In Hope of Space to Write

I haven’t “written” with pen and paper in years. I admire people who can, as their thoughts are expressed through the graceful movements of their hands. I’ve long since given up on that method. Having written almost exclusively using technology – from book to software manuals to letters to blog posts – I wholly accept that I function better with the opportunity to move words and lines of text around a page with copy & paste, insert, and delete. What can I say? While some writers literally embrace their journal and favorite pen, I embrace my keyboard shortcuts.

In the last 15 months, I have been left to improvise. Ever since my oldest daughter Ashley’s stroke, my days have been extraordinarily full. And I’ve slept in the same room with her, first in a chair in the hospital, then in a hospital bed in rehab, and now on a twin-sized bed beside hers at home. To be honest, more often than not, I’m not really sleeping much at all. I worry. I ponder. I read. And I “write.” More accurately, I “hunt and peck” my thoughts and emotions, memories and stories, using the Notes app and a single finger on the keyboard of my smartphone.

I’ve got it down to a bit of an art form, ducking under covers so that the soft glow of my phone doesn’t wake her. When she stirs – or most often whispers “hi” – I quickly drop my phone face-down on the mattress and pretend slumber until she falls back to sleep. If sleep hasn’t overtaken me while waiting, I’ll peck out a few more lines before finally succumbing to fatigue or a dearth of cogent thoughts.

But my smartphone makes a habit of ridiculing me, reminding me how foolish I am for my inability to sleep, tracking hours of phone usage, and the frequency of my disturbed sleep patterns from a tiny device strapped to my arm. It doesn’t dispense style points for my creative way of writing. It only knows to reinforce the fact that insomnia begets smartphone usage, and smartphone usage begets insomnia.

A smartphone isn’t the most efficient method for composition, better designed for eye strain than prose, but it’s all I’ve had for quite sometime. It does have the nifty built-in spellcheck, a dictionary, and Google. Internet searches can be a bit of a distraction, but can also serve as a handy tool for research, literally under the cover of darkness and a warm set of flannel sheets.

While my sleep patterns have still not become less disturbed, Ashley’s finally have after all these months. She often struggles to initially fall asleep but, many nights, she now sleeps through the night, or only awakens once or twice in need of my help. There’s now more of a pattern and predictability that allows me to come to terms with my sustained status: the twin bed, the insomnia, and the still overwhelming need to write.

Consequently, I’ve decided to attempt to create a new writing space, one that I might be able to escape to near her upstairs bedroom. Once she’s soundly asleep, I could write vertically rather than horizontally. Wouldn’t that be novel? (I swear I don’t go looking for puns. Somehow puns just find me.)

Being honest with myself, related to not only my physical circumstances but my emotional ones as well, gives me the opportunity to create solutions. And being honest with my thoughts and words may make my composition begin to appear on the page as “upright,” just as my frame will be sitting in a chair again.

Here’s to new spaces and new potential writing opportunities.

I’m hopeful.

And here’s to plain ol’ hope. “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” Better yet, where there is no hope, there is no vision. And writing is, let’s face it, a hope to be seen. (And that would be a whole lot more likely if it were not from underneath the covers.)

Take that, smartphone! Your judging days may soon be over.

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Mortality & Morbidity

It had been a week of an excruciating headache that finally ran me from primary care physician to outpatient CT scan of my head to the emergency room, all in a matter of 2 1/2 hours. Diagnosis: subdural hematoma. Cause: indeterminate.

The neurosurgeon in the ER knew my husband. They had worked together twenty-five years ago. Comforting.

Contrary to other neurosurgeons I had met over the years of being married to a physician, he seemed to be “more normal,” exhibiting a good bedside manner. Thankfully. (Each medical specialty seems to attract particular personality types. I’ll leave it at that.)

He asked about trauma, the most likely explanation for the bleed on my brain. I had no memory of any.

He asked what I do, likely as much a test of my word recall as his particular interest in me. That’s always a hard question to answer, even without brain trauma. But, after rattling off a series of activities and accomplishments, I stopped and said, “Honestly, first and foremost, I’m a mother and a caregiver. That’s my most important job.”

He heard “author,” a fact that barely describes my history but, nonetheless, was a snapshot in a scrapbook of my life events. He anticipated I would be potentially hospitalized for days, and down for longer. “You should write,” he said. “Have someone bring your laptop.”

My headache so excruciating, I couldn’t imagine writing, much less articulating anything coherent. But he insisted I could look back on it as “that period of early brain recovery” that might be “interesting to go back and read.”

“Have you read the book My Stroke of Insight?” I had not read the book but had watched her TED Talk more than once. I had shared it with my husband, thinking it might provide some insight into brain recovery following the recent stroke of our oldest daughter just 9 months ago. My husband chimed in about “how fascinating.” And it was!

And then the neurosurgeon said, “I looked up her lesion. Yours is potentially much worse. You should write.”

Much worse, you say? Much worse??

Pause. Bedside manner just jumped the tracks.

A long sustained pause in my painful brain began as my husband and he talked medicine, and they discussed my future.

All I could think: mortality, morbidity.

My God, I hope I continue to have the opportunity to write. That’s all. To create. To breathe. That’s all. Pain free. To think. That’s all. To think.

That’s all.

And then I was admitted to the intensive care unit. And I prayed that my doctor would be treating the whole person.

I am so much more than a brain.

I didn’t ask for my laptop. I wanted the screaming of my brain to be silenced. Calmed. I wasn’t ready to give it a voice. And I had to hang on to the hope that I had time. Time. Time. Time.

Eureka! (Springs, that is)

In an effort to unwind after a series of rough months, I planned a two-day getaway with my youngest daughter for some writing and relaxing. After a bit of research, and limiting our travel to a two-hour drive, we ended up at a quaint bed and breakfast in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. (Okay. So much for the 2-hour drive. I miscalculated. It was 3.)

The relaxing part was going well for the both of us, but my daughter was having much more success than I in the writing arena. I felt bogged down with recent life events while her fingers were flying on her keyboard.

It reminded me of the guy I sat next to in a college biochemistry exam. I felt less than prepared while he was furiously writing the answers.

Wait a minute. I married that guy! Now I was sitting next to the ginger female version, slash English and literature grad school student, generating a fun blog post. All the while, I was searching for literary meaning in the crazy minutiae of my life.

Yep, before I knew it, she’d hit “Publish Now” and her piece was already posted.  Then, within minutes, “Oh! I just got another follower!” “Ohhhhh, two people just liked my post!”

When I read what I had written out loud to her, it sounded all angsty and depressing.

Her suggestion? “Mom, write something pithy!”

“Pithy? Pithy, you say??” Um, my life does not scream “PITHY!”

“You know! Something lighthearted!”

But in all seriousness (or, in all lighheartedness), my life isn’t without humor. Even this mother/daughter trip has had its share of giggles. Miscalculating the travel time got a few laughs. And then there was the first stop for gas and a snack (since I miscalculated the travel time). Standing at the checkout, a female voice behind me said, “Ma’am, are you sure you wouldn’t like some gum?” I turned around to see a toothless woman restocking the Dentyne and Doublemint with a big friendly smile.

“Oh, no, thank you!”

Hmmmm. I thought I saw the irony? But, to be sure, I ran it by my quick-witted daughter when I returned to the car. She concurred.

The first night at the bed and breakfast, we had our share of chuckles reading Facebook newsfeed comments about a poor guy hospitalized in Tucson who apparently had no recollection of who he was. One person suggested he had concocted the story as a way to get out of paying for his hospitalization. (That would be clever of him!) Another suggested he was Richard Gere’s younger brother. (If true, lucky guy!) And yet another suggested getting into his wallet to check his driver’s license? (Heck, why hadn’t the authorities thought of that?)

And then there was literally a psychic who suggested English was not his first language, and that he had a wife and kids “back home.” (Okay, Ms. Psychic, if you could be a bit more specific on the “back home” part, we might have a legit lead on figuring out who the heck this poor guy is!)

And so maybe I didn’t come up with some meaty blog post on this trip. But that’s okay. My “getaway takeaway” is that life ain’t so bad after all. I still have my teeth. I remember my name. And I will eventually find my way home with a daughter who writes like a champ, and finds her mother at least mildly clever and amusing.

Yep, life ain’t so bad.

Ruminations of a Quasi “Writer”

It was a simple exercise performed at the beginning of my very first writer’s retreat that had me facing my subconscious. We were instructed to approach others in attendance, greet them with a handshake, and then proclaim, “I am a writer and I am here to write!” We moved from attendee to attendee until we had made the rounds and matter-of-factly greeted one another with these same words.

No big deal, right? Honestly? Wrong. It made me squirm, likely because I’m not exactly sure what a “writer” is. And I am not certain I am one.

No matter, saying those four simple words – “I am a writer” – stirred up some shit. Oddly, it quickly became an exercise in how I see myself – how I truly see myself – rather than how others may or may not perceive me.

“FRAUD” is the word that bellowed in my head. “Who the hell do you think you are referring to yourself as a writer?” “IMPOSTER!” was hidden behind my awkward smile. I’ve struggled my entire life with the measure of my achievements completely out of sync with my internal view of myself. And so there it was…again.

I don’t embrace titles or accomplishments well. And for those who know I have, among other things, written a book (that has been published, for gosh sake), you might find that curious, even strange. Yes, intellectually, I do, too. But to my way of thinking, a layperson bravely stepping forward to deliver a baby in a moment of crisis does not make one an obstetrician. So writing a book in an effort to help others did not make me “a writer.” In my estimation, all I did was deliver the baby.

And when the “imposter” in me reappears, that logic seems incredibly, and unfortunately, rational.

That is, until I had to say it over and over again: “I am a writer,” “I am a writer,” “I am a writer.” It begins to reach a level of sensibility to add “writing” to my list of hobbies because, well, hobbies are “safe.” “Reading, gardening, baking, knitting…writing.” I might consider being brave enough to identify with the -ing version of the word.

But the -er version of the word? Can I legitimately call myself “a writer?” Maybe the constant crashing and colliding of all those words in my brain is the “writer” trying to find a safe place to land: a piece of paper, a Word document, or an entry on the Notes app of my phone. If, on some level, that were not true, it would have been completely irrational for me to have been compelled to attend a writer’s retreat, and of all things, not once but twice.

Is there possibly a “writer” in me trying to find her way out?

For now, I may not be able to fully embrace “writer.” But maybe I can embrace “word pilot”: someone who carefully lands collections of ordered letters and reasonably articulated ideas safely onto a page. And then maybe I can admittedly breathe a sigh of relief each time I place the tires on the tarmac. The repeated touch and go maneuvers of my thoughts have been, and are, incredibly exhausting and not the least bit satisfying. I desperately need to create a runway to land my words.

So, may I introduce myself?

“I am a word pilot and I am here for a very hard landing.”

There. That I can live with.

Embracing the Idealist

It’s been just over two weeks since returning home from a writer’s retreat at the Mabel Dodge Luhan Lodge in Taos, New Mexico. What an amazing seven days: powerful women writers with stories to tell, supporting one another in their journey to find their truth. Jennifer Louden’s inspiring leadership. A beautiful setting. And exquisite food that included scrumptuous bacon each morning and a vegetable tofu lasagna that even made tofu taste delicious! (Before Taos, I honestly never imagined “delicious” and “tofu” in the same sentence. Indeed, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are magical!)

DepositionI came home completely enthused and rejuvenated. I started off my week at home by preparing a batch of gluten free homemade blueberry muffins in honor of our last Taos breakfast, brewed a strong cup of coffee, and settled in for some challenging reading. It was my 3-hour deposition from almost exactly twenty-five years ago to the day that was the result of taking on our school district over rampant segregation and discrimination. The deposition hadn’t seen the light of day in over two decades.

I waded through page after page of the deposition. Multiple times I had to put it down and walk away. Remembering that “thirty-something” idealist, and all the personal sacrifices made, was just too much. The attorney tried his best to give me quite a beating. I hadn’t forgotten. He was an asshole. I was a warrior.

Then I began to feel my week slip away. The reality of all that is required of me in my day-to-day life with Ashley’s 24/7 care took over. A few sleep-disturbed nights made the day following all the more challenging, and I struggled just to get through, much less write.

But I kept writing in my head, even when I didn’t feel strong enough, or focused enough, to commit my words to a text document. I began to recognize a potential structure in my approach. And I was reminded of the concept of “conditions of enoughness” that was so eloquently explained, and a point that was driven home, by Jen during the retreat. All those strong, wonderful women begin to identify their “conditions of enoughness.” Now it was my turn to define mine, not just at a retreat but in the context of the complexities of my life.

Two weeks later, I made it through to the end of the deposition. Dozens of colored tabs cover the one hundred and twenty pages. And I’m now ready to dig out the Letter of Findings from the federal investigation that has also not seen the light of day in decades.

Today, I believe I can begin to share my truth. I can be hopeful. I can recognize the “thirty-something” idealist that still resides within me. I can start a new week. For now, that’s enough.