Dinosaurs and cyborgs

Last night's sunset

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This weekend I saw a lot of beauty.

I saw Dinosaur Ridge, archaeology made real and present. I saw bones, almost the consistency of amber, embeded in rock, from one of the first places on earth where dinosaur bones were discovered.

I could see how easy it was to discover, too, because the continental plates collided and lifted up history so that it was bare to our eyes. All that history could be read easily, thick rocky layer after thick rocky layer, from where it jutted at an angle for the rain and wind and snow to lay clean.

Up in the mountains, walking into the clear sky, I saw such a different world than I’m used to. The Rocky Mountains are no swamp, and it reminded me of the perspective changes of my childhood, driving from the rainy and sleepy town of Hilo — out of the clouds — and up the volcano into the sun.

Old Geologists never die.

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Denver is beautiful! Watching my dad roll his wheelchair with determination around the edge of a cliff was even more beautiful.

Eating a fine meal of Moroccan food with him was  just lovely, especially when he told a tale of traveling in Afghanistan and eating boiled sheep’s head in the tent of a local.

Being with him helped me think through a lot of prejudices, and see a lot of prejudices.

One more photo before I pass out for the night. Seriously, it's tough keeping up with dad!

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There was a moment at Craig Center when I realized what it was like to be dehumanized.

For a little while, whenever I passed a wheelchair-bound person in the halls of the medical center, I’d automatically avert my eyes, for no good reason that I can discover within myself. Was it my own inability to figure out my emotional reaction, or perhaps a faux-politeness to allow a person his or her own emotional space?

But then I caught the strangely ashamed look of a person that I walked by without acknowledging, his eyes cast down as if to bear the lack of a human gaze. I realized that not looking at someone is the opposite of affirming their life. I realized that my reaction was more about me than them, and I focused on truly looking at the wheeled people, into their eyes so that I could smile and say hello and treat them like any other human.

After that, it became easier to comprehend that we’re simply lucky nowadays.

It is so beautiful here that I wish a real photographer like @qwistlove would come photo it.

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We’re able to become cyborgs much more than we ever have before. Those people whose bodies have stopped functioning in one way or another, but who can keep the important parts of themselves alive through machines, wheels, things that give them freedom, they are a rudimentary wave of cyborgs. I remember stories of one person with an external heart, one person with a mechanical arm. We’re reinventing ourselves with technology, but remaining human within — but only if we can can treat technologically-assisted humans as human.

I spoke to a woman whose husband has been a quadriplegic for 30 years. The woman used all kinds of slang to refer to people’s conditions. “I met a little five year old boy who tripped on his shoelaces and became a partial quad,” she said. “That man over there is a para.” There’s a culture, and it’s strong at Craig, with its own language and connections and emotions.

Me, dad, and the girl (Emma) holding his knees up. Much harder than it looks.

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Next week, my dad moves away from Denver and the fine facilities and supportive staff who help him get used to his body and keep him feeling human. I hope this transition is easy, and that Hilo can open itself wide to take back a beloved adopted citizen.

I’m with him in my mind. I’ll try to journey with him as best I can.

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2012: One of Those Years

The themes for the year were: Health, creation, family, roots, and an appreciation for what I’ve got!

In January, I realized that drawing gives me a lot of joy. I enrolled in a six-week art class at a local art school, and that was fun. But (since time is short) I decided that I’d dedicate every work meeting to the multitasking effort of doodling something AND listening at the same time. My meeting notes were fun! (And they actually helped me concentrate on the meeting, go figure.) This post is illustrated with some of my crazy doodles from meetings.

In February, I spent a lot of time focusing on slowly recovering my body from chemotherapy. I got acupuncture and tried to quit my latte addiction (I totally failed).  My child turned 7.

In March they said my cancer was successfully treated. (It was, honestly. Just not all of it. Cancer is a tricksy thing!) I rode my skateboard and hung out with my child and read her every single Astrid Lindgren book. I’m sure other things happened too, but I mostly just basked in the joy of a temporary surcease from chemotherapy and stuff.

I kept cutting off more and more of my hair. By April my hair was just plain SHORT! We also began to look for a house to buy. It was a weird cognitive shift to want to buy a house somewhere, as if for the first time in nearly 40 years, I felt like putting down roots.

It was interesting to think about making a place a home. I always thought I’d be too restless to settle down anywhere. The deciding factor was that with a house, we could grow a garden. Still, it was a completely different way of looking at where I am. I realized that rooting somewhere means that I can get active in the community and make positive changes for the good — which is something I’ve been avoiding for too long.

In May I had my 39th birthday. My child graduated from 1st grade; I went to a wedding; I helped throw a baby shower; I celebrated Mother’s day… And we kept looking for houses.

June brought long summer dinners out-of-doors with friends, hurricanes, and a lovely birthday present trip to NYC. Traveling makes me feel alive, and this was no exception!

July. Dad had a blood clot in his thumb, which precipitated a small whirlwind weekend trip in which my kid (sick from croup) met her cousins and saw the Stone farm in upstate NY. It was lovely to reconnect to the Stone family.

In August we found a house and put in an offer! And … then we waited, because it was a short sale.

In September I learned through an endoscopy (routine check up) that another spot of my cancer returned. C’est la vie. There were also big family birthday parties and the start of second grade for my kid. We went to our first roller derby, and this month basically sucked.

October, my favorite month, was a bit marred by dealing with cancer stuff. I went through the usual tests and learned that the cancer was still small, slow-growing and containable, so I could treat it just I did like last time. Moving on, I had a fabulously crazy Halloween party at work, and devoted myself once again to creating crafts. House news? Nope!

November. I thought chemotherapy would be the extent of my worries, and then my dad’s accident put it all in perspective. I made another sudden drastic trip to hang out with him in Hawaii. I hadn’t been back to Honolulu for over a decade, and everything was lovely and weird at the same time. I stayed across the street from my old childhood apartment, and sat by my father’s side every day in the ICU. It was scary yet nice to see him, and a week was far too short a time to be by his side. My heart is still with my dad and Debbie even though I had to return home and continue my own treatments. House news? Nope!

December. I made a concentrated effort to have chemotherapy and spend my extra time creating things! This month was so much better due to the release of The Hobbit, and gave me an excuse to happily talk about Lord of the Rings to all and sundry. We’ve also attended parties and family gatherings and Skype sessions with a still-recovering dad. We’ve spent time with friends and family, some of whom we haven’t seen in a long time. My kid sang in a Christmas performance. We baked a lot, and I started crocheting again. Life moves on, even when sh*t happens. House news? …

Yep!  We finally have word on the house, one of the seller’s mortgage companies has OK’d our offer, and we’re awaiting word from the second one. I hope to hear about it by sometime next week, because we’ve got to get our house ready for visitors from far away in March! (Putting down roots in 2013 is going to be so very weird, but hopefully good at the same time.)

I have no idea what to expect from 2013. I admit that I’m peeking at the year cautiously, one hand in front of my eyes, hoping it doesn’t one-two punch me the way that September – November did this year. Still, we’re all alive and growing and learning, and that counts for a lot.

Peace and health to you all, and thanks to the family and friends that kept us alive and well and happy this year!

Thanksgiving

thanksgiving

It’s kind of surreal to be back in daily life after a week in Hawaii. Hawaii is where a lot of my waking thoughts are at present (soon to be Colorado when my dad flies there for rehabilitation). But I also appreciate where I am and what I have, and my Thanksgiving was very relaxed. We ate a lot of my aunt’s good cooking and my husband’s too (you can see his leftover Brunswick stew above); I mulled wine and cider; we made gingerbread; we played games; we enjoyed a lot of soothing traditions and bright cool air.

After the past fortnight of bewildering journeys I’m left with this question: Does the modern world and our ability to travel rapidly from place to place shatter our reality so that we feel more divorced from things happening far away? Or does the bending of space via the internet help us feel closer to distant places and people? I don’t know. Maybe a little of both.

I’m back in the chair on Thursday. Three more rounds of chemotherapy in my future. I’m not very scared, I’ve got my books and my snacks, and I know what I’m in for. But please, O my body, this is the second holiday season I’m spending full of drugs. Can I have a break next year?

To end on a high note, I am happy to report that despite my dad’s infirmity he’s pressing on. Turns out the mind really does directly influence our body, and dad’s hard visualization work is paying off. In his words:

“Hurray, Caloo, Calay, I did it, moved the toes of my left foot in the tendu forward and back, then the whole foot. Our therapy worked. Debbie was here, and is sending a video, plus the physiotherapist.”

I give thanks for that!

What makes us stronger?

Last week I had a journey to make. It was to fulfill an ancient duty, the duty of filial love. Cordelia from King Lear said it best, “According to my bond; nor more nor less.” Someone tried to thank me for the journey, and I still don’t understand why: it was my father’s life at stake, there was no choice in the matter of my trip, I was always going to be there. (Those of you who know your Shakespeare know that Cordelia loved her father best.)

My father injured himself. I’ll speak of that more in a moment. As soon as my health was properly examined to make sure my blood count was fit for travel, I headed to the airport and was on the plane. (How I got to him is another story entirely, and I had a lot of help on the journey. Thanks, you guys.)

Chemotherapy last week went just fine. I’ve been dwelling on it too much, I think. Faced with a larger issue, it dwindled down to nothing but an annoyance that slowed me down. It’s amazing how something that seemed so large a month ago found its place nice and quickly. In short, chemotherapy was just fine, my body afterwards felt the puffiness and bloatedness that I knew it would, and in time everything settled back into place. It’s been almost two weeks since my first treatment, and my next will be next week, and for the next three. My body will hurt for a bit, and then it will be over.

Unlike the current issue facing my family now.

My father injured himself: he was climbing down a cable ladder into a cave entrance, and did not belay himself. He fell from thirteen feet onto his head, fractured his spine in two places, broke four ribs, and had a concussion. In the hospital last week he fought off pneumonia and began to recover himself. The first few days I saw him, he was so weak as to be unable to move. By the end of my visit he was moving into a wheelchair and back to sit up, and his mind as active as ever.

He has lost the use of his legs at present. He will be going into rehabilitation at the best possible facility in order to work hard on knitting his body and learning it again, focusing on reforging the connection between his legs and his mind.

I’ll be writing about his growing and learning process in here too, from now on. He’d like me to write this about his past week:

He’s been using visioning techniques to think about motion while someone helps move his legs and feet. He’s been controling breath with yoga and yogic breathing learned from years of meditation and buddhist practices. He’s maintaining as good nutrition as he can on a hospital diet. And he is going to focus on yoga, the connection between mind and body, to assist his recovery.

He’s also been using an iPad, and quite enjoying the connection it gives him, to good music and good thoughts and other people and a larger world.

I’m there with him mentally today, although I had to fly back and attend to the rest of my life.

But that doesn’t answer the question posed in the title to this post: What makes us stronger?

When I returned home early yesterday morning, I looked around my house and saw my answer: all of the creative projects that I write about here sustain me, and seeing the fruits of my labor (a few crocheted hats, a photo book about my daughter’s year for her grandparents, a set of eraser stamps that I’d carved, other small bright things) helped me feel great peace. As long as I am able to create, I am able to feel connected to joy, and dark times are not nearly as dark.

This is about the connection between the mind and body too. I’m planning to carve more stamps this week, and maybe crochet another hat. I eagerly await my dad’s next decision about where he will go for rehabilitation.

What makes you stronger?