Every spring I plant one jalapeno plant and every summer and fall I'm faced with the culinary challenge of what to do with the dozen after dozen after dozen small, green and hot peppers this plant produces. I don't know why my local Home Depot consistently stocks hot-dammit-hot jalapeno plants or if maybe it has something to do with my soil? Could that possibly make sense? I don't know. Whatever the reason, my jalapeno plant (and poblano plant for that matter) produces copious numbers of hot! peppers.
Jalapenos go on pizza, with anything Mexican, and can be stuffed. These are the obvious. I also roast them in the oven or on the stove top in a grill pan and put them in soup and in the freezer. In large quantities. Even over the course of a winter, there are only so many jalapenos a person can use! I dehydrated some for good measure, although, seriously, I'm not sure what to do with them now. I made a chili paste of sorts but was only about 70% satisfied with it.
Even though it's a little late for the jalapeno harvest in most of the country, this entire jalapeno conversation came up the other day when a friend of mine continued to rave about how the relish I'd given him has become his favorite of all time. Jalapeno, cabbage, and onion relish had been the answer to my final jalapeno harvest. I perused some relish recipes and adapted for ingredients already in my kitchen. In my humble opinion, this recipe turned out to be an epic win. Collateral benefit is it took less than an hour from start through clean up.
The only potentially tricky step in this process is the canning, if you aren't familiar with the process. Because there is so much vinegar in the relish, the process is a little easier than canning something without vinegar. You'll need a half dozen or so small canning jars. Grab a big stock pot. Fill it about 2/3 with water. Boil the water. Put the jars and lids in to boil for at least several minutes. You won't have to put the filled cans back in the water bath though if you keep them sterile throughout.
Step by step instructions for the relish:
Like pesto, relish is very adaptable. I used half a head of red cabbage because I had half a head of red cabbage. Green would've been fine. Though not as pretty. Unless you used red onion. Which would've also been fine. Carrots? I think yes. Maybe even parsnips. I would say no to beets, but that's because I detest them. You might want to give them a go. Not a fan of hot relish? Use banana peppers. I'm not a fan of bell peppers in relish...but you wouldn't be making relish for me, so maybe you'll try bells and it'll be amazing. The vinegar can be played around with too. The recipes I looked at mostly called for white vinegar. I didn't have enough regular white so did half and half with rice vinegar. As always, you get the idea.
My favorite two ways to eat it are with white beans or on vegetarian hotdogs/sausage. If you aren't vegetarian, it works especially well with things like pork chops, hotdogs, sausages, and bologna.
Making pesto is one of my life long strategies for helping make the world a better place. Wielding only a blender, I declare "I am not a food waster! I am a happiness maker!" Making pesto is a small but purposeful step toward hugging the planet, myself, my friends and family.
Pesto is a serious topic for two reasons. First, I love pesto. It's on my list of essential foods. It shares that space with avocados, grapefruit, 15 grain bread with extra seeds, pizza from 5 Points Pizza in Nashville, curried anything, nuts and deep dark chocolate. I put it in pasta, spread it on toast, layer it with mozzarella and tomato slices on crostini, scoop it with crackers, and use it as a condiment for any sandwich.
Second, I hate wasting food. Not wasting greens sometimes is a challenge. Greens simply don't last very long and they aren't a suitable candidate for freezing, canning, or drying. I think I would feel really lofty and healthy if I could say greens never go to waste at my house because I always eat salad...but I don't. I mean, I do eat salad and its ok, but I don't love salad. Definitely not as much as pesto.
Traditional pesto is basil, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt. For years I thought of pesto as a summer thing, when fresh basil is plentiful. Even in Tennessee where we have a long growing season, basil is such a tender plant, it doesn't survive past the first cold night. Adding insult to injury, I've had to make successive plantings the last couple of years because I have some basil plant mildew killing thing going on.
In this pesto story, tradition is not required. Perhaps not even desired. I would never diminish the importance of food tradition when it comes to using pineapple in pineapple upside down cake or tomatoes in marinara, but for pesto, basil is not required. Pine nuts are not required. If you're vegan or dairy free, Parmesan cheese is not required. Nutritional yeast can sub in. I would say garlic is required, but you can use fresh or jarred; don't let anybody say you can't. I wouldn't necessarily recommend a substitution for olive oil or salt, but go ahead, play around.
Pesto glory. Here's how I make it.
In the blender, add:
Remember: Peace. Love. Pesto.
*I'm phasing out my use of almonds. Almonds are delightful and it's not their fault it takes so much water to make them, but it takes titanic quantities of water that California doesn't really have to spare right now. Sadly.
Monday is my usual yoga night but I couldn't go this past Monday. Wednesday is my alternate yoga night, but this week I was travelling for Thanksgiving. Now back home, Saturday morning yoga seemed like a good idea. And, if you strip away my bad behavior...which I'll get to in a minute...it was a good idea. Yoga is good for you in so many ways.
Here's how yoga is good for you...
1. No matter what anyone tells you about some minimum number of times you should practice every week, practicing yoga for even one hour each week will help your body be a better body. Yoga is the best thing I do for overall flexibility and balance even going to class only once most weeks. I will never bend like Gumby but it is just short of miraculous how practically graceful and not clumsy I've become...way more so than ten years ago. The classes I take are vinyasa flow--one movement flows into the next--so the body is continuously working. In addition to flexibility and balance, I'm building arm, back and core strength.
2. Yoga takes your mind to a calmer place. I think most exercise takes the mind to a better place but yoga is deliberate about it. Most teachers will remind you near the beginning of class to set an intention for your practice. Something you want or need to let go of, like that big messy day you've had so far. Keeping someone you care about in mind, like your kids...just because you love them so much. Or something you want to be mindful of, like a shout out to the universe to help you be less judgmental, please. The teacher will also remind you to follow your breath, to move and breathe at the same time. Remembering the intention and coordinating movements with breathing focuses and calms the mind. Even when I start class ridiculously distracted, I am in a better mind space by the end.
3. A yoga class is a safe place to see what you can do for yourself. People come to yoga with a quiet mindset. It's an individual practice even if there are twenty others in class. It's you and your mat. It's your time to see what your body can do. I've had more than one teacher say, "remember, yoga is not a competitive activity". I confess that when I'm working on a balancing pose or trying to get one step closer to full pigeon, I will sometimes glance around to see if I'm the only one who can't bend or lift or balance a particular way. Of course I'm never the only one still working on whatever it is and then I remember...yoga is not a competition, yoga is not a competition...
Yoga is not enhanced by a judgmental attitude...
There is a sequence of moves, a flow, that is used in yoga class. I've taken classes from probably twenty teachers in the course of the past ten years who have each talked the class through this sequence using generally the same words. "Sweep your arms up straight over your head, take a slight backbend if you want to, drop/sweep your hands to the floor, bending at the waist for forward fold, half lift/flat back, forward fold, walk or jump your feet back to plank..." and it continues.
The teacher today kept saying "standing forward bend" instead of "forward fold". It was awkward in the spoken sequence of words and at first I had no idea what she was talking about, so the whole flow for me did not flow. I figured it out after a couple of rounds, but too late. I was annoyed. This is a sequence that gets repeated many times in the course of an hour, and every time I heard "standing forward bend", I got more annoyed. Twenty minutes into class I decided I didn't like her.
It's a little over the top to decide you don't like someone because they say "standing forward bend" instead of "forward fold" (no matter how obvious it is that the latter phrase is better and easier and is the phrase that should be used). I had to start talking to myself. I told myself if she was my daughter, I would certainly defend her right to say "standing forward bend". I told myself I really can't not like someone for changing a phrase. I told myself it was not very good yogi behavior to create such stupid judgment and hold on to it for the whole class and then to think about writing a blog post about it. Yet, here it is.
The way I will honor today's class is to take myself back next Saturday. I will set an intention to not embrace judgment, breathe in kindness and breathe out whatever isn't. I'll be a better yogi.
Are you a yogi with a story to tell? Why do you practice? What have you learned?
A few years ago, our marketing manager had me writing "Morning Minutes" to connect with people who support our mission as a nonprofit organization. The idea was to send a brief email to our donor list, about once a month, to put a face on what we do and why we do it. This one ended up having a lasting impact on me.
Your best self...
After five decades of life (and then some), I still ask myself if I’m living day to day as my best self. An unabashedly honest answer would have to be probably not each and every day, but hopefully most days I’m at least thinking about it. I think it’s defined differently day to day, but for me, my best self includes being kind (harder than it sounds), finding creative purpose (so important for my personal overall happiness), listening without interrupting (sigh), giving back (getting outside of myself in big or little ways) and pushing my body to some new ability (if I can ride my bike faster, then my mind feels stronger too). I have to remind myself sometimes that being able to pursue my best self is a gift. I have skills and abilities that allow me to do almost every single thing I want to do…or at least try!
I also have to remind myself sometimes that people with disabilities or people who have experienced diminished skills and abilities due to aging aren’t always able to be their best self all by themselves. It’s the highest expression of our mission to help people be more than happy, healthy and safe; it is helping each person to be their best self. We may not achieve that every day, but when we see someone has the joy of a first paycheck, has learned to ride a bike, is going to the beach for the first time, and is growing in confidence and independence, we know we’re on the right track.
What will you do today to be your best self? Can you write down what "best self" means to you? What will you do today to help someone you care about be her or his best self? Can you write down what "best self" means to them? What might the world look like if we all expressed our best selves…and worked to support the best selves of those who can’t quite do it on their own?
Your mantra is the words of your best self
I thought long and hard about the first paragraph before and after I wrote it. My best self. What does my best self look like? What is important to me? Who do I want to be even when I'm not? What do I want people experience when they're around me, getting to know me? What words capture my identity?
The five characteristics I initially identified haven't changed, but I did reduce them to seven words.
These words became a mantra--my mantra--as I clarified and reduced them to the most essential expression. A mantra needs to:
Be simple enough to remember. These words remind me who I want to be in all the minutes of my life. They serve as an ongoing meditation.
Be enough to capture what is most important. There's no magic to having seven words. It could be 10 words or 4 words. These words cover a lot of ground. None of them can be removed without leaving a hole but no other words need to be added to make the mantra complete.
Be forever words. I hope to get one fairly sizable tattoo this year. I'm thinking about incorporating these words somehow. Even if I don't, these words are tattoo worthy.
Write your mantra.
Here's how you do it:
1. Brainstorm. What do you have to do to be truly you? Who do you want to be even in the moments you aren't? How do you want to be remembered? What are the words you want people to use to describe you? Brainstorm these words and phrases. Write them down. Make certain you've captured the most important things.
2. Edit. Cross out any word that is too specific or feels like it belongs on your bucket list. For example, if you've written as part of your brainstormed list 'complete 3 marathons every year', 'run', 'compete', 'be a good leader', 'problem solver', 'mentor' on your list, you can cross out 'complete 3 marathons' and probably 'problem solver'. Plan to put the marathons on your goal list for the year every January and consider that 'problem solver' might be an aspect of leading.
3. Group. Put the remaining list into logical groupings. Using the above example, run and compete would go together. Mentor and good leader probably go together. Edit and group the words until you have somewhere between 4 and 10 groupings of words or phrases (but 10 is a lot!).
4. Determine the forever words. You're looking for one or two words to represent each group. The final words should also be active words. For mentor and good leader, the word might be "lead". For run and compete, the word could be "compete" if competing is what drives you or it could be "sweat" if like me, it's about exertion and performance or it could be "run" if you can't imagine a time when you won't.
5. These aren't hard and fast rules. After all, it's your mantra. If you want to use a word that doesn't fit the guidelines, use it! You may decide to use "friend" because being a good friend is the very most important thing to you. It isn't an active word, but there may not be another word that's exactly right. The word "friend" does convey who you want to be and will provide that reminder or focus when you say your mantra to yourself. And even though I do think the words should be tattoo-worthy, there's no law that says a mantra can't change. I've considered many times adding "be present" to my mantra. I haven't because it's more a challenge from myself to myself where my other words have to do with how I interact with the world. At least that's how I see it. You may see it differently.
Use your mantra as a meditation or a prayer, as a guide back to your best self.
I put over 17,000 steps on my garmin.
I missed a call from my mom. We're making plans to go to my nephew's wedding in February.
A huge fat squirrel had me laughing out loud watching him barrel across my back yard, stopping only to consider swiping some of my kale. He/She ultimately declined.
The Titans beat the Ravens.
My cat Zeke, for the first time that I'm aware of, demonstrated alpha cat behavior, not yielding the top step of the back deck to the neighbor's pushy Siamese cat, Ming.
I finished a pair of earrings and spent some time writing.
My friend Carrie started pulling together the pre-Thanksgiving potluck for our boxing gym crew. Thank you Carrie.
It was 80 degrees in Nashville.
26 people lost their lives because they went to church today in a "one blinking-light" town in Texas.
I'm almost used to it; startled but not shocked. It drags on my heart but I didn't burst into tears like I used to. It feels inevitable. It feels expected. Killing random strangers is the new response to hopelessness or rage. When I saw this was at the hands of an American, I also knew it would be tweeted about but ultimately ignored. We won't talk about guns. We won't talk about mental health care. We won't talk about poverty or hunger or the disenfranchised. We won't invest in public education or health care for all or criminal justice reform. We won't.
I honestly do not know what to do.
Still, I am hopeful.
Millions of people will go to work and do good.
Babies will be born.
Someone will dance their first tango.
There will be lots of birthdays and birthday parties.
My sons will be remarkable.
Runners will continue to bask in the glow of finishing the New York marathon.
People will choose love over hate.
We will persist.
My computer desk sits in a back room at a long bank of windows facing my back yard. It's where I come to write this blog. It might, to an observer, look like I'm doing nothing more than staring out the window; my laptop being to be open and on only coincidental. Or, I'm writing something with such monumental impact that every word is a psychic battle. Nope, it's this blog. I sit here and I think for a while, often a long while, about the words, the purpose, the story...what do I want to say? Sometimes there is a story clear in my head, something I've been thinking about. I can write a beginning, a middle and an end. Sometimes it's not as clear but I really, really, really want to write. That's when the staring commences.
It would be fine to write random thoughts or a to do list or a detailed description of what my back yard looks like on this particular day if I didn't intend to publish it. After all, if my hope is to have readers, I need to write something more coherent than my random thoughts, more organized than my chore list, and more complete than a description of how the neighbor's evil Siamese cat not only just peed in a garden box with tiny spinach seedlings, but proceeded to scratch clear a fifteen inch circle around said pee spot, which now will need re-seeding. There's really only so much I can say about that. Still, this is a day I want to write, but the what-to-write is less obvious.
"One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple." Jack Kerouac
I wonder where it comes from, this desire to write? I usually credit my newspaper photographer father and teacher mother for providing a love for words. There was frequent conversation in my house about words...how to use them, how to spell them, how to speak them. Growing up I thought of writing mostly as something I did primarily for school and sometimes for "dear diary". When I thought about words, I thought about them mostly in the context of how to speak them well. I won't suggest that speaking well comes before writing well for everyone, but I will say that was the progression for me. In graduate school a professor told me he was shocked by the mediocrity of my first paper because I spoke so much better. Ouch! The obvious lesson was to read a paper out loud and edit, edit, edit before turning it in. It worked. Fast forward to now, being reasonably competent at speaking and writing, I'd rather write.
There are so many ways to write...actual physical ways and styles of writing...
Writing on paper with a pen. This is my favorite actual physical way to write. But honestly, is it really the writing or just the way to justify indulging my adoration of pens and papers? I have collected an embarrassing number of marker sets and kinds of papers. It's not a stretch to say that simply knowing all those pens and papers exist in my house makes me smile. I like medium tip bic pens and roller ball pens and fine and medium tip markers and soft lead pencils. I like smooth paper, textured paper, heavy paper, handmade paper, lined paper, and unlined paper. Bound. Or not. So I wonder if pen and paper writing is about the writing or about the pen and paper. And then I wonder if it matters.
Journal writing is a particular style of writing I practice nearly every morning. The rare morning that I don't write, I make up for the next day. The journal appeals to the diarist in me. I document events of the day before, random reflections I had about things that happened and log what I did at the gym.
Professional writing. The writing I do at work is far less creative and often less interesting than any other way I use the written word. It's not technical writing exactly. My work is with people, not things or technology and so writing is usually policy related, program operations related, management or problem solving related. Occasionally idea related which is more fun. This past week I got to write short speeches for myself. One for an breakfast event and one for Senate committee testimony. Yikes.
Blog writing. Even though day after day can get away from me without having or taking time to ponder my back yard from the window while I think about words, this is my favorite writing. It's much more personal than a piece of professional writing or a chore list...both of which I find differently satisfying. It's more challenging than a speech because the audience is broad (hopefully) and the ideas, the choice of content is mine alone. I'm still not certain where the desire to write has come from or why it's grown over time. Perhaps I have more to say as life grows longer that is relevant or funny or curious enough to share. Perhaps it's because I've realized the human experience gives each of us so many stories; every one of us has at least one or two that should be told every day. I wonder how many times we could learn something useful or fascinating, laugh or cry, or be simply amazed, if we wrote our stories and left them somewhere we could all read them?
What's your artistic or creative purpose? How do you figure it out? Do the art and artist need special purpose?
Nashville Creative Group is a group for artists and creatives, started and maintained by local artist Beth Inglish. It has a well used Facebook page which provides a space to show your work, ask a question, or throw out an idea and get some feedback. Beth will often pose a question, inviting artists to share something that might be a bit personal, always related to art or the creative spirit. (It takes prompting to get artists out of their heads sometimes.)
A few days ago she asked "How are you living out your purpose with the work you create?" This group is no different than any other Facebook group in that this question got thoughtful answers, funny answers and some skeptical answers. I didn't reply at all because I think it's kind of a difficult question. And because I couldn't come up with a good funny answer.
It seems as though the question about the purpose of the artist and the purpose of art itself may need to be examined together? However, pondering these questions can initiate that one-thing-leads-to-another-and-spiral-into-oblivion kind of thinking. Here's how it goes for me... I am many things and among them are mother, daughter, sibling, nonprofit executive, friend, artist/creative. I want to use the life that I've been given to add to the world, shape a contribution, leave a legacy. Things that I invest in, that I create, that I give heart to, reflect me. I want them to be meaningful, have purpose. It's not so difficult to identify the purpose in those first five ways I describe myself. But the purpose of "artist" is much more elusive.
Art, in some ways, could be considered non-essential. I know people who say "Art? Not really my thing. Never been to a gallery; don't think I'm missing anything". While I don't actually understand how these people live and breathe, because for me art seems so fundamental to living, I do know (and like!) many people who feel this way. After all, art doesn't sustain biological life. It is possible to be alive and happy without it. Except for those of us who can't be. This is where the thinking spiral begins. I need to be creative. I need to make. And I need my life to have meaning, my time here to be well spent. I need to practice gratitude for the ridiculous richness of my life. I want to live in a way that moves us closer to a world where people aren't hungry or homeless, where love is always more important than hate, where we believe and behave with a commitment to peace and equality. I don't know (full disclosure!) if making cool ass jewelry or any of the other creative things that I love to do really serves those ends? I don't know if my need to make art can stand up beside the growing population of homeless teenagers in my city, the families who go to bed hungry, the persistence of racism, poverty, injustice and countless other urgent wrongs that my earring time could be spent to help remedy. Thus my dilemma in determining my purpose as an artist.
And then there's the purpose of art. Historically art has had huge purpose, reflecting good and evil, providing some representational history of the politics, religion, and social norms and ills. It has given voice to the riches of royalty and to the angry, marginalized and disenfranchised. It is funny, sarcastic, ironic. It can be over the top or minimal. It can confuse me or leave me cold or make me cry. Does all of that reflect actual purpose? I don't know. I would even argue that I don't want art to have a definable purpose all the time. Sometimes I just want to be entertained or mesmerized or overcome because it's so damn beautiful. I'm drawn to that kind of art. It fills me up, leaves me inspired, energized and happy. Perhaps that's purpose enough.
Maybe there are other questions to consider. Does art start a conversation? Does it make us uncomfortable, which might encourage us to think instead of simply walk away? Does it grant us peace in the moment that we receive it? Does it re-balance a chaotic and sometimes harsh world by invading our brains and souls with beauty? Does it let us be who we are more fully so we can feel powerful enough to change the world? To me, these questions do start to clarity the purpose of art.
So back to the beginning...what is my purpose as an artist? What does it mean to create art that has purpose? Does this by default give the artist purpose? Is my art significant enough to have purpose? (Now there's a rabbit hole....) Does it have to validate its place in my life by supporting the primary story I want my life to tell and the legacy I most want to leave?
Still working on answers. What do you think?
"Aging's a bitch. But I hope she's my bitch for many, many birthdays to come." This from me as a facebook comment recently in response to one of my best girlfriend's somewhat in-your-face reflections on being 50. I've been well acquainted with the 50s for a while and have more of a love-hate relationship with aging than I'd like to admit. I'd love to say I embrace the gifts of aging every day and feel no angst regarding the way I wear it...but that would be more than a little white lie.
A recent vacation allowed me many walks on the beach. I was heartened by the girls and women on this beach. Babies to 70 somethings, bikinis to tank suits to yoga pants, alone or with partners or families, almost every woman I saw seemed at ease with herself and her body. In reality, there probably were varying levels of angst about weight and shape and the effects of gravity, but not enough to keep them off the beach or fully covered up. These are good observations for me to make. I can get so twisted up in what I think when I look in the mirror.
On one of these walks I decided to take a deep dive with this aging thing, to write about it for a month or 6 months or a year. Write until it's all figured out or have drawn some magic number of conclusions. Let go of the angst. Embrace my face. Be the Wonder Woman of peace with aging. Right? It definitely seems worth a try.
Aging. We do it whether we want to or not. Every day and all the time. Of course we want to, we just don't want it to show its wear and tear. There are weird contradictions involved in the process of aging and being at ease with it at the same time. We love the idea of being younger, but are there really any decades of life we want to live through again? Sure, there are things in the do-over column if we could take the lessons learned back in time with us...parenting joys to re-live and parenting mistakes to undo, repeat vacations that were really fun, spend more and better time with our own parents, relationship stuff (the good to do even better and bad to avoid all together), jobs that we would never apply for the second time around, not give up running so it wouldn't be so hard to start again, re-take our best naps on our favorite couch...but not re-live entire years or decades. The wisdom from living is one of the best gifts aging gives and yes, we only get it by living. The learned face in the mirror is only learned because it's seen and done what it's seen and done. The face of 20 or 30 years ago may have been a smoother canvas, but it was, in my case, a more intense, less secure, more financially stressed, and less wise face.
My face is my individual banner of aging and in the most self evolved state of being, I would be content with it every single day. The funny thing is, some days I am...I feel like I look happy, not old or bright, not saggy. Other days it's just ugh. Ear to ear, forehead to chin ugh. It also is easier to assess and appreciate the maturing faces that aren't mine. Many mature faces look fascinating to me because they are so layered, wise, and bright...furrowed and textured and wrinkled in a way that speaks of accomplishment and peace. If my face is going to furrow and wrinkle, I at least want it to look wise and content. I fear it might just look old and tired...
I think frequently about how well or poorly I wear my decades of life. Maybe not so frequently in terms of minutes in day, but enough to make me a little crazy sometimes. It hits me when I look in the mirror and am having an ugh reflection. It hits me when I remember that I'm more than half way through this life and there's so much left to learn and see and do. The list is unbelievably long. It hits me in a different and better way when I remind myself the years reflected in my face and body have been overall, so damn good to me. I have so very little to whine about. My hope is that in writing about aging, I will ultimately embrace the blessings of my life over the angst of body changing aging horrors. And not only when I sit down and think deliberately about it, but instinctively, every day and all the time.
#publishous, #wellness, #aginghappily, #peacewithaging
The last Sunday in July, at about 8:30 in the morning, I raised my left arm to signal to our Sunday morning riding group that a turn was coming up in about a half a block. Whoever happens to be in front is the default navigator. At the same time, I turned my head slightly to left to call out "left turn at the stop"...after all, you can't know if everyone is seeing your arm signal when they're all behind you. In the exact same brief moment of time, my front tire hit a hiding-in-the-shade-of-a-tree divot in the asphalt. I remember having only the slightest awareness that something was wrong before a more clear memory, which I now know was about a minute later, of being helped out of the street and to the grass. Paramedics came. I could walk under my own power, speak clearly, spell my name, and sign the form that I did not want to not go to the hospital. My youngest son, for the second time in ten months, came to collect me and my bike, a little worse for wear, and take us home.
I felt shaken and a little bit, how to describe, in a slightly altered state? Like my brain was on a half second time delay. But I didn't hurt badly anywhere. With the exception of a small amount of road rash on my arm, hip and knee and some pretty good cuts around my right eye from when my face plant drove my sunglasses into my skin, I seemed ok. I took a shower, cleaned up my abrasions and when my friends finished the ride and came to check on me, I was mowing my back yard. I felt a little annoyed about their body language indicating they thought it was a bad idea. They underestimated my super powers. By the time I came in the house and got something to eat, a low grade headache crept in. And damn, I was tired. Given how I had recently flown without wings off of my bike and onto my head, this was to be expected, right? I took a nap, hung around the house, had a quiet rest of the day. Later I sent an email to our management team at work, saying I'd had a bike wreck, thought the next morning I might be moving a little slowly, so to expect me around lunchtime.
Monday morning I felt ok. Slow and maybe still a little...altered? But not terrible. I made coffee, got breakfast, pulled on jeans and a t-shirt. I hadn't gotten the pre-crash intended yard work done after the mowing, so I wandered around the front yard and pulled the most egregious weeds for a short time after breakfast. I came in and sat down. Next I needed to do a little makeup camo on my cut up eye, change shoes and drive to work. That's when my awareness started to catch up with my reality. There was no way I could do any of that. I couldn't even imagine it. I could sit. Or maybe...in a few more energy gathering minutes...make my way back upstairs and prop up on pillows in bed. Maybe read. Ugh. No. Maybe just exist right there on the couch. Yep. That seemed more doable.
The "what, are you crazy?!" part of this whole thing is that I knew I had a concussion. I lost consciousness for a few seconds and despite my at-the-scene inclination to minimize, the paramedics had used the c word and I knew it was true. Outside of knowing that repeated concussions in a football context are very, very bad, I knew very little about the care and feeding of having my very own. I did know unless there's a serious brain bleed, a concussion can't really be treated and since I'm an under-reactor when it comes to illness or injury, I thought taking it easy and paying attention to my body would be the treatment plan. And from what I've learned, that pretty much is the treatment plan. What I've also learned is that I sucked at paying attention to my body during the first 24 hours.
Monday evening I walked one and a half blocks to our neighborhood supper club, where I eat supper every Monday evening. I felt ok getting there. About 45 minutes later, I realized I had begun the downhill slide and it was gaining speed. It seemed like a long walk home. Ugh. Tuesday was the day that got my attention. When I got out of bed, the room spun a little bit. Hmm. Dizziness. That's new. My neck, shoulders and back felt sore on Monday but had solidified overnight into one inflexible slab of concrete. And I was tired. Crazy, deep in my bones and in my brain tired. But still, no headache, no vision or speech issues, no ringing in my ears, no mood swings or irritability or fuzzy thinking. The dizziness was only present when I went from laying to standing and then quickly cleared. By this time I'd read probably 15 or so articles on concussion, selecting sources as reliable as possible, like Mayo Clinic and WebMD, and avoiding any like cureyourconcussionbyeatingtwentyavocados.com. (Not that I wouldn't love an excuse to eat 20 avocados.) I felt pretty confident I knew what to look for. Still, would this have been a good day to go ahead and get checked out? Perhaps. But I was too damn tired. The entire day involved being awake for one or two hours and then sleeping for two or three hours, eating and drinking water. The email I sent to the office was something like "This is going to be a slow roll. I won't be in today."
Wednesday I was definitely better. I only took two naps. Ninety minutes or so mid-morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon. I'd had a massage scheduled for late afternoon and had debated about whether to cancel. I went. I've been seeing her for years, so trusted her to be careful. Working around my road rash, she released so many knots from my neck to my lower back that by the end of the hour I felt like there was hope for my eventual restoration.
But by Thursday mid-day, the panic of a dull brain set in. I had both conceded I might need the entire week off of work, which I don't think I've ever done for injury or illness and began to realize while my body was slowly finding its mojo, my mind was not. I felt unmotivated and uninspired. When I thought about the work inevitably piling up at the office, I thought "oh well". I was afraid to go get my laptop and try to write something. What if my thinking was clear but my writing had gone to hell? I went to my jewelers bench and sat, looking at my tools and stones and metal. Normally when I don't even have time to do anything, if I sit on my stool and look at everything for even 5 seconds, I start feeling desire or even urgency to execute the next design. This time I sat there and felt overwhelmed if I felt anything at all. I looked at sketches. Felt nothing. Looked at a pair of stones with a couple of cut pieces of copper I'd laid out days earlier. Nothing. What if it never comes back? What if my creative brain has left the building? What if I always need 2 naps? What if I remain too afraid to even try to write, for fear it will be too hard and too boring?
I knew by this point that my brain was healing physically. The only real symptom that remained, besides needing more sleep than I have since I was pregnant, was the dizziness and it was ever so slowly getting better. But the thought that the crossroads of where my personality meets my cognitive function could be altered by this accident, which I though was possible because we know so little about our brains, was utterly terrifying. By outward appearance, I'm a logical and even tempered soul (at this stage in my life), however I still possess a finely tuned ability to occasionally grab onto an irrational fear and hold it tight. What if my Muse got lost? What if she was simply gone? What if I ended up unable to ever find my edge again? Got unaccomplished and unproductive? What if beauty would still seem beautiful but not that which could leave me speechless? What if thinking about how much I love my children never again brought me to tears?
Now three weeks out from the crash, I'm relieved and grateful to know that my brain will continue to serve me well. It has reclaimed its ability to sketch an earring design and urge me to get to my bench. It has risen to the daily host of challenges faced by managing a nonprofit organization. It still requires a little extra sleep but is kind to me when I comply. It has resumed its ability to organized several overlapping jumbled thoughts and ideas on a minute to minute basis. It is still reminding me if I take it slowly while the lingering dizziness fades to nothingness, it will help me get back to the gym and achieve my own personal version of superwoman strength and mightiness.
There is no particular moral to my story, but maybe a couple of fairly obvious truths. The first is a truth I would be remiss not to say: if you ride a bike, wear a helmet. Do it. There is no doubt my helmet saved me from a fate I don't want to imagine. The inside of my helmet looks like puzzle pieces. All the energy that it absorbed would've otherwise been absorbed by my head. The broader truth is this: Love your brain. It's everything. Literally everything.
Update another week later: the dizziness finally cleared but there's a funny thing about that. The only times I had been dizzy throughout the recovery was when I went from laying down to sitting or standing and if I tilted my head way back to look up. The last time I felt dizzy was the morning of August 21st when I got out of bed. We had an eclipse party at work...potluck and viewing. We got glasses for all and suspended all work for a couple of hours. There is a a big lawn in the center of our buildings which made the perfect place for eclipse watching. Not only did I not get dizzy when I put my viewing glasses on to watch the progression of the eclipse, or without them for the almost 2 minutes of full eclipse Nashville had, that was the day the dizziness left me altogether. I'm not saying that the eclipse cured the remnants of my concussion, but......
There seems to be a small movement against the Muse. I've happened on two articles in two days blasting the reality of the Muse. What?! My Muse is in charge of my blog, so I feel compelled to defend...
The argument seems to be that the Muse doesn't exist and that artists/creative people shouldn't wait for it to magically show up and inspire before we get to work. And further, we can't blame our writer's block or creative slump on the Muse stubbornly having gone on vacation.
I'm sorry, but when I read these arguments I end up thinking that the problem is those writers haven't found their Muse yet. Or maybe they don't want one. Or need one. I don't have judgment about that but I would very much appreciate that they not try and discount my Muse along the way. My Muse is real. And she's (yep, a girl) real because she's part of me. She's that thing that tells me I'm in the zone or nope, go take a nap. She's the urgency in my mind that gives me one hundred random unorganized thoughts and ideas and then tells me there's good stuff somewhere in there so go find it. She's the spirit that dances just out of my reach with the answer to life's next big question. And she's fascinating enough to keep me following her to learn what it is. And on that journey I create and I write and I succeed and I fail and I know myself as an artist and I love that she brings that clearly to my heart.
Long live the Muse.
Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
The patience project. Because patience is a virtue. And a creative challenge.
Don't mess with imperfection. How copper and heat speak for themselves.
Politics and Art wage war inside me
Write 100 words, take a nap and share your mantra
Tile and wood floor...this year's winter project...kitchen renovation