Kitchen w Freya

Chasing AllieCat Screenplay, recovering, Freya, and Medical Leave

Kitchen w FreyaThe good things about being on medical leave this semester:

1. Not grading papers

2. Getting to visit my kids and grandkids on my own schedule instead of the school schedule

3. Spending tons of time with Freya

4. I get more time to WRITE than I do during the school year. Even with rest time built into every day, I can write at least some time, which doesn’t happen during the busy school year. This year that’s more important than ever because Steph Borklund and the SFI (Stephens Film Institute) at Stephens College in Columbia, MO are indeed working on the short film of Chasing AllieCat. My time away from school allowed me to:

1. Write the screenplay

2. Work with Steph and her students to edit, edit, edit, and tweak the screenplay

3. Be available so Steph and I can brainstorm about details (wardrobe, bike race, location, PR, and tons more) for the film. She’s doing all that work, of course. I just find out what’s happening and I’m lucky that she asks me for my opinion on lots of decisions. Many authors whose books become films don’t get that opportunity.

4. Get to go to Missouri for the week of actual shooting. I’m taking my bikes, too!

5. Meet her students–online, at least–and through a Facetime classroom visit! They students are awesome, and these young women are full of passion for this project. I’m so excited, I feel like a little kid!

I’m also editing another novel, but the film project is front and center right now. It’s much FUN!

 

The Force Awakens

I finally saw the new Star Wars movie this afternoon in Greenville. I LOVE the heroine Rey. My daughter and I were just talking about the need for strong female characters in stories, and here’s Rey. I have much to say about this, but I may not get it said here, and I’m still mulling it over. I just want to go on record as being a huge REY FAN.

It’s interesting to think about the collaborative way this movie was made–quite different than the George Lucas approach, as I understand each–but the result was worth watching, for sure, especially for everyone who has followed the saga since the 1970s.

Harrison Ford.  Carrie Fischer. Mark Hamill. Wow.   I’m only a tad (well a bit of a tad) younger than Hamill, and I watched the first Star Wars movie in 1977 in a drive-in theater in Ames, Iowa. Seeing how these heroes have aged gives me pause–and perspective. It also, strangely, felt like being with old friends who have aged right along with or even ahead of me. It’s not as if I haven’t watched Harrison Ford in every possible film I could see him in, but still…this one gave reality to the years that have slid by since my first glimpse of Han Solo. It’s nice to see these characters carried through the years with realistic aging.

Heading back to Minnesota tomorrow, so I’ll try to catch up on blogging in the next couple weeks.

I’ll say this: watching Daisy Ridley as Rey made me very happy that I created physically strong, athletic female protagonists in Allie and Sadie. I’m happy to be part of that kind of contribution in this world.

Poster

Do NOT go toward the light!

And now. A bunch of clichés have taken on new meaning.

Go toward the light.

NO! Stay away from the light. I can’t stand the light! It hurts my eyes! Keep the light away from my eyes! Please, no light! I wonder if that’s what saved my life—refusing to go toward the light.

It’s not brain surgery.

Um yes, actually, it is.

This is a killing headache.

Precisely. That’s the problem, see. It could have been.

She’s got a screw loose.

And now, I very well could! I have screws in my head for the rest of my life. And seriously, I think one is loose!

Can I pick your brain?

You certainly may. It’s easier than it’s ever been because now I have a FLAP on my skull!

My head exploded.

It did. Plain and simple, something in my head exploded (and it almost killed me, but I AM ALIVE!) I include this one because anyone who made it through reading the TWILIGHT series may remember Bella threatening, once in every several pages, that her head might explode. She’s got nothin’ on me.

I’ve been avoiding writing about this because I knew it would take a bit of time, and I am writing with pencil and paper these days, then transcribing edited stuff into the computer. This had to be an exception.

I’ve also been avoiding it because writing about this feels narcissistic. It’s all about me, not about some issue or some grand idea that I’ve been thinking about.

However, so many people have asked for this story, that it’s time to put it down in ink—at least cyber ink.

First of all, a bicycle crash cannot cannot cause an aneurysm, or cause an aneurysm to rupture. Most people (me included) assumed that my crash on Labor day (I did break my helmet but thought I didn’t injure my head) caused this. The surgeons were adamant that there was no relationship whatsoever. Ride on!

Sunday, December 6, dawned like a normal weekend morning toward the end of a semester. The exception was that it was December and above freezing, with dry roads and no snow which is extremely rare for Minnesota.

Freya and I went for a walk, and for a couple hours, I graded papers online. Then I got dressed for a bike ride with three friends. Due to the happy state of the roads, we were going to do the Lake Crystal Loop—a loop that totals about 40 miles from my house and back.

I was sitting in the stairwell, pulling my booties over my cycling shoes. Out of nowhere, a searing headache cracked open behind my right eye. In six seconds or less, something exploded from that headache—that felt like a firecracker going off inside my skull—and filled my head with blinding pain, the worst headache I’ve ever had, without exception. I staggered to my feet, shielding my eyes from light, thinking I was going to vomit. I leaned on the kitchen counter. The pain shot all through my head and down my neck.

Tom said, “Are you okay?”

“I don’t think so,” I answered. “But I have no idea what’s wrong. I don’t think I can balance or open my eyes in the light enough to go for a ride.” I made my way to the recliner and curled up in a fetal position. He brought me a bucket in case I actually did throw up, and a cold, damp towel, which I pressed it to my head and used it to shield my eyes from the light. I called Carol, Chris, and Tim, the friends I was going to meet for a ride, and left messages. All of them, I was sure, were already on their way to our meeting point. My message went something like this:

“I can’t ride. My head hurts too bad. It came on all of a sudden. But in case this headache goes away, which way are you riding the Lake Crystal Loop so I can meet you from the opposite direction? Can you send me a text with the info?”

When I could manage to focus my eyes, I said to Tom, “I hope this isn’t what an aneurysm feels like. I can’t imagine what else would hurt this bad or come on this fast.” I looked up aneurysm symptoms, and sure enough, this is what I found on MayoClinic.org:

“Ruptured aneurysm”

“A sudden, severe headache is the key symptom of a ruptured aneurysm. This headache is often described as the “worst headache” ever experienced.

Common signs and symptoms…include:

  • Sudden, extremely severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sensitivity to light

That was not happy news. I had ALL of the first five symptoms. The site also said, “Call 911 Immediately.”

I said, “I guess we better go the E.R.” But first I changed clothes. Tom actually had to help me there, too. I couldn’t balance very well. All I knew was that I have had too many favorite cycling clothes cut off my body in the emergency room when I have crashed (it’s happened a few times in my life). I was wearing my favorite tights and my new long-sleeved Nicollet Bike jersey. I wasn’t about to lose them to E.R. scissors!

Tom took me to the E.R. in Mankato, me curled up in the front seat with the towel on my head, for the coolness and to shield my eyes from the light, and clutching a bucket in case the threatening vomit erupted at any moment.

In the E.R., when I told the receptionist that I had all the symptoms of an aneurysm, they whisked me right in—no waiting—and they did a scan of my head within 45 minutes.

A kindly doctor leaned over me and said, “You do have a ruptured aneurysm. We’re going to airlift you to Mayo in Rochester.”

I remember asking if they weren’t over-reacting. I was told this was very serious and they weren’t wasting any time getting me to the neurosurgery experts. “I have to go to the bathroom first,” I said. They wouldn’t let me up! For the first time in my life, and what I certainly hope is the LAST, I had to use a bedpan. UGH.

As it turned out, the day was too foggy for the helicopters to run, so I had to travel to Rochester by ground ambulance. The sirens ran occasionally. I was drugged enough that I slept some of the time, but woke up enough to vomit and vomit, and then I slept some more. It’s not fun to vomit when strapped completely flat and immobile on an ambulance stretcher. The memory is fuzzy, so I’m not sure exactly how the EMT kept me from choking, but I survived it. He even turned the lights off in the ambulance so I didn’t have to have the towel over my eyes for the entire ride. Nice guy.

Once in Rochester, I remember Tom arriving shortly after we did, and I remember having dye injected so they could scan the aneurysm accurately. They discovered that the bleeding had basically stopped, but that the aneurysm itself was bi-lobed (two-lobes), so it could not be corrected by coiling. (This is a procedure where they snake a catheter through your artery from your groin to your brain, and release a coil of wire into the aneurysm so that it clots and seals off the risk of further leakage. This further confirms most adults’ idea that the groin and brain are too closely connected.)

Result: I would require full-on brain surgery, with an incision and a chunk of skull cut (Drill? Saw? Yes) out, lifted off, the leaked blood cleaned, and the aneurysm clipped with a small titanium clip that would secure no more bulging and no more blood leakage. Then everything would be put back together: with screwed-in titanium fasteners in the skull and staples in the scalp. Yowzer.

Brain surgery. That gives a person pause. And suddenly all those related clichés go out the window. “It’s not brain surgery.” Um, yes, it is.

I’m going to pause here and say that by this time, the surgery didn’t even scare us anymore. Tom, who didn’t leave my side, and I had met so many doctors—neurosurgeons and neurologists—to whom this procedure was routine. They put our fears to rest. Tom told me later that he was no longer afraid of the procedure; he was afraid of the time bomb ticking in my head; what if I didn’t make it until morning?

I had to sign waivers, of course. But I also didn’t want to be saved if I was going to wake up impaired mentally or drastically impaired physically. This is a sobering, life-changing issue to face. I’ve had surgery before, but never when I realized the results could be so touch-and-go, and so life-changing. Was I ready to die? I’ve had a good life. A great life. I could go now and know that I’ve done some good stuff. I’m happy with what I’ve done. I’ve made some huge mistakes, but I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to be kind, trying to be a good mom and grandma, trying to be good to the people around me and trying to help my students and friends have good lives. I’ve accomplished the biggest things I set out to do. My bucket list has mostly checkmarks on it. I could leave without feeling frantically unfinished. HOWEVER, I do NOT want to leave my kids, Tom, my grandkids,…my wonderful friends…I want to live. I want to write and ride lots more.

When Dr. Desmond Brown, one of the surgeons, came in to visit, I told him my concerns. He explained that he couldn’t take me into surgery without my consent to do everything possible to save my life and save my quality of life. However, “This is an elective surgery.” The survival rate outlook wasn’t very good without it, and survival without disabling repercussions was even worse, so of course Tom and I agreed to surgery, and to asking for every life-saving measure. We also felt more comfortable after his talk.

Some facts: 50% of people with ruptured brain aneurysms don’t make it to the hospital alive in the first place. Of the 50% who arrive alive, 40% still die or have major disabilities or changes in neurological abilities as a result. I don’t remember all the stats, but it turns out that for me to be at Mayo with “only a headache” was “extremely remarkable” (somewhere around 5-13% chance of that).

My surgery would be the first one in the morning. Every hour until surgery, a doctor or a nurse would wake me and check all neuro responses. This involves responding to commands with each hand and foot, arm, and leg, and shining a light into each eye to check reactions. I had the routine down pretty soon.

People. The gratifying thing during a time like this is awesome family and friends. As I mentioned, Tom, my partner, never left my side except when I was in the ambulance and he followed in the car, and when I was having a procedure—or surgery—done. He called my kids and close friends and set up a chain to pass information along. Nikki my daughter and Josh my son flew into Minnesota while I was in surgery, so I saw their faces as soon as I woke up. Tom’s son’s Ben and Dusty and daughter-in-law Ashley all came in the morning, too. Nothing beats that for feeling loved.

Surgery was a success. The ruptured aneurysm is clipped, and now I just have to heal.

Amanda Steele, my almost-step daughter, my kids’ step-sister, works at Mayo. She and her husband and little girl came to see me the first night, and as needed. Amanda was invaluable help and brought Tom some very welcome dinner the first night, too!

Lovely face with swollen eyeCute, huh? I guess I’ve lost any pride I had, if I’m willing to post these pictures.

My friends showed up during the next ten days: I won’t list them because I was fuzzy-headed part of the time and I might forget someone.

The doctors and nurses kept telling me, “You’re doing so well!” But I wasn’t doing anything. I was just lying there. How could I be doing well at anything? Well, I guess it was all those odds I quoted above. The Neuro ICU at St. Mary’s, Mayo, in Rochester, doesn’t have too many brain surgery patients coming out of surgery like I did, I guess.

I am so fortunate, so very, very fortunate.

close up

Do collective energy and wishes make a difference? Prayer? I’m hearing from people I know, but who are busy with their own lives—who take time to wish me well, to tell me they’re pulling for me, wishing me well. It matters. It really matters.

 

 

 

 

 

I also have to include this picture because it looks like something out of a Frankenstein movie or something, but it was simply the first time I got to have my hair washed after brain surgery, and it felt like HEAVEN!

hair wash Neuro ICU style

 

 

 

My humanities class made a poster for me (pictured here). My response to this sort or embodies how I feel so humbled and overwhelmed by people’s responses to all of this.

Poster

It’s a difficult thing to be a week out from finals and be shut out of school. Nobody else knows which students have worked so hard and come so far…how can anyone else do justice to grading my students? Besides, I want to be there for the final moments! I want to hear their research presentations! It’s cathartic for everybody to realize how much they have learned…but I had to let go, let somebody else do it, and my more-than-capable buddies in the department did all my work. Thank you, Cassandra, Amy, Kirstin, Ray, and Anne.

Here I am, moving from ICU to a “regular” floor. As Josh my son said, “the crazy lady in the wheelchair.” :)Crazy Lady Going home Also with me here is Emily, Josh’s wife.

 

 

So now, I’m healing. My daughter Nikki flew back to Minnesota again to help Tom get me home and settled. My scar is getting less noticeable, though I can feel the screws or the metal fasteners beneath my skin (yes, that is more than a little weird). I can handle that. I’m happy to be here.

Thanks, Ashley, for taking my staples out. :)

Scar

Limitations? Oh, yeah, I can’t work for at least four months. That in itself is an adjustment. Requirments: no stress, very little screen time (computer/iPad, phone screen, and no late-night grading papers. No lifting over ten pound (TEN pounds!!?? That’s hardly anything). No drinking. No cycling. None of this for three months.

I can’t ride my bike for three months? Yes, I asked Dr. Chris Copeland, “Can’t I just sit on my bike on the trainer and spin if I keep my heart-rate down around 110?” He responded with a wry grin, “I’m getting to know you, and I think that if I give you an inch, you’ll take a mile. So no. NO biking whatsoever for three months.”

No lifting over ten pounds. Again, I asked Dr. Copeland, “So I can do ten-pound bicep curls with each hand, right?” Response: “No! Five pounds, five pounds. Ten pounds MAX.” It’s hard not to push the limits. I guess he did “get me.”

I’m always used to pushing my restrictions. I break an arm and sit on the trainer and work like crazy. This is different. It’s my brain at stake. I guess I do have one. They didn’t open me up and say, “Nothing in there. Just close ‘er up.” So I better listen. I want to heal. That means I can walk. A lot. And read (paper books, not online or Kindle), and write (paper, again). No teaching, no grading. Very limited email and Facebook.

This is an imposed vacation. I am starting to let go, and I am embracing it. And enjoying it. It’s a grand time to re-evaluate and reassess and be glad to be in my life. And yes, I’m resting. A lot.B,C, T, B

I’m happy to say that reassessing helps make it easy to spend time on important things and with important people…family most of all and my wonderful friends. Without a teaching and grading schedule, I don’t feel cramped for time with people. It’s lovely, actually.

Here I am at lunch with my brother Bill, his wife Cathy, and me and my Tom on the right. Bill just had foot surgery, so this lunch was a big deal for all of us. We had a blast.

My cousins came up to visit (much fun), and my friends have been stopping on (stay tuned on Facebook).

Thank you, everybody, for being so kind and supportive.

untitled

A movie. It’s real. It’s hard. It’s scary. It’s EXCITING!

untitled copy

Chasing AllieCat is going to be a movie. It’s really going to happen. It’s going to be a short–about 12 minutes long–but it’s going to happen.

Steph Borklund, film professor  at Stephens College and her students are going to make this their spring project. They are going to produce a short film of the novel Chasing AllieCat.

Okay, how do you condense a 288-page story into a 12-page screenplay? It’s not possible, is it? What do you do? You boil away sub-plots. You strip away details that are not the MOST essential story arc. You work in pencil. You erase. You write and erase a lot more. You talk to Steph.  You scratch out and you add.  You talk to Steph again.  And cut and change some more. She cuts and changes. It’s better. Her students change and make suggestions. You write and cut some more.

It’s still a rough draft, but it’s full of hope.

If a bunch of smart and creative people collaborate, you get ideas and ways to visually convey emotion and story in a super-short version. This is so much fun!

I am SO excited. Here we go!

El Dorado

The El Dorado Map by Michael O

I just finished The El Dorado Map by my friend Mike O’Hearn.

It’s a couple days until Christmas. If you like adventure stories, if you like westerns, if you like great plots with twists and turns and plenty of danger, and you like a character you can root for and love, who ends up growing miles by the end of the book, then this story is for you, no matter what your age. It is, by genre, a middle-grade novel, so if you’re looking for a last-minute present for a youngish reader, male OR female who likes adventure, my advice it to jump on Amazon or run to Barnes and Noble and get this ASAP.

I just survived an aneurysm and brain surgery, and I read this book in two days; I couldn’t put it down.

The back of the book reads thus:

El Dorado“When your pa’s an outlaw, you grow up mean, tough, and fast–unless something powerful, even supernatural, changes that path. One day, young Cody’s path changes with a bang. Arrested after a stagecoach shootout and deserted by his pa, the young gunman finds himself alone in the Freelands. Alone, except for a mystical man in black, who aids Cody in his escape from jail. Once free, Cody sets out to blaze his own trail but instead finds trouble–including mythical creatures and legendary beings–at every turn. He also finds a map to the fabled city of El Dorado, where the streets are supposedly paved with gold. But his good-for-nothing pa is after the map as well. It’s only a matter of time until destiny brings their paths together again…”

Yes. Yes, yes, and yes. The mythical creatures are woven so seamlessly into this story that the magical realism breathes as easily as the horse Cody rides. I think of Marquez or David Almond who have created real worlds woven with magic realism. Here it happens in the old west, riddled with danger and real human emotions. I forgot the beings were legendary. They were fully alive and believable for me. And I feared them…and came to understand them.

Cody gets into the kind of trouble that forces him to make decisions about what kind of human being he wants to be…who he will become…if he survives being his pa’s son. I held my breath a few dozen times while reading this book. High praise. I couldn’t put it down, and I doubt you or anyone on your list will be able to, either. Read it. You won’t be sorry.

O’Hearn, Michael. The El Dorado Map. Mankato, MN: Capstone Young Readers, 2016.

Rodriguez after-the-facts-page-001

Searching for Sugarman

Have you heard of the musician Rodriguez?

Rodriguez after-the-facts-page-001

I’m a little slow when it comes to popular and rock music. I blame this on the fact that even though I was a child of the 60s, I missed the whole decade. My mom thought pretty much everything going on in the secular world that decade was a sin, so I missed it. Rock ‘n Roll topped the list.

Of course my music taste has changed and grown voraciously since then, but I still am slow on the uptake, and I need to work in quiet instead of with the radio or stereo (or iTunes or iPod) going.  So I still miss a lot.

That’s my only excuse for not knowing about Rodriquez until this fall. Have you heard of him?

He’s a Detroit musician whom I would liken to a cross among Jim Croce, Bob Dylan, and James Taylor. That’s just me. He writes as brilliantly as Dylan, but his voice resonates like Taylor’s. His stuff is amazing, and as revolutionary as the Beatles’.  Rodriquez’ work received brilliant reviews, but he never made it big in the U.S. His producers/agents knew he was the “Real Thing” and should be bigger than Elvis, but he never grew bigger than who he was, and he worked labor jobs his whole life.

Except for South Africa.

Rodriguez

His songs inspire dissidence under oppressive regimes; his lyrics demand people do some thinking for themselves and don’t accept authority in an unjust society. His vinyl albums made their way in to Apartheid South Africa, and caught on like wildfire. His songs were banned in that restrictive society for obvious reasons, but pirated copies spread until he was “bigger than Elvis” in South Africa. And Rodriguez had no idea. And South Africans had no idea about who the man behind the music really was.

Everybody had heard about his death: rumors that he set himself on fire on stage, that he died of a drug overdose…and the South African search was on. “In 1997, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman set up a website, called ‘The Great Rodriguez Hunt’, with the intention of finding any information about the mysterious US musician of ‘Cold Fact’ fame. (SugarMan.org)  Originally, he wanted to find out the truth about how Rodriguez died. The search uncovered far more than “Sugar” expected.

Rodriguez

When apartheid ended, Rodriguez finally played to sell-out crowds in the ampitheaters of South Africa. And still nobody in the U.S. knew who he was.

You have to watch the documentary, “Searching for Sugarman.” That tells the entire amazing story. I watched the thing twice. I could hardly absorb it enough. And no matter your taste, I think you’ll like his music.

Rodriguez three years ago

 

msomalia

Grading papers…from African students

somalia flagAs an English teacher, it’s sometimes a challenge to read papers from students who are not native English speakers. It’s especially challenging because some of these students have the most to say. Some have traveled unbelievable distances–emotionally as well as on the globe–in order to sit in my classroom. That’s humbling.

That’s not to say that I don’t realize that my own time is more in demand because they are in my class. I cannot grade a non-native speaker’s paper as fast as I can grade a fluent southern Minnesotan’s paper. Well, that’s not always true because some of the white kids who grew up around Mankato certainly don’t have the best of the best writing skills.  BUT I’m busy making generalizations here. I can grade a student’s paper who doesn’t struggle with the language or with getting ideas on paper or with sentence structure faster than I can grade a paper written by someone who struggles, no matter who he or she is, and no matter where he or she’s from. That’s just a fact of grading. And of course, I like to grade easy-to-grade stuff. I have more to do in life than grade papers.

HOWEVER, this morning, I read a paper by a student from Somalia. I can say this in complete anonymity because I have so many Somalian students, I’m not revealing anything. The introduction to the paper was long and rambling. I had a sense of the student’s entire afternoon before doing the interview (the crucial part of this assignment), and then the student got down to business, telling the story gleaned from the interview.

My first response was to say (and I did), “Look at your introduction. You wander around, setting up the interview, but we’re on page two before we even know who is going to be interviewed or the point of this paper.”  Yes. I said (wrote) that. The online tutoring center where the paper had been submitted said the same thing.

That’s when it hit me. This is an African paper. Africans talk like this. You meet an African for a meeting, and he or she asks you how you are, how your family are, and all sorts of other things before he or she talks about the most important issue of the meeting. Africans are on “Africa time” because caring about the people around them are more important than the deadlines imposed.

This is an African paper. It’s set up like an African talks. It wanders into the subject, and, finally, the story of this paper–gleaned from the interview as assigned in my class–packs a powerful wallop. It’s a great story.

Yeah, the writer could have elaborated in places. Some details needed adding. Some shifts–from interviewee’s very happy marriage with everything sunny to full-blown war in the space of a sentence could use some more explanation, a transition even. But that’s how it happens. Happy life—then BAM! War has descended, and that’s what happened in Somalia.

I struggle grading this paper. I want to say to the writer, “This is spectacular! This is a story that must be told! Thank you for writing this!” And I do. I wrote that on the top of the paper. But I also had to mark down points for a bunch of run-on sentences, lack of editing as suggested by the online tutor, and some ways in which the point of the story wasn’t clearly spelled out by the writer. We as readers feel it, but as a writer, the responsibility is to make sure it won’t be mistaken.

So, this wonderful, powerful paper ended up getting a C. And I’m in turmoil. I want to give this an A, but it’s not an A paper by my standards. It’s powerful, though. And I justify myself by saying, well, this writer has much to say, so if I guide this ability through the semester, this writer will be producing really good, powerful, acceptable work at the end of the term. Is that really what will happen, though, or am I just forcing one more African to fit into the western model of what we deem acceptable as writing?

Help. I don’t know. I love these students, and as I get older and am much nearer the end of my teaching career than the beginning, I feel as if I’m only beginning to grasp the ways I can be a real teacher. I’ll keep muddling through.  msomalia maleeshiyo