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My story from an unforgettable day…

September 8, 2021, 10:31 AM

I can’t believe that this Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, otherwise known as 9/11.  I still remember that day like it was yesterday, even though so much has gone on in the intervening two decades.  They say that everyone can tell you where they were or what they were doing when they found out about 9/11, much like the people of my parents’ generation and the Kennedy assassination.

Back then, I was a junior at JMU, and I was working as a resident advisor in Potomac Hall.  It was the third week of classes, and everyone was getting settled into a nice routine.  Being a Tuesday, I didn’t have any classes until 2 PM, so I was able to sleep a little later.  I was awakened around 9:30 AM by a knock on my door, as one of my residents had accidentally locked themselves out of their room.  I put on a bathrobe over my pajamas, and we went down to the hall office, where I completed the paperwork for the lockout (everyone got two free lockouts in a year, and any subsequent lockouts were subject to a fee), and then gave them the spare key to their room so that they could let themselves in.  I impressed on them to immediately come back down to the hall office after letting themselves back in their room in order to return the spare key, because I would be sitting in there waiting for them to come back so that I wouldn’t accidentally leave any room key business unfinished.  My hall director, Mecca Marsh, was a tough boss to work for, and she did not take kindly to any mistakes.  She treated any oversight or error as the worst thing that you could ever do, going so far as to bean you in your performance evaluation for even the most minor of errors, so if I suffered a little inconvenience in order to ensure that I wouldn’t have to deal with Mecca over something, that was fine.  So I waited down there and found a way to entertain myself, probably for about five or so minutes, until they came back with the key.  Then I put everything back as it needed to be and headed back upstairs.  At that time, I was still oblivious to any sort of world events.  As far as I knew, it was just a normal Tuesday.

After this, I had another matter of business to attend to.  The night before, there was a pretty bad backup in one of the toilets on my floor that I had to deal with, as that fell under the scope of my responsibilities.  The toilet got plunged a bit, but ultimately, I had to tape the stall door closed and mark it as out of order, because it was beyond our capabilities as RAs to fix.  I took the plunger, which belonged to housekeeping, with me that night, in order to return it to our housekeeper, a lady named Kathy.  I hadn’t seen Kathy on my floor from the elevator to my room, so I dipped into my room, grabbed the plunger, and continued looking.  She wasn’t anywhere on my floor, and so I went up the stairs to the fifth floor.  I went down the hall to the TV lounge, and found Kathy in there.  I went in, gave her the plunger, and then looked over at the television.

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Categories: Events, JMU, Myself

Does this count as “over 40” problems?

July 18, 2021, 11:27 PM

FYI, this Journal entry discusses gross body functions in personal places.  If you’re squeamish about such things, you might want to skip this one.  Otherwise, here we go…

This past Friday, I went in for some minor surgery to fix a small problem.  Back in April, I had developed what turned out to be an abscess on my backside.  I didn’t quite know what it was for a while, and was doing what they say that you shouldn’t do, and looked up my symptoms on Google.  It seems like every time you google your symptoms, it always comes back as a heart attack, and therefore, you need to get your tail to the emergency room right now.  But I knew better.  Even controlling for definitely-not-a-heart-attack, though, I still got inconclusive results, i.e. Dr. Google had no clue what it was.  All the while, this thing was uncomfortable.  At its peak, it was so painful that it was difficult to sit.  And considering that my job is performed from a seated position, that point really made for a long day.  At one point, I tried squeezing it, and pus came out of it.  That made me feel a little better for a little while, but it quickly filled back up and continued to hurt.  Eventually it started to drain on its own without any prompting from me.  That felt a little better because there was no more pressure, but it was still painful, and now it was draining all the time and making a mess in my underwear, even soaking through my pants on occasion, which is not a good thing by any means.  I don’t like having to choose my outfits based on thickness and color of material in order to prevent embarrassing abscess leaks from showing up.

I eventually went to an urgent care facility, and there, the doctor diagnosed it as a cutaneous abscess, and prescribed a course of antibiotics (Bactrim) for it.  According to the urgent care doctor, the abscess should take care of itself without any further intervention.  As it would turn out, the antibiotic took care of the infection in very short order, but the drain opening remained, and things kept on draining, albeit with less volume than before, which kept the leakage contained to my underwear and not going through my pants anymore.  I figured that some drainage was normal, considering that I had just had a big abscess that was being treated.  But then it kept on going, even after the infection had subsided, and after I finished up all of the antibiotics.  I kept holding out some hope for a while that it would resolve on its own, but it never did.

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Categories: Matthew, Personal health

My first time eating at a real restaurant in a very long time…

July 9, 2021, 3:50 PM

Recently, on a trip to Staunton, I had my first meal in a full-service restaurant since my weight loss surgery in December 2019.  We were visiting family, as my sister and her husband were in from Chicago.  So our party consisted of Elyse and me, my sister and her husband Chris, our parents, and Chris’s parents.  Nice group all around.  We ate at Zynodoa, which is a higher tier restaurant than I typically go to, but it was a good experience overall.

I would say that the timing of things tended to work against restaurants in general.  I had my surgery on December 6, 2019, and so things were still healing for most of December.  I was figuring out through trial and error about what foods would be tolerated by my body, and also determining portion sizes.  When Elyse and I would go out, we typically would stop in at a grocery store with a food bar if we needed to eat, like Harris Teeter, Wegmans, or Whole Foods.  I was typically able to get out of there for about five bucks (I would jokingly refer to myself as a cheap date).  Doing that allowed me to try out a variety of different foods, and only get the amounts that I needed (remember, my tummy is tiny now).

Then the pandemic restrictions came along, which took eating in restaurants out of the picture entirely.  I’ve never been one to do take-out from restaurants.  If I’m eating food from a sit-down restaurant, I’m more than likely going to be eating it at the restaurant.  If I’m getting it to go, I’m going somewhere else, like a grocery store or something else cheaper than a full restaurant.  Thus if I couldn’t eat on the premises because of various rules in place, a full restaurant was of no use to me.  And if I’m getting food to take home, I might as well just eat the food that I already have at home.  All of that said, the pandemic rules came about while I was still forming new habits after having my surgery, and that meant that full-service restaurants were more or less out of the picture, i.e. they didn’t exist as far as I was concerned.

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I am now in my forties…

June 4, 2021, 3:42 PM

This past Sunday, I turned 40.  I remember the first time that I heard about someone turning 40.  In that case, it was Uncle Johnny, i.e. Mom’s brother, back when I was still in my single digits.  That age sounded so old for someone who was in elementary school.  It was more than four times the age that I was at the time, and seemed so far off.  And now I’m there.  Uncle Johnny, meanwhile, is now in his seventies, and he and Aunt Beth are retired and living their best life.

My actual birthday, meanwhile, was pretty quiet, by my choice.  At work, it’s in our union contract that we are guaranteed to have our birthday off as a “floating holiday”, but I opted to work on my birthday and take the holiday the next day in order to have a three-day weekend.  This was also a bit of a weird birthday, because I definitely had a mental hang-up about turning 40.  I watched all of my classmates from high school post about turning 40 on Facebook, and I couldn’t help but think that it felt wrong for all of these young people that I went to school with to be turning 40.  I didn’t really want to turn 40, because 40 felt old.  You weren’t “young” anymore, but instead were “middle aged”.  Funny thing, though, is that I have one friend who acted like his life was practically over when he turned 40 a few years ago, and I had to reassure him that it wasn’t the case, and here I was having a hang-up myself over “40 is old”.  The morning of my birthday, I woke up, thought to myself, I’m 40!, mentally groaned for a moment, and then rolled over and went back to sleep for another hour.

But then after I got to work, I got to thinking (operating the train gives you lots of time to think), and I realized that I was 40, but I didn’t feel any different than I did the day before, when I was still 39.  I soon came to realize that it was going to be okay. I didn’t feel old.  I felt just as good as ever.  Sure, I have a few lines where there were no lines before, and a lot of things sag now (mainly from the weight loss), and I have to hold things a little bit further away from my face in order to read them than I used to, but all in all, I’m doing pretty well.  But don’t get me wrong – I still hate birthday greetings.

So now that I’m in my forties, here’s to another decade of adventures, I suppose.

Categories: Birthdays, Myself

The things that we rationalize as children…

November 22, 2020, 10:39 PM

Sometimes it’s fun to think back about what mental connections you made in younger years that you probably should not have, i.e. rationalizing things based on incomplete or wrong information.  I want to say that I’ve always filled in gaps and such myself, and when I eventually learn the truth, it always makes me laugh to think about what I had once believed.

Right offhand, I remember how I used to think that “gross” was spelled when I was a child.  Now mind you, I had never seen the word written down before, but I had heard my mother use the term plenty of times.  I like to think that I had a fairly decent grasp on the English language even as a child, so I took a good guess.  In my mind, I thought it was spelled “groce”, which to me makes a lot of sense.  After all, “grocery” has that spelling, and is pronounced the same way.  And words that end in -oss are typically have an “aw” sound for that vowel than a long “o” sound, like boss, cross, gauss, and moss.  “Gross” doesn’t fit.  I remember when I saw the word in print for the first time, and was informed that it was “gross”, I remember thinking, oh, that’s how it’s spelled?  Weird.  “Groce” still seems more logical for me, but clearly, I’m not going to win this one.  I do tend to say, “G-R-O-C-E gross,” as in spelling it out the way I think it should be spelled and then saying the word, when the situation merits it.  You may recall in a Journal entry about soda from 2017 that I used this phrase.  That’s where it comes from.

Then there’s the opposite situation, where there were words that I had seen in writing but had never heard pronounced.  I remember reading about bones in Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia, Volume 1, which a children’s book all about the body.  It was a good book, and I learned a lot from it.  About bones, they said that while the outside of our bones are hard, the insides are “soft and spongy”.  I had never made the connection between this word and a sponge before, and so I assumed that it was pronounced in a similar way to bong or thong.  I also assumed based on context that “spongy” was something related to softness, and so I was able to work around the unknown word well enough and keep it moving.  When Mom eventually set me straight on the word, it suddenly made the passage in the book make a lot more sense, but I admit that I missed my original pronunciation.

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Categories: Childhood

A weight loss update…

October 14, 2020, 11:18 PM

A friend of mine recently mentioned that I had not given any significant update on my weight loss progress since January, a month after I had my gastric sleeve surgery.  So I suppose that it’s high time that I gave an update.  After all, it’s been ten months since the surgery, and things have progressed since then.  Compare the April splash photo (which was taken on February 3) against the October splash photo, and you’ll see a difference:

Splash photo from April 2020 (taken on February 3)

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Vegetable smoothies?

July 1, 2020, 5:20 PM

For a while now, Elyse and I had been coming up with ways to use up certain food items in the house that we were not going through.  It stems from the way that my eating has changed ever since I had the sleeve surgery back in December.  Ever since then, I can’t eat a regular-sized meal anymore, and haven’t eaten off of a regular-sized plate in a very long time.  If I’m eating off of a plate, it’s one of the small plates, but more commonly, I eat out of a six-ounce ramekin, or out of a mug.  That works for me for the most part, but with such limited capacity, I end up getting my protein in, but I haven’t been as good about vegetables.  Typically, for vegetables, I try to throw some in when I make eggs, and then I also get it in when I make that vegan chili that I like.  But I want to say that just that is probably insufficient, and so the thought came up about how to (A) get more vegetables in, and (B) use up several large bags of broccoli and California mix that have been sitting in my basement freezer ever since before the surgery.

So Elyse and I thought about making smoothies with what we have around the house.  The idea seemed reasonable enough.  I have a Ninja blender, and there was food that needed a purpose.  The idea was to put it in and grind it up.  The bag of vegetables that was on the top in the freezer was the broccoli:

A big bag of Bird's Eye broccoli

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It’s been a month since the sleeve…

January 19, 2020, 2:05 PM

It has been a little more than a month since I had the gastric sleeve surgery.  As of my one-month follow-up appointment with the doctor on January 7, I had lost 23 pounds since the surgery.  That is on top of the 16 pounds that I lost while I was on the pre-op liquid diet, for a total of 39 pounds lost in about six weeks.  Not bad.  I will get weighed next in the middle of February when I have my DOT physical, and so I’ll see how my weight loss is continuing at that time.

The time in the hospital was certainly an interesting experience, and my discussion of it in a previous Journal entry was a bit inadequate, since I was not quite feeling like myself again when I wrote it.  I’ve also learned a few things since then about what I experienced that I didn’t know at the time.  For one thing, I realized that the reason that I hurt all over was from the gas that they use with the laparoscopy.  As part of that process, they pump your abdomen full of carbon dioxide, and that stuff has to go somewhere once the surgery is over.  When everyone said “gas pains” about the surgery, I was expecting something more akin to bloating like when you eat something that doesn’t agree with you.  You know the kind where you go into the bathroom, you produce a little tiny Brazil nut-sized poop and then just fart a lot but feel better afterward?  That’s what I was expecting.  This was not that.  It turns out that the body has to absorb that gas, and it makes everything hurt, including things that had nothing to do with the surgery.  My upper back was sore.  My shoulders were sore.  My calves were sore, too.  It went away after a couple of days, but it definitely made for an unpleasant night at the hospital, since I was sore from that, and all of the stuff that they had attached to me made it difficult to move around in the bed.  Let’s just say that I was thankful to sleep in my own bed again the following night.  That pain from the gas was a lot more manageable when I was in familiar surroundings and not hooked up to a bunch of stuff.

You’ve also got to love the things that you say while you’re under the influence of the various things that they have you on in the hospital.  They gave me all kinds of anti-nausea meds, for one, but then when it was time to go into the operating room, they gave me some stuff through my IV that made me a bit loopy just before wheeling me in.  I got into the operating room, and I was thinking, oooooooooooh, look at the pretty lights as I studied all of the reflectors on them.  Then when they gave me the gas to put me out, all I could think of was that I wasn’t feeling sleepy.  Then the next thing that I remembered, it was done.  Later, as two nurses were wheeling me to my room on a stretcher, my hospital gown was apparently disheveled, because they asked me if my testicles were swollen.  I said, “No, I just have long nuts.”  I imagine that the nurses kind of died a little inside when I said that, but I suppose that such is what happens when the anesthesia is wearing off, because I certainly wouldn’t say that in real life.  But it made for a good laugh later on.

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Categories: Weight loss

My second experiment with facial hair…

January 5, 2020, 8:53 AM

Friday, January 3 concluded my second experiment in growing facial hair.  You may recall my first in October 2009, when I let my whiskers grow during a two-week vacation (16 days’ total growth), and then shaved it off at the end.  This time around, Elyse and I made a deal that I wouldn’t shave while I was at home recovering from my recent surgery, with the day of surgery’s being my last shave.  The agreement was that I wouldn’t shave again until either I couldn’t stand it anymore, or I went back to work, whichever came first.  As it turned out, I was able to go with it for the full period that I was out, which meant that I had 29 days’ worth of facial hair by the time that I shaved.  This is what a month’s worth of facial hair growth looks like on me:

The final beard, after 29 days of growth

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Categories: Myself

Christmas in Baltimore…

December 29, 2019, 8:35 AM

So Christmas was pretty fun this year.  On Christmas Eve, we had dinner with some of Elyse’s father’s relatives, and then on Christmas Day, we got together with some of Elyse’s mother’s relatives.  This was my first holiday with my new, smaller stomach, and so I was still getting used to its new capacity, figuring out how much I should take, what will be tolerated, and so on.  I believe that I overdid it by a tad on Christmas Eve, likely by eating foods that I wasn’t ready for yet, but I more or less nailed it on Christmas.  When you have a gastric sleeve like I did, you have to chew everything really well, and also not drink and eat at the same time.  Generally speaking, you have to give your stomach time to process the food that it just took in before resuming liquid intake.  Also, if you put too much in at once, it will get rejected, either by getting sent through to the intestines, or it’s coming back up.  But anyway…

After dinner on Christmas, Elyse and I went planespotting near BWI.  We had discusssed doing this for some time, even before our planespotting adventure at National, and on this particular occasion, it just worked out.  We were already in the Glen Burnie area, I had my real camera with me, and we had about an hour or so of daylight to play with.  The location where you typically planespot for BWI is actually specially designated for that purpose: the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.  It’s a very nice area that’s operated by Anne Arundel County, with a walking trail, playground equipment for the kids, and plenty of space to watch planes take off and land.  On this particular day, planes were landing over the park, and so I got some landing photos.  When it comes to planespotting at BWI, it can, for the most part, be summed up in one word: Southwest.  BWI is a focus city for Southwest, and as such, sees more Southwest traffic than anything else, and that also means a lot of Boeing 737s.

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I have been sleeved…

December 7, 2019, 7:50 PM

So it’s a done deal.  I received a sleeve gastrectomy on December 6 at Montgomery General Hospital.  Here I am the following morning:

Selfie at the hospital

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Excited, nervous, and so many other feelings…

November 17, 2019, 9:56 AM

This coming December 6, I will be going in for surgery at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney, where I will be having a sleeve gastrectomy procedure, commonly known as a gastric sleeve.  This is a surgery that will help with weight management.  This is done laparoscopically, and it removes a portion of the stomach, leaving a much smaller stomach behind that’s roughly the size of a banana.  This one only reduces the size of the stomach, and preserves the original path of the digestive tract.  Compare to the older Roux-en-Y procedure, which separates the stomach into two sections, and reroutes the digestive tract.

I am doing this because I have been heavy for most of my life (I haven’t seen the underside of 200 since eighth grade), and diet and exercise alone haven’t gotten me nearly as far as I needed to be.  Sure, I looked far better at 275 than I did at 384, but it was still too much weight to carry, and I still had weight-related health issues at the lower weight.  Over the course of the past year, I have attended classes with a dietitian, had various evaluations and tests done (the endoscopy that I wrote about last April was part of that), and after all of that, the insurance gave the surgery their blessing.

I have to say that I have a bunch of different feelings running through me about this.  On one hand, I know that this is a necessary step.  My primary care doctor first suggested it to me about a year ago, and then I unexpectedly got a second opinion within a month or so from a specialist that I was seeing when they suggested it as well.  As far as I was concerned, that was a pretty strong indicator about what I needed to do, when two out of two doctors, in their professional opinion, suggested it, completely unsolicited.  I also feel like I’m ready for it.  I know what I’m supposed to do to prepare for the surgery, I know what I’m supposed to do immediately after surgery, and I know what I’m doing during the healing process and thereafter on the maintenance diet.  At the end of every dietitian class, they told us “Chew, chew, chew, sip, sip, sip, and walk, walk, walk.”  I’ve also stocked up on my multivitamins and my calcium citrate, as gastric sleeve patients will take multivitamins and calcium supplements for life.  This also has the potential to get me off of some of the medications that I’m on as well as the CPAP (for sleep apnea).  That latter point is exciting, because while I’m used to the CPAP, it’s still a bother, and I would be more than happy to be rid of the device that I’ve described as “the most expensive fan that I’ve ever owned”.  I’ve also spoken with colleagues who have had the same surgery, and they have generally had good experiences, which leaves me feeling optimistic.  After all, if they can succeed with this while doing very sedentary work, then so can I.

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Six years, two months, and five days later…

September 24, 2019, 8:26 AM

September 24 marks the day that I have been a former employee of Food & Water Watch for the same amount of time that I had been an active employee there.  Since leaving, I have given plenty of thought to my tenure there, and nowadays, I tend to give it a mixed review.  On one hand, that job was what got me up to the Washington DC area in the first place, and it was good for me for a period of time.  I grew both personally and professionally because of my experience there, and I certainly benefitted from that.  I also certainly had lots of good times while there.  However, I probably stayed there for much longer than I should have, as most people spent two or three years there and then moved on.  I was there for just over six years, was ninth in seniority by the time that I left, and was no longer all that interested in the issues that the organization was working on by the time that I left.

One thing that I have come to realize with the passage of time is that my position ultimately came to its logical conclusion.  When I was hired, the organization had about twenty people, with most people based in DC.  By the time that I left, the organization was somewhere around 100 people spread across many offices.  In my role as office manager, I was that “jack of all trades, master of none” person.  I had no direct involvement with the program content, but rather, I was the guy behind the scenes who made sure that the people handling the program content had what they needed to do their thing.  I was tasked with fixing stuff, working with outside vendors, making sure that the office had all of the necessary supplies, doing all of the shipping and receiving, handling matters related to the building, and so on.  In other words, I served in a very generalist role.  I knew a bit about a lot of things, and it suited me well for a time.  What happened was that over the years, as the organization grew, they would carve specialist roles out of my responsibilities.  It made enough sense, because a bigger organization justified creating more specialized roles.  My job gradually evolved over the years as my responsibilities shifted with the growth of the organization.  The view of my generalist role also evolved, with the focus of my role’s shifting from the “jack of all trades” part to the “master of none part”, as, with the hiring of more specialized roles, I went from being the guy who knew a lot about a lot of stuff to “what does he know?”  And eventually, my role was whittled down to a very low-level role that I was overqualified for, and probably overpaid for as well.

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Categories: Myself, Work

Of all the words to split hairs over…

August 24, 2019, 9:18 AM

I’ve got one more school story for you.  I figure that I’ve told this one so many times to various people that it’s worth putting in Journal entry form and getting “on the record” once and for all.  It also demonstrates just how toxic the situation was in 1990 at Bonnie Grimes Elementary School in Rogers.

Fourth grade, as I’ve indicated before, was a pretty rough year.  This particular incident occurred in late October.  I was in the car rider line after school, waiting for my ride to church for the after-school program that I participated in on Wednesday evenings.  The teacher on car duty was Vicki George, the speech therapist, i.e. the person who worked with the kids that had speech impediments.  Having no speech impediments myself, I never worked with Mrs. George in an official capacity.  My only interactions with her were when she was supervising other kids, i.e. lunch duty, bus duty, car duty, and so on.  My interactions with her were generally negative, because she was a real stickler for behavior – more so than the regular teachers – and as such, on several occasions, I got nailed for stuff that I wouldn’t have gotten nailed for by anybody else.  I generally tried to avoid her, but sometimes our interactions were inevitable.  I don’t remember how I managed to piss her off on this particular occasion in the car line, but somehow, I did, but in any case, it was something really minor (and what I did isn’t relevant to the rest of the discussion).  I remember that she told me, “I’m giving you a yellow slip,” i.e. a report about a disciplinary matter, just before my ride showed up and I left.

I thought nothing of it, and the next day, I got a copy of my yellow slip.  Okay, then.  I didn’t hear anything else about it for a while, so I figured that was the end of it.

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On public speaking…

June 29, 2019, 12:48 PM

I was recently listening to a HowStuffWorks podcast on fear of public speaking, and I drew quite a few parallels between what they were saying and my own experience.  I’ve never had a good relationship with public speaking, and I will actively try to avoid it whenever possible, but at the same time, part of my job is to make good announcements, and I do that beautifully on a routine basis.  Jerry Seinfeld has spoken about the idea that fear of public speaking ranks higher than death, and that people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.  I can sympathize with that.  After all, if you’re dead, you never have to speak in public again.

But there is nothing that gets me wound up more than having to present something to an audience.  It’s one more reason that I’m glad that I’m no longer in school.  I never have to get in front of a group and present ever again.  One thing that I’ve learned as I’ve matured is that I am not very skilled with presenting things in real time.  I do quite well when presenting things in a written format, but public speaking is a major no-no for me.  I’ve tried presentations where I speak with notecards, and it’s typically not gone well.  About the only way that I have been able to get through a presentation of any sort is if I have a full-on script, i.e. every single word that I speak is written down on something in front of me and read verbatim.  It makes enough sense.  I am a much stronger writer than I am a speaker, and so if I take the much stronger writing component and use it to prop up the relatively weak speaking component, then we have a winner all around.  But don’t ask me any questions afterward.  When what I have written has been read, I am done.

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Categories: JMU, Myself