Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Before and After

Am I my BI (Brain Injury)?

The short and sweet answer is, "Of course not." Our identities should not be tied to a single set of events any more than they should be tied to a particular role we play in our lives: child, parent, spouse, resident, patient, victim, employee (I learned early on from game shows that Americans too often tie "Who are you?" to "What do you do?" (e.g. "Let's give a big Card Sharks welcome to Todd, a marketing analyst from Modesto."). If we allow ourselves to be pigeon-holed, we leave no room for growth.

Of course, my stroke has raised a lot of identity questions for me because the brain is as close to "self" as we've been able to define. And, for me, my self is as close to my soul as I've been able to devine. I'd like to think that if my soul weighed  21 grams before my stroke, this experience has bulked up my ethereal spirit by 9071.8g (thus explaining the 20 pounds I've packed on).

I've also obviously placed a lot of emphasis on comparing life BS (Before Stroke) to ASS (After Suffering Stroke); but, in truth, this before and after may be no more significant an experience than the B&A transition from child to adult, bachelor to husband, childfreeman to parent, renter to home owner, etc., etc. We play many parts as we strut and fret our hour upon the stage, all of which shape who we ultimately are.

I have gone to great lengths to get to know myself over the years (is self awareness the same as being self conscious?). So much so that waking after my stroke and feeling like "me" was a huge relief for me and my friends and family. That said, it's a dis-service to think  that who I was needs to be who I am and always will be. I was lucky to retain my sense of self (I've met other TBI survivalists who did not have the same good fortune and have consequently spent far more precious energy on reinvention than I've needed to), but I don't want to hold me back either.

Just as I've contemplated a sense of loss, I've also trolled the depths of identity with the question of whether it's for me to determine alone. Just as works of art tread a fine line between intention and interpretation, identity exists somewhere between how we see ourselves, how we try to comport ourselves, and how others see us.

This idea brings me to today's exercise. I've asked a number of friends and family members to provide their impressions regarding who I was pre-stroke, compared to who I am now. This was admittedly a somewhat unreasonable and self-indulgent request, amounting to reading my own eulogies. But my hope was to hear insights I am too close to see myself.

I will begin with my own, straight-foward, bulleted list, move through a variety of Ken Shapiro, This Is Your Life voices (with some editorial commentary [in brackets], and close with some rebuttal (because I always have to get the last word).

My nuts and bolts comparison (in no particular order):

  • I'm slower and more deliberate, which translates into more mental processing, additional time to get ready in the morning, and more time generally to move from point A to point B.
  • I get cold more easily, though -- Polar Vortex not withstanding -- that's improved a bit.
  • I'm more easily tired and take more naps (I've fallen asleep during an MRI (though that was pre stroke, at the barber (also pre), and in a variety of therapeutic settings: massage, acupuncture, Feldenkrais, Reiki,  craniosacral ). Sleep is healing.
  • I'm less "regular" and a little less hygienic (given the extra time required to get ready in the morning, I have to alternate between toileting and showering).
  • I'm more intolerant of reflexive complaints, intolerance, and extremism (not really a development of the last three years and completely inconducive to parenting).
  • Along the lines of the above point, I cannot stand the words, "always," "never, "need" (as in, "I need you to..."), or "should" (as in, "You know what you really should do?"). There is no need, only want ("There is no Dana, only Zuul." Anyone?)
  • I'm not keen on long-term planning (5-years is way too far out to contemplate, never mind retirement). We're looking to visit my family in New Jersey in April, and that's about as far ahead as I'm willing to speculate. Otherwise, I am open to the universe.
  • Interestingly, I think this experience has made me more optimistic about and less fearful of life.
  • Along those lines, I just give less of a damn.
  • I have a better Work-Life Balance (which hopefully just means better perspective on where to best direct my energy).
  • My left arm shakes when I yawn, sneeze, rub my eye, or try to consciously move my hand.
  • I walk with a leg brace and cane most of the time.
  • Getting down on the floor and up again requires planning, preparation, and purpose.
  • I have to more intentionally focus on how I express emotions (so as not to often appear angry or sullen), as well as how I interpret other people's tones and mannerisms (I may get false impressions/over-reactions).
  • I'm more sensitive to having to raise my voice to be heard or of being yelled to (also not conducive to my house).
  • It takes two cosmos to get me tipsy, whereas a glass of wine used to do the trick (though that could just be the extra weight of my soul, absorbing the alcohol).
  • I have permanent bedhead (head, not hair).
  • I can only independently raise my right eyebrow for emphasis (though I can raise them both at the same time).
  • I can't curl my tongue or whistle well anymore.
  • It isn't all bad, though: I get good parking, am whisked through airport security in a wheelchair, ride the elevator and use handicapped bathroom stalls without guilt.
That's all from 2014 Me for now, except for [bracketed comments].

[The first voice from my past is my own, circa 1976. When exactly do you become You? My parents recently delivered a load of my old journals, including a book entitled, This Is My Book, which I completed at Age 6]:

[On a page called, "Different Things About Me," I was asked to underline my defining traits. I chose]:

  • "I cry."
  • "I make noise."
  • "I get angry."
  • "I help around the house."
  • "I'm never on time."
  • "I'm a good friend."
  • "I talk a lot."
  • "I finish the food on my plate" [though the underline trailed out].
  • "I make jokes."

[I did not underline]:

  • "I'm always on time."
  • "I am always wise."

[I'm not gathering a lot of insight from those choices, other than acknowledging I was a work in progress (not "always wise").]

[Sticking with Before voices, here's Me again, in 1987, just shy of my 17th birthday. What strikes me most about this teenage voice is my YOLO Certainty about the way the world works. I suppose you could call it "innocence," and it most definitely has been lost.]:

From [my journal] Life V: February 15, 1987

A couple of years ago, I continually told myself that I was, "too old for my age." I always felt like I was more mature than other kids,  psychologically and emotionally. Then I decided I wanted to be a writer. "You have to be able to think young," I told myself. "Creativity and imagination are attributed to youth." So I decided to retain "Kenny" as my official name as a writer[now I want to say "nom de plume," but that phrase didn't exist in 1987.] , thinking this title would preserve my childhood. Ah, but what's in a name that can prevent the passage of time? Nothing.

Now that I am more mature [remember, that's all of 17], I can see how immature I was back at that time, when I thought I was so much better off than everyone else, maturity wise. I can also see that I still have a great deal of growing up to do. Maturity, in many ways, means becoming more serious: [For instance], I used to love Scooby Doo. Now I watch it and get annoyed with the stupidity the program portrays. I also find Buck Rogers [happy 71st birthday, Gil Gerard] a little inane. Maturation has allowed me to recognize The Flintstones and Batman [Gotta love Adam West's staying power] as the clever satires they always have been. I just could never see it before. So there's a lot to say for maturity. I enjoy logic and being able to make sense of a mess instead of playing in it. [But] there's also a great need and importance for proper childishness. You can never and never should let go of the past. There's always something to be said for it, no matter how terrible it seemed at the time.

When I was at my age of moral superiority, I only felt inferior sexually. I was fourteen years old, witnessing so many other boys my age who had girlfriends, let alone an active interest in women. I was interested, but there was no way I would ever flirt with a person of the opposite sex. At summer camp the older boys and girls mingled. I was a Counselor In Training with little if no confidence where girls were concerned. All the other boys seemed so adept in their follies, like it was the most natural thing in the world. I would simply watch and comfort myself with various thoughts: Someday I would kiss a girl; someday I would have sex (most likely when I married); someday I would have the most wonderful girl,  someone drawn to my sense of righteousness and caring. If I only knew then what I know now:  I do have a wonderful girlfriend. I've kissed her a lot . I haven't had sex yet, but I've come pretty damn close. I don't know what drew her to me. I'm still  righteous and caring, but I'm also a lot more outraged and stoic and hardened than I used to be. I'm not 14 anymore, although I often try to convince myself I am. 

Maybe someday.

[Now to my parents, who have known me longest (I guess I'm going in order of relationship length]:

Mom [who I asked to tone down the gushing]:

Through it all, he’s the Kenny I’ve always marveled at: smart, caring and one-of-a-kind, with a unique take on the world -- and the humor to turn the heaviest of subjects into a matter to chuckle over.
Even his mishaps were unique.  How many kids swallowed a light bulb or shoved a Rice Krispie up his nose?

So, when you think about it, the tragedy of Kenny’s stroke was just as unique:  a giant, calcified aneurysm inside that special brain of his? What were the odds? [very slim if 1/50 people have unruptured aneurysms and 5-8% of those are giant (written by my dr.)]

It’s that special brain that keeps astounding us, despite his limitations now. Would he be able to work again, I worried.  How much independence would he regain? It’s not that I’ve stopped worrying (I’m his mother, after all), but he keeps reminding me through his accomplishments and humor that he’s still the smart, determined and interesting Kenny I’ve always known.  In his blogs, he leads us through dark times, intricate analyses of his life and condition, and then wows us with a punch line that stops my tears in their tracks as I start to laugh.   

The night before his surgery, we went with Ken and Jamie to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a quirky movie that he chose and I was sure I wouldn’t like.  But it was a great choice, offbeat and funny.  Sort of like Kenny.  Heading back to the car, he showed off his racewalking prowess, a skill I had never known he had.  He slipped in a remark about whether he’d be able to do that after the surgery, but we tried not to think about his comment.

I still try not to. I think instead about the strength Ken keeps demonstrating, the new skills he keeps developing, and the power of his words.


From my perspective, I don't see much change from the before to the after...either in the positives or negatives. That being said, I think there are now pauses sometimes when you are speaking/answering a question that I don't remember from the before. I think your sense of humor/wittiness is the same but I am definitely enjoying it more since you are sharing more through your blogs.

Julie [college friend]:

When I think of Ken when I knew him best, we were in our first year of university together [Julie's moved to England and has put on that Madonna ex-pat affect. We Americans call it "college"]. Ken had small hands with short nails, he had a lot of hair, he was skinny, neat and tidy in appearance, and he owned a pair of acid-washed jeans. (God, so 80s, Ken.) I’d never met anyone from New Jersey before, but Ken was quite an unthreatening example of this particular species. He was an observer; he watched people, listened to conversations, and then would deliver a line that would make us all topple over with laughter. He spoke slowly, and had good humour [English affect spelling] in his voice. He always wore white sneakers, and walked quietly, and was welcome everywhere. He had an unreasonably large field of pop culture reference. We used to leave handwritten notes in those days and he wrote in large, straight print, every letter rounded and clear. I had a crush on him, or he had a crush on me, or we both had a crush on someone else…there was a lot of romantic angst going around, most of it unspoken. We were still teenagers.

I write fiction for a living, and you would think that would make me observant in real life, but that’s not particularly true. I think I, like many people, tend to notice people when I first meet them and lay down a foundation of impressions and beliefs about them. And then, especially if you don’t see the person often --unless something dramatic happens -- your impression tends to stay more or less the same. It’s a fundamental laziness. I’m still surprised when I look at my husband and notice he doesn’t look exactly like the man I married, or when I notice the signs of aging in my parents, or in my own mirror. To me, through the years, Ken was Ken.

Of course with Ken, something dramatic did happen. I remember meeting him just before his surgery and as usual, I talked a lot and he talked much less. As usual, he was funny and self-deprecating. We made Frankenstein jokes, and I knew this might be the last time I saw him.

I’ve seen Ken in person twice since his surgery, stroke, and heart attack. The first time was -- I must admit -- pretty nerve-wracking for me. This is a totally selfish thing to say, and I’m ashamed to say it, but Ken hopefully was expecting me to say something like this [I was, since my trauma is not mine alone]. I’d been following his progress via his blog, from halfway across the world, and we’d chatted online, but I still didn’t know what to expect. I guess it was February 2011. His head was a different shape from when I’d last seen it, which rather forced me to form new impressions over the ones I’d made when we were teenagers. He couldn’t move very fast, he seemed very stiff, and he spoke more slowly than usual. He frightened me, to tell you the truth. I was astonished at how quickly life can change. Although I knew he was recovering well, I was scared that his life was going to be much more difficult than anyone had expected. I worried that he and Jamie would find it hard to cope, that Gus and Wyatt would have to get used to a new version of their dad, that he would be changed forever from the Ken I knew. I didn’t say any of this, of course. Worries like this are much more difficult to articulate than jokes or confessions of crushes.

But most of my conversations with Ken for the past few years have been online, because he’s been in the States and I’ve been in England. Online, aside from the odd typo, Ken hasn’t changed much at all. He’s funny and generous and articulate and thought-provoking. He has an astonishing range of popular reference (most of it beyond me), he dithers when I nag him[about how to go about getting a book deal], he performs strange experiments just to see what will happen, he writes lucid and often moving prose. He types hella fast one-handed. When I asked him if I could shamelessly borrow his aneurysm and give it to the heroine of my current novel, he said sure. He’s generous with aneurysms and seizures. He hands them out like candy. And he’s even more generous with his time, and his thoughts, and his experiences, and his humour.

We met for lunch this past summer and aside from the brace on his leg (denim-patteerned but disappointingly not acid-washed), Ken seemed entirely like Ken to me. Okay, he’s not quite as skinny, and doesn’t have quite as much hair, but I think this can be said for most of us who are now in our 40s. I know there are ongoing difficulties; I know there are endless adjustments and worries and new ways of doing things. But a lot of my original impressions from way back when have remained intact. So much so that when Ken asked me to write something about how he’s changed, I said I would hardly have anything to say, and I whined that it was much, much easier to write lesbian robot porn (which is what I do in my spare time for fun). [ebotica?]

"Deep down," replied Ken, "I’ve always felt I was a lesbian robot."

It could have been 1988.

Julie’s website is, and her novel about the woman who has a bit of Ken’s wonky brain will be out in hardback this July with Bantam Press. The robot porn is written by and has nothing to do with Ken at all [or does it?].


[whose arm I had to twist a bit to write this, though I'm very pleased she did. She was like Warren Beatty in Truth or Dare (Madonna just keeps sneaking in here), when he said, "There's nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it's off-camera?" Sometimes Jamie feels about the blog the way Warren did about Madonna being followed by a documentary film crew)]:

How have you changed since the stroke? The bad news is, not a lot (I kid, I kid). No, so, seriously folks . . . .

How have you changed? I think you've changed slightly in every way. In ways not even you could define. I don’t think a person goes through something like this, something this KABOOM, and doesn’t change down to a cellular level. Meaning it changes how you perceive the world (which you didn't see in the most trustworthy light before), how you carry yourself in the world, it follows you. You were and are dealing with huge things that would have knocked down a lesser man .

I think the stroke has made you see yourself as very vulnerable, and in many ways powerless [I agree that I do tend to demure more often, which is unfortunate and puts more of a burden on Jamie, even though the intention is often to avoid conflict and be less of a burden]. It has made you a less patient person, a more inward person, it has lessened your ability to show your emotions (I know you feel them just as strongly) and make a connection. it has (at times, I think) made it hard for you to read situations correctly. It has, at some times over the last three years, made you a person it was hard to be married to [right back at ya]. And don’t get me started on the - to use a Wyatt and Gus word – Epic snoring (thank you CPAP for solving that problem). When you are tired, you lose your train of thought more, and are more forgetful. But it’s really not any worse than most of us past a certain age.

This is all hard for me to write, I don’t want to hurt your feelings [you haven't]. Not to mention this did not happen to you in a bubble, I was in there with you; you know what I mean [I do]?  Marriage is hard. The stroke certainly doesn't simplify what is already a complicated (for good and bad) relationship.

And while all of the above mentioned things are true, they are also getting better. I think we are working hard.

On the plus side since the stroke, you make the most hilarious face when you eat sour stuff, and you have a great guffaw that you didn't have before.

I know how close we came to losing your you-ness, but you are still you. And you still have the pertiest eyes.

Donelle [co-worker, friend, coach, and cheerleader]:

My view of Ken both before and after comes through the lens of knowing him only since he joined our work team [about seven years], so my “before” view is only for that timeframe [about three years] in his life. When he first came to our department, he was somewhat quiet and did not necessarily match the “corporate image.” From the top down he appeared as many of us in the working world but always had this hidden anti-corporate secret hiding under his pants. Yes, under his pants. He wore wild, crazy and fun-themed socks – I haven’t checked his socks of late to determine if his medical events have changed this fashion statement but enjoyed that he always had that bit of hidden playfulness [I tend to go for comfort over style now, though sometimes I'll still wear fun socks just as a treat to myself and anyone who happens to notice.].

Before, Ken would take a lot of time to explain an idea or answer a question. I'm not sure if he was formulating the answer as he went or was trying hard to educate the rest of us who didn't understand the details of his technical world. Before and after, his responses are often well thought through, insightful, and result in a refreshingly different view – it just takes a little while to get there and to ensure that you both understand the point he is trying to make.

Before or after Ken appears to enjoy “tinkering,” finding ways to figure the smallest of details out – I perceive that this has changed some - it can take so much of his energy just to get up and drive in that he may have focused his energies more on the “must dos” versus the “nice to dos”. I also see him trying to teach others the things only he knows to give them the tools instead of him doing it all.  This seemed like it was a hard thing for him before, maybe it is still a hard thing for him now but he seems to be doing it more – this is a good thing.

One thing that is the same both before and after - He has always seemed like a loving and caring father and husband.  I think it is that love that has given him the inner strength to learn to walk, to talk, to eat, to dress, to drive again and still be able to work full time.  I think it is that love that also makes it a hard thing too because I know it is hard for him to not be able to do and be more and yet he still continues to find the ways he can be the parent he wants to be; he looks for ways to still have a normal – a new normal.  I think I see more of a determined person now.

His humor both before, during, and after is dry and creative – I don’t think any medical event can change that.  Lastly, Ken has a caring heart – perhaps maybe opened a bit wider with the cardiac event but always present.

Many may look at him and see what the medical events have done and see on the outside some physical challenges or weaknesses…not me, I see a stronger and more resilient man, never willing to give up or give in.

Marc [friend, co-worker, car pooler, jack of all trades, a godsend to our family, and unique in that he's only known the After Me]:

I’ve only known Ken since August of 2012; I never knew him before his brain injury.  Frankly, my first impression of Ken Shapiro was a guy to whom I wanted to politely say “no”.  Ken reached out because six years ago, something possessed me to put my name on the company rideshare listing.  Ken proposed we commute together because he didn't currently have a license and our houses in Cumberland are only two miles apart. 

And because, clearly, I must be ecstatic about surrendering my work-week autonomy to a total stranger. The thing is: I couldn't really come up with any good reason to say no. 

So, I said yes. 

It was a bit awkward at first; I didn't know Ken, and I was having a little trouble getting used to his mannerisms.  But about the third or fourth day, Ken made some kind of casual remark that struck me as funny.  Actually: really funny.  But I didn’t know if I could laugh because I thought maybe it was accidental humor.  Handling accidental humor can be tricky: you risk making the other person feel bad by laughing at what was intended as a serious comment. Or else you just make them feel dumb by demonstrating you’re in on a joke they didn't even realize they’d made.

I shouldn't have worried.  As the days rolled on, I came to understand that Ken’s humor is quite deliberate and is delivered in a manner that is dry, often coming at you laterally, unexpectedly.  I also quickly learned that Ken always has something interesting to say on an astonishingly broad array of topics.  So: pretty much the ideal rideshare partner [I should be clear that Marc bravely acted as my co-pilot when I was practicing for my driving test and valiantly follows my often-derailed train of thought during conversations, sometimes better than I can, tracing how I got from topic A to Topic Z by way of G, J, and F. He also shows a special interest in and respect for my one-handed abilities.]

That was my second impression of Ken: the unexpectedly interesting guy.  The shared commutes that I assumed were going to be an inconvenient obligation rapidly became something I look forward to every week.

[To my kids' delight, Marc also writes fan fiction inspired by a zombie video game]

2014 Ken again. 

I don't know how compelling this has been to read, but it's been a successful experiment from my perspective (ego sufficiently stroked). While I was looking for potentially constructive feedback, and got some, there is still some question of whether I can do anything about, for instance, my lack of filter. But as G.I. Joe says, "knowing is half the battle." That said, my lack of filter has also long been one of my greatest assets. I've earned many friends by saying unexpected and/or inappropriate things at unexpected times. My other interesting takeaway from this exercise  is that -- given the general consensus that I haven't changed all that much from BS, just how brain damaged was I before (after all, my aneurysm had been growing for quite some time)? Maybe I am my TBI. Maybe we all are.

And, remember, this blog is a conversation. So if you've got something to say about me -- good or bad -- now's your chance. Feel free to comment below.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Can't Stress This Enough

In case you didn't know or have forgotten (sometimes I do), during or near my stroke, I had a heart attack. At the time, there wasn't enough data to put a firm name on it, so some doctors were even hesitant to call it that. I've heard it referred to as a "cardiac event" (which sounds relatively benign -- beating is a cardiac event, too). My favorite term for it, of course, is "infarction". Ultimately, it was determined that the stroke and/or brain surgery itself was the cause; so I've diligently avoided those activities. Fairly reflexively, I was put on beta blockers and Lipitor to keep my blood pressure and cholesterol, respectively, in check and discourage a repeat heart or brain attack. I've also been on a low-dose (81 mg) regimen of baby aspirin (though I had to clear that with my neurosurgeon because aspirin's not aneurysm friendly).

Now, when I say I forget about the heart attack, it's because it's had relatively little effect on my life. The stroke, on the other hand,  has become a part of me, like this cyborg. I have integrated the stroke with the rest of my life, so much so that when I recently dreamed about a two-handed task and performed it, I awoke thinking how strange it was that my dream self didn't question the obstacle or ask for assistance.

On the other hand, I perceive my infarction as a cardiac non-event, because I was taken off the blood pressure meds within the first year, had my dose of Lipitor cut in half, and have only had one scare of light headedness during out-patient rehab (which was tied back to low blood pressure and moving from balance exercise to cardio exercise too quickly).

In December 2010, facing general anesthesia for the first time since my stroke, we did implore cardiology at Mass General  to do some precautionary testing. Thus, I had a chemical stress test the morning of my cranioplasty in order to clear me for surgery. This type of test is intended -- for patients with physical disabilities -- to simulate the results of a traditional cardiac stress test by substituting running on a treadmill with  medication which causes the heart to race. In both types of tests, a radioactive tracer is injected and followed through images of cardiac blood flow. Fortunately, the results of that test showed no damage caused by the September 2010 Event, and I was cleared to get my skull reassembled.

I'm bringing this all up again now; because at my recent, annual check-up with my cardiologist (another reflexive result of the Event), I mentioned that I'd recently received (thanks again, Mom and Dad) a recumbent stationary bike, was planning to start a more vigorous exercise routine with it, and am hoping to purchase a recumbent tricycle in the spring (still shamelessly raising money). Now that I'd properly followed the small print that says to consult one's physician before beginning a new exercise routine, my doctor felt that a new stress test was warranted. And so, and so, I stressed myself out. As I've been saying, I wasn't terribly concerned, since I've generally been feeling fine; and the 2010 stress test showed no lasting damage. But I did wonder whether three years of relative inactivity (much as I personally consider getting out of bed and making my way through the day to be vigorous exercise) could have taken its toll on this supposedly-middle-aged body of mine). I've also felt more enthusiastic about cycling than any other form of exercise and was worried that ambition could get shot down.

Without further ado, I'm happy to report that my tests came back very positively, and I'm not facing any medical restrictions on exercise! I've been sitting on this news until now only because you know how I love to share images of my innards, and I've been waiting for the disk to arrive. According to the doctor's office, that could still be a week away. From what I've found online, they're not all that dramatic or easily deciphered anyway (see examples below):

Sample EKG read-out (not mine)
Sample radiology images from a chemical stress test (not mine)
Then the idea of completing my collection of body scans got stuck in my craw. I drifted back to 1974, sitting on the kitchen floor with a flip-top circus flashlight:
I had removed the batteries, placed the tiny bulb in the base, and was pretending it was medicine-- I'd swig the bulb, spit it back into the flashlight, then repeat. Ironically -- given how terrible I am at swallowing pills now -- the bulb just slid down my throat. As you can imagine, quite a panic ensued when I reported this news to my mother; and everyone scrambled to find the bulb on the floor (no one believes us attention-seeking youngest children). I was then rushed to the emergency room, where I was X-rayed and sent home to "pass" the bulb (my Grandma Etta ended up with the unenviable task of confirming I had done so[suffice it to say, rubber gloves and a popsicle stick were required]) . While I have some vague hope that that X-ray is still in a file cabinet in Mountainside Hospital's basement or microfiche archive (the bulb itself is long gone), the memory of the four-year-old boy trapped inside me remembers it looking something like this:

Note the floating bulb

Bad bet

Despite the good news of my stress test (which at least allows me the freedom to use my stationary bike -- especially now that my friend Marc has attached an adaptive support that keeps my left foot from slipping off the pedal) and the fact that I generally feel fine, I'm still dogged by the specter of my medical history. Every year my company has an open enrollment during which to make adjustments to our various insurance plans. While, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I don't have to worry about my health insurance being revoked or premiums increased due to pre-existing conditions, requesting an increase to my Disability and Life insurance plans proved a no starter. I can certainly appreciate how on paper and in actuarial tables, my medical underwriting application would easily raise red flags and denial, due to my, "history of a stroke, heart attack, seizure, sleep apnea, and hemiparesis." Yeah, but other than that....Based on most of the standard questions, I should be eligible ten years out from my infringing events. So, hopefully, hindsight will come in 2020.
The "pedal cage" for my stationary bike

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


Jamie and the boys went up north to see friends and her father, so I spent New Year's Eve and am spending New Year's Day on my own. No, that is not sad.I like the quiet and think it's good for me.

I'm not saying I make the best choices when left to my own devices (McDonald's for dinner), but mostly I just had a peaceful evening, watched a movie that played to my strengths (melancholy, humor, and mulling), and was in bed by 10:00.

I awoke too early this morning (around 6:00), thinking I could hear the dog pacing downstairs, possibly getting himself in trouble. I was also eager to get up and try something new. I'd heard a story earlier this week on NPR, and thought this year I'd try Molybdomancy over the usual ritualized contemplation of my inadequacies. Yes, I have resolutions to exercise more and lose weight and be less angry, but what's the true value of screaming self- and society-imposed goals  into the wind at the beginning of each year just so we can mourn our failures at the end? Case in point, while uncertainty is 98% of parenting, I've recently noticed a disturbing new viral media phenomenon which seems precisely designed to prey upon parental insecurities. It's the parenting expectations equivalent of unreasonable, airbrushed body images for girls:

I don't know that I believe in fate or destiny or pre-determination; but I do know that much of what will happen over this coming year is out of my hands (not all, but much). On January 1, 2010, I certainly didn't know that my primary resolution should be to survive the year (Mission Accomplished). Anywho, as I often now do, I took to Amazon, looking to procure small amounts of lead and predict the year's shape. Here's what I came up with:

I wasn't quite sure how suitable  a 4.5mm BB would be, in terms of producing an appropriately-shape-shifting amount of molten lead, but it seemed worth a shot (no pun). I was also under the impression it would be relatively easy to melt a small ball. But you know what happens when you assume. Here's a play-by-play of my morning:

  • Confirmed dog was okay and let him outside to "go" (10 degrees -- brrr).
  • Changed my office calendar from 2013 island scenes to 2014 Hubble telescope deep space images. (Wyatt won't look at it, because the vastness of space freaks him out ever since we watched a documentary about black holes).
  • Contemplated making instant coffee -- to some a cry for help.
  • Started real coffee percolating (yes, we have a percolator), thinking that would give me plenty of time to melt my ball. Ha.
  • Let cold dog inside after he'd done his business.
  • Selected a rarely-used spoon as the smelting receptacle and filled rarely-used plastic container with cold water (to cool my ominous [as in omen] sculpture).
  • Selected a bb and rolled it around in my hand, imbuing it with my energy.
  • Dropped and retrieved said energy-imbued ball.
  • Placed the ball in the curve of the spoon, which was hanging over the lip of the kitchen counter, held in place by the weight of a roasted peanut container (counter-balance [no pun] is key to one-handed heating).
  • Heated the underside of the spoon with a long lighter.
  • When the previous technique yielded no obvious results, applied direct heat to the lead with aforementioned lighter.
  • Realizing the lighter wasn't working and beginning to run out of butane, I lit the "bookstore-scented" candle I'd purchased as a companion to Jamie's Christmas Kindle.
  • Held candle beneath the spoon.
  • Realizing I couldn't just stand there all morning, I picked up the spoon, intending to rest it atop the candle flame, and proceeded to drop the ball. While it had not begun to melt, I did learn that it was getting quite hot.
  • Rested spoon over candle flame, ran fingers under cold water, picked up stray bb, placed bb back in spoon ("Edwina, back in bowl!" Wilk?)
  • Hopefully set kitchen timer for five minutes.
  • Ate cold pizza for breakfast (not sad or a cry for help) and started writing this entry.
  • Returned to kitchen, which, disappointingly, did not smell like a bookstore.
  • No change after 5 mins. with the candle;  moved spoon to small stove burner, dropping and retrieving ball again.
  • Set timer for another 5 mins.
  • Took pills with coffee and heavy cream (out of milk).
  • No change to ball; timer for 5 mins.
  • Kept writing.
  • Ball looking a little soft;timer for 5 mins.
  • spoon starting to melt; ball softer; timer for 5 mins.
  • Using pot holder, put spoon in cold water.
  • Doing so made a satisfying, "Hissssss".
  • The lead stayed stuck to spoon, except for some particles which swirled aimlessly in the water (Perhaps that's the start of my prognostication? Aren't we all just dust in the wind, debris in space?).
  • Set timer for 5 mins of cooling.
  • scraped what was left of the bb off spoon and got my presumptive forecast for the year. My interpretation of the shape (see below) is that of a  flounder. I suppose there are a number of ways to interpret that: That I'll move awkwardly, uncertainly; that I'll become or meet a bottom feeder, that things are "looking up" (Because flounder's eyes are on top of their heads, get it?). 
Who knows what the future holds? If this morning is any indication, determination and ingenuity will take me far. Or, at least give me lead poisoning.

The Year of the Flounder