Monday, January 31, 2011

Don't Leave

In which our Lady’s Mother-in-law Flies in from “The Lower 48.”

Dear Mother-in-Law Dianne,
Please don’t ever leave me again.  I will admit that my reasons are mostly selfish.  For the last month and a half of your Christmas vacation, I have had to beg for rides from people all over this side of town.  People are willing, but I am so tired of asking.  The last few weeks, I decided to quit asking and I just stayed home all day long every day.  BOR.ING.  I am also very tired of having no relief from my child.  She’s cute, but she gets antsy when she can’t leave the house.  Oh, and have I told you yet that after you left  Eva would periodically run up to the door whenever she heard a sound outside and expectantly say “Grammy?”  Apparently, I just don’t cut it.  But for now I will push my jealousy aside and express gratitude for your willingness to do so much for my family.  Please, don’t leave for the rest of winter. I may die in your absence, if my daughter doesn’t expire first.
Beseechingly yours,
Tara
P.S. Thanks for driving me to my hair-cut appointment tomorrow morning at 11:30.  I’ll see you here at 11:20?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Life is Like a Pina Colada

In which the Sorbet wins. 

Sometimes I open up my freezer and realize I have no idea what is in it.  Probably my plight is common among other middle-class Americans with poor organization skills.  However, I am constantly amazed at the things I find in that freezer.  For instance, for several months after surgery I graciously received meals from others.  Due to the spreading word of my milk allergy, almost every night I was given sorbet.  I soon became disgusted with the stuff and went through a period near the end of the free food experience where I refused to eat it and would instead stuff it into some unknown place in the freezer.  Let’s be honest—sorbet just can’t take the place of a good scoop of dairy-loaded ice cream.  Finally, I overcame my issues and finished up the last of it sometime in December. 
Or so I thought.  A few days ago I found the oddest thing.  I had no idea what it was—no recognition of the item, whatsoever.  Straight from the freezer it looked like a bowl of sorbet covered with perhaps berries.  However, once out of its wrapping, I found it to be pineapple flavored sorbet in what looked to be a dish actually made from the outside of a pineapple.  There was also a lemon peel filled with sorbet and a half a coconut (guess what it had inside?).  If you like Pina Coladas…
What came after was the best sorbet I’ve ever had in my life.  It’s uncontrollably ironic that of all the sorbets I wouldn’t eat during my convalescence, probably the only one I would have genuinely liked sat in my freezer for months.  And why?  Because I have no idea what’s in there.  I have the same problem with my Tupperware.  While my mom was here, she decided that the Tupperware would be better suited in a cabinet across the kitchen from the place I’d chosen for it.  Now I have two separate Tupperware cupboards.  As if finding the lid wasn’t a big enough problem before. 
These bits of managerial ineptitude are examples of my life as a whole.  I feel like I’m still discovering strange things about myself—aspects that I either didn’t understand, or that I didn’t possess before my surgery.  I can remember some things that I did soon after surgery, but may not understand them.  Or sometimes I can understand, but don’t fully remember.  It drives me crazy every time I try to put together Eva’s straw/sippy cups.  I pull open the drawer to find the separate pieces only to suddenly remember that I randomly threw one of the small pieces away on a tired day.  We’re talking disorganization on a whole new level here. 
Amidst a series of frustrating loose-ties experiences, the delicious pina colada sorbet was a pleasant and tasty surprise. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Brain that Changes Itself

In which our Heroine—dum, da, dum—reads. 

Every so often I get really tired.  I don’t think its just the Keppra.  Yesterday was one of those days.  I can’t figure it out.  Why these periodic bouts of severe exhaustion?  And of course, every time I have one of those days, I consequently find myself forgetting how healthy I really am and feeling a bit sorry for myself.  I believe the exact word for how I feel is beleaguered—conjuring up a sense of overly heavy drama.
Fortunately, I picked up a book from the library entitled The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. that has served to push back against my incredible ingratitude and put things in perspective.  Out of the 400 pages or so of “stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science” I have read exactly 4.  They document the story of a woman’s brain cancer, surgery, and then recovery.  Her story was eerily familiar to my own, except that her “miraculous” recovery is nothing compared to mine. 

Nicole was 33.  Her tumor was a glioma—the worst kind (as opposed to my much better type).  She was told she had 3-9 months to live.  It was pronounced inoperable and that her only hope of staying alive was to have the most intense doses of radiation, the most a human being can tolerate.  But forget the radiation, the steroids to prevent brain swelling were of such high dosage that she could have died from those alone.  Since her tumor was on the left side of her brain, she had severe speech problems.  Like me, she found herself paralyzed on one side of her body—though not the left, but the right (and yes, she is right-handed)—because of a side effect of the radiation.  When she speaks of not being able to turn or move in bed because of the partial paralysis, I remember how it feels.  But from there the story differs drastically from my own.  She lost her hair and gained not a meager ten pounds like me, but 65 from the inactivity and the steroids.  She became depressed.  (Yeah, no kidding). 
After about 3 years of this paralysis, Nicole was admitted into a specialized clinic.  For 2 weeks she was forced to do strange things, like wear an oven mitt on her left hand in an effort to force her to use the right.  She would be stationed in front of play dough and relearn how to use a fork.  She learned how to button her own shirts again.  Her brain changed.  It regrew itself, relearned how to do things on the right side.  Nicole regained confidence in her abilities and a positive attitude.  She got a job again (just in time to help cover 9/11 at CNN New York) and moved out of her parent’s house.  She is known for her wimpy hand-shake, but she gives it gladly anyway. 
Wow, my cancerous life is awesome compared to hers.  I have happily been able to stay home and use regular physical therapy to regain functions of my body that I lost for what—a whole 2-3 weeks, in comparison to her 3 years—such a time period I can’t even imagine living through in those cirumstances. 
I can’t quite recommend a book of which I’ve only read four pages, but as I flip through it and feel the gentle swoosh of the pages underneath my finger tips, I feel a sense of promise.  I’ll let you know.  I will say that it has already done some good, if only because it has reminded me to be positive and grateful on a tired day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Report Card

 In which our Heroine gets the Grade. 

          It occurs to me that some of you may want a report on how I am doing overall.  Just as parents receive a report card documenting their child’s progress in school, I now offer you a summary of my strengths and weaknesses.  May it be more illuminating than those inarticulate slips of paper were back in the day.
Tara.  Age 29.  The School of Hard Knocks.  Recent brain surgery.  Cancer patient.
Overall health: B+
Use of left arm: A
Use of left leg: A
Use of left hand (fine motor skills) A-
Naps and Sleep: C (The subject was hoping to reach a point where napping was unnecessary.  This has not happened).
Regular use of prescribed medicine: A (see note on Naps and Sleep)
Use of drugs for headaches: A- (almost never)
Continued and regular exercise: C (never my strong point…)
Healthy eating: B+
Use of finite amounts of energy and time: B+
Ability to do my job as mother: A
Outlook: A (positive)
Ability to make cancer miraculously disappear: Yet to be determined.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Curious Case of the Medical Bill

In which our Heroine speaks to Kathy the Insurance Lady. 

Today I sat amidst a sea of indecipherable papers detailing my numerous medical expenses and who should be paying what, where, and when.  I was so confused.  Luckily, I know someone who works in a doctor’s office.  With her reliable advice, I cleared up my issues—which, sadly, were mostly of my own error.  Here is a small and probably incomplete list of the things I have learned today about medical billing:
1.       Always speak to the secretaries and insurance handlers with the utmost respect, patience, and humility.  Laugh at their jokes.  Be willing to let them ramble on and on about things you actually do already understand in the hope that the things you don’t know will surface somewhere in there too.   You’ll be surprised at what you learn.
2.       The secretaries in your Doctor’s office can be your ally if you let them.  It would be a mistake to either disregard them, or to regard them as the money-seeking enemy.  They probably get paid by the hour, not specifically by what you do or don’t pay on that day. 
3.       It is okay to pay $20 or so into a bill that you don’t think is your responsibility in order to keep it from going to the collection agency.  If it goes there, you will probably have them calling you and sending you mail for the rest of your life—and it will bring down your credit score.  If the insurance company comes through, you will be reimbursed the $20, so no loss. 
4.       Apparently Alaska plays by its own rules when it comes to medical billing.  You may catch yourself thinking for a moment that this is just an easy excuse for the insurance people to get around clearly explaining their fiscal responsibilities—but let’s face it—they’re probably right. 
5.       Get a notebook to document all medical correspondence.  It is important to write down the date and the name of the person you spoke with.  Take notes on everything that is said.  This is also useful for taking notes when in hospital or visiting the doctor, and you won’t feel as stupid later.
6.       Hospitals can’t charge you money until you have been officially discharged.  Therefore, the dates on your bills may be somewhat confusing.  This may lead you to think that the problem bill shouldn’t be included in your out-of-pocket maximum when it actually should. 
7.       Don’t forget to look for the very unapparent watermark “COPY” across your medical mail.  You may not have to do anything at all with the thing.  Instead, it may just be a notice that something unfathomable happened between your hospital and your insurance company—a transaction that has your name on it, but for which you curiously have no responsibility. 
8.       Try not to have brain surgery.  It just complicates things.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I've Got the REAL Golden Ticket

In which our Heroine eats yet again. 

My subject today is the unassuming cabbage.  I made a simple cabbage soup today.  It involved cabbage, grated carrot, bouillon, pepper, and paprika.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it was actually rather tasty.  And the best part is that I felt healthy by eating it too.
Cabbage has been given a bad rap.  I think of movies like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where cabbage shows up in a sad, starved soup.  In comparison to the “I’ve got a golden ticket” Willie Wonka candy bar, this poor cruciferous vegetable just doesn’t have a chance.  I also end up thinking of that Russian cabbage soup, borscht.  The first time I ate it, I thought little enough of it to assume that only a starving Siberian family during the Cold War could ever eat this stuff regularly.  When I moved to Alaska I learned that cabbage is extremely hardy against cold weather and heard a strange story about people freezing their cabbages out on the back deck during winter—thus increasing my belief that only those with no other choice—and who are inevitably very cold—would ever eat this stuff. 
I am beginning to learn that my assumptions (and consumptions, ha ha ha) were wrong.  Cabbage and its cousins have been considered a healthful food for centuries.  The Greeks and Romans especially considered it a sort of cure-all.  Scientists today find that cabbage can not only prevent against tumors, but can also encourage cancer cell apoptosis.  This means that the cancer cells self-destruct.  That’s right, they commit suicide.  It’s weird to say it, but I really hope that certain cells in my body commit suicide.  I wish for it every day. 
So what are cancer’s cousins, or cruciform vegetables?  They include: brussel sprouts, collard greens, kale, watercress, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, and pai tsai (Chinese celery cabbage).  When was the last time you ate one of these?  According to my source, Foods that Fight Cancer, eating broccoli just four times a week effectively blocks colon polyps from forming.  That’s not much of a hassle, now is it?
Take that, Willie Wonka, and your delicious chocolate candy bar too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Religion and the Decorum of a Good Insult

In which our genteel Lady insults Karl Marx. 


Religion is a big part of my life.  Sometimes I feel like an island in a sea of atheism, what with all the media that consistently and loudly states that there is no God.  Jon and I love movies and books—and guess what’s in them—a nearly constant barrage of voices claiming to know that there is no God out there.  Interestingly, these voices offer either nothing to replace the idea of God, or fall back on the age-old, and in my opinion out-dated, view that science answers the questions of life, as if the indefinite and ambiguous name of ‘science’ was a broom to sweep up the centuries of religious belief. 
Intriguingly, my new experiences with cancer have shown me that there are a lot of people out there that do believe in God.   It would appear that the media sadly misrepresents and manipulates our cultural views in this instance especially.  Not only was I astounded to have so many people say they were praying for me over the last few months, but I have often had chance, and somewhat odd encounters with people all over Anchorage that support the idea that God is a real and benevolent being.  
For instance, I went in to get new eye glasses at Cook Inlet Eyewear, and mentioned that I did not want contacts because they didn’t lend themselves to chemo if I had to do it.  “I have brain cancer,” I said.  Matt, the man who was helping me, simply held up his hand as if to say, this is just my belief and we don’t have to get further into this, but here it is: “God is with you,”  and proceeded on to the eyewear.  I was heartened by his proclamation. 
Another time, my dental assistant, after hearing what had happened, began to tell me about her Church here in Anchorage.  I think she was trying to convert me.  I thanked her and told her that the more cancerous I get, the more Mormon I become.  Again, I was pleased to hear someone willing to offer me what they probably considered the best thing they could give me, under the circumstances.
And yes, I am becoming more religious as I go, and specifically more LDS or Mormon.  Much of the time, this belief or faith is described as naïve by those who don’t understand it.  I suppose we have Karl Marx’s famous quote “religion is the opiate of the masses” to partially thank for that.  But I fight back against the declaration that religion is a drug, and therefore deadening and bad for your health.  If anything, my religious belief makes my life a hundred times more meaningful and vibrant.  Without it, the world would be a sad black and white representation of reality for me.  I gives color to my life to know that there is meaning and direction to the choices I make, the reasons I do things.  Furthermore, it is in no way naïve to have faith in something.  Naivety indicates a kind of youthful stupidity on one’s part, a falling in with societal norms and not being able to think for oneself, especially against harmful or adolescent kinds of behavior.  My faith is not born of naivety.  In my view, it is naïve for anyone else to assume that I haven’t thought long and hard about God, but instead just swallowed religion whole.  But I digress. 
I am glad to have the comfort of knowing that my suffering from cancer is not just suffering for the sake of suffering.  I am glad to think that it may have a purpose.  This is not naïve—but hopeful.  And I am glad to know that other people—the lives we briefly touch on a daily basis—may have this belief as well. 
Saucy Postscript:
Dear Marx,
Cancer sucks, but it would be worse if I didn’t have religion as my “opiate.”  I think you’re a smart guy, and your ideas are intriguing, but you seriously destroyed religion’s potency by your ill-thought-out statement.  And by the way, how dare you inadvertently call me naïve?  To get back at you, I will pointedly say that your socialism and intellectualism is your personal opiate.  Good luck with getting positive results from that. 
Admiringly yours,
T 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Invisible and Deadly Preservative

In which our Lady goes Invisible. 

My husband brings home the weirdest stuff from the library.  This week it was a series of Invisible Man movies, the earliest a black and white from the 40’s. I actually sat down to watch this one with him.   I haven’t read the book yet, but Jon tells me that there are significant differences—which speak to me of the socio-cultural background in which it was filmed. 
Several of the characters in this film are scientists.  They work together, mixing chemicals into what they deem as an honest, straight-forward, and helpful product—namely, preservatives for food.  The thing that I find interesting is that it is from these same chemicals and the same professional experimentation that one of the scientists creates a formula for invisibility, which he inevitably tests on himself.  The problem is that the formula has additional unforeseen effects as well.  It makes its victims go mad.  And there is no antidote.  Thus begin a series of horrifying incidents that make up the bulk of the movie. 
Just before watching the film, I had been reading Nina Planck’s Real Food: What to Eat and Why.  Perhaps because of the juxtaposition of these two pieces of media, I began to see some interesting parallels.  For instance, there is the creation of preservatives—and their possible danger—as topic.  It is interesting that the ingredients and processes for food preservatives and for mad invisibility in the movie are the same.  To look at the invisibility problem symbolically, it would appear to deliver not only a very unhealthy insanity, but also a kind of inhumanity.  It seems that the chemical formula for invisibility can make a person less human.  I’m seeing an underlying fear present in the 40’s regarding the change from traditional ways to modern.  To be honest, this is nothing new.  Underlying anxiety about change is abundant in almost any form of media and art.  Still, to have chemical experimentation at the heart of it all intrigues me—especially because Planck (among others) insists that such chemicals, preservatives, and non-traditional eating habits are leading our Western society into an uneasy balance of quick eating and diseased bodies. 
To Nina Planck, it is a kind of madness to continue to gorge ourselves on a scientific experiment that is clearly not working.  The statistics are compelling.  The more of this processed and non-traditional food that our society eats, the more obese, cancerous, and diabetic we become.  There has been a marked increase in these kinds of health problems since just after WWII, about the time that processed foods became wide-spread.  Planck is also alarmed by the extinction of many species of plant and animal life (yeah, she’s definitely a hippie) because of homogenization of food products and the use of chemicals in our environment.  As an example, we have lost certain varieties of grains, etc… in favor of corn and soy products, which after being chemically changed into unrecognizable form, become the foundation of many types of processed food.  Planck states:
“We’ve gone too far.  Songbirds are missing, frogs are sterile, and our bodies may already bear the signs of misadventures with powerful poisons.  Farmers and their children have higher rates of cancer and birth defects.  All these chemicals were designed to kill, after all…” (pg. 150)
Well stated, Nina.  Let us just hope that the diseases are curable and reversible.  For my ailments, I’m going for as traditional an antidote as possible now that the surgical part is over. 
With that said, an honest and critical Postscript:
Dear Nina Planck,
Thank you for your book.  It is wonderfully informative and easy to read.  I appreciate how you have taken so much information and condensed it into a learnable and usable format.  From your coherent and compelling arguments, I can well believe that farmer’s children have higher rates of cancer and birth defects.  As I said earlier, this is nicely stated.  But Nina, Nina, where is your source backing up the link between cancer and farmers?  Where are the scientific facts that will stave off the myth-making that this book could easily become? From my standpoint, they are crucially important, and yet ephemerally invisible.
Briefly yours,
T

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Have No Idea Who These People Are

 In which our Heroine steals Photos of other People. 

           I decided my blog needed more photos.  Unfortunately, I am far too paranoid to show off my own child on the vastness of the internet.  Consequently, I have no idea who any of these people are.
           My birthday: one day before our terrible car accident.  Please take note of my bushy hair.  I can pull off an 80’s prom queen hairstyle any day of the week, with little effort.  Here, we were camping, and I hadn’t even washed it that morning.  A girl can complain about her hair on a regular basis but still feel sad that the impending radiation and chemo would change it permanently—which is just what will happen if I ever get to that point.  We’re talking permanent bald spots from radiation and dead-looking if not absent hair from chemo.  It would be such a shame to have my ferocious volume be depleted just before the 80’s styles come back into fashion.  Whew! Dodged that bullet… for now…

           Elephants on Parade.
           Wow.  Cute kid.  I wonder whose she is.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Flippancy and Irony May be the Death of Me

 In which our Heroine faces tragic Irony. 

          In a fit of perverse humor, Irony has duped me at the last.  Less than 24 hours after publishing a blog post whose sole purpose was to complain about my supposed immobility, I’ve managed to sprain my ankle. 
          Moral of the story: Quit complaining and be glad for what you have.  Also, don’t kick at doors that are firmly closed. 
          (By the way, I do hope you all realize that my former post blaspheming the great Shakespeare was meant to be flippant.  It’s okay if all you die-hard Shakespeareans call me out for my poetic heresy.  It’s all part of the fun.  Not that I don’t love the feeble Ophelia’s turgid relationship with Hamlet…)  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

To Jog, or Not to Jog: That is the Question:

In which our Heroine engages in wishful Thinking. 


There are some things that I miss being able to do.  Today I wish I could strap on my running shoes and go jogging, or maybe even do some serious working-out.  Normally I hate sweating, and I don’t usually have urges to get my blood pumping.  In fact, for years it hasn’t actually felt good when I worked out.  It was like torture to run around the track a few times.  It felt bad while I was doing it, and not so great afterward either.  My joints would hurt and I would feel light-headed, and generally tired and achy.  But, usually about an hour afterward, when I’d had time to really cool down, I would begin to feel energized.  And the next day, during the times when I was just living life as normal, I would feel so good and healthy.  These were moments of torture, but well worth it in the end if I could force myself to work through those awful two hours of workout-torment. 
There are all sorts of New Year’s Resolutions out there that grandly state that a person will eat healthier, will work out regularly, lose weight, etc…  I think I’m feeling this same urge.  And today, I miss the delusion that I can set a goal and go get my heart rate up and that it will be healthy for me to do so.  I also miss the possibility of losing a few pounds around the middle by working it off.  My feeble attempts at walking quickly wear me out and, trust me there is no weight-loss involved. 
When I matriculated from Physical Therapy, my therapist was still keeping my heart-rate below 120.  I asked my doc and he said I could probably go above that and do almost anything I wanted.  Well, I’ve tried a few times, and I’ve started to go back to trying to keep my heart-rate down.  It’s just not comfortable to have my head start pounding in time with my heart-beat.  It’s also not a constructive way to keep me interested in trying every day.  And laying on the couch wishing for an immediate 3 hour nap is also impractical. 
I think many of us take these sorts of things for granted.  Health in general, but being able to run off 10 pounds in the course of few months, specifically.  As I’ve stated in other posts, sometimes it’s about not having the choice, or the possibilities that cancer has stolen that kills me.  Either that, or it will literally be excess weight and poor health habits that kill me, according to the literature I’ve been reading lately.  What would I give for the ability to jog around a track without feeling faint? 
Ho hum… Such dreary resolutions must needs poetry.  In an effort to make myself feel better about not being able to go jogging on cold, icy roads, I’ve decided to do just this and write a poem.  I think it’s a winner. 
To jog, or not to jog: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous cancer,
Or to put on running shoes against a sea of fat cells,
And by opposing end them? To run: to die;
No more; and by a jog to say we end
The heart-attacks and the thousand diabetic shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To run, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that three-hour -nap what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this extra weight,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the waddles and wrinkles of time,
The cancer's wrong, the proud man's words of scorn,
The pangs of despised body-image, health's delay,
The insolence of the media and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When she herself might her quietus make
With a sports bra? who would high heart rates bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after jogging,
The undiscover'd country from whose burn
No jogger returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus a headache does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of New Year’s Resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Charitable Offerings

 In which our Heroine now accepts Money. 

          Finally, I decided to take my Christmas decorations down.  They looked so pretty in my usually bare living room, and I love having the lights on at night.  I’ve never felt this compulsion to leave Christmas hanging around for this long before—and truth to tell, if I wasn’t trying to get my house organized better, I’d probably leave the decorations up until spring.  I really liked finally having my own house to decorate.  Also, Jon and I are getting better at knowing just what our Christmas traditions are, and have enjoyed displaying some of them. 
          Anyway, as I was taking down my ornaments (with Eva's ‘help,’ of course), I came across a simple one shaped like a Christmas tree that some anonymous person gave us this year.  In my opinion, Christmas ornaments are special because there are usually memories attached to them.  On the outside, this particular ornament is simple, small, and unassuming.  But it represents a wealth of generosity and love. 
          It came in a simple envelope with a card, but the card had $200 in it.  Jon and I have been blessed financially through all of this expensive health care.  We weren’t asking for any help.  But I will admit that it was very nice to open this envelope up.  To have $200 that didn’t yet have a purpose or a task to fill in our carefully maintained budget was so great. 
          I scorn those blogs out there that put the little side bar up asking for donations.  Admittedly, some blogs or web pages are created for charitable purposes, but it bothers me to see the money aspect on most.  My blog was created to keep my friends and family informed, to offer me a kind of creative therapy, and to hopefully explain or express some facts and experiences about cancer to those who may have need of it.  Therefore, no solicitation.  I stand by this rule, but I also have to say thanks to my anonymous benefactor. 
          To whom it may concern: I wasn’t sure at first why you bothered to put an ornament in the envelope when the money was clearly enough, but today I began to see that this little piece of ceramic(?) will represent far more when it hangs on my tree each year.  It occurs to me that the real gift is the memory of your charity, imbued in a Christmas ornament, and not the money at all (though I truly appreciate that too).  What a lovely gift. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Eavesdropping

 In which our Lady thinks of someone besides Herself 

          In the house where I grew up, there was a telephone that hung in the kitchen just next to the door leading to the basement steps.  It was at the nexus of many paths in our house and it had a ridiculously long, curly cord that could reach almost anywhere except the bedrooms.  A person could continue cooking breakfast on the stove, open a nearby window to call out to the yard, or lounge on the couch in the living room.  She could seek privacy down the stairs, the back bathroom, or the laundry room. 
          As a result of this, when I was a teenager, I spent many an hour eavesdropping on my mother’s telephone conversations.  One of the reasons I did this was because it was an effective way to find out who was coming to visit, and whether or not I would come out of my bedroom in the basement when they came.  Many a home-teacher or a friendly Christmas-time visitor failed to route me from my hide-out.  Then there were the times when I had answered the phone, could tell something big was going on, but was asked to just go get my parents.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but I am blessedly still alive today. 
          Youngest children often get a bad rap for being spoiled more than the other, older children.  My snide comment in response is that it is not my fault they were stupid enough not to be born last.  Honestly—like I had any control over the matter either!  Well, besides possibly being spoiled more, younger children are also blessed with the chance to see and learn from those who have gone before.  During those long-ago eavesdropping sessions, one thing I learned was how a mother lives and dies right along with her children.  When good things happened to my brothers, I heard my mother’s happy laugh.  I felt, saw, and heard her spirit soar when she learned of their successes: of falling in love, or a future childbirth, a new job, or an opportunity to travel.  On a mental tablet somewhere in my head I inevitably marked these things down as good, and things I too would try someday. 
          Then there were the silent times, and even the teary ones.  The phone would ring, and I would pick it up, respond to the inevitable greeting, or perhaps even chat for a few minutes.  Sometimes I could tell what the conversation would be about in just those moments, even though the call was never really for me.  My brothers called to talk to Mom.  I would pass the phone off and head down the stairs.  If I had a hunch that it was going to be a big deal, then I would stealthily slip back up and perch near the thin door.  My mother, seeking immediate privacy so she could focus completely on one of these most-hoped-for phone calls, would go for the laundry room and sit on top of the dryer.  The thing is, there was no sound-dampening carpet in that area of the house, so I could pretty much hear everything my Mom did. 
         Again, the happy times were filled with laughter, further questions, and a sort of cheerful electricity that sizzled toward me along the linoleum underneath the door.  Very simply, any conversation that didn’t have this electricity was more serious and usually well worth the duplicity on my part.  Meaning, I always got some kind of interesting information out of it.  Silence usually meant something sad or difficult had happened to my loved ones.  Silence meant my mother was really trying to absorb a new fact about her child—something she hadn’t supposed was possible before.  Silence meant it wasn’t what she was expecting.  Silence meant she didn’t know what to say.  Silence meant me straining harder and harder to hear something—anything, because it usually isn’t good to hear nothing during a phone call. 
          But silence was better than some of the other alternatives.  Sometimes I had to tortuously listen to both silence and then crying.  Sometimes I could hear my mother trying to smother the tears and knew she was fruitlessly hoping that the brother couldn’t hear her.  But I could, so I knew he could too.  In that stairwell, there were times when I felt fear, sadness, or even pain.  Once I silently cried right along with my mother.  It was awful.  When the phone call was over I wanted so badly to go comfort her, and receive comfort from her, but because of my supposed self-exile to my bedroom, had to stay away and quiet until she approached the matter. 
          Because of my over-sized ears, I tried hard not to ever consciously do anything that would create tears in my mother’s eyes.  As a high-schooler and a college student I would sometimes weigh even my minor decisions with these phone conversations in mind.  I learned to be careful.  What kills me is that no matter how careful I was, I still made so many mistakes and made so many thoughtless omissions that I know I still made her cry. 
          Lest you forget that I have cancer, I will endeavor now to apply these memories to my disease.  I honestly don’t remember when we told my Mom that I had brain cancer.  Things were kind of overwhelming at that point.  But I do remember imagining her in our old laundry room taking it all in silence, which is ridiculous because that house is sold, and the old phone is probably lying in a junk heap somewhere.  I know it was hard for her—life-shattering even.  No matter how hard I tried to be good and do what was right—to never make my mother cry—I now believe I may be the child that made the worse phone call yet. 
          So now, what should my uplifting conclusion be today?  Perhaps a resolution to never make her cry like that again?  I can’t.  I wish I could.  I learn more and more that sometimes the tears just come with being alive.  It is part of the happiness package to have little sorrow thrown in.  Also, I learn more and more that any control I assume that I have over my life—my body, my actions, my desires, my plans—is false, at least to a point, anyway.  Maybe the most I can say is that I hope to never make my mother cry again, and then hope that is enough. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Confessions of a Hypocrite

In which our Lady confesses. 

First: to my sister-in-law Jenni,
          I’m sorry you had to take a taxi home from the airport yesterday because I can’t drive yet.  Seizures are really lame.  I can’t wait until I can legally drive again.
          Bust most of all, Jenni, I ask forgiveness for my incredible hypocrisy. 
Yours in Apology,
Tara
          Second: Only a few hours after explaining my regret to Jenni for not being able to drive her home from the airport, I got fed up with relying on my exhausted and unwilling husband to drive me around.  I announced to him that I intended to take the car out to rent a movie for myself (because obviously it was a matter of life and death).  To my surprise he complied readily.  I grabbed the keys and went to my local redbox to rent Eclipse.  Yep, you read that right.  For what did I risk my driver’s license and my honesty?  Why, for something totally worthwhile, respectable, selfless, and up-building of course.  Yes, for the sake of a simple-minded, teenage love story about vampires and werewolves, I broke the law and took the car out for an illegal spin.  Great. 
          On a positive note, I felt really happy and little wild to be doing it.  I could feel an involuntary bubble of laughter seeping out of me as I backed the car down the drive-way.  Yes, I do know my class of rabble-rousing is pathetic, but I completely enjoyed my small moment of hedonism.  Never mind that I got stuck behind a snow plow nearly the whole way there.  I was so dizzy with my sense of driving-freedom that I hardly noticed how the hulking yellow machine exactly 50 feet in front of me was muffling my ‘wild’ ride into the night.  By the way, still team Jacob.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Oh, to be Caroline

In which our Lady relives Life on the Prairie. 

I recently listened to the audio book Little House on the Prairie.  I’m pretty sure I read this as a grade-schooler, but it was a whole new book as an adult.  Here are some thoughts I had as I read:
1.       Wow.  They are really grateful for a teensy house with a rough wood floor.  And apparently window glass is not a necessity, but a luxury.  Lesson in gratitude, anyone?
2.       At the end of the book, Laura sees a “papoose,” begins sobbing, and tells her parents that she wants ‘it’.  Their response is as expected: how ridiculous, that papoose has a mommy and it should stay with her.  And Laura is scolded.  It is obvious that there is a symmetry here in the story, a comparison with the white pioneers taking over Indian territory.  In the beginning of the book I worried that it there wouldn’t be any commentary, or even acknowledgement of these big issues.  I am pleased that there is indeed acknowledgement, but also relieved that the author doesn’t linger on the topic or dredge up guilt.  Instead, she just states how it was and how they dealt with it, letting the commentary exist somewhere in the undefined space between words. 
3.       I was impressed by the incredible obedience Mary and Laura had for their parents.  There is one spot where Charles the father says, “Girls, did you even think about disobeying me?”  Of course they had, and they actually admitted it.  The consequences would have been dire (Indian War, etc…) but I found their amount of respect and deference astonishing.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid act like that—and it’s not like Charles was beating these little girls into submission or anything either.  We may not have Indian raids to worry about today, but I doubt the danger is any less for children today—maybe even worse.  I find myself wondering how to get Eva to understand obedience better.
4.       I spent the first half wishing for a little more feminism on Caroline (the mother’s) behalf.  Her harshest comment to her husband upon him moving her away from her extended family and comfortable home in “the big woods” was, “Oh, Charles…”  Gee whiz Caroline.  Is that all you have to say?
5.       The last half of the book it finally occurred to me that Caroline really loved her husband, Charles, and would do almost anything for him because of that profound love.  Also, it was plain by then that Charles was an excellent husband and father.   My conclusion is that a person will go through a lot for their spouse because their love will lend them strength and drive them on.  I think of my husband Jon and all he’s had to go through in the past months.  None of it was pleasant, but he bowed his head and swam with the current the best he could.  Again, we don’t have Indian raids to worry about, but are the struggles any less real?  What if Caroline had destroyed her husband’s dreams with harsh words?  What if she had decided the sacrifice of staying with him wasn’t worth it?  What good would it have done?  What if Jon had gotten fed up with me when I was on too many medications and a little crazy from brain swelling?  What if he’d decided the sacrifice of living in new (cancerous) territory wasn’t worth it?  So, here’s to all the ‘Caroline’s’ in the world.  Often ignored, but essential to any successful pioneering venture.    

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Geotagging

In which our Heroine freaks out her already dwindling readership. 

I’m sure that many of you right now are groaning about Tara’s weird paranoia/surveillance fixation.  I worry that I do it at my own detriment.  I do actually want most of you to stick with me and keep reading my blog, you know.   I’ll admit that I picture my mother-in-law going “What is she up to now?”  Well, today I put my successful blogging future at possible risk.  I plan to infuse all my readers with my paranoia.  Today I’ve included several quotes taken from a power-point that has been circulating around the military and from there to employees of the Municipality of Anchorage, which is how I got a hold of it.  Without further ado:
“In August of 2010, Adam Savage, of “MythBusters,” took a photo of his vehicle using his smartphone. He then posted the photo to his Twitter account including the phrase “off to work.” Since the photo was taken by his smartphone, the image contained metadata revealing the exact geographical location the photo was taken.  So by simply taking and posting a photo, Savage revealed the exact location of his home, the vehicle he drives and the time he leaves for work.”
The following was published in Wired Magazine in 2009: “I ran a little experiment. On a sunny Saturday, I spotted a woman in Golden Gate Park taking a photo with a 3G iPhone. Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map. At home I searched the Flickrmap, and score—a shot from today. I clicked through to the user’s photo stream and determined it was the woman I had seen earlier. After adjusting the settings so that only her shots appeared on the map, I saw a cluster of images in one location. Clicking on them revealed photos of an apartment interior—a bedroom, a kitchen, a filthy living room. Now I know where she lives.”

Just for effect, I’ve included the creepy photo from the slide presentation. 
If you are not completely creeped out by now, then I don’t understand you.  In a nutshell, the subject here is about something called Geotagging.  To elucidate: “Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification to photographs, video, websites and SMS messages. It is the equivalent of adding a 10-digit grid coordinate to everything you post on the internet. Geotags are automatically embedded in pictures taken with smartphones.  Many people are unaware of the fact that the photos they take with their smartphones and load to the Internet have been geotagged.  Photos posted to photo sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa can also be tagged with location, but it is not an automatic function. 
Just to hammer it home I will add the fact that I have used various Flickr photos in things that I’ve done, both on this blog and in personal creative pursuits.  In one instance, I had only to type in the location of my home town by name, and someone’s personal shots popped up for my use.  At this point, Jon and I have been broke for enough years that I am basically the equivalent of a technological cretin (because we never buy the most up-to-date technology).  If I can do this much, then I suggest you let your imagination run wild and try to visualize what a real creep-master could do.   It’s not particularly good for the soul, but it does prove my point a little.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Launch: Paranoid Much?

In which our Heroine gazes back.  

For Christmas, Jon and I borrowed a friend’s computer video camera so we could skype with family.  I’m sorry to say that the skyping did not work, and now all we have is the little camera sitting a-straddle our computer monitor as the residue of our non-conversation. 
It kind of freaks me out. 
The socially-smart side of me would like to tell you all that my paranoia fixation is an intelligent fabrication meant to bring out frivolous discussion and smart-alecky conversation.  These are worthwhile reasons all on their own but the little eye-shaped lens staring at me right now is proving its point: I am a paranoid freak at heart.  I’m telling you, the little thing follows me around the room.  My eye is unnaturally drawn to it.  I find myself focusing in on it regularly, and trust me—the white wall over the top of my computer screen is not normally one of my eye-resting spaces. 
It’s pretty clear that I’ve been watching too many Pixar films.  I can easily imagine it sprouting legs and spidering off into corners unknown (where Russian/Iraqi spies lurk, obviously).  I can imagine its little round eye hole suddenly blinking at me.  I can even imagine it recording my life.  Not that there’s anything of a mystery left about me after all this blogging, but talk about freaky right? 
And so I launch a series of blog posts about surveillance and its accompanying freakiness.  You would think that all this supposed or imagined surveillance would implant me with a desire to perform well for the camera.  Instead, I find myself longing for insurrection and subversive behavior.  I can’t help it.  I have an over-active imagination. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Detestable Keppra

In which our Lady takes medicines. 

When I was a child, I once met an old man who had suffered from a seizure some years before.  One side of his face looked normal, while the other resembled melted cheese, or even one of Salvador Dali’s famous melted clocks.  (The Dali reference is appropriate since his melting clocks are usually located in desert wastelands and represent psychological distortion and pain).  As a child, I was both fascinated and horrified by this poor man’s face.  I cannot express how glad I am to not have his problem.  I wonder if I would be subject to this visual malady if I had more seizures, or if they were bigger, etc…  I should be grateful for the medicine that protects me from such a malformity.  Instead, I often find myself detesting this saving grace of mine. 
My ‘saving grace’ has a cute little feminine sounding name: Keppra.  The name Keppra is misleading.  It sounds like some sort of foreign woman’s name, or at the very least something out of science fiction.  Or, there’s the possibility of an allergy drug.  The reality is that Keppra is the anti-convulsant medicine that I take twice a day, morning and night.  While Keppra keeps me safe from excess brain spasms, it also tends to make me sleepy.  I had an allergic reaction to the first anti-convulsant I tried, so Keppra is my new best friend, possibly for years to come. 
I hate it.  It makes me lethargic just when I should be functioning at peak performance.  I take it in the morning between 10 and 11.  15 minutes after swallowing one gigantic white pill, I begin feeling the effects.  By 45 minutes, almost anything can convince me to lie down.  If I haven’t managed to get some couch time by about hour four, I am almost useless as a human being.
On New Years Eve, it occurred to me that many, or even most people don’t know what it’s like to take strong medicine.  I know I didn’t understand before.  A good friend of mine mentioned the information I’d talked about in my blog post Brooding About My Brood, where I discuss the fact that I can no longer choose to have children while on this prescription.  When I answered her, I mentioned the fact that Keppra makes me lethargic and seems to almost shut down my brain—and regularly too.  At this point, you must understand that my friend is one of the most intelligent people I know.  Her eyes grew large and round while a look of sheer horror flitted across her face before she could hide it.  She’s right.  It is terrible to sit in front of a computer and know that what you are writing falls short of your goal, simply because your brain just can’t think it through.  It used to be that when I hit this barrier, I could force it aside by concentrating harder or being more determined.  I don’t have that crucial amount of energy needed to make okay work into something great—not tonight anyway. 
It was even worse when I first began taking Keppra.  My body wasn’t used to it yet.  But I was on a lot of other drugs back then, and surgery had just happened, so I didn’t understand what Keppra was doing to me.  In all probability, the urge to take more naps was good for me.  Now that I am healing so well, it is becoming evident how much of a hold Keppra has on me.  I’ve now come to the conclusion that I would be acting at 100% without it.  (The mere danger of having an epileptic fit the only drawback.)  It’s like a vice grip on my brain, squeezing all extraneous activity to a halt.  Every now and then I’ll forget to take the medicine in the morning.  These hours are few and precious to me.  My activity level is unparalleled.  At these times I feel like the way I was before surgery, even several years ago before the extreme fatigue hit me that seemed at the time to coincide with pregnancy.   
I’m beginning to get used to the near-constant swim through molasses, the times when I go somewhere and simply sit as if in a fog because it’s the best I can do at the moment.  It is most difficult in the late morning—usually my golden time during the day.  At night, I simply give up and go to bed soon after I take it.