Thursday, January 05, 2012

The New(ish) Nootsmaak

The Nootsmaak is still the Nootsmaak, but I've moved her to - it had a nice ring to it. This one will stay as it is, but from here on out, new posts will live on the new version. Not yet an international brand, I thought it would be safe to make such a change at this time. Update your links accordingly... and Happy New Year.

The New(ish) Nootsmaak

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Loiterfy Oakland

I had to go to a protest today. A teacher in one of my classes decided we should skip class and head down to Occupy Oakland and photograph/film something for our next project. I didn't wanna go, but this teacher is one of the most interesting professors I've had at CCA and he had some good insight as to why it could be meaningful, even though we both agreed that its impact on the country would likely be minimal.

After emailing him about it, sharing my thoughts about why I didn't want to go and receiving really thoughtful responses, I was actually excited about going to see what I might come away with and attending something that could turn out to be historically significant.

I considered what gear I would use and got it all prepped, then got another idea and prepped different gear. I scanned maps to plan my entry and exit and got all stoked and ready to dig into this assignment. Pretty cool feeling, after initially thinking Effing Please.

This morning I gathered up my stuff and drove to West Oakland and quickly found a parking place a few blocks from the "action."  Had a nice, quiet walk down 14th Street where I passed a few OPD officers who had closed off one intersection with their cruisers as they munched on Subway sandwiches.

As I approached Frank Ogawa Plaza (no, it is not named after the dude that was shot by Bart police, who was not a civil rights leader), what immediately struck me was how disorganized the whole affair is. It was like a street faire without the artsy craftsy booths, fun food and wine. And with a lot more stink.

Apparently, to be a successful protester, it helps to eschew bathing as well as a focused political agenda. And it helps if you love smoking pot. And standing around. And sitting around. And watching reporters do live feeds of people aimlessly milling about.

There were a few small groups actually moving in unison with little, illegible signs, shouting unintelligible slogans as they walked randomly down one street and then another. There was another small group singing a protest song outside the Citybank building as others in their ranks posed underneath their protest banners for pictures.

Oh yes - the pictures. For every one person at 14th and Broadway there were approximately 7.3 Canon Digital Rebels, 2.8 Canon EOS-1D Mark IVs with humongous lenses, 4.2 5Ds and 12 bajillion pocket cameras and camera phones. I alone had to have photo bombed six thousand photos and I was only there for about 45 minutes.

I had my cameras too - a Nikon F3HP and a Canon G9. I wasn't sure what I was going to find and what I might want, so I shot film and a few digital stills and several movie clips. I think I got some fun stuff and I look forward to making an entertaining video.

But my professor asked me to ask myself why I didn't want to go and now I think I have an answer. It all seemed like so much wasted time. So many people just standing around - one guy in particular with a sign that said "Off With Their Heads!" that he used like a cane to rest his hands on while he stood, casually smoking a cigarette. And so many small shops closed down, either to join the strike or avoid trouble from the crowd. Some small business owners have lost so much business because of the entire movement that they've had to lay off employees. Ironic, no?

In my salad days after college (the first time), when I was coming up short on rent more months than I was making it, I didn't go stand around a public space and blame someone else. I made a plan for how to fix that problem and I went and fixed it. I taught myself how to do all sorts of shit on a computer that I didn't have the first clue about, then I went out and actively looked for work that would pay me the best wage for what I was qualified to do.

After fun jobs in retail and waitressing, I knew I needed to find something with better money and opportunities. I went straight to the office where the money was far better, as well as paths to advancement. I typed my ass off as a receptionist / secretary / assistant / clerk / minion / peon, which led to gigs doing desktop publishing and eventually, online design & content development (waaaay down the road).

I wore panty hose (the horror!), skirt suits, blouses, pumps (gack), and I fetched coffee, ran errands, alphabetized business cards, made copies (millions) and did whatever shit I had to do to keep going. Is it any wonder why I love the movie "Working Girl?" (The movie "Working Girls" is also one of my favorites, and a viable option if you're into that - definitely pays well. Or so I've been told.)

There was no time for loitering out in front of city hall to ask someone to cover my bills. I had to get my ass to work in a good job and keep growing into better jobs. I registered at multiple agencies and kept learning new skills. There's always a way if you keep looking and working for it.

Now don't get me wrong - I know our country is extremely broken. I wish I had a lobbyist to buy me some tax breaks and loopholes so I could keep more of the money I earn. But until we outlaw lobbyists and forever remove the influence of corporations on our government and re-regulate Wall Street (which Clinton effed up), nothing is going to change.

The only way to affect those bastards is to put your money where your slogan-spouting mouth is. Put whatever money you have in local credit unions. Don't shop anywhere that supports the big-business agenda and VOTE.

I wanted to ask people today if they're active voters, but I was thinking too much about my project. Though I did help a lovely couple studying a transit map of Oaktown find their way to Jack London Square. That felt productive.

When I review everything I shot from today, maybe I'll have different impressions than I have now, but I doubt it. I can say I was there and it was a terrific bore and maybe I got a few pictures I might like, but mostly I'm just glad I did what I needed to do for my project so I can move on.

There's no time to sit around and navel gaze about what it might mean to sleep in a tent outside a city hall that has nothing to do with what's wrong with our country (although Jean Quan *is* a total doofus). If all those campers actually organized their cause and mobilized in the areas that truly affect the 1% (Hint: it's not downtown by the Goodwill Store and Oaksterdam), they'd start to see some real impact. Until then, they're just wasting time (and hurting the people they claim to support, which is all kinds of wide open gaping ass).

Friday, September 09, 2011

And Then Alameda Hospital Shit the Bed

WTF is up with this new billing tactic? If it's one thing I hate, it's inconsideration, but perhaps even more than that, I hate being woken up by anyone or anything, ever. What is wrong with these people?

From: [me]
Sent: Friday, September 09, 2011 11:51 AM
To: ''
Cc: ''; ''
Subject: Unacceptable Billing Office Practices

Dear Alameda Hospital,
I recently visited your ER when pain from an ovarian cyst had gotten so out of hand that my doctor in San Francisco thought it best to immediately rule out appendicitis, so I came in and was treated well by your ER physicians and nurses. A week later, I had an MRI at your hospital so my doctor at UCSF would have even more info before performing abdominal surgery (not laparoscopic) to remove the cyst (about 10cm) and the ovary it was attached to. That was just three weeks ago.

This morning I received four phone calls from your billing office – four calls in the span of 10 minutes by two different people (Charmelle? and Crystal) – two on my home phone and two on my cell phone, the number for which I now regret sharing with your staff. I had been in the middle of a much needed nap, as I am still recovering from surgery, when these calls woke me up. It’s almost impossible to find time during the day to sleep, so thanks for ruining what was the only opportunity I had.

I managed to answer the second call on my home phone and talked to Charmelle, I think it was, who wanted to speak with me about my outstanding balance. I informed her that I’d not yet received a bill. She said the bill was mailed out yesterday, so I should be receiving it soon. I asked her why she was calling me before I’d even received the bill. She didn’t have a good reason, but simply explained that this is what you do. You mail the bill, then the very next day you start hounding your patients like rabid collection agents. One might expect such practices from a rent-to-own furniture store, but not a hospital that is supposed to be in the business of providing care.

I realize the state of health care in our country is in crisis, but to treat patients in this way is unacceptable. I am self-employed and when I invoice clients I cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, call them the day after I send them a bill and ask them when they’re going to pay up, let alone call them four times in 10 minutes. If I did, do you realize how many clients I would have? Zero. Which is how many times I will visit your hospital in the future unless I am bleeding out my eyes and only because I cannot see well enough to find another hospital, end up at yours by mistake.

This is disappointing. I received such good care from your physicians and nurses that I thought very highly of your hospital. I still think highly of your medical staff, but whoever is running your administration and billing offices should be fired, but first, call them repeatedly to ask them what they’re going to do about finding a new job, then fire them.

Do not call me at any number you have on file for me unless the bill you have sent me is not paid within 30 days – that’s thirty with a three zero – after the date on the bill – that is standard, accepted business practice. For every phone call I receive before that 30 days expires, I will delay payment on my bill one day. As you have already placed four calls to me and I’ve not even received the bill, those days will now count as double, so you are now at eight (8) days past thirty when you can expect payment.

Before I go, here’s a thought – send patients a post card (or four) that the bill is coming, if it’s really that important to make sure we don’t forget. A post card won’t disturb anyone still recovering from surgery.

Good day,
- JL

Update! [9/15/11]

I just opened a lovely apology letter from Alameda Hospital (though, hilariously, their bill has yet to arrive).

Their manager of Business Services wrote (typed) me an actual letter, signed with an actual ball-point pen, apologizing for the customer [non] service I received, assuring me that my “concerns have been addressed.”

She went on to say “Based on the feedback you have provided, staff has been counseled and educated regarding their account review process, and reminded to allow for adequate written notification to our patients from both the insurance companies and our facility.”

How nice.  She also wished me a speedy and healthy recovery.
Sometimes it does pay to complain loudly and with great force!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Lose Your Effing Shirt!

It’s the exciting new game from Parker Brothers… Lose Your Effing Shirt (or more)!

Kids love it… You start out with your playing piece – a healthy ovary (a walnut) on a board designed with beautiful lady parts in full color! Roll the dice to find out what happens next!

With each turn you'll get a meager payment and find out if your ovary develops a cyst and if so, how fast it might grow and how large! No one is left out of the fun, everyone gets a cyst at some point!

You're also dealt cards that represent typical family assets - home, cars, appliances, furniture, clothes, electronics, and so on. These will be important later and you're free to try trading with other players to acquire the assets of your choosing. You can also decide to buy insurance at the beginning of the game, or risk it and see what happens!

With each move on the board, you attach another layer of cyst growth onto your walnut until the first one to reach 10cm proceeds to the hospital where you have to guess how much each procedure will cost, and guess correctly, before you can have it done. Then, to pay for your procedures, you must start selling off your assets. If you can't pay, you lose!

The first one to have the cyst removed (or not need to go to the hospital at all) wins!

The EOBs (Explanation of Benefits) from my trips to Alameda Hospital and UCSF came… Guess how much it is to get an MRI? $4,807. I got two of them – one abdominal scan, one pelvis = $9,614!  Bargain!

My trip to the ER, my first trip to Alameda Hospital, cost the low, low price of about $4,150 – for the lab tests (just blood & urine) and the ultrasound. The ultrasound itself cost $965 – for 20 minutes of time with the machine and the tech.

The second ultrasound I got at UCSF cost $973, plus the cost of gas & parking meter and the pain of having to hear her run her mouth about her trip to Hawaii while jabbing my innards with the vag cam.

Now, for the big enchilada – the giant pomelo…
The surgery… Guess how much?

$47,060.15  Yup – Forty seven thousand sixty dollars and fifteen cents. For a same-day procedure.

I don't know what most of the codes mean so it's hard to know what each line item is. Just one item runs $11,970 - no idea what that was - maybe my time in post op. There is one item I recognize - scalpel - that tiny thing cost me $1,133. Just the one - you'd think that might be for a pack of 100.

Thankfully, we have insurance. We still pay a hefty out-of-pocket maximum, but the rest is covered. Without that, we would be totally broke and trying to sell a car and perhaps one kidney each. 

Obama's health plan does not fix this problem. I wish it did, but it's a joke. Also a joke, that companies like Blue Shield make multiple BILLIONS of dollars in profits every year and they continue to try to raise premium rates.

So, how do we fix this? 

Monday, September 05, 2011

Bye Bye Cysty

And just like that, it's gone. Just a few days after the outboard motor ultrasound and claustrophobic MRI, I was in the hospital bright & early, ready for the extraction.

One thing I've learned from all this, it's probably easier to go through surgery if you've lived a life of hard drinking and drug use. The tolerance has to help when it comes to shaking off the anesthesia. 

Surgery began at 9am and finished at 1:30pm when I was wheeled into post-op to sober up. I was the last one to leave post-op at 7pm that evening. The nausea - oh sweet baby jesus wrapped in a barf bag - thankfully they have *another* drug for that. I really didn't want to dry heave with a 4" abdominal incision that had just been glued together.

But I made it home, not just upstairs. There really is no sleeping in a hospital. Had to get home to my own bed. Just being home was a huge help in speeding recovery. That, and many many grams of vitamin C and a heating pad.

But, all went well - pathology came back totally normal - just your run-of-the-mill extra large softball sized tentacled mass of yuck. My friend Steph thinks it had probably been growing in there for a year or so. Hard to know, as they don't have rings we could count, but she might be right.

It really did turn out to have some tentacles - it had "adhesed" itself to several areas around my pelvis, as had my left ovary and tube. Not sure why that happened, but that was all taken care of as well. A lady parts spring cleaning, of sorts.

Definitely happy to have it gone - feels much better in there. Had them yank the stupid ovary too - that bitch's antics are done forever. But the stabbing pain in my right side every now & then is obviously her ghost, still kicking me.

If any ladies out there might be experiencing lady parts problems, I found these forums useful in learning what to expect before & after surgery. Enjoy.
FWIW, my surgery started out as laparoscopic but they couldn't suck a 10cm cyst out of a .5cm incision, so they unzipped me at the bikini line.

They gave me the option of removing the cyst and ovary and sending that to pathology for a full workup, which takes a few days, or doing "quick pathology" during the surgery, which isn't as thorough, and if something seems awry, they'll yank ALL your lady parts at that time. To that I said FUCK NO - you take only what I've asked you to take and you leave the rest. If something seems fishy (get it? I'm hilarious), we'll deal with that one thing at a time.

Why are doctors so happy to eviscerate all our lady parts? Why is that even an option without really knowing what the fuck is going on? Thankfully I have a good doctor who totally understands, but was simply doing her job of informing me of all my options. If you need a good lady parts doctor in SF at UCSF, let me know. I love, love, love her.

So, here are the Top 10 Things I Learned from Open Surgery.  
  1. Since it started with laparoscopic, I had all the CO2 pumped into me that had to be processed, post-op. Lots of belching. Lots. That lasted about a week. Super sexy. You'll be super bloated but it dissipates in time - at three weeks, it seems mostly gone, but there's still a lot of healing to go.
  2. Hydrate yourself like a mo-fo. I didn't eat the day before surgery - no appetite - and you can't eat or drink anything after midnight the night before, so you're going to be incredibly dehydrated. That, paired with the narcotics = horrendous constipation (and more bloating! Bonus!)
  3. Suppositories are your friends. With abdominal surgery, the last thing you want to be doing is, uh, straining. If it's just not happening, take the plunge, so-to-speak. My dear husband went to Walgreen's and bought me Dulcolax ass plugs and prunes and didn't balk. That's a good man. I opted for the suppository over a laxative, fearing painful cramping and panicky peristalsis, when really I just needed to gently start the process. It worked - fast and fairly comfortable - and I only needed the one dose to get on the road back to regularity.
  4. Keep hydrating - you have to flush the anesthesia out of your system. For me, Low Tolerance Lucy, it felt like it took a few days. Jasmine green tea was very soothing and hydrating - am now addicted.
  5. Peeing and pooping will hurt, before, during and after you go, but that's what the narcotics are for. Just breathe through it and then take a nap.
  6. Speaking of narcotics, see if you can get something better than vicodin. Vicodin must be the scrapple of pain killers. I felt awful when I took it. Within a few days I started using codeine fizzies - effervescent codiene/acetaminophen tablets from the U.K. A milder pain killer, but isn't nauseating and doesn't make me feel icky.
  7. If you have a recliner chair, you'll probably sleep better in that the first few days or so - getting into and out of bed will be difficult, and you'll be up a couple of times a night to pee. With all the swelling, your bladder feels full fairly often, and that hurts, which wakes you up. Your spouse won't get any sleep either. The chair is easier.
  8. If you're like me, you may not have much of an appetite and may also have lingering nausea. I no longer drink soda, but Coke Zero was a huge help. Oatmeal & cream of wheat with a little honey (honey is a natural laxative, btw), mild chicken soup w/ busted up cappellini noodles or orzo (the protein in the pasta is helpful), whole wheat toast (yay fiber!)... you get the idea.
  9. Move as much as you can, but listen to your body and nap, nap, nap, nap, nap. Moving around often helps your body process the drugs and helps minimize scar tissue. The sooner you're up & about, the sooner you're fully recovered. But don't overdo it... obviously. Baby steps. I was in pretty good shape before all this happened, and I felt like I was starting over from scratch. I got winded just shuffling through the house. But I felt 100% better in a week, then another 100% better the following week, and now three weeks later, I'm walking around the neighborhood, grocery shopping, doing light household chores - and also still napping. Still not back to normal, but pretty close. 
  10. Vitamin C. As soon as you're eating anything, pop the vitamin C supplements. Vitamin C is the foundational building block of all connective tissue - skin, tendons, collagen - all that stuff. And it speeds healing. I took two 1000mg tablets with each meal - 6-8 grams a day. It can also help with the constipation - magnesium, too. I didn't take any of my other usual supplements - thought there was enough going on - just the C and magnesium. The supplements + the heating pad = fairly fast recovery. The heating pad increases circulation to the important parts - good stuff. And wonderfully soothing/relaxing.
  11. Quick update - one more thing... as I'm finding out now, just over three weeks after having this done, the scar is now sensitive and a bit painful. The nerves down there must be upset - feels like that painful skin sensation you can sometimes get when coming down with a flu bug. Not sure arnica gel is any help with that, but trying that and Mederma. The fun never ends!
BTW, if you ask your post-op nurse about supplements, don't be surprised if she knows nothing about them or thinks 5-6 vitamin/mineral supplements a day is "a lot!" In my drunken post-op haze, I was chatting up the nurse and told her what I take every day (multi, C, magnesium, co-q10, b-complex, and D) and she said "That's a lot!" Um, no, no it isn't. It's hardly any, and I don't remember the last time I had a bad cold or flu or any cold or flu for that matter, but, you know, I'm not a doctor.

You're on your own as far as alternative healing/health information goes, but Dr. Mercola & Dr. Weil's websites have lots of good info. Also helpful, the book Ascorbate (easily found on Amazon) and Linus Pauling's book Live Longer & Feel Better (all about the benefits of vitamin C).

It gets better every day, that's for sure. Stay positive & laugh a lot - that's good physical therapy. Good luck, ladies.

Monday, August 15, 2011

10 x 14

Centimeters. That's the size of this cyst inside me. How many "large oranges" have you seen that are close to that size? I'm no fruit expert, but I'd say we're now in mango territory. This mango - not this mango.

Had another ultrasound this morning. Again, I'm no fruit expert, but I'm pretty sure the technician's brain consists of fruit salad. With the amount of pressure she applied to all the sensitive areas of my abdomen, she must have very clear images of the downstairs floor. I suspect she's also an avid sailor on boats with outboard motors, the way she was confidently directing the vag cam into even more sensitive areas.

She was very attentive though, telling me about her upcoming trip to Hawaii and how this time she's not doing any binge eating! Because she's pregnant. She did tell me to bring chapstick to the hospital and good hand lotion, cause the hospital lotion sucks.

They have signs posted in the ultrasound rooms explaining that you cannot ask the technician for any information about the results of your exam, as they are not physicians and cannot provide diagnostic information... Thanks for your cooperation!

The first thing she asked me when I arrived was, "Were you taking anything that may have caused this?"  Yes, it's a new supplement, I believe it's called CystMORE. I was skeptical of its claims to increase cyst growth by 400%, but I'm stoked it's working!

Later I had my first MRI - doctor wants to see this thing in 3D and check to see if any lymph nodes are enlarged. They shouldn't be, as I've not been taking my LymphMORE.

I'm getting tired of everyone else getting to ogle at my cyst while I haven't even gotten a peek. Can't wait to see the photos after they carve it out of me. It feels like it might have tentacles.

Friday, August 12, 2011


That's right - I have a little something inside me...A little bundle of... well, not joy - fluid? Taffy? What's inside an ovarian cyst, anyway? Whatever it is, I don't think it will have my eyes and David's hair. David's mom wanted a granbaby, but she's getting a grancyst. It's the best I can do.

I wonder how long it's been in there, growing to the size of a "large orange," as my gyno described it. When does a "large orange" become a pomelo? How much longer could I keep growing this thing to make something really impressive?

Will it have its own teeth and hair? Will it have teeny tiny hands so it can drag itself around the house? I'm not gonna keep carrying it around everywhere. It's gonna have to become self-sufficient at some point.

I want a photo of it when they take it out - they can do that, right? I asked for a copy of an ultrasound photo, but they wouldn't give me one. You can get one of your fetus, but not when you grow something all by yourself? Isn't that discrimination?

Will I miss it when it's gone? Will I regret having it sucked out of me by a tiny Dyson? Maybe I should keep it and give it up for adoption. You know there's someone out there who loves collecting odd growths. eBay.

If I don't make it through the extraction, you know, in case they get my liver instead of this citrusy cyst, David will auction off my worldly possessions to the highest bidders and use the money to adopt more cats.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Comfortably Dumb

Also could be titled, "Why I Don't Give Two Shits About Amy Winehouse."

When I saw the headline this past weekend about Winehouse being found dead in her home, my first reaction was What the hell? Seriously?

Not out of surprise - she was a multi-car train wreck. It was more from a place of, Seriously, with all the money and resources at your disposal, you still can't get your shit together? People still do this?

But on the other hand - that voice... What a waste. What colossal disrespect for one's body and talent. What a dumbshit.

A friend on Facebook - sorry, Facecrap - posted a sympathetic notice about all the fallen stars who've died (from drug abuse) at the tender age of 27 - so sad. More like, so lame. They made their choice. That's what you get for making one of the worst decisions you can make. I just can't cry about it.

Another rich celebrity/movie star/rock star ending up dead. Someone who has all the resources to get help, either being enabled by a toxic entourage or simply believing she's immune to the same pitfalls that harm everyone else or who the fuck knows why, not getting the help she needs to be a productive human.

There's no excuse. She chose drugs. It doesn't matter why. If addiction really is a disease, like cancer, diabetes, or stupidity, then the only choice should be to get treatment (if you want to live). Someone with lung cancer doesn't keep smoking unless they want to die. I don't sympathize with that, but I can respect that, even though it's incredibly stupid.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Four Out of Five Muscles Agree: Meat Good

Just got a funny text from my good friend Susanna - a wonderful woman who shares my love of nutrition and healthy, holistic living...

For a long time now she's been on a mostly raw, almost vegan diet and very happy with it. But when I visited her earlier this year and heard about her exciting Krav Maga classes, I asked her how she was getting through such a strenuous thing on kale salad and a handful of nuts.

I had her tell me what she usually ate on any given day and there was so little protein - I'd have passed out doing all that on an occasional egg and some walnuts. I told her she might want to add in some protein powder somewhere - something - give her body some amino acids to rebuild those tired muscles. She eventually did and I'm sure it helped.

I recently embarked upon my own experiment with vegetarianism and while I started out well and felt wonderful - at first - it didn't last. After about 6-8 weeks, I was constantly hungry, tired most of the time and felt like all my muscles were turning to fat. My mid-section seemed flabby and the bloating - jebus christmas, the bloating. It never went away.

Maybe over time my body might have adjusted, but I think it was really a matter of my body not being happy on a no-meat plan. It just doesn't work for me. Especially not when I'm running and lifting. A bowl of kale, beans and quinoa just isn't going to cut it. For someone else maybe, but not for me.

... So, the funny text... After two hours meeting with her new nutritionist, Susanna texts me, "You might want to start eating that burger again!" I told her I already had and was feeling *much* better as a result.

The thing I was always concerned about while on my vegetarian vacation was if I was getting the right amounts of amino acids, in the right proportions. While it might be true that you don't have to combine your legumes with your grains at the same time, what *is* critical is to get all the essential amino acids and in the right amounts every single day.

From the research I've done, if you don't get them in the right amounts and you're low on one or another, it can impede the process of building muscle. All have to be present in the right proportions for optimal functioning.

I need to keep digging to see if this information is even available, but no food labels tell you which amino acids they contain and in what amounts. There's no way to easily know how much cous cous (or rice, or pasta) equates to the amount of amino acids & their proportions, or how many cups of beans/legumes you need to make up the balance. Just going by the grams of protein isn't enough information.

All along, I listened to my body. It finally told me "You need to roast a damn chicken and roast it now." So I did. And it was fugging delicious. There are other days when my body tells me "You need a damn burger full of B vitamins and iron and you need it now." And I oblige.

The trick is to make sure I'm not eating a burger anytime soon before I run, for obvious reasons. On running days, I eat like I always have - vegetarian throughout the day, then the run, then the MEAT.

As I've always believed, no one plan or diet can work for all people. You have to listen closely to your own body and give it what it needs. And everything in moderation. Now I really want a burger.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


After a full year at one of the (purportedly) best art schools in the country, here's my admittedly biased but informative "review" of CCA (California College of the Arts).

First, I had no idea what art school might be like or what I might be getting myself in to. Second, I'm a 40-something adult who's already had a successful professional career and who's brain is no longer that malleable or idealistic. I'm also fairly cranky sometimes and love to call Bullshit.

Alrighty - that's out of the way.

I decided to go back to school to *really* learn photography - for reals - after years of teaching myself. Business had been slow, I like to learn, CCA has (had?) a great reputation and they're right in our backyard. Win win win. I took the tour, applied, was accepted and then got my ass handed to me daily for seven months.

Being brand new to art, I had to take the required foundational courses - drawing, color theory and basically, wood shop (D1, 2D and 3D core classes). The 4D core class is not, as I thought, the study of the time/space continuum, but web design and video production.

Thankfully, 17 years in web design & development allowed me to waive the 4D class - not the required units, just that class. I still have to take 3 units somewhere to make up for that, which is bullshit. But onward...

To complete a BFA, the required, full-time semester load is 15 units for most semesters, 18 for a few. If that sounds like a lot, it is. It's a shit ton of a lot. Especially when they pile on the work (busywork) with a fire-hose as if to try to make art school seem like a legitimate academic education, which it isn't. Not when you can bake cookies for your math final. That's not bullshit - a classmate did it.

Still, it's art, and some art, like photography, requires rigorous technique that is best learned through repetition. That makes sense. If I need to shoot and develop 400 rolls of film to get it down, then I'm on it.

The rub is, not only do they want you to burn 400 rolls of film and paint 17 color charts (that you'll never need) and fill up an entire sketch book with what-the-hell-ever and make sculptures out of wood, clay and cardboard - every week - they want all that work to be of the very highest creative quality and craftsmanship.

Really? You want both quantity and quality? Not likely, even with the best circumstances.

I understand the emphasis on the quantity of photographic exercises - it's a science with gobs of technical expertise required. But assigning a photo project then assigning homework on top of that is just stupid. Do you want me to be creative - nay, an "artist" - or do you want me to be a factory worker? Your choice. You're not going to get both - not at the same time.

But still, I tried. I worked my ass off wanting to not just go back to school, but to go back to school and kick ass. I'm happy to say I did OK - I have a 3.6 GPA, which isn't too shabby. I'd hoped to do better, but CCA - sorry, CCB+ - wouldn't have it.

I'd forgotten an important part of school... You don't take classes, you take teachers. Unfortunately, CCB+ has some terribly unqualified, awful teachers. They might be brilliant artists, but they don't know jack about teaching, which equates to a big waste of your time and money. It fucks with your head, too, which is worse.

In some classes, it doesn't matter how hard you work or how brilliant your work is. If they're too stupid to remember where they parked their cars, it's not going to matter.

That actually happened. One of my teachers didn't know where her car was parked one morning, causing her to be really late to class. Another morning she dropped her keys into a storm drain and instead of finding a way to let her class know that she'd be over an hour late, she went about fashioning a key-retrieval device while we all waited (and napped) in the classroom.

At our midterm check-in meeting she made sure to let me know that I had one tardy.

This, from the scholar who after every mind-numbingly boring PowerPoint bullet would say, "Does that make sense?" as if she truly didn't know.

She meant well, but it was her first year as an instructor and she was painfully insecure and ineffective. She made a pretty good babysitter, but she has a long way to go to becoming a solid teacher.

I received almost no useful feedback from her on how to improve my work - she largely ignored me while spending lots of time critiquing work by other students that was often done the night before class. She didn't mind these same students sleeping through her lectures while the rest of us were distracted by their heads bobbing up and down.

This past semester I had a drawing teacher who was so bad, I wish I'd have dropped the class and just watched Youtube videos about drawing. In one night David showed me more about how to draw something than I'd learned the entire semester up to that point. She also had the rude habit of impatiently drawing over your work without asking if she could, while attempting to teach you something, which she didn't.

Her curriculum was disorganized and goofy. Supposed to be a foundational, first-year, never-drawn-anything-before kind of class, she had us using pastels the first day. I'm still pissed about that. But, to her credit, she let me bake a cake for my final. That's right. A cake. For a drawing final. And it was delicious. Got a B+ in her class.

Which brings me to my point... No matter how hard I worked on any project - most of the time I received B+'s. Even projects I knew were A+ quality - forget it. You can't BUY an A at that school, unless it's the art history classes, and even still, you have to show up and do well on the tests and properly write the papers - there's no skating even in the easier classes.

In my digital photo class, I killed myself on the first project and received a B+. When I asked why only a B+, I was told I could have done more. Isn't that true of almost everything? How bout a little something, you know, for the effort? It was almost technically flawless and perfectly executed based on the requirements, but yet, I could have done more...

On another project I absolutely nailed it - totally killed, above & beyond amazing - and got an A-. The grading sheet had no negative comments whatsoever - all glowing remarks. I again had to ask for the input that would allow me to understand how one might attain an A -- not an A+, no one's being greedy here -- just a good, solid A.

Only then did she tell me that some of my prints could have been better or something to that effect. Honestly, I'm not sure she really knew because she never made notes in class so I'm not sure she even remembered whose projects were whose or how good or bad they may have been. She was another first year teacher (in an upper div class). She was better than others, but not great.

I did have a few good instructors in a few classes that made it all almost worth it. I say almost because CCA is really fugging expensive. And I don't know why. I don't know why CCA can charge almost as much Stanford and get away with it.

CCA's retention rate is 72%, compared with 98% for Stanford. CCA's graduation rate is 50%. Stanford's is 95%. Stanford charges about $38K a year, and CCA about $36K.

Sure, CCA and Stanford are two totally different schools - but, which degree is going to help you get farther in life? And why are so many kids (or 40-something adults) not graduating from CCA?

Could it be, the product is just too expensive and not really worth it? The overall value of CCA is suspect. It's a teeny tiny campus with under 2,000 students and a 9-1 student-to-faculty ratio. And there are never enough classes to choose from to build a good semester schedule.

Stanford has just under 20,000 - that's twenty *thousand* - students, has a huge campus and a 10-1 student-to-faculty ratio. RISD costs the same as Stanford but also has similar retention and graduation rates as Stanford.

What is costing so much at CCA? They're definitely not spending money on tampons. Is having a glass blowing facility really that expensive? Is that even a job anywhere anymore, except maybe at a Shakespeare festival?

Seriously. Why is CCA so expensive?

I would love to finish the rest of my BFA photo program and have that degree in-hand - proof of all the hard work and commitment, but at the same time, given the sub-par level of instruction in most classes (so far), the ridiculously high unit requirement (which means more money for CCA but not necessarily more knowledge for you) and the overall cost (in time and cash), I'm not sure it's worth it. As of now, I'm not seeing the value.

When I first went to college so many years ago, starting at De Anza in Cupertino, which by comparison is almost free, the classes were rigorous, the instructors whip smart and they couldn't have cared less whether we showed up to class or not. It was our time and our money. When I transferred to San Francisco State I expected to be slammed by "real" college. What a surprise - De Anza was harder - a much better school in many ways.

At CCB+, attendance is mandatory or your instructor can fail you - after only three absences. If you're late three times, that can be counted as an unexcused absence. Even if the student body is mostly comprised of immature freaks who couldn't get into a real school (myself included), they're not going to give anyone the chance to rise to the challenge and be expected to act like an adult. The babysitting culture of high school continues in the first year at CCB+, which is disappointing.

But next semester will show me a little more of what CCB+ might have to offer. I'll be in more advanced classes - all the foundational shit is behind me - and I'll be in a writing class (if I can add it - of course it was full when I was able to register). I hear nothing but good things about the writing program, so I'm encouraged about that.

In the meantime, I need to continue researching vandal-proof tampon/pad dispensers and decide if this is really the path I want to stay on.

I'd hoped to find knowledge as well as inspiration, and maybe even a mentor somewhere - someone who might want to take an interest in my work and help push me in one direction or another. So far, no one seems to give a shit unless you're late on your tuition - then you're going to hear from someone.

If you're thinking about going to art school, realize it's pretty much like any other school but likely has a shit ton more pretentiousness and bullshit than you might want to pay for. But you can also bake cakes and make pretty pictures instead of writing boring term papers.