Wisdom Teeth

by Simon Cropp

In Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, we are told stories of the histories of people under the terminology of root canals. The important formation of who characters are in this novel, such as Archie and Samad, Irie, and Clara, is linked to the metaphor of teeth and how possibly the procedure of removing decay from the roots of their heritage.

Allow me a digression:

And this reminds me of my own uprooting, when my wisdom teeth had to be removed. Wisdom teeth are the last sets of teeth to grow in, and they’re often impacted, so later in life, almost all of us have to have the dreaded procedure.

I was 22 years old and didn’t have insurance that covered procedures;, so for me, the removal of wisdom teeth had to be a budgetary affair. My dentist said he knew a guy. Oral surgeon in training. Had to get a number of contact hours in to meet the requirements of his program, and removing wisdom teeth was considered something he could do unsupervised. I remember there was a rule he had to follow: no an anesthesia. I had to be awake for the procedure. But people do it this way I was told. He’d give me a Valium, I’d feel like I was asleep, all would be right in the world.

I showed up for the day of the procedure with my friend Mike–as the Valium would render me likely incapable of driving. I remember now, the receptionist at the dental office had captured my withered, blackened heart at that time. She would look at me with these big blue eyes, smile, and I never heard a thing she said. Well, when I checked in, she said something like: “The doctor is running late. Run and get something to eat. Blue eyes, beautiful smile, blue eyes,” or something like that.

Mike took me to McDonalds and we pounded down a couple of McDoubles, because, you know, I was 22 and could do that.

We returned to the office, met the surgeon in training, and he asked where we’d been. I said, “Oh, since you were running late, the receptionist said to run and get a bite to eat or something. So we ate some cheeseburgers.”

The surgeon in training didn’t take this well. Began rubbing his balding head. He said, “Oh no, no, no, this won’t do at all. Not at all. We must reschedule.”

“Sir,” I said. “I am a manager at Blockbuster video–to get this time off–today and three more days in a row for recover–that was a feat, I tell you! Why must we reschedule?”

“You ate! You can’t eat before this. The Valium won’t work. You can take it, but it won’t work. Your cheeseburgers might get tranquilized, but you, my friend, will not.”

“But she said…” my friend Mike said gesturing to the receptionist.

“I said something like bread,” she said from behind the counter. Blue eyes, smile, blue eyes. Anger too! Oh no.

My mind scrambled. “I’ll take the pill. It’ll work. You’ll see.”

Despite his hesitation, the oral surgeon agreed. And we were off. I took the pill, went back to the room, rested in the chair, and sure enough, I began to feel something. A stirring in my brain. A numbing in my body. I knew it would work.

The procedure began. And all that something I had felt before, that numbing? It fled. Ran away. As the surgeon jacked my mouth open with some device that wouldn’t allow me to clamp down–after he numbed me–he began digging in my gums. And wisdom teeth, it turns out, don’t just come out a tooth. They come out in pieces. They are cracked and broken and jackhammered, and pieces of teeth and blood sprayed on his mask. Sweat formed on his brow.

All effects of the Valium gone, I suppose he saw something reflecting in my eyes. Horror? He brought in a second assistant. She sat down in a chair beside me and just held my hand. He brought in a woman to hold my hand! I didn’t flinch, though. I let him work. For two hours he removed slivers and chunks of gigantic teeth, but it was the roots, he said, the roots were the biggest he’d ever seen. Like the roots of a horse tooth. He brought in the beautiful receptionist and my friend Mike to look at my impressive roots.

So much pain, black smoke pouring from my mouth, but I continued on, wondering what it would be like to have real insurance.

Finally, he stopped. He took off his tooth and blood-soaked mask and said, “There is one tooth left. Upper right. I cannot do this anymore. It is too much. That tooth is not impacted. So it will remain. I cannot subject you to this anymore.”

“I can handle it,” I said around the mouth apparatus.

“You are stitched and sewn, here are two subscriptions for Vicodin. You will need them. Don’t talk or the stitching will break. Keep gauze in your mouth so clots can form. I will be here the rest of the day before returning to Denver. Call if you need anything.”

So Mike and I left. I felt particularly strong that day. Like I had done something most people hadn’t done. So I continued to play that role. I acted as if there were no pain. Of course, I filled the prescriptions. I b.s.’d with Mike, told him that’s how a man does an operation. Mike told me to stop talking. At the time I thought he was concerned I would break my stitching, in retrospect, I think he didn’t want to hear what I was saying.

I did break my stitching from talking too much. We had to go back to the oral surgeon in training that Friday afternoon. We caught him in the parking lot as he was loading up his car to head back to Denver.

“You may have to go the emergency room,” he said. “I can’t numb you. All my equipment is loaded…”

I looked at him, looked at Mike, imagine blue eyes looking at me from somewhere, and I said, “Just do it. Just stitch it. No numbing.”

He did it. And it hurt. But whatever.

I learned something that day–a fundamental lesson to my own self, to my own sense of being and history. I learned to never eat McDonalds again.

But then, these painful extractions, these lessons and formations of who we are in distinct moments, is this not what Smith meant with her epigraph: “What is past is prologue.”

What I did not know that day cost me.

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(Sub)Cultural Appropriation – Naomi

I had a really hard time thinking of something specific to write about for this week’s post, because Subculture: The Meaning of Style is so full of sociological information, my head was spinning. Thankfully, I read Simon’s paper and decided to consider the concept of appropriation of subcultures.

In the book, Hebdige details a variety of subcultures that emerged in England in the 1960-70s. In chapter 6, he discusses the idea of “the commodity form” which is “the conversion of subcultural signs (dress, music, etc.) into mass-produced objects” (94). This, combined with questions posed by Simon, got me thinking about cultural appropriation as it relates to these subgroups.

For the “punk” kids, style was described as safety pins, blue hair, spikes, etc. There was an “otherness” quality to this that made the members of the group stick out. All of this could have the effect of creating fear in those around; those not belonging to or understanding the subgroup. Enter Hot Topic. Now, every neighborhood kid (or adult) could cruise on down to the mall and buy a $35 ripped t-shirt or faux vintage Ramones hoodie. Are you dying to own a pentagram leg belt? They’ve got you covered! Just stroll past Sears and stop before you reach the Mrs. Fields cookie shop. All major credit cards accepted! No more do these people have to think about what it means to belong to a group or subculture. The appropriation of the style necessarily strips the shock factor, or “otherness” from the group. Because these subcultures emerged due to perceived problems with the capitalist nature of society, I think that the commodification of the signs of the subculture eliminate, or at best water down the message of the group.

And now, this:

Also, a funny comic:

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Routledge, 1979.

Many Levels of Brow – Naomi

There is a very humorous scene in The Third Man, where the protagonist, Rollo Martins, is speaking to a group of book lovers about his writing and his opinion of other authors. What is so funny about this scene is that Martins is speaking about authors and genres that would be considered “lowbrow”. When asked about his favorite author, Martins replies with the author of Westerns and another of the panelists tries to pivot to a more refined poet (92-3). This got me thinking about the literary canon and acceptance of (other than highbrow) literature.

As someone who has taught high school English for over a decade, I have to say that I appreciate the existence of the literary cannon. I think that it is helpful to have a list of works that are deemed valuable to read and be studied. And I think that (for the most part) these are the works that should be taught through high school. When people  have a common background of literature, it helps with allusion and understanding of many other things in society (history, politics, Saturday Night Live, etc). The canon makes modern satire much easier to understand, because a presumably large portion of the population are familiar with what/who is being satirized.

That being said, I don’t think that the canon is an exhaustive list of literature for people to read and I don’t think that all literature needs to be “highbrow”. I’m going to out myself as someone who read the entire Twilight series and liked it. These novels were not well written and lots of literary types like to make fun of Stephenie Meyer because of it. Meyer is probably okay with the criticism knowing that her franchise has sold over $6 billion worldwide. People wanted to read these novels; millions of people wanted to read these novels. It is unlikely that any of the Twilight series will ever be taught in any educational setting, but not all writing needs to be, and I think it’s wonderful that people are reading anything at all.

Getting back to the novel at hand, I enjoyed The Third Man and I appreciated its many levels of discussion and interpretation. I think that our class decided that this book would be “middlebrow” and firmly outside of the canon. All of that can be true, and I think that everyone in class got something out of studying this (somewhat forgotten) novel at the graduate level.

Greene, Graham. The Third Man. 1949. Penguin Books, 1977.

Don’t Judge a Book by its First Three Pages–Meghan

After reading the first three pages of Novel on Yellow Paper, I closed the book, walked into my living room, and handed the book to my fiancee saying, “I don’t get it.” He took Novel on Yellow Paper from me and read the first three pages aloud. When he was done I said, “see, it doesn’t make any sense and I hate it.” Though I didn’t really hate the book and I was already frustrated by the numerous other things I had to read or write that night, I judged the book very early. Eventually, I picked the book up again and continued reading. I was still frustrated with the style and found myself drifting off into other thoughts because I wasn’t fully following the text. I found the stream of consciousness writing difficult to follow, and, at first, everything seemed very random.  As I continued to read, I started understanding–or at least following–the style. The use of stream of consciousness proved to be an interesting perspective. I began to appreciate the witty comments, humor, and historical awareness that Smith presented throughout the novel.

Although I did develop an appreciation for the style and content, I still wasn’t engulfed in the text. I was curious what kind of reviews the book had and if any reflected my frustration. I found a review that called Novel on Yellow Paper a “book of a lifetime” and spoke highly of the text. I found a another review that aligned more closely with my own views of the novel claiming it to a little frustrating and have little plot, but many ideas.

I also found a blog that claimed Novel on Yellow Paper to be Woolfian because of the stream of consciousness style in which it is written. However, I disagree with this claim because I found Mrs. Dalloway much easier to follow. Plus, as we discussed in class, Woolf does not use a stream of consciousness style, but rather free indirect discourse. Mrs. Dalloway also has a clear plot (Clarissa preparing for a party), whereas Novel on Yellow Wallpaper does not. I can see a slight connection between the two novels, but I

In the end, though it honestly was not my favorite book, I found Novel on Yellow Paper to be an interesting read. I think my favorite thing about the book, aside from the literary references and humor, was that the novel was reflective of random thoughts that happen throughout the day. Though this was also the part that I found frustrating, I began to see the artistic element in stringing together random thoughts. Also, I thought it was interesting that the random thoughts ended up not really being random because they were reflective of events and interactions in Pompey’s life. I think thought tangents, like Pompey’s, happen to everyone (at least they do to me), and you wonder how your brain got there. Though I wouldn’t place Novel on Yellow Paper on the same level as Mrs. Dalloway, I agree that the novel is compelling and witty.

Here are a couple recordings of Stevie Smith reciting her work. Novel on Yellow Paper is not included, but I think it is interesting and useful to hear how the author reads their work.