Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rosie the Food Snob Riveter

In which our Heroine eats Vegetables in front of other People 

There are only two words for me these days: Food Snob.  First off, I found a lovely looking recipe for homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner and decided that would be my great offering at the dinner table this year—whether anyone wanted it or not.  As I plugged away at the hour-long process of slowly cooking up pears, soaking cranberries until they popped!, and thinly slicing ginger root, I thought non-stop of how utterly wrong it is that something as potentially beautiful and delicious as home-made cranberry sauce should morph over the years into the molded lump of dull red that slithers out of the can each year during our commemorative meal of bounty.  “When,” I thought, “did it become traditional to slice up a jelly that still has the pattern from the can quivering on its surface?”  (The other and probably less intact side of my brain decided it must have been the Beef Wellington years at the Kennedy White-house.  I have no support for this reason, but some random part of me regards Jackie O as important enough to have influenced decades-worth of Betty Crocker pictures of the Thanksgiving spread in America.) Seriously though, it was my first time ever experiencing cranberry sauce NOT from the can. 
In addition, last week I was at a meeting with some other people during the lunch hour.  The friend who was sitting across from me pulled out one of those highly processed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that you get in huge frozen boxes at Costco.  Its familiar packaged yumminess called out to me as she broke the seal on the bag and pulled its unnatural white oval shape out and proceeded to eat it.  Earlier she had found a baggie of leftover Halloween candy in her capacious mommy bag.  This is how she began her lunch, but the PBJ sandwich was the real headliner for her meal.  Even with the sight of such ambrosia before my eyes, I held firm (mostly because I had to) and pulled out my own lunch bag.  Unfortunately, I made the mistake of setting it on the vacant seat next to me.  Over the course of the next few minutes I saw every person’s eyes flick over and settle on my brightly colored and see-through plastic bag.  Honestly, its like I was showing my knickers or something, for all the shame I felt at being so openly healthy. 
And open I was.  There is a bit of the devil in me at times like this.  I began with the humble but vivid red-yellow apple, next turning to the perfect green of my crunchy celery stick.  I also had exactly one long and perfectly tapered carrot, which was of course bright orange because they never come any other way.  It was the fresh green beans that did it.  Velvety green and looking like they’d just come out of my mom’s garden, I’d just begun on the pile when my friend interrupted the conversation to say, “Wait—is that a green bean?” as if it were an alien life-form.   Realizing her own mistake at sounding food-snobbish, she quickly added, “Its just that I’ve never seen anyone eat them raw like that before.”  Feeling pity, I explained that this is how they come out of the garden.  Then, to add insult to probable injury, I added, “And they are all organic too.” 
It’s possible that I went too far by peeling my luscious oranges just then.  Juices squirted out from under my fingers, permeating the air with a tang that you just can’t process in a factory or shelve in a supermarket.  Oh!  The smell of a good piece of citrus is mouth-watering, isn’t it?  Is there any other word for me at that moment?  No.  Loud and clear: FOOD SNOB!!!
No, I am not eating perfectly.  When I’m tired, I still pull out the easy food.  I figure that if I’m tired and headachy enough to practically feel the cancer growing, then it is probably okay to just eat a microwave burrito.  But I’m trying, and most of the time I am eating WAY BETTER than before the cancer.  I tell you that I feel so much better!  My big realization for the day is that healthy food is called healthy for a reason: it gives you health!  (I know, my rocket-science is astonishing).  By the way, as you read the health line, you should be picturing strong biceps, like this:
I’d like to muster the proper amount of offended-ness from the PBJ vs. green bean face-off, but my somewhat-intact memory tugs at me, gently reminding me of my own past food snobbery—times when I may have been stupid enough to say something like, “Man, you gotta live… How can you eat that stuff all the time? Mmmmnmmn… (satisfied smacking sounds) All those vegetables are nothing compared to this luscious cheese-cake…”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Homicide by Couch

In which our Heroine feels Pain! 

The bad news is that my daughter has developed a propensity toward hurting her mother badly by trying to yank the hair out of said mother’s head when she is innocently resting on the couch. 
The good news is that is that it hurts really bad, and that means the nerve endings from my incredibly awesome scalping session are healing very well.  In fact, I can feel sensation on every part of my head now.  The creepy crawlies are slowly fading away to be replaced by genuine itchiness—and some serious yelp-making pain.  By the way, this is not the first time Eva has made an attempt at hair follicle homicide.  It’s just that I can feel it now.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Enduring to the End

In which our Lady endures. 

Late Tuesday night I made a grave mistake.  I popped in the CD containing my MRI images.  I was curious to see the latest news.  Unfortunately, I don’t know how to decipher the scans.  I was hoping to see a nice big black hole where my tumor had been and nothing more.  Much to my despair, I instead found cloudy white stuff all over the area.  Here are the images from my last two MRI’s: The first shows how ravaged my skull and how swollen my brain were right after the surgery, the second show Tuesday’s results: 

In my small experience, the lighter stuff usually either indicates bones or cancer, while the grey is my normal beautiful brain.  I know nothing for certain, but I have a lot of anxiety.  I hope it is useless anxiety, but I won’t be sure for another week.  Unfortunately, I have been experiencing a feeling of increased pressure and the occasional headache more often the past few weeks.  Is this from stress, or from cancer?  Whatever the case, it is easy to believe the worst.  With all of this uncertainty I find that all I can do is hope and then put into practice a particular kind of endurance. 
I begin to hate the phrase enduring to the end.  In LDS church and culture, it is used all the time.  It is this notion of fighting the ‘good fight’ until its all completely over and you’ve gained your heavenly reward.  It has a sense of heroism and nobility about it, though it is often used casually.  While growing up, I would envision the Mormon pioneers slowing making their way west in wagon trains, enduring as they walked and walked and walked all the way to the Great Salt Lake.  Of course, back then I idealistically believed that when they reached Utah the endurance was over and they found good times all around.  Never mind the years of hunger and toil that awaited them there. 
So here’s my thing.  This last week I’ve thought a lot about my current struggles—and they are just that—current.  I’m so tired of it NOT ending.  I never was one for distance running.  I much prefer dashing through the race in 100 meters.  Even before the MRI on Tuesday, I have had this sinking feeling that I’m not quite done yet with this cancer thing.  In fact, I look back on earlier blog posts and on the improbable optimism of the last few months and the terminology that comes to mind is “naively jubilant.” It all started with the revelation through my patriarchal blessing that I would “live a long and prosperous life.”  I do not doubt that this will be true.  But the naivety with which I assumed easier, even golden, times ahead (and ones that would soon cease) makes me cringe.  That is not what was promised in those few words. 
I face a new ME right now—one who is being changed, probably for the better, but not with my own volition.  I am losing aspects of myself that I prize due to the cancer and the surgery: my excellent short term memory, my quickness in conversation, my ability to throw things together successfully via energy, charisma, vitality, and a certain bit of good fortune.  In place I am getting other things, and they are good—but sometimes surprising.  For instance, some of these aspects may be increased spirituality, wisdom, or the dreaded ability to endure to the end.  Don’t get me wrong—these are good gifts.  I just didn’t understand that I would have to trade in some of the other good things to get the better.  I loved my ability to learn easily and quickly—it made things very easy for me.  To lose this gift of knowledge in order to gain the gift of wisdom is hard. 
And it is very clear to me that I do have some things to learn that will (hopefully) teach me wisdom.  For three days straight I thought non-stop about the concept of Good, Better, Best.  Basically, that there are a lot of things to do with your time, but some are better than others, and others are the Best.  These I should choose to do first every day, every time, if possible.  One of the things I need to work on is reading my Book of Mormon a lot more.  In fact, I had the strongest impression one day that although all of the organic research and eating was a very good thing to do, it would not lead me out of this illness.  Rather, it is reading the scriptures and attending the temple that will do so.  These are the things that are BEST.  
I’m learning that enduring to the end means not just getting to the end of an event, or even just lasting through it well.  It also means that I’ll have to change throughout the process.  It’s not where you end up, but who you are when you get there. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Christmas Market: A Shopping for the Holidays Guide for the Paranoid

In which our Heroine discusses the Particulars of a Paranoid Shopping Experience. 

10 Things to Keep in Mind on Black Friday:
1.       You are under surveillance in every store you go into.  DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT with anyone.
2.       Every person you see is out to get you, even at 4 a.m.  That’s why all the items on your shopping list keeping getting snatched up just before you get to the isle. 
3.       Never look at the surveillance cameras stationed in the high corners of stores.  If you let the invisible “security guards” suspect that you know where they are, you will be probably be apprehended, or at least detained for a short while in some generic hallway you never knew existed before.
4.       While mall shopping, make sure you double back and traverse the whole length of the mall several times just to make sure that no one is following you. 
5.       If you selfishly take the time to try on a shirt that you spotted on a rack, please assume that there are tiny camouflaged cameras hidden in the light fixture above your head.
6.       All natural disasters wait to happen on the holidays or days when the unknowing public is out and about.  You should probably bring a life jacket, or at least a parachute. 
7.       The big man waiting at the door of Best Buy really works for the CIA as part of a specialized covert ops division.  Don’t let him hear your Russian/Afghani accent!  He will take you down.  The excessive fat on his torso conceals his guns.
8.       When you use your credit or debit card, you are immediately and automatically put “on the grid.”  Please understand that if you ever have to suddenly disappear from society, you are finished.  Toast.  Crispy, blackened toast. 
9.       If you had been wise enough to use cash instead of cards, you could have had the pleasure of carrying around hundreds of dollars on a cutpurse’s day of paradise.  AND you could have toted around numerous large bills—all of which hold a sophisticated tracking mechanism located just to the left of a former President’s trusting face.   
10.    Know that everything you buy gets scanned into a computer when you check out.  The government is clearly working with corporate giants to document every item you personally buy.  With this in mind, your only option is to buy a host of useless and irrelevant articles that you will never use or gift to anyone.  Don’t let this excessive and frivolous waste deter you from enjoying your Black Friday Shopping experience.  When I check other carts, I’m pretty sure everyone else is secretly doing it too. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Mexican Altarpiece

In which our Heroine needs Therapy. 

An attempt at some creative therapy today yielded this:
My eclecticism got away from me a bit, and it ended up looking like some sort of Mexican altarpiece.  Oops.  Also, the yellow beams of light are less prevalent in real life, but I couldn’t convince my camera of that. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Dreaded MRI

In which our Lady engages in Bathroom-talk. 

It occurs to me that most of you out there have never hung out inside an MRI machine.  I will therefore describe this great pleasure—it being my fourth time today.  First, you fastidiously prepare by wearing clothes that have no metal on them.  This saves you from the embarrassment and discomfort of having to change into a drafty and probably overly large hospital gown.  If you are wise, you actually began the second phase of preparation the day before by drinking as much water as you can.  This allows your veins to be nice and present when well-meaning nurses begin poking at you in order to insert an IV.  Warning, this may present a (slight) problem later.  But when your MRI tech happily makes contact the first time, you abandon all thoughts of later consequences and focus on the joy of tasting the saline they just stuck in you, which is a slightly salty taste.  This is an uncommonly odd sensation, since you didn’t actually stick anything in your mouth, but the taste comes from somewhere else completely.  
Next you lie down and ask for a blanket.  It comes warm and keeps you nice and toasty for at least 10 minutes until you begin to realize that hospitals really need to invest in fleece.  You have plenty of time to think about this, because you will by then have ear-plugs in and barriers on either side of your head to keep it straight and still.  You are given an emergency call button to hold in your hand and are told that you can keep your eyes open.  You don’t necessarily believe this, though, because you’ve been told twice before that it’s a big no-no to open your eyes.  Besides, there’s nothing to really see anyway.  A wide white visor is positioned over your head that is equipped with some sort of mirror, allowing you to see a section of the wall.  It has two boring pictures on it that you can’t really see anyway because you left your glasses over on the table.  You begin to slide into a three foot wide tunnel that arches up over you in a hemisphere.  The bed part slides you in nicely, but the part your arms are resting on stays still, so you are forced to lift your arms just slightly. Briefly you think, jeesh, what do over-weight people do on such a narrow bed?  That thought ends quickly.  It is at this point that you suddenly realize that the tunnel is white, as are the ceiling, walls, and floor of all MRI rooms ever created.  It is suddenly much colder in this sterile little unit.
 The tech tells you over a microphone—which you can somehow still hear—that it will be about 20 minutes for this part, and that the first section will take about two and a half minutes.  You close your eyes tight and pretend your head doesn’t itch as you lie still, still, still.  A series of loud pops and bumps begin to echo around you.  It sounds like a digital drum, and 80’s songs like “You Spin Me Round Baby Right Round” and “Safety Dance” immediately fly into your head, keeping double time with the regular beats and pulses.  This is probably a good thing because your meditations are only interrupted occasionally by the tech’s voice, “Three minutes, now.”  Eventually the beeping stops and you find the skin on the back of your arms sticking to the side rails as you are brought out into the bright light again, moved along as if you were processed food on some sort of assembly line.  You are happy to be out until the tech reminds you that you have another 10 minutes to go.  You are shot up with “contrast” solution, whatever that means.  The sliding robot move begins again and you are back in the tunnel.  Everything is going fine and you’re thinking, yes, I can make it, I can make it, when the noise once again ceases and you are told that it is all done. 
Unfortunately, that one time you squirmed seems to have ruined exactly 4 and a half minutes of MRI-ness and you have to do it over again.  You are now certain that an easy IV is not worthwhile, and consider pushing the emergency call button for just that—an EMERGENCY.  But the thought of doing another 4 and a half minutes of MRI time, even without a full bladder is unacceptable.  You hold tight and once again it ends.  As the tech takes you back to your locker to retrieve your belongings and talks pleasantly to you about life and the meaning of the universe, you are secretly watching for signs of a bathroom.     
3 Things that make MRI’s difficult:
1.       The lack of a restroom in an otherwise fully-equipped MRI machine.  (serious oversight)
2.       The added pressure of your hands and arms draped across your mid-section.
3.       That extra glass of water just before you left home that morning.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Reappearance of the Reaper

In which our Heroine Lays out Escape Plans. 

             Much to my dismay, I found out this last week that the Grim Reaper may still be on my tail.  It is not exactly a surprise.  I’ve seen him out of the corner of my eye for months now, lurking in shadowy places where my thoughts don’t normally like to go.  He has shown himself more fully this last week because I have tri-/quad-annual MRI appointment scheduled for tomorrow.  If the results show that cancer is growing in my brain, then things will change drastically for me.  If not, then I will continue in the suspended bliss of an additional 3-4 month period, ineffectively dodging the reality of my ever-present, grim friend.
             Apparently I still desperately need the creative therapy that blogging allows, because over the last three days I’ve felt a constant itch to be working these thoughts out via the keyboard.  There is a mathematical formula present here: the less I type, the more I see the Grim Reaper’s shadow creeping up from behind me.  Whereas the more I write, the less afraid I am.  Perhaps it is the sifting and re-settling of emotions, or the ability to do something—anything—that provides this relief.  Either way, even as I type this, I feel more able to cope with the awful reality that I have a cancer of the brain, and thus there are physical, mental, and emotional consequences.  You’d think I would have figured this out by now.
              But you see, the awful truth is that even with all the wonderful life-affirming experiences I’ve had over the last few months, I am still afraid of death—especially the suffering that would precede it.  At these most piquant moments of fear, I can only catch hold of the spiritual assurance that I know I will be fine.  Thank goodness for that, or I would really be swimming.  There is a second truth that becomes clear to me now, though: I really don’t want to have to suffer (at all) in order to keep living.  I’d like to escape chemotherapy and radiation forever, thank you very much.  The tantrum-throwing part of me asks why there should have to be this price just for living.  Nobody else has to do chemo, why should I?  My grand sense of entitlement refuses to believe that life can’t be “fair.”
So, I need a plan by which I will escape the consequences of my fear, if not the cancer itself, at least.  I probably won’t know the results until my follow-up appointment until the 6th of December.  Until then, I hope to write incessantly.  I will also read my scriptures or a conference talk every day.  I will eat more fruits and vegetables than ever before.  Possibly I will also get out my SAD lamp, which will hopefully not give me a headache from its blinding brightness.   All these evasive tactics I will use to my great advantage and defense.  The question is whether these things will enable me to dodge the Reaper’s sickle for so long. Two weeks, oh horror!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Long and the Short of It

 In which our Heroine sets Goals. 

Apparently, my physical therapist was just joking when she said she wanted me to really think hard about my future goals and write them down.  After she saw this list, she said I’m the first patient she’s ever had that typed out their goals for physical therapy.  I signed and dated the top of the paper too.  (Somebody spent too many years in school).  I’m proud of my little list, but it makes me feel a little pathetic to have to settle for normalcy when I wish I could be a high achiever.  Still, I think they’re realistic, and if/when I meet them I will be ecstatic.    
 Short-term goals:
Summary: In one month I want to be living as well or better than I was before the surgery.
-don’t need to nap every day, just once in a while
-perform the tasks of mother and take care of house without a problem (while still using wisdom, of course)
-still have energy for occasional creative projects (once or twice a week: 2 hours for each)
-improved posture from now
-be able to keep up with Jon when we’re walking through the mall
-be able to chase Eva around the house more than 3 times without fatigue
-to be able to sit through more than a 3 hour block of meetings at a time (for church) and still be able to concentrate and form coherent sentences
-to keep walking daily, even when its cold out
-be able to shovel snow for 20 minutes
-to cook for 30 minutes or more, to keep several dishes going at the same time

Long-term goals:
Summary: One year from surgery I want to be able to accomplish anything another moderately active 30 year old woman could do, and feel just as good.
-Be able to hike 5 miles without overwhelming fatigue (3-4 on scale)
-to walk for 30 minutes and hardly feel it (a 1-2 on the scale)
-Be able to perform family bike rides for 30 minutes if a little hilly; for one hour if flat without fatigue
-Much improved posture
-To jog 1.5 miles without stopping
-To FEEL energized when I’m active, rather than drained
-do big projects, like: be able to paint a really big canvas (36 x 48 inches), sew something successfully
-do garden/yard work for an hour at a time easily
-to have no joint pain

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Aristotle Didn't Know About Philosophy

In which our Lady becomes Philosophically inclined. 

10 philosophical questions on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything that’s in it:
1.       Why do children think that if they go around a corner really fast that they will escape punishment?
2.       Why is throwing food on the floor so important for small people?
3.       Do I dare to believe that my child will someday become a prized scientist because of her super-ability at high-chair based food experimentation?
4.       Is crying really just a way to make parents deaf sooner, or have we been duped into thinking that it’s an important form of emotional expression to the nearly wordless?
5.       Why do cookies seem to solve all problems for both the young and the old(er)?
6.       Is bedtime necessary for the child or for the parent?
7.       How can tired mothers make folding the same laundry for the third time around more fun and wholesome for everyone?
8.       Why is the idea of writing all over walls and counter-tops so enticing? (Important notion: pencil lead is for the child, the eraser is for the parent) 
9.       How ethically wrong is it if I leave and go to the Bahamas?
10.   Now?
Syllogism: Aristotle came up with this nifty little piece of logic, carefully designed to help flailing humans  answer deep-seated theoretical  inquiries.  His syllogism runs like this:  Man is mortal.  I am a man.  Therefore I am mortal.  I hereby remake Aristotle’s landmark contribution.  Mom’s are tired.  I am a mom.  Therefore I am tired.  Or, much to my groundless relief: Brilliant children are disobedient.  My child is disobedient.  Therefore she is brilliant.  Gee, I feel better already.  Aristotle knew that philosophy would solve everything.  Thank you so much, great man that you are.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ah the Days of the Opiate

In which our Heroine declines from lack of Opiate.  

                Well, my little discussion on the Virgin Mary today was AWESOME.  First, the ladies came over and cleaned my house for me.  I had graciously left my dishes unwashed, my toilets unscrubbed, etc… for them—all at their request.  Instead, I got to use my legendary flagging energy to do something that to me is very enjoyable.  I hit the books, and pretended I knew how to teach about this stuff still.  The good news is that most of it came back to me, despite my poor memory.  And I had the best day ever.  It is good to remember why I slaved away for three years on a master’s degree and a hundred page thesis. 
Meanwhile, all this art historical research is taking me back to my long-gone college days.  A large part of my thesis dealt with the idea of artistic genius, and what it takes to define an artist as a master.  Oddly enough, one of the ways for a sub-standard artist to prove their creative ingenuity is to claim madness.  Other than eccentricity and the occasional and sadly real bipolar issues, the best way to solve this problem is frankly with drugs. 
I began this line of thinking last night in earnest just after I’d written my incredibly boring post yesterday.  It was late in the evening, and I’d already taken my anti-seizure medicine.  So, as one who experiments (albeit unwillingly) with drugs, I will posit my firm belief that some drugs do not assist artistic creativity, but instead enable acute lameness.  However, I remember the days of the opiate, and they were a ten on the creativity scale.  It is unfortunate that I was so tired and unable to accomplish much back then, because I still have the wildest sketches and ideas jotted messily down in my notebooks.  I would lay semi-awake at night (because of the steroids) and come up with the wittiest, and yet the most implausible ideas, and then my brain would proceed to flesh them out in poetically triumphant lines that just spiraled around in my head almost without my will.  This all happened in that awkward space between sleep and full lucidity, and yet I would wake in the morning with the ideas still fully formed in my head.  I still return to those notes of bygone days when I’m running dry on ideas, and they always produce. 
To illustrate my point further, I’ve included a quote from my thesis from an early nineteenth-century author Thomas de Quincy from his very interesting book Confessions of an Opium-Eater:
“That as the creative state of the eye increased, a sympathy seemed to arise between the waking and the dreaming states of the brain in one point--that whatsoever I happened to call up and to trace by a voluntary act upon the darkness was very apt to transfer itself to my dreams, so that I feared to exercise this faculty; for, as Midas turned all things to gold that yet baffled his hopes and defrauded his human desires, so whatsoever things capable of being visually represented I did but think of in the darkness, immediately shaped themselves into phantoms of the eye; and by a process apparently no less inevitable, when thus once traced in faint and visionary colours, like writings in sympathetic ink, they were drawn out by the fierce chemistry of my dreams into insufferable splendor that fretted my heart.”
I’m not exactly advertising for drug-induced creativity, but I have to admit that during those occasional feelings of dissatisfaction, like that after my posting last night, I do wish for the ease and charm of an opiate-induced piece of inspiration.  However, to make it clear that I am in no way seriously thinking of turning to drugs as a solution for my problems in life, I will cruelly remind my readers that I have brain cancer, people, and not only am I possibly a bit touched in the head, but I really didn’t want the drugs in the first place, okay?  If you need further persuasion, kindly remember that I am a complete control freak, please.  But please think this with an unwavering sense of kindheartedness and sympathy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The 3 Amazing and Simultaneous Thoughts of Tara

In which our Lady of the Textbooks remembers her Degree. 

First, a note to my public.  I was too busy this weekend to blog, and will be for the next two weekends.  So, I propose that I get the weekends off from now on.  I love you all, but I like spending time with my family (and doing my church calling) more.
Second, to those members of my family who will not be seeing me at Christmas (that’s ALL of you), I wholeheartedly wish that I could be with you.  In my most bitter moments, I culture a loathing for the cancer within me (as well as Jon’s merciless job which will never grant him Christmas Eve off) that stops me from buying plane tickets.  I will miss the Dahle family nativity, the game playing, and the mountain climbing (ok, I might be lying on that last one).  I wish my child the opportunity to actually get to know her numerous cousins.  I wish I could gather in a warm and food-filled kitchen with my own side of the family and eat until we all become slightly diabetic.  All these things and more fill me with yearning. 
Third, the good news is that being stuck here also yields some good things.  For instance, a small group of ladies has asked me to lead a discussion tomorrow on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the visual arts.  It has been good to dust off my mental apparatus and dig into my art historical knowledge.  You’d think I knew more about my brain by now, but I discovered today that there are art-loving muscles in my head that have become atrophied from disuse.  My excuse is that the life of a mother leaves me little time and energy for art historical research.  But I think I am really just L.A.Z.Y.  Today these hidden muscles had a chance to come out and stretch (after a long and fulfilling nap, of course).  I only wish I had more time to preen them and prepare better for the discussion.  But like most things in my life now, I will have to wing it! 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hope for Hope and the Story of a Piano

In which our Heroine pulls a Chopin. 

Or a Beethoven.  I sat down at a piano yesterday and played a simple tune I learned back in grade school.  Mind you, I am no virtuoso, but playing that simple tune—with both hands—is something I’ve been able to do for most of my life.  I even learned to play the piano upside-down using this song at one point in my life.  Trust me, I know it’s simple notes by heart.  There was a simple joy in playing it yesterday as my daughter pounded to her heart’s content on the upper notes next to me.
The reason I write on this is because I recollect a time when I could not play the piano.  It was the first week after surgery.  I was with my occupational therapist and my friend Sharlene, one on either side of me as I swayed unsteadily through the hallways attempting to teach my left leg to stay under me.  There is a light-filled place near the neuro-unit with a TV, tables, comfortable chairs, books, and a piano.  I knew it was useless at the time, but in a fit of idiotic despair, I stumbled to the piano bench, sat heavily, and used my right hand to lift my rubbery and senseless left onto the keys.  I suppose that I hoped my ability to move my fingers would suddenly reassert itself.  Unfortunately, the dead weight of my hand lay there uselessly, pressing the keys down in unmelodic combination of notes.  I would say that this was the dreariest part of the whole paralysis experience, summed up in a few harsh moments as I sat there feeling sorry for myself and absolutely incapable of creating beautiful music.  I think my therapist almost cried too as I sobbed piteously (the gut-wrenching kind) onto the keys of that hapless piano.  Sharlene patted my heaving back and sat steadily beside me, offering sustaining phrases about healing. 
There is a teenage girl I know here in Anchorage who is currently healing from some terrible things.  I don’t know the extent of her therapy, because her condition is far different from mine, but I do know she has some sort of physical therapy to regain the use of her body right now.  I think of the long road she has ahead of her.  I only wish she had the energy to read my words and know that things will be okay—eventually.  But I know she probably doesn’t, because I’ve been there myself.  In dedication to Hopey, I declare gratitude for the capacity to play a childhood song, and continue to have faith that she will be able to walk, run, hike, or play soccer (etc) again soon.  Prayers worked for me, and they will work for her.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Think I'm Going German-ese, I Think I'm Going German-ese, I Really Think So

In which our Heroine meets a German Therapist (not Freud). 

Last week I had a surprise at physical therapy. There was a German neuro-therapist visiting and training.  If I had to sum up the difference between European and American physical therapy, it would be this: European therapy is much more touchy-feely, while the American approach seems to be more akin to basketball practice—throwing balls, using a work-out machine…etc… It was when Matthias asked me to lie “supine” that I knew things were going to go differently.  Supine?  I have a big vocabulary, but the biology talk left me flummoxed.  (My German and Chilean therapists’ attempts at using English to converse were a little funny—luckily they had the language of science to fall back on) Anyway, I crawled onto a big padded table and guessed that he wanted me on my back.  I was right. 
He and my regular therapist, who I would judge to be quite European in her approach anyway, got on the table with me—one on either side.  (I am fairly certain that my therapy sessions are odder than most). They proceeded to use pressure points, prodding me in key spots (apparently), and helping me to lift my limbs in the most peculiar ways.  It was like “supine” miming.  Pretty soon I lay frozen in the oddest position: one leg bent up in the air, the toe pointed toward my upper body, an arm bent out to the side with fingers extended, the other bent differently in toward my hip, my head looking in the opposite direction.  Yes, the European style is very close quarters.  I think there were around three “boob grazes” and Matthias kept using a pressure point on my upper gluteus maximum, and another on my outer pelvis.  He kept using broad sweeping arm movements to explain what he was doing, waving his fingers around about an inch above me in undulations and eddies.   I could tell he was frustrated that my loose T-shirt kept getting in the way.  Maria told me later that most of the time his patients in Germany would be nearly nude. 
It was odd, but in no way invasive.  I think that my experiences with childbirth first, second my week-long stay in the neuro-unit, and third having to shower with another person standing next to me for the first three weeks after surgery all contributed to my laissez-faire (literally: let things alone, let them pass—nothing to do with economics here) attitude toward my body.  It was actually quite relaxing.  At the end, I felt 3 inches taller and at least 10 pounds lighter.  Re-sult!  Not bad for lying supine for 45 minutes. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Raspberries Came Before the Fall

In which our Heroine recollects life (right) before surgery. 

The other day, I was thinking back to what I did just before I went blueberry picking in Hatcher’s Pass—wondering, in effect, what my life had been like.  You see, I am constantly getting grilled on whether things are back to normal yet.  The answer is no, of course not.  I feel better, certainly, but even when you consider how unhealthy I felt before we found the tumor, I am still physically much too tired to measure up to the day before it all began.  That Wednesday, I remember working hard all day long, rounding up my day with a meeting for my calling at 7 pm and then afterward picking raspberries at my in-law’s house.   I was wearing a head-lamp by the time I got done, somewhere around 11 pm.  It was a long and exhausting day, but fulfilling.  I woke the next morning with a headache behind my right eye, which I double dosed with some Ibuprofen and blissfully went blueberry picking.  Not very self-aware, I’ll admit, but that’s how things were right before the heroine fell.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Favorite Things

In which our Heroine goes Material. 

                There’s a wonderful little thing called material culture out there in the wide, wide world.  It refers to objects created by mankind that can reflect the ideas associated with that culture.  For instance, an archeologist can tell a lot about a people by looking through their trash heap: what they eat or don’t eat, things they don’t value or do value, even their practices, beliefs, or how they hold things in worth or not.  Art museums use the term material culture quite a bit, since they are after all in the business of deducing what paintings, sculptures, or memorabilia deserve pedestal space.
                Material culture is an interesting thing to contemplate in today’s world of overflowing trash receptacles.  Some of us (or you, rather) may regularly go through your closets and throw things out because they aren’t worth the space.  Such a valuation would devastate someone from a different place and time—or even just a different side of town.  You see, you can tell a lot about a person from their trash heap.  (This is actually how the aliens are going to take us over—they will learn to control our lives by discovering our desires and values one midden heap at a time...)
                Then there are the things that a person just can’t get rid of.  I’d like to choose ten (scratch that—eleven) objects in my house that I like a lot.  These things may be a bit odd sounding as they’re things I’ve considered throwing out several times, but I just can’t seem to do it in the end.  Whether they are telling of me and mine remains to be seen.  It’s an experiment.  Let’s see what happens:
1.       My paternal grandmother’s old sweater has 1 inch brown buttons up the front.  It is made of cream yarn and is amazingly warm.  It is also ragged and I am embarrassed to wear it out of the house.  Despite this, I wear it every day.  (I just change before I leave).
2.       I have a collection of textile and leather upholstery samples that I got off my brother when he worked for a design firm.  I take them out of their little drawer and touch them, swearing to make something wonderful from them someday. 
3.       I like sparkly things like glass beads.  I also have a drawer full of these.  Luckily, they’ve turned out to be a great little toy for Eva.  She doesn’t eat them (much) and I pull them out whenever I just can’t take motherhood anymore. 
4.       On his mission, my husband was given a cloth bag filled with corn that can be microwaved over and over again.  I use this several times a day to warm up my feet. 
5.       I collect huge blank canvases, and other art supplies.  Sometimes I am actually sad to see paint go on these white behemoths.  Their blank faces have kept me company for so long…
6.       I cherish my new pasta maker/roller thingy.  It is even better than the popsicle molds that I’ve used once.
7.       I love my 10 year old Graphis magazines as well as a dry little book on Typography that I got back in my design days.
8.       Also, I must speak of my other books: art history text books, a little brown volume of Lady of the Lake by Walter Scott, and an anthology of education books (meant to help elementary teachers) from sometime in the middle of the century that used to belong to my other grandmother.  Also, I like blank sketchbooks and journals/notebooks. 
9.       In college, my friend Bre leant/gave me a retro sweater that her dad used to wear, presumably in his younger and cooler early Van Halen days.  I love it so much.
10.   Scarves, headbands, and other silky things that I never wear because they don’t match any of my clothes.
11.   My recorder.  I can play a mean Christmas song on that thing—and by ear too.
Finally, as I look over my truncated list of things I just can’t get rid of, I begin to see several patterns emerging.  First, I bask in warmth often.  Second, I am a dreamer who collects things that have potential but rarely get used.  Also, I am a tactile person.  I could take one of those online quizzes, maybe one called “Which mythological creature are you?”  My answer: Pan perhaps.  All I’m good for is lolling about in a warm woolen sweater while I taste grapes (or pasta) and enjoy the arts, perhaps occasionally playing on my proverbial pipes. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Flawed Armor for the Lady

In which our Lady’s Memory falters. 

                First, a tangent: I gave myself a couple of sick days from writing because my whole family came down with the flu.  By the way, whatever happened to the happier sick days of childhood? “Yay, I don’t have to go to school today!—and oh my gosh I suddenly have the energy to play with my toys…It’s like a miracle, mom…”  Now, back to the actual subject of this blog post, in which our protagonist discovers a gaping hole in her armor…
                One thing I may not have told you thus far is that every now and then, I do have memory problems.  It took Jon and me a while to realize this crucial, but quiet truth.  In fact, the doctors and nurses used to ask me all the time right after the surgery how my memory was.  It seemed fine—great even.   I specifically remember Jon saying “sharp as a tack” in response.  It was true too.  I’d be lying in bed with multiple drugs running through my system and someone would come and ask where I kept a certain casserole dish or the checkbook, and I’d know just where to direct them.  I knew the finite details of our schedule, remembered minutiae about Eva’s napping habits, and could have told you what my last emails before the surgery were about.  It all seemed intact. 
                Then one day, Jon asked me for details about something that happened a few weeks after surgery—something not immediately recent, but only a few weeks back at the time.  I had no recollection of the event, or of any discussions about it.  There have been a few other instances too.  I’d like to tell you about them, but I can’t currently remember.  In the end, what I do know is that I’m missing a few memories, and that the only thing filling their place is a sense of uncertainty.  Have I forgotten these things because of the drugs I was on, or from the recent and acute trauma?  Or did the Dr. accidentally suck out a part of my memory complex?  I’ve always had a shoddy long-term memory, but usually anything recent is very clear.  This experience overturned my very familiarity with the way my own head works.
I have this uneasy feeling that holes exist in my history that I just can’t access.  It makes me feel vulnerable in a way I’ve never felt before in my whole life.  Fragile, susceptible, over-exposed.  And it is way too close to Alzheimer’s for comfort, which is one of the most frightening diseases in the history of mankind.  The fact that I’ve waited so long to write about this (at least a month or more) should tell you just how uncomfortable I am with this development.  I don’t particularly want to announce any chinks in my armor, but it has occurred to me that it is only making my life more difficult to not let people know.  Besides, I have to recognize that to a certain extent, I am unreliable. 
A few weeks ago I went to my Ward’s Young Women class as a show of support for the new presidency (I currently have a Stake calling as the YW Secretary).  They asked me to make an announcement, which would usually be an easy task.  Although I could remember the meeting I’d been at and some of the details, when I went rummaging around in my memory for more, I found only a big blank spot.  Also, I looked at the wrong page in my calendar.  What culminated was a ridiculously off announcement that probably did more harm than good.  One of the ladies, who clearly had no idea what has been going on in my life, looked at me like I was a complete idiot.  Unfortunately, I was acting like one.  Worst YW Secretary ever.  All I could do was apologize for my disorganization.  (Yes, my disorganization is usually a problem, but is one that I manage to obfuscate because of my usually excellent short-term memory).
On the other hand, the times when other people know about my humbling disabilities are when things get much easier to deal with.  For instance, on Saturday night Jon and I were having one of those oft-held discussions: “no, you said this… and it happened this way…”  “what are you talking about? I never said that…”  After only a few rounds, I had to stop and concede the point, saying, “Then again, I guess I’m not exactly the one to ask…” I hate losing an argument/discussion, but it was nice to just let it go and know that it was okay because I couldn’t do any better. 
I have no idea when the Lord will stop humbling me, but may it happen soon.  Losing a few memories is on its own a small thing, but the feelings of vulnerability that accompany it are devastating. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

"Next Blog III"

In which our Heroine contemplates her Binary Existence, take III. 

                Third time, and then I’m really done.  I’ve wrested control of my blog from the internet, finally.  This time, I got fashion (twice), vintage, origami, cinema, jewelry, literature, hippies who garden, and a crafter from Italy (okay, this last one was a surprise… I only have moderate control…).

"Next Blog" II

In which our Heroine contemplates her Binary Existence, still. 

                Okay, I’m back for the second time today.  I just hit the “Next Blog” button, and here’s what I got: “dreams can come true… and look I have a cute dog…;” 3 family with kids blogs, one is LDS; two political blogs anti-Obama; a Disney artist who is into art and tech from the 1960s (atomic age); only one minister and his family blog; one teenager who has nothing better to do than write stupid things about teenage actors;  a scary blog that I only saw for a spit second as it had a link on the side labeled “queer art.”  Shouldn’t have put the tag about the ponies…  Make from this what you will, but it proves my point—we are not in control of our own lives on the internet, people!!!

"Next Blog"

In which our Heroine contemplates her Binary Existence. 

1.       At the top of my blog page you’ll see a few words: “Next Blog.”  If you click on it (after you’re done thoroughly enjoying my own blog first, of course, you’ll find that blogspot will send you off on a chain of other blogs.  The first time I did this, it was just after I’d written my first post.  The blogs it sent me to were haphazard, and totally unrelated.  I was pushed from someone’s jet ski memoirs to a quilting bee, then to a regular “look at my kids, aren’t they adorable!” blog.  The kids were cute, but what did they have to do with me or with jet skis?  Aren’t the fabled and tasteless cookies of the internet supposed to send me to places similar to my own interests so I will buy countless amounts of unneeded items from those other places?  Because of this conundrum, I find myself often checking to see what google blogspot throws my way.  Several times, I’ve found myself in a line-up of LDS family reunion posts.  Once, I somehow managed to hit the British punk-rock scene, mixed with comic book dweebiness.  After posting my creative therapy artwork I found that I’d attracted some very cool crafting blogs—not kitchy at all, but genuinely cool.  Another time, directly after the Hitler post, I hit upon a bunch of Evangelical or very Christian and very conservative/my grandfather-founded-the-KKK sites.  I was chilled after reading through a few of these and I began to despair.  How must I appear to the binary world? 

2.       I like to check my stats frequently.  I am always astonished to see whose looking from what country and what their search terms are that apparently lead to me.  I’ve tried to look for my own blog on google, just to see how easy it was to find—and its not.  You really have to use obvious stuff.  Until I wrote my full name in the title of a post, I had a hard time finding my blog by using my very name.  AND YET… Sometime yesterday, some pervert (I assume) in Italy did a search on “wetting herself.”  Due to a friend’s silly and totally innocent comment a few days ago, my blog somehow floated to the top of the dung heap of the internet.  I’m scared to hit the “Next Blog” button.  To remedy this onslaught of icky-ness, I will now post this and use totally unrelated, but nice terminology as tags (see below).

3.       Meanwhile, I will remain uselessly and utterly paranoid about my situation—but not paralyzed, I assure you.  It just makes you wonder.  Is it myself that I actually have to fear?  Because I really had nuclear bombs and the FBI pegged…