Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Old Generalist vs. Specialist Dilemma

"If one throws salt at thee thou wilt receive no harm unless thou hast sore places."   Latin Proverb

In the world of biodiversity, ecologists like to divide the foraging behavior of mammals into two categories: The Pandas and The Raccoons. Consider for a moment the panda, who defecates approximately 80 times a day because his sole food source is tough, fibrous bamboo. The panda is a real money-maker. They are impossibly cute, approachable, endearing for their reproductive challenges and visual appearance of asexuality.  And, they are endangered because there's not a lot of bamboo left to eat (there are other factors contributing to dilemma, of course).  Raccoons, on the other hand, are considered a ubiquitous, rabies-carrying pest in most areas of the country. They eat absolutely everything, which gives them plenty of energy to fornicate and make lots more raccoons. In the world of biology generalists are better suited to adapt and evolve.

Then there's humans. Technically, we are generalists in our foraging behavior--willing to eat anything from insects to tripe. But we've got something funny going on with how we ascribe social value and establish in-group solidarity in professional settings. Money always follows The Pandas, the people who go into medicine and then specialize and specialize until they have a PhD in nuclear medicine with a focus on detecting autosomal recessive cancer type X with PET scans (I'm making this shit up, people).  If you have this type of cancer you definitely want this guy!  If you have to come up with a plan to lower the physiologic stress levels of the patients waiting for the PET scan so the results will be accurate, you need a generalist. We are the people who can consider ergonomics, auditory stimuli, chaperones, wait time, parking, and possible hydration levels.... all based on gender and age and prior medical history... and we can do this all at once.  We problem solve.  But I keep coming back to this "Generalist vs. Specialist" issue when I feel like I am locked out of certain professional groups because of my diversity.  I'm not imagining this issue; it's real. BUT, dammit, I am talented in a trapezoidal way and those who are confused... can just suck it.

What do you write?  Fiction (not genre fiction), non-fiction memoir and technical, sometimes poetry.
                          This was a problem when I applied to get into an MFA program.  I had to pick one.
What do you teach? Currently Language Arts and Social Studies for the 2014 GED test.
                          Also licensed to teach biology, but only in Alaska.
Where do you teach?  A variety of different schools in the Denver area.  I miss teaching little kids
                        (this follows 'what grade do you teach'? queries)
How long have you been teaching?  10 years, if you count the 8 years as a sub.  No one in the
                          teaching field counts that, though.
You're a vet tech, where do you work?  Currently I'm not in a practice. I'm licensed as an LVT in    
                         Alaska, but had some challenges with the right type of CE credentials to get a
                        license in Colorado.  but I wrote this book, see...
Do you do cat/dog medicine or large/farm animal?  Both. And have done poultry and reptiles.

Degrees and accolades? For which of the above sub-headings?  Yes. got those, too.

A final thought to ponder: I strongly suspect that there are a higher number of generalists in rural areas, in the non-metro communities that require people to pull capacities and talents from multiple, functional domains.  There is freedom in that.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


I come from a long line of white people. I share nothing in common with most of my students beyond access to the full range of human emotions and having clocked some serious time with the more negative subcategories.  Heritage is a funny thing; sometimes there is a beautiful piece of your family history just waiting for you. Sometimes you have to rummage around a bit until you find what resonates.  Turns out, I come from a long line of women (on both sides!) who thrived with cats, art and service work.  I vowed to only ever own one cat at a time. Still,  it may be time to realize I am "a cat lady".

Sunday, October 4, 2015


"...sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness..." Galway Kinnell, Saint Francis and the Sow

Having spent most of my adult life in Alaska, a snakeless, spider-scarce (yet mosquito embroiled) place, certain creatures of the desert southwest are mythic and exotic. I've had the opportunity to peer inside a tank of tarantulas in a veterinary clinic and realize, with relief, that my shift was going to end before the veterinarian would be able to examine them. I wasn't there to witness it, but I doubt  she completed her task with affection and less than three reference books. I haven't yet met a private practice vet who specializes in arachnids.

This weekend, however, I was the passenger as a friend cruised along the open spaces of northern New Mexico and I thrilled at the sight of actual-real-in-person tumbleweeds, sage, cacti and the occasional adobe dwelling. But something wasn't right. I looked over at her, certain this wasn't someone who imbibed on the sly before noon or was prone to seizure disorders, and not wanting to imply her driving skills were poor.  "Are you... feeling OK? Things are... a little..." I leaned into her as we drifted back into the--fortunately empty-- oncoming lane. "...swervy... with your driving at the moment."

"The tarantulas are migrating." She said with an alarmed timbre in her voice. "I don't want to run one over."


It turns out that male tarantulas in the wild (who only live about a 1/3 of the lifespan of females, due in part to frequently becoming a post-coital snack for females and perhaps to being run over) sojourn out to find the ladies about this time in October every year. Once the male and female find each other, a process that unfortunately involves spider sperm, she sits on the nest for six weeks. No wonder she needs a snack to start to off! My friend's eyesight for these bachelors was remarkable.  Then she told me about seeing an entire migrating "herd" in California once. 
OK, I was with you before, but I just left.
However, when we pulled off at a rest stop and I was able to see one up close, fingering along with his pedipalps, somehow knowing his partner was out there and risking it all, I was beguiled.  It also helped that he was not AT ALL interested in ME. Like my friend, I became an admirer, finding time to look them up on the Internet, bemused by the intricate life cycle, their air of both mystery and horror.

On the very same day, barely two hours later, I was browsing some fiber art and the squad of people behind me started ".. swerved to miss a tarantula. Did YOU know they migrate?!"  
So there we all were, about five people, chatting up the miracle of the male tarantula and discovering, at midlife, there are still things we don't know.  

As for my Galway Kinnell quote... the tarantula already thinks he's lovely enough to go out and get some spider sex, but the rest of us are left to relearn.

Here is a picture of my recent foster kittens to cleanse you brain if you find spiders alarming.
And now I will hit you with a not-funny poem

At the Rio Grande

My palm runs along the barrier bridge, the length of noon-warm steel,
its gap-toothed grin stitched along the road; a meridian between gorge and sky.
The barrier is the unspoken focus of the place,
the way it stands behind sun-smote tourists dreaming of egg-salad sandwiches.
It is the thing that keeps the soft, warm flesh from knowing its own blood and opening its chest to the hot flight of carrion birds.
Why else would the people lean over and laugh “Don’t look down Brian! No, no, don’”
issuing trusting giggles when they let go of pennies, chewed gum, old movie ticket stubs from linty pockets, to watch the things echo out of view through a trellis of geologic time that finishes in a silver ribbon, the trickle of sweat left on the brow from the carving of the place.

Below where I look, midway down, is the cotton-candy color of a child’s pink jacket.
Blown or tossed or anything other than gone down as accompaniment to the girl.
(Humans do not leave such totem artifacts after tragedy, especially from the young.)
It is recent; the sun hasn’t yet bleached the color infused into the fabric by workers who know nothing of this place, who are far away gazing at their own gorges.
And the wind does not unsteady it, though the wind is at my hair, my eyes, my clothes, knuckling my pace hard enough to intimate that--yes--it could toss me, too. 
The pink is shielded, calcified, gone to its tomb like a Precambrian fish who tells of life only by what is absent.

At the time of loss, there may have been wailing and desperation, anger and ice cream promises shorn from the afternoon, the turning of the car towards replacement and replanning. 
But in the winged drifting down, the utterance of gravity on the shed skin as it was taken, is the frailty of the miss, the near success of the depth in taking what it was entitled to all along, and the revenant terror of this knowing.  
No body rests beneath. There is no proof for the loss.