Suddenly Paralyzed But Thankful Part I

Have you had an experience, a health scare perhaps, a close call, or the loss of a loved one that brought you up short and changed your priorities or your focus? I haven’t written a blog since September. Here’s why.

I was camping with family at Coos Bay on the Oregon Coast September 26-30. My daughter from Arizona was visiting and left on October 2. We had a fine time visiting around the campfire and netting our fill of crab. Ah, the good life — a reason we moved to Oregon, to be near the ocean.

Two days later, 12:15 A.M. on October 4, everything changed. I was watching TV, leaning back in my recliner, when I felt a sharp pain in my right calf. Oh shoot! Another cramp. I was prepared to stand to work it out, but the pain immediately went away.

Soon I realized something strange was going on, but my mind wouldn’t accept what my body was feeling. I was paralyzed from the waist down on my right side. Surely my foot had just gone to sleep, I reasoned. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move it.

I woke my husband, snoring gently in his recliner beside me. In his half-awake state he too couldn’t accept sudden paralysis. This was just some strange temporary malady. So he dragged me down the hall to bed. And I do mean DRAGGED. It felt like my right foot was glued to the floor. Amazingly, every wrench hurt my right knee which has suffered several injuries and is arthritic. And helping me into bed, he grabbed my ankle and I screamed in pain. How could I be paralyzed and at the same time so sensitive?

 

Because I am still weak and shaky, I’m going to continue  later

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Blithely ignoring rules

Rules are made to be broken, I’ve read. So why bother with rules at all? Within minutes of my last very personal post, I read that blogs shouldn’t be personal. What? Two of the first blogs I started following were entirely based on personal experience. The response to my personal blog appeared to be the most I’ve had in my short blogging life.

I’m not assuming that my personal experience or opinion is anything special, but if it’s an experience shared by others or a thought-provoking or reassuring opinion, why not post it?

Another long-established rule I consciously ignore is to write every day. I heard that admonition from so many sources for so many years that I unthinkingly passed it on to my students. The only way one improves, I said, whether playing the violin or playing tennis or painting watercolors, or writing, is to practice. If you can’t think of anything to write, write “I can’t thinking of anything to write,” over and over.

Can you imagine anything more demoralizing, more an admission of failure, than writing the same inane thing over and over? So I soon amended my instruction to start, “Yesterday I . . .” and write in detail as vividly as possible your humorous or humiliating or boring yesterday. I also provided long lists of prompts because I asked for five journal entries per week from my writing students in addition to required essays.

Now I see writing as extending far beyond forcing words onto paper or screen. I jot ideas virtually or figuratively and rummage around mentally, falling asleep and waking up composing and revising so when I sit down to write there’s plenty to work with. That’s when writing is joyful.

 

 

So very ignorant, yet still trying

Today for the first time I read a blog by someone who confessed ignorance and frustration with the intricacies of blogging. Now I’ve publicly admitted technological incompetence almost beyond comprehension.Lest I be labeled an old Luddite, let me say I bought my first computer, an Apple 2e, in 1981 or 2. Maybe that level of sophistication is all I am capable of handling, but years in academia forced me to struggle through WordPerfect 5.1 and every iteration of Word, always mastering only what I had to know to function.

As programs became more sophisticated, I appeared to lose the brain cells necessary to understand them. That may be more reality than appearance. Fifteen years ago I had open heart double bypass surgery which entails being virtually dead, with a machine taking over vital functions. That can result in what heart surgeons call “bubble brain”, a loss of mental function they have observed in some patients perhaps because of bubbles forced into the brain by the blood-circulating machine.. Call it paranoia, but I have felt a faltering, a hesitation, I didn’t note before. Or maybe I was never as smart as I thought.

Then four years ago I had a left brain stroke which resulted in complete loss of speech and a paralyzed right hand and numbed right side for a short time. I still seem to struggle more than before finding the right word and getting it spoken without slurring a bit. So I often call out to my husband,  “What’s another word for _____?” or “What do you call a _____?” or “Help! The computer is froze up again.”

Starting to blog five months ago, it was some time before I realized that “comment” and “follow” had to be activated. My theme somehow changed without my permission. Unless I log in just right, I have no dashboard. Just last week I realized I should have a page about my books, which I have mentioned but felt reluctant to “advertise.”

This in spite of studying a five-pound tome from the library and finally buying a WordPress for Dummies type of book, which has vocabulary and concepts beyond my  understanding.

I still enjoy writing, so maybe I should just write and not worry about rivaling all those smart talented bloggers who post stunning photos and employ all manner of widgets and clever interfaces. (Have I used that term right?)

When is modest too modest?

After starting this blog in April, just today I added the page “My Books.” I mentioned them several times, but somehow it seemed pushy to advertise them. Ignoring advice from many sources that I should toot my “published!” horn as loudly as possible on as many social media platforms as possible, I demurred and delayed.

But didn’t you start this blog because you had published a book, you might ask. The answer is yes, but more than that, I envisioned it as possibly helpful to other writers/would-be indie publishers. I cow pathed into some personal experience blogs, copied a vignette from my memoir, asked some philosophical questions and just generally lost focus.

I may be back in focus now. Or not.

Peaceful respite

Sailing on Lake of the Woods
Sailing on Lake of the Woods

 

My father, a hard-working goal-driven dreamer who managed to attain goals seemingly beyond his reach, often said, “Most people are so busy earning a living  they don’t take time to live.” As a devout Christian, he insisted that Sunday was a day of worship and rest. Neighboring ranchers said he would never succeed if he didn’t work seven days a week, but he proved them wrong.

Writers as well as others absorbed in a daily grind should consider time out from the daily grind, especially away from electronics and absorbed in the beauty of nature, a prescription for mental recharging. We just spent such a week at Lake of the Woods in southern Oregon.

Did you hear me screaming?

I spent over an hour yesterday summarizing the blogs I’ve written on memoir writing. Then when I tried to publish, a red banner said publishing was not happening. Over and over until 1 A.M. I tried without success. I left the computer on with a note for DH to click “publish” when he got up (hours earlier than I do). No luck.

I contacted help and a patient helper and I spoke different languages to each other. She suggested I save when there was no “save” button. She asked if there was black on the page and I replied yes, the type. She wanted me to go to another page when it clearly said I would lose content if I did. She finally gave up and said I should clear all caches and cookies. Eventually the only solution seemed to be to shut the computer down and start over. Which of course erased my post!

In Community help blogs I found dozens of similar complaints from as far back as ten years, many unresolved. So at least I’m not alone in my frustration.

Let’s see if this will post.

Kaleidoscope as a title?

For a while I thought Kaleidoscope: Bits and Pieces of a Life would be a good title for my memoir because it contains many articles, essays, and poems on many subjects written over a long time period. Many memoirs are focused on a theme such as loss of a loved one, serious illness, addiction, abusive and/or alcoholic parents, etc. I might have focused on negative aspects of my life but I chose to emphasize triumphs, dreams achieved, and along the way anecdotes featuring the many animals in my life. There was a bit of whining here and there, but I tried to keep it under control.

Now I’ll freely confess that I’m bad at titles. As I’m writing I keep jotting title ideas in a notebook, but seldom does one strike me as perfect for the piece I’m writing. Kaleidoscope topped my list for my memoir for months. I found spectacular royalty-free photos on the internet for a book cover.But how many people know how to spell kaleidoscope? Not me! Not until I had looked it up a dozen times.

So what did I call my memoir? In Pursuit of Dreams, a title so common that it’s faster to find the book by using my name rather than the title. Amazingly, titles can’t be copyrighted, so I could have called it Gone With the Wind if I wanted to! Brainstorming titles is one way that a writing group can be helpful. Sadly, I wasn’t in a group when I was finishing the book.

I recommend taking a writing class or joining a group to motivate you and to help you see your work through new eyes. I’m going to start looking for a group to join. Right after our fishing trip next week and a trip to Colorado to bury my parents’ ashes the next week and who knows what will come up next?

 

Inspiration

Organizing old files recently, I came across this fragment, written long ago in the form of a poem, with many cross outs and corrections.

EL VIEJO FROM GUANAJUATO FOLLOWS ME

Fifteen years ago I saw him

El Viejo, in a plaza in Guanajuato

bent like wheat broken by strong wind

glazed eyes to the ground

attending each dragging step forward

around the Jardin and around

again past my bench, left arm

clenching a large wooden box

pressing frail hips to the right.

I must go

but still I stay to watch

the parchment hands

the face like a dirt gully

after a hard rain

skin clinging to bone

ribs caved into organs.

Why is he shuffling still and

what does he carry and

what is he thinking and

what does he see?

If I were an artist I would paint him

If I were a photographer I would take a photo

But I have only words and I write him

in my notebook to carry home.

Long after the notebook is lost he stays.

I build him a cabin in green foothills

give him a lonely boy to befriend

who finds him dead one winter day and

learned from that a lesson

this selfish boy who played

with Christmas toys when he could

have visited El Viejo.

You only used me the old man nagged.

No wonder it didn’t sell.

You never knew me.

I didn’t care. I’d wasted

enough time on him.

I worked on commercial things but

he kept butting in until

I put him back in the cabin

and visited often

There it ends, as though there might be more pages. The truth is that El Viejo haunted me until years later, just recently, I published Amigos: A Novella on Amazon Kindle.

 

Why write a memoir?

The first reason that comes to my mind is to preserve memories. For years we three children along with friends and other relatives urged my parents to preserve their memories. “Tape record your stories,” we urged. “Write them down,” we said.

One year a cousin, Gerry Parker, set up a tape recorder to preserve my dad reminiscing and reciting some of the long looong poems he knew. But in the end we had precious little of his amazing life from a spinal injury when he was a kid to missing his last year of high school to take his widowed mother’s cattle north from the worst of the dust bowl to better pastures. We know little of how he achieved his dream to become a minister lacking the requisite education, or how he managed to buy the mountain ranch of his dreams. Only he fully knew the details and now they are lost.

Only you know the details of the important events of your life from your point of view (and how often another’s point of view is wrong!)  I believe most private memoirs are primarily to let future generations know you and how the world was in your lifetime.

Another reason is to be an example, to teach a lesson. I just read a memoir with a primary message of “See how successful I was and you can be too.” I’m definitely guilty of that message too blatantly in some of my essays.

Very popular in recent years are conquering illness or substance abuse or abusive relationships stories. They are popular because they offer advice, empathy, and possibly hope to others in similar situations.

A fourth reason to write a memoir is to proclaim to the world what a wonderful person you are. I’ve read memoirs where that was the major theme, and again I plead guilty in a few places in my memoir.

Other memoirs seem to be primarily for revenge, to expose those who have wronged you, eg. Mommy Dearest and others of that ilk. Again I plead guilty: I wrote one chapter called “Terrible Awful Horrible No-good Bosses.” Those incidents were long ago and far away. But I refrained from writing about a very recent hurtful incident of blatant selfishness and rudeness of close relatives.

I’ve presented five reasons to write a memoir here. Can you add others?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translating history

Today was spent translating letters from an ancestor, John Foster Buck, to his wife Adeline from Omaha, Nebraska, in 1855-56 when the legislature first convened to establish a state.

Years ago my mother showed me the four letters handed down by her mother from her grandmother. I made copies of the tiny dim spidery writing, rendered almost totally illegible in my copies. After Mother died last September I told my brother Jim about them. He had never seen them but we kept an eye out, found them, and I brought them home (from Scottsdale, AZ to Oregon) promising to type them up to share.

In August my brother, sister-in-law and sister from Arizona and perhaps my nephew from Ohio plan to meet me in Denver and travel by car to Arriba, where both sets of grandparents settled from points east, to deposit my parents’ ashes in their long-ago purchased grave sites. While there we will visit the last remaining cousin on Mother’s side of the family. So I have been struggling to bring those dim words to life again.

A perfect time, I thought, to share the typed copies of those letters along with the little genealogical information I have learned. Amusingly, each letter starts, “Dear and affectionate wife” and ends “Yours truly, John F Buck.” In every letter he asks his wife to kiss James and Charlie and also mentions, in all, Abigail, Sarah, Theodore, John, and “all the little ones.” Maybe “affectionate wife” was a tad too affectionate!

This is why I think memoirs are important. How much more there is to know about these ancestors.