Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression: What century IS this?


This is not a funny post. It’s about depression, and depression isn’t funny. Since Robin Williams’ suicide this week, and the not-so-surprising news of his battle with depression and substance abuse (self-medicating for the depression, I’d wager), I’ve read some pretty strange comments. The one that sticks in my craw is that Williams is somehow “cowardly” and “weak” for taking the suicide route and not just bucking up and getting himself together (by gum!).

I cannot believe that in 2014, there is STILL this kind of stigma and ignorance about mental illness. It’s brain CHEMISTRY, people. It’s not something a person can think away, will away, wish away, or work away. And the rest of us can't guilt someone out of it. If any other part of a person’s body goes rogue, and he or she develops psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, diabetes, cancer, etc., we don’t expect that person to simply “get over it.” So why, when a person’s brain chemistry runs amok, do we expect them to keep quiet about it, laugh it off, plan a vacation, take up a new hobby, or get a little more sun? Holy frickin’ dopamine-starved neurons, Batman!

I suffered from bouts of clinical, certifiable, whacked-out chemical depression (and possibly bipolar disorder) beginning in my early 40’s. My theory is that my body at that time became a giant peri-menopausal Vita-Mix of surging (or disappearing) hormones, and that started the depression ball rolling. There were times when all I could do was close my office door, lie on the floor, and sob, with a school-marm sweater over my face to muffle the noise. There were times I wanted a divorce. There were times I couldn’t get out of bed. I had panic attacks so bad sometimes that I threw up and thought my heart would explode. Shadows made me cry. Happy people made me cry. Sunlight made me cry. I couldn’t speak sometimes. I could barely breathe sometimes. There were times I wanted to die. I was NOT SAD. My brain was a swirling chemical cauldron. I was GONE.

Then one day I’d wake up, and I’d feel so good, that all of life was endless puppies & kitties & sunshine & possibilities. I couldn’t remember what I had felt like for the previous days/weeks/months (however long the bout lasted). I couldn’t IMAGINE ever feeling bad. I had my life back. Until the next time.

Most people never knew. Poor Ray patiently and lovingly bore the brunt, but I got VERY good at smiling, laughing, and joking in public. I became an Oscar-worthy actress.

After the stroke, I finally had to ask for some help. I figured, “Hey, I had a stroke…I have an excuse now.” The stroke whacked out my brain chemistry even more and damaged parts of the brain responsible for emotions, which made the depression worse. And one of the side effects of antidepressant treatment in stroke patients is better brain recovery. So I’ve been taking a low-dose antidepressant ever since, and OH. MY. DEAR. GAWD. If only I’d known 15 years ago that one little tweak—a paltry 10 mg of Celexa—to my brain batter was all it took to feel NORMAL! And by normal, I don’t mean silly and euphoric 24/7. I mean a normal distribution of reasonable highs and lows—sad, happy, bored, restless, anxious, tense, melancholy—rather than my previous bounce between the sulpheric fires of hell and jellybean rainbowland.

Depression affects poor people at higher rates. It affects women more than men (you know what James Brown says). Depression can also have a genetic component. My mom suffers from it. My grandma had it, I’m sure, although they called it “agoraphobia.” I can see signs of other kinds of mental illness in my immediate and extended family. But unlike red hair or musical talent, no one ever discusses THIS family trait. I want my children to PAY ATTENTION. NOW.

Many people still think depression is just feeling a little blue, and really, don’t we all sometimes? And can’t you just eat some cheesecake or watch some Three Stooges? And haven’t you been maudlin and self-indulgent long enough? And only helpless, overly dramatic weaklings need help for “depression.” And get outside and do some hard work, dammit, and you won’t be so hung up on your own “feelings,” dammit. And really, what do YOU have to feel bad about? Do you know how many people have it worse than you?

To those people, I say, SHUT THE F$*K UP and join the 21st century.

And to you, if you even THINK you might be one of the 120 MILLION people in the world whose brain CHEMISTRY is out of whack, call me. Stop by. I will listen ANY TIME. Better yet, call your doctor. And if your doctor is one of those people who still thinks you just need some cheesecake, call ANOTHER doctor. Keep calling until someone LISTENS to you. And if one medication doesn’t work, try another. And another. And another, until you find the one that works.

If you had cancer, and someone said, “Here’s medicine that will fix it,” would you feel like you had to hide it and “tough it out” on your own? No, you wouldn’t. Because you’re not an idiot. Don’t be an idiot (like I was) about depression (or any kind of mental illness), either.

Friday, August 1, 2014

BFBFR 2014: Beware the Bohunks!

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Man contemplates baseball cap construction.

Campfire roundtable solves world's problems.
Not drowning but waving (bad English teacher joke)
Ray and I are recently back from the annual BFBFR (Big Fat Bohunk Family Reunion—see 2012 highlights at http://uncanneryrow.blogspot.com/2012/08/big-fat-bohunk-family-reunion-2012.html). We weren't able to go last year, which may be just as well, since almost everyone who went last year came down with the BFF (Bohunk Family Flu), and the reunion turned into a bizarre, wretched quarantine.

This year’s reunion followed directly on the heels of the wedding extravaganza of my second cousin, Kevin, and his blushing bride, Alexis, so most reunion goers were already well-oiled by the time the reunion began. I didn’t get the final count, but I thought someone said 47 people this year, and in my head, I’m counting 8 dogs. At 78, Mom is the Grand Matriarch now, overseeing (or quickly turning a blind eye in some cases) four generations of Bohunks. The reunion is held near Longville, MN, on land bought by my paternal grandparents, Viola & Adolph. A third generation of cousins owns the lakefront land now, which includes the original cabin and a newer one, though most folks sleep in the tent city that goes up between the cabins. I’ve been going to family reunions at the cabin(s) off and on since I was 5-ish. Here are a few highlights from this year's adventure:
Pontoon nappage narrowly wards off tantrum.

The 4th Annual Esther Williams Invitational Lake Swim: Ten brave souls completed the lake swim this year. This is quite a feat, considering this year’s cooler air & water temps, as well as swimmers who’d already been through two days (and nights) of wedding revelry, the all-day Longville Bolf  (beer + golf) Tourney, and a couple days of general reunion madness.

Cabin Cuisine: Each clan takes a night to cook dinner. We hosted the Healthy Lifestyles Forest Grille on Sunday night—grass-fed, locally-sourced chicken, beef, or meat-free brats, tomato pesto salad, baked cheese potatoes, and grilled mixed veggies with garlic. Monday was Brent’s fabulous Ritz-breaded Deep-fried Chicken and (perfectly-seasoned) French Fries, and sadly, we missed out on Taco Tuesday the day we left for home. The rotating Camp Cleanup Crew got Julie’s Litter-Duty Lattes each morning. Note to Self for next time: Put warning/limit labels on the apple pie and peach moonshine…
Jet ski passenger delivery guy saves the day.

OCD Lilly trolls for minnows. All. Day. Long.
The 3rd Annual This-Cabin-Doesn’t-Pay-For-Itself Auction: Held on Monday night, the big sellers this year were Dan’s hatchets and Ecuadorian pants. My Chubby Chipmunk hat didn’t do so well (check out http://www.chubbychipmunk.net/ to see why the hat should have fetched a higher price). Allie made an exceptional auctioneer, a job that requires a very high tolerance for mayhem and disruption.

Louis cheeses for the camera.
XTreme Pontooning: Thanks to Mike and his “Living Room on the Lake,” we got to see Long Lake like never before. With its sofas, wet bar, canopies, and surround sound system, the floating living room let us cruise in style. There was on-board dancing, napping, and a jet ski passenger delivery (for which the jet ski driver was tossed a cold pontoon beer, which he caught mid-air whilst jetting away).

Living Room on the Lake expedition begins.
Loon Escort: Ray and I, tooling around in a paddleboat, were escorted around the lake for almost an hour by a loon family (Ray named the parents Dick & Diane, and their downy children, Louis and Louise). Because the kids couldn’t yet dive and come up halfway across the lake, Dick & Diane were forced to stick by us while we gawked, followed, took pictures, and tried to imitate loon calls. Makes you wonder who the loons really are…

Heaven or Hell Hymn Sing: Our devout atheist clansman Dan led a beautiful guitar-accompanied porch hymn sing, complete with 3- and sometimes 4-part harmony, much to cousin Kelly’s delight, who wasn’t sure whether to dance or duck (to avoid any possible lightning strikes).

Lakewater causes unusual upper-body anomalies.
We heard there was one trip to the ER after we left (torn tendons in a trail-biking accident), there were a few random breast barings, and I’ll never get that high-volume drunken version of “Country Roads” out of my head, but I don’t recall even a single visit from the sheriff, so I consider it a successful reunion.

Tightly-wound woman finally relaxes.
I know there are family reunions where people sip lemonade and play backgammon, but I am happy as a freshwater clam to be part of the loud, crazy, sometimes obnoxious, (possibly bipolar—I’m starting to think this is a family trait, too) Big Bohunk Tribe. I am eternally grateful to the cousins who work tirelessly (and mostly thanklessly) behind the scenes to take care of the cabins, pay the bills, get the place ready for us, and clean up afterwards—I hope you know how much we all need you, love you, and appreciate what you do. 

Time to start knitting and digging through the basement for next year’s auction items…

Thursday, June 19, 2014

I own this body, dammit.


An interesting and alarming video/article has been circulating on the crackbook lately: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/06/18/stroke-smartphone-video/10822049/. The woman is having - and recording - a TIA or “mini stroke.” TIA's are often precursors of major strokes.

This really hit home for me. When I had BS (my affectionate nickname for a right ischemic brainstem stroke) in 10/12, it was preceded by 4 TIA’s over the course of 2 days (you can read about the event in more detail here http://uncanneryrow.blogspot.com/2012/10/stroke-of-some-sort-of-luck.html). For me, during each TIA, I got momentarily dizzy, had a slight headache, and my left arm & hand wouldn’t work (they weren’t paralyzed, numb, or tingly—my left hand just sort of hung there, loose, and wouldn’t do what my brain told it to). Each time, things would go back to normal after a few minutes, so I thought I was fine—just stressed, over-tired, light-headed from too much coffee, or any number of other rationalizations. I put myself through the standard stroke inventory in front of a mirror—smile, raise my arms, repeat short sentences, stick out my tongue, and everything seemed okay. Still, I suspected from the beginning that these were TIA’s, because of the dizziness and sudden weakness and lack of coordination in my left arm.

On the second day, I went to the doc and was diagnosed with “possible atypical migraine,” even though I TOLD the doc I’d never had migraines and was probably having TIA’s. The doc started me on BP medicine. (Duh...maybe my BP was suddenly high because I was having mini strokes and was terrified?) This was probably a huge mistake on the doc’s part, since the BP med further restricted blood trying to get to my already-choked brain. The doc sent me home to wait a couple of days for a mobile testing lab. That night, I had the Big One and had Ray drive me to the ER in the Big City.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have bypassed the doc and clinic from the beginning, in favor of the ER in a hospital with a stroke unit. They MIGHT have been able to give me the magic t-Pa drug that could have prevented the Big One entirely—you have a 4-hour window from the start of symptoms to get the drug. By the time I got to an ER, the window had slammed shut.

BS did plenty of mischief. It left me with left-side “weakness and incoordination,” as the neurologist puts it. My left hand didn’t work. I had trouble walking and had to use a cane. My left leg dragged. My left eye wandered. I careened into walls. I had “emotional lability” and cried or laughed inappropriately or spontaneously. I sometimes had trouble swallowing.

Thankfully, exercise, repetitive movements, and plain old everyday muscle use & memory has helped my brain re-route or make new connections to my body, so things mostly work again. The “deficits” (another neurologist pet term) that remain are subtle and invisible to the casual observer. I’m still slightly dizzy about half the time. I have occasional hand-eye disconnect, so that I type letters in reverse, or my fingers go for a key on the opposite side of the keyboard from the letter I want. Sometimes my left fingers type two letters at once or miss the keyboard entirely. My memory is squishy. My left foot doesn’t always lift high enough to clear stairs, and I trip. When I’m tired, everything on my left side starts to “wilt” or drag, just a hair. I still get tired VERY easily and don’t always deal well with over-stimulation. And my brain processing speed is slower (probably a difference only I can detect), so I’m occasionally at a loss for words – for a millisecond.

I also lost my singing voice and my ability to play gee-tar. My left fingers still have a hard time holding down gee-tar strings firmly enough to make a nice ringing chord, and they sometimes miss a string entirely, since they don’t always go where my brain tells them to go. Both singing & playing are improving with daily practice, though my former clear singing tone still eludes me.

In the words of today’s ubiquitous expression, “It is what it is.” I can’t go back and un-stroke. I’m alive and grateful. I can think and speak. BS taught me that the brain is an incredible, complex, fascinating work of art, and I have a profound new love and appreciation for my brain. More importantly maybe, BS taught me that we need to be our OWN healthcare advocates—doctors are not gods; they do NOT have all the answers; they are NOT always right. I heard long ago: If 50% of docs graduated in the top 50% of their class, what does that say about the other 50%?

And here's the real point of this post: If YOU think something is amiss in your mind or body, GO. If you think it might be something big—stroke or heart attack, for example—bypass the clinic. Go directly to the ER, preferably in a hospital with a unit specializing in whatever you think is wonky (brain, heart, etc.). It’s better to go and be wrong than not to go and to be sorry. The video at the beginning of this post also points out that if you aren’t satisfied with the answers you get, ask for a different doc. Or, walk out of one ER and into another. Ask a bazillion questions. Whine. Protest. Scream and hold onto doorframes if you have to, but don’t leave until they Check. You. Out. Completely. It’s YOUR life…save it. ;)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Prodigal Peas


Francoise the Elder: Romantic Victor
If you’ve followed the blog (http://uncanneryrow.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-case-of-disappearing-peafowl.html), then you know that our peaflock, 29 birds at its peak in 2011, suffered massive “culling” from multiple drought-desperate predators, nest predation, and disappearance, until by this spring we were down to three birds: a solo female and two males.

Devastated by the losses, I did some research this spring to see about buying peachicks to rebuild the flock. Turns out, it would take major work, beginning with converting our garden shed (formerly a chicken house) into a peahouse with an outdoor netted pen. I would have to raise the chicks—about $300-500 for 9 chicks, depending on the color/strain—penned until fall, when they’d be big enough and familiar enough with our existing flock, to turn loose. I decided the Goddess of Stamina & Finance would have to buoy me up one more year before I could tackle such a project.
 
Grotto Formerly Known as Casbah
These losses absolutely broke my heart, especially since the peacocks pre-date us here on the Row. When we first looked at the property, there were 6 peacocks in the resident flock, and the contract for the house stipulated that the peas remain with the property; reading this clause sealed the deal for me. Legend has it that peafowl have been on the place for over 25 years now. In fact, there’s a shed-sized “casbah” outside our back door that a previous owner built as a “peacock house.”

In the meantime, last Thursday morning, I walked out on the back porch with my coffee in time to see THREE peahens. I did a cartoony, aghast eye-rub, looked again, and sure enough, there was our lonely hen Debbie in the loafing shed having a dust bath, and two other hens making a beeline (pealine?) across the yard, straight for Francoise, our oldest and dominant male, who was fanning, flirting, thrumming, and calling for all he’s worth!

Junior the Lesser: Romantic Loser
I’m pretty certain these are a couple of the Row’s vanished hens returned, after more than a year’s absence. They knew right where to find the pea-buffet; they jumped up into the birdbath like they owned the joint; they settled into the greenhouse window well during yesterday’s heat, like they’d never been gone. They’re more skittish than Debbie, but that’s probably a good thing. And best of all, they WANT TO NEST; for a few brief moments each morning, they let Francoise have his way with them.

I like to think the Universe is working her magic, naturally, slowly, restoring balance. And it’s ridiculous how happy the Prodigal Peas’ return makes me—I could SO go all Flannery O’Connor, reclusively wandering the farm, trailed by our little flock of peas, rocking a housedress, a bad perm, pearls, and cat-eye glasses, perfectly content in my hermitage. So if you don’t hear from me for a stretch, swing by and check on Ray…
Flannery and Me...We're Like THIS.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Let the Summer Begin


lakeside drooling chairs
I just turned in my final grades last week, and already, my patio table is covered with 6 flats of veggie garden and hanging basket plants; I have two guitars, a mountain dulcimer, and a baritone ukulele in the dining room waiting for new strings, and half a dozen 3-part-harmony songs to learn for a July birthday party; I have a box of spray paints and four old metal patio chairs to re-do; I have a contractor to meet with; I have an old swing set frame to paint and a new rope swing to put up…

Apparently, these things don't plant themselves.
Is there an Overachiever’s Anonymous? Should I start a chapter? Because I could totally be their poster girl. Clearly, it’s an illness. It’s part the unfortunate OOPS gene (Obsessive Overachiever/Perfectionist Syndrome—thanks, Mom). It’s part end-of-semester euphoria, which makes us think we can cram a year’s worth of neglected work, family re-connecting, and leisure activity into one fleeting summer. And it’s part desperation over the brevity of prairie summer, which seems to have gone from 3 months to, oh, 6 weeks or so. It just snowed in the Black Hills, for Pete’s sake, and it’s the middle of May. I’ve seen snow in June.

Ray and I started our “summer” almost before the semester ended, with a quick road trip to MN last week for our friend Bruce’s  funeral. Halfway there, we stayed overnight with friends Peggy & Steve on Big Stone Lake. Staying with them is always a heavenly little retreat—if I could walk out my back door with a cup of coffee and sit on a dock, water lapping and gulls calling & diving, I’d spend the rest of my life shuffling between dock & coffee pot, sipping or staring/drooling. People would start to talk about that “poor white-haired woman on the dock. Gordon’s cousin LuVerne said she used to move and even speak…” It’s probably good I’m landlocked at home.

In MN, we stayed with our “new” friends, Pat & Terry (who also live on a lake!). We’d been hearing about these folks from Bruce for years, and they opened their home to us without a moment’s thought or hesitation. Pat is an antique dealer, and their home is chock full of history, so staying there was like going home for me (see my old post: http://uncanneryrow.blogspot.com/2011/01/missing-yo-yo-man.html). Terry is a luthier and gave us a tour of his shop while Steve demo’d one of Terry’s guitars. It was really a private concert of gorgeous guitar-playing, on an incredible instrument that’s also a work of art. I’m now trying to figure out which child or grandchild I can sell to get one of Terry’s parlor guitars (http://www.kennedyguitars.com/size-2/); I’m pretty sure this guitar could even improve my singing voice...

MN fence - don't boot me in.
On the way home, we meandered around southwest MN until we found the “Little Henry House.” This is a house where Little Henry, Ray’s band from his 20’s, lived and played music together. They were a bunch of sweet little hippie boys (and girls, who moved in & out occasionally, too), and I could just imagine the early 70’s peacelove communal vibe—until we neared the house and I spotted the rusty chain across the drive, the yard full of junk cars, and the two junkyard dogs that charged our slowly-cruising car. The house’s owner, a gruff old man, came out and stood, flannelled arms crossed over his chest, until we moved on. O the times, they are a’changing.

fokken salad ni├žoise
Susan & Cathy - as Etta would say, "At last!"
living room Klezmer
Speaking of change, as soon as we got home, I was fixing food for our Sisters of Perpetual Disorder monthly dinner meeting. This month, we had two wonderful occasions to celebrate. Our sister Cindy returned from CT, where’d she’d been nannying her new grandson since last winter. And our sisters Cathy & Susan, partners for over 35 years, were finally able to marry! They’d gone to IA (O, the irony…committed same-sex partners—and how much more committed can you be than 35 years together and a paid-off mortgage??—can’t legally marry in SD yet, but it’s still on-the-books legal to shoot Native Americans if 5 or more gather on your property). 

There were 27 of us at this month's "meeting" (we rotate host-homes for this incredible potluck). Gail, Laurie, and I (the Nickerettes) sang a stirring, slightly modified rendition of the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” (ours was “Courthouse of Love”), and Laurie and Holly, a gifted clarinet player, did a set of Klezmer music (Susan is Jewish), including a Laurie-modified version of “Hava Nagila.” The day was a glorious celebration of friendship, food, wine, stories, laughs, congratulations, and love, as ANY wedding reception should be.

gratuitous grandchild shot
Things have settled down a bit now, but here in the upper Midwest, we know the “summer window” is really more a peephole. Mid-winter, my OOPS summer goals were to (1) write the really great American novel; (2) travel the world; and (3) convince all warring nations/peoples to lay down their arms. But now that I recall SoDakian summer more realistically, I’ll settle for getting the garden in and putting up some food. I’ll take a short June girls’ road trip to a lake cabin (thanks to my brother), where we’ll do some sunning & rehearsing. Ray & I are scheming for a mid-summer longish road trip to Nevada and New Mexico (have you ever tried to find a farm-sitter for 3 dogs, a cat, 2 parrots, and peacocks?), and we’re making plans for the late summer Big Bohunk Family Reunion up by Walker, MN. And I took a couple grandkids, ages 9 months and 4 years, to the zoo yesterday (a good reminder why mostly young’uns have children).

My post-stroke addled brain and wobbly left side could really use a summer of beach reading, walks, meditation, singing, and regular afternoon naps. But like the farmers around here, Ray and I feel compelled to “make hay while the sun shines.” Maybe I’ll ask Ray to string up the hammock in the garden: swing…pull a weed…swing…pull a weed…

Sunday, May 18, 2014

There Once Was a Man from Revillo...


Little Henry 1.2
Ray went home this past week, and I tagged along. We stopped in the northeast South Dakota town where Ray grew up. We cruised around town, as returnees do, remarking about the changes and what and who had gone missing—the old gas company outpost, the hotel, his parents.

Then we drove on to Alexandria MN for the wake/memorial/par-tay in honor of our missing friend, Bruce Kelly (http://www.andersonfuneral.net/obituary.asp?id=1488). Ray has known Bruce since his early college years, and knew OF him before that, when Bruce’s family moved from the farm into Ray’s hometown. Ray and Bruce passed boldly through the “drop out and become famous rock & roll musicians” phase together, and they've played music together in one band or another ever since—about 40 years. In the past decade or so, the band they had in their 20’s, Little Henry (the boys lived together in a farmhouse back then), had been getting back together to play gigs once or twice a year.

Bruce’s memorial service was as close to a perfect funeral as I’ve seen. The “service” part was [un]officiated by someone who knew and could share his own memories of Bruce, a couple of poems, and some words of comfort; Bruce’s brother Norm and Bruce’s three children shared beautifully touching and funny memories; I read a poem; and musician friends near & dear to Bruce sang songs that had been some of Bruce’s favorites. No “sermon,” no rote readings from a standardized service, just broken-hearted joy.

Little Henry 5.0
The rest of the day was 300 or so folks reconnecting, connecting for the first time, hugging, weeping, laughing, eating, drinking, and sharing Bruce stories. I talked some serious kale & quinoa with Bruce’s daughter—Bruce’s quick wit and constant humor is alive and exponentially multiplying in his amazing kids. Many of the musical amalgamations with whom Bruce had played over the years (he was a monster bass player) took the stage and cranked out tunes—probably what Himself loved to do most in this life. Even his wife Annie got up and played her accordion on a few tunes. Bruce was probably late for the funeral, having stopped along the way to have a beer and tell someone about this one time when…

Little Henry 5.2

There once was a man from Revillo, who hid golf balls under his pillow...

I have lots of Bruce memories of my own, but the thing I come back to over and over about Bruce is this: Having come on the scene later, I am not part of the Little Henry history. Even so, Bruce welcomed me unconditionally as LH family. He encouraged me to sing with the band, always treating me like an essential element, not like a “band wife” or “chick singer.” He emailed songs I HAD to learn. The last Crackbook message I got from Bruce said “I’ll sing with you anywhere, anytime.” Shortly after meeting her in 2006, he got his future wife, Annie, a newspaper editor, interested in playing music and brought her (another interloper not part of the LH history) into the LH family, as well. Maybe I’ve romanticized Bruce’s larger-than-life-ness in my addled brain, but it seems to me that for Bruce, there were no insiders and outsiders, no people who did or didn’t belong. There were only people he loved.

We’re wrong to think of anything as permanent, I know. Everything is temporary. We live most of our lives with fractured hearts precisely because we cling to the unrealistic expectation that things—and people—will stay. So Ray and I will move on, we’ll keep playing music and telling bad jokes. And if, while I'm getting ready for today's Sisters of Perpetual Disorder meeting & celebration,  you hear me say, “I’m making a fokken salad nicoise,” well, that’s just a wee bit ‘o Bruce.

UNTIL WE GET THERE

You go on ahead, out into the galaxy.
Learn the chord changes
for these new songs, warm up the band.
We’ll stay here a while to celebrate
your unconditional kindness,
your constant humor & generous hugs,
your joy in family & friends.
We’re glad and grateful, knowing
you join the music of the universe,
notes so true and full of love
they’ll ring out in this temporary dark
until we find you again—
your mischievous smile in the crescent moon,
your twinkling eyes in bright planets,
your heartstrings in light trails
left by shooting stars.
We’ll have to stay here a while,
without your hands to hold,
but our road is less troubled,
our burdens lighter somehow,
because now and always,
you fill our bruised & aching hearts
with laughter and song.

Friday, April 25, 2014

It all boils down to...Jell-O.


First half: all-night jams.
Making sugar-free Jell-O today for Ray’s and my evening “treat” was suddenly hilarious. I started laughing, then I had to dash for the bathroom (any woman over 50 will explain it to you), where I had a few moments to contemplate the glories of middle age.

I’m in my 50’s. THAT’S middle age.  I swear, if I hear another 30-something woman kvetch about being “old” or “over the hill,” I’ll give her such a swat with my hiking pole (hipster cane) that it’ll knock her from here to Tuesday. This is probably how my 78-year-old mom feels about us whiny whippersnapper 50-somethings, too. I guess there are varying degrees of curmudgeonness.

One difference I’ve noticed between younger adulthood and midlife is the shortening of one’s daily energy window. The semester is grinding [me] to a halt, and my colleagues and I are in full-on, flop-sweat panic mode trying to cram in every goal, outcome, measurement tool, assessment test, final paper, final portfolio, and student conference left on the Biblical Syllabi in order to appease the vengeful regental gods. We know full well that this “cramester” means that students salivate over their instructor evaluations, where they can unleash, with their pointy No. 2 pencils, their own stress-induced, apocalyptic (as all things are for 19-year-olds) retribution. There it is: another chance at Superhuman Teacher of the Year blown to smithereens.

First half: all-nighter, somewhere in NM.
Anyway, I noticed in a recent lightning round of student conferences that my midlife/post-stroke brain is good till about 3 p.m. After that, it quite suddenly closes up shop and goes home, leaving me in front of class or in a meeting, trying to hold up my lower jaw. I stare into space and say things like “Okay, well…whatever,” or “Wow…pretty Works Cited page,” or “ED-ipus…EEDipus…hmmm….” I’ve also been squeezing in additional conferences with students who now find themselves in the Downward Failing Dog position, and if they come to see me after 3 p.m., I go all Mom on them, like, “Well, Bethany, you should have thought of that before you…” or “I guess those absences really do have consequences, right Treyvon?” or “Personal responsibility blahblahblah…” Not helpful to either of us.

First half: musicians + old school bus = band.
Another thing I’ve noticed lately is that if you take your age, subtract the number of “Kojak” episodes you’ve watched (either accidentally or on purpose), then multiply that by 10 times the number of times you’ve ever said “totes” or “probs” (A – K x (10xTP)), that’s how many calories you can safely consume in a day without packing on a spare monster truck tire and watching your eyes sink into folds of spongy blubber. And that’s only IF you also jog 20 miles/day (on your recently replaced knee/hip), don’t eat ANY processed foods or sugars, don’t drink ANY alcohol, and take a Zumba class. My friend M and I tried a belly dancing class not long ago, because, well, really wonderful belly dancers are voluptuous, right? So the class was an hour long. She lasted 30 minutes, and I lasted 40, before we both faked injuries and left. The 20-somethings had already put 9-1-1 on speed dial, so they were relieved when we left under our own power.

Second half: sudden, unexplained muscle contractions.
That brings me to another novelty of midlife. Shifting priorities. I was not a bit embarrassed to leave that belly dancing class. Nor was I embarrassed when I recently showed up for a student conference on the wrong day. I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, but my people-pleasing obsession seems to have vanished right along with my well-defined waistline. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but it took me until my 50’s to realize that even the most kind-hearted folks have plenty of their own swampwater to wade through; they don’t have the wherewithal to consider mine. So I’m learning to be my own advocate. I’m learning to say no. In fact, I’m learning to say hell no, then bend over, slap my knees, and cackle hysterically.

Second half: clearly, she doesn't care WHO sees her hair.
Speaking of bending over, who was I trying to fool when I spent our friend B’s birthday doing wine-fueled interpretive dance at our Little Town watering hole? My former 2- or 3-day non-stop party binges, and my frequent grad school all-nighters, have turned into biannual MAYBE half-nighters, followed by a week of Advil, hotpacks, and constant grumbling.

So as the semester tightens its choke-hold, with piles of papers to grade and a bazillion loose ends to tie up, I’m planning summer outings, of course. Maybe a cross-country Amtrak trip to see friends in Cali. Maybe the Denver/Vegas/Santa Fe loop road trip to see our oldest son. Maybe a few days at the lake with the girls. Or maybe, a summer senior yoga class, lots of Jell-O, and daily 3 p.m. naps.