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Things and Stuff.

Dental Issues

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Back in January, at my 6-month dental cleaning, the x-rays showed I had a cavity. My first one ever. I went along with the suggestion to get it drilled and filled right away, and within two weeks I had some white resin where there had been solid tooth before. Almost immediately, I had cold sensitivity on that tooth. I figured this was part of the healing process – and the internet confirmed it – so I waited.

Two weeks later, it was still there, but not getting any worse. I saw the dentist and they took new x-rays. It showed that the filling was close to the nerve, but it should heal up soon. The dentist said it might take longer than expected because the drilling had gotten so close to the nerve. So I waited.

Last week, I had my next 6-month cleaning. I said that the temperature sensitivity is still there; hot or cold. It’s not debilitating, but extremely annoying. I asked what my options are. I could get a root canal, which would leave much of the original tooth but remove the nerve. Or I could get the tooth extracted, which would obviously leave a gap.

I went with the extraction. The tooth causing problems was my back left molar. It was at an angle in the first place, so it was barely used. I didn’t care about retaining any of it. The dentist didn’t pressure me into the root canal, and I set up my appointment with their dentist that does extractions.

The next week, she looks at the x-rays and asks if I’m sure I want to get the tooth extracted. It’s a perfectly healthy tooth, she says. I explain that healthy or not, there is cold sensitivity that has been annoying me for 6 months and has gotten no better or worse. It has to go. I’m not wasting my time on a root canal that might end up in an extraction later.

She numbs me up and removes the tooth. Quick, painless. I ask her for the tooth. She says she’s not allowed to give it to me, but if she set it in a cup and looked away, she wouldn’t know what happened to it.

After the extraction was paid for, I drove over to my husband’s work and we took a short walk around the towpath trail. My face was slowly losing the numbness. There was some swelling, but not any real pain.

Later, I washed off the tooth that was removed and examined it. At the edge of the filling, on the inside so that when you took and x-ray you couldn’t see it, was a cavity that was the size of the filling. The dentist had missed part of the original cavity, and it either was still there or had spread.

I’m glad I got it removed.

Spider Bites

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I’ve been researching various spiders recently because I’ve been trying to find out what bit me, and I’m fairly certain that it was the brown widow. We’d seen the spider around the bathroom previously, and she kept to herself. She had that definite black widow shape, but with a big brown booty instead of being shiny black. Her web was a disorganized mess, but she was collecting carpenter ants like crazy so we let her stay.

A few days before the bites, I noticed she was gone from her usual spot behind the toilet, so I just assumed she moved somewhere else after exhausting her supply of carpenter ants. I was right, and late Wednesday/early Thursday, I found out where she’d gone. Apparently under the headboard.

The way I sleep, I put my arms under my pillow, and occasionally my hands will be in the space between the mattress and the headboard. Our mattress is about three inches or so too short for the bed frame, so we have quite a bit of space there. I’m assuming she got herself somewhere around there and was just startled by my hands.

I woke up Thursday morning around 1 to 1:30 chewing on my right ring finger. It was itchy and swollen, and in my sleep I had started trying to scratch it with my teeth. At the time I assumed it was a mosquito bite on my knuckle because I’d heard one buzzing around before I went to bed.

I stayed in bed and tried to go back to sleep, but the itchiness just continued. After a while, I could no longer feel the pillow with my ring or pinky fingers. I could only feel itchiness. I got out of bed and ran my hand under cold water for a while. I noticed that I had a few spots where my teeth had broken skin, probably from my eczema blisters that were stretched out from the swelling. I used a washcloth to scratch my finger so I wouldn’t tear the skin.

The swelling of the finger was enough to keep me from closing my hand all the way. The itchiness had died down enough that I could go back to sleep, so I did.

When I got up in the morning, the itchiness was gone, but my hand was still swollen. I got out of bed and the first thing I noticed was that my right leg did not want to work. A tendon on my right knee felt like it was swollen and would not let me bend my leg without pain. James got me some ice and did the driving for the day. My leg pain did not subside, even with pain killers. I had a strange pain in my left collar bone as well. I didn’t really think that all of these were connected because I still thought it was just a mosquito bite.

I spent the day trying to find out what could possibly cause this. The results came up as widow spider bites. There are several kinds, but people only seem to fear the black widow. The articles I found said this is because the black widow will inject much more of her weaker venom, causing more pain. The brown widow, and the other widows if they bite, will use small amounts of their stronger venom. Brown widows are an invasive species, new to the US and not common enough in Ohio to be listed as having the state as in their range. Everything I read fit, but I still had my doubts. There were bites from mites and other things that could possibly have similar effects.

That night, the swelling in my hand was down enough that I could actually tell where the bites were. One just under my ring fingernail. Another about two inches down, below the knuckle. Yet another about four inches down on my hand. And another one about six inches down that on my arm. My left hand has one bite on the index finger and one on the middle finger, below the first knuckle. Those ones didn’t seem to have any ill effects other than redness and itchiness.

I began to look at various bug bite pictures, trying to confirm what was going on. Nothing I looked at really matched until I got back to widow spiders. I don’t know why I doubted it so much, but this is really all it could have been.

Friday morning, the pain in my leg had spread a little. Rather than just being the tendon at my knee, it was now my calf muscle and a muscle in my thigh. I went to work and kept my leg propped up, but then my left shoulder started to get the same pain. At one point, I went to the rest room and found another spider bite on my right thigh. That’s what convinced me it had to have been a brown widow. My right knee having pain wasn’t something unrelated to the bites on my hand. I found a bite on my left elbow later.

I left work early and just chilled around the house. I read more on brown widows, trying to ID the spider in the bathroom from memory. I was at the point where I couldn’t tell if my memory was helping me find the spider by looking at images, or if looking at images was molding my memory of the spider. I remembered the big booty. I remembered the size. I remembered the web. That matched. But the hourglass? I don’t remember seeing that. I don’t remember seeing the designs on the abdomen. I don’t remember the stripes on the legs.

Friday night, as James and I were about to get into the car, I noticed a spider in the window of the garage. She had the booty. We looked at her, and based on what we’d both seen about brown widows, we’re certain that is what bit me EIGHT FUCKING TIMES.

An Essay for an Art History Class

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William M. Harnett, Memento Mori—"To This Favour"

William M. Harnett, Memento Mori—"To This Favour"

Memento Mori, “To This Favour,” 1879

Oil on canvas

William Michael Harnett
(American, born Ireland, 1848-1892)

The Latin Term memento mori describes a traditional subject in art that addresses mortality. In Harnett’s example, the extinguished candle, spent hourglass, and skull symbolize death. A quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, inscribed on the inside cover of a tattered book, reinforces the theme. It comes from the play’s famed graveyard scene, where Hamlet discovers a skull and grimly ponders his beloved Ophelia, ironically unaware that she is already dead. The “paint” in the quote not only refers to Ophelia’s make-up, but also wittily evokes the artifice of Harnett’s picture.

Mr. and Mrs. William H Marlatt Fund 1965.235

(The Cleveland Museum of Art)

While most still life paintings offer no narrative in their imagery, this does not mean there is no meaning to the piece. The meaning of this work by William Michael Harnett is offered directly in the title: Memento Mori, “To This Favour”. Even viewers not familiar with the Latin phrase memento mori can suss its meaning when viewing Harnett’s painting. An empty hourglass, a burned candled, and a skull are all icons of passing on, giving rise to feelings of one’s own mortality. As the phrase translated states, “Remember, you must die,” and so the viewer does. However, the meaning of this memento mori goes beyond that simple phrase.

“To This Favour” is a predominately dark piece, both visually and thematically, drawing the viewers attention to specific iconography with the touches of whiteness. The largest body of light color is the pages of the open books on the left. Harnett is known for his style of trompe l’oeil; in this instance he tricking the viewer’s eye into thinking one of the open books is motion. The upper of the two open books has three pages splayed in a position that would be impossible to capture in a still life painting if it were actually in motion. Each of these three pages curves in the exact manner one would expect it to do if it were falling under its own weight after being turned and left to fall to the opposite side of the book. Such is the trick, the tromp l’oeil, that the eye thinks the image so real that the page would fall at any moment. The book itself shows no meaning of death. The viewer cannot see the title nor read the text within it. Rather than be a symbol of the permanency of dying, the book, being half-open and in motion, may be a symbol of life: a life life half-over and passing quickly to the end.

The lower book is open as well, though its cover is torn from the binding. The aged, damaged book cover hangs over the edge of the table by a thread as if it, soon shall die. The inside cover is the closest object in the painting to the viewer, demanding one’s attention to the quote it bears. From Shakespeare’s Hamlet on the subject of death, the inscription reads: “Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come.” In the play, the paint is Ophelia’s make-up; in this piece, the paint is the oils used by Harnett. Both paints are applied with thoughts death, which may have prompted the artist to use this particular quote. As one may know, Ophelia is already dead at the time the line is spoken by Hamlet, further compounding on the theme of death in the painting.

The next largest collection of whiteness is the skull, quintessentially the most recognizable symbol of death. The skull, like the book, is aged and damaged. It lacks several teeth and is a dirty, off-white color. Unlike the book, the skull faces to the side. The skull looks to the right of the viewer, whereas the book’s cover opens to the viewer directly. This positioning by Harnett aids in drawing the eye to the quoted text for which the painting is titled. The skull rests atop yet another book, this one much thicker and less damaged than the first two. The spine shows it to be a collection of Shakespeare’s Tragedies, which, like the thoughts this painting is meant to provoke, is full of death, loss, and mourning.

Another obvious symbol of passing used by Harnett is the extinguished candle. Light entering the scene from the left side of the painting creates a reflection on the candlestick. A broken line of white draws the viewer beyond the darkness of the whole piece to the candle. On the table, it sits behind the skull-topped book. Behind the candlestick and skull is naught but a darkened archway; a light-less passage through which the used-up candle cannot guide the viewer. Even the off-painting light source cannot guide the viewer’s eyes to what lies within that hall. It creates a sense of anxiety and anticipation at the thought of the great beyond. One cannot see what is through the passage, just as one cannot know what is seen after death.

Behind the open books sits an empty hourglass, presumably the sand has run out to the bottom though it is not seen in the painting. It is yet another iconic reminder of one’s own mortality and the passage of time. It is tilted in a slightly unsettling way and is perhaps propped up by one of the other books behind the open pair. Like the open book before it, the hourglass appears to be at the cusp of motion. It appears ready to fall, or even already falling, in its tipped position. The only portion of the glass seen is that which reflects the light from the left. The lighting effect may be Harnett’s real reason for presenting the hourglass at an angle. The glass is so clean that the viewer can see to the stone wall beyond and, had the hourglass not been positioned as it is, the reflected light may have been too much or too little. Too little, and the hourglass would go unnoticed. Too much and it would detract from the whiteness of the book cover and detract from the intended focus.

The books surrounding the hourglass have no visible titles, though they appear to be at different stages of aging. One book, positioned at an angle on the left side of the Shakespeare tome, has a few pages that seem to be shifted and poking out of the rest. This can be read as a well-used book that is possibly near “death,” though not as near as the book with quote upon it is. A book lays flat to the left of the hourglass and the open books. It appears to be smooth and not at all damaged, though perhaps a bit dusty. The sixth and final book is perhaps in the same stage of life: its pages are neat and straight, but are yellowed from age.

The table upon which this memento mori still life is placed is a drab, olive-brown. It does not shine like the silk painted by other artists using oils, but it is as smooth. It seems to be very plain, which could be indicative of it being over-used and near its end along with the books and candle. The lack of luster in the cloth, as well as the rest of the objects, shows death to be very mundane and common. This fits with the sense of tragedy in Hamlet as no death in the play is glorious, no one died a martyr, and celebrated at another’s death.

Still life paintings are oft devoid of deep meaning. However, William M. Harnett’s Memento Mori, “To This Favor” bears a rich subtext of the commonality of aging and loss in addition to it’s obvious subject of death. Each object is positioned to relate to the other as aging, death, and anxiety all relate to each other. Harnett’s work reminds one of one’s own mortality as intended, but also reminds us that those we love will pass, too.