Friday, January 30, 2009

How Is Less More?

Since my general impulse in teaching is to try to impart everything I know, all at once, my goals for improvement for some time have been along the lines of “less is more.” Fewer concepts in greater depth. That kind of thing. It’s a struggle because while the theory seems right, at least in principle, it doesn’t come naturally. Less is more makes a lot of sense in terms of clutter, stuff, quality calories, but not necessarily in other areas. Plus, daily life has some dissonance in it, as Shea believes to her bones that “more is more,” and she lives that to the fullest in terms of clutter, stuff, quality calories, christmas tree size and decorations, you name it: she goes for more.

Whatever the intellectual conflicts about teaching and presentations and such, one area in which it seems quite clear that less is not more is memory. I have less of it these days, and there’s nothing about it that seems better. On my current swing, I managed to get here without any jewelry (it’s lying on the bathroom counter at home; I got it out, but got distracted by a telephone call and then forgot about it, never getting it to the suitcase). While I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, I do wear some and today will have none. I’m working an attitude of insouciance embodying “this is how I meant to look,” but haven’t quite internalized it yet. By showtime, for sure.

Similarly, this hotel room has an Ethernet connection, but no wireless. Last night, I looked at my bag of adapters (for projectors) and thought “rats, no Ethernet adapter” so did without internet or email connections—and just when I could have been reading about my new governor. (Whoever thought we’d be thinking how great it is to have Pat Quinn as governor? Life is strange.) Of course, I do have an Ethernet adapter with me; it’s in the computer stuff I carry around for exactly this situation, but that wasn’t in my memory last night. It waited until the middle of the night to seep back into my consciousness. Less is not more when my brain does this kind of stuff to me. Is it ok to hate this aspect, too, whether it’s tumor or aging or some combination? Finding a positive attitude about this is a challenge. So far, there’s not much good about it to be seen.

Onward to a large-ish group that should be a fun day. Hope yours is as fun as I expect mine to be.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Would This Be Easier with More Sunshine?

In retrospect, the reason I felt "not right” all summer was tumor-related. In the summer, though, whenever things weren’t going well, I went and sat in the sun, which always improves the situation. All things considered, we had some great times despite the hovering greyness. Now, the literal greyness of the days combines with the surgery recovery process in odd ways. The process continues and there’s steady progress to be marked and celebrated. At the same time, this stage of recovery is frustrating--even more so than the earlier, more acute phases--because my energy levels are so unpredictable. Some days, I can do whatever I set out to do and other days, no way. This would all be much easier to be graceful about if it was more predictable, if we knew that three meetings would be ok, but not four, or whatever. But no. So, every day, we eye-ball the calendar and try to figure out how it looks and how to pace things so it can be made to work. Every day, I practice saying “no” or “maybe later” or “how about if we look a the week after that?” I’m still waiting for the part where the practice makes this easier, let alone perfect.

While the snow (four inches yesterday) is pretty, we don’t have as much really bright, hot sunshine as I crave. Which all got me to wondering whether I’d be making more progress on my quest to be more patient and graceful if there was more sunshine these days? It seems likely.

Today is a travel day, workshop in the morning, back tomorrow night. For travel, it’s become clear that it’s essential to arrive early so it is possible to rest up before the real schedule begins. It’s possible to read and work while traveling, but upon landing, I’ll need to lie down and sleep. So it goes.

Best to all of you out there. Keep sharing your thoughts. It's always nice to hear from you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nerve Glides

In addition to focusing on the pectoralis minor muscle that seems to be shirking its share of work to keep my right shoulder functioning, occupational therapy now includes ‘postoperative ulnar nerve glides.’ The underlying theory here is that the sheath of nerves coming out of my spinal cord at C4, 5, 6 and 7 may be affected and need stimulation. Doing nerve glides means moving my arm slowly in a prescribed series of motions, some of which cause tingling in the little fingers which can escalate or diminish depending on the location of my head and neck. The interconnections, both physical and interpersonal, of all this experience are fascinating.

On the human plane, over the weekend, several of you sent your thoughts on recent developments. One recurring theme it is fair to call “lighten up” and another falls under the heading of continuing support and caring. I even got reinforcement on my SuperShuttle choices. On that point, after considerable run-around, “corporate” decided on Friday to refund my money for both their trip and the replacement taxi. It turns out that texting while driving is illegal since January 1 in California, and they’ve verified that the van was missing seatbelts. Don’t worry, though, it’s “only” been in service that way for a few months, and they don’t usually fill all the way, so “not very many” people have been riding without access to seat belts, which are also legally required. Finally, they’re seriously considering changing the Nextel phones the dispatchers use to communicate with the drivers to a system that will be tied into the vans and won’t work unless the vans are in “park” so drivers aren’t tempted (despite their instructions) to communicate with the dispatchers while driving… I haven’t heard back from the safety people at the airport who license transportation there, and will look forward to what they have to say.

Amanda, a former student who has recently read through the entre blog, wrote with a recollection of an incident I’d forgotten that must be four or five years ago now, in the time period when the first tumor symptoms were beginning to creep into my life, though we didn’t understand that at the time. Amanda was taking a class of which I had to miss a session because I’d had such a severe pain in my shoulder that I’d been sent to the emergency room by the patient advisory nurse. In women, shoulder pain is a symptom of heart attacks and I was pretty cross at the time, as I was clear that I wasn’t having a heart attack. Of course, I wasn’t, and the whole thing was a waste of everyone’s time and resources, and meant that I’d missed a class, too. (My teaching partner covered it by himself so the students didn’t miss out, but I still felt bad about the whole thing.) In retrospect, though, it was a tumor marker that none of us caught.

Amanda made a number of other connections, too, including pointing out the symmetry in comfort food from my early Sunday morning breakfasts with my father of chocolate milk and toast with the edges cut off to the hot chocolate and English muffins we had before Kearney went back to Madison in September. These jump out--once a perceptive and thoughtful person sees and notes them!

Getting to know the people who pass through these professional education programs here has been one of the true joys of the recent years of my life; our whole family has been enriched by the wonderful people we’ve met this way. I'm lucky to have had the chance to meet so many fine people

Elizabeth took me to task for not allowing enough time to heal (I know, I know, and probably need to keep hearing this )and to commiserate, My aunt sent a wonderfully loving letter about our shared loss of my mother and to caution me about impatience—a family trait she demonstrates, too.

As has been the case since the very beginning of this adventure, the caring and support and advice that comes my way sustains and nudges me in positive ways. Thanks for being out there.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


People are kind. Life can be complicated. This week brought reminders in both directions. We reached out to friends for help and ideas trying to find resources for the young person who may yet end up in our home for a while. Since she is currently some distance from us, that involved far-flung friends, who were absolutely amazing in their willingness to take time and energy to help someone they don’t know, have never met and was in a tough situation. Ken, in particular, took hours out of his day with no notice at all, trying to help us figure out what services might be available for a teenager on the loose in a large metropolitan area. He even offered to go pick her up and drive her from one location to another—at some distance from him—to help move things along. We are awed and humbled by this demonstration, in a long line of them, of people’s willingness to help and to grasp hands to form a safety net for others in need. The people we know are so good.

We were graphically reminded how much our kids rely on technology and how we inhabit a different world than they do when one of the challenges was that the young person was on the loose without a cellphone or computer. While she was perfectly competent to take a bus or the subway, finding pay phones at which she could contact us was a challenge, and since none of them have telephone books anymore, locating places and numbers was complicated. At one point, I was fretting about her traipsing around, and Michael pointed out that it wasn’t anything that either one of us would have found even the slightest bit complex at her age. That’s true, but both the world and the way we bring up kids has changed a lot since “our day.”

In the midst of all our activity, David Pogue wrote a column about learning to use Twitter. He wrote about how this didn’t come naturally to him as a person older than the usual tweeting demographic, and discussed its strengths in terms of seeking information and resources quickly among a wide group of people. The downside, of course, is yet another drain on time and energy and attention: it sounds like a high cost-benefit ratio, as is the case with many new endeavors. Each semester, reminders flow into my life about how the “younger generation” of college freshmen are moving on in the technology stream. Even so, while Ken and I were googling and calling agencies trying to dig up basic information (some of which was only available by speaking on ancient devices with actual human beings), the appeal of putting out a message of 140 characters to a large established group that might have included those with specialized knowledge—or connections to those having it—sure had an appealing tug.

As someone who has worked with computers and been surrounded by techno-geeks (some of my best friends are….) since 1974, it can be a little sobering now and then to get a glimpse into how “the kids” live. College freshmen (and law students and MBA students and medical students and…) are less connected to the technology in which my life is rooted (email) and more planted in zones less familiar and comfortable for “my generation.” Sending out an initial email to a class with information on the first class, every semester there are some non-responders who say on the first day “oh, I never read email. Couldn’t you have IMed?” Their lives include more virtual reality than is relevant to my life. While I have a Facebook account, I don’t use it for anything other than responding to friend requests (from the most unexpected of places, sometimes!) and checking out things to which students refer in their papers. This marks me old-fashioned, with one foot practically in the grave.

I don’t text much, in part because ATT, in its never-ending quest to serve me better, has some arcane problem with my account settings and I’ve never had the four or five additional hours it will likely take on the telephone to resolve the problem. Just before this medical adventure began, I got irritated and carved out a block of time to start working on the problem. Apple’s tech support was magnificent, going so far as to devote several hours of their support guy’s time as he stayed on the line with me while we were working on tracking down ATT’s problem with their phone support people. That included the apparently mandatory 30 minute wait before we actually got to talk to a human being, all through the standard triage asking us things like “is your device turned on?” before we got “escalated” to someone actually familiar with the problem that’s evidently seen a lot by the technical folks in both companies. Three-and-a-half hours into the exercise, I ran out of time and needed to go to a meeting. The next day, the tumor was diagnosed and I’ve never gotten back to it again. Texting still doesn’t work on my phone, even to those in our family group. (Kearney can send messages to me, but I cannot respond because ATT thinks she’s “not in my address book.”) I can see the appeal there, too. Maybe when Michael upgrades his phone…

This pales, however, with each semester’s experience showing the one movie in my negotiation curriculum, the original “Twelve Angry Men.” If you haven’t watched it lately, it’s well worth the time. The script was written by someone with deep insight into human behavior and it illustrates many of the findings of social psychology with tremendous power. Each semester, we end up having a conversation starkly demonstrating the gulf between today and my day. My favorite is the semester in which we had to stop and visit how yes, they used to be able to make movies in black and white. The student had never seen such a thing before (how is that possible?) and found it entrancing. I’ve taken to writing the name of Henry Fonda on the board and cautioning them, in their papers, that they can refer to him as such, as the “man in the white coat,” as the main character, but NOT as Clint Eastwood, Gregory Peck, Peter Fonda or any of the other names they use for this stranger with whom they are not familiar. Every time, papers come in with yet another left-field moniker. Last semester, one paper called him Walter Cronkite. They do make me feel old sometimes; who ever thought I’d be in that boat, having been the youngest person in my surroundings since I started college and living on my own at 16?

Closing the circle of this week’s juxtapositions was the thank-you note from my sixth grade mentee (John prefers the word protégé, which I’m inching towards) on national “thank your mentor day.” She is a lovely, sweet young woman and we have a good time in our hour together each week. I scanned it to share. It’s national mentoring month. Do you have an hour a week to spend just being a reliable friend to a child out there? Can you find that hour? The research is clear that just showing up and being there consistently makes a big difference, the need is immense. Plus, it’s fun. Have a great weekend.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Virtues of Boring

No drama. Among the host of admirable qualities of our new president, that’s near the top of my favorites. It’s not that the draw of frenzy isn’t understandable. If anything, it’s too familiar, as until my personality and life stabilized with Michael, there was usually lots of drama in my existence. More than is comfortable to remember, if I’m honest. Even more cringingly, it was often to get attention. (Ick.) Over our years together, we’ve crafted a full and rich life that has few crises, emergencies and little high drama. It's not that we haven't had our ups and downs, and worked through some fundamental problems and differences. We have. It's just that the end result is that, by and large, we’re boring. While the external world has provided its share of tests and stress, everyday life behind our doors is usually quiet and predictable. As we were developing that equilibrium, in my work life, I was a practitioner of the famous Japanese inventory management style of just-in-time delivery, in part from trying to do too many things at once. Over the years, that’s receded as well, in favor of the larger beauty of anticipating, organizing and being prepared well in advance.

We’re now approaching a possible speed-bump that would introduce new elements into our everydayness, as there’s a young person who needs a place to stay while sorting some things out. Nothing has been settled yet, but thinking through the steps and changes that would be involved illuminates some otherwise taken-for-granted qualities of our lives. For one thing, we are really enjoying our time with Shea and increasingly aware of how fleeting this phase of our lives is. Adding an element to the mix now will abbreviate what’s been a great period for us. It will also add an element of short-term disorder that seems hard to contemplate on many levels. Leaving aside the ups-and-downs inevitably surrounding the situation leading to the need, there’s trepidation about what the new patterns at home will bring; the stimulation of change right now seems particularly costly in terms of my functioning, both cognitive and physical.

Today's concerns would not have existed a year ago and probably will not a year from now. But now is when the need exists and now is when we need to run this course, with these fences to be jumped. So we will figure it out, and in the meantime, here’s to the beauty of a low-key, calm and affectionate life that could be called boring by those addicted to adrenaline or turmoil.

With all that as background, let’s stop to appreciate and celebrate a leader who is centered, calm, focused and called to our moment. May the sun shine warmly on his face and the wind be at his back enough of the time to get through all that looms.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Minor Epiphany

First, isn’t today a great day for our country? For all of us? I cannot remember the last time we stopped our regular activities to watch the inauguration. Today, we watched all of it and were proud and moved and happy. We’re ready to do our part in a new era of responsibility.

Otherwise, it’s time to say to many of you: You were right. Please do not titter too much. Please note, though, how this belated insight reinforces my feeling that all is not well up there.

Walking into my occupational therapy this morning, it occurred to me that if the shoulder muscles and structure aren’t healed yet, and the skin on my scalp scar isn’t healed yet, why on earth am I expecting my brain to be fully healed by now? It has more work to do, since it not only must reoccupy its rightful space but also reestablish neural pathways. This thought has led to me re-setting my internal timer, although probably not my impatience. Next, my expectations need to be reset. That might take a bit more work, and it’s my new goal.

We have a new target in occupational therapy, the pectoralis minor muscle. It seems extraordinarily tight, and probably explains why the range of my right arm has been so limited lately. Its range of motion backwards was limited even before the surgery, and became more so afterwards. Lately, though, the range has become even more restricted. We worked some with it in OT today, which resulted in the first pain that’s been involved in months. Focusing on that muscle reignited the tingling in my fingers as well as headaches. Afterwards, we watched the inauguration, but then the energy gave out again and for the first time in some while, I needed a nap on a work day. (Weekends never count for napping.) Probably, I won’t try to go out again today, which had been my original plan. See how well my new insights are taking?

Back to work. Happy new era to all.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Moving Right Along

Two-thirds of the scar from the original incision has either vanished or very nearly so by now. The vertical line has been completely healed for some time, and the top horizontal line is catching up. The bottom horizontal line closest to the vertical is healthy and hard to find; at what we theorize must have been the beginning, as it is closest to the drill hole, there are still inflamed and scabby patches. We’re amazed at the unevenness of the healing in contiguous portions of the incision. We are still applying the vitamin E, straight out of a capsule, onto the parts that can are lagging. Now, though, when searching for the scar, it’s more and more the ridge lines in the skull that we use as the starting point. The scalp is still, in the words of the surgeon, “boggy” in places. The size of that area has shrunk, but it’s still odd.

In the last week, three separate wise and caring people have taken me to task for being too hard on myself and two of them have delved into why my perception is that my brain is broken. This debate is rooted in the obvious fact that my personality is intact, and has been throughout. I can still hold a conversation, make jokes, teach a class and make a presentation. I can even still write these entries. What seems missing is what, for me at least, has always been at the center of my distinguishing contributions, the ability to synthesize. Michael and Kearney argue that this capacity has always been diminished by fatigue and therefore my current limitations are likely rooted in the trauma of the tumor’s incursion on my brain’s territory, the surgery and the ongoing recovery. Time will tell, but what it means is that pulling disparate facts and thoughts together as has always come naturally—before—writing and making some complex decisions simply isn’t happening well now. This is both frustrating and scary. To me, seeing the advances and deficits clear-sightedly doesn’t seem harsh, just realistic. This is a point on which reasonable people apparently differ.

The good news is that I was able to get through two days of co-presenting with only one short absence. My gracious host found me a quiet room where I could lie down in the dark for 20 minutes on the first day, which made all the difference while my intrepid co-presenter ran the show. There’s something that triggers the depletion state, which comes on both quickly and unpredictably; downshifting from stimulation to quiet (a full-out nap is better) refuels. That I am beginning to find ways to refuel in short segments is a huge advance. On the other hand, I was wiped out after two days and am still recovering from that. Bouncing back happens faster now, too, though. All of this sums up to the fact that progress is steady and measurable, if you use a weekly scale, not a daily one. This is yet another contribution to the search for patience, as a weekly scale hadn’t ever featured in my aspirations in the past.

One element that is constant from “before” and “now” is how much it’s the people who matter in this life. We had a great weekend visit after the work was over, which helped to provided an even better form of refueling. Aside from lots of conversation and low-key time, we grazed our way through a farmer’s market, had some great meals, wandered through a terrific a museum‘s special exhibit and sculpture garden, all in beautiful weather while the Midwest was still paralyzed by cold. It was practically balmy by the time we got home, as it was all the way up to 14 degrees. The return travel was within current standards, which means we got here with only moderate hassle and delays that could be measured in single-digit numbers of hours. On the topic of travel, still no word from SuperShuttle… I went ahead and filed a safety complaint with the airport authority that licenses them for operation.

Unfortunately, we missed all of the pre-inaugural concert while we were in transit. Thanks to the internet, we’ve been able to find the highlights (the speech!). We are so looking forward to tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Life from Both Sides

Though it’s painfully slow, and some of these lessons have required several rounds to begin to sink in, maybe, just maybe, I’m beginning to learn. Once again, the lesson about listening better to my body’s signals has presented itself, this time with increased emphasis. If tired, unmotivated, or both, the reality is that these are signals to be heeded, not shameful impulses to be stomped down. When things are “right,” I’m interested in life and problems and work and people and my level of baseline energy is pretty high. When those things aren’t present, it pretty much always means that something is wrong and needs attention. Patience. Sleep. Grace. I know this today because my brain finally started working again yesterday after having been AWOL while I was under the weather. The difference is stark and reinforces the importance of heeding the physical signals when and as they present themselves.

The main obstacle (other than the sheer density of my nature) is that the depletion state comes around so frequently right now. I’m doing all the right things, getting the rest, taking the vitamins, doing the exercises, etc., and still I just run completely out of energy or get into a state where making decisions is paralyzing. Taken all together, it means this is just going to take time. Much more time than I’d like to allot.

On the one hand, there is something freeing about saying “no, I cannot do that” as often as is required. I’ve never even considered this response before and the experience of doing it is interesting. It’s also reality, which is the part I don’t like. This would be a much more engaging experiment if it was under way by choice. Of course, it’s not a choice I ever would have made, but that’s a completely different topic. Maybe.

I’m on the road, having belatedly realized that traveling a day early was required to be able to present at full energy by the end of the week. Factored into this is that the connections from CU aren’t what they used to be, the more so since so many intermediate airports have also cut back on their available connections. The only way to get here from there was to land at 10 p.m., and it seemed foolish to count on having the energy to be up and at ‘em at 8 the next morning. It might have been possible—but it also might not have been. I paid extra for this lesson, as I couldn’t see charging someone for my own pigheaded mistake.

Getting from the airport to the hotel, I managed to live the lesson of heeding my feelings. Yeah, team! The SuperShuttle guy was texting while he was driving with nine passengers (in a seven-seatbelt van) so the first place he stopped (mistakenly, as it turns out—no one had asked to go to that hotel), I got out and took a taxi the rest of the way. Nothing about the situation felt safe or appropriate and it was making me uncomfortable. The fact that the luggage was stacked so high it was nudging my head every time he braked probably factored into the equation, but the social pressure to stay and be a part of the group toughing it out together was high. Despite all that, I got out and claimed my luggage. So far, the company doesn’t seem too motivated to refund the prepaid fare. We’ll see about that.

Getting back to the main point, this phase of the recovery is hard. Harder than I expected, harder than I was able to acknowledge to myself for quite a while, more difficult than I fully understand. Kearney’s wisdom about feeling the feelings I have—without judging them for validity or weighing them against someone else’s—is powerful. Living in a way that is consistent with wisdom takes permissions I haven’t given myself before. Even as I work on it, I’m still acutely aware of how much worse this could have been and the importance of blessing-counting. The blessings are many and remarkable. I’m a lucky person, all the way around. Just a frustrated one at how complicated this lesson is to learn. Frustrated that it’s taking so long, vexed with myself for being so dense, irritated by the design of the universe. That’s one side. The other is that I’m here, my personality is intact, my life is filled to the brimful with wonderful people, and the energy should return someday.

Patience and grace, we’re holding an open house for you. Your arrival is most eagerly awaited.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Four Months from Surgery

One third of our last year was largely devoted to this medical adventure. Four months from surgery, the acute parts of the recovery are mostly completed and only minor (compared to where we’ve been) symptoms remain: a palm-sized area of the scalp still has strange sensations, the incision has three very small inflamed/scabby stretches, the shoulder and arm aren’t working properly all the time. In this phase of the recovery, it’s the chronic state that takes adjustment: stamina that is still not either predictable or very good, intermittent problems reading and concentrating, low resilience in the face of exertion or infections, and the like. All things considered, though, the recovery has been quite remarkable. We have many blessings to count. As always when stopping to look at the totality of the experience, the single most striking thing about it is how many truly wonderful people we know and how much support we’ve gotten as we ride the conveyor belt through this experience.

The main question in my mind, pondering it all, is still how we could have gotten the information we needed at various points. As in many new situations, we lost much of the information given to us—although I lost much more than Michael and Kearney did. There are chunks of time that due to medication, pain or trauma, I simply don’t remember. Any information provided to me in that time is lost, unless one of the team was there to receive it too. Even when we all received information, though, some of it was overload in the moment, or we didn’t have sufficient context to understand how important it would become. For example we’re all still working on absorbing what a one- to two-year full recovery window looks like and how the process is paced through that span.

When the surgeon said that the scalp would be the last thing to heal, we had no clue what that information meant or how large that would come to loom in our lives. After all, wasn’t the tumor the thing? Or the risks of surgery? Or… the list is long of more immediate items that consumed our attention and pushed consideration of the meaning of the scalp information off the table.

Earlier, we ruminated about whether a series of brochures (or the on-line equivalent), by stages in the process, might not be a helpful way to dole out information. Maybe each experience is idiosyncratic enough that’s not feasible. On the other hand, that’s a project still on our to-do list to think about and consider.

This has been a remarkable experience. The support and caring we have received from all of you throughout has made it possible for us to get to this point with our dignity and optimism intact and with a sense of purpose. When we were low, you were there to buck us up. When we were happy, you celebrated with us. When we had existential questions, you debated them with us. When we couldn’t quite manage, you filled the breach. We feel connected and supported and have a strong sense of community and belonging. Thank you, all.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Moving Forward

I have high hopes for today, even though it didn’t start all that well. Among other things, the sun is shining and it looks like a beautiful and bright day. After yesterday’s post and musings, the day was moderately productive, though both physical state and mood were subdued. Even before we got whatever this bug is that’s going around, I’d planned on today being a quiet day devoted to finishing up the week’s work. It’s a good thing, too, as neither of my goals for this week would be within reach without it. The crud we’ve got caused us to oversleep this morning—which we never do—so our morning routine was disrupted. Instead of us all interacting quietly before Shea goes off to school, we had a mad rush to get done all that needs doing. I suppose it was interacting with each other, just of a different sort, though I have come seriously to dislike being rushed any more. Even so, surely today will bring some progress on these two goals. They were originally the goals for the week, and the minutiae of life have intervened at every turn.

Today, after the morning’s the email is handled, it will be turned off except for lunchtime and whenever the end of the day arrives. That will be an interesting experiment and one I’ve never run before. The first half hour after that will be for the long-term project (book chapter), devoted only to setting up the next bit of work. Then, the goal for the day will be to get the short course that starts in March all charted and the book order submitted. The pieces are all collected, it just needs some concentrated thought to step through the sequence, assignments, etc. It’s a well-defined and limited task, and surely (surely) with a couple of hours, it can be completed. It always has been in the past in that amount of time and effort. It’s been hanging over me, so getting this done would be a huge boost. Given the consequences of the bug we’ve got, likely the day will involve a nap, too.

The conundrum of whether to work on the big stuff or the little stuff first always confounds me. If I postpone the small (usually gratifying) tasks in order to work on a large project, often nothing gets done. Starting with the small stuff means that it gets done, but then it postpones ever starting on the major projects, which thus do not progress. It drives me crazy. So, the thinking behind dedicating a half hour to the huge first project is that, in a deadline-linked time, the next step can be mapped out so that there’s an achievable step all ready to go the next time it gets picked up. Knowing that, and knowing where to start when its turn next arrives surely will help advance the ball down the field. Email, of course, piles up and consumes time. It’s usually enjoyable, it’s interactive, and often useful things get done. Hours vanish.

Smashedpea, who wrote a comment on one of this week’s post, had a meningioma removed from her frontal lobe in August. She documents some interesting parallels in her experience of brain surgery and its aftereffects, including grieving and similar moods to what I’ve experienced. Her contact provides a useful reminder about the ubiquity of Google’s webcrawlers, since it must have been the new “about” that we added (including the word “meningioma”) that flagged the existence of this space here in the ether. The world is so inter-connected in ways that aren’t always front and center to our thinking. This has been a nice unintended consequence from our sprucing up the site. I’d love to see the pictures her surgeon took during surgery. She also references a video out there of a craniotomy, but I don’t have the right plug-in and need to think a bit more about whether I really want to see it. Or not.

Meanwhile, ever hopeful, hello Friday.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Musings on Remembrance

For me, the date on which my mother died has always carried sadness, and though it has attenuated some as the years have passed, it’s always in my consciousness. I’ve been trying to think about this, as the degree to which this persists is puzzling. What does it mean that these dates carry such resonance?

I understand why the feelings from melancholy to outright anger can be so strong around milestone events. My mother wasn’t there, either for herself or for me, at my wedding, to see my miraculous babies arrive and their wondrous development, at any of my graduations, elections, etc. She didn’t ever know the love of my life. She hasn’t read anything I’ve written since sixth grade, and even early on, she was always my most interested reader. A violinist, she never saw either of her granddaughters start playing or attend any of their concerts. She wasn’t there to provide a cuddle and a lap (metaphorical) during sadness or hard times—the lost pregnancy, Kearney on a plane during 9/11, brain surgery or any of the other events that go into our individual tapestries. A vibrant, smart woman with a fierce love for life and “her” people, she hasn’t been here for advice or guidance or just to talk about the great sale down the street. We never got to know each other as adults.

There are other milestones that carry weight as well: the year that marked me living longer without her than with. The year I’d been a parent longer than she had. The moment at which I’d lived longer than my mother did, the more so since some (in)sensitive soul had told me on the day she died that I’d likely die the same way. That there’s always an awareness of those dates still makes more sense to me than this date of the death awareness.

My mother would be proud of me. She loved me. I know these things with certainty. There are the corollary likelihoods as well: that my adolescence with her could have been turbulent indeed and that she would have been critical of me, as she was of herself. At various times across my life, if you’d asked for the single most defining element of my identity, it would have been that my mother died when I was 12. It’s not any longer, though surely it is among the major shaping forces. Still, when all of this is said and acknowledged, why does the actual date of death persist in such force, especially compared to the greater loss of the meaningful moments and milestones? That puzzles me. It’s real though, and it’s here. We’ll think and talk about my mother today in her full range of quirks and loves and legacies—and how much we miss that there weren’t more.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Still Seeking Balance and Grace

If you can believe this, my family thinks I’m too impatient and my expectations are too high for how far along this recovery should be. I feel broken and am concluding that the brain diminishment/damage is permanent. They argue that it’s only been four months when we were warned that it could take a year or two for full energy to return. Kearney, in particular, asserts that it takes time for the brain to readapt itself and to grow new pathways. These positions all have merit but they don’t feel right. The limitations are real and, well, limiting. In conversation yesterday (and follow-up email), a friend who shares the death of a mother at a young age pointed out that Humpty-Dumpty was broken and I’m not like that, only reconfigured. Yesterday I also learned that the anniversary of my mother’s death in 1970 is the same day that John’s father died fifty years ago. And Elvis Presley’s birthday, he told me. We all have stories that shape us, and shape our worlds.

Balance is hard to achieve. It’s a goal worth shooting for, so that’s what I do, along with renewing my focus on patience and finding grace in the midst of this uncertainty. Some days bring more success than others. Today’s another new one, so I get to start all over again and seek it anew. May today go better than yesterday did here and in all of your lives as well.

Monday, January 5, 2009


My time in “Off” mode has been good. Shea got home safe and sound and is back in school. We had a great and unexpected visit from old friends on their way through town. My desk is reasonably clean and most of the work to be done feels interesting. There are things on the list I don’t particularly want to do, which seems to be part of that overrated reality called grown-up life. The week should be reasonably quiet, though, which means that the return to regular work should be relatively painless. Now that we’ve figured out when my productive times are, though, it means working on rearranging some scheduling, which is never very fun or my favorite thing to do.

On the health front, things keep improving. Any bug that hits Michael and Shea hits me harder, and I’m learning simply to plan more time to sleep and lower my expectations about how quickly l’ll bounce back. The incision continues to heal, with only very short pieces left that still need more healing; otherwise, large portions are hard to find—except for the dents and ridges around where the piece of skull came out and then was replaced. There are noticeable dips most of the way around although they are the reverse of the scalp: the biggest dips are under the vertical part of the original incision where the scar is undetectable. The smoothest connections are under the horizontal parts of the incision, where the healing is the slowest. Seems odd that they’re not aligned, but there it is. Physical therapy is over, folded into the strength training regimen, and the insurance folks just approved another extension of the occupational therapy. This reduces the number of appointments in any given week on this front to four, which is a major advance. The goals set for the occupational therapy include reliable use of the right arm/shoulder with a consistent range of motion that matches the left.

The new year will bring a whole set of new endeavors. Some of those are still unfolding and others start soon. While those ramp up, my job will be to stay focused on the pacing required. So far, the speed required is still Slow Hare. That’s a lot, considering the totality of this adventure, and I’m back to feeling pretty lucky to be there, though with less energy behind it than during the original rush of adrenaline. Kearney pointed out that humans all have the same range of emotion, and feeling the feelings—whatever the cause—is the basis for empathy. She was more eloquent about it, saying “there isn’t one set of feelings for people who are “fortunate” and another for those who are not. Love, anger, grief and laughter are part of the human condition….you should not devalue your tears because you think someone else cries them for a “better” reason. We all play the hand we’re dealt, and we all have the same emotions with which to play those cards.”

What else is there to say?

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year, New Speeds Emerging

One of the long-running jokes in our family is about my limited repertoire. Various versions the joke center around the concept that I have only two speeds, On and Off. On goes full-blast and Off does nothing. Off used to be in use only intermittently during summer vacation, between Christmas and New Year’s and every now and again when sick. On was the rest of the time. Now, though, a whole new suite of speeds seems to be emerging. These are becoming known as Almost On, Barely On, and Sort-of On.

The last few days have been spent in Off. There are a few more days to enjoy it before picking up the chapter to be finished and the MBA syllabus to be refined and finished so the book order can be placed well before the late-March beginning of the class. That can all wait until the weekend or the beginning of the week.

Off is a nice setting, involving (almost) no work and little that is productive or constructive. In previous years, time like this would have been spent reading or doing puzzles or building a model. This year, it was spent in a West Wing film festival as reading, even on the Kindle, is still complicated sometimes, depending on the subject/author. The puzzle awaits Shea’s return and we didn’t choose a model this year. Kearney has been providing advice and consulting about knitting a new sweater, redoing one started many years ago. The body up to the underarms has been knit for at least ten years (maybe 15 or even more) but it’s in a style and shape that don’t fit this era’s lifestyle, so it needs to be unraveled (the worst part) and restarted. It’s a great yarn, no longer made of course, but there is plenty to take on the new version. Kearney is recommending knitting it from the neck down, which I’ve never done, so that should be fun

Meanwhile, the wisdom dispatched my way on grieving has got me facing the right direction. I’m not silly enough to think that a few days of thinking about it crosses that task off the list (though that would be swell), but at least it’s directly on the agenda now and not poking through without knowledge or invitation. The biggest struggle is the whole concept of relative hurt. I get the concept that events hurt me as they do. I haven’t ever really gotten why it’s suitable to spend time on them, in my privileged life with all the many blessings I have. There’s not a person in my family who has spent a day hungry, or homeless or chronically ill or seriously in want by any reasonable definition. I know, I know, this is kind of a puritan view and doesn’t leave much room for the loss, which isn’t, in fact, relative. At the same time, I can never escape the knowledge that many of the losses that are front and center right now only highlight the goodness of our lives. You do not grieve loss without having had something wonderful to lose. That our lives encompassed those wonderful things is to be celebrated and appreciated, not grieved, or worse, wallowed in. So what this comes down to is that I don’t approve of feeling sorry for myself (I do recognize the pejorative framing) when my life is one that many people would find filled with good fortune. Even my problems are luxuries: this brain tumor adventure has been characterized by great health care without a serious financial burden. I count my lucky stars to live this life. Still, the sadness needs to be acknowledged and welcomed. May it help bring insight as to the next steps to be able to find a way to give back and bring meaning to the space and resources I consume.

I don’t know where this adventure is leading. I do know that learning new speeds is one of the good problems to have and that there’s support and caring to help find the way. In the end, it’s always the people who matter. Thanks for being out there. I hope to be there for you, too.