Monday, July 28, 2008

Where's Your Head At?

I just got back from a 2-week stint in L.A. for a UCLA summer course on neuroimaging. The class wasn't exactly what I was expecting, and ultimately wasn't that useful for me. But, surprisingly, that wasn't the most disappointing aspect of my trip. This short change of pace managed to put me in my place; it reminded me that, no matter how much I may enjoy visiting new places, extensive travel is probably not my forte.

I've been struggling with chronic tension headaches for not quite a decade now. After a sizable string of doctors and many different medications, I was effectively put on "pain management"--otherwise known as "we can't fix it". I eventually stopped seeing doctors, and stopped medication completely. And for the last 5 or so years, things have been very managable. I've figured out the patterns that trigger my headaches, and on the whole am pain-free.

Unfortunately, avoiding headaches seems to require that I live something like a 60 year old: regular meals around the same time each day, a pretty constant sleep schedule. I have to get in a routine and stay there. Any significant or sudden change, and I could be in for a rough couple of days. If I want to catch up on sleep on the weekend, for instance, I wake-up with what I refer to as a Sleep Hangover.

From the usual day-to-day, this is fine. I know my body, and don't feel particularly limited. Traveling is an entirely different thing. While staying at UCLA, I was at the mercy of the program. They set my schedule. Turns out, the schedule they picked (and switching schedules) was a recipe for headaches. I haven't had headaches this bad and persistent in a very long time.

I really enjoy traveling, and experiencing all that a place has to offer. But, I saw very little of LA. Some of that was because it's just so time-consuming to get around without a car. But mostly, I just never felt like exploring. After a full day of lectures, and an ever-growing headache, I just wanted to watch tv in my room. I can generally push through my headaches. (After 9-odd years, you kind of have to.) But these two weeks really kicked me to the curb. The transition back home doesn't seem to be much better, either.

I'm not particularly upset about this flare-up, but the reality of how tightly I have to regulate my schedule is a bit disheartening. I'd like to be able to be spontaneous, to be able to travel and not worry about when I can get to bed and when all of my meals will be. I'd like to live, well, like the 20-something I am.

Maybe this trip was an unusual circumstance; maybe it was the smog. I sure hope so, because there are a lot of places I'd like to visit--without an extra large bottle of Ibuprofen in tow.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

It's All Gonna Break

As I've mentioned, I recently found myself in need of a new iPod. I waited about a month, and though I did realize that life was indeed possible without a portable personal soundtrack, I also saw that my addiction to DJing my way through commutes and studying was going to die hard. Very hard.

So, I took a trip to the Apple store this weekend and treated myself to a sparkly new iPod classic. Apple is nearly synonymous with sleekness, stylishness, simplicity, and functionality. The stores are refreshingly bare-bones--clear glass everywhere, products clearly displayed on counters with any essential information about them nearby. Their packaging couldn't get much sleeker. (I actually asked the clerk if the necessary cords were included because the iPod box is so small, it didn't seem like everything could fit inside.) Their "Genius Bar" helpdesk is, in my experience, a well-oiled machine getting complaining and befuddled customers in and out quickly. Et cetera, et cetera.

It seemed to me that Apple really had everything figured out. At least when it comes to running a retail store.

But, as it turns out, they have a very amusing Achilles' heel: checks. Approaching the check-out counter, my sales person asked "Cash or card?". I hesitated for a moment, and questioningly replied "...check?". He seemed a bit surprised, but agreed. He then proceeded to 1) have to switch computers, 2) ask co-workers for help on how to process checks, which none of them seemed entirely sure about, 3) stay on the phone asking for approval for at least 10 minutes. All in all, my picking out the iPod and accessories took about half the time it did to buy them, and I'd caused a pretty sizable back up in the check-out line.

I didn't have anywhere to be, so I didn't care about the wait. I just giggled, realizing that I unknowingly managed to throw a wrench into the gears of The Great Jobs-mobile.