Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday’s Post

In an inadvertent demonstration of the complicated interrelationship of aging and my remodeled brain, I wrote Wednesday’s post, asked Michael to look at it, and then promptly forgot that it was hanging out there, not posted. Michael forgot too, but that’s neither aging nor brain surgery, that’s just how he is, and always has been, at least as long as I’ve known him. I’ve decided that he and I have totally different concepts of time, which is one of the ways in which our contrasts make us such good partners. Like all flip sides of strengths, it’s a fault line in our life together, too, because even though I get that one signs up for the whole package, and it’s an obvious feature of Michael, contributing to many of his wonderful qualities, it’s utterly mysterious to me. At times, it’s maddening. This wasn’t one of them, that was just a little side excursion into thinking about the paradox. The simple explanation is that whatever it is about his makeup that lets him march to his own drummer... well, it means he marches to his own drummer. Anyway, that’s all a long way of saying I wrote the thing and forgot to post it afterwards, once I got engaged in other activities Wednesday night and Thursday. By the time I got home Thursday night, all memory of it had left me.

The medical week didn’t turn out that way, as the MRIs got postponed until farther in April so we could see the neurosurgeon right after the brain scan (his request) and we put off the blood work to confirm some of the specifics of what’s being tested. The blood pressure mystery deepened, as we’ve been tracking it across the week, and it’s wildly inconsistent even in the same settings/conditions. It ranges in strange ways and with fluctuations that don’t make much sense. It’s not a particularly satisfying mystery, but there you have it: this is one where all I get to choose about it is my attitude, so I’m cultivating curiosity and openness about what it might be and what options we might have.

Spring Break slipped away, though we did a number of break-like activities and, like clockwork, got mildly sick. Both of us. This is never a good match, but with decades of experience of how our normal happy synchronicity slips out of gear when we’re both sub-par, we’ve soldiered on. Upcoming: Week 10 of a 14-week semester, so the all-out sprint to the finish is about to begin. Despite knowing better, for me, it includes too much travel. In part, this is because stuff that didn’t happen during the big travel shutdowns this winter brought has all been packed in before the end of the semester and now’s the time to pay for the lovely unexpected time bonuses the cancellations brought earlier. In part, it’s just the normal rhythm of the requests, which are always heavy in October and April. October, I understand, as it’s after the semester has started up and it seems natural to schedule activities. I’ve never really understood the crush of April requests, but at least some of it is due to places that are on quarter systems and end later than we do, so their end-of-term scrum is offset from ours. Not living in a quarter system, I don’t have the same internal clock for it, so just accept that it exists.

In classic denial of what’s coming, I’ve planned a day of glorious sloth and visiting with friends for my Break Finale. The sun is shining and the trees are budding. The blossoming Spring promises to be beautiful this year. There’s always the fear of a late freeze, but in my best family-modified version of Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll worry about that another later.

Disentangling Puzzlement (Wednesday's post)

Disentangling the effects of aging from my brain remodeling is complicated. So many of the daily vexations of my life match natural aging processes, except of course that they also came on quite suddenly after the renovation project was completed and, at least in my view, I’m too young for some of them to be kicking in with such ferocity. The natural progression of time probably explains some of my forgetfulness and the places I lose track in conversation, except for that direct correlation between the onset and the surgery. The shoulder problems are also directly tied to the night following the surgery, though the bone spurs in my knee, which are similarly painful, are just aging problems that have no connection to anything else. This week is a medical week as all the scans are being scheduled, my regular annual physical blood work, plus some bonus exams of the shoulder and, new to this venue, blood pressure problems. Of course, the latter might also be related to my ongoing struggle to achieve a better balance as recent weeks have been stressful.

Figuring out the exact source of the stress is an ongoing and complicated task, one on which I’m not making much progress. Everything that’s going on is enjoyable and worthwhile. Very little of what I’m doing is dross or busywork, except the basic work maintenance stuff oflife: filing, calendaring, keeping up with the email. Everything I’m doing now, in short, is by choice, which has always, in the past, been a low-stress situation. It’s a puzzlement. This summer, while we’re away, careful examination of each activity is called for, and my sense is that something is going to have to fall by the wayside. Whether it’s a reduced capacity problem (possible) or taking on too much (also possible), this isn’t a good way to live. I’m not making as much progress on my book as I’d like, even though I have nominally set aside a day a week for working on it, because too much other stuff creeps into that reserved time, simply due to the pressures of other time-urgent things.

This, of course, violates the time management rule always to work on the important and urgent, and then the important and un-urgent before the unimportant and urgent stuff. I’m doing pretty well, though, at jettisoning the unimportant and un-urgent. I’ve pared out all the excess listserves, correspondence, activities, etc. that don’t match my values--and more needs to go. This is going to take better focus and a vastly improved ability to say “no,” even to people and projects that would formerly have made the cut. At this level of activity, I don’t always manage to stick to my exercise plan, and that means that my progress on the weight front yo-yos, which I hate. Time to regain the slow hare mindset, which really, overall, should be a good fit for this stage of my life. Why is achieving that so hard, anyway? I want easier. Where do I apply for that?

Sunday, March 13, 2011


There was a lingering moment last week when the idea of quitting email cold turkey was calling its siren song. During that week of travel, messages really piled up. Through several hours of concentrated effort, I got the inbox down to a more manageable size, and then, on a long conference call during which my active portion was brief, made even more progress. Feeling pretty good about the situation, I then went to my end-of the week afternoon of meetings (Thursday) and day of teaching (Friday). We had guests for dinner both nights, so the usual evening triage and cleanup didn’t happen. Faster than you can believe, the thing was overflowing again. That brought with it the moment of fantasizing about getting it to zero and then just quitting email. Forever. Actually, it was more than a fantasy and less than an actual desire, more like a a desperate belief that there has to be a better way. Does anyone out there have it? I know, I know, this is another one of the good problems to have: I maintain a lot of friendships that I truly value and I collaborate with a lot of people and I teach a lot of students. That equals a lot of mail. Plus, I generate a lot of mail, and then people answer it. Sigh.

The week of travel provided an interesting point from which to assess where things stand. The good news first: it was a lot of exertion and, with some balancing and compromises, it was all possible. The things that needed to get done got done. Now the less-good news: after airports and travel, the high ceilings of hotel ballrooms for meetings and big crowds were really costly. The full-day meeting of 200 people drove me back to my room to lie down--twice. The noise and visual overload were intense. Navigating stairs by the end of the week was a serious challenge. Worse, my short-term memory glitches increased, though within manageable limits. I felt defective and compromised a good deal of the time, but as it doesn’t show that much, it’s mostly about how I feel. The week after that was difficult, because it took most of the week to catch up on rest/energy. Having always had energy to do whatever I set my mind to, this is a difficult and complicated reality to integrate with my sense of self. There's very little to like about it, except that it's way better than all the alternatives. Today is really the first day I’m feeling rested, so I'm working on appreciating that instead of chafing against the limits.

After all, the overall situation is good. I don’t travel again until the end of the month, so that gives me time to get back into the exercise groove and resume the good habits that were mostly leading (finally!) to weight loss. Thanks to West Coast for urging me to go back to rowing--and suggesting that I watch meters instead of time (way, way better) and consider doing intervals. Intervals are wonderful and extend remarkably the quantity of exercise. How did I get so old without knowing about that??

I’m taking the rest of the weekend off and then getting back on the horse and striving anew for that elusive balance. It’s out there and I’ll catch it. Sometime. The snowdrops are (finally) blooming here, so maybe, just maybe, we’ll really get Spring. Winter has outstayed its welcome here by some weeks. We’re ready for Spring. Hope you are in a good state of mind and great weather, wherever you are.