Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Stephen Hawking

The title of this post comes from a story that Meghan Markle told when she did an interview for a magazine. She is the United States person that is engaged to Prince Harry of Britain. (His full/given name is Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor.) However, Markle’s situation with Harry could be seen as controversial. What is also certainly groundbreaking about the upcoming marriage is that Markle is a woman of color. Her father is Caucasian and her mother is African-American. (I think the royal family could use a little color!) One of the challenges of being biracial is that society wants to categorize people as one thing or the other — either white or black. She felt this push most acutely in seventh grade when she was asked to fill out a census document that asked her to indicate her ethnicity. But her only choices were white, black, Hispanic or Asian. “You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other – and one half of myself over the other,” she said. When she told her father that night about her dilemma, he calmly, but with visible anger, told her, “If that happens again, you draw your own box.”

I was totally taken by this Hawking quote when I heard it. Here are two ‘feet’ stories as it relates to my stroke. I’ve said that I had a complete foot drop with my stroke and was in a wheel chair in the early days. One of the first therapies I did was ‘water’ therapy. One of the therapists in my swimming endeavors realized that I could stand but needed support. She recommended that I get a rolling walker (rollator) to use rather than a wheelchair. It also put the responsibility on me. Later on, another physical therapist was working with me on my gait. She asked me to put my feet together (touching) and I couldn’t do it — not sitting down or standing up. Whether it was mental or physical, I don’t know, but that was a big ah-ha moment! That’s the moment that I realized that the mental would be as much a part as the physical of my post-stroke journey! I can put my feet together today but it was a lot of work getting there. (The things we take for granted!)

Here’s my other ‘feet’ story and probably a good summary of the post-stroke journey. Even before the stroke, I was one of those people who constantly looked down at my feet — climbing stairs,walking, etc. I shared this with my Physical Therapist. She said “just look where you want to go and your feet will follow”. This is why that quote is so meaningful.

People who have flown will recall the flight passenger announcements on an airplane. Right before the airplane takes off the flight attendants do several safety announcements and they talk about the oxygen masks. One of the things they say is “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” It’s counter-intuitive, that’s why they make the announcement and it makes a ton of sense. This is an exception to how we are traditionally taught. In this case, one sees how situational this all is. We have to put our mask on first in order to assist someone else. We cannot make a rule that always applies.

I love bacon. Matt has found a deli where he can buy a few strands of bacon that are already cooked. He used to buy a pound and cook it all up but that meant I had to eat it all. He also found a food truck that does everything bacon. Once he brought me a strand of bacon that was dipped in chocolate for dessert! Yum — sweet and salty. I’m going to tell the Bacon Adhesives story again. When I could taste and smell bacon, Matt got for my holiday stocking some Bacon Adhesives. They came in a tin like most bandaids and they looked very real. At one point Matt said “why are the bandaids in the refrigerator?” They looked so real that I had stored the package there. Here’s how this relates to ‘draw your own box’. When he said that, I realized what I had done and although I had a good reason (at the time), I moved the bandaids. So this might be a simple definition, but I’m a believer that we can always draw a different box.

Several years Matt and I read a book by Keri Hulme called The Bone People. She is a New Zealand writer and I believe it is her only novel. There are many things I could say about the book, but I’ll just summarize it by saying it is an unusual love story. (In no way a romance novel.) Here’s something from the book that has always stayed with me. “They were nothing more than people, by themselves. Even paired, any pairing, they would have been nothing more than people by themselves. But all together, they have become the heart and muscles and mind of something perilous and new, something strange and growing and great. Together, all together, they are the instruments of change.” This is mostly for people that feel like they need to draw that box alone!

John W. Gardner said “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” The good news about this is simply that we don’t need an eraser to draw a box!

This is a modern day ‘draw your own box’ story that you may find difficult to believe. (I do even as I type this!) I would add here that animals can have an impact on our boxes. I love Mourning Doves — especially the cooing. It’s a very nostalgic sound for me. When I hear the sound, I am immediately transported a specific time and place. We’ve had a few in the yard over the years and try to keep food in the bird-feeders so they will keep coming back. We did a little research on their eating habits and found out that they like to eat food that is low to the ground. The bird food that we had been buying has sunflower seeds — which squirrels love. We have lots of squirrels in the yard also and it looked like the squirrels were not letting the birds eat because they were eating! Matt went to a specialty bird store and explained about what was happening. A person at the store suggested a kind of bird seed that wouldn’t be of interest to the squirrels. So Matt bought some and put it out. The birds went wild and true to form, the squirrels were not interested in it. One day when the food was finished, Matt told me that a bird had come up to the kitchen door and pecked until he refilled the bird food. Cute story — not sure I believed him. One day when Matt was in his office, I heard a strange noise and went to see what it was. I went to the kitchen and realized that I had gone too far. I listened some more and saw that a bird was pecking at the kitchen door! It’s happened a few more times. We are always in awe when it occurs. How did that bird figure out what needed to be done? Lately we’ve had two birds at the kitchen door! It’s not a ‘passing of the torch’ but rather, as Matt has pointed out, it’s like ‘here’s what to do if I’m gone’. Unbelievable! This is another way to look at ‘draw your own box’ … it takes things from unbelievable to believable.

#DrawYourOwnBox

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‘Tis the season to be jolly. Fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la (from Deck The Halls — a traditional holiday song)

Before Matt and I got married, I did a Vision Quest for 3 days in Death Valley. I did it with a group of women. We prepared for 6 months (maybe a year). We went out as a group, but after we got to our destination, each woman found a place where she camped on her own. Two things that I’ll share about the process are as follows: 1) we fasted from food for 3 days and nights “to eliminate thinking” about it. We carried plenty of water and 2) we each had a partner and we signaled each other via a rock pile that we were fine each day. When it was over, we came back together as a group and told what we had experienced during the 3 days time. Here’s the clincher — we told the story in the third person! “Then she …. ” it was a different experience. I have always remembered that. Yes, things happen in our lives but telling it in third person gives a whole new perspective!

Early in our marriage, we saw a play about baseball called Rounding Third. It was actually nine one-act plays about baseball (get it? Nine innings in a baseball game) and one of the plays was called The Dalai Lama Goes Three for Four by Eric Overmyer. See, you were thinking that I wouldn’t mention baseball in a December post. A friend knew Overmyer and got me a copy of the script which I gave to Matt as a gift. It was the first script that I ever gave him. It delightfully explains the ancient wisdom, precepts and rituals of baseball in terms of Tibetan Buddhism. Overmyer is a master of words. I love the whole idea of explaining baseball in terms of Tibetan Buddhism. Who would have thought it?

I told that story about the vision quest and the telling in the third party intentionally. It’s a unique experience sharing things from another perspective. It’s not just about what happened to me! It’s this concept that has stayed with me. I said that I mention this whole thing intentionally. I am one of those people who says Happy Holidays or Seasons’ Greetings and I do that intentionally. I try not to say Merry Christmas because there are many holidays that people around the world celebrate at this time. A silver lining of the stroke is that I am much more aware of the inclusivity thing.

This example is about someone else but pulls a lot of this together. It’s an example of how we can have an impact on perspective. I love the TV show Modern Family. In general, I love how the whole landscape of the family is changing and how it is depicted. The actor Sofia Vergara plays a character named Gloria who is Columbian. Her natural hair color is blonde. When the show first started, she made a decision to dye her hair a darker color. She thought that she would be more believable as a latino with dark hair or as a brunette. (Because we know that latins have dark hair!) She says “the dark hair toned me down.” Now that the show has been on for several years and she has established herself in that role, she is free to modify her looks as she wishes. Sometimes we make decisions based on things that we think will make a difference. I know people mean it as a compliment but it bothers me when people say “I didn’t know you were of Mexican heritage …. you don’t speak with an accent”. It used to be one of my pet peeves but now it’s just a bother. It’s someone else’s stereotype — not my issue to address. I know (and hope) many don’t experience any kind of stroke, but I still try to update people.

One of the best films I saw was Lars and The Real Girl which follows Lars (Ryan Gosling), a sweet but socially inept young man who develops a romantic yet non-sexual relationship with an anatomically correct sex doll. The doll’s name is Bianca. It is a totally sweet movie and the thing that struck me the most when I saw the movie was how everyone in the town accepted Bianca and never let on about her being a doll — no judgement.

Happy Holidays

 

“And it’s not because we wear skirts. It’s because we wear glasses.” Hidden Figures

I love this quote! I loved the movie Hidden Figures. There is a dark spot in United States history — how we have treated people of a specific culture is clearly one of those dark spots. (Pun intended!) In many ways, I put my AVM in the same category. It has made me sensitive and more aware of the fact that many of us are born into/with aspects in our lives that we cannot change. Many of us probably deal with things differently than we might based on our circumstances. For various reasons, I don’t wear many skirts since the stroke, but I do wear glasses! I wore contacts for about 30 years, but because of the ataxia after the stroke, I can’t handle holding a contact.

I am a fan of the actor Brendan Penny. I saw him in a movie and went looking for other things he had done. I found a TV show called Motive that is currently in the fourth (and final) season. As crime shows go, it is good, but what I find unique about the show is that in the opening scene, they reveal who is the victim and who is the killer. They spend the rest of the hour figuring out the motive to the crime. So instead of calling it “a who done it”, it’s more of a “why did it happen”? I like this approach very much. It isn’t always the first thing we think about, but rather sometimes we need to dig a little deeper!

My November post is usually my gratitude post. I am grateful everyday, but since Thanksgiving is a US holiday that occurs in November, I’m honoring that event. I love November! I love the temperature changes. (Not a big fan of the time change though.) It happens to be my birthday month and Caregiver’s month. How cool is that? It’s the start of the holidays. Long before the stroke, we went to a friend’s home for a Thanksgiving meal. She had invited several friends and family over that day. Before we ate, we went around the table and everyone said one thing for which they were grateful. One woman said “I know it’s nerdy but I’m going to say books”. The illustrator Sandra Salsbury (http://www.sandrasalsbury.com) has a piece where she says “Everyone is a reader, some just haven’t found their favorite book yet”. That is a great summary of life and how we approach it, including our gratitude. The whole idea of looking beyond (looking at the long term) turns out to be a very important piece.

Matt and I went to a Stanford University Baseball game this spring and I commented that I could smell the game — the grass, the field, the sweat of the players, the food, the leather of the mitts and so on. It was my ah-ha moment that scent or smell can be nostalgic. I’ll use music and song as an example that things can trigger a memory. Do you ever hear a song and are immediately transported to another place and time? Maybe the song reminds you of an event or a person and you are immediately there. One of the things that I love about baseball is that the radio announcers paint such a great image of what is happening that you don’t need to see it physically because you can see it in your mind. That is how I started listening to baseball. It’s all part of the pace of what is going on. Many people say baseball is too slow, but I disagree with that idea. For me, the idea of memory and imagination (physical and mental) is how it all becomes a big part of my gratitude. Maybe it is not in my life now, but it is in my mind.

This is gratitude 2.0. I recently read an article about a woman named Alegra Eroy-Reveles who is in the Chemistry Department at University of California (UC), San Francisco. She has a Ph.D. from UC Santa Cruz in Chemistry and Biochemistry. She is described as the Chicana chemist who is paying it forward to support students from underrepresented groups. I was very touched by the article and her approach. I would say that in addition to being grateful for the things in our lives, we also have the responsibility of paying it forward to the future.

I am imperfectly perfect!

 

 

 

The title of this post comes from a show that I recently caught on Netflix. It was the title that caught my attention more than anything. It ran for a couple of years. In the last episode one of the main characters delivers her high school graduation speech and here is part of what she said that I really like.

Life is full of unknowns. And when those unknowns are too overwhelming, it’s the constants that we have to hold onto. Like our friends. The ones who are not afraid to tell us that there’s no such thing as normal. The ones who have been in our lives for every minute, even the hardest minutes. Like those who could have walked away, but chose to stick around. Even though they had their own lives, families, their own children.

We all learned what a light year is. And these years together have been our light years. The years where everything became brighter. When we learned that the bright spots in our lives aren’t merely spots, but constants. And no matter where I go, or what I do, you are my constant. May you never forget yours.

My favorite graduation (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/chi-schmich-sunscreen-column-column.html) speech is called “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young”, commonly known by the title “Wear Sunscreen”, is one written as a hypothetical commencement speech by columnist Mary Schmich and originally published in June 1997 in the Chicago Tribune. This piece has stayed with me.

These are United States weather references. (We’ve had plenty of weather related incidents in the US recently.) In early September the Texas coast was hit by a major hurricane, lives were lost and at this writing nobody knows how long it will take to rebuild. Earlier this year we had a flood in San Jose from one of the creeks. Our good friends were impacted by that flood. One of the local TV stations contacted them and said that they wanted to talk to some of the San Jose residents and see what memories they had through all this. Our friend Sandy talked about the empathy she felt as she watched the news. Every year when the anniversary of my stroke rolls around, it is also the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (I was in a coma, so I completely missed it. Hard to believe somebody can miss an event like this.) While we learned a lot from that experience, we have far to go — just like with a stroke.

I’ve said before that the San Francisco Giants are having a rough year. They are probably going to end up with the fewest wins in Major League Baseball this season. As a result, they have taken the season to evaluate the talent they have in the farm system. Professional baseball is one of the few sports which has a farm system where one can keep playing and honing their skills. When all is said that is one of the things that I love about baseball — looking to and planning for the future! It’s not just about what is happening right now but what do you have for tomorrow? (Or when things don’t turn out like you expect.)

In September 2017, we had our 24th Wedding Anniversary. 12 years pre-stroke and 12 years post-stroke = our marriage journey. The same friend that I mentioned above is also authorized to perform various ceremonies. Matt had the foresight for us to renew our wedding vows when I had the stroke. Our friend officiated. We couldn’t have fresh flowers in ICU, so another friend made me a bouquet of artificial flowers. Matt tells the story that when our friend said “Vangi, do you take Matt …” there was no doubt that I would say yes, but when would I say it? They waited … 45 minutes later, I said “yes”. They both know me really well, so they were not surprised at the time that it took me to respond — but to many this is a life unexpected event. (It’s at this time that many are smiling about the 45 minutes and thinking, yep!)

We recently saw Taylor Mac’s opus “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” and in the first segment he says something like “if you must bite the hand that feeds you, at least wear lipstick”! I love that line and the image it gives. It’s theater, but I see the whole thing as an experience! Most of the time when we go to the theater, we listen to the actors and see the scenery. Taylor Mac does a segment where everyone in the audience wears a blindfold for an hour. Our feeling of empathy for someone who has lost their sight is certainly heightened! Post-stroke, I can only do Chapstick, but I figure that’s close enough. That is one way I can have an impact on a life unexpected event. I remember before the stroke, I was driving to work and my vehicle hit the car in front of me. I wasn’t going very fast but my airbag deployed. I had just put on some red lipstick and left a mark on the bag from my red lips as I said ‘oh’. As I said no one was hurt and I can’t help but see the mark of the red lips on the airbag as I think about that car accident.

While I am on the subject of car accidents … do you ever hear nuggets which turn into pearls of wisdom? A good friend recently told a story and she said “the pedestrian in the crosswalk has as much responsibility as the person driving the vehicle”. That is a great perspective to have. I had my AVM at birth. So I can’t do much about that and the stroke, but I am responsible for my happiness/disposition today. You know what I say that it takes the same effort to be positive. Life is full of unknowns!