advances in science!

It seems that Japanese scientists, like me, have been thinking a lot about ear wax lately. Far from being irrelevant, it may hold the key to explaining racial difference! Wow, get out your Q-tips.

Thanks for turning me on to this one, Pickle.


waxing poetic

I took a class on Existential Philosophy once when I was in college (what a great way to begin a blog entry!) in which I had to read passages from Sartre's Being and Nothingness. This is a dense book and incredibly convoluted. Perhaps because of that, the little gem that I remember most from the book was an observation that seemed particularly un-Sartrean. I have no way of verifying that this remembered quotation is accurate (a recent Google search yielded nothing), but I'm pretty sure that somewhere in B & N Jean-Paul says something like:
Before the age of forty, there is no correlation between your outward appearance and your inner one. But after the age of forty, your inner character is written on your face.

Could he really have said that? Why would Sartre make such a completely unjustifiable claim? Well, I don't think I just made it up, but if I did, there just might be something to it. After all, it's stuck with me after all these years.

Despite the distinguished, Clooney-esque grey hairs that have been breaking out with ever-increasing frequency on my head, I am not all that close to age forty. But in the past couple of years, I have come to have a subtly different relationship to my body, one that recalls my supposedly Sartrean insight. The older I get, the less "generalized" my body becomes, the more its particular peculiarities seem to stick out, to announce themselves. The older and less resilient my body becomes, the more it starts to seem like mine and mine alone.

When I went for my first post-collegiate physical a little over a year ago (the first doctor's appointment ever covered by a health plan that was in my own name!), I got excellent reports on my blood pressure, cholesterol, weight etc. -- just what you would expect for a young man of 25 (as I was then). In fact, the only thing the doctor identified as a source of concern was, in fact... ear wax.

"I'm amazed that you can hear what I'm saying!" my doctor exclaimed after examining my ears.

Apparently, I had a disproporitonately high amount of waxy buildup in the ear canal, so much so that he felt it was significantly cutting off my hearing. He recommended some over the counter eardrops, which I took and which offered some relief. Wax came out, I could hear better. But I must not have got it all because in the past few months I started thinking to myself, "Wow, my ears feel blocked again, maybe I should take more ear drops." Murine didn't do a thing this time -- in fact, it seemed to make the blockage worse! I've spent the last couple of days feeling almost entirely deaf in my left ear!

Well, today I went to the doctor again and he took drastic measures. Using what I can only describe as a high-powered soaker syringe, he blasted my ear with streams of water that made me dizzy, then groped around inside with some tweezers. When all was said and done, he dislodged (accompanied by a squishy gush of air) a thick ball of brown wax that was approximately the size of a partially-meleted Hershey's kiss! I'm not kidding! I'd been going around for months (years?) with that in my ear.

As ailments go, this was an odd one. I asked my doctor whether there was anything I could do to prevent further waxy buildup and he said there wasn't really. I could try and clean out my ears more regularly -- maybe using ear drops once a month or so -- but other than taking preemptive measures, there was no way to stop this buildup at the source. "Some people are just more susceptible to ear wax," he said. "No one really knows why."

When I heard those words, my first thought was: "belly-button lint." That's right, folks, I'm really letting out all the skeletons from the closet here. Much to the amusement of my virtually hairless boyfriend, I am one of the millions of people world-wide who suffer from persistent belly-button lint, which I have discovered is one of the great unexplained phenomena in modern medicine. Despite extensive research, no one has been able to advance an airtight theory as to how belly button lint collects. Does it have to do with body hair? Lint from clothing? Why is it almost always bluish grey? We may never know...

And now you can add ear wax to the list of unsolved anatomical mysteries I am prone to. These are not really grave medical problems, really more like amusements. I've thought of collecting my BBL in a small box by my bedside, in hopes of kitting it into a scarf or sweater or (perhaps) a funeral shroud. Being prone to BBL doesn't cause me much anxiety and now that my ear canals have been cleansed I'm no longer worried about going deaf.

But these physical conditions do make me think not just about growing older, but growing simultaneously odder. The bodies of most young people are essentially all the same, they are generalized. Even up through college, most of our faces are unformed masses of adorable fat and dimples, our bones may break but they quickly heal. We might have deformities like buckteeth or freckles but everyone deals with those and for most people they go away. This pervasive "sameness" of appearance is one of the reasons why extreme physical distinction among children -- from obesity to a shrivelled limb -- is so striking and causes such anxiety. Dealing with physical difference earlier in life rather than later becomes a test of character -- you are set apart from the crowd, forced to be distinctive.

The truth is, though, that all of us will get there eventually. Everyone's body will break down someday and it will happen in a completely unique and personal fashion. The older we get, the more of the "thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" we have felt, the more we build up a history of odd physical conditions and quirks that define us as ourselves. First it's ear wax, then it's diabetes or a hyperractive thyroid. Physical imperfections are embarrassing because they are so completely our own, they prevent us from blending in. What is physical "perfection," after all, but complete blandness? One has only to go to a trendy gay nightclub and see the scores of men taking off their shirts to realize that objectively "hot" bodies can be curiously unappealing when they appear generic, a dime a dozen.

So, I have belly-button lint. And ear wax. I also have dry skin, but that I'm working on (trying to moisturize more). Loving me into longevity means loving these things, because these are the things that are going to stick with me. They're signs of what's to come.