Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Hint of Fall (Stream of Consciousness Sunday)

Last night it got down below 60° in Atlanta. For those of you from other parts of the country, that probably doesn't mean much. But for us, that's bring-out-the-jacket weather. Which, of course, means one thing: fall is on its way. And I love fall in Georgia. First of all, I get to indulge in many of my favorite things: mulled cider, pumpkin *everything*, Halloween parties, cashmere sweaters... Apart from maybe sleet, there aren't very many parts of fall that I dislike. Right now I have my patio door open, just little string of lights on my porch on, with two candles burning. Stella, my cat, is sitting next to me, and I just feel like my heart is full of happiness. If I could bottle this feeling, I would.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

What Goes Around Comes Around

Image from the 15th-century
Visconti-Sforza tarot deck.
"But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!"   
—Kate Chopin (from The Awakening, ch. 6)

Sometimes you think you have everything figured out. You've found the key that unlocks the door and everything will be revealed. Except life so rarely works like that. Every ending is a beginning. Every solution is simply the beginning of another question. The wheel of fortune just keeps spinning. And I don't mean the one that involves earning money by spelling words correctly, I mean the one that came before, literally "Fortuna's Wheel," depicted to the left. Welcome to the spinning wheel of life with autoimmune disease, where no spot on the wheel will get you a new car or a vacation to Hawaii, but it might get you back to where you started in the first place.

On Being a "Ginger" (Stream of Consciousness Sunday)

I came across this strange article from the Atlantic Wire (syndicated via Yahoo News) about a Danish sperm bank that is rejecting sperm donations from redheaded men. I've always been surprised by the redhead-hating that goes on, especially in Britain. I suppose it's just an example of the way kids (and people in general) feel threatened by difference and pick on people for it.

In case you hadn't figured it out, I'm a natural redhead, so of course I'm interested in redhead-related things. For example, did you know that redheaded women are the smallest genetic minority in the world? And that redheads in general are less responsive to painkillers than other people? And that the underlying biology that leads to fair skin and red hair may also make us more susceptible to autoimmune disease? (Now, that last bit might make for an argument against redheaded sperm donors, but I doubt that actually entered anyone's mind.)

I remember getting teased a little bit for being a redhead ("carrot-top") in school, but I always liked being a redhead. I liked being distinctive. I suppose I have my mom to thank for that-- although she's a brunette, she always loved my red hair and tried to find me redheaded role models, real and fictional.

Speaking of famous redheads, the ironic bit about that article above is that the sidebar features a link to an Emmy slide show that features a photo of none other than the gorgeous, curvy, red-haired Christina Hendricks.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Another Afternoon with Invisible Illness

Another Afternoon

In the doctor’s office I recite this
litany of symptoms, a politician
repeating global warming statistics
he does not believe: Yes, I still feel dizzy
when I stand up, Yes, I still feel an ache
in my elbows and knees, Yes, I take a nap
on the couch in my office when my boss
is out for lunch and yes, yes, yes, my right
big toe is still numb. I try to wrap my
mouth around the word fine when the doctor
asks how I feel but I know my eyes plead
fix me, like a splash of ink on his
prescription pad could give consolation
instead of another sleeping pill.

(© 2005, Originally published in Grasslimb)

In honor of Invisible Illness Awareness Week (September 12-18, 2111), I wanted to post this poem, which I wrote more than five years ago, long before I had a name or diagnosis to describe what was wrong with me. I know my experience is not unusual, that many of us struggle with symptoms for years, dismissed as malingerers or head cases before we find a specialist or GP who recognizes our tangle of symptoms and can order the right tests to pull apart cause and effect. One of the hardest struggles of invisible illness is to convince people—friends, family members, employers, that jerk on the bus who gives you a nasty look for taking the seat reserved for seniors and people with disabilities—that we are, in fact, ill. Perhaps the hardest struggle is the initial pressing need to convince a medical professional that our symptoms are worthy of his or her care and concern.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Poetry Monday: Do not go gentle into that good night

I was thinking today about how I loathe the thought of having to downgrade to "gentle yoga" after several years of a Bikram and power yoga practice. I'm not exactly known for the likelihood of my "go[ing] gentle" into anything. I want to do what's best for my body, but it's not always easy to accept its limitations. So on that note, I present a (rather famous) villanelle* by Dylan Thomas.
Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

You can listen to Thomas read the poem over at the Academy of American Poets.

*The villanelle is, in my opinion, one of the hardest forms to do well in English because of its reliance on both repetition and rhyme. The form uses only two rhyme sounds (a & b) and has two refrain lines that use the first rhyme sound (a). See Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" for another beautiful example.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

SOC Sunday: What's the guiding principle for *your* life?

I got into an unusual conversation with an acquaintance at a bar on Friday night. We were talking about my past, and in particular my various careers and occupations, and he asked if I felt like there was some sort of guiding principle or theme to all the different jobs I'd had, my other activities and hobbies, and my aspirations. I realized almost immediately that the one constant has been my desire to teach and facilitate empathy.

When I say empathy, I think I simply mean the ability to imagine one's self in another person's position. Ideally it also means attempting to understand the ways in which another person's choices and options have have been affected by the circumstances of his or her life, but the key point is simply that first leap, the imaginative (and ethical) work of "being" someone else. I did it through theater when I was younger, through writing, and now through teaching. I teach history through a cultural studies lens because I want my students not to memorize lists of names and facts and dates, but to be able to place themselves in historical situations and understand why someone might have acted or responded the way they did.

I think the anniversary of September 11, 2001 is one of the most important times to think about empathy, not only as Americans, but as global citizens. All of our actions affect someone else.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Pain Scale for the Vain Girl

9 January 2012: This blog post has been included in RA Warrior's blog carnival on pain scales. While my entry is a bit on the irreverent side, check out some of the other entries for more thoughtful perspectives on tracking, quantifying, and communicating pain. Thanks for including my post Kelly!

I've been thinking a lot lately about how easy it is for a continuous level of pain to become the "new normal"— like when your pain is at a "5" consistently, that becomes your baseline and you forget what a "0" or a "1" felt like before you were in pain all the time.

For the last few years, my feet have been the bellwether of my arthritis. When I'm feeling good, my feet feel pretty good. When a flare is bearing down on me, my feet are the first to respond. Last week, I tried (and failed) to put on a cute pair of sandals to go out and realized I'd gone a month without wearing heels.

Since the standard pain chart is woefully inadequate (as outlined hilariously over at Hyperbole and a Half), I decided to make one of my own: a shoe shorthand for my pain levels. Note that these are shoes for my professional life, not necessarily what I'd be wearing if my day involved reading, writing, and picking up some groceries (that's what slipper socks and Uggs are for, right?). So if you catch me at work in a pair of sneakers, it might not be the best time to ask for that extra favor...

Pain Scale (through Shoes):
Pain Level: 0 
Pain? What Pain? I feel awesome today!

  Pain Level: 2
Ouch. No one can tell these are secretly clogs, right?

Pain Level: 4
You've got to be kidding me if you think I'm putting these swollen toes into a pair of heels.

Pain Level: 6
Ouch, Ouch, Ouch. Menswear for women is in right now, yeah?
(Remind me again why it was so necessary that I come in to work today?)
Pain Level: 8
Don't even ask, or I might have to tell you about how it feels like someone
has shattered all the bones in my feet with a hammer. Literally.
Pain Level: 10
Polite words cannot describe the exquisite torture I feel right now. (Have I mentioned I'm taking applications for someone to carry me from my bed to my kitchen and back?)

For more of my irreverent visual commentary on the often-invisible pain of RA and lupus, check out How my hands look vs. how my hands feel.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

SOC Sunday: The School Year and New Beginnings

I've been on an academic calendar for all but six years of my life. Three of those years I wasn't even cognizant of time yet (Years 0-2) and the other three I wasn't enrolled in an academic program, but I was still taking creative writing classes at a college, so I was never far away from the school year, versus the calendar year.

Even now that I am past course work, the school year still feels like a time of new beginnings. I start teaching a new class or classes, the weather starts to change, all the gorgeous fall clothes and shoes show up in stores, and I get the itch to clean and fix up my apartment. That last one I blame on one primary cause: the arrival of the new IKEA catalog. Every year it shows up on my doorstep and I think "Well, I don't really need any new furniture, but I'll just flip through and see what's new..." And the next thing I know I have a cinnamon bun in one hand and a tape measure in the other and I'm power-walking though IKEA with designs for reorganizing my kitchen or de-cluttering my office or finally putting up those shelves I've been thinking about for the past three years. Of course only a small number of those projects see themselves through to completion, but there's something so exciting about the possibility of a new start. New Years resolutions? No thanks. But I'll take a back-to-school makeover any time.

This was my 5 minute Stream of Consciousness Sunday post. It’s five minutes of your time and a brain dump. Want to try it? Here are the rules…
  • Set a timer and write for 5 minutes only.
  • Write an intro to the post if you want but don’t edit the post. No proofreading or spellchecking. This is writing in the raw.
  • Publish it somewhere. Anywhere. The back door to your blog if you want. But make it accessible.
  • Add the Stream of Consciousness Sunday badge to your post.
  • Link up your post here.
  • Visit your fellow bloggers and show some love.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"If many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure." —Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard

The line above forms the epigraph to one of my favorite poems, "Having It Out With Melancholy," by Jane Kenyon. While the poem is about Kenyon's life-long chronic depression, so much of it applies to the experience of any chronic illness— the unexpected changes (good and bad), the miracles and disappointments of drug treatments, the way in which we feel like our lives are taken away without even knowing what happened, and the moments of grace, so much more powerful and precious than they were before we became ill.