Monday, May 28, 2018

To Go or Not to Go

Dear friends, I have the opportunity to go on a 12-day choir tour to Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic this January.  I was initially really excited; then reality set in.  If you have a little time to read through my thought process and then get back to me to let me know whether you think I should go (+) or not go (-), I'd appreciate the input!

Holy cow!  Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic!  Castles, monasteries, cathedrals, singing beautiful music with a lovely, young choir!  Wow!  The last time I went was almost 10 years ago!

1. - And it was almost a total disaster.  I was at the lowest point in my health since my senior year of high school.  I was in constant pain, my asthma and allergies were rowdy, I wasn't getting more than a couple hours of sleep a night, and my immune system was a mess.  I was cold all the time, too exhausted to go exploring, and didn't really have anyone in the group that I was very close to.  It was miserable.  I ended up getting so sick I missed a performance and was too sick to even care.

2. + My health is much improved since then!  I don't get 6 sinus infections a year that last for a month!  My allergies and asthma don't lay me flat all the time!  I have meds to make sure I get at least 4 hours of sleep a night at least a couple times a week!  My pain is much more controlled, my thyroid is functioning again, and I am generally not nearly as miserable due to undiagnosed health problems!

3. - My health is improved because now that I have diagnoses and have gotten treatment, I have ways to deal with symptoms.  Most of these ways involve controlling things.  Controlling environmental allergies by staying indoors in filtered environments, controlling humidity, controlling what I sleep on, controlling my schedule to make sure there's enough time for rest and that I'm moving when I need to move, controlling my temperature, what and when I eat, how and where I exercise, what and when I drink, when I go to bed and wake up, and making good choices to not spike my progress.  I will have none of that control on this trip.  There is really no option to rest when I need to or control my schedule.  I will not be able to withdraw to get my parasympathetic nervous system working.  I could undo all the progress I've made in the past few years.  I could end up in pain all the time for months as a result.  I REALLY DON'T WANT (the very realistic) FEAR OF PAIN TO BE THE DECISION MAKER.  I also don't want some weird mid-life crisis "Pain won't control me" rebellion crap to be the decision maker either. 

4. + I would get to make beautiful music in beautiful places!

5. - Unless I got totally sick again!  How frustrating would that be!  To have the opportunity and not be able to enjoy it because of being sick.

6. + Seriously what are the chances I will ever even have this opportunity to make this kind of music in these kinds of places  ever again?!  I'm not getting younger, and there is no guarantee I won't be less able to go in the future.  Seize the day!

7. - I whacked my knee on a chair a few years ago and have had limited mobility ever since.  There are consequences for walking too much, not walking enough, walking for too long, using stairs, standing too long, sitting too long, walking on uneven ground, walking on slick or icy or frozen ground, losing my balance, slipping.  These things are all going to be required, and then I'll have to stand to sing concert-length performances.  (This has been a huge struggle, and it was only last year that I was able to actually do it.  I had to rest for months afterward to get my pain back under control, and the concert was somewhat torturous in terms of pain.)  Will I be miserable going to these beautiful places and not being able to explore them?  I'm a climb-all-the-staircases-in-the-castle and look-around-everywhere kind of person.  I can't do that anymore.  Will it feel frustrating and awful to only be able to look at the beauty I can't explore anymore?  If I have to sit on the sidelines in cafes on flat ground just looking at things I can't explore from a distance, will that by incredibly frustrating and leave me feeling lonely.  And what if some person feels like they need to keep me company and misses out (and annoys me while trying to pityingly keep me company when I just want to be alone with my misery)?

8. + I have the vacation time I would need for the first time ever.  And it's cheaper than going alone.  (I would spend this much money on the airfare and hotel alone.)

9. - I would likely still be going alone because I would have no close friends on the trip and would likely have to expend lots of my limited energy interacting politely with strangers waaay younger than me on the tour bus for long periods of time.  Or adults much wealthier than me with which I might have nothing more than a love of amateur music in common with.

10. + I can afford it.  Barely.  This is the first time in my adult life that I can say that.  Coincidence?

11. - I have the money.  But I also have appliances that are going to break and need replacing soon.  There are also lots of other things I could use the money on.
  • more savings in case of medical or other emergencies
  • contributions to my friends who are going to be medical missionaries in Africa
  • larger gifts to charities doing great work to help the homeless, free slaves, support families of martyrs
  • replace increasingly aggressive, leprous bathroom floor and get a soaker tub to continue to reduce my pain levels
  • purchase a piece of beautiful art by Yudong Shen (, so I could add to the beauty in my home that I can enjoy every day (this thought makes me as delirious with joy as the thought of getting to sing in cathedrals and old churches)
  • pay down student loan debt
  • pay down car debt after I was rear-ended and had my car totaled earlier this year
  • save up for Yellowstone trip with friends from college next summer (I'll have to pay for lodgings for myself that have AC/environmental filtering controls, so it'll be expensive)
  • save up to take my sister to Japan to climb Mt. Fuji some day
and so much more!  There are always a number of choices about how to use money.  Huzzah.

So, those are some of my thoughts, and I have to make a decision soon.  If you have thoughts or advice or opinions about whether I should go or not go, please feel free to comment below or email/message me.  Thanks for your time and assistance and wisdom.  : D


Sunday, March 4, 2018

I am bad at being in the middle

The car was finally warm
I can see the warm building.
Between the two is frigid air and
icy, snowy, treacherous parking lot.

I know I need to be slow,
deliberately placing each booted foot
so as not to slip and wrench
the balance or fall and break it.
I know this in my bones and sinews.

I find myself walking faster anyway,
step wrong, feel pain of body
flying askew, slow down for a time,
but unconsciously always speed up
unless I think with every step, and that
may be impossible.  It’s dangerous here.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Picking Your Fantasy Poison

This is real now, folks.  I have a choice to make, and it's not an easy one.  I'm writing a story set in something that vaguely resembles European medieval times (albeit in a fantasy world), and I have to decide: do I try to make it more authentic to the actual European Middle Ages or do I totally create my own world? 

If I create my own world, it has to be from the ground up.  Everything about the religion of this empire?  All mine to have to explain.  Everything about the politics and history of it and the neighboring countries?  From the aether through my brain to the page or not at all.  Trying to find and balance all of that with the modern mindsets and worldviews of my characters?  ALL ON ME.  Even if I wanted or could afford research assistance, I couldn't USE it.  But I wouldn't HAVE to research in the first place.  I would just have to create things to fill the gaps out of nothing!  And if people hated it, it would feel like they personally hated my soul, which is uncomfortable.

Trying to make it more like the real Middle Ages certainly removes some imaginary burdens.  I can try to apply the more collectivist religious and social aspects of the time and place (after doing a lot of research).  Then I will still tick off the historians, and the new fantasists will hate  it unequivocally because it would have to try to depict things our culture does not endorse, and they see that as a cop out, not a skill.  Many of them believe that there is no value in a story that does not rewrite the past to make it more to our liking.  It IS fantasy after all.  But I have read some absolutely fantastic historical based stuff (Guy Gavriel Kay, Lois McMaster Bujold's 5 gods series, Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, etc.), and the things you can get done with it are fantastic! 

It's not as if I get out of work either way.  I just shift some responsibility, and I’m not sure one way is easier than another.  Or less fraught.  It's just something I'm thinking about because I was writing this poem about weird things I had used to mark my place in my Bible at some time or another, and there was this shiny notebook with some bits of a good story I liked and have contributed tantalizing pieces to over the years since I first dreamed it one day in college . . .

Anyway, I will not be distracted (again) by shiny things.  What was I going to say next?  Rats. Can't remember.  Anyway, advise wisely, friends.  Because if you advise certain options, you will likely be pestered with questions and plotline possibilities and the history and social customs of different countries in imaginary worlds until you're sick of it. 

No, seriously, what else was I going to say?  It was important, drat it all!  If you remember, let me know.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Jury Duty (a Horror Story that hasn't even started yet)

I want to do it.  I'm afraid I can't do it and that trying to do it will result in hurt.  That's the gist of it.

Just the other day, I was thinking about whether I would ever get the chance to serve on a jury.  I think it was when I overheard the little old ladies at the therapy pool talking about their experiences over the years.  The first two times I was called up, I had to pass because I was in another state or another country, I think.  That was when I was young and politically active and enthusiastic and full of patriotism and uprightness and duty.   

A friend and I were discussing an important jury trial in the news recently, and I wondered if I would be able to serve on a jury.  Definitely not on a capital case because I do not believe I would be able to convict someone unto death.  But on something else?  After the baffling verdict, I read that the jury repeatedly asked for transcripts of certain testimony, and the judge denied their requests.  Baffled, I researched and read elsewhere that's common, that judges don't want to give people transcripts of some and not all and many judges don't want to give any transcripts.  They are more likely to approve requests for video so that all nuances are present.  Jurors are required to rely on their memories of the lawyers' arguments, witness testimony, laws, and information.

I don't think I can do that. 

My memory is better now than it was back when things were Very Bad, after I got hurt working for the government, and it turned into a chronic minor disability which robbed me of sleep and increased my overall pain until my health was getting worse and worse, and I could not have served if I were summoned, though at least I would have been making more on jury duty than I did working full time in  a retail underworld while trying to get a master's degree to make myself employable despite my disability.  

Today I got the summons.

Now that my health is on a general upward trend and not a downward spiral, I thought that I had relaxed somewhat, that I had mellowed with age and increased experience .  That I would not be overly serious about jury duty like I was about driving passengers in a car when I first got my license ("Their LIVES were in MY shaking and inexperienced hands!).  That I was not so patriotic and bound to my duty after my country treated me badly after I got injured in its service and left to the charity of family to prevent bankruptcy because there was no more money left for the government assistance I did quality for.  That I would not panic and over-think things.

I was wrong.

 I have known about being called for a little over an hour, and I am overwhelmed.  I find that I still desperately want to serve and do this duty diligently and with care, but if those are the rules, I cannot in good conscience do so.  If I am supposed to remember every detail and every nuance of testimony, if I HAVE to, if someone's freedom depends on my ability to understand and recall, and I can't do that reliably because of all the years of chronic pain, bad sleep, and further injuries, is it right for me to check No in box 5 where they ask if I have a disability that would affect my ability to serve just because I want to, and just because it's only a small disability?

Am I still prone to over-seriously over-thinking everything? 

Well, at least some things.  Clearly this is one of those things.  I have a lot of questions I will be asking shortly.  Can jurors stand up during a trial and move around to prevent their bodies from stiffening and causing distracting agony?  Can I take notes with my voice recognition software?  (That's probably a terrible idea, considering what it does to mangle anything I say when I use it for writing that contains any emotion at all.)  Can I get transcripts of everything since I can't rely on my memory (especially not for something this important)?  The information says most trials last 3-5 days.  If it was a really simple trial and only a day, maybe I could keep it together, but 3 days of things to remember?

I think I need a towel.

I could just try to calm myself down by pointing out that in all likelihood, I wouldn't even be called.  And if I am, I don't think there are any high profile cases coming up, and if there are, they'd disqualify me in a heartbeat if the stress made me somewhat incoherent.  So I should clearly not check Yes.

The problem is that incoherent me is just fine for most people.  They wouldn't even notice or know I wasn't functioning at full tilt or what I was worried about because I can't articulate well on the spot under stress on account of the not-sleeping from the pain and whatnot.  So I might get called up and be TERRIBLE at it, and some poor schmuck could get convicted for something because I can't articulate my point of view and reasons to convince people on the spot.  So I should clearly not check No and wait for the embarrassing process of proving I'm a bad choice and the guilt that would come from knowing they think I'm a bad citizen for "trying to get out of jury duty" when I'm really not!

But what if my slightly-incoherent reasoning and my stubbornness was the only thing saving some poor schmuck from a terrible fate?  And I wasn't there, and so that terrible fate happened?  So clearly I should not check Yes.

And I should definitely never start a land war in Asia. 

(And it's unworthy to even be concerned that this will be during rehearsals for a performance.  Or that the training I have to create and finally just scheduled for the whole department is during this time.  Or that it might be right over an important project deadline.  Because life and work conflicts are true for everyone, and many people have more of those than I do and still serve on juries because it's part of the territory of being a good citizen.)

Just because I'm not at full capacity doesn't mean it's impossible for me to serve, does it?  Does it?



Thursday, July 7, 2016

Zootopia: see, think, and discuss

I'm glad I saw Zootopia.  I liked that it was visually imaginative and beautiful.  I enjoyed some of the characters and humor.  I liked that the crime was solved and there was a happy ending.  Sure, the police bits of it were just full of holes for an adult viewer, it was definitely a PG movie (not a G movie), and sometimes its messages were heavy-handed.  It may not have been the best Disney movie ever, but I think it's an important one to see and discuss.

That heavy-handed message?  It was about stereotyping.  Sometimes it seemed confusing because it seemed to be warning about the dangers while indulging in the humor at the same time.  I read some reviews about it that criticized the way it made stereotype jokes and how they got boring.  Sure, stereotype jokes get boring in real life.  Perhaps that was the point?  I actually thought they were pretty even-handed about it, really.  They even explained why it's okay if you're part of a group for you to make jokes about that group that are inappropriate for those outside the group to make.  And it didn't try to say, "There shouldn't be any groups!"  It just said, "Hey, um, speak in love and be CAREFUL about how you think about and what you say to and how you treat folks in a specific group."

I liked what it had to say about expectations based on stereotypes: that seemed important.  If people are just going to treat members of a group a certain way without even bothering to get to know them individually, what encouragement do they have to behave differently from expectations?  If you treat whole groups as monolithic Others without getting to know any of them, you're missing out on some of what is best about humanity. 

Again, some of this seemed a tad heavy-handed and repetitive at times, but then again, we live in a world where, even in the developed countries, there are people who hate anyone who isn't "like" them.  The hatred (and even persecution) against the "Other" is on the rise.  This is in the countries that are supposed to be in the intelligent, educated, enlightened, progressive ones, mind you, but our leaders and those who want to be our leaders are saying things about whole classes of people being evil or dangerous or threatening to our livelihoods  (immigrants, religious groups, more pigment in their skin, etc.).  Maybe a heavy-handed message is kind of necessary.  Maybe it's the only kind of message that will get through.

And I hope it does because we really need it right now.

Some of the subtler messages were solid, too.  Getting to know people is really the only way to prevent ourselves from behaving poorly based on stereotypes.  First-hand knowledge can prevent us from mistakes of ignorance.  Even if we are trying to treat people well, sometimes we fail, and we need to forgive each other for our inconsistencies, or we'll build up more walls of hurt between us.

(Biblical thoughts: Every person is special and different and made in the image of God and deserving consideration and not simply ignorant dismissal.  Jesus was not a huge fan of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but he still treated them differently based on their interactions with him.  He didn't dismiss them ALL and call them names, just the ones who were behaving without compassion.)

Anyway, important movie to see and discuss.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Miles wins

I've been in a bad mood for a while now. I'm crabby enough from pain-related clumsiness, sleeplessness, and frustration that I can't even like books I don't want to read because they are by authors I like but not in the series I want a new book in. (I promise that totally makes sense.) I was afraid my discontent would stretch even to books I love, but I am happy to say Miles is still Miles. 

My genuine enjoyment of Vor Game actually puzzles me because, when I'm like this, I hate reading nonfiction books about people who have it worse than me and succeed and are truly inspiring because they make me feel like an even bigger failure. But Miles? Crippled worse than me and a huge success? Love it.

Science Fiction is transformative in a less threatening way? Sure. Anyway, I'm glad. Now I'm going back to Kyril Island while I exercise. Forensic plumming. Snort.

Monday, January 18, 2016

An Introduction to (my) Chronic Pain

Imagine, if you will, that everyone is given a certain amount of energy and dexterity per day in tangible form, say a gallon jug full of water.  Each task for the day requires, say, a half a teaspoon of water.  That gallon of water is sufficient for them to comfortably complete all their daily tasks and still have plenty left over.

There are outliers, of course: people who brim over with energy, like their gallon jug is secretly hooked up to a faucet (or a fire hose).  On the other end are people whose gallon jugs are only filled half full or those whose jugs are broken and have been replaced with a tiny cup.  With a crack in the bottom.

People like that don't have enough energy to complete their daily tasks.  Each task that's half a teaspoon for the average person is a tablespoon or more for these people.  For instance, say you're cooking a stir fry full of healthy vegetables.  If you're the average person, this task requires maybe a teaspoon of water at most.  For me, each stir of the ingredients around the pan is a teaspoon.  Just cooking a stir fry, say 50 stirs, is more water than my whole cup contains and takes up all the next day's share.

The thing about cracks in crockery cups is that stress widens them.  If you just display a cracked and mended cup, it's fine, but if you try to use it (and the glue doesn't poison you), the crack will reassert itself and widen with every clumsy, rough handling.  As the cracks widen and split, more and more water leaks out before it can be used, and most of daily life is lived by trying to collect the dampness left on the bottom of the cup after the water has been used or leaked away.

Another thing about cracks it hat they compromise the structural integrity of the whole.  When I hurt my left arm all those years ago and then had to work at a crappy retail job to get through my master's degree to become employable despite my crippledness, I had to overuse my right arm to compensate, and other things got damaged due to compensation, as well.  My immune and nervous systems eventually got overwhelmed and the cracks spidered everywhere until sometimes I felt more like a sieve than a cup.  Now if you put pressure on a crack, you have no idea what will happen to the others.  Now, when simple tasks like cutting or chopping food take inordinate amounts of dexterity and energy away.  The average person sees an easy 30 minutes of work.  Sleep deprived, foggy-brained, and in pain, I see 452 mouse clicks, each more difficult and slower than the last, each growing less precise and requiring additional, corrective clicks.  Depending on how bad things are that day, I'm looking at 3-4 hours of work.  

As more pressure is applied, other cracks start to shift, and, out of nowhere, it feels like someone is stabbing me in the left foot I smashed years ago with a cart because I couldn't pull it with both hands, and I can't even remain upright in my chair for the agony.  Or suddenly, it feels like someone is tightening a vise around my left upper arm and the bruising pain takes my breath away.

Needless to say, I've had to develop a lot of shortcuts and efficiencies to cope with my deficiencies and still get something done despite my reduced capacity to function.  One of the ways I compensate is by trying to plan, organize, and prototype things in ways that require less use of my hands.  Any time that process bogs down, especially on a tight deadline, I'm in trouble because, the truth is, I can't guarantee that I will have enough use of my hands to get things done without causing my health to spiral out of control for weeks or months, and I CAN guarantee that it will not be done to my satisfaction / liking /standards.

Nobody likes to have their face rubbed in their insufficiencies all the time, but that's what happens when planning breaks down and iterations are needed to correct and rework while a too-late-chosen, artificial deadline looms, causing more stress, widening the old cracks and creating new ones, leeching away more of the limited energy and dexterity I have and making life outside of work a constant brain fogged exhaustion of mornings of days I can't even hold silverware  and an agony of pain-filled nights with less and less sleep , resulting in less and less time for the tiny, cracked cup to refill, less energy for the next day and less resilience to deal diplomatically or graciously with all the needless changes and decisions and rework.

If I occasionally come across as a little unhinged, become even more incoherent, seem to be falling apart at all the cracks, I hope you have  a better understanding of why and maybe will work with me more in the early planning phases next time because you don't want to be the one tapping at the cracks with a hammer until I am useless to you.

Sorry if the cracks in their jagged visibility scare you.  Believe me: they scare me.  My cup may be small and cracked beyond repair, but it's mine, and I like to use it for things I enjoy sometimes, and it's the only one I have, so I have to try to protect it in my clumsy, sometimes incoherent way, and I am not good at protecting it because I remember when I had that gallon jug and it ran over, and I could do so many things I can't do now.  I rage at being so fragile, but I hate trying to run entirely on empty, too, and being desert-day parched all the time, gritty with sand, burned away by wind, and barely hanging on while I wait for it all to shatter completely.  I hate doing poor work, but I have all these limits now, and I can't do any excellent work when everyone is tugging at the cracks without knowing they are.

Now you know.  They say knowing is half the battle.  I hope you understand a little better what kind of a toll certain collaborative behaviors take on me and why I seem unable to cope with them sometimes.  I'm sorry you have to deal with it  (I'm sorry I have to deal with it, believe me), but we're all in this team / community thing together, and the more we know about our teammates, the better our outcomes can be.

Thanks for reading.  Let me know if you have any questions.