Friday, January 20, 2017

...being, admitting, walking, and practicing self-care...

"Be who you are and say what you feel
because those who mind don't matter,
and those who matter don't mind."
~Dr. Seuss
picture taken on a walk of Woodland Cemetery in Ashland, VA
In The Curious Professor Z’s Bat Fit 2017 Grand Finale post she writes about cutting yourself some slack. It’s exactly what I needed to read; in fact, a great deal of that post was read just at the right time.

I have not been taking very good care of myself… and, I’m also getting older, which I had forgotten means that I need to be mindful of that. When my pup was old, I watched as he started to slow down. He still wanted to go, go, go but he just couldn’t anymore.

In therapy, I learned that I am a do-er and that I needed to practice “be”-ing: being mindful, being present, being relaxed. Do-ers like to go, go, go and do, do, do. But lately, I have discovered that I need to focus on a place of being.

picture taken on a walk in Washington, D.C.
At the end of last semester, my Ménière’s disease was not in control. I was having somewhat severe vertigo weekly. I have lived with Ménière’s disease since I was a teen so it is just a part of me. I will always crave salt; I will always have to limit my salt consumption. I will walk the steps if I can avoid an elevator. I cannot look to the side when I am in a moving vehicle. I cannot turn my head sideways. I hear shit that does not exist. My ears often feel full.  Sometimes I cannot hear well at all. And, I cannot function under a great deal of stress without going into a spin… a room is spinning I am going to vomit right here/ I must lie down wherever I am vertigo. In December, I was standing in line for coffee with my fella. We were having a great time and instantly I was in a full spin. Stores do not allow you to lie down on the floor in the middle of the store. They always call an ambulance so for me I had to quickly communicate that I had vertigo and maneuvered out of the building where I ended up lying on the ground of the parking lot because we had gone in my fella’s car. I couldn’t get into the backseat fast enough and I needed to be horizontal.

Tomorrow is the Woman’s March on Washington and I cannot go. Let me clarify that; I can NOT go. I need to stay home and practice self-care. When I see videos about tomorrow’s march that include the elderly and those who are physically disabled saying, “Even I am going to the march” it hurts me. I cannot control the environment enough for it to me safe FOR ME! If it works for others, great; insinuating that everyone can attend such a function is not helpful. In fact, those videos make me feel awful, worthless, and even more stressed that I cannot attend. I read the message that because I am not attending I do not care about standing up for our rights.  

I am fortunate enough to be loved by friends and family who understand that even fun events become stressful and make me sick. One example is my wedding day, which my fella and I controlled the environment to the point that it was only the two of us in a Bed & Breakfast with the understanding that there could be a flexible timeline in case I had vertigo.   

Last week my fella took me to the doctor because I could not get there myself. My blood pressure was much higher than normal, which is scary since the meds that I take for Ménière’s disease are similar to the ones that people with high-blood pressure take. Had I not taken my meds, I’m sure it would have been through the roof.
I feel anxious even writing this. I don’t like being in timeout. I do not like revealing that there are aspects of my life that I cannot control, but there are. That’s life; I need to cut myself some slack.

There are parts of my life that I can control, and practicing self-care will include focusing on those tasks. I need to get some weight off; I need to focus on eating healthy foods (so I’ve returned to counting Weight Watchers points, which really works for me even if it doesn’t work for you. My type-A personality/ slight OCD likes tracking); and, I need to walk (which I do not call exercise because then it becomes un-fun).  I really, really like to walk. I wish I lived in a world where I could walk everywhere. So far this month/year, I have walked 37.2 miles. I do not track daily steps but actual “I’m going out for a walk” walks.

While I like tracking what I do, I am not really great about forming goals. Something about noting that I would like to walk 360 miles this year feels too much like *work* so I end up not wanting to do it. Similarly, if I say I want to lose 20 lbs, it feels like I am pressuring myself. I know this is counter to what most life coaches might recommend but my goals are to walk more because I enjoy it and it is good for me; to lose some weight so that I am more comfortable in my body and consequently more healthy; and, to TRY to cut myself some slack.

I cannot do everything; I cannot be everywhere. Commuting to DC today or tomorrow would not be like a normal workday. In fact, my university closes every inauguration event so today I am home trying to finish up a chapter that is do in a week.
Today, I am going to focus on my small part of the world. I am not going to visit social media; I am not going to watch the news or even turn on the television. It affects my anxiety which affects my health.

Today I remind myself that this too shall pass.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

...grave-robbing, a haunted house, and sighs for Thomas Hood...

“Some dreams we have are nothing else but dreams,
Unnatural and full of contradictions ;
Yet others of our most romantic schemes,
Are something more than fictions.”
~Thomas Hood

by Unknown artist
oil on millboard, circa 1832-1834
NPG 855
© National Portrait Gallery, London
While this is in the Creative Commons, 
a donation was made in order 
to sustain the services of NPG.
Some authors are quite popular during their lifetime; and, upon their death, become merely a footnote in a literature anthology. Even those of us schooled in literature have educations that have overlooked some of the great writers.

As a literature professor, I am often pained by the heavy task of gathering “the great writers” and stuffing them in my syllabus, a syllabus that I should be working on right now since this weekend is the last one before classes begin on Tuesday. I am terribly behind, or terribly successful in the art of procrastination. My day was filled with a cemetarians group social event, and a few errands. I had all kinds of ideas about writing a quick poignant post for this blog but then but then I fell down a rabbit hole of poetry by Thomas Hood.  Actually, Thomas Hood wouldn’t be a rabbit hole but a deep, dark well…or perhaps a trip into a grave. I digress. For those of you who are not familiar, Hood was an English poet who lived in the early 1800s, passing in 1845.  

A few weeks ago, my fella sent me a link to “The Bridge of Sighs” because he had stumbled upon it and found the sing-songy-ness so contradictory to the subject matter that it delighted him. It delighted me too, and off I went to learn more about Thomas Hood, one of the great writers who somehow escaped me. Apparently he is in the current edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry but while I have saved all of my Nortons from undergrad, they are in the back of a closet; I’ll need to verify that Hood is in my version. Nevertheless, I don’t recall any professor ever drawing my attention to him; and, as young students, we often only read what is required. It’s a shame because I am certain that little-Me would have delighted in “Mary’s Ghost. A Pathetic Ballad,” a poem that includes grave robbing. Young-Me would have loved “The Haunted House” more. Edgar Allan Poe, who was a contemporary of Hood, even wrote about him. While we typically discuss Poe as a poet and author, he was a literary critic: one who often wrote with a scathing pen. Yet, Poe even liked “The Haunted House” and considered it “a masterpiece of its kind.”[1]

While searching, I discovered, among other poems, one about a deaf woman called “A Tale of a Trumpet.” What a very connected world indeed. 

Hood wasn’t very healthy in life and died fairly young at the age of 45. Even though his health was poor, it appears that his spirits were quite high. He was known to play practical jokes on family and friends, and many of his published pieces are humorous in nature. He did include a bit of activism in his works highlighting the conditions of those who were less fortunate in his poems, “Song of the Shirt,” about a seamstress, and “Song of the Labourer.”

Tonight, I am so grateful for being a product of a liberal arts education where we're encouraged to become life-long learners; I will be reading Thomas Hood as I sip a glass of wine.  I hope you might click on one of the links to his poems and read along with me. He is terribly gothy in a dark and playful way. I think Hood might even find his way into one of my syllabi this semester. Why make the millennials wait until they're in their forties to discover him! 

[1] Edgar Allan Poe (ed. John H. Ingram), “Thomas Hood,” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, vol. IV, 1875, pp. 147-152

Thursday, January 5, 2017

...winter & the gardening heart...

“No winter
shall chill
my gardening heart”
~Blake Schreck

The meteorologists are announcing snow here in Central Virginia, which means as my brother and I joke, it’s time to make French toast! (Ha ha ha, get it? Because folks run to the grocery store for bread, milk, and eggs! Um, anyway…)

While I’m trying to squeeze out the final 1000-2000 words of a draft for a chapter I’m writing before heading back for the Spring semester, I thought it would be the perfect time to show off some of my cute household plants.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017 review: _Vampires on the Run_...

Vampires on the Run: A Quinnie Boyd Mystery (March 1, 2017) by C. M. Surrisi

Age Range: 10 - 13 years
Grade Level: 5 - 8
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books (March 1, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1512411507
ISBN-13: 978-1512411508

In the months after Quinnie Boyd cracked the mystery of her missing teacher, she expected life in her small Maine town to snap back to normal. But two writers from New York City have arrived in Maiden Rock, and there's something not quite right about them. Sure, Ceil and Edgar are pale. And they dress in all black. And they don't go near the sunlight. But could they really be vampires? To find out, Quinnie turns to Dominica new kid in town who's an expert on everything geeky. Together, they'll risk their necks to find an answer . . .
I'm always looking for a good book to fit into my Adolescent Literature course. I decided to read this book based on the description (and because it has vampires!); it turns out that the story itself was even cuter than described!

Main character, Quinnie Boyd is 13 years old and has a knack for solving crime, that is when she isn’t getting grounded for going out in the middle of the night with new neighbor and potential crush, Dominic (described as wearing a “Black t-shirt with a small pi symbol on the chest. Not-too-baggy jeans. Vans). Okay, so I even had a little crush on him. One of the parts that I loved was that Quinnie and Dominic hang out without all the older YA flirting. Gasp! They’re actually friends! 

I didn’t realize until I was already into the story that this novel is part of a series (sigh! Why is everything part of a series now?!?) The Maypop Kidnapping (2016) was the first novel but Vampires on the Run completely works as a stand-alone novel with only a few references to the previous book and Quinnie’s adventures.

The basic plot is that novelist Victoria Kensington, which is actually the penname for Ella’s (Quinnie’s best friend) aunt and uncle writing-team, Ceil and Edgar, who may or may not be actual vampires! They’ve just released their latest novel Transylvanian Drip and come to the small town of Maiden Rock, Maine for a bit of rest. The town is so small that Quinnie’s mom is the real-estate agent, mayor, postmaster, and sheriff! And just like many small towns, news travels fast so everyone wants to read the famous author, especially since rumor has it that a real vampire tells Kensington the plot to each of her novels.

Because the famous author is in town, Quinnie’s teacher, Ms. Stillford decides that they will do a comparison of Transylvanian Drip and the Dracula. I love that this was included and Ms. Stillford seems like a great teacher although respectfully, I’m really not sure that the author C. M. Surrisi has even read Dracula. Much of Quinnie’s comments reflect some major misunderstandings; I’m chalking that up to unreliable narration since Quinnie is 13. And, because I have the Norton Critical Edition right beside me…seriously, I do!, I don’t know any Eighth Grade teacher who would assign 327 pages of Dracula plus whatever the length of the fictional Transylvanian Drip during the last week of school before summer break. But, it does fit into the plot so again, I’m not complaining.
While reading Dracula, Quinnie becomes completely freaked out by the story and cannot sleep. She texts her new buddy, Dominic and the two decide it’s a great idea to go walking on the beach together. It’s all good clean fun until their parents find out… and until they realize there is a mad dog/coyote/wolf/ vampire on the loose.

Quinnie’s imagination becomes overactive as she notices how Ceil and Edgar both dress in black, have white skin, bloodred [sic] lips, creepy long nails, and they cover the mirrors in the house. I overlook these stereotypes because Quinnie really isn’t a reader of vampire fiction (her words) and she tends to jump to conclusions.

While Quinnie is focused on vampirism, she and her friends actually expose a pretty serious scheme that leaves readers engaged until the end of the novel.

One of my favorite parts- Quinnie considers Dominic’s bite on her neck with fake fangs as her first kiss. Well, there is an opportunity for a real kiss but as Quinnie says, “There’s the whole summer ahead for that.”  I also love that Quinnie and her friends remind me so much of the collective characters in Dracula during their ongoing chase scenes. It’s also a little bit like The Lost Boys (1987) and the Scooby gang.