Category Archives: health and well-being

Ain’t no cure for the summertime flu

My daughter texted me the other day to confirm that they’ll be back in town on the 24th — which is this coming Monday! — and I was confused and surprised to realize they’ve been gone two and a half weeks already. Because I’ve been sick the entire time.

I’m just starting to emerge from the menthol-cough-drop-scented haze of near-death to realize . . . I’ve lost a couple weeks.

This malaise, whatever it is, started out as a mere sore throat. Worst sore throat ever, but still, that was the only symptom. For a short time, maybe three hours, I thought perhaps it was simply a bad cold. But no, it was just gathering strength.

If you took all the worst symptoms of an awful cold and all the worst symptoms of a horrible flu, and combined them, that’s what I’ve had. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this sick and this completely wiped out. Absolutely worthless.

The only thing I’ve accomplished in the past couple weeks is to not let the cat and dog die of thirst or starvation. It was a near thing.

I lost my voice during the first week and have been whispering to them ever since:

“Jenny, are you hungry?” Like it’s some big secret.

“Do you want to go outside? No, kitty, you stay here.” This mission, should you choose to accept it, is highly classified.

“Are you ready to come in? Good girl.” Quick, don’t let the neighbours see you.

My head has produced so much green slime, I could supply several seasons of Nickelodeon and the next three Ghostbusters movies. Seriously, I’ve gone through FOUR LARGE BOXES of kleenex. So far.

And I’m telling you, somewhere underneath this middle-aged sprawl, I’ve got one hell of an eight-pack of coughing muscles going on. Of course, I’m now wearing my lungs on the outside and my diaphragm is up around my neck, but my coughing muscles are mighty impressive.

I am so sore.

Yes, I know. This is disgusting and I shouldn’t be talking about it. I’m totally going for the pity factor, here.

While I’ve been suffering, my daughter and her husband have been enjoying a lovely and relaxing vacation in the wilds of far eastern Canada. She reports they only saw one BEAR, while they were in Maine, and it was quite small and afraid of them. Right. I’m sure its mother, no doubt lurking protectively in some nearby bushes, was terrified of them as well.

Not that I was worried.

Here’s a picture of their version of a “simple” meal while roughing it. I can’t wait for them to get back so they can cook for meeeee. Her caption read: “Eating PEI mussels in a white wine cream broth, cooked campside on PEI, while looking at Nova Scotia across the strait.”

Yes, PEI is Prince Edward Island. I can tell you that’s where they were, since they’re no longer there. Here’s another shot from the same place, which she captioned: “Room with a view.”

I hope they won’t be too disappointed when they arrive chez moi in a few days to discover that, between bouts of coughing and sleeping 14 hours a day, I haven’t managed to finish clearing off space in the pantry for them. Or in the fridge. Maybe they can set up their tent and a cooler in the back yard until I get things sorted.

Oh well. As I said, at least the pets are still alive, even if they do think they’re now undercover spies. My current status is somewhat more iffy.*

 

 

*OK, seriously, I am MUCH improved. My voice is back, although an octave lower, and I’m even eating real food again. I just have that annoyingly persistent cough you get with the flu, the one that will apparently last *coughcough* the rest of my life. *cough*

 

4 Comments

Filed under health and well-being, travel

It’s never nothing

Let’s see, where were we . . . in our last episode, our heroine was tied to the tracks and a train was approaching, with no (capable) help in sight.

sa1031

Sorry, wrong story. Maybe it’s just me, but that sort of sums up how helpless I feel lately.

My dad used to say: “It’s never nothing.” It was his version of: “It’s always something.” November has proven that adage, several times over.

I know, some of you are waiting to hear the final results of NaNo. It wasn’t a complete bust, although Life sure did its best to get in the way.

First there was the election. And the results, which we are just not going to talk about, because . . . well, just because. But I eventually convinced myself to stay mostly offline, or at least not look too long or too hard at twitter and facebook, and I was starting to re-focus on writing.

Then, the day after Thanksgiving, my mom made an unscheduled trip to the hospital’s emergency room via ambulance. I’m not going to get into medical details over here — my personal privacy policy makes HIPPA look like a freakin’ sieve — but I will say that she was there for five days (mostly due to it being a holiday weekend during which certain tests were not going to happen unless it was an emergency) (I’m very grateful she wasn’t considered an emergency), and then she was discharged to a rehab/transitional care place.

And then, not even 48 hours later, in the least fun text I’ve ever received at 4 AM, came word that she was right back in the hospital again. Where she still is, as I write this. But she’s getting better, albeit slowly, and we expect she’ll be headed back to transitional care in a day or so.

Never have I been more aware of how relative is the term “better.”

As you might imagine, trying to concentrate on writing (or anything else) with all this going on more than 1200 miles away has been damned near impossible. Honestly, I haven’t tried very hard in the past week. You know, priorities being what they are.

But I did manage to write 20,057 words in November, split between two different manuscripts. Probably that’s 20,057 words more than I would have written if I hadn’t participated in NaNo. Astonishingly, some of those words seem to do what I want them to do and might not even need to be deleted during edits.

14915519_10154557397451291_9176062287509899483_n

So, no, not 50K words. But I’m calling it a win.

Don’t judge me. I need a win right now.

My plan for December is to just continue focusing on writing. And try not to panic at the sound of the phone ringing or the notification that a new email or text message has arrived. Any celebrations in December, including my upcoming birthday, are going to be small and quiet. Understated. Practically invisible.

No, I’m not being a Scrooge. I’m simply acknowledging the truth that I’m not in the mood for celebration. I’m listening to that inner voice advocating self-care over forced displays of holly-jollity.

I can’t fix all the problems in the world. Hell, I can’t even fix all the problems in my own little corner of it. But I can write stories that, if I get it right, might provide a few moments of distraction and enjoyment for someone at a time when that’s exactly, perhaps desperately, what they need.

God knows, stories have certainly helped me get through this disaster we’re calling 2016. If my stories can do that for even one person, I’ll be calling that a win as well.

 

4 Comments

Filed under health and well-being, holidays, writing

To a Year of Living Selfishly

I’ve been feeling reflective for the last week or so. No, not the kind of reflective that makes you all shiny and highly visible so you won’t get hit by a car while you’re out doing questionable things in the dark. The kind where you look back on the past several years and realize how many significant events you’ve experienced in that time. I was going to say “endured,” but that implies they were all bad and they certainly were not. But neither were they all good.

When I say they were significant, I mean they were significantly distracting or required significant amounts of time and energy from me. Many of them I haven’t talked about over here, or anywhere else, because, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I am a very private person. There are things I’m just never going to talk about in public spaces. Or even in semi-private ones.

But holy guacamole, it’s been one hell of a few years. Sometimes to the point where I wanted to yell, “STOP IT. I CAN’T EVEN THINK ANYMORE WITH ALL THIS. JUST. FUCKING. STOP.” It all has taken a toll, that’s for sure.

And now, suddenly, there’s nothing significant on the horizon. Not that there won’t be, because of course there will. Life happens. “It’s never nothing,” as my dad used to say. But there’s nothing scheduled or looming and I’m feeling gloriously free for the first time in a very long time. And determined.

I don’t make resolutions at the New Year, never have. So it’s sort of a weird coincidence that I’m feeling all resolute here in early January.

I was talking to my daughter about this when she and her husband were here visiting during the last week of December and it was difficult to articulate without sounding like I didn’t enjoy the hell out of many of those events. Because I did. Especially my children’s weddings, which were wonderful. But at the same time, I’m glad they’re done.

I’m delighted beyond words that my calendar is clear. The sheer relief of having no upcoming obligations is staggering.

I really hope I’m not jinxing myself by saying this, but I feel like I’ve done my time. For a while, anyway. I’ve given so much of myself to others — sometimes eagerly and with great joy and pleasure, sometimes not — but now it’s my turn.

I anticipate– no, I am determined that this year is going to be epically, gleefully selfish. I am resolved to focusing on what I want, and what I want is to write fiction. I’m going to concentrate on that pretty much to the exclusion of all else.

10988529_10153345700969523_8893770574599071562_n

So don’t anyone plan on having any dramas or crises or grand celebrations, okay? At least, not any that require my participation or attention. I’m gonna be busy over here, learning how to say “no” more often and taking care of my own needs for a change.

Who knows, maybe a few of you will conclude that’s of benefit to you as well. It’s a new year, anything’s possible.

 

Oh, by the way, if any of you want to be notified when I’ve completed said works of fiction and they’re available for purchase, you might want to sign up for my mailing list, which you can do HERE.

6 Comments

Filed under goals, health and well-being, writing

Reassessment. Recalibration.

Ahhhh, yes, we’ve finally turned the corner into fall. Autumn, for you purists out there. I love this time of year, when the temperatures drop along with the humidity and the leaves. The heat of summer in the south never fails to sap my patience and energy. It seems like a feat of endurance just to let the days go by. But we’ve made it to October and, now that our epic bout of rain and gloom has moved out, life in general will be more pleasant. Cooler, anyway. We’ve had clear skies for two whole entire days and I’m giddy with it.

Our leaves haven’t started to change yet, so I’m sharing a picture my daughter took in Boston last week. I suspect she’s trying to stave off winter by documenting the landscape sans snow. Can’t say I blame her, after last winter.

I feel somewhat guilty that I haven’t posted for a while, but I’ve been busy. Sometimes I’m quiet over here because I don’t really have anything to say, other times because there’s too much. It’s been the latter, these past couple months. Frankly, I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with things that are not particularly blog-appropriate. Nothing earth shattering, just the normal stuff we all have to deal with and tend not to discuss in public. Proliferation of cat hairballs, neighbours vs. trees, family drama, ongoing physical therapy. The return of the goddamn raccoons to the attic. You know, the usual.

I also seem to have been in a state of re-evaluation. Thinking deep thoughts about how I spend my time and looking seriously at the things that suck up not just time, but also my attention and energy. Deciding whether they’re worth it. Some are, some are not. Debating changes in my life and how to be more productive.

And of course, there’s the writing. That’s been a big part of my deliberation and I’ve been struggling with it. Writing, deleting, writing some more and not liking that either. There have been days, weeks lately when I wonder why I’m doing this and whether I should just stop. But the prospect of not writing is more terrifying than the struggle to write is frustrating. So quitting isn’t really an option, even though I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, and am doing it poorly. Feeling like a giant fraud.

Yeah, I know, supposedly this is normal and all writers feel this way, from time to time. Or always. So I guess that’s comforting. But it’s not really much help when you’re the one feeling it.

My brain keeps replaying a conversation with my older sister after she read the novella I published. There was a note of surprise in her voice when she said, “It was really pretty good. There were parts when I forgot you were the one who wrote it.”

“You mean like it was written by someone who knew what they were doing?”

“YES. EXACTLY.”

So, clearly, not me.

*sigh*

That has got to be the most backhanded compliment I’ve ever received. Well, about writing anyway. She didn’t mean it that way. My older sister has been nothing but supportive of my writing efforts. One might even say she’s been bossy about it. But I can’t help remembering her saying that — even though it’s not the only thing or even the biggest thing chipping away at my confidence lately, not by a long shot — and it reinforces this feeling that I really don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. And after all these years of effort, of learning and practicing, that’s disheartening.

So I was hesitant, to say the least, when an unpublished writer friend asked me to give her feedback on a manuscript. Although . . . now that I stop and think about it, she didn’t ask. I pretty much insisted she let me read it once she was done editing.

Geez. Talk about bossy. This was back at the start of summer and probably I was high on prescription pain meds at the time. That’s my excuse anyway.

But by the time she sent it to me a couple weeks ago, all that hubris had disappeared and I was in the midst of feeling worthless and fraudulent and talentless. And pitiful, let’s not forget pitiful. [cue tiny violin] I doubted whether I’d have anything remotely useful or insightful to say. It took me almost an entire week to even open the document.

Then I started reading. And let me tell you, while she might be at the early stage of writing where you inevitably make a few minor rookie mistakes, this friend of mine can write. Honestly, that was a small part of my reluctance, the concern that maybe she wasn’t very good after all and I wouldn’t know what to say. A very small part, because I’ve known this woman for years and, even though she only recently admitted she was writing fiction, I could tell she was a writer. A terrific writer with a voice that’s perfect for historical romance, which is what she’s writing.

But I also realized something else, while reading her manuscript. I DO know something about writing fiction. I know quite a lot about writing fiction. I was able to tell her what was working and what wasn’t, and specifically why. I think I gave her some coherent feedback that will help make a good story stronger. She might not agree with me, and that’s fine. It’s her story.

So I’m relieved by that realization, but also frustrated. Why does it have to be so fucking impossible to have this kind of clarity about my own writing? Why does it take reading someone else’s manuscript to see my own mistakes and strengths, to be reminded of what I know and realize that I might not be totally screwing things up in my own writing? Does this ever get easier?

Probably not.

There’s a huge difference between reading for pleasure and reading with the intent of giving feedback. If you’re a writer, I suggest you give it a try, if you haven’t. Provided you can find a willing victim. You’ll pretty quickly figure out what you know and don’t know, based on the type of feedback you’re able to offer. You might even realize you know more than you thought you did.

But there’s also a difference between being able to see what is or isn’t working in a story and being able to put that into practice. A difference between being a good reader and a good writer. It’s all about the execution.

So, I’m struggling, with all sorts of things, and I imagine I’ll continue to do so. But I will try to get back to blogging more regularly. Now that fall is here and I’m feeling more human. Perhaps The White Ninja will cooperate and do something blog-worthy.

IMG_0137

Or perhaps not. Don’t anyone hold your breath.

 

9 Comments

Filed under deep thoughts, health and well-being, writing

It’s hard to “bleed on the page” when you’re actually bleeding

I don’t think physical pain has ever made me cry. Emotional pain, yes. And sure, when I was a little kid and fell off my bike, probably I cried. But I’ve had a lot of physical pain in my life since then and I can’t recall that it has ever made me cry. I’m not claiming to be tough. Total wimp, here. Pain just doesn’t provoke that response in me.

Which is sort of funny, if you know me well, because everything makes me cry. Those commercials where the Clydesdales unexpectedly come home from college with their renegade golden retriever puppy friends in tow and wake up their mom when they brew beer for their under-age siblings on Christmas morning and it’s snowing outside? Yep, total waterworks. My kids often joke that I’ll even cry over a bad weather forecast. I’m not quite that bad, but it’s close.

Well, it’s been several weeks, almost a month now since the knee replacement surgery, and I’ve had some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. Yes, the narcotic pain meds helped, a lot, but it’s been pretty bad.

Not once did it make me cry, or even want to cry. Instead, my reaction has been to shut down and withdraw, in every way possible. To build impenetrable walls. Dealing with this pain has required every molecule of my concentration and focus. The kind of focus where you don’t want anyone to even talk to you, lest it break the concentration needed to endure.

Giving myself a shot in the stomach (anti-coagulant) one a day for 14 days didn't help.

Giving myself a shot in the stomach (anti-coagulant) once a day for 14 days didn’t help.

But it’s not tears I’ve been holding back. It’s temper. Anger. An irrational welling of primal rage. Like a wounded animal with no capacity for reason, wanting to lash out at everyone and everything around me, never mind that they had no part in causing the pain, never mind that I signed up for this pain. But I’m not a snarling feral beast, so I’ve reined in even that strongest of emotions.

I suppose that sounds overly dramatic. Yeah, well, it has felt pretty dramatic around here at times.

The White Ninja, wondering whether she'll ever be allowed to sit in my lap again.

The White Ninja wondering whether she’ll ever be allowed to climb on my lap again.

There’s a saying attributed to military types that I’ve always disliked, because it’s utter fucking bullshit. Probably you know the one I mean: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” As if pain somehow makes a person stronger. No, the hell it does not.

But for the first time, I sort of understand where this saying comes from. Pain, extreme pain, makes you shut down your emotions. And it makes sense to me that military types equate emotion with weakness. So I can see how, from their perspective, getting rid of emotion is getting rid of weakness.

For a writer, though, emotions are strength. Facing emotion, exploring it, poking at and manipulating it, is a necessity. It requires extraordinary mental fortitude.

In his book, STEIN ON WRITING, Sol Stein says this about the difference between fiction and non-fiction:

“Let us state the difference in the simplest way.
Nonfiction conveys information.
Fiction evokes emotion.”

To me, this is a fundamental truth. People read and enjoy and, most importantly, remember great fiction because of how it makes them feel.

Sure, we can quibble over the black and white of this premise, that fiction can also impart information and do all sorts of things other than just evoke emotion. I won’t argue that point, because of course it does. But the primary purpose of storytelling is to evoke emotion. Different genres, different emotions; all the same purpose.

As a writer, I feel those emotions first. When I write a scene that I hope will make a reader feel sad or angry or afraid, I’m going to be crying or fuming or trembling while I write it. This is the reason certain parts of a book are so difficult to write. I’m putting my characters through an emotional wringer, but I’m right there with them.

I imagine there are writers who are more experienced or more talented than I am who can accomplish this in their work without feeling those emotions. Without feeling vulnerable. I wish it worked that way for me. It doesn’t.

So it’s a bit of a problem, as a writer, when you’re in pain and your emotions are locked down tighter than– a thing that is tight [this is my brain on drugs, kids]. In a first or even a second draft, this wouldn’t matter quite as much. For me, the early drafts are just putting characters where they’re supposed to be and seeing what happens. It’s very dialog driven. I make vague notes about internal stuff like what they’re thinking and how it probably makes them feel. I add that stuff in later, along with physical description.

I suck at this, especially physical description. “They were in the woods. There were trees. Yeah, lots of trees. And stuff.”

Sigh.

Sadly, the two projects I’m working on are no longer at the draft stage where I can get away with saying, “And then there were emotions. And stuff.” They’re at the stage where I need to be vulnerable. That doesn’t come easily to me, even under the best circumstances. I need to be able to feel what the characters feel in order for it to have any hope of coming across as authentic to the reader. And I haven’t been able to do that. Honestly, I haven’t even tried in the past month. Actually, for longer than that, as I started to shut down emotionally even before surgery. In self-defense. Anticipating pain.

While there are still ups and downs, I’m finally getting to the point in recovery where the pain is no longer the all-consuming, steal-your-breath-away, hold-very-still-and-concentrate ordeal that it was the first few weeks. I’m also making good progress on weaning myself off the narcotic pain meds, which didn’t make me loopy after all. They just make me sleepy (and unable to come up with blog-appropriate similes). I’ve been taking all sorts of impromptu naps.

The really interesting part of recovery and physical therapy has been the insistence that I try things I don’t think I’m ready to try. Within hours after surgery, a pair of drill sergeants deceptively pleasant therapists came into my hospital room and said “we” were going to stand up and maybe walk a bit. I wanted to laugh and say, “Yeah, right. You’re welcome to try, but this ain’t gonna happen.” But I stood up and they shoved a walker in front of me and we by god walked right out of that room and down the hall to the window and back. Of course, I was still drugged to the gills and wouldn’t have felt any pain if they’d curled me up and rolled me down the hall like a bocce ball at the beach, but still. I did it.

They sent me home the day after surgery, which I still find a bit mind-boggling considering what they did to me. Below is a print out of the actual x-ray of my actual knee, two weeks post-surgery, moments after they removed 37 actual metal staples from the incision. That was fun. Apparently, HIPPA rules say I can’t take a picture of an x-ray, even if it’s of my own body part. Hence the print out.

That horizontal

That white horizontal line isn’t anything cool, like maybe a laser beam; it’s a fold in the paper.

Yes, I have pics of the incision at various stages. No, I’m not going to post them.

I was ready to stay in the hospital an entire week, simply because the food was that good. I’m not kidding. It was fantastic and I didn’t even have to clean up the kitchen afterward. But they said I’d made remarkable progress and was ready to go home. They were right.

Lunch:

Lunch: tender grilled chicken, herb roasted potatoes, steamed zucchini slices, fresh fruit (not shown)

The in-home PT has been more of the same. The woman I’ve been working with is tough and insistent, without being mean. There’s no way I could do that job. Not effectively. I’m full of admiration and gratitude. She, too, is amazed by my progress and has pushed me way past what I thought were my limits.

Two instances stand out. The first one was an exercise to strengthen my hamstring muscle. It’s something I simply couldn’t have done, pre-surgery, as damaged as my knees are. I’ve had ample experience with how much that particular movement hurts. The second was walking down a set of stairs, leading with my non-surgical still-messed-up leg and relying on the so-called strength of the one they’d sliced to bits, mere weeks ago. The one that was still hurting and not even close to being fully healed.

I gave the PT a dubious look, but not trying wasn’t even an option. I am nothing if not determined.

Both times, I braced myself physically and emotionally for what I was sure was going to be excruciating pain. Pain that I knew, from years and years of frustrating experience, was going to happen. Both times, no doubt in my mind, this was going to fucking hurt.

It didn’t.

And with that realization, both times, I fought back tears.

I think I’m almost ready to get back to writing.

11 Comments

Filed under creativity, deep thoughts, health and well-being, writing