Monday, September 17, 2012

The Wink of Potential

2012 (c) Amanda Morris Johnson
Seven Months out from surgery today! It seems like forever, but I know it is not really that long in any real perspective. I feel a bit like I’ve gone from newborn to a  seven-month old in terms of the leaps of knowledge that have occurred. I’ve gone from, “I don’t know,” to “I don’t know and that’s all right.” Grin. I know how to smile and laugh and sit up now. Of course, I write metaphorically. I could do those things within coming out of anesthesia in the hospital, but now I seem to understand the reality of what’s going on a bit better.

Here’s the thing: They weren’t kidding when they said it would take a long time to heal. Considering how much better and brighter I felt within weeks of the brain surgery, I did have the hubris to believe that I was all better more than once along the way. What I have learned is that the things I am able to do, and the things I ought to do are not a necessary match in the scope of self-care, and real holistic health. I am able to do pretty much anything I want, even write, but my constant temptation to show this to myself and anyone in my periphery is dangerous to my full recovery. I’ve paid for over-doing time and time again since the beginning of summer time because I am stubborn about my ability and not stubborn about my rest. I am trying, trying to switch this in my thinking and planning, but am really an amateur at knowing what schedule I can really handle and I know there is so much I want to be that rest, meh, seems like a Universal manipulation to undo my ambition to be frank, and yet...

When I do too much, and I write this for anyone recovering from serious surgery, I pay for it. There is no recourse. I am down and out, and it isn’t from major efforts. It is from
efforts I consider normal, like seeing friends, taking on a little more work, and generally expecting myself to be productive. I can’t do that yet. It seems insane to me most of the time to say, “No, thanks, I’m not up for it,” when I feel fine. But just because I feel fine after a good low-down time, does not mean I will feel fine after I do the most mundane things to “catch-up” with one thing or another. In fact, I will be knocked out. I am susceptible to colds and headaches, like everyone else who is overdone, but what I am most susceptible to is exhaustion, and it feels disappointing and pathetic to me sometimes.

I really understand how frustrated babies must feel when they cannot do yet what they want to do. It is just around the bend, so close, but sitting up alone, or standing up at the
coffee table is simply not a solo act yet for them. Eating chewy foods are out of the question. Ah, the life of a babe. It seems from the very start of life we are in a rush to catch up and catch on and perform. Is it even possible, within our nature, to be calm and enjoy being slow, and being where we are at? Maybe only if we are surrounded by folks who are in exactly the same place and that doesn’t happen ever, and I suspect even then we’d compete to see who elevated off the floor first.

How can I limit myself, and admit that I cannot take on a normal life when I want a normal life? It is not possible. I just keep edging forward until I fall. I cry like a big baby at the
feeling of failure. Then I do it again!  I really believe this is the nature of our being and to pretend that I’m going to acquiesce to self-limitation until I am better is like putting a child in a car seat and never unbuckling him. I’m going to fall over and have a few bruises and need some recovery time, but each time my determination enters that recovery time sooner. I remember that my potential for accomplishing my dreams is as important as lying down to lick my wounds.

Today, I am in bed with laryngitis, but lack the interest in staring blankly out the window has caused me to write, when drawing out on the dining room table seems too energetic. I will not last all day here. The person I want to be whispers in my ears constantly, “Get up and see what happens...” like the "Cabaceo" look of a gentleman who'd like to dance with me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Truth is Strange

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”
Mark Twain

I never wanted to be a journalist. There was a lot of insistence that this would be my best route to writing professionally, but in my experience Fiction did tell me the truth in ways that a biography or an article never did. I am in awe of fiction more than of facts. I never wanted to write memoirs either. The simple reason for this is because I knew that my memory was already selective and that I could not write the facts, nor could anyone else without blithering mistakes. It could be nothing but a lie. Now, we are in the age of the blog and social media, and what am I writing? I’m writing a journal, an examination of my opinions and experiences as they unfold as if they are the whole truth. It’s not a new thing to write this way, but it is public for the first time, and are there layers of information that I keep to myself? Of course, there are! So is this fiction or facts, and where is the truth?

I’ve been thinking of this for a long time. That's a fact. Why don’t we see loads of fiction unfolding in the blogosphere? Tales that draw us into to imaginary worlds, exploring the interior of minds that were invented? What would Mark Twain do with this medium, this internet of no particular reason except to share facts and opinions? Lately, even the publishing industry has been taken aback from the success of fiction in books to the point where for the last decade people have tried turning their works of fiction into “memoirs” only to admit later that they lied (see Beth Hayden’s blog today on Copyblogger).

The more I learned about writing fiction in the medium that I chose - film - the less fun it became. There was little play for me in laying out the whole thing on notecards before I wrote the first line of dialogue. I understood the part of Twain’s quote that went, “...Fiction is obliged to stick with possibilities...” It meant that I had to decide what the possible outcome would be and build my story around it. Whereas in the realm of journalism and facts, well I watch the stories unfold often to my amazement, sometimes to my disdain and I'm never really committed by that observation to the truth. A great fiction writer has to have a sense of the “truth” before writing about it. A journalist finds out the “truth” as it unfolds, only making a conclusion, if making a conclusion, at the very end.  Bloggers freely state opinions and offer facts and tie it up, but only the best build a frame of context, and, if they do this much, it might be somewhat fictional. The essential thing with blogs is that they've determined a point of view about reality and they find facts to uphold it. Does this mean it is the truth? Does this make it journalism?

This must be very confusing to creative writing teachers. Classes I have had since my youth, laid out a false expectation that as I wrote fiction I would discover something I didn’t know while writing a piece of fiction. There is no discovery for a fiction writer, only for a fiction writer’s readers.

But what of the audience? Why has the audience lost respect for the amazing feat of the fiction writer to find the truth AND THEN tell it in a way that the audience can discover it? Why is it unacceptable, for instance, to posit that the Bible itself is only part fact, and mostly fiction taught by the greatest minds of its time through poetry and story? Why must we have the literal belief of everything in order to own its truth? Have we become a world obsessed by fact-finding because of the journalistic claim that that is what they are presenting?

Lately, I’ve become addicted to Aaron Sorkin’s new show on HBO, “The Newsroom,” and the obsession its characters have with sticking with the facts. They have created etiquette about what is wrong with America by pointing out that what is now presented on television as fact is actually fiction and fantasy. I love this show and I believe the point of view completely. Yet, I do not ever forget that it is imaginary, that there are NO news organizations pursuing the facts in this way today except maybe a comedian named Jon Stewart. If Aaron Sorkin had based the show on "The Daily Show" then it would be virtually a piece of journalism and we would watch it unfold, but then Aaron Sorkin could not be loyal to his possibilities about what would happen if journalists told the truth.

So, today, I have no answer to my question. This makes me a journalist more than a fiction writer. Sigh. I am in a state of discovery. I admit it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What I Know That I Didn't Know Before

Is it really August? Six months out from my brain surgery and I sometimes have no idea how to look at my life. I have to say the overarching theme is acceptance, and the undertow is over-doing, but maybe those are just on the surface, maybe underneath those obvious things something else is happening. Am I really different than I was before I was diagnosed with a benign meningioma last October? Yes, I am. No, I am not.

If you’ve been reading this blog or following me on Facebook, you know that I’ve been very prolific in expressing myself through working with oil pastels since March. My interest in doing that goes back before the brain surgery, but then something blocked my ability to accept that my drawing was acceptable. Much of my pre-surgery work is muddied with a question mark about whether or not I’m good at it or whether I should spend so much time playing with it when there are other more important things to accomplish. I would say that after the brain surgery I misplaced the filter that didn’t allow experiment or even a development of concepts and practice time. That filter disappeared nearly completely, though now I am conscious that I must choose to ignore it when it returns, and it does, until hopefully someday it will just be an archived file of used-to-be.

Falling in love with visual art again has opened new doors for me about how I view my future, how my family sees my time and efforts and how I connect with my friends and acquaintances. This is something I’ve been seeking for years! The enjoyment I get from simply sharing my work and seeing how it strikes people’s fancy is immeasurable. Just fills my heart with joy.

Dare I be honest? Of course, honesty, as undoing as it is, is the mission of Kosmic Egg Projects, myself by a company name. Nearly a decade ago I had already reached the end of my love affair with being a “hack” as my father might define me -- a copywriter, a content provider, a writer-for-hire, a copy editor and yet I continued to pursue the work for the pure reason of supporting my family and having some “freedom” to raise my children. More recently, after 20 years as a word-based communicator, I was already having trouble keeping even an ember of interest lit for a business focused on selling things and ideas with words. Before I was diagnosed, I was deeply depressed about losing my way off the creative path that I *really wanted* to be upon even though I enjoyed teaching creative screenwriting more than just about anything else I made myself do for a living. Still, I felt it was fraudulent, since I could no longer make myself write three scenes myself. I could not appreciate that I had anything valuable to share except what I had failed to stick to myself and achieve even though I knew what needed to be done. This obsession leaked into every part of my life before I was diagnosed. Who knows? It may have fed the tumor to begin with, or, perhaps, the tumor was the crime.

Diagnosis of having a brain tumor just exactly on the part of my brain that should be getting things done, that should be writing well was a huge relief. It was like a “get-out-of-jail” card. It opened the possibility that I didn’t have to write anymore. Can you believe someone who has spent thirty years now studying, practicing, working, and teaching writing was so elated to even think, “I may never do it again,” as a good thing? It is true, as much as I wrung my hands over it here. It is true. There was a little elation.

So I have watched this part of my life and wondered, “Am I really allowed to stop?” I mean we have discovered, together, that I can still write. It has nothing to do with the brain or lack thereof, if I choose not to write anymore. Accepting this possibility into my thoughts throws me into a fit, an internal argument about who I am down to my core. I have been a writer. I may not have achieved what I expected to achieve, but that is what I have been for so long that I cannot think of myself without that definition attached like a talking bubble that follows me everywhere. To claim it as my own without disrespecting my effort was the argument before diagnosis, but the idea of stopping and cutting it free, is unbelievably shocking. Almost like the thought of losing a parent or child, it is that close to the heart. Do these things happen? I feel like I must go to the edge of this abyss and decide finally whether I’m going to walk back away from it, or finally jump in with all my heart.

What does that mean? Wait. I am an artist. I draw pictures. There is a future there that makes sense to begin. What is this writing thing? It’s just an old, beat up stone that’s hanging off a cliff now, and I could cut the chain.

Six months out from surgery, I’m recovering. The left side of my face is feeling heat now for the first time in that long. I am taking tango lessons again and re-learning how to walk in my body, to be flexible, to glide, to feel sexy again. I am drawing better and better, and learning about how a picture can be a thousand words. Still, those words...they keep on pulling me until I decide.

The great thing I know now, that I did not know before this brain adventure, is that there is no way to predict the outcome of my decision. I could do everything right and be exactly where I stand today. I could "catch the thread of luminescence" as Oriah Mountain Dreamer calls "The Call" and have a glorious adventure. I only have to decide whether I am curious about what might happen if...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Time Management

               Besides the challenge of coming up with the word that describes a person who has moved in from somewhere else, with a conversation like this, 
“There are so many trans...”
            “....ients? Transients?”
            “Uhm. Sort not transience. Not transcendental. Hmm. Like, implant from another place.”
            “Yes! So many transplants now! Yes.”

Besides the word challenge, there is the time management challenge...


The Fool Sketch
            I have had several moments of weeping, growling, cursing and praying or is it really arguing with God about sending support for dealing with time management this weekend. As the weekend starts to unravel on Friday afternoon with too much exhaustion to follow through on Friday night’s plans and taking care of a sick child and visiting with my temporarily-at-home husband, already I should have been adjusting to get ahead with Saturday morning’s plan. Har. When I started out exhausted, it didn’t mean that I would actually go to bed earlier. To me it meant I would reduce my potential experiences on Friday night from three to two.
            I won’t even go back and explain why I was tired. It was embarrassing. I was aghast at my ability to completely space out my commitments. It isn’t important. It’s the way these days. It’s just the way.
            My choice for dealing with exhaustion was, instead of going out to an art gallery opening for just an hour to see an old friend’s new business, I would stay home and make dinner, that I hadn’t planned on making, for two people (my daughter and husband) who were supposed to be somewhere else. I decided I would hang out with them for precious-to-my-heart’s moments of conversation and laughter. I would not trouble them with my need to take off chipped nail polish because I can barely stand to smell that nail polish remover myself. I would put off dealing with the laundry to the next afternoon when I got back from the outing I had planned for Saturday morning. I would stay with them as long as I could because their presence is always a gift and special when unplanned.
            So Saturday morning arrived and the chipped nail polish screamed at me after I’d walked the dog, made the coffee, and done everything else to get ready to stick to my original plan on 5 ½ hours’ sleep. What about fifteen minutes before I had to leave? I could surely remove chipped nail polish in fifteen minutes. Har. Obviously I haven’t painted my fingernails with color for many years. Fifteen minutes covered a single thumbnail. Once one thumbnail is colorless the rest of the nails’ volume increased. Finally, already running 20 minutes later than I’d planned, I gave up with one hand nearly done, if very red now, and the other looking more chipped than ever.
            Fuck it. I’m an artist with funky undone nails. Yeah baby.
            Wish I was that tough. Instead, I’m standing over the sink weeping over the fact that I can’t get this small task right. My husband rubs my back and tells me not to worry about it, but to get out there into the world.  How hard is it to leave my home for a few hours in the morning? Every morning I would weep, if I could get away with it, but there are the dog, kids, family and friends that expect that getting out of the house is not really a big deal. I always have run a tiny bit late, but now, it is exponential. I have no sense of how many tasks I can handle in any given period of time, and, lately, I seem to always commit myself to too many.
            It was so much fun when I finally arrived to get to know two women better than I knew them when I used to know them. That’s how it is with time. We walked around the place we would have walked around thirty years ago, had we walked around together at that time at all, but the fact that we all knew the place and culture so well, and had so many folds of our lives touching, it was as if we had, of course, done this before. (Thank you Alice and Stephany, for your patience with me, and for a lovely morning looking at art. It was truly inspirational.)
            By noon, I could not absorb any more visual information, nor carry on a conversation with the words I meant. For instance, in a moment of intended helpfulness, I replaced “pool cue” in the conversation for “fishing rod” for no more reason I suppose than its long narrow shape, and the possibility of it being in a garage.  Because…that’s how my brain works now.  I pleaded the fifth of brain surgery recovery, and left like a good girl. Driving back home I remembered something I’d forgotten.
            I had promised to talk to a friend this weekend, after missing several chances in the last week. She’s on East coast time, and so the trick is to talk in the morning, but have my mornings been open this weekend? Of course, not. Did I realize they would be filled? Sort of, kind of. I knew I was going out with my new-old friends. I pulled over and texted a message that I’d be home and ready to talk. Was I? Of course not.
            When I got home, several hours walking, talking and looking at art, not to mention driving there and back LATER, had me exhausted. I climbed in bed next to my ever-reading husband and fell asleep for 10 minutes! Then he coughed. I woke. Then he left the room, I slept for another 10 minutes. Then my medication alarm went off. No sleep. I rose, I wandered. Completely out of touch with the memory that I’d promised to call my friend. I checked in with my daughter, who’d decided to stay another night, and thought I better come up with some dinner. I headed out to the store. I remembered I already had food. I came home. I sat down and sketched a few moments and finally remembered. I sent a text message, to my friend apologizing that I hadn’t called, predicting Sunday morning would be better.
            I made food. Ah yes! I hadn’t eaten anything all day! It was like that. It is like that. Between taking medications and eating, remembering just those two simple things, it is a veritable hammer-head situation. (As I’m writing this, I realize my alarm has gone off at least once, maybe two times today and I haven’t taken my medication yet.)  I watched a children’s cartoon as I ate my omelet at 3:30 pm and felt better.
            What to do? It is just stunning these moments of blankness that take over finally. What can I get done? This is the question that floats through my brain like a mist that hasn’t formed yet into a good, soaking rain.
            It’s been 24 hours since then. I still haven’t spoken to my friend on the East Coast because I had forgotten there would be the time suck of getting my husband fed for his driving day back to the work site, and getting my daughter fed, and ready to go to her dad’s and driving her there and back. I forgot about the time it would take to walk the dog now that it is a reasonable 65 degrees instead of 105 degrees. I forgot that I didn’t have aluminum foil, which is something I needed to make the thing I wanted to make, and so also there was the trip to the store and back, and then oh yes, oh yes, it is my step-mother’s 65th birthday, and I needed to get fresh cut flowers because that is what she likes best. At the store I momentarily forgot why I was there, but luckily I remembered that and a few other things.
            Yes, I would weep over the sink everyday over these overlapping things that do not stay in my mind (I’ve already forgotten about taking my medications again), even when I have alarms and calendars, lists and post-it notes. I’m going to go and take my medication now, Time. Thanks for reminding me.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Word. Words?

The Cave
The most difficult thing is to communicate, to explain anything as I am recovering from the removal of my benign meningioma (the brain tumor that was diagnosed in October of 2011). While I may seem to be myself, I really do not feel myself yet...over four months out from surgery. I enjoy being alive and I am experiencing a creative surge that my productivity can barely keep up with, and most of all I am grateful surgery went well and I can still be available to my kids and my husband in the most important and general ways. Yet, there are disconnections and missteps and losses that pop up into my day-to-day existence that cause me to ponder how to really get to recovery that feels 100% beyond the general and that is specifically me, the person I know myself to be.

Writing from the heart is, perhaps, my greatest challenge. I write something over and over again now, that, before this adventure, may have seemed acceptable after one or two tries. My heart feels disconnected from words mostly. I do not know currently if it is because I was blinded to the confusion in my structure and connection before, or whether it is because I will run into a word that I have an idea for but cannot locate in reality, and this is part of recovering. I’m quick to replace those words but often my replacements lead me down another road than I’d intended. This happens in conversation as well, a constant reaching for words that match my ideas and thoughts. I used to have a vocabulary.

Further developing this word replacement in a “benign” way, a way that is constantly entertaining to my kids, my brain seems to work a lot like a smartphone type screen - in that it offers a slew of words that are somewhat similar in spelling and often chooses that word arbitrarily. Spelling or phonetic choice having a higher priority than meaning everytime. I try to catch these words and replace them correctly as soon as I can, but, if you’ve used a smartphone at all, you know that it is a frequent problem to have commented in a way you never intended. Bring that to a conversation. Add another person to the conversation, or a roomful of conversations, or a radio or a television in the background and imagine the brain reaches out and grabs any number of words and spews them into the conversation you’re having with complete disregard to what you’re actually talking about. Yes. I’m a lot of fun. My daughter says with an awesome smile on her face, “Mom, you said that with so much confidence!”

I’m wondering if I’m writing any of this in a way that you can understand, but I’m going ahead and posting it just to see what the response is because maybe I’m the only one that is frustrated. Because this is the other thing, when I try to read this stuff, it is difficult to decipher. It is difficult to decipher an article, a chapter, anything longer than 144 characters. I feel like I should hold my hand and get serious about sitting for an hour reading, but after 10 minutes, I’m lost sometimes. Not always, but sometimes I am simply unable to read. Sometimes a person hands me a business card or an appointment card and I look at it as if it is a picture, waiting for comprehension.
Nature's Balance

All of this word stuff would be driving me even more crazy except for the fact that I feel free, in a way, of the obligation to know everything for once. I have become aware of the weight of my expectations around words. I would like to skip the know-it-all need sometimes. Sometimes I would like to turn my back on the old way, and accept that I’m now primarily a visual person, someone who communicates with icons and symbols. Sometimes.

Then I have an idea for a story, or a letter, a good conversation or a speech and I’m revived in the battle to win my brain back.

2012 (c) Amanda Morris Johnson

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Healing by the Season

It’s been about ten weeks since they sawed a piece of my skull out and entered my brain with a knife, and recovering has been AMAZING, like an early spring. After stubbornly facing brain surgery even when it was very scary, it has been astounding how fast feeling good, even better, returned, after years of feeling mediocre. I don’t have the endless low-grade headache anymore. I can affirm I’ve already lost ten pounds only because I don’t feel the need to energize myself with food anymore. My hair fell out last fall like leaves off an aspen in October, and it is now growing back like the leaves on an aspen in spring, all at once. I’m the star patient of my doctors, an affirmation that they did the right thing.

In the same ten weeks spring sprang on us ravenously and rapidly. Such an early spring that nations are sneezing all around the northern hemisphere.  We struggle to fully enjoy it when concerns about a dry summer rise, and fires are already cropping up like the best produce offered this year. It seems that this is the perfect metaphor for my healing experience. It is nearly impossible to say, “too much, too soon,” but it looms.

I remember this particular early crocus from my miraculous recovery: we were all a chatter of excitement about my return from the land of the dead after my surgery, and it was ravishing! Just like before the evidence of any spring blossoms or greening up even at the edge of a sidewalk, the birds knew everything was going to be all right, we also knew that my brain made it through the roughest patch. Lots of chirping.  Ah. This was one of the happiest moments of my life so far. It didn’t matter that there was still snow here and there. Even though there were the few things I needed to straighten out along the way all that really mattered was that I could bask in consciousness. I could walk, talk and even write somewhat. The birds returned.

Then the amazing buds arrived as I began walking my dog, Lucille, around the trails, and the days became longer, and the sun became warmer. As my body returned to functioning, I was overwhelmed by the beauty around me to the point that I saw shapes, forms, colors as never before and felt the need to begin expressing them as shapes, forms and colors of pastel on paper. The buds blossomed and the drawings blossomed and it was gorgeous inside and outside of my brain. It was one tree after another, one painting after another and the birds upped their ante and sang for connections, and so did I.

It was a thrill to feel better, so much so that when invited to do something that I’d been saying, “No, can’t do that now,” for six months, I struggled to hesitate at all and often slipped into saying, “Yes! Yes, please!” It would have been impossible for the crab apple trees to second-guess their beautiful early blossoms. Wouldn’t it? I simply bloomed with, “Yes,” to everything that was offered at first, until the storm arrived and blew the energy of my artwork out the door because there were other things I’d promised. The wind and sleet blew all of the crab apple trees’ blossoms off before the bees and butterflies made it out of hibernation. I felt sorry for the trees, and this caused me some vague self-pity too. I felt concerned that, perhaps, I should have paid attention to the doctors who urged me to take things slowly.  Yet, I wanted to live up to what I had committed to somehow. It felt unnatural to say, “No,” anymore, even though I was often embarrassed by the result of “phenomenal me” disintegrating. How to stop bursting back, I wondered?

Still, it isn’t exactly like I was returned to mediocrity exactly, any more than the trees sucked in their buds for a later date that would have been healthier. It was some other disconnect. For instance, I’m a good cook and so, almost immediately on release from the hospital, I started cooking for my husband and family and was greatly relieved that I could pick this up where I left off, to the point where I backed away from the help offered me by others. Another early blossom? Yes. Oops. I was like a two year old saying, “I do it myself!”

Now, when my children ask me a question, or I get an idea to write a poem or draw a picture, my attention shifts from cooking COMPLETELY. I burn dinner. I simply forget I am cooking dinner. I can’t say that never happened before brain surgery. I can only say that it was not often, and now it is often. It ain’t incense. I realize late that the lovely assistance of having people help me to cook had nothing to do with my cooking abilities, but with the ability of my brain to focus on more than one thing at a time. I feel silly about asking for help when I am often fine, and unpredictable in my “need” mode, and so it boils down to something else, too.

What do I give my attention to? Necessities? Expressions? Requests? Questions? Decisions? Bah! At least, I am sleeping through the night again.

Kim the Knowing

Multi-tasking turns out to be impossible at the moment. This spring has been strange with all the trees blooming at once somehow, and for me explosions of poetry and the ability to read more than a paragraph and DRIVING my car again happened to me all at once. Oh man. Driving. It is so gratifying to be able to go to pick my kids up from school, to go to the grocery store again when I forgot to buy something (so very often). The trees get their leaves, and  I get my responsibilities.

My concern rises again: Where are the bees?  Normally it is too early to be buzzing around efficiently. They’re just now emerging from their hives a month after all the blossoms. I have seen only one butterfly and the lilacs are in full bloom. The lawns mowed now, but the mountains’ snow is already running down to ponds in a sorry manner so that I see geese and ducks fighting each other for the right to lay their eggs at the few sustainable places. Life cannot happen all at once. I am also the most gigantic spring sneeze I can remember, as I collapse every few days from this, yes,  too-much-too-soon scenario.

Grasping for relief I ask myself, what could I calm down reasonably? I noticed the birds were calmer during mid-day. Not so much chatter. What were they doing? I found that they were nesting. There were the birds flying by with twigs and grass from last year in their little beaks. No time to talk. I followed their direction. Stop chatting so much! I apologize. I have to stop talking all day and focus on building my creations, and this is a huge leap for me into a new state of being. It means I don’t just lay my eggs (my creations) along the way, leave them there for another chance. Actually I create a safe place for them to develop and stay with them until they hatch. Hawks spending chunks of time surfing on the warm funnels of air that rise from the fields give me perspective to see the big picture and not just temporary glories. Maybe if I focused on creating quietly and in a self-protected zone during the day, then I could actually start cooking dinner at 5 pm. Well, it is a thought at least.

Meanwhile the lawn-mowing has brought up a new realization. Summer is almost here. There will be days of tending to things and days where nothing will be tended, and my husband will be out of town for work, and it will be hot and slow. There is only so much time for each thing when only one thing can be done at a time. My kids are growing up so fast. Complexities must be abandoned now. I simply must say, “no,” and clip back at the incredible desire to say “yes” to everything with the understanding this will keep the growth fresh for a while longer.

Maybe it was the scare of having an arrow fly through my life, a brain tumor, and the joy that  life blooms here now. I know it is possible for me to focus only on my own priorities: my creative projects, my family and my time.  Yes, there are going to be fewer blooms, but timed for fruit-bearing pollination hopefully.  

I am improving at the artificial life tests thrust at me by the Universe to see if I know what I know. I see the familiar comfort they offer -- those old ways of pleasing others with predictable patterns, so many blushes of color, guaranteed to squeeze out some approval. I see how that serves no purpose in the long-run. This time I bloomed wildly and early, and I know why. I’ve seen what happens when I walk right into what I fear, and it is good.   There is no pity in the lessons of early spring, the mistakes and sneezes, the blooming gorgeousness. There is no pity knowing it will pass into a summer that will require attention and focus like no other. To every season, turn, turn, turn….

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What’s sitting at the Head of the Table in You?

This is week seven of recovering from brain surgery.  In the last few weeks I’ve seen the neurologist, the neurosurgeon, the osteopath and the dentist.  I’ve pulled a little dissolving thread from my head that I didn’t even know was there.  I’ve talked to some folks who’ve been down this road. I’ve been coming to terms with some different concepts in the last ten days or so about what denotes “recovered” and what is a work in progress and let go of knowing what's around the corner.
Road of Pearls

I can report that the neurologist and the neurosurgeon are very pleased with my progress. The wound is pretty much healed now and my hair has grown back around it to “tuft” level. I’m taking pain relievers only once or twice a day and just at an over-the-counter dose now. My headaches have lightened up to a weight that is often lighter than they were for years prior to the diagnosis and surgery, spiking only with weather changes and allergy season. I even think I realigned my jaw, with the help of the osteopath, by yawning incessantly for a few days to the point where the throbbing pain, that sent me to the dentist in a panic about potential root canals, has diminished.

What I have been bothered by is much more subtle than the physical symptoms that dominated my concerns for months, and has shifted my ideas about where I might be headed to, to definitely not knowing. These trends emerging within myself are both amazingly cheerful, and dismally fearful, and seem to lead to new revelations of self-definition on a daily basis.

I’ve been focusing on the ends of the spectrum in my thoughts about it: expectancy and curiosity, blind spots and mindfulness; holding on and letting go; order and chaos, and lucidity and imagination. For instance, when my expectations fade away almost thoughtlessly, my curiosity rises and becomes the leader. When simply knowing what to do next is absent from my table, there is my imagination mysteriously sitting near the head with new ideas.

If you read “My Stroke of Insight,” or see the TED video by Harvard Neuroscientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., this can be intellectually understood. In fact, I thought that at some level there would be a rebalancing of brain use from the left side to the right side while I healed from surgery. I just didn't know what it would be like. Since my tumor was caught early, upon a partial aphasia seizure rather than the complete wipe out that Dr. Taylor suffered with an aneurysm, I thought it would be a minor thing, and maybe it is a minor thing. I still recognize words and numbers, faces and signs after all. I know where I am. I know the people around me, unlike her experience where she could not even recognize her own mother. I haven’t had any trouble walking, and I’ve even been given the go ahead to drive again because it has been 6 months (October 2, 2011) since I was diagnosed as having had a partial seizure.

Still, the rebalance act has surprised me in many ways. I promised to write about nerves and tears and it is more than that. Let's just start there though. When I cry, I expect tears to come out of both eyes, but I find now that only the right eye responds to my feelings of joy or sadness. My left eye is completely tearless and neutral and that causes me to stop and notice it, and when I stop and notice that my left eye is neutral, often my entire emotional experience drains out of me. My curiosity is stronger than my emotions or my expectations suddenly.

The important absence of a single tear  has switched the power of my own responses in a way I never guessed it would. I don’t feel I’ve been robbed of my feelings so much as I feel that they are less necessary than they once were, because now instead of dragging on for hours or days, they come and go quite quickly, like the weather I always swore they were because I’m no longer totally invested in them, whether with resistance or permission. As I’ve become used to having no tears in my left eye, I’ve been more aware the intellectual rejection of my cry has gone now too because I know without doubt it will pass. Now I cry until I cannot sustain that feeling. When there is no logical resistance, or guilty thinking, I go deeper into an awareness of what brought me to tears in the first place in that moment, right away.

Here is an example of how it works. I’m feeling frustrated about writing at the moment. It’s taken days and days of thinking to write about how this rebalance is occurring, and even more challenging is dealing with metaphors that appear as pictures in my brain but don’t travel over to the word side of my brain as easily as they have in the past. I find I want to draw a picture instead of stitching together two ideas with words in hopes that someone understands what I’m getting at. I’m even having trouble reading more than a paragraph at a time. I recognize the words, but they're just a jumble and I have to take it slowly to really understand them. Everything about words has slowed down incredibly in a period of my life when I deeply wanted to be making progress.

I was looking forward to purchasing a book of poetry by a wonderful poet in Denmark, Bo Gorzelak Pedersen, (more to be found at Red Door) and there have been delays and I was sad about it (though he promises that the book will happen and to be patient).  I was sad and I could only tie it to my desire to get back into reading and writing by focusing on something new that I know I will enjoy and I selfishly told him so. Then he posted this poem, and I burst into right-sided tears upon reading it…

By Bo Gorzelak Pedersen

Night like an absence of music, 
just a hole for your eyes and the creeping ivy gone black.
Unfamiliar things and things not forgotten, unforgettable things,
it’s the same skin for it all. Echoes of fading and fading echoes.
No reasons why and no why. No multitudes. Nada.
Only what was chewed and spat and left
for the slowest of winds to collect. 
I am trying to read a poem, but it makes no sense.
I can do nothing but shadows.

Immediately, I noticed the lack of left-sided tears and next the right-sided tears disappeared, and I was left with a neutral feeling that I must use it as an example of exactly what’s going on, finally, a way to explain the switch I am experiencing.  Before I would have read it, hailed it as wonderful and felt compelled to go write something. Whether inspired or competitive, his writing has done that to me in the past because I admire its grace and bull's eye. While wishing that I could have written something like it, knowing it is out of range for me right now, I now really wanted to make a picture of this GHOST. I may indeed.

However, I started this blog all over again.  After all, as I said, I am able to see everything that I saw before surgery; it’s just that I can’t express it as I would like to express it. Everything is too formal, too rhyming, too disconnected between imagery and words…but here is this poem by Mr. Pedersen…and it collected the shadows of days when it was connected, when I could enjoy chasing the discombobulated image rising with words that made sense, and I could cry with overwhelmed feelings and no neutrality entering the picture for hours, or days, or months. Like a baby with no tears I recover quickly. This poem captured for me what I cannot seem to capture right now – echoes of fading and fading echoes. It’s all I can absorb when it comes to words, no matter how many times I re-read and re-write. A poem like this engulfs me with a feeling of being recognized, known, and I want to hold it and express it like I'd imagine a ghost wants to hold the material world it drifts through. I find that is more likely with an oil pastel than with my keyboard presently, because I'm lately unclear about what I want to write, even right now.

There’s more to say, or write, but I feel like already I’ve gone on much longer than I would have before.  Suffice it to say that the neurosurgeon said it would take time to reintegrate my right and left brain, to get the nerves in my face out of a state of Novocain, to develop tears in my left eye. How much time? Up to two years. The neurologist told me that in spite of the external signs of healing, the inside of my brain has essentially been hit with a hatchet, and I need to learn some patience. 

Two years is the subtle, or not so subtle, indication that my writing is going to focus on small challenges for a while longer in order to integrate things that used to seem easy to me – words and images, feelings and metaphors, whether to use "at" or "for,"  "when" or "where" and to enjoy the flow of ideas. I’m reading the dictionary and the grammar books. I’m returning to basics to find the difference between “since” and “sense” and “they’re” and “there” as my fingers act like the auto-corrections on my smart phone and drop in “like” when I meant “lost”. The huge projects I’ve worked on in the past simply overwhelm me. A sentence is a good challenge…to write simply without so many words (could I have just written – to write simply?). A poem is even better, though it is more challenging, and so I'll be focusing on other Kosmic Egg and Kosmic Egg Tarot sites, and come here less often because right now it feels like a lot.

Finally, I’ll let Curiosity remain at the head of my table now and let Expectations drop to the side, in between Imagination and Patience. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dealing with Discouragement

First Crack at Serious Self-Portrait
There is nothing to be overly discouraged about brain surgery. Honestly, it is a beautiful thing to be able to take care of a tumor, benign or malignant, in one’s head in 21st century America. There’s been vast improvement in the last couple of decades. Since I started talking and writing about the experience I have sensed the need to be open about everything that has happened, if for no other reason than to point to this truth. That statistics point to survival of this surgery at 98% should make this obvious, but the responses ran the gamut from hand-wringing despair to joyful prayer. It is simply hard to imagine opening up the skull and having a decent experience without those prayers, but the techniques and technology are pretty impressive.

This is not to say that discouragement doesn’t exist. Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows well that I have had some real downer moments. It wasn’t so much the surgery itself, but my body’s reaction to some of the preparation, and my mind’s genuine impatience and control freakishness with everything. Now that I’m five weeks out and clearly doing well, I can talk about some of the setbacks I’ve had in recovery without jumping up and down hysterically over them.

An obvious one, to me, is that I’m having a time with writing. I know what I want to write, but getting it out coherently is a real challenge. It’s not the big things. I think that the big, overall ideas are coming out okay, but, sentence-by-sentence, I am recently shocked by how difficult some of them are to read. What I’m used to taking for granted, words flowing out of my brain, I now have to take a step back from and wait for some clarity. It is as if everything I’m writing comes out a bit convoluted, and it horrifies me. I’m sorry about that because in social media, blogging, and poetry I’m used to shooting from the hip.  When I go back and read some response or even a blog, and realize I used the wrong word, or forgot grammar altogether so that the meaning had drained out of the words I got right, or just used to many redundancies, it is discouraging. The time it took to write seemed so blasted long before, that now I am a bit intimidated to start the projects I have in mind until this settles down.

I hope it settles down.

Additionally, I’ll tell you, I’m wondering if this has always been the case (convolution in my writing), in fact. Is it possible that it only just now that I’m becoming aware of it because the obstruction has been taken away? That’s possible. That would explain a lot about my career. That makes my hands sweat, just considering it.

That may be why I'm so happy to be doing visual art instead, and that's not too bad a trade at the moment.
While Cottonwoods Sleep

Then there are the issues of swelling around nerves, facial and tongue numbness paired with pain zapping and dry eye (only one dry eye). They don’t really tell you that in any surgery they’re likely to strike some nerves and push them out of balance one way or another. It happens, and mostly it simply takes some time to heal.

How do nerves heal, you may wonder. Well, I wondered, too, because I figured if I had an idea of how the nerves reset, or heal then I might be able to support the process and feel less worried about it. My research led me in many directions as usual. Perhaps, more importantly, I have cause to simply pay attention to the process unfolding, because some days it really bothers me and some days I forget about it.

So, guess, what? I’m writing about nerves and emotional turns, and it’s going to take me at least a week to put it down straight enough to post comfortably. In the meantime, enjoy the burst of spring this weekend, if it is happening near you, and be truly thankful for your face and tears and even runny allergic noses.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Long and Winding Road...Leads Me to Me

It has nearly been a full month since I had my skull opened and the little-gray-ball-of-dirty-laundry removed. What a month! It started with what I can only describe as partial delirium. I was so happy to have the thing out of my head, and I suppose the morphine, and anesthesia sort of had me on a different plain of perception for a while. Yet, I was a lot less delirious than I had really expected to be, to be honest. 

Fionn, the Modern Muse
Soon after surgery I woke up and in my daze recognized and remembered where I was and what had just happened. I saw my ancient Neurologist, Dr. Philip Yarnell, across the room and shouted out a, “Hello, Dr. Yarnell!” to him, and I think that sort of surprised him and he came right over and tested how I was responding to left and right movements like touching my nose with my eyes closed with the fingers he chose, and moving my toes. Afterwards, he said, “Yep, you’re going to be just fine.”

At that point I felt no pain but I was terribly thirsty and so I asked for water, but all they could give me was ice cubes to suck on and little sponges to dip into water and suck on. So I did. This was followed by my husband and father bounding into the big room together with smiles on their faces, delighted that I was so chirpy.

Then my Neurosurgeon, Dr. Mark Robinson, walked in to talk to them, and as they talked, I felt some kind of relieving sleepiness. I remember Dr. Robinson pointing at my head, and nodding and I remember them asking some questions and him answering, but I have no real memory of the words, even though I am pretty sure I participated in the conversation as if I were very intelligent indeed. Har.

I was taken care of in Intensive Care for a surprising two days. I say it was surprising only because apparently they expected I’d be going home after two days, and that didn’t quite happen. As good as their intentions were, some things got kind of icky.

Devora is Awake
Before I go there, I want to tell you that I did something very important to my recovery unbeknownst to the medical folks. In secret I took a large dose of Arnica the morning before surgery and then when I got to my ICU room I had Michael bring me a second large dose of Arnica. This homeopathic medication has helped me in previous medical crises (oral surgery, and a hysterectomy) to recover super-fast and very well, with little bruising. I encourage you to sincerely consider finding more about it if you’re facing surgery. Unfortunately, you cannot discuss it with a surgeon or the nursing staff because they don’t work with it, and will rule against it. Someday, I hope this will change because I've healed fast enough to get wide eyes from the doctors...

In ICU, meanwhile, they were pumping me full of Morphine and all kinds of other medications that my body is not fond of at all. Sadly. By the time it was dark outside, I was vomiting in a little pail the nurse quickly provided for me. As I was recovering she started putting in an intravenous dose of Dilantin. If you don’t remember how badly I reacted to the first time I took Dilantin, let me say that my reaction to this way of taking the medication was near paralysis. I made her take it out after only a 1/4th of the dose was given and I could feel it as it climbed up my arm and into my head, like a march of pick axes within my veins. I screamed. I admit it. I screamed. I shouted at her that this was not the way we were going to do anything. I asked her if she had bothered to give me any antihistamines or Zantac (could this be why I was throwing up, perhaps???). What followed is that I had to review with every shift nurse exactly how the medication business was going to work, and I would not let them use the intravenous hoses for anything but water and anti-nausea medications. I stopped taking the morphine and moved to oral Percocet and oxycodone. I didn’t really care if I had a little more pain. I was very self-advocating and protective. 

Meanwhile, the left side of my face swelled up like a puffer fish. I got a black eye that I could barely open. Frankly, I think I had a severe allergic reaction to the entire experience. looked no different in those moments than I had when I’d reacted to the cotton harvest on my Pretty Pa’s combine in the Rio Grande Valley some 42 years earlier. I had to build up all the anti-histamines in my system and the hospital pharmacy didn’t actually carry one of the anti-histamines, nor the Zantac I’d been taking leading up to the surgery, so my dear husband had to go to the grocery store and purchase what I needed. The hospital didn’t even have the oral Dilantin to fill in the missing 3/4s of a dose of it for several hours.

After two days they moved me to a regular room and they removed the blessed catheter and I was able to move around my room when I rung up the nurse to remove whatever IV was hooked up, the blood pressure arm squeeze and the ever-marching leg thingies. Ah. That was such a blessing. Finally, a neurosurgeon on call at the hospital came and cut the gauze turban off of me, and told me I could take a shower. Hallelujah! I thought I’d be going home right afterwards, but apparently, not.

All this time, my husband sat quietly next to me, reading his phone in the dark or daytime. I must have slept now and then, but I don’t remember sleeping lots. 

Another two days went by. I watched some television and really couldn’t perceive how so many stupid infomercials could exist. I tried to watch news, but settled on The Weather 
Oriah Enjoys the Lake
Channel. That was the only television that made a lot of sense to me. Passing storms, wind, sunshine and snow. I would then dream of the sets of shows and watch people walk in and out of these sets that were actually their lives, and how the world beyond the sets they believed in was totally different, open to change, neutral. The sets were set, but they were not true reality. They were perceptions that had thin walls, and the potential of being blown away in storms. Beyond the sets was a world or a dimension of reality that had not been decided on yet, and I could walk in it.

Another set of dreams I had placed me back in 1996, when I was at another turning point. After eleven years in a difficult and abusive marriage, I had determined that I had to begin living my own life and pursuing the things I was truly interested in. I had done three years of weekly therapy and was meditating daily and my creative spirit was expanding in many new directions. My dream then was to write very artistic, visual scripts about lives that were not easy, poetry and to create a new Tarot Deck called “The Cosmic Egg”. I was ready to consider leaving my first husband (now wasband) and even our house that I had painted wall murals and re-landscaped with a triskelion and a fire pit, a forest of gingkoes and redwoods, California poppies and tea tree bushes. Still the only person who knew that my husband was abusive was my therapist, and so when my therapist became abusive and insisted that I wanted to have an affair with him, my evolution unraveled rather quickly. 

Within four months I went from my first steps towards independence backwards into a desire to be approved of by supporting my husband, and even finally fulfilling his wish to have a family. I turned my therapist in to the board, and I gave my husband a cut up condom for his birthday. I went from being a part-time freelancer with time to paint and write, to a full-time publishing consultant with no time to even mother the child I was pregnant with, so that by the end of the year I would have a personal assistant, a housekeeper, a gardener, and a year later a nanny. I insisted giving up the house with my murals painted, and moved into a swanky Spanish Colonial that may have once been a boarding house to Charles Bukowski on the two block street named after my favorite inventor, Nikolai Tesla. I went from $25 dollars in the bank to making $15k a month. Yes, all of this really happened that quickly. It was all for approval from my first husband, from my friends at the time, from my parents, and I got it. And, it undid my chosen road very precisely. 

Alma in Her Habitat
Oddly, the dreams I had were very much about saying good-bye to those mistakes peacefully and accepting that my dreams continued painfully, like a forgotten and downgraded pavement next to the approved highway, throughout the last fifteen years. The dreams continued to be alive even if they were fought against as distractions from cleaning the house and taking care of my children and seeking approval from everyone. In one dream I told my husband of 1996 that I loved him, but that it was time to move on. In other dreams I made peace with my children and told them that their independence was crucial to me.

The doctors sent me home from the hospital on the fifth day, and the dreams continued in my hour and a half naps, and even as I was awake until they felt processed and comprehended. I found it hard to concentrate on “reality” to the point where I was occasionally overly grumpy at the disturbance of life to the unconscious realm I had such good connection with for the moment. I hate to admit that I occasionally snapped, and apparently this is common for people recovering from brain surgery. The word patience is hardly enough for making a commitment to decide whether to stay in dreamland or start coming into reality.

Making these dream-level departures from the decisions I made in 1996 has been such a relief, but has also unleashed years of frustration and anger over carrying the weight of a life that led me away from my true self. Yet, in just a month I have some sense that I am reuniting with myself, putting my feet on the abandoned road, after years of pounding my head against the wall of approval...could this be the reason for the tumor?  So, as I’ve come out of the haze of medications, and gotten confirmation that the tumor was indeed benign and that it had been caught early enough to have no lasting damage, I have hope unlike any hope I’ve had for fifteen years. Though, certainly, there are temporary setbacks like the pain and lack of rest, and that the left side of my face feels like it is just coming off of Novocaine -- all the time. I feel confident that I’ve turned a corner again and found myself in the realm where the sets of my life haven’t been completely determined and there is the potential to create some new and simple realities that are better aligned with who I am now. Where the road I'm now on can find the door to this set.

I have been practicing artwork again on a daily basis, and thinking about the off-formula stories I’m always intrigued by, but had learned to reject in favor of an approved formula that I've grown to hate. I’ve been resting and waking at all hours of the day or night. I’ve been watching how my daughter, Bea, is increasingly aware of the world she is entering as a new adult, and wears her grief over her lost childhood. Then also I’ve been watching how my younger son, Lio, is already aware of some aspects of adulthood that excite him to the point where he’s leaped ahead of the family at age eleven to webbify his life with video streaming, video chats and group games.

Dear Quimby in Pastel Land
My wasband has been as supportive as he can be, and taken time with the children that I normally would have had. He is who he is still, and they’ve both had terrible colds that lasted longer than a week and needed some Mommified assistance. So, both children have had extra days here and there, but only one at a time.

Finally, my dear husband has been carrying the load of my transportation, childcare and household upkeep for some six months now, and has concurrently become increasingly responsible for projects at work. He’s like a Lancelot, courageously determined to see that things get done because they need to get done, and at the same time exhausted, and falling into the river of forgetfulness because there is just too much on his mind. Now, poor man has collapsed with fatigue and the caught bug of his step-children. 

This leaves me, only me, to be fully conscious and begin taking care of business, too. I’m glad to say that I can to some degree, and that what I can’t do, I’m actually fine about not receiving approval. This is a leap for me. I will hang on more determinedly to the emerging unconscious knowledge I’ve always had and hidden from by trying other roads that might be worthy of rewards outside of me. This, for me, is real healing because finally I comprehend that the road I'm on now leads me to my own door.