Friday, December 28, 2012

A Breath of Summer

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."--Albert Camus, 1913-1960, Return to Tipasa, 1952.  

Albert Camus was a French "Pied-Noir" (Algerian-born French colonist) author, journalist, philosopher and one of the youngest persons to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as Absurdism. 

I hate it when this happens.  I decide to post a photo which leads me to think of Camus' quote which leads me to read more about Camus (in particular to learn the genesis of the quote) which leads me down the rabbit hole of reading essays on Camus which leads me to a blog  which leads me to this part of the blog post in which the writer (Awais Aftab) observes this about Sisyphus, Camus' hero in the book "The Myth of Sisyphus,":

"Yet, Sisyphus is superior to his fate because he has accepted. He will remain in torment and despair as long as he has hope or dream for something better. But once he has realized that this is what his life is, and what it will remain, and there is nothing better at all to look forward to, he will no longer be tormented by the absurdity of his existence. And this would be the key to his happiness."

And I am struck by the remotest of similarities in my own life as a stroke survivor/victim/casualty.  The remnant of the stroke is my hypertonicity which has left me permanently (?) handicapped.  The question mark is there because, frankly, no one really knows although those with some years of experience with this sort of thing seem to agree that it won't get any better (and certainly from what I've read it could get worse). 

 I am confronted with Camus' philosophy of the Absurd.  Camus was influenced by Søren Kierkegaard who wrote: “What is the Absurd? It is, as may quite easily be seen, that I, a rational being, must act in a case where my reason, my powers of reflection, tell me: you can just as well do the one thing as the other, that is to say where my reason and reflection say: you cannot act and yet here is where I have to act...”(Journals, 1849)  Camus believed that the only reasonable response to a life which is "absurd" is to live in full consciousness of that life.  Which might beg the question, "what then was he thinking when he wrote his famous line about winter and spring?"  It would seem that if you fully live life in all its absurdity finding the spring within you in winter could be regarded as some sort of escape from the absurdity.

Maybe he means that in only by returning to the "spring" (representing hope and newness) of life can we can learn to accept the reality that is our "winter."  He writes also in Return to Tipasa, " I discovered once more at Tipasa that one must keep intact in oneself a freshness, a cool wellspring of joy, love the day that escapes injustice, and return to combat having won that light." To me it represents the dichotomy in which I find myself:  on the one hand I feel as though I would in general be happier if I just accept my fate and quit believing that it will get better; on the other hand I cannot escape the pull of eternal optimism.

Exclusive! Book Excerpt!

Here, just for you dear faithful, is another excerpt of my book...


Truth be told, I was, well I wouldn't say terrified of going home.  Let's just say I wasn't as excited as one might expect.  This surprised and confounded me.  Why on earth would anyone not be eager and ready to get back to familiar surroundings—especially with a view like ours?

Perhaps it was because I was going home to a familiar place but in a stranger's body.  I knew how to live in the hospital.  I knew what to expect and what my limitations were.  Life was predictable. 
I could get around.  I could do most of the things I needed to do for myself.  I had my little room where everything had its place and was in its place.  I had my routine.  I could manage—even master—this small world where I knew how to function.  And in here I was an overachiever!  I was successful. Compared to the rest of the patients I was highly functioning.  And I didn't have to explain myself.  Everyone knew why I was there and what could be expected of me. And no one watched me, wondering or judging.

But out there?  That was another matter entirely.  Out there people did things that I could only dream—or reminisce—about.  Out there I was an anomaly, a circus side-show character.  Out there I would have it rubbed in my face every day that I now had limitations and shortcomings, that there were oh so many things that I could not do.  And there would be many more disappointments.  I would be a fish out of water and I was afraid I'd asphyxiate.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Musings...How do you???

Maybe I'm alone in this but I just have to say that I really struggle with how to say "2012."  I know that might sound weird (as do most of the things I muse about!) but it's not as simple as it looks.  I mean I can say "two thousand twelve" (not "two thousand and twelve" which is totally wrong grammatically speaking and kinda makes me crazy! Especially when supposedly educated people say it that way!) but I'm talking about when I need to abbreviate it as in when I am telling the person on the other end of the phone the expiration date of my credit card.  It is downright tedious to say "two thousand twelve" in that situation (and just wait until 2013 when we have to add a syllable!).

It is also incongruous (which also drives those of us with any kind of OCD tendencies!) to say "two thousand twelve" when the month of expiration falls in the single digit category.  You wouldn't, for example, say "oh-six two-thousand-twelve" because you're mixing your formats!  So what does one do?

To maintain some congruity you might say "oh-six-twelve" but that doesn't seem to separate the two numbers by the appropriate forward slash (/) and feels like there is a syllable missing.  But then it seems too long and tedious to say "June, two-thousand-twelve" and perhaps even a bit formal. And "six twelve" sounds too much like an address and perhaps would throw the person off with the result of you having to repeat the date in another format anyway which defeats the goal of brevity in these situations.

And it isn't just brevity.  I feel somewhat judged by how well the date of expiration slides off the tongue, as though the other will think less of me if I somehow say it wrong (do you think I have a complex?!).

Ah, me.  I long for the old days, in the good old 20th century when one might say easily, "oh-six ninety-eight." For some reason that just seemed to flow better.  Or my birth date, "three-thirty-one-fifty-eight."  Now those are some numbers that just sound musical in their simplicity.  Not so much my grandson's birth date: "eighteen-ten"??  I could see people looking quizzically at me as if they thought I was nuts in pronouncing that my grandson was born in the early years of the 19th century!

It's the little things...

Boy could I use some of these...

(Courtesy of UCLA Extension Writers' Program)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 in "A-..."

Exclusive! Book Excerpt!

 Here's an excerpt from my upcoming book to tantalize you and convince you to buy it!
 It's Not Walking. Walking is a whole other thing.
I've probably said this before (and most likely will say it again) but if one more person says, "Look at you! You're walking!" I'm gonna scream!  This, this thing that I do to ambulate from one place to another, this is not walking!  Not in any sense of the word.  This is getting around.  (as my friend/Operations Manager is fond of saying, "it's a workaround; we're really good at workarounds!").  Walking is a whole other thing. 
Walking, in case you were unaware, is a complex exercise in which brain, muscle, tendon, nerve, bone, cartilage, and blood dance together, perfectly choreographed. Human walking is frequently described as "controlled falling."  According to the American Physiology Society"…walking does not involve a simple sequence of alternating contractions in pairs of antagonistic muscles but involves complex and variable patterns of activity."
Still not convinced?  Take a few steps and carefully observe. As you move forward you bend your knee slightly, pull up your foot starting with the heel rolling up to your toes and then using your hip propel yourself forward, generally with a great deal of grace and balance.  Take any of those myriad muscles, joints, etc. out of the equation and regular walking as we have evolved to do no longer exists.  It now becomes "getting around."  In truth, I do walk with my left foot but I manage to drag my right foot along for the ride.  When I try to gently bend my right foot forward (which it doesn't want to do) the action causes the right lower leg to jerk up marching style and the foot to curl inward resulting in putting the foot back down mostly on its side.  If I try to force the natural movements of a step I end up dragging my toes along the floor and if I'm walking on carpet that's a recipe for tripping and/or stumbling.
I have a new appreciation for such a lowly activity as walking.  It is really poetry in motion compared to what I do.  And walking is only part of it.  I also can't kneel, can't squat down very well, have trouble rolling over in bed or on an exam table, crawling, and crouching under, and forget about getting down on the floor—at least on purpose!  Not only are these activities nearly impossible but painful as well.  So what you say?  Try picking something up that has fallen and rolled under a piece of furniture without squatting or kneeling.
Stepping over even a bump in the sidewalk or down from a curb can be treacherous. I do not have good leverage with my right leg so getting into and out of a restaurant booth or theater seat is tough. I lack the finesse to stand and just place my right foot into a shoe or even put on pants.  I get tangled up in cords, table and chair legs, and other would-be obstacles. We can't park too close to another car as I can no longer squeeze out through a narrow passage, not being able to bend my knee sufficiently or slide my foot and let out smoothly. There's definitely no scrambling up on a step stool or ladder to reach something above my head.  And of course, driving—at least using my feet—is out of the question. As my last PT put it: "You should not be driving; I'm glad you're not driving!"
Perhaps the worst injustice: I am consigned to wearing only very flat, flexible shoes or "sturdy" ones which are large enough to accommodate my charming AFO.  No heels, slip-ons, boots or skimpy sandals for me.  And I have a pretty respectable collection of those! Every day I walk into my closet and am confronted by the Ferragamo's, Eagles, Clarks, Italian Shoe Companies, and others that reside there.  It is as if their collectives eyes are gazing up at me; as if their collective voices are calling "remember"?  They are decidedly from before and as time goes on and more than one expert tells me that this is probably the best it is going to get I wonder if it isn't the prudent thing to do to find a new home for them. But then I would walk into my closet and be confronted by sadly empty shoe shelves, looking as pathetic as when they were once filled with unused shoes.
At a friend's birthday party I mentioned this in conversation with another friend.  Her advice (because it seems that everyone has some for me these days!) was that I start by giving up just my least favorite shoes and as I buy new ones that work I gradually give up the rest, eliminating the dreaded empty-shelf syndrome.  Sound advice except…I'm also "paralyzed" by something similar to what families of coma victims must experience: when do you pull the plug?  What if you pull it and then they come up with a cure?  What if you pull it and then spend the rest of your life wondering if it was the right thing to do?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

It is fall...

although the weather belies this fact.
    the calendar says so.  And the activity in Port Susan does as well.
The boats, summer's banner here, are gone, pulled from the waters before the winter storms come
    and bundled off to dry, safe storage until next summer.
In their place is a new armada of water craft.  Now that the water sports for humans are ended
the flocks of fall/winter fowl have arrived to moor here for a time: widgeons, loons, mallards
    geese, golden eyes.
Just as the neighborhood boaters know just the right time to "put in" for the season, so too the
    migrating floaters.

Dear Anna:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Perfect Peas


I know I haven't written for a while but I think I have a pretty good excuse this time:  I broke my hip.  I didn't intend to,  mind you.  It was "just one of those things..."  And apparently more likely to be one of those things that happens to someone with a) hypertonia as a result of stroke, and b) osteopenia (perhaps now osteoporosis).  And lucky me, I have both.

A month ago I was working in the kitchen while my granddaughter was happily playing near the dining table.  She called to me and I, like a fool, thought I could just walk around the kitchen bar counter to see what she was up to.  Silly me.  One wrong step and down I went.  And 3 weeks later I finally got the diagnosis of a femoral neck fracture (i.e. broken hip).  Except at my age I probably should not have actually broken it simply by falling from a standing position.  No, bad bones were probably on my side as well.

Apparently I "moved too fast."  I didn't think I did but I keep being reminded that since I have post-stroke hypertonia I have to learn to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n.  But see, since my stroke and my inability to move very well anyway I thought I had slowed down.  Turns out that I haven't slowed down enough.  Now I must move from turtle to slug.  Which seems appropriate since I already feel like a slug.

Seriously?  I have to slow down even more?  Instead of just calculating every step in the outside world I now have to do the same in my own house?!

So for now I am definitely moving slower--walker and wheelchair at the ready.  Having a bout of dèjá vu.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Excerpt from book

Okay...time for another glimpse at my book!  Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

The Princess Pass
There's a charming little phrase I've seen printed on towels and decorative signs that goes, "You never know how many friends you have until you buy a beach house."  This is also true, I think, of being in possession of a disabled parking placard.
I'm not naming names here or coming to conclusions but some of my family and friends seem absolutely giddy when taking me somewhere over the fact that I have this magic little piece of blue and white plastic that grants special privileges, namely the permission to park up close—and in some cases, for free.  And every time I climb into the car to embark on a trip that will lead to parking I get asked the same thing, "do you have your parking permit with you?"  Seriously, if one more person asks me that I'm gonna backhand 'em!  Yes, yes, yes already!  I have my stupid placard, I have my stupid placard.  Don't I always have my placard?  Have you even known me in the last 14 months to not have my placard with me??  Geez!  You'd think that they were the ones with the disability!  Like they just couldn't handle actually walking a few more feet!
I mean, I will admit that it does come in handy but it also carries that old stigma with it: disabled person aboard.  Person-with-inability-to-walk- independently-who needs constant supervision and-must-abide-the-constant-refrain-"do-you-need- help?" parking here.  Frankly I think the people who really should have to display that placard are the ones who apparently have a parking disability!  You know the type, can't seem to stay between the lines or park so close you have to suck your stomach up against your spine to wedge in or out of your car!
And while we're on the subject…some disabled parking spaces have their own disabilities!  I mean, those of us with physical disabilities that prevent us from walking well—or far—are most likely afflicted from the waist down, meaning that getting in and out of the car can be a chore.  And yet, we parked in one on-street handicapped spot which was alongside a regular curb with no curb cut for wheelchairs or those of us with stepping up issues.  The closest curb cut was down the street a full block at the corner!  Other spaces are no wider than—and side by side like—non-handicapped spaces meaning that you not only have to focus on how in the heck to get that knee bent enough in order to get your foot out the door but you have to mind that the door doesn't open so wide that it scraps the car next door!  And can I just say that places like hospitals and rehab centers should triple the number of disabled parking spaces they have?  I mean, seriously, if you are going to look for a place where us disabled folks are going to hang out in large numbers it's most likely going to be the rehab center more than the local Target store!
Anyway, as handy as that little placard might be at garnering primo parking places and new friends, it still is a stigma symbol.  Unless I rethink it the way my friend did recently who called it my "princess pass."  That's right!  It's not a stigma symbol, it's a status  symbol! It's my pass because I'm the princess and require royal treatment and special privileges.  Yeah!  I'm the Princess!  Outta my way!  Now, if it could only be recreated in a lovely shade of pink!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Other distractions...

I know, I know...

I'm not gonna build much of a following with a blog that I write in "once in a blue moon"!  I know it's been more than two months since I wrote last.  And I know you are all "waiting with bated breath" for my next epistle!  Did you know that it is "bated" not "baited"?  It's not about "fish breath" it's about "reducing, lessening, diminishing" as in "holding one's..."  It actually is an aphetic of "abated" (aphetic as in aphesis as in "The loss of an initial, usually unstressed vowel, as in cute from acute."--The Free Dictionary online).  But I digress...which is one of my problems these days.

These days?  Maybe I have always been this way.  But I'd like to think it is more a sign of old age, how I get started doing one thing, in the middle of which I start doing another, in the middle of which I get caught up in another, and so on until I've--for all intent and practical purposes--forgotten what the first thing was that I was doing!  I tend to blame the current iteration of this sort of fruitless activity on the Internet.  That's right, the World Wide Web! It is just too easy, too tempting, for those of us with the inability to resist to go off on wild goose chases (wow!  where would this post be without old clichés?!)  And this post is a fine example of that.  I was working on my current book (I actually have 5 or 6 in the works! See what I mean??) and needed to a bit of research on it by revisiting my CarePages blog from my stroke last year.  But when I started rereading posts by friends who were looking forward to reading my new blog (i.e. this one) I thought "cr*p!"  I haven't written in that blog for so long...I wonder how long.  Which led me here.  And then I went off on more chases about the phrase "waiting with bated breath," resisting the urge to also look up the etymology of the phrase "once in a blue moon."  See?  Sometimes I can fight off temptation!

Now, where was I???

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Well, I might as well post something

Today is just "one of those days."  You know the kind I mean?  Those days when despite all of the piles of work staring at you you just can't seem to get started on anything so you manage to just fritter the whole day away?  It is one of those days when I cling to this great quote by Lillian Hellman: “You do too much. Go and do nothing for a while. Nothing.”

So who was Lillian Hellman and why did she write/say that?  Hellman was a famous woman playwright in an era when the field was dominated by men.  I like this quote from a PBS story on her: "She became a writer at a time when writers were celebrities and their recklessness was admirable." live in such a time!  And in spite of her being, again to quote PBS, "a smoker, a drinker, a lover, and a fighter" she lived to the ripe old age of 79, still as active and feisty as she could be.  You might recognize some of her work: The Little Foxes, Toys in the Attic...She was compared to Ibsen and Strindberg.  She was also very left of center in her politics and ended up going on trial as a communist by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

I wonder when she would have coined such a phrase since all that I have read about her implies that she led a busy, full life.  Maybe she had days like this too?  Maybe that's what drove her to write...

Saturday, January 21, 2012



On the book/curio shelves embedded in the wall of our main stairwell sits a "sign."  I put that in quotes because the sign is really a set of brushed chrome-looking, chunky letters set in sections inside a sturdy cardboard box.  The letters spell "imagine."  I bought the "sign" for cheap at Target, back when the house was being readied for public tours, partly as a curio to place on a shelf to make the home look "lived in" and partly because at the time the letter spoke to me: imagine a magnificent beach-side abode that was lovely to look at as well as terribly environmentally conscious and then managing to make that image come true.  The sign seemed to epitomize what we have done.  And it served as a corny talisman of things we might imagine and do in the future.

Every day since we have lived here those letters have resided on that shelf; sometimes they are at an artistic angle to the shelf (as when I placed them there) and sometimes they are perfunctorily square with the shelf (as when the house cleaner replaced them after dusting under them.  They have sat there during euphoric times when we were doing well economically and the world seemed our brass ring and they have sat there during leaner times when they inspired us to think of ways to reinvent ourselves and they have sat there during reality moments when we tried to sell the house and there they sit now.  I see them every day that I descend the stairs.  These days I spend a bit more time contemplating them as it takes me three times longer to descend now that my right leg and foot don't function so well.  And, in my current state--physically, emotionally--they are not a talisman but a cruel joke.

Imagine.  The word is meant to inspire, to embolden the reader to think beyond what is or seems possible, and perhaps to consider that what we can imagine can truly happen.  An imagination is a wonderful thing but it is made more wonderful by presupposition that what we imagine we can bring to fruition.  Isn't that how most inventions happen?  Imagine is in many ways the same thing as "picture."  If I can picture something might I also figure out how to take that picture, deconstruct it into its composite parts, analyze how those parts work together and then recreate the picture outside the frame in the three-dimensional realm?  It is how I think the rational mind thinks.  We don't tend to stop at "imagining;" but rather our imagining carries our thoughts, sometimes almost simultaneously on to "creating."  This is why imagining--picturing if you will--can be an exercise in brutality.

I can picture myself totally healed, able to move my toes, bend my foot, make it do what my mind wills it to do but that unfortunately does not make it so.  Sometimes, I imagine myself waking some morning in the not so distant future, and as if this stroke and its residual effects never happened (were all part of some insane dream) I would turn to step out of bed and my right foot and leg would miraculously work in unison with my left foot and leg.  Imagining does not make it so, even though intellectually I think I know how all the parts are supposed to work and my mind wills my parts to work the way that they have effectively for more than 50 years.  I can picture myself thin (only thin; I am resigned to being older, it's really okay with me), picture what it would be like to once again fit into my meager wardrobe, picture what it would look like to eat and move like a thin person.  But it is a fleeting picture once the reality of hunger, depression, availability--whatever the cause of my eating--takes over.

Wouldn't it be advantageous to the psyche if we could stop "imagining" those pictures that are unattainable?  We would have less grist for depression.  But I think for most of us it is human nature, in part because we can't shake the notion that imagining will somehow be a step toward realizing.

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

               --"Imagine," John Lennon, 1971

Monday, January 16, 2012

Early Morning Armada

Lazy Day

Yes, it's time for me to write some more but I'm feeling a bit lazy.  So instead I offer up another excerpt for your entertainment...

So from "Mr. Porter Builds His Dream Green House":

The good news is that we do continue to learn (I hope!) and weaning ourselves from shopping as some form of hobby or extracurricular activity has been one of our educational goals.  This may, at first glance, seem terribly un-American and downright anti-capitalist but I like to think that in the end it would be better for all of us to buy less stuff and spend our money—and therefore our time—on things that enhance life like good food, good wine, friends and family.[1]

We’ve been doing such a good job of learning to “reduce” that we have actually been improving the “reuse” part of the environmental cycle.  Of course, some people think we’re taking that whole principal a bit far.  Our local jeweler thinks I’m off my rocker for spending $100 to repair a $65 watch.  Maybe so.  Maybe not.  After all, it is my favorite watch and garners many unsolicited compliments from even total strangers!  It’s actually an investment in my fashion statement!  Even more important it keeps one more thing out of our landfill.  And although one might argue that it’s such a small  thing that it couldn’t make much of a difference one has to remember that I would not have been the only one to throw such an item out that day.  Every day millions of Americans are throwing millions of small things away.  And those small things add up to something huge when there are millions of them.

I also paid $30 to replace the zipper in a favorite, well-worn hooded sweatshirt.  While some might think that’s nuts I defend my sanity by pointing out that I would have paid the same or more to replace the sweatshirt and probably with a sweatshirt that I don’t like nearly as much.  Plus, that’s one less sweatshirt in the landfill which is already filled with everyone’s broken watches!

[1] Though, of course, we now are learning that our eating and drinking habits are also contributing to the planet’s demise.  Sheesh!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Form & Function

At the risk of getting too personal, our bed is a mess!  David made the comment last night that he wasn't sure where the sheet and blankets started and I noticed in the middle of the night that part of me was covered and the other part was freezing.  And in the middle of the night (and by the way...why do we call it the middle of the night when it is really early morning?  And why does morning start in the middle of the night, when it is clearly still dark outside?  Why doesn't morning come when it is light and night when it is dark?  And why do the days start getting longer just as winter begins and shorter when summer is just beginning??  Doesn't that seem wrong?...but I digress...) I came to a very important conclusion: there is a real purpose in making your bed daily other than just for pretty-ness' sake. 

I used to make our bed diligently every day without fail.  I redistributed sheet and blanket and tucked them in with military corners, rearranged the comforter, tucked the pillows back into their respective shams (did you ever wonder why we call them "shams"?  Is it because they are somehow phony pillows??  Whatever...) and dressing the bed finally with decorative throw pillows. (At the risk of making you crazy, I digress once more because I need to vent a bit about throw pillows.  Apparently my family is under the impression that "throw pillows" are thus called because when they are sitting in a place in which you wish to plant yourself you simply throw them on the floor, or behind the sofa or chair, or wherever!  This is not what the term means at all!  But I am resolved that they will never get that!).  Anyway, this has been my daily activity de rigueur for as long as I can remember with very few exceptions.  Until I had my stroke.  Although, once I was beginning to be more mobile I actually made my own bed in the rehab clinic as well as was possible and I made my bed in my makeshift bedroom as well.  But now that I have moved upstairs and am responsible for a larger bed with heavier bedclothes used by one very messy sleeper and myself I find it to be too much of a chore and the bed goes unmade more often than not.

By now you are asking yourself, "and so??"  Well, as I lay in my unkempt bed in the wee hours trying to make heads or tails of the bedclothes tangled around me it struck me that all those years when I made the bed so neatly this generally was not a problem.  Every day we started afresh with things rearranged and tucked neatly so that at least at the beginning of our evening repose things worked.  It turns out that it wasn't just for looks.  Making the bed serves form and function.  Yes, a freshly made bed is more appealing to the eye (and in some cases might make points in a job interview!) but it is also more functional for the people who sleep there.  And that argument could be made for a great number of activities that I find important that others (such as my family members) might scoff at as simply "fluff."  Form and function do go together. Form is what makes our surroundings more fetching, drawing us in and making us want to take care of them to keep them looking good. 
When a place looks "nice" we feel better about it, we want to take care of it.

This extends to nature as well.  Biophilia, a term coined by Professor Edward O. Wilson, is the affinity (philio) we have for nature (bio).  Humans have this naturally and when it is nurtured so is the function of caring for nature.  We care and so we care for.  Many sociologists fear that younger generations actually suffer from "nature deficit disorder," the lack of time spent in/with nature, the effect of which is fostering whole generations of people who don't know nature and therefore don't care about nature and therefore don't care for nature.

It might just start with making a bed.  Form and function. Go make your bed!