Now you've got the chance
You might as well just dance
Go skies and thrones and wings
And poetry and things.
--Neil Halstead

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Bye, Bye Cast!

So today was my two-month checkup with the podiatrist. I was nervous, but hopeful. Hopeful because last month the good doctor had seemed cautiously optimistic that I might be get to graduate from the cast to the boot today. Hopeful enough that I brought the boot with me, along with a sock.

Nervous because, well, you can't exactly see inside a cast (not that you'd want to) and I was less 0% and more like 3% of the time weight bearing by the last week. Okay, 5%. Still. I wondered whether Nurse Lonnie would cut open the cast and I'd find bones sticking out places or giant festering sores I somehow hadn't felt or smelt or basically any especially horrible thing that would lead them to put me back in a cast. So, nervous enough that I left the boot in the car because I didn't want to seem too presumptuous. Also because I couldn't carry it and steer at the same time.

Then Nurse Lonnie said the words that struck terror into my heart: "I hope you get out of the cast, too, because I'm all out of purple plaster. In fact, I'm out of everything but white today!"

So that pretty much settled it. I frantically scrubbed my naked, stinky foot with a couple of wet wipes and settled in to pray that my 8% weight bearing hadn't done too much damage. Because, (a) you can't wear a white cast after Labor Day, everybody knows that, and (b) white shows dirt and nothing collects dirt, sweat, and dead skin like a white cast you can't take off for another month.  <shudder>

Fortunately, my 10% weight bearing didn't seem to have done any harm. In fact, the good doctor was quite impressed with the excellent bone position and spacing, and excitedly contrasted last month's x-ray with this month's x-ray ("See! Look how much more consolidation there is!"). To be perfectly honest, I couldn't tell one x-ray from the other or really how the concept of consolidation applies to either picture, nor could I see the new bone growth he was allegedly pointing at, but believe me, I didn't argue. Had the man told me there was a miniature three-piece giraffe jazz band performing in there, I would have nodded seriously and said, "Oh, yes, DEFINITELY. I see the saxophone." Because whatever he saw was fabulous enough that he was going to let me leave the office without a cast.

I *never* push myself beyond my limits.
<cough...breakneck stairs...cough>
Nope, never. Not at all. I'd never
climb down 59 steps with a swollen,
fractured foot.
He did caution me to build up my strength gradually. I asked him when I could start going back to the gym again, and once we established that my equipment of choice was the recumbent exercise bike, he was like, "I don't care if you go ride a bike today--just don't get on a treadmill or run." I think we are safe on both of those, pretty much indefinitely. I still have the scooter for long distances (such as the trek in from the parking lot at work and shopping), but I can gradually wean off of that and hopefully at my next check-up (one month), I can get rid of the boot and transition to SHOES.

So I emailed and texted everyone the good news. For some reason, no fewer than three people immediately responded with admonitions to celebrate cautiously and not overdo it, including my own mother, which is ridiculous considering that I stayed to no more than 12% weight bearing the vast majority of the time, so it's not as though I'm the sort of person who overdoes things. It's like they don't even know me.

Meanwhile, somebody at home *was* preparing a lovely celebration for me. I came home, sat down, and put my hand in a lovingly prepared, freshly made hairball, comprised mostly of white fur, left thoughtfully at the foot of my bed.

While the culprit hasn't confessed, I think there is sufficient evidence to establish guilt or innocence, at least to the same standard as your average Senate judiciary hearing.
Bold, confident stare. Expression of defiant interest. Vividly colored fur.
The very face of innocence, with a twinge of recrimination for casting aspersions on her character.
Verdict? Innocent of all hairball hacking charges, and the court apologizes for even considering it, your majesty!

Expression of startled defensiveness. Immaculately groomed long, white fur. Wide staring eyes.
Ears pointed in opposite directions, as though looking for the opportunity to flee the jurisdiction.
Guilty! Guilty of all charges. 
So, there you have it--the cast is gone and I'm continuing my transition to healing. And tonight? Well, tonight, I bathe!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fantasy Travel and Other Occupational Hazards of Boredom

So, here we are. Shark Week VIII: The Shark Flops Around Pitifully and Whines a Lot Before Sinking to the Ocean Floor in Boredom (also known as, Shark Week Meh).

This *could* be the last week of the cast; I'll find out later in the week when I return to the podiatrist for a second x-ray. Of course, he still cautions me that even if Shark Week is in remission, I will have a slow transition to full mobility, but frankly I'm just ready for progress at whatever speed it comes.

This sad  bottle of Kahlua,
hiding in shame and shadow
behind the frozen pizza,
moved here with me in April
2016 and has been here,
untouched, ever since.It may
have moved from the old
apartment in 2013. I am pretty
exclusively a social drinker. 
With the end of the cast and Death Scooter potentially looming nearer, I've been spending my copious free time thinking about what I'm going to do when I am past this nonsense. First and foremost, and if you've ever had a cast in Texas in the summer, I know you feel me, is a bath. A long, long bath. I've mail ordered some fancy bath salts and even a matching fancy bath candle. There's wine in the fridge chilling. (Of course, it's a bottle I opened 3+ months ago...I am the world's most indifferent alcohol consumer. But still. It's waiting.) It's going to be a bath. Definitely hours. I'm not ruling out days.

Next up is a party. My original book launch plans involved some lovely readings, potentially in several cities, at some lovely bookstores. Since I can't even get a box of books in the front door, let alone schlep them all over Texas, those plans were shelved. But now... I still want to do that, but I'm in the mood for a party. I think a victory over Shark Week AND publication of my first novel together call for a celebration. I found out yesterday that one of my staff has parents who run a chocolate fountain business. In this, I can almost see the gooey, rich, dripping skewer of destiny. Coming up with a plan (beyond a party with a chocolate fountain, which is not so much a plan as a craving) is going to keep me motivated throughout physical therapy.

So what else have I been doing?

Knitting. Lots of knitting. Some beadwork. Halloween decor projects from Pinterest (I'll post pics when they get completely done, probably tomorrow). And planning my dream vacations. So, where would I go, if money were no object and Shark Week was no more?

    I spent a few hours planning a very realistic trip to Idaho. That may actually happen next year. We are not beach people. We are cool, mountain people. There's a place in northern Idaho where you can rent a bicycle and coast it down a mountain trail for 15 miles of fabulous scenery. There's a creepy prison that offers tours of its old gallows. There are B&Bs with their own hot springs. I think this needs to happen, but...

    Somehow, perhaps as a side effect of Extreme Stir Craziness, I kept moving north on the map and wound up spending several hours planning a fantasy trip to the Northwest Territories of Canada. I want to drive the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyatkuk, see the aurora borealis from Yellowknife. There's a five day boat and camping trip to Herschel island; another that goes along the Canadian Arctic coast and ends in Greenland. Tuktut Nogait National Park in the summer is home to zillions of baby caribou and has no hiking just wander around, presumably with a compass. Most of the parks up there are only accessible by chartered plane. And, most critically, the summer daytime temperatures rarely rise above 77 degrees. Oh yes!
    The Hornaday Canyons in Tuktut Nogait National Park,
    Northwest Territories, Canada.
    It is possible my podiatrist wouldn't approve.

    At this point, I felt that perhaps I was giving a little too much love to the northern climes, so I packed my mental bags for New Zealand. I've always wanted to see Australia, but frankly it seemed too big and desert-y for a fantasy vacation. According to The Lord of the Rings, a reliable meteorological source, even in the summers hobbits can wear trousers and long sleeves and there are plenty of lush green forests, spectacular mountains, and elaborate dwarf-mined cave systems, although one has to watch out for balrogs. I didn't spend too long on my fantasy trip to New Zealand, however, after I read the part about driving on the left side of the road. I am way too easily confused for that kind of nonsense.
    My first thought was, That sign doesn't help!
    Which arrow am I?  The sign just shows a couple
    of lonely arrows, moving always in opposite
    directions, separated by a permeable barrier
    they can never cross, a sort of existential..
    oh, yeah. I'm the arrow on the left.
    This is why I can't drive in Australia.

    Also on my list, because New Zealand is probably too crowded what with all the Numenoreans running around singing lays and drinking mead, are the Orkney Islands. There are 70 of them, most accessible only by boat (which may be a problem with my reverse seasickness, but I'm willing to overlook it). You've got your standing stones, PUFFINS (squee!), and lots of rocky coastlines and remoteness. Oh, and summer highs are in the low 60's.  Also a plus--the islands are fairly small and I am quite confident I could go an entire vacation without getting lost!

    Of course, the granddaddy of fantasy vacations is Iceland. (Do you perhaps notice a theme?) I've wanted to visit Iceland since I was in college and read The Vinland Sagas in World Literature. In fact, for many years, I picked up medieval Icelandic sagas in translation any time I saw them in a Half Price Books. This was more often than you might think.
    I still have my Nordic legends bookshelf. I expanded beyond Iceland into Welsh, Irish, and other vaguely Viking-ish legends. There are a few interlopers (The Odyssey, for example), but it all started with The Vinland Sagas
    Someday, that trip will definitely happen. Iceland has volcanoes, hot springs, fjords, a matriarchal culture, and Bjork. I've read a few modern Icelandic novels as well (on Kindle)--The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning, by Hallgrimur Helgason, which was darkly humorously awesome, and On the Cold Coasts, by Vilborg Davidsdottir (I know, I have in certain company drawn a line in the sand and said I will not read historical fiction, but historical Icelandic fiction is an entirely separate subgenre and definitely allowed), as well as the beautiful The Greenhouse, by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, which is lovely even though it mostly takes place in France.

    So, while Shark Week is winding down, I'll be dreaming of cool, remote fjords, icy tundra, and walking freely without a cast, getting lost under the aurora borealis, and seeing all sorts of Arctic wildlife. And then--it's time to plan a party!

    Wednesday, September 12, 2018

    I remember

    Of course, the call to mindfulness
    may have been a government ploy
    to encourage people to drive
    politely and safely. If so, it worked.
    To remember is, literally, to call to mind, an act of supreme mindfulness. As we drove through Quebec this summer, Je me souviens (I remember), the province's official motto, flashed by on every license plate. Down here in Texas, we demand remembrance ("Remember the Alamo!") but putting remembrance in the first person softens it, personalizes it, brings with it a sense of inevitability. I choose to call to mind, to remember.

    This has been a week of remembrance--appropriately so, since it is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, a time of remembering and questioning, bridging the past and the future. A lovely poet, biographer, and publisher, Devorah Winegarten, died September 10. Although I didn't know her well, she was one of those people whom you felt you did know well, because she wore her heart and her life on her sleeve and on the pages of Facebook and in book fairs, libraries and Rotary Club meetings all over the country. My favorite memory of her was at the Austin International Poetry Festival this year. She had lost her voice and wrote an amazing, beautiful, funny poem about the well-meaning (and annoying) responses of friends, colleagues, and strangers. She read that poem several times, in a hoarse whisper, pausing at the perfect moments with a gleam in her eyes, taking a mysterious affliction that had cost her her job and threatened her livelihood, and turning it into a smart, witty reflection on how as humans we get compassion so right--and so wrong. She was both sweet and fierce, in the way that truly great Texas women are, and she will be long remembered.

    Me, 2001
    Is there a statute of limitations on faking sick?
    I mean, the agency that replaced the agency I worked for
    then has been replaced by the agency I work for now. 
    Also, I've since replaced the person I worked for then.
    State government is confusing.
    Of course, for most Americans, a much larger, national remembrance has gone on this week, as we all call to mind September 11, 2001. Like many, I can tell you what I was doing as the planes hit the towers. I suppose that sufficient time has passed that I can safely admit I was playing hooky from work. I remember walking through the living room when my then-husband (who was watching CNN) called out, "Hey, there's been some sort of plane crash!"

    At the time, I worked more or less where I work now (give or take a dozen job changes and reorgs, so probably less rather than more), with the training department. I heard later that people panicked. Participants and trainers begged permission to leave class and go home, and staff at headquarters circled TVs for news.

    Judy, 2002.
    This is the photo I have in my office.
    PSA for people who refuse to let people take photos of them:
    Get over it. Someday, you'll  die and people who knew you
    for years will scramble around frantically for accidental
    photos of you and all they'll come up with is a picture of
    you in a depressing state conference room holding an award.
    The September 11 I most remember, though, is September 11, 2004. We were living in Pearland. A few days before, I was home sick (for real this time). The doorbell rang, and I opened the door to find my friend, Angie. She looked me up and down and said, less as a question than a statement,"You haven't heard, have you?" She then told me my best friend Judy Schober-Newman had had complications from a minor, outpatient surgical procedure and was in a coma in Austin. On September 11 her husband called to say she was taken off life support.

    Judy and my youngest daughter share a middle name with Hurricane Helene, and that makes me smile. Both Betty and her namesake are/were forces of nature: smart, quick-witted, sassy, determined, passionate, and headstrong. Betty is perhaps more destructive. Both are/were intensely, fabulously creative.

    Hurricane Betty age 5.
    Crazy hair, messy, adorably destructive:
    not much has changed. 
    Despite the decade and more of water under the bridge, I still think often of Judy, particularly since rejoining the training department four years ago. It's hard not to measure yourself up against someone you loved and admired so greatly, particularly when she's dead and you've gone on to attain the job she wanted when she was alive.

    At the time, I saw myself as the lesser half of "Judy and Diana," a sidekick--even before the survivor's guilt kicked in. And, I won't lie, I floundered a bit thereafter. Then, of course, I got up, dusted myself off, and started building a life I could be proud of, and, in the process, built a life that I think Judy would have been pretty proud of, too. So my remembering these days is perhaps more fond than sad.

    I remember hanging out in San Antonio hotel rooms and bingeing on junk food and talking half the night. I remember some of the absolutely insane things she'd send me through interoffice mail (which I returned IN PERSON because...yay, continued employment). I remember the email where she reminded me, in all caps, that I am NOT SUPERWOMAN. This is a lesson I've had to continue reminding myself over the years, many times (because--crazy Virgo perfectionist FTW!), and, whenever I do, the voice in my head always sounds exactly like Judy.

    No matter what our religious beliefs, the dead are never that far away, whether waiting patiently in the heavens or present in the scattered stardust of plants and trees. All it takes is a quiet moment, the right invocation, and we call them to mind.

    Wednesday, September 5, 2018

    Make the Mailbox Interesting Again

    Although August may have ended in a strictly prosaic, calendar-based sense for most folks, August popped up today in my mailbox and may yet linger into the back end of September. If that sentence made sense, congratulations, Harry (or Sherry), you're a poet!

    Postcards received from all over the country and beyond during August Poetry Postcard Fest 2018.
    I am impressed with the postcards, the poems, and the fact that the lighting is such that you can't see the cat hair on the blanket. Bob loves this blanket. We call it the Mama Blanket because every time he climbs on top of it, he purrs loudly and kneads it before lying down. There are a LOT of white hairs on Mama Blanket. She is well loved.
    For those who have never PoPo'd, August Poetry Postcard Fest is in its twelfth year. Organized by Paul Nelson of Seattle, it gathers people from all over the world who are willing to commit to writing spontaneous poems to strangers every day for a month.

    Because these are poets we're talking about, the concept of "month" is somewhat loosely defined (in fact, the group's first anthology is called "56 Days of August"). You can start early--and people do--and you can go long--and people do. Some people write just to the others on their list so as to write 31 poems; others do "bonus" poems to people they know from other groups or respond to postcards they especially like.

    This is my fourth year to PoPo. By now, I have a strategy. All year long, I add to my collection of postcards. My mother and a friend have donated old ones they found while cleaning out photo albums. I pick up free ones wherever I can (such as postcards advertising books at poetry festivals or readings, one from a Typewriter Tarot table, one from a hotel in Maine). And my favorite junk shop in Jefferson, TX, has a corner cabinet full of vintage postcards, some of which are as much as 80 years old.

    As soon as the lists come out, I address and stamp my postcards, then place them in order on my bookcase, with the bonus postcards on top. Then the fun begins. The day before, I pull off the top postcard and put it on my nightstand where I can see it and think about it throughout the day. The next morning, I write. Mostly, it's the first thing I think about when I look at the image.

    Sometimes, they're inspired by what's going on in the world. This postcard (from my 1989 vacation with Mother to Washington State) reflects my sorrow about the unkindness in the world.

    Sometimes, as in this one, written the day after my 47th birthday, the reflections are more personal.

    Meanwhile, my mailbox blooms with postcards from all over. Sometimes, I'll get one a day for a while, then none for a while, then a whole clump of them at once. 

    Everyone has their own approach, creates their own structure and meaning to the festival. In a way, you get 31 different PoPo festivals each year, one for each person who writes. Some poets choose a theme. Some don't. Some buy postcards on eBay, while others illustrate, paint, make collages, or cut out postcard-shaped pieces of cereal boxes.

    This year, six of the poets went political. A vintage postcard of cowboys on the range provoked a bald question about the border wall. On the back of an image of a New Orleans cemetery was a found poem containing quotes from the Washington Post.

    Three poets wrote love poems so raw reading them felt like opening someone else's mail (even though they were addressed to me), one on the back of a hand-drawn bottle of kisses.

    Five poets gave me snapshots of their daily lives. On the back of an art print was a quote from a fortune cookie. Turning over Niagara Falls revealed the domestic scene of melting butter dripping with the rain.  Another poet reminisced fondly about her sister in a red dress, inspired by the red blooms of flowers, while another asserted that the old boats that wait for you by the shore are the best kind of boats to sail.

    Some of my favorite postcards were haiku, beautifully accompanied by hand drawn or painted illustrations. One poet accompanied a dark Whistler portrait of a woman with a vibrant poem about Tibetan monks creating sand mandalas--a powerful juxtaposition of attachment and nonattachment, of the material and the spiritual. 

    My absolute favorite, a post card of a colorful Japanese print, contained a stunning poem typewritten with a fuzzy lowercase g that captures the subtle tenderness in the world that manifests in everything from the flow of rivers to the purring of a cat. It starts with dawn and ends with hope, and that, really, is what poetry is about, isn't it?

    It may be September, but I'm not giving up on August just yet. One more postcard will go out in this week's mail, and I'm still hoping for more to come my way. 

    Sunday, August 26, 2018

    29 and A Lot of Change

    So, I had a birthday yesterday. I tried telling the kids I was 29 for the eighteenth time, but it is only the second week of school, and the resulting math was way too complicated for everyone.
    Also, 29x18 does not equal 257.
    It's going to be a long year in Algebra II.

    Eleanor: Wait, so you're like 257 or something?
    Me: For the 18th time, not times 18.
    Eleanor: <blank look>
    Betty: So you're like 52?
    Me: 29 + 18 does not = 52.
    Eleanor: Geez, Betty, don't make her old!
    Bruce: So you're 49?

    For the record, I'm 47.

    We celebrated the way we always celebrate: by enjoying a staggering amount of Chinese food at the Happy Dragon. Happy Dragon is a family favorite, in part because it represents one of the few times where it is socially acceptable to say PuPu at the dinner table. Also in part because the PuPu platter arrives on fire, and who doesn't love a good indoor bonfire? And then everybody gets to take leftovers to school/work. In a universe-frying move, Eleanor ordered her usual (Dragon Fried Rice), at the Happy Dragon, while wearing a Round Rock Dragons t-shirt.

    Then, as we usually do on such occasions, I took them to Target and gave them money and they went inside to buy me a present. Usually, I go in and wait in the food court, so that they can come running up to me every 10 minutes to argue about how they can't agree on anything and can I please tell [insert name, usually Betty] to just shut up and go along with everyone else [aka, Eleanor], but, with Shark Week, I stayed in the car with Mom. Either they solved their own arguments this time, or maybe they found some other mom in the food court to complain to. I didn't ask.

    Since we never have gotten around to buying normal candles, Betty found an orchestra fund raiser candle and lit it. I made a wish and blew out the candles. (Note: it IS that time again, so if you're in the Austin area and want an orchestra candle, let me know.)

    Bob: It's what's for dinner.
    Or, Bob: it's lurking around trying to find out whether
    the chocolate cake contains bacon.
    Bruce: What'd you wish for?
    Eleanor: Don't ask that, you idiot!
    Bruce: That's a stupid superstition!
    Me: Can't tell you.
    Betty: Don't jinx her!
    Bruce: I know. You wished for your foot to get better.
    Me: Nailed it in one!

    Then, Mom realized that we forgot to sing Happy Birthday, so Betty re-lit the candle. Then an argument broke out between the kids as to whether my previous wish was invalidated by re-lighting the candles.
    Fun fact: Betty loves candles AND
    lighters. If the house burns down,
    now you know why.

    This led to a new debate over how many times we would have to light the same candle to get to 47. Eventually, after a number of guesses that would cause three separate math teachers to weep, we arrived at the correct answer (23.5 times, or, since it's a two-wick candle, 23 times with both wicks and once with just one wick).

    Clearly, school has begun.

    Next came the presents.

    If this looks like a lot of presents, it is because Betty loves to wrap things. And give things.
    Look at that pile!
    The smallest package consisted of a single candy bar that Mom had bought me and that Betty placed in its own bag, covered with about five full sized sheets of tissue paper.

    The second smallest bag consisted of Betty's present, also covered in tissue paper:

    1. A good luck Japanese cat (maneki-neko) figurine she bought in Chinatown this summer.
    2. Two stuffed animals she found in the back of her closet, both of which looked as though the dogs peed on them and one of which was Eleanor's. (Note: both cleaned up just fine in the wash, and Eleanor has moved on from Lambs to Llamas and was not upset.)
    3. A wand made out of duck tape (we are reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).
    4. A purple pen that she had borrowed from me many months ago and forgotten to return.
    5. Two drawings.
    The biggest bag, in addition to the remainder of our tissue paper supplies, contained what the kids bought me at Target: a collection of fancy gel pens and a beautiful new journal and a lovely card, in which they wrote:
    • "I love you! Don't worry, you won't have to deal with kids after 8 more years!"--Eleanor
    • "Hi, Mom, You've fed us, and that's pretty neat."--Bruce
    • "Your a grate friend as well as a grate Mom."--Betty
    Note that Betty re-re-lit the candle.
    It may have been a mistake to teach her how to use the lighter.
    The box contained ANOTHER box (Bob was beside himself) which contained a Ninja blender from Mom, which Eleanor and I are both very excited about. Eleanor is looking forward to blending up some salsas and dips; I'm looking forward to making more smoothies and drinks (as well as my favorite Corn Chowder).

    So, all in all, 257 (or 52, or 46, or whatever) was a pretty awesome birthday. All of the well wishes from family, friends, and colleagues made me appreciate yet again how much love there is in my life, and, believe me, I would totally count my blessings, except that we've already had a lot of bad math this weekend and, in the interests of accuracy, it's probably best to wait until later in the school year.

    Thank you to everyone who's sent me happy wishes, presents, dinners out, large air purifying office plants, piles of chocolate, videos of a dude telling me I'm awesome, and other reminders that Shark Week is not forever, but family and friends are! You guys rock!

    Saturday, August 11, 2018

    Shark Week Would Be More Fun With Real Sharks

    No, not this shark week. This one
    would arguably be more fun. In
    this shark week, I could go swimming
    and have an adventure. 
    I've been a bit quiet on the blog and social media the last month or so, and there's a reason for that. So, settle in, because it's a bit of a long story, and, now that I've stopped blowing bloody boogers out of my nose, I can bite down on solid food again, and most of the scabs have fallen off, I think I'm finally ready to talk about shark week.

    Including down the Casse-Cou, or, si on
    ne parle francais, the Break Neck Stairs,
    which, in hindsight, was really unwise.
    So, back in late spring, May-ish, I suddenly noticed sharp pain on the top of my foot. I tried staying off it for a bit, and it got better, but May is a busy month (end of school) and June was even busier. I had a work trip to Dallas and hiked all over downtown. I took Eleanor to Denton and hiked all over the University of North Texas. We went to Maine and Quebec and hiked all over those places. In hindsight, this was all probably unwise.

    Did it hurt? Yes. Did it stop me? Nope. I've been in more or less continual pain for seven years now, since a knee injury caused by a puddle of water. Mostly it's low level, ignorable pain. I've learned to push it to the back of my mind and keep going. In hindsight, this was definitely unwise.

    Then by the time I got back to work, I noticed that my left foot no longer fit into any shoes that I owned. Since shoes are rather necessary at work, this was no longer an ignorable situation. So I took the afternoon off and went to urgent care, fully expecting to be told I had a sprain or fracture and to stay off the thing.

    And thus, it began.

    The urgent care doc couldn't spot a fracture on x-ray, but she did see "terrible arthritis" and "the worst bone spur I've ever seen in my career" and strongly encouraged pain medication. She was worried that the swelling was a blood clot and said I needed to see my primary care physician ASAP. On the plus side, I don't appear to have bone cancer, which I hadn't even thought to worry about before the x-ray.

    My primary care physician said I had no symptoms of a blood clot, but ordered a blood test just to be sure and to also rule out kidney failure--which I also hadn't thought to worry about before the x-ray. Thank you, medical science, for giving me new reasons to worry at night!

    Then, on my way in to work, the doctor's office called and said the blood clot test was high and I needed to go get an ultrasound IMMEDIATELY. (But, my kidneys were fine.) So, detour to the ultrasound and no blood clots. My blood pressure was a little high, but being screened out for three potentially fatal conditions in a 24-hour period is fairly stressful (it's since come down).

    Next up is the podiatrist. He takes a look at my x-rays from urgent care. He was unimpressed by the blood clot test results ("with that much inflammation, of course it's going to be high").  He, too, is impressed by the size of my bone spur ("biggest one I've ever seen--that thing is 4 cm long!"), as well as the extent of the scar tissue on my Achilles tendon. (Pro tip: impressing medical professionals is almost always a Very Bad Thing.)

    However, unlike everyone else involved to date, he actually has a pretty good idea of what's going on. It has a name. Something like sharko...blahblahblah...pathy, which has become firmly implanted in my mind as Shark Week, even after learning how to spell the first part of it correctly. I could Google the correct name and tell you what it is, but it was named by this French neurologist who liked naming horrible diseases after himself, which I think is a crummy way to obtain immortality and shouldn't be encouraged. If I ever name a disease, it will be after someone I really dislike.  Also, I'm protecting you because the photos of advanced Shark Week are about as disturbing as photos from real Shark Week. (Those of you who are nurses and love a nice, disgusting foot picture can ask me off line and I'll tell you how to spell it. But you've been warned.)

    Basically, back in April? May? I must've fractured my foot slightly. Because I have a ridiculous pain tolerance (because I'm evidently used to arthritis, bone spurs, and scar tissue) and a touch of neuropathy, the pain wasn't anything I couldn't ignore, so I did. Meanwhile, my highly functioning circulatory system was busily flushing the calcium out of my bones, via the fracture. My foot bones were getting weaker and weaker. More fractures were forming, resulting in the characteristic inflammation that Shark Week brings. Eventually, if I hadn't done anything about it, the bones in my foot would've been mostly shattered and my foot would've looked like it had been bitten by a shark and had to be amputated. (So, really, Shark Week is kind of appropriate, if you think about it.)
    So what's the cure for Shark Week? This.
    Immobilization in a cast for three months,
     as close to zero weight bearing as possible.
    If I can stay off it, the bones will heal
    on their own and I'll be as good as new. 

    So, how does the good doctor prove his theory? With MRIs of the foot and ankle.

    <cue sinister music>

    Enter The Insurance Company.

    <cue scream of frustration and despair>

    Blue Cross immediately approved the ankle MRI (astute readers will remember that the main problem is with my foot). A week later, they deny the foot MRI. Why? Because they figured that the doctor could probably see enough of my foot in the pictures of my ankle.

    Let's pause for a moment, while we ponder that one. I have since seen both MRIs, and I can promise you, you cannot see the top front of the foot from the pictures of the ankle. Perhaps Blue Cross has a panoramic setting on its MRIs.

    Of course, the doctor immediately appealed. I'm assuming that his appeal included my x-rays, because Blue Cross immediately reversed themselves and approved the foot MRI an hour later. My x-rays are really impressive to doctors.

    Then, at last, I was able to schedule the MRIs. I have never had one before. I also have major fidgetiness. Sitting still is torture. I still remember a couple of college classes where I felt like I was trying to climb out of my own brain, it was that hard to sit still. So, in hindsight, I probably should've foreseen the problems involved in getting an MRI. I barely made it through the ankle MRI, and we had to do a retake. I was trying so hard to be still--and failing so, so badly--that I was in tears. The tech flat out refused to do the foot and said I needed to reschedule. So I dissolved in tears on the scheduling desk and cried all the way to work.

    But, I got it together, got some great advice from my cousin Jackie (an MRI Guru), and managed to survive the foot MRI with readable images. The doctor confirmed his diagnosis: definitely Shark Week. He told me to order a knee scooter off Amazon and call for a casting appointment as soon as it came in. (A casting appointment for the other Shark Week would've been more fun and likely involved fewer tears.)

    The scooter arrived last Sunday. We tried to assemble it. This is a scooter that multiple Amazon reviewers described as "so easy to assemble my child/elderly grandparent/cocker spaniel could do it." I was so worn out, stressed out, and distraught over Shark Week that, naturally, I couldn't do it. The seat was upside down. None of the instructions mentioned how to get it right side up.

    Maybe it's stuck? I banged on it with a hammer. Nope.

    Eleanor takes a look and takes out a couple of bolts. It moves a bit, but it still wouldn't come all the way out.

    I put it away in disgust and cry some tears of self-pity and frustration, which doesn't help, and text my neighbor, who says he'll help tomorrow. The neighbor (who has four small children, a known cause of amnesia) forgets. So, I take it to my room and give it another go. I realize that the reason it's stuck is that when I banged it with a hammer the edges spread out and the pole would no longer fit through the opening. Fortunately, I have a Dremel, so (after Googling how to put the grinder attachment on the Dremel) I was able to grind down the extra metal and assemble the scooter.

    Bob loves the scooter. He likes sitting in the seat and being rocked back and forth. 

    The scooter was a little painful to use (it requires putting my weight on the same knee that started all these problems in 2011) but glided smoothly across the floor.

    Then I went to work.

    The parking lot is NOT smooth. The part that was recently resurfaced is actually LESS smooth than the old, beat up part. Our sidewalks are a mess. And we have a paved brick walkway up to both entrances. The scooter is very wobbly on uneven surfaces. Every pebble, every crack makes the handlebars shimmy. If you lean too much on the handlebars to compensate, the next time the wheels jump on a crack, you wind up face planting onto the brick walkway, having a massive bloody nose that splatters blood all over your new dress, getting scraped right down the middle of your face, cutting your lip, and chipping a tooth.

    It was not the best start to the week. In fact, when I made it upstairs and went straight to my meeting, everyone was like, WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE? The answer being, I CAN'T GO BACK OUT THERE--THE PARKING LOT IS GOING TO KILL ME, DUH!

    But, spoiler alert, the parking lot did not kill me. I made it back and forth all week. I learned to go slowly and to accept the shimmying of the handlebars without leaning forward. I learned when I could move at an almost walking pace and when to inch along. I learned to keep my eyes peeled to the ground for pebbles and cracks. (I also had to interview for my job while looking like the loser in a really sad bar fight. Because, yeah. I needed something to get my mind off of things.)

    And then the front brake broke and I learned to do all of those things without the security of being able to have a handbrake to help slow me down. Because, Lord knows, I needed a challenge.

    I also learned that most people are really pretty awesome.

    When I fell down, three strangers rushed to my aid, gave me Kleenex, and helped me to my feet. One of them found me coming in the next morning and walked beside me the whole way, just in case. I skipped meals for three days because I couldn't figure out how to carry food before I finally asked for a Lunch Sherpa volunteer, and half a dozen people offered to help carry my baked potato. The kids have stepped up and started doing the cooking and cleaning (although, at first, Bruce had to be instructed on what a pantry was). Brent and Molly (my ex and his girlfriend) came over to help fix the broken brake. My friend Cynthia has brought me breakfast unasked several times, magically on some of my lowest days (you know someone cares when they bring you a Bill Miller breakfast taco).

    I am used to being the person who takes care of others. I hate asking for help. I hate being weak. I'm furious at myself for needing help. And I absolutely loathe myself for having a preventable disease (diabetes) that caused the neuropathy that enabled me to soldier on through pain long enough to get Shark Week. I imagine people looking at me on my sad little scooter and judging me--for being overweight, for being diabetic, for everything I've done or not done in my life that could have led me to being temporarily disabled at the age of 46. I imagine the conservatives looking at me and saying, "There goes another drain on our health care system! We shouldn't have to subsidize her healthcare!" I imagine the liberals looking at me and saying, "What does she expect? She ate a carne guisada taco! If she'd just go vegan and bike to work, she'd be healthy." (Note: a Bill Miller carne guisada taco is a known cure for veganism. Those things are awesome.) I do know that most of these people are just me, in disguise, and that nothing they say is true.

    And so I've disappeared off social media, largely into a dark place of staring into space, knitting, tears,  and Mahjong while I've gotten used to the lack of freedom that comes with the cast and scooter. Every problem, from grocery shopping to showering, has, sooner or later, been matched up with a solution, even if it's not the solution I'd like. My kids are learning some life skills. I even discovered that I've lost 30 lbs from my peak weight, in a slow, steady way. So, all is not bad. And, yes, I realize that many people suffer much more on a daily basis than I do, and that I am blessed that Shark Week is curable at this stage. (And I know these things because the judgmental voices in my head keep telling me so, while berating me for feeling sad and sorry for myself and reminding me of the suffering and injustice in the world.)

    I left the house today to get a massage, because, dang it, if anybody needs a little self-care at the moment, it's me. My massage healer says she sees this as an old, gnarled grove of trees, hacked down to the roots. She sees me moving through that grove, doing the hard work of pulling up the rotted roots, and, when I'm done, I will plant a field of flowers in its place, transforming the landscape. I hope so. (She has also been telling me literally for years that I need to learn how to receive love. I am certainly getting the opportunity to do so now.)

    So, there are a lot of things I'm giving up in the short term: back to school night, tax free weekend, poetry events, scheduling book signings for The Golden Feather, baths, cooking new recipes, going to the gym, shopping, travel, Write Away Days and workshops, poetry festivals, etc. But it is with the goal that I heal as fast as possible so I can get back to all of those things. And more. My Wish List in my bullet journal is full of things that I can't do in a cast.

    And you know who's going to be just as happy when I get out of my cast?


    Because then he'll have the scooter all to himself.

    Mobility aid? Nah, that's a feline jungle gym.

    Thursday, June 28, 2018

    The Origins of the Windemeres are Shrouded in Dense Nagging

    Overthinking: something Bob never, ever does.
    He does, however, frequently overlick.
    This leads to hairballs.
    It's hard to believe it's been two weeks since my first novel came out, which makes it sound like "The Golden Feather" discovered its sexual identity, so perhaps that's why people say "released," which sounds like it just got out of the big house after a 20-year stint for armed robbery, so maybe I should just say "got published," but that sounds like this magical thing that happened sort of all at once, when in fact there was a year-long trail of teeny tiny milestones, sort of like reflectors in the middle of the highway, and the only all-at-once thing that happened was the moment I looked up and saw the giant headlights of Amazon with the words, "Status: available" etched into the grille.

    So, yeah. I made a book.

    The questions I've been most frequently asked are:

    1. How long did it take to write?
    2. Where did you get the idea?

    The adorable face (and blue hair)
    of persistence.

    Both questions have the same answer: Betty.

    In October 2016, Betty was obsessed with fairy tales. We bought books of them at Half Price Books from countries all over the world. Her favorite is a dark green hardbound collection of both Grimm and Andersen (she prefers Grimm). We read those stories night after night. After night.

    One night, after yet another round of Grimm, Betty had an idea: why couldn't I write her a fairy tale? All it needed was a princess and some talking animals. Could I have it by tomorrow?

    Now, I had not written anything longer than a 10-page short story at that point. And I hadn't even written a short story in a couple of years. All I'd written were poems, and those were generally short. Really short. I've written dozens with fewer than eight lines.

    However, it was an interesting challenge, and Betty is a world class nagger, in the manner perfected by youngest children, so I accepted. During my lunch hour the next day, I started sketching out Betty's fairy tale. The princess was, of course, named Bettina (of Windemere), and she had a pet leopard named Malalah, because Betty's fondest ambition is to own 200 cats and a goat, which also explains why the wise nanny goat Amalthea charged into the book later on.
    Where's that chapter, Mother Dear?
    You HAVE finished it, haven't you?

    After half an hour or so, I realized I had a problem: what I'd written wasn't a fairy tale like those we'd been reading. In fact, it was more like the Cliff's Notes summary of a fairy novel. 

    Well, I reasoned, we'll probably both get bored before I finish a book anyway, so why not start and see? So that night, after everyone was in bed, I wrote Chapter 1 and read it to Betty the next day. She immediately begged for Chapter 2. Which led, after many, many nights, to another couple dozen chapters. She'd bounce up and down for the suspenseful parts, cackle at the funny parts, cover her eyes when Bettina was in danger (especially if the danger was embarrassing herself), and squeal with delight when something wonderful happened.

    Every night she was with me, she'd beg for a chapter, and most of those nights she'd have one, if only because I couldn't bear to disappoint her. Reading the drafts out loud made problems with pacing, voice, and cadence easy to spot, and I could see my audience reacting (or not) as I read, so usually after reading the chapter aloud, she would go to bed and I would immediately start editing what I'd just written.

    Betty unwrapping the box of proof copies
    of "The Golden Feather." 
    The final chapter was finished at 1 a.m. Christmas morning, just eight weeks after I began. Betty (and her siblings) were to go to their dad's house for a week after Christmas lunch, and Betty wanted to hear the end of her book before she went.

    Now, writing anything that fast means there's a lot of editing to be done on the back end, and that is for sure what happened with "The Golden Feather." I went to several workshops at The Writing Barn, each resulting in extensive rewriting. The first and last chapters in particular are almost unrecognizable from that first draft.  There followed developmental editing, then copy editing, then proofreading, then more proofreading.

    But the book would never have been there to edit in the first place had it not been for the daily, persistent, refrain of, "Do you have another chapter, Mom? Do you? Do you? WHY NOT?????" of my youngest child and most relentless taskmaster, Betty.