Travel Cage and Vet for Sirius

Sirius the starling had his first vet visit today!

Details of the vet visit after the pictures. Basically, Siri was very good and he appears to be in good health too, though there are a few mysteries about his health that couldn’t quite be solved (vets don’t really know a lot about starlings, since they’re so rarely kept as pets).

Here are some pictures of Sirius at the vet, in his travel cage, and some pics of the cage by itself. It’s not pretty, but it’s the only travel cage we’ve been able to design that Siri seems comfortable in. He’s really comfortable in it, too! He’s been on a three-hour car ride in it before, and seemed fine!

It’s John’s design, but easy enough for me, or probably anyone, to build.

It’s made of a plastic bin and some black plastic mesh from the hardware store, held together with zip ties. (We know that dowels don’t make the best perches, and we’re trying to find actual branches that fit well in the holes of this mesh. His regular cage at home is much bigger and has real branch perches.)

The opening is just three cuts in the mesh, with the cut sides covered with plastic from a heavy-duty trash bag (held in place with zip ties) to protect from any sharp edges. The mesh is bendy enough that we didn’t need to create a hinge. A small bungee cord holds it shut when needed.

A bigger bungee cord holds the top of the cage onto the plastic bin bottom, and it can be taken off to replace the paper or rearrange the perches and other accessories.

I made a smaller version of this cage, too, with a shoulder-carrying strap, in case I ever need to get him out of the house extra quickly.

Anyway! Here are the pictures:

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And, in our experience so far, Como Park Animal Hospital in St Paul, MN, is a very nice, very reasonable and very accepting veterinary hospital. Very few vets around here will treat birds of any kind, but these people were totally fine examining a captive-raised starling.

Although Siri didn’t show any real signs of being sick– he’s still eating healthily, singing and being active in every way– we’d been concerned about a swelling on his abdomen and a callus and bruise-like mark on his foot.

And we didn’t really get that resolved on this visit, but the vet gave us some reassurance.

After the examination, they said that from the location and texture of the abdominal swelling it looked like a gastrointestinal issue… but since his stools are still normal, and a test for parasites didn’t turn up anything, they weren’t able to give us any conclusive answer. They did give us some options, though.

We could have an x-ray to see if any problems were visible that way. We decided not to, since an x-ray on a bird requires anesthesia, which gets more risky the smaller the bird is, and if something did show up, it would probably be something we couldn’t do anything about anyway. The vet explained these things very honestly and reasonably.

He also said that if the problem gets worse, we could give the bird a deworming medicine just to see if there might be any parasites that didn’t show up on the standard test. But since that’s not so likely, and since Siri still appears to be in good health, we decided not to do that right away either.

As for the foot, he said it didn’t look bad enough to be dangerous, but recommended giving him softer perches, maybe by wrapping them with padding material (I think he was talking about this stuff, since I’ve found some mentions online of people using that to wrap perches.) He also suggested extra vitamins and maybe more sunlight to help with the few overgrown scales that keep coming back on his feet.

And this all did cost some money, about $130, just to have him examined, tested for parasites, and prescribed a vitamin powder. But honestly I was expecting to pay more; I was scared of having to spend thousands on him, because I’ve heard so many stories of awfully expensive vet procedures. This vet is reasonably-priced by vet standards, as far as I can tell, and didn’t push unnecessary expensive procedures on us. (There was no pressure to do the x-ray, for instance, and if we had chosen to, it would only have been about $40 for the anesthesia and $80 for the x-ray itself.)

And it’s good to know that there is a vet in town who’s willing to see starlings. And it’s good to have a clean bill of health regarding parasites. Overall I think this was well worth doing.

Is it suicidal to wish you were suicidal?

I’ve been feeling a lot of that lately: not wanting to die, exactly, but kind of wanting to want to die. It’s the feeling that everything about being alive is getting nearer and nearer to unbearable, and if I were suicidal I would have a way out, but I’m still too scared of death to think of it as a real option.

I’ve heard an analogy that suicide after a grueling struggle against depression is like jumping out the twentieth-floor window of a burning building. If so, the way I feel now is like being in a burning building but not being able to jump out.

And yet I’m one of the luckiest people in this country. I’m white. I’m married to someone of a different sex. I have a job that pays enough to live on and provides health insurance, and, for the moment, I’m healthy enough that I could probably survive a long time without much medical help.

And yet I’m scared. The way the country is going right now is going to affect all of us, eventually, even the most privileged.

I have very bad anxiety at the best of times. My mind is horribly drawn to thoughts about apocalyptic disasters, and this election… has not helped. Even if the new president manages not to start a nuclear war, we are entering a time of severe climate change, no matter what we do. (And, the way things are going, we’ll probably end up doing the worst stuff we can.)

Eventually the only way to be safe will be to live far north and inland, in a home built to be exceptionally resistant to extreme storms. Probably an underground bunker, or at least a hobbit-hole. Monolithic domes would be a good place to start.

If the world had any sense, we would already be busy with the project of creating climate-change-resistant homes for everyone, since we were past the point of no return on global warming a long time ago. But no, half the country is denying there’s even a problem, and the other half is still trying to stop what can’t be stopped and ignoring the need to deal with its results. There aren’t even any houses on the market that won’t leak when it rains, let alone ones that’ll keep you alive in a tornado or hurricane or weather too hot to survive above ground. So the only way to safety is to build your own.

And I can’t afford that. Most people can’t. And with the government stuffed full of Republicans, that isn’t going to change– the standard GOP plan is the worst kind of wealth redistribution, upward, from everyone who isn’t a millionaire into the pockets of everyone who already is.

A few other things that are messing up my life right now:

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This is my left leg. The bruises are from blood clots in the surface veins. It’s getting better. A while ago, practically any leg movement hurt.

I don’t know if this happened because my pharmacy job requires standing on my feet for 8 hours a day with only one break, but it sure made that job harder once this started. It started twice, first in my calf, then that got better and then it came back in my thigh. I used up all my time off when it was in my calf. I had to work when it was in my thigh. I hope it doesn’t come back a third time before the year ends.

The blood clots aren’t the dangerous kind that can break off and go to the lungs or heart or brain. Those are the ones in deep veins. I know these aren’t that kind, because I got an ultrasound. I got the bill for it a few days ago. It’s over $800 and my insurance barely covered anything. I have to call the insurance company to ask why, but I know that call would take longer than a lunch break, so I can’t call them until I have a weekday off, which is 10 days from now.

If I get pain in my leg again, I probably won’t get another ultrasound. I hope that time it won’t be the deep vein kind of clot. I don’t think it will be, but you never know.

I’m lucky I have a job that has insurance. If I lose the job and there’s no Affordable Care Act, if I can be denied insurance for preexisting conditions, or if all the available insurance is too expensive for someone without a freaking job, a bad blood clot could kill me.

I don’t know if the Affordable Care Act is actually going to be gutted or destroyed. It’s possible that Trump’s actions as president aren’t going to be quite as awful as the persona he projected while campaigning. But I know that Congress is full of Republicans who want to destroy the ACA, and between them, Trump, and Pence, I can’t imagine anything good happening for people who need health care.

I have a coworker who hates universal health care because of how much it costs taxpayers. I said taxes are better than people dying. She said “People never die from not having insurance– the doctor HAS to treat you.”

I didn’t argue because I didn’t have the energy. But of course hospitals can turn you away for not having insurance, my dear coworker, as long as you’re not dying right this minute. And for godsakes, you work in a freaking pharmacy; you know perfectly well that the way the doctor treats you is prescribing medicine, and the way you get the medicine is going to the pharmacy, and remember what happens to people who come to the pharmacy without insurance or money? They don’t get their medicine, even if it’s blood thinners to keep their clots from killing them.

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kissy

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This is my bird, Sirius the Starling. He talks and sings and I trained him to play a little toy piano. He takes the most enthusiastic baths and then cuddles against my neck for hours. He is the smartest and sweetest bird you ever met and he loves me so much that he saves me from reading the comments on news articles by landing on my hand and pecking at my scrolling finger. He sometimes sleeps on my arm so long that he leaves little footprints.

If we have to move to another country we might not be able to bring him. Keeping starlings as pets is legal where we live, but their status as an invasive species makes things complicated when it comes to moving.

He started self-harming lately. Scratching at his face until the skin was bare, and then scratching until it bled. Scratch the wrong feather and it can bleed an awful lot. We improvised a cone for his neck. He would get his lower beak stuck in the neck hole trying to pry his way out. I would leave him home alone because I had to go to work, and I’d be on the edge of a panic attack all day. Even worse than the thought of coming home to find him dead was the thought of coming home to find him so badly injured that I’d know he wouldn’t survive, and then having to decide what to do.

He’s getting better now, but for a while we thought we couldn’t handle it. If his problem comes back I don’t know what we’ll do. We can’t stay home all day. It’s hard enough to find people who know how to care for a pet starling, let alone people who would adopt one who has to be watched every moment.

But being able to have a pet at all is a privilege. And I’m still one of the most privileged people in this nation. Some people might not even get to keep their children in the next four years, if all the gay marriages are annulled. As much as I panic about the stresses of my life, I have to keep reminding myself that others have it far worse.

I’m also lucky enough that I’ve been able to build a 401k. It has quite a bit of money in it. Not enough to cash out and build a house or move to Canada, but a good start for eventual retirement.

My pharmacy was recently bought by another company. And now we each have to go through the process of rolling over our 401ks from the old company to the new one. For months, we weren’t even able to access our 401k to add money or even see how much was in it. Now they have finally sent us a form for the rollover.

The form requires us to write in the account number and the amount of money in the account. We have no way to get those things, so I called the number on the form that says “call if you have any questions.” I called and got an answering machine and left a message. It’s been several days and I have not heard back.

I have less than 60 days to figure this out. I don’t know what happens if I don’t, but I think they would automatically send me a check for the amount of my 401k, minus an enormous amount in taxes. I don’t want that to happen.
But no matter what happens, I’m going to lose a lot of the money anyway, because the economy is going to see some hard times.

So, I’m frustrated, to the point that it physically hurts. I’m scared, to the point that I’ve had hyperventilating anxiety attacks at work. I have wished that I wished I were dead. And I’m not anywhere near being the worst off in this country.

Don’t say everything’s going to be okay. Everyone is going to feel the effects of this.

Pharmacy Tech

Passed the PTCB Exam today! If all goes well, I should receive my certificate in the next few weeks, and be a Nationally Certified Pharmacy Technician.

http://www.ptcb.org/get-certified#.VGFMbvTF-98

Otherkin

I have occasionally described myself as an alien.

And lately I have spent a significant amount of time on Tumblr (where all genders, orientations, and other forms of identity are accepted and defended, and furthermore, there are new and unusual identities gaining recognition all the time).

So I’m sure some people are wondering what my opinions are on the phenomenon of “otherkin.”

That question encompasses several questions, which I’ll try to answer one by one.

1. How do you define the term “otherkin”?

As I understand it, otherkin are people who experience a feeling of being something other than a human, trapped in a human body.

2. Is it real?

Of course. It’s a feeling, so, if people feel it, then by definition it is real.

3. Is it just a feeling? Or is it really what people say it is?

If you mean being a literal reincarnation of some animal, a literal descendant of some alien, or a soul that some supernatural power literally placed in the wrong body… then, in my opinion, no.

However, I don’t find those ideas any more unlikely than the claims of mainstream religion.

To people who earnestly believe them, I extend the same respect and tolerance that I extend to religious people, as long as they aren’t using it as an excuse to hurt others.

You don’t have to share people’s beliefs to respect their feelings.

4. Is it comparable to being transgender? (In other words, is it the same type of feeling, and of the same strength?)

Without having had both those experiences, I can’t give a confident answer to that.

I’m not telepathic. I can’t know for certain what another person feels, or how strongly.

I can only make guesses based on people’s words and actions.

From observation of words and actions, I’m pretty sure there is a wide variation among individuals, both transgender and otherkin, in terms of how strongly they identify as such.

In both groups there appear to be some who identify with the group consistently and strongly throughout life, and others who identify temporarily and less strongly while they are growing up and trying to figure out their own identities.

Is the consistent-and-strong identification more common among transgender people than among otherkin? Yes, from what I can tell.

The recorded history of the transgender movement gives lots of evidence of transgender identity being felt very strongly, often to the point of undergoing major surgery, and risking one’s job, relationships and even survival for the sake of expressing one’s identity.

There’s less recorded evidence of otherkin going to such extremes.

However, to be completely open-minded and scientific, I have to consider the possibility that this is because otherkin are less common overall, or because they have not had communities that recognized the existence of their identity until the last few years.

And otherkin (or possible otherkin) are not completely absent from recorded history: there is, for example, the 1987 case of the Leopard Man of Skye.

Also, even if the experience of being otherkin is generally much less strong and enduring than the experience of being transgender, that doesn’t mean it is undeserving of any respect at all.

5. Should we demand respect and recognition for otherkin, in the same way we demand it for transgender and gay people? Or would that harm the social justice movement overall by causing people to take it less seriously?

I can see both sides of that. On the one hand, I would find it very hard to argue that any group does not deserve respect and acceptance. But on the other hand, I’m not sure society as a whole is ready to accept otherkin.

And, if otherkin associate themselves with the transgender movement by using some of the same terminology and rhetoric, it’s possible that could cause setbacks for society’s willingness to take transgender people seriously.

Society is starting to accept gay rights, transgender rights, women’s rights, and racial equality. That’s a great thing, and it would be terrible to lose that progress by pushing demands for more acceptance on society faster than it can adapt.

I’m not saying that people *shouldn’t* be ready to accept all non-harmful forms of self-expression at once. I’m saying that, in reality, they aren’t… and, however unfair it may be, the success of all the various human-rights movements depends on society being ready to accept them.

So maybe we need to wait a while, in the same way that we’re not going to start fighting for the right to polyamorous marriage while we’re still struggling to get gay marriage accepted.

But, even if that’s the case, it’s not a question of whether otherkin deserve acceptance; it’s a question of whether it’s feasible at this point in time. I’m all for accepting everyone who expresses their identity without hurting other people with it.

6. Do you identify as otherkin?

I can see how people could get that idea, since my first published book was literally titled “Born on the Wrong Planet.” But no.

As a teenager, maybe even as a college student, I might have identified as otherkin, if I had known about that community. I have even actively described myself as feeling like an alien trapped in a human body.

But that feeling isn’t prevalent enough in my life for me to consider it part of my identity.

(Especially since I’ve managed to surround myself with friends and loved ones who are as alien as me. It’s easier to feel that I fit in on Earth, if I carefully pick the elements of Earth that I get to spend time with.)

Sirius the Starling takes the Ice Bucket Challenge

The ice bucket challenge is really working for raising awareness. It may be silly and gimmicky, but it’s getting people to donate.

So Sirius stepped up and tried it.

He’ll take a bath in ANYTHING. Well, almost anything. Maybe he had to wait until the ice melted; so what. He’s adorable.

ALS Ice Water Challenge

I first learned what ALS was, when I was a kid in the car with my parents, driving past this old landmark:

http://www.slphistory.org/history/als.asp

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I asked what the letters in the sign stood for. My parents explained both meanings (though I’m sure the builders of the sign didn’t have Lou Gehrig’s Disease in mind).

I kinda wish this place was still in business, so I could go there, order a glass of ice water, and pour it on my head.

Oh well. Might have to make do with Al’s Breakfast on University Avenue.

The cost of good mental health, and my fuel-efficient body


If gasoline is expensive and you have a lot of driving to do, then you want a car that can do a lot of driving without burning much gas. Similarly, if food is hard to get and you have a lot of physical labor to do, then you want a body that can do a lot of exercise without burning many calories.

So, most of human history has encouraged the survival of fuel-efficient bodies that gain weight easily and don’t lose it easily. They can lose weight if they try hard enough, but in some cases, the amount they would have to try would be enough work to comprise a full-time job.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

People’s ability to change


Sometimes change is what we need. People know this, deep down, even when they tell you that you should always be happy with the way you are. Even by saying that, they’re trying to change you from someone who wants to change into someone who doesn’t.

But is change always possible?

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Sometimes a lizard is just a lizard?

Another reposted old blog post, from November 18, 2006. Yet another bizarre dream, and some psychological thoughts.

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Forget Freud and his book of what things mean in dreams. Yes, dreams have symbolism, but it is different for every single freaking person.

The other night I had a dream where a lizard symbolized an aloe plant. Seriously. In the dream I had a couple of pet lizards that kept running around and getting their tails cut off in various ways. Like, I tried to keep them in my locker while I went to work, but I closed the locker on their tails and accidentally cut them off. I suppose they must’ve grown back, because they got cut off a lot of other ways too.

But the point is that when they lost their tails, the tail stump wasn’t red, it was translucent green, like when you cut a leaf off an aloe plant. And then when I woke up, I noticed that my aloe plant had fallen off the shelf and was lying in a big pile of dirt on the floor. I mentioned it to my husband, who said that it had fallen off the previous day, but I hadn’t noticed it and he hadn’t gotten around to telling me.

So I must have noticed it subconsciously, and my subconscious mind was trying to let me know that my aloe plant was in trouble. Except instead of telling me directly, it had decided to symbolize it with lizards getting their tails cut off.

I have no idea why it chose that particular symbol, except that I dream about lizards a lot, and I also have a lot of dreams about pets suffering horrible fates due to human neglect or stupidity. (I suppose that has to do with the fact that I had a lot of pets as a child, and some of them did get hurt or killed because of errors on my part.)

Freud said that dreams use symbolism because there are things your mind can’t handle thinking about directly. Supposedly almost anything sexual was in this category– which is stupid, because people think about sex more than they think about anything else, and I’d certainly rather think about sex than think about lizards losing body parts. I personally think that dreams don’t symbolize for any good reason, they just do it because they’re confused and mix things up with each other.

Or maybe it was just a coincidence. But in any case I’m not asking Freud what it means when lizards lose their tails in a dream.

Do Aspies Dream of Eclectic Sheep?


The first time I tried to get to sleep this way, I watched about three or four sheep complete their uneventful motion through my mind’s eye… and then the next one, at the apex of its jump, turned its head and grinned at me. It was wearing sunglasses, with garish multicolored frames.

That woke me right up.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.