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Archive for April, 2012

With me it started right after a surgery designed to treat my endometriosis. I had resisted the surgery for years out of a fear of anesthesia but so many people knew so many other people who “got pregnant a couple of months after!” that I finally gave in. I have quite literally never been the same. I woke up from that surgery in pain. But I also felt like I never fully woke up. I was fatigued. I hurt everywhere. Sometimes the pain was so bad I’d have to strip off all my clothes and lay on the floor and just cry. Wearing the clothes hurt too bad.

This went on for a couple of years. Every time I saw a doctor about it I received the answer a person dreads==”It’s all in your head.” Actually, they don’t really say that anymore. Instead they say “I can’t find anything wrong” or something else to the same effect. Something that means “you aren’t physically ill. It’s your mind.”

To this day there is nothing I loathe more than being told that your brain is responsible for your health. Okay, there is. I also loathe being told that I am sick because God is punishing me for my sin.*

In a post today Mike Duran writes

who can deny that the condition of one’s mind effects the condition of their body, for good or ill. How someone thinks has definite implications upon their quality of life. Of course, the extreme would suggest that all disease or poverty is a symptom of bad thinking. Which is patently absurd. So where do we draw the line?

I can answer that.

Your body is like a car. Having a disease is like having something wrong with your car. A disease like mine (Or I should say “diseases like mine” since I have several coexistent problems) is something like having a lemon. Being happy, being positive, being prayerful…none of that fixes the car. But it makes the car much easier to deal with.

There are mental tricks that any ill person benefits from knowing. I’m a big fan of self-hypnosis for pain control. But that doesn’t ever make the pain go away; it simply retrains your mind into focusing on something else. I’m also a big fan of keeping your mind as busy as possible. Having goals to focus on prevents the illness from taking over. Having books to read, books to write, books to colour in gives your mind something to do other than dwelling on the negativity of your situation. Otherwise it’s very easy to sit around and be angry at God, angry at healthy people, angry at malingerers.

Your mind didn’t make the illness happen, but your mind and attitude definitely contribute to how well you play the hand you’ve been dealt.

—-
*Let’s get this out of the way right here. I believe that God allows me to be ill. I believe that God could cure me if God so chose, but my illness is a tool that God uses for ministry. Some people get sent to Africa. Some people get sent to South America. I got sent to Chronic Pain.

When it comes to it, my illness has brought me closer to Christ than anything else. That’s too valuable for words. So no. God didn’t make me sick. But God also doesn’t make me well. I’m not angry about that. I rejoice in that.

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New Wood

My husband is building his work table for the Stained Glass Studio. He’s been planning, drafting, re-drafting and replanning it for about four months now, and it’s finally taking shape.

Since our garage is full of lumber, sheetrock, MDF and other building sundries the entire house smells like it did when it was brand new. It’s kind of a weird feeling, actually. Here we are now with the stained carpets and the ice maker that won’t make ice and the washing machine that needs the fabric softener distribution thingie replaced…a life that is thirteen years on from when we first moved in. But then the garage door opens and it smells like hope and new and maybe we’ll have dinner parties and someday we’ll even put in a pool.

I love trees. Back in the Nervous Time when there were real worries about possibly having to move my heart broke at the thought of leaving the trees we planted. I’ve left one Sycamore in my childhood backyard. When we moved into the new house on Popp Road I was 16 and college was looming so I didn’t want to commit to any of the trees. At this house, where we moved when I was 29, we’ve planted a weeping willow, an oak and a sweet gum. There is an Osage Orange, a river birch and a Bradford Pear that were here before we moved in. I love them all; they feel like very old friends I can trust.

I say all of this to say why I feel guilty loving new wood so much. New wood means an old tree has been chopped down. But now that I think about it, I do think it’s fantastically wonderful that the trees can keep bringing their trustworthiness along with them. And of course they bring hope too. That fantastic smell of going to the lumber yard with my dad to pick out the boards for our major swingset. The exciting smell of the woodworking shop in the basement where I made my projects for wood shop and where my dad and I put together my dollhouse from a kit.

Wood is just a wonderful gift. I think there should always be wood in a home.

I keep thinking I ought to bring this around to some serious point that ties it all together, but I don’t know that I have one. It’s 2am and I’m up and in pain and the rain is threatening to keep at it and I have this massive zit on my forehead and I just watched that show “Girls” on HBO and I’m just really aware of all the ways in which the world can massively go off the rails.

But then there are still trees. And wood from those trees. And that’s how I know there’s more to life than zits and ennui. Maybe that’ll have to be my concluding thought. Because, really, is there a better one?

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I made the mistake of reading a ‘new’ Titanic story this week. It was marketed as the story of one lifeboat of survivors and what their lives were like after the experience. In reality it was yet another story like all the other stories that have come out about the boat in the last thirty years. Titanic stories have become a write-by-numbers enterprise.

I love history. Both of my parents were History majors in college, and most of the books in our house were about history in one scope or another. As a Christian educated in Christian schools I’ve lived my life with my head always half inside the histories presented in The Bible. When those Easter movies air on TV, I realised this year, they don’t play like stories from foreign times to me, but like familiar tales. For me a movie set in Jesus’ Jerusalem feels contemporary.

I get that most people don’t really like history all that much. If you have a bad history teacher or a mind more suited to other things, the past can seem flat and dull and completely disconnected from who and what you are today. I really think that it is for those people, the history-averse, that these types of accounts are written.

He sailed in steerage on the Titanic
An Irishman named Linus O'Malley, he was travelling to America to see his sister for the first time in 20 years

Whether it’s the Titanic or Ancient Egypt or The Blitz, when writers try to draw people into history they do so by exploiting grim tragedy. ETA: We get to hear seemingly quirky details about Life Back Then to emphasise how it differs from our life. The manifests for the cargo hold on Titanic provide endless fascination for this type of thing. A Car. Several dogs. Live Chickens. Opium. We have to hear tidbits that humanise the people–she had just received a doll for her fourth birthday that she slept with always!–before watching grisly events bring about the people’s death. I hate it because it turns history into a freakish sideshow of Redshirts And How They Bought The Farm.

Real history isn’t so death-obsessed. It focuses on life. It shows us how lives were lived and why they were lived that way.

We are always doomed to repeat the central fact of history; mankind is mortal and we all will die. But the history we can change is that history that happened around the living. Why do governments slide into fascism and what does it look like when they do? (Hint: TSA) Why do treaties work? Why do other treaties fail? What wars were just, and why were they

Trafalgar Square
I ate at a Pizza Hut here with my brother

fought? Is this war we are about to embark upon one of those? Is this war we are in the middle of waging still just or has it turned pear-shaped?

History can tell us so much. It’s a shame that we’ve let grief-porn pass for history for the last decade.

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The only reason I’m writing this is because i need to do something while the dogs take care of their basic bodily functions in the backyard. The great thing about dogs is that no matter how you feel they need to do what they do. You can’t be fully slothful when you have dogs. Unless you employ a dog nanny or some such person.

I don’t want to gross anyone out, but I have spent much of the last hour relieving my stomach of its contents…a fair amount of blood included. I know I’m not to have any aspirin or NSAIDS, but when there’s a migraine in question I figure I’ll chance it. This morning “chancing it” has backfired. The migraine left last night, but the blood in the guts seems to have stayed. My life is nothing if not filled with drama, eh?

I wanted to write a blog entry about how disappointed I was with Monday Night’s Eureka episode. We watched it last night and I’m fantasising that all of the drama has actually been my soul purging itself of the ick from the show.

SPOILERS FOR EUREKA SEASON 5 PREMIERE

I am so sick of writers manipulating time. When BSG did it way back in the day (2006 or something like that) it seemed bold and daring. Now Eureka has done it three or four times, Desperate Housewives (which I don’t watch) has done it. Fringe seems to pretty much consist of it now.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer and I’m really conscious of story structure and pattern. I don’t know. (I’ve never been anyone else.) But nearly every time a writer throws in a time-manipulation I smell someone trying to back themselves out of a storyline that didn’t work for the committee.

We’ve got one “season” of Eureka left. There are something like 12 or 13 episodes in the can, and then that’s it. All the sets were struck months ago and the players decamped to far flung locales for other projects. Those of us who love the show look upon these episodes as bits of treasure, a last chance to spend time with friends we love in a place we love to hang around.

Monday night’s episode–all but a 45-second coda at the end–took everything many Eureka fans enjoy and spent the hour stomping those into dirt. The premise was that some characters had been lost in space and returned to the town 4 years later to find everything changed. Including the town. There were a couple of scenes that left me a little dusty, and a few more that had me yelling loudly about how mad I was at the writers.

Not a good start, I’m afraid.

I do not have any idea why I’m doing this. I need to be lying down. If you’ll excuse me I’m going to bring Gob back inside. Quinn can stay out because he’s too fat to fit under the fence and too lazy to dig any holes large enough for his girth. Gob does not have either of these qualities and must be supervised.

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So there’s this giant pool of quicksand filled with alligators. (No, I don’t know why the alligators don’t sink. They’re magic, I guess. Whatever. It’s a made-up story. You can play along for a few minutes.) Everybody who walks down the trail is going to run into this pool of magical alligator quicksand. You can’t walk around it.

See! Magic Alligators!

However, there IS a vine handy. It’s hanging right there above the MAQ. If you want to get over, all you have to do is grab the vine and it’ll swing you to safety if you hold on.

After years of watching my brother Dave play Pitfall! on our Intellivision (I was a Lock N’ Chase girl), I have come to a conclusion.

There are four types of Christian in the world.
The Pit People
These are the folks who think it’s really important that everyone know about the pit. They stand a few yards ahead of the pit and helpfully say “you know, there’s a pit up there.” They focus a lot of energy on the pit, trying to figure out how many alligators are in it, how deep it is and if it is mostly quicksand or mostly alligators. Sometimes they want to know if there are cobras in there UNDER the alligators. The scarier the pit the better. After all, people will watch their step if they know there’s a pit up there, right?

The Vine People
These people are really jazzed about the vine. They LOVE the vine. After all, it is an AWESOME vine. You grab it and just go swinging! Swinging is fun! So they like to stand a few yards ahead of the vine and tell everyone about this really cool neato vine that makes the trip through the jungle Easier! and Way More Fun! They like to pretend the pit isn’t even there and that the vine is just for swingin’ and getting through the jungle in a cooler, niftier way.

The Tour Guide People

These are the people who stand a few yards ahead of the whole setup. They’ll warn oncoming travellers about the pit, then they’ll let them know that the pit is not too hard to be conquered if you just grab the vine, like the instruction manual says.

The High Score People
They make it across the pit and sit in a group together talking about how great it was to swing over the pit and aren’t they glad they did! They know the pit’s still back there but they don’t like to talk about it. Or think about it.

At different points I’ve been one type of Christian or another. But I’ll be honest. I am not a Pit Person. I don’t like the whole idea of being a Pit Person, even though I know it’s one of the more popular takes on the issue. The past couple of years I’ve toyed with being a Vine Person because that seems like a happier way to go through life. But honestly, there IS a pit there. And it makes the vine more special when you acknowledge that it’s not just a swinging good time but a deliverance from the pit. So I think I’ll settle on being a Tour Guide Person, because I do not have it in me to be a high scorer.

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My grandparents lived on a farm. My grandfather didn’t really like to leave the farm for much of anything; when he married my grandmother he brought her home to live there with his parents. But he loved to read, and so did she. My visits there are engraved in my memory as a combination of food, books and cultivation–three things I still love.

The summer after I turned eight I stumbled across an interesting book on one of the shelves and set aside my well-smudged copy of Heidi to check it out. For several visits after that my ritual would include pulling down the book and curling up in one of three prime reading spots to dwell on the story. The stories. What I loved about the book was how much of it was full of grandeur, adventure and pathos. All of it true, all of it stunningly intriguing.

The book. I hope my brother knows where it is...

That was the beginning of my fascination with the Titanic. When I was eleven my grandfather told me that I could have the book; it had belonged to my great-grandfather and he loved the idea of me loving it. Oblivious to the fact that it was a good 70 years old, I carried that book with me everywhere. A few months into ownership my English teacher, Mrs. Crawford, called my name and only at that moment did I remember I was supposed to have a speech prepared for class. Since I had been hanging around with my head in the Titanic book and knew it backward and forward I, well, I just winged it. I carried my antique friend to the front of the room and began telling stories. The wealthy passengers, the ship’s design, the theories about the sinking and the excuses for the lack of lifeboats. I was a last name of “B” back then and one of the first to give a report. Even the teacher was so enthralled with the story that she allowed me to take up the rest of the class and even to come back to her room at lunch to answer more questions. I got an A+ and a bad lesson on how to prepare for class assignments.

That was 1982. I remember thinking back then that I would be over FORTY when the 100th anniversary happened and I wondered if anyone would care about it.

Ballard found the wreck in 1985. I was simultaneously thrilled and disappointed. Until those first pictures of the silt-encrusted rusting remains came out, Titanic was still lore. Now it was yet another rotting thing in a world of rotting things and I put my interest aside in favour of the living. Boys, mostly.

When Cameron’s movie came out a decade later I felt like I was watching a childhood friend dating someone who was a real jerk. You know how you really care for someone and lose touch and then they come back into your life and are sort of shifted somehow? You can’t reconcile the Them you see before you with the memory you still treasure somewhere in your private spaces. That was Titanic for me once Cameron turned her into grief porn. I knew the personal stories well, but there were years where the History and Discovery Channels made everything about Titanic into one long punch to the grief bone. I got to the place where I was sick of hearing about Titanic because it stopped being about shipwrights and maritime salvage and started to be about Irish women dreaming portents of doom.

For some reason last week I decided I’d TiVo some of the 100th anniversary things. After 9/11 the nation has looked elsewhere for emotive histories, and I figured I might get lucky. I kind of did–there have been great specials about mapping the wreckage and analysing the collision and debris. There’s also been more than enough James Cameron. That man does NOT have a low opinion of himself. All the self-confidence I misplaced has wound up in his mojo, along with the self-confidence of about 90000 other people. He’s still the arrogant twit who turned Titanic into his mistress.

But now as I sit to write this I realise that she is for me becoming once again what she was when I was small. She’s a majestic dream who failed to meet her potential. She’s mankind misplacing our hopes in metal. She is sorrow and beauty. The ultimate mermaid.

—-

If you are at all curious, the Kindle version of the antique book’s text is available for ninety-nine cents. Written in 1912, it’s valuable for its many eye-witness and immediate accounts.

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I Prefer Fat

Through the twist and turns of this universe, the post I wrote earlier in the week has turned into several discussions in other places about what it means to “let yourself go”. People have different definitions, many of which match me to a T. It’s funny how crippling pain, constant nausea and chemo force oneself to be less than circumspect about one’s appearance.

But in addition to all of those suggestions (wear sweats all the time, lie around on the couch) pretty much everybody has one key thing in mind when they say “let yourself go”.

Put on weight.

I love how one of my defining physical characteristics–being fat–has become the gold standard for personal failure. I love what that says to every girl and boy and woman and man out there who are fat for whatever reason. It says that we don’t care who you are or how you became fat. You are fat and that means you don’t care about looking nice or taking care of yourself. It matters not all that money you spend on expensive clothes, beautiful shoes, exercise classes. You are fat and you are a totem of human weakness and inertia.

Of course since I’m me I point this out to people. Some of them are wise enough in the ways of the Kath to just say “good point” and drop it. A few say things like “we can agree that a person who is 300lbs is grossly overweight and unattractive.” And you know, if there’s one thing I like EVEN MORE than the dismissal of fat people it’s being told when, where and what I have to think. No. We can’t agree on that. Don’t speak for my headful of opinions and eyesful of taste. We can agree that you sound like a pompous pickledeer when you say things like that.

But there it is. The word everyone uses when they think they’re being polite. I say “fat” and the other parties always say “overweight”. In conversations like this, “fat” is always “sh!t” and “overweight” is always “defecate”. People think it’s kinder to say the O word.

People. It isn’t. Stop it now.

Fat is a medical term. It’s like arm and eye and capillary. It’s a word of neutral value that describes a body part. I’m fat just like I’m female. (I’m also forty and fair-skinned so I better watch out for gallstones.) I’m fat like I’m caucasian. I’m fat like I wear glasses. It’s just part of who I am.

But the word you all think is so polite? Overweight. That word says that there is a standard weight, a normal weight, a baseline weight. It says that by exceeding (or not attaining, as the “underweight” do) that standard you are an exception to normality. You are an outlier. Overweight compares people to everyone else.

It is by far the less polite word.

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