Holding Pattern

After getting the brush-off from the general hospitals in the area, I'm waiting for the first of July for the state hiring freeze to be over, then I'll know if the state mental hospital or university health center will be the place where I enter into nursing practice. At this point, I'm about to accept whatever job offer lands on my desk first, really! If neither of those places work out, I'll have to send in applications to the two major cities 45 minutes or so away from me. I suppose either one would be a nice change of pace, but now that I've embroiled myself in some non-work activities I suspect I'll stay relatively close to home, for a while at least.

Go (Baduk, Wei qi) continues to take up the majority of my time. I just picked up a snazzy new reversible 9x9 / 13x13 board from one of the other guys in the Go club. Most of my afternoons are filled with playing Go on the internet at the coffee shop, and then when that closes, to the bar. Wash, rinse, repeat. At the last Go club meeting, I actually beat a First-Kyu player three times in a row on a 9x9 board (that's 9 stones stronger than my current KGS rank)!

Aikido continues to be a lot of fun, despite the fact that my knees and the tops of my feet get all scraped up in the process. I'm about 1/5th of the way to being able to take my exam for 5th kyu, I'll make sure to video record it and post it when that happens. There's going to be a "Friendship seminar" at the dojo next month, with about 300 or so people sleeping over at the farm, with five aikido training sessions and one organic farming session. I've been training the Ushi Deshi (apprentices) at the farm in Go, which makes for a nice relaxing way to spend an hour or two after training. The 9x9 / 13x13 board should help with this, that way I can have time to play a game with both Ushi Deshi instead of alternating between one and the other.

The Trombonery is going pretty well, too, I'll be playing at our local summer music festival with a rock-a-billy band. We had our first practice together last week, and the three of us knit together in the horn section, being the pros that we are/were, were able to bang out parts in no time. The band was pretty pleased with our progress and mentioned bringing us to more shows in the future. The jazz trio/quartet/quintet I've been jamming out with might establish a residency at one of the fancy restaurants in the area on top of that, which would be nice because that would pay about $150 a week for just a few hours work. I was just reflecting the other day on how after well over a decade of playing trombone (mostly jazz and concert band trombone), I've never been paid for playing. Well, there was a brief stint with a ska band back in my teenage years, but nearly all of that money went back into the band so it doesn't count. Heh.

So, these things keep me busy, but not nearly busy enough. I still have way too much time to go out every night and get bummed out by the people I run into. I'll probably feel a bit better once I've settled into my first nursing job, and maybe that will prompt some relocation. This place has too many bad memories attached to it, and it's a scene that got sour and stupid a long time ago.


Authorized to Test

A couple of days ago I received my ATT (Authorization To Test) form from the National Council on Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

I'm scheduled to be examined on July 28th at 2PM.

I'm excited to take this test, I think Computerized Adaptive Testing is interesting, and I love a good challenge. I've been flipping through my Lippencott-Williams training materials on my PDA-Phone pretty regularly, I solve maybe 100 questions or so a day. I feel pretty confident that I'll pass it on the first try, but just in case I'm going to spend the last couple of weeks leading up to the examination pouring over my nursing texts, especially the Pharmacology and Critical Care texts. Maybe I'll crack open the ol' Martini Anatomy & Physiology text, just for old times sake. Maternal and Child Health, strangely enough, seems to be my strongest content area. The ERI coach and some of the faculty make a big deal out of men not being as well prepared for this material as women, but I think I actually have an advantage by not taking it for granted and studying it seriously (some of my classmates imagined that they knew it well enough to not have to study, having undergone the gestation process themselves).

Now let me ramble a little bit about what I know about the Test.

Anyone interested in what the NCLEX is all about, how Computerized Adaptive Testing works and why it's "better" than traditional testing (where all candidates are given the same questions), your first stop is to check out the candidate bulliten here: http://www.vue.com/nclex/bulletin_08.pdf, it contains all of the information I'm rambling about below.

Arguably the most difficult and frustrating part of the examination is actually registering for it. You have to send a 200 dollar fee to the national council, then you have to send 90 dollars and a notarized form to your state board of nursing or department of public health. Next, you have to have your official transcript sent to your state agency, at which point they send you back an authorization to test form. Once you receive this form you can log on to the vue.com site and select a test day. This procedure caused a lot of confusion and trichtotillomania (compulsive tearing out hair) among my classmates, myself included.

When you arrive on test-day, you can't bring -ANYTHING- in with you except a picture ID and your ATT form. No wallets, watches, scarves, jackets, weapons, phones or electronic devices. You'll be photographed and fingerprinted when you arrive. You'll also be fingerprinted EVERY time you get up from the computer and EVERY time you sit back down at it. Scratch-paper is forbidden, but a whiteboard is bolted to the table with a dry-erase marker attached to it. You will be audio and video recorded at all times during the examination and break times. Any odd behavior is grounds for forfeiture of the exam and associated fees, at the discretion of the test center staff (which is a shame, because I always like to put on a good show when I know I'm being monitored).

Computerized Adaptive Testing is very different from the sort of static, linear tests that most people pursuing academics are familiar with. Traditional tests give the same questions to everyone. Strong candidates have to waste their time answering a lot of easy questions, which doesn't tell the examiners much about their ability, while weak candidates still have the chance to answer a difficult question correctly by guessing 25% of the time, which doesn't tell us much about them, either.

Strong or weak, pass or fail, most people, on average, get half of the questions right. Let me rephrase that. Pass or fail, everyone gets around 50% of the questions right. The computer considers the difficulty of the question you answered (determined by shuffling the question in previous years exams to determine it's "difficulty" by comparing it to the scores of the candidates that answered it while not actually giving them credit for it good or bad, since the question is "Experimental" at that stage), and gives you an easier or harder question depending on if you answered the question correctly or not. In this fashion, the computer keeps giving you questions that you should have about a 50-50 chance of answering correctly.

The test may have anywhere between 75 and 265 questions. When the limit of 265 questions has been reached, time has run out, or the computer is 95% certain if you passed or failed, the computer shuts off and you're all done. Some candidates mistakenly believe that the fact that they're being asked all 265 questions means they are not doing well, and so then rapidly guess out of frustration. This is a BAD IDEA, the adaptive nature of the test will lead to this drastically lowering the score.

I'm pretty good at outsmarting tests, but this is a wily one. I'm excited.

Triflin' Hos

About two weeks ago, during my second day of Aikido training, the sensei read from a book of Hogen's Dharma talks before Zazen meditation, as he always does.  The passage on that particular day hit me like a lightening bolt, as it described so clearly the difficulties I've had recently with the neuroses and immaturity of people I foolishly invested something of myself in.

"There is no friend anywhere", just as "there is no enemy anywhere".  An old friend told me at the bar once "there's no such thing as friends, you know?"  You just have to laugh at a situation in which being grossly inconsiderate and verbally abusive are written off as "just what friends do", backed up with drunkenness and an inability to take any responsibility for the self and it's actions, using traumas from the past to excuse bad behavior...while actually calling someone out on their shit (what friends -really- do) and trying to talk about it makes one "the jerk".  Oh well.

From the lecture titled "Karma, desire, and our ultimate direction"

We could ask ourselves, "What is the real substance of our lives?  What are our aspirations?"  It is obvious to most people, surely, that our bodies are a mass of accumulated desires and that these desires generally constitute the motivating force in our lives.  Collective desires and karmic accumulations form our very being.  But, as long as we continue to live in such a karmic prison, our bodies are a nuisance to us.  I call this habitual death.  Most of us think we are living now; we are physically here, but that is not life!  Yet physical desires do have a role to play in our lives, their essential function being revealed to us through the desire itself.  The essential meaning of desire is revealed to us by our deepest inner life as we long to be penetrated by the light of truth.  When our true direction is being awakened by a deeper yearning, animal instincts function naturally helping us to realize our original desire.  But satisfying physical needs and appetites in a simple way is not the same as becoming a slave to them.  We must recognize that we cannot conquer our instincts by face-to-face combat; this would merely be maintaining the 'status quo'.

The same is true of our emotions. When we fall deeply in love, we may believe we are embracing and experiencing the true nature of universal love and compassion.  Real love, however, is not the fulfilment of our own inclinations, needs, or addictions; real love does not come from the ordinary level of human emotion and arises from no-mind.  Love is the unconditional offering to all life, and an acceptance of all life.  And yet the reality is that we are daily more and more involved in our emotional lives.  We suffer from jealousy, anger, insecurity, pride, loneliness... all as a result of endless distortions in our relationships.

Where is the real love within us?  We have failed one thousand times to find it, and yet we shall find it on the thousand-and-first try!  Even though such a relationship or encounter may be rare, there is still the possibility we may succeed while we are real human beings living in this real human world.

When we find real love (compassion), we shall transcend the repetition of desire.  If real love is not in our relationships - not only in relationships of an intimate nature, but in all relationships - they cannot work.  On the death of ego, in the acceptance of pain and our own failure, real love is kindled and newly born.  Love does not fail - we do!  We often fail to let love work within us because of our egos.  But we are born anew through the real crucifixion of ego in zazen, which leaves no trace of karma behind.

Even if we aspire to real love, we inevitably grow frustrated by an endless succession of animal instincts demanding satisfaction.  This means that we are constantly confronting the gap between our ideals and the real situation.  How, then, do we usually distinguish between right and wrong?  Our childhood experiences are always at work, subconsciously determining our vision of the world.  Originally, we are as pure as white paper; it is only our experiences which colour or stain our lives.  We may think we are taking on new colours, but underneath it all the purity and colours of our childhood remain.  When we are totally cleansed, then we can return to that original white paper.  Such purity, such emptiness, is our innermost self as it existed before the birth of our parents, now-by-now, before the cosmos came into existence.

We may think we are making progress in our lives, when we are in fact circling around on the very same plane of consciousness.  This process of conditioning is inevitable to human existence, but it is not inevitable that we remain in such a state.  The first step in reaching beyond our conditioning is taken when we realize that we are conditioned.


Fourty-eight inches of digital madness

I did a double-take a couple of days ago when I walked through our living room. There's a new, very large samsung LCD tv sitting on the bricks where the fireplace used to be. It's one of those new fancy ones with HD and a nearly 180-degree viewable angle. I flipped around the new channels today, there's dozens of HD channels, including one that just plays movie trailers all day. Wild. I don't watch TV much, but the prospect of hooking up one of those next-gen gaming consoles up to it is pretty exciting. Watching animal planet in HD was pretty impressive, too. It looks all...3d and stuff.

Two nights ago a few of my friends from the coffee shop got together and played music for a couple of hours over a movie projected on the screen behind us. I took a CD full of field recordings from around our town and arranged them in a looper on my laptop, running that through my kaoss pad. That served as the ambient texture over which the drums, guitars, electric cello, keyboards and theramin jammed for a couple hours. The Kaosspad is good for playing those samples as an instrument, too. The performance was well received.

The next day, the drummer asked me to come down and play trombone with him and a bassist. I hadn't played trombone in front of people for..oh, I don't know..3 years or so maybe. I only just started picking the instrument back up because I'm playing with a local band at our downtown summer music festival. It went pretty well. My lips started to get tired halfway through, but that's what I'm practicing to correct. Even though it's been a while since I've drilled scales or anything like that, improvising over jazz and funk came back right away. I guess I didn't win the Louis B. Armstrong Jazz Improv award 8 years ago for nothin, eh? I'm going to play again with that same group at the bar that I frequent on Friday. I'm actually kinda excited about the downtown music festival, I'm going to be playing alongside the sax player from a band I really like, I remember watching them up on stage several times over the past few years, wishing I had stuck with the trombone so I could play with them, specifically with the sax player. Well, now I'm going to get my chance!

Here's a video of the experimental ambiance gig. The quality is kind of poor, I tried to extend the recording time by reducing the resolution, but then forgot to charge the battery so I didn't get much anyway. Oh well. A high-quality audio recording was made, so I'll post that soon.


Another interview....and now off to Aikido

I had an interview for a position on a Telemetry unit (generally higher in acuity then general medical/surgical floors) today, I think it went pretty well. It was at the same facility that turned me down for a position on their medical/pediatric unit, so I was glad they called me back for another round.

This unit was much different from the medical/pediatric floor, everything was shiny and new, the nurses all looked -very- busy, and this unit was just around the corner from "The Unit" (the ICU). I liked the few times I had clinical experiences in telemetry and ICU, the pace is faster, there are more interesting procedures to do and more "science" involved. It's also somewhat intimidating, on Nights there are four RNs and 1-2 PCTs for 30 patients! I wouldn't be thrown into that situation right off the bat, of course, but it's an example of how crazy things could conceivably get there. The manager was regaling me with stories of 8 admissions and 8 discharges all at 10PM, surges of overflow patients from the ED and things of that nature. She mentioned that they get a lot of ODs and DT (delerium tremens) patients, the hospital is in an area notorious for heroin. The local ambulances, from what I'm told, carry triple the doses of Narcan compared to ambulances in my area.

In three hours or so I'm going back to Aikido. My good buddy Jackofhares, student paramedic extraordinare that he is, treated and bandaged my knee and toe wounds from the unforgiving mat in the dojo. I'll have to pick up some moleskin or something, maybe get some knee pads.

Here's an Aikido video or two for those of you who are unfamiliar

Martial Arts - Aikido Techniques - video powered by Metacafe

via livejournal.com/cynical_nurse

I love british accents


Fun with kids and electronics, music and mayhem

One of my friends (who's a band director) invited me to come in to her music appreciation class and demo some of the gear I use to make music. It was a lot of fun, there were a bunch of sharp kids in the group, and between the turntable, laptop, Kaoss Pad and Silent Brass pickup-mute there was plenty of room for them to get some hands-on playtime in.

It was fun watching them play around with the gear, and it definitely made the days of one or two of them. Seeing some of their jaws drop when they figured out what kinds of things the equipment could do was classic. I hung around for a couple hours watching them play, adjusting a knob here or there, demonstrating a technique briefly to get them going in the right direction.

It was good to get everything all plugged in to make sure it's working, since a few of my friends from downtown are getting together at the coffee shop to improvise some ambient music to go along with some video art the drummer put together. I think so far there's a drummer, a DJ, a cellist, two guitar players, myself (I think i'll stick to the kaoss pad and a laptop serving samples), and someone with a monstrous homebrew cabinet stuffed to the brim with analogue synth (with patch cables and everything) that must stand at least 4' tall.

In addition to this, another friend of mine is getting together with me late in the week to mess around with the kaoss pad in parallel with a korg electribe and a moog synthesizer, that's been fun so far, especially because we share a lot of similar tastes and influences. It's turning out to sound like noise/breakcore, but it could just as easily spin off in any direction at all. The first stab at it was pretty experimental, but now that we have an idea how our equipment works together we should come up with some pretty interesting things.

The heat is getting ridiculous. I have my air conditioner cranked up all the way, thankfully now that I've put it in I've had an easier time getting to sleep.


Today was the first day of aikido lessons for my sister and I. We're taking them at a small organic farm a couple of towns over, the classes are taught by someone who used to teach aikido to US special forces, and the training is focused on real-world application of the techniques.

It was a lot of fun. My knees are sore and scraped, and my sister's hip is bruised, but we both had a good time. I was exhausted by the end of it. The training begins with about a half-hour of zazen, followed by some chanting and stretching exercises.

There are only three other students present besides my sister and I, and two of them seemed to be relatively new at this as well. My sister took several years of Karate, and I took several years of Judo, but years of disuse lead to us having to relearn things like how to fall correctly.

Both of us have some difficulty with spacial relationships and reasoning, so this (which is more complex than either judo or karate) was challenging, but the techniques that are taught are a lot of fun.

There are a lot of similarities between aikido and Go, at least it seems that way after one lesson. Students are taught the correct way to execute aikido maneuvers, and the "practice dummy" of the pair (since the person who is attacking isn't doing aikido, which has no offensive moves) is taught what the "best response" is to prevent injury and optimize the outcome for both parties. "Turn your head the other way, that way if you're struck you at least live to fight another day", the instructor said at some point.

My air conditioner is installed and humming along at a comfortable 64 degrees Fahrenheit, my ultra-high thread count sheets are freshly washed and drawn, I'm pleasantly exhausted and have two more aikido lessons this week.

There's only one thing missing....



Most of the time my sleeplessness is perfectly purposeless. It usually happens when I'm not working or going to school, first I stay up later and wake up later, and then I miss a night or two of sleep all together. These are usually the only times I get anything done in the morning, but my sleep-deprived mind is in no shape to sort out what's happening.

I just haven't been able to make myself go to sleep lately. Maybe the recent lifestyle changes have had something to do with it, but it's just like it's always been...there's a sense of having to keep watch for something, needing to stay alert for something vitally important that never occurs. What, I can't say, but I'm awake still, so I don't miss it.

Oh, how I miss it.

Sleeplessness today has served two very unusual purposes. The first was to drive my sister to her high school, which promptly called me at home demanding to know where she was. I told the school that I just dropped her off. They told me to hang on a moment, and after a pregnant pause came back on the line and told me that she was, in fact, there.

The second was to drive my dad to the emergency room. Abdominal pain/cramping, liquid stools and general malaise x3 days, Hx of rectal CA, s/p resection. We both have an unhealthy habit of waiting until things get even worse before getting help, fortunately he called his gastroenterologist and he told him to go.

It's funny, I remember making that same drive with our seats reversed, the one time I had to go to a hospital, maybe a little less than 20 years ago. I was having an asthma attack, probably the worst one I ever had. By the time I got into the ED and before I even had a chance to suck down a DuoNeb, it was over and I pinked right up.

Hopefully I find a job soon, this whole unemployment deal gives me too much time to worry, irritate other people and upset myself. I have another interview at our state university's health center. It's an hour away and part-time, but It's an interview and I can't very well turn it down.

This whole stay up till noon and wake up in the evening thing is actually well-suited for the schedules at most of the places I'd work, it's just the staying up for 40-50 hours and then sleeping 16 that's really not good for me.

Can't help it, though...my mind's in a far away place, and it's struggle against unconsciousness is just a natural reaction to lost and broken connections. Blah.