“Life is short. Eat dessert first.” Jacques Torres

I love this quote! Doesn’t everybody want dessert before anything else? So what does this mean? Well to me it’s about doing what brings joy. If you query this saying, you’ll most likely get a post on quintessential quotes. Most of this comes from that entry. We love dessert. I think it means to do what you love, whether that be spending time with family and friends, reading a book, going on an adventure or even eating dessert first! We never know when our life will be over. It could be tomorrow, could be next year, could be in many years. That’s why we need to focus on living the way we love to live. I’ve said before that one of the first things that I could taste after the stroke was chocolate and shortly after that, I could taste almonds. Consequently, I try to eat an Almond Joy daily as a reminder of that whole experience. We get a variety pack of candy to give out for Halloween and Matt has me go through the pack looking for the Almond Joys before we hand out the candy. Now before the stroke, I was not a chocolate fan at all. (The post also states that stressed is desserts spelled backwards!)

I’m going to continue on the subject of dessert. My maternal grandfather was a serious person. I doubt anybody would argue with that. He had a saying that we still use today. You may need your Spanish dictionary, but I’ll try to explain it. My grandmother was a fabulous cook and occasionally after a meal, my grandfather would say “me quedó un huequito.'” Huequito is a diminutive of hueco, which is a hole or a hollow. Isn’t that a great visual image? That concept of a hole has stayed with me.

I know many don’t celebrate Christmas for various reasons but I do and want to point out that one of my favorite Christmas songs is one by Amy Grant that was released in the early 90’s. It’s not about Santa or Jesus. It’s called Mary’s Song. Amy Grant has a fabulous voice and lest we get caught up in that, it’s a song that gives Mary’s perspective of the events during her pregnancy. This really speaks to me. I see quite a bit about the fact that we should always be kind because we really don’t know what someone has gone through or is currently going through. This song is a reminder about her perspective and generally a reminder of other’s perspectives on the journey.

I’m going to stay with the song theme here. A musical artist I like is Tom Waits. I have liked him for many years and have followed his work closely. In 1973, his first album came out (I don’t even know if people call them albums anymore) and was called Closing Time. The first song on that album is called Grapefruit Moon. I’m imagining that the title alone conjures a picture for most of us. With that image comes a memory. For years, Tom Waits has used the theme of moons in many songs. Recently he was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There are many interpretations of the meaning of the moons, but for me moons equal mooning. That’s all. Over the last few months my posts or e-mails have been more “generic”. They are not specific to my post-stroke life. I’ve done that intentionally. My favorite line from the song Grapefruit Moon is “and the grapefruit moon, one star shining, can’t turn back the tide”. You’ve heard the saying “you can’t unring a bell!” I think that one line sums the whole thing up for me. Can’t turn back the tide. His second album The Heart of Saturday Night was released in 1974. It contains many great songs including San Diego Serenade. The first line of that song is “I never saw the morning ’til I stayed up all night.” That is a great way to look at the whole stroke journey. For me, it’s important to have memories of pre-stroke life as well as remember the current events of post-stroke life. I started out my post calling it “When pigs fly”, but I realize that for me it’s about the whole picture and that involves being aware of somebody else’s perspective and sometimes that requires us to look at things differently and not just about waiting for the unexpected. (I also thought about calling it “When Hell Freezes Over” but that was used by many U.S. periodicals when the Chicago Cubs won the baseball championship this year. The last World Series they won was 1945!) Yes, the unexpected happens and we cheer that event but it may take a long time and rather than wait for it, we honor the things that are in our life. One of my favorite songs from that Tom Wait’s selection is the song named after the title of the album (Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night. When Matt and I first got together, I used to listen to this song regularly. It’s more true today than ever before. If you’ve not heard much of his work, start with these two. It’s what the holidays are about — the whole picture (and that may require us to look at things from a different perspective).

Merry Holidays!

“There’s no lemon so sour that you can’t make something something resembling lemonade.” This Is Us

November is typically my “gratitude” post, so this title may require some explanation. Most people know I love television. One of my favorite writers of shows is a man named Aaron Sorkin. (This maybe specific to U.S. television.) Whenever I see that he writes a show, I make an effort to see it. He is a very talented and intelligent writer who usually incorporates current ideas and events into his writing. He treats viewers like intelligent beings and that is an important part for me. The last episode of the show The Newsroom (on HBO) was called “What kind of day has it been?” I remember reading that and thinking, I had heard that before! So I went searching for information and I found an article where Aaron Sorkin talks about this in an interview. He has used this title a couple of times. In the article, he tells the story that he wrote a play. During rehearsals and previews of the play, the director and he would meet with the producers, the stage manager and key department heads late at a nearby bar. The lead producer would always begin the meeting by asking “so what kind of a day has it been?” I was/am taken by this statement. The main reason I love this concept is this — simply that the big picture is important, but it is just as important to view the little things. If we look at life after stroke, we can look at all that’s been accomplished and we should also value what today was like. Isn’t that a great reminder?

Most of us have heard the saying “can’t see the forest for the trees”. It is used of someone who is too involved in the details of something to look at the situation as a whole. I totally get that. But sometimes, we start by looking at the trees. Some people know what I’m talking about when I mention the grove of Eucalyptus trees that are planted on Freeway 101 just south of San Juan Bautista in California. I love that grove! It reminds me of great things and places. I’ve mentioned that with the stroke I lost my sense of taste and smell. It has slowly come back. Every time we drive down to Carmel, Matt opens the sun roof of our car as we go through that grove to see how my sense of smell is progressing. (It hasn’t helped to have had a drought in our natural water supply for the last few years.) While it has been difficult, there are times I have been able to smell the trees. We have had some bad forest fires in the state recently, and while I understand how devastating those fires have been for many, I sure loved that smokey smell with the Eucalyptus!

In the zodiac calendar, I am a Scorpio. Generally I don’t believe in putting labels on a person, but I will be at the head the line of anyone who says I am a good (true) Scorpio. If you look up the traits of a Scorpio, you will find that they are very fierce. They love a good fight, can give intensity a run for its money, they are strong, commanding, passionate and zealous, They are dedicated and loyal, as well as ambitious and security-loving. Sound familiar? These things don’t change because of a stroke! I see all these traits in a positive light and I’m sure anyone else who was born in the Scorpio sign feels the same way. I share this because I think anyone would be happy to have a friend who demonstrates any one of these attributes!

I recently told Matt this story. I was working at a start-up company about 30 years ago. The President of the company said to me “you think in colors, not numbers.” He meant it as constructive criticism, I took it as a complement. Matt asked me what this meant to me. So I said you know how colors have shades of themselves? Take blue for example. When someone says their favorite color is blue, one immediately conjures an image of navy blue, or royal blue, or pale blue, or robin’s egg blue and/or many other images. You get what I’m saying? But when someone says their favorite number is 3, one knows exactly what they mean. I still think in colors. That is another thing that is not affected by the stroke. That’s been a big part of the journey. This whole aspect of thinking in colors has been invaluable.

I know an artist who does fabulous paintings among other things. The paintings are abstracts. He has a website (http://dickrichardsart.com) and recently wrote a piece called What Did You Have In Mind? He says that the question he is asked most often about his art is some version of “Do you start with something in mind?” (I was one of those people.) He says his answer is “Yes, but what I have in mind is probably not what you would expect. It is never an object, person, or place. What I have in mind when I begin is a collection of colors and a process for working with them.” I get that completely! As a general rule, we like to put things in boxes that we know. He goes on to say that in his type of work, it is imperative to have no subject in mind — no reality at all. “Viewers want to ‘see’ something — some hint of reality in abstract work. In order to produce them, I must avoid beginning with ‘something’ in mind or letting myself get attached to ‘seeing’ something.” How great is that? I love this whole thing as a way to view life after stroke — not letting us get attached to seeing something! Beautiful and yet probably not in a box we are used to seeing. A great example of renewal compared to recovery. The video he has about his work sums it up beautifully — painting in the abstract is like life itself.

The quote that I’ve used at the top of this post is from a new TV show called This Is Us. I would put it as one of the new great television shows. I don’t know if it airs for you locally or where the show is going but something I read about it rings very true — sometimes life surprises you. The pilot or first episode left me in complete surprise, much like the stroke has with my life. In Episode 5, one of the characters (Kevin) shows a colorful painting that he made. He is an actor and made a painting when he got a script of his latest play. In describing it, he says that life is full of color and we keep adding color until the colors disappear, but we are always in the painting. I totally got that and later in that same episode the sister Kate talks about the sport of football and what it means to her. We can’t really put it in a box. It’s how I view baseball. It’s a very sentimental thing for me. It’s about family. It’s about bonding. Might as well make that lemonade. For those who are thinking, “what does that really mean?” Most of the time, the lemonade is obvious but sometimes you have to look for it (like looking at the trees or having a color in mind), but we can usually find something good and beautiful in all situations, no matter how painful things are. Don’t I know? That’s where gratitude begins for me.

Making lemonade (or limoncello)!

 

When you are at a restaurant in Mexico, it is customary for the person serving your table to say buen provecho to wish you good eating. I consider it roughly the same as bon apetit. Now if you are trying to translate this literally, you might say if “buen” relates to “good” and “provecho” means essentially “benefit” …. then how does buen provecho fit? You can think of this as a succinct way of saying “may this food be of good benefit to you.” It does not in any way mean “enjoy your meal”. That translation is just given as a saying that might be used in a similar situation (before everybody starts eating). In English, we don’t have a phrase like this and we wouldn’t want to just say “enjoy your meal.”

I’m sure many are thinking that I use a lot of Spanish. Being of Latin descent/heritage is a big part of who I am. Recently a friend had me read an article about translation and interpretation. I was raised bilingual and didn’t think much about this. There are words or phrases that just don’t translate. I don’t think about that. When I hear Spanish, I think in Spanish. I do not translate to/from English. I just know what words mean. Now that all makes me wonder, is there a way to “think” stroke? By that I mean, is there a way to think rather than translate? I don’t mean being stuck in a place. There are several descriptions to use when someone has had a stroke and survived. I use stroke survivor. It implies that the stroke happened and now we get on with life, maybe in a new way — which is why I use renewal. I often say stroke survivors can do whatever they did before the stroke, it just may look different than it did or how we think it should look like. Also, think about the challenge using a spell checker with a Spanish word. My spell checker keeps changing provecho to privet — as additional information, I do not like privets!

Our oldest son and his fiancee (now wife) got married last month in the California wine country over a holiday weekend. It was a lovely wedding. The couple choose a venue where they could extend the festivities. The wedding was on Saturday, they did an event on Friday night and another one on Sunday! People could go home leisurely on Monday the holiday. The whole thing was memorable and certainly fits with the thing about thinking different. If you’ve ever planned an event like a wedding, you can appreciate how much work is involved. If you have to do all that planning, why not do four days instead of four hours? That is the standard duration of a wedding ceremony and reception. It was an extension and demonstration of their love — for each other, family and friends. How cool is that?

I recently heard the word oeuvre. Isn’t this a great word? It is defined as all the works that a writer, an artist or a composer has created. It’s a masterpiece! (A great Scrabble word when you get all those vowels and a ‘v’.) I’m sure people who describe themselves as artists are familiar with this word. When I heard the word, I thought, that’s how I view the stroke. It’s my masterpiece. I’m not naive and I won’t say that this has been the greatest thing that has happened to me. But as I think about it, I have tried to make the best of this situation. It’s been a lot of work but definitely one of my masterpieces. The TV show Rizzoli and Isles ended this season and one of the main characters (Vince Korsak played by Bruce McGill) said “you don’t always get to pick when life changes … so I’m going to make it the best version of the next step”. Isn’t that fabulous! Might as well make it a masterpiece.

I’ve said that we watch the movie Bull Durham every year before the baseball season starts. One of the funniest scenes is when the catcher (played by Kevin Costner) tells the pitcher (played by Tim Robbins) “hit the bull”. We just don’t know what’s next! I love that scene when the pitcher hits the bull (mascot) and chuckle every time I see it. Sometimes the benefit of something is the humor or smile it brings.

We have a painting by the artist Lucy Liew in our house. Here’s what Lucy shared about the piece. The title of this piece comes from the 1997 book The Fourth Turning by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe. In this book, the authors define four generational archetypes: Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist, that repeat sequentially in rhythm with the four-stage cycle of social eras or “Turnings” that have defined American society since the Colonial era. As each generation ages into the next phase of life, the mood and behavior of society changes with it, giving rise to a new turning. Thus, a symbiotic relationship exists between historical events and generational archetypes. As Strauss and Howe explain, “your generation isn’t like the generation that shaped you, but it has much in common with the generation that shaped the generation that shaped you.” In this painting, the different generational archetypes are represented by four Rhinoceros Hornbills rotating at the center of the painting. The Rhinoceros Hornbill is the state bird of Sarawak, which is the Malaysian state where I grew up. One of the unique behaviors of these birds is that male and female mating pairs will often feed each other. In this composition, I have each of four birds in the center nurturing the next cycle or “turning”. In addition, each of the subsequent “turnings” is different from the previous generation. As a visual person, this painting made the connection between generations. I suppose if this painting had a theme song, it would be “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds.

Lucy is a fabulous artist. I would bet she is familiar with the word oeuvre. I love the concept of this whole thing. Reading a book and her interpretation of it. The idea of our turnings (or whatever you choose to call them) is a big deal to me, especially now. We do not live in a vacuum. We influence others and they influence us – that’s the part of life after the stroke that’s been a big learning in the journey. It’s a bonus that the primary color in the painting is red.

 

This is a Spanish word and I’ve always found it to be one of those words where there isn’t a direct translation. I found one recently that likened it to courage, desire, fortitude; internal motivation inspiring a person to never quit. (Actually it’s just one of those words that I like to say.) We all need ganas. Did you ever watch the movie Stand and Deliver where the teacher Jaime Escalante talks about ganas? Something for us all to keep in mind.

Remember when I did the post on the 2012 World Series and I mentioned that song from the musical Damn Yankees, “You gotta have heart”? We got to see the musical when the comedian Jerry Lewis played Mr. Applegate. As I said before, I don’t think there’s a simple translation of “heart” and likewise there is not a word that easily translates “ganas”. It is one of the things that is needed in the stroke renewal process. It’s a balance of taking advantage of the things that go right even when lots of things go wrong. I think one of the great lines from that song is “We’ve got hope. We don’t sit around and mope.”

I love musicals. Now I’m realistic about things and I don’t see people breaking out in song as a part of life but I’ll share a real life experience I had about 15 years ago. I was working for a software company and a company in another country bought the product. I was sent to that country to help implement the software and to be part of the project team. I attended the team meetings and at one point there was a woman on the team who was trying to make a point about something. She was having a difficult time conveying her point and she asked us if she could do something a bit unconventional to get her point across. She sang the perspective! (Perfectly I might add.) That whole image has always stayed with me. She put other skills to use to make her point. That’s the part about ganas that makes sense to me. With that experience I saw a new definition of hope. Now years later, I think about that experience and apply it to life today after a stroke. I don’t recall if she used different words or if it was just her singing. (I’ll add the part about all the rest of us on the team got an opportunity to use different skills to “hear” the point!)

I’m reading Cursed Child — the latest Harry Potter book. (I’m not that thrilled with the plot, but that’s another story. I am a huge Harry Potter/J.K. Rowling fan so I’m sticking with it. It’s not the writing by the way.) It’s actually the script of a play that is being put on in London. Matt is a board trustee of a theater in San Francisco, so I’ve had some experience reading plays. We get copies of each script for the plays that they put on. It is a different experience than reading a book. It requires additional visualization from reading a novel. When I read a story in a book there are many aspects I can ignore or overlook. They just aren’t important to me. When I read a play, I have to visualize things a little different. I include this concept here because I believe we have all the tools we need, but we need to use them in a different way.

Sometime ago I mentioned a non-profit organization called Rebuilding Together Peninsula. Matt continues to be active with them and Oracle is one of the local corporate sponsors. They are a national service but there are many regional chapters. They transform homes, schools and community facilities. I love that organization. They have a public service announcement with the actor Morgan Freeman and one of the first things he says is “what does hope look like?” I am really taken by that statement because we all define hope differently. Here’s an organization that uses rebuilding existing facilities to provide hope. I also value that they focus on existing facilities.

After I had the stroke and I could read, one of the first books I read was My Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. (She is a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist who experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996 at age 37.) The source of her stroke was also an AVM. Shortly after reading that book, I watched an interview with her about the book. Somebody was speaking about how they got the whole aspect of dignity from reading that book. Hope and dignity are great starts to translating ganas. I love that statement by Jaime Escalante where he says “students will rise to the level of expectations”. (The movie Stand and Deliver is a based on true story.)

In the back yard we have a mirror. We probably hung it up there 20 years ago. One doesn’t even notice it. There was no particular reason I hung it there many years ago. I just saw it as an entry to another place — one we generally don’t think about. Occasionally we have a bird fly up to the mirror and make contact, until they realize that it is a mirror and stop. But this year we have had the same bird repeatedly come up and make contact with the mirror. Pecking at the mirror. It is funny (I’m sure not for the bird) but it makes me think about ganas. There’s a saying about insanity, that it is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. What if that one time occurs? Another great start in translating ganas.

Two things have stood out to me lately. The first being the lyrics in The Fight Song by Rachel Platten where it says “I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion”. The other is during the Olympic games, Maya Angelou recited her poem The Human Family, in a commercial for the iPhone. What a treat! I love the last line of the poem which states “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike”.

Do you have ganas?