Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shifting Balance

Better is a great place to be, but it’s not the same—or as good as—all better. Phase Five of this adventure means that every single symptom/side-effect is better than it was, and most dramatically so. Most of the time, that’s enough. The rest of the time, this netherworld of “better, but not all the way” is awkward, particularly given how unpredictable it can be. One day, there will be energy and the next, not so much. Or, I’ll feel fine while starting off and wilt midway through an event. While all along, people warned that it would be a long recovery process, the every-dayness of it—and just how long this slog really is—are more challenging. It wasn’t nearly so apparent, somehow, when most of my time was spent at home. The task at hand is to achieve some balance and grace: not being too hard on myself when the energy isn’t there or when it feels like I’m wallowing. For some reason, the scar on my head feels like more of a disfigurement now than it did when it had staples in it. This is odd and puzzling, but it’s real enough. Regular old congestion headaches always trigger a question about whether it’s congestion or my brain shifting back into the tumor void, which seems borderline neurotic. Balance then reasserts itself, along with appreciation for how good things are now. There are just adjustments for how tiring the stimulation of being out and about can be—and how great it is that it is possible to be out and about.

There was a very funny moment last week when at lunch with a colleague, when we were discussing my tremendous progress, including getting off all the medications. In the conversation, at one point, he said “one week drug-free, that’s great!” just as our food was arriving. You should have seen the look I got from the waitress.

I’ve been reading David McCullough’s John Adams. In one of her letters, Abigail Adams refers to the difficulties the revolution was bringing to daily life, and she wonders if their descendants would ever fully be able to appreciate the sacrifices made to permit them (that would be us) to live in liberty. There’s a sense of perspective to stop you short, as nothing of what we experience is anywhere near the difficulties of their lives in ways large (the individual consequences of committing treason by signing the Declaration of Independence, for example) and daily (what the everydayness of life meant in a time when travel was by horseback in this country and by ship across the Atlantic and participating in national events meant being away from home for months if not years). With all our creature comforts—not to mention the ability to have brain surgery and get back to life within weeks and months—we are spoiled. It doesn’t take much looking back to highlight the full extent of how spoiled we are: our family letters include one from our civil-war-veteran homesteading ancestor, who used to write to his wife (“Dear Wife,” all the letters begin) and mail them on his periodic trips to town on his horse, a journey requiring most of a day each way. There’s one letter in particular that describes keeping an iron anvil at hand to kill the rats going after his grain. This would be through the winter on the South Dakota prairie, where he was living in a sod hut.

Looking for the precise words of the Abigail Adams letter, which I never did find, highlights another shortcoming of the Kindle: it’s very hard to locate a remembered passage, as you have to search for it (laboriously, given its dumb keyboard) by keywords, and if you don’t recall them precisely, the only choice is a hugely time-consuming process of stepping through, page by page. Finding things in a real book is ever so much faster, when you can page through and have visual cues on the page, or at least can skim to find the context and place. On the other hand, I truly love being able to alter the size of the font depending on how tired I am, and the portability of it all. An unexpected side effect, though, of reading on the Kindle, is that people in my house never know what I’m reading now. It used to be that they’d see the books lying around and ask about them, or just track progress and topics. It has only slowly emerged how much conversation used to be catalyzed that way and the necessity of saying now “I’m reading xyz and….” It’s interesting how small changes have larger ripple effects sometime.

Writing here regularly is one of the casualties of being out and about more; there’s only so much energy to go around, especially now as the end of the semester is upon us—and not one single second too soon. Here’s to ends of segments—the semester, the year, this adventure. Cheers to all.

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