers and the pj’s,  inside and out.  Eventually they would calm a little; I’d read another chapter aloud and turn out the lights.  “I hear something!” the other would yell, just as I got back down the stairs.  After three or four false alarms, I may have gotten a little cranky.

It was midnight when they finally gave up and went to sleep.  Relieved, I fetched my book and sat on the couch, trying to relax enough to be able to sleep on the world’s least forgiving mattress.  It’s the kind of bed that makes you want to punch the quality control guy at the factory.  Imagine a concrete slab with a little less give.  Top it off with an itchy, mildewed wool blanket, and a lumpy brick for a pillow.  I love my parents, but how their marriage survived forty summers on this abomination, I have no idea.

Not that I wouldn’t want to read in bed, I just plain couldn’t.  The bedside lamp could light up the neighboring forty acres, and a headlamp would be relentlessly dive-bombed by moths and mosquitoes.  Couch it is.

I read a few chapters and was just starting to doze on the couch when I scratched my thigh.  It was not the right shape.  I scratched once more, and again encountered strangeness.  I closed my fingers around a large something.  I had a handful of something in my pajamas.  Dropping my pajama pants, I saw that gigantic spider, and then it disappeared.  That was way worse than having to crunch a large freaky thing.  Was it still in my pajamas?  Was it on the couch?  Would it follow me to bed?  I was no longer sleepy.

A couple of nights later, the spouse had already left for the city, and I tried to cozy myself on the concrete slab.  I read the teensiest bit, and as my eyelids drooped, I turned off the light and slipped into a happy slumber.  Wait.  What was that?  I was itchy again.  After the pajama problem, I was a little skittish.  On went the lights.  Off with the pajamas.  Nothing to be found.  Now the bed felt impossible again.  Everything itched.  

I spent an hour or so reading on the couch, trying to calm down enough for sleep.  This happened two more times.  By now, it was 3 or 4 am, and I had had enough.  I ripped off the covers, one by one, looking, looking.  I inspected my pajamas repeatedly.  I took the headlamp and gave the sheets the once over.  I ran my hands over the moth-balled gingham sheet.  Lumps.  Lumps.

Under the bottom sheet were creatures. That is not supposed to happen.

I’d been sleeping on these sheets for three days already, but trapped under that bottom sheet were two crickets–one live, and one dead.

I know. They’re just crickets. They are charming outside, just like spiders are fascinating in their amazing webs outside. The bed is sacred, though. The bed is where one goes for a peaceful respite, not for the zoo.

I was being ridiculous.

But I couldn’t wait to get back to the city.


From ingaphotography.wordpress.com
From ingaphotography.wordpress.com

I was shell-shocked, sleepless,

mostly numb for three days straight.

On the fourth day, I was holding our tiny creation, mesmerized by her miniature, spastic gestures,

when I felt a sudden rush of sorrow and overwhelming futility.

Who am I to invite someone new into this crazy world?

Though fierce when provoked, I am so small, my shell hopelessly permeable.

What protection can I offer this perfect and vulnerable creature?

I wept for the confusion in store for her, for the first time she will be disappointed–perhaps by me–

And for the first time her heart will be broken.

Six of one; half a dozen of the other

Travel holds:


The pleasure of discovery,

of not knowing what to expect

A shift in perspective

A jolt to the senses

New landscapes—both physical and psychological

New stories, and new threads to old stories

A chance to reevaluate,

To find oneself

To lose oneself


Arriving home holds:

A roof

The ease of familiarity

The right pillows

A sense of belonging

The comfort of predictability,

A less tangible sort of baggage

A heating pad

An electric toothbrush

A grocery store stocked and organized in a familiar way

shelves of books

And a cat, curled around my neck while I read