A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Guinea Pig Zero

I'm fascinated by medical experiments, and for years have been trying my darnedest to be guinea pig zero. My record so far is pretty mediocre. A few years ago I replied to an ad on the STCC bulletin board for a rapid-result AIDS test at a clinic just three blocks from the school. I took the test and received $25 in cash for my participation. I had to endure a half-hour of safe sex counseling, but revenged myself by turning the tables on the nurse and quizzing her about the research study for just as long.

I liked the clinic, and I'm been using it for check-ups ever since. A couple of years ago, I was selected at random to help with an independent evaluation of the place. For two hours of my time, I got some nice hors d'oeuvre, $75 in cash, and a chance to shoot my mouth off about the clinic. I said only nice things--after all, I've never paid a penny for any services, and I've made $100 just for associating with them.

I used to spend a lot of time reading the bulletin boards in Yale's Sterling Hall of Medicine when Cordelia was working in the lab there. She was pokey, and while she cleaned up after her experiments I wrote down telephone numbers for various studies. Invariably I'd be disqualified for some reason or other. This past summer I made it to the final round of evaluations in the Brigham and Women's Hospital sleep study, but ultimately failed because I don't sleep enough hours. That would have paid almost $9000!

So when cousin Geri told me about a study at UMass, I was down for it. We both called, both passed the telephone interview, and made simultaneous appointments. Today we drove over to Tobin Hall for our participation in the psychology department's study, "Changes in Emotional Self-knowledge with Age: Motivational and Cognitive Determinants."

The test took an hour and a half. We had to draw patterns on paper, recite lists from memory, make judgments about faces flashed on a computer screen, and fill out long questionnaires about our emotional experiences. I have a little problem with the word "emotional," for starters, but I tried my best to be cooperative and fill in the answers with some consistency. We each got paid $15 for our trouble.

$15 barely pays the gas for a round trip to Amherst. And of course my time is worth something these days. But it was interesting, especially as Geri had taken the same test and we could talk about it afterward.

The Pysch Department refers to this project as "mood and aging research." We had a good laugh as we searched for the car in the parking lot and took wrong turns on the way home. Geri couldn't get her debit card to work in the grocery store, and I mislaid my carefully-selected sweet potato at Atkins Farm Market. Somehow we got home without losing our pocketbooks or running over our groceries. Good thing we weren't being tested on any of that!

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