The emotional roller coaster of writing

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So it’s been quite a two-week period. Carol and I left two weeks ago tomorrow for the filming of Chasing AllieCat the movie in Columbia, MO. It was surreal to see the kids–the characters and the scenes I had created come to life before the camera.

Here’s 3 bikesAllie and Sadie and Joe as they appear in the movie.

 

 

 

Here’s the camera crew in the woods, preparing for the scene where Sadie, Joe, and Allie find Father Malcolm. ALL the students working on crews were amazing. I loved hanging out with the entire group of Stephens Film Institute women!

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This is  the set-up before Father Malcolm is planted in the woods. steph&Becky bikes shop

 

 

 

 

 

Steph and I confer, trying to figure out a scene in the bike shop.

 

 

So all of this was a whirlwind, but delightful and exciting and exhilirating!

Then I got home with enough time to do laundry and repack and head north to St. Joseph, MN for the YAYA (Young Authors/Young Artists) Conference at the College of Saint Benedict.

I’m the keynote speaker for all three days of the conference (different group of kids each day). Each day, the auditorium is filled with 500-some kids! I have to keep them paying attention!

I do my schpiel about 5 rules for writers

1. Read

2. Live

3. Pay attention

4. Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair

5. Write!

And I talk about animal metaphors for writing to completion (all of this can be applied to doing art, too). I use how I came up with the story  Chasing AllieCat by “prairie-dogging” it together–using random unrelated weird things I’d noticed in life and tying them together as if digging a prairie dog town to connect them underneath–to make them all fit together into a story.

The copies of Chasing AllieCat sold out the first day. Luckily, I had ordered a box of 60 books before the movie shoot. I had 50 left, which the bookstore took on–and they sold all but the 15 they reserved for tomorrow’s crowd!

So…all of this should make me VERY happy. This is what writing success is, right? It’s the kind of thing you dream of when you want to write and when you spend long hours alone in front of the computer in the basement. I was flying high.

THEN the bookstore called FLUX–Chasing AllieCat’s publisher–to ask if they could get another 50 books in a hurry. Second choice: to buy the 50 books to replace mine rather than trying to pay me for them. Today FLUX answered that they only have 2 copies in stock, and  they aren’t sure they are going to print any more!!!! So finally all this good stuff happens, and the book that made it happen is going out of PRINT!???? That’s a writer’s nightmare. There’s still hope, but slim.

From the highest high to the most depressed low. Such is the emotional life of a writer! (My mother would have said, “Pride cometh before fall.”)

Good thing we write because we love stories. If we wrote for some modicum of “Success,” It would be the most depressing career in the world!

 

The Cast of the movie Chasing AllieCat

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http://chasingac2016.wix.com/chasingalliecat#!cast/ozesk

Playing Allie:

Emily Sukolics is a recent graduate from Stephens College. She earned her BFA in Theatre with an emphasis in acting. Along with acting, she sings, has worked backstage at multiple theatres in Kansas City, and is pursuing a career in film and stage work. During her time at Stephens she was in many stage productions including Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird and, most recently,  Cassandra in Vanya, and Sonya, and, Masha, and Spike. She is very excited to be playing the part of Allie in Chasing Alliecat.

 

Playing Sadie:

Ana Michaela Chan was born on June 10th, 1997 in suburban town Davis, California to David Chan and Renee Alarcon-Chan. She is the youngest sister of a total of seven siblings, with her brother, William, ranking youngest of the pack. Ana’s involvement with theatre started at a supremely young age of 3 years old, where she would attend theatre auditions with her dad—the Davis Musical Theatre Company’s hired pianist. After years of observing the performers, Ana was finally cast at age 6 in her first theatre production, the musical The Music Man. Throughout all of her schooling, Ana was constantly involved in this theatre company’s productions, auditioning for as many shows her parents would allow, including Seussical, Les Misérables, South Pacific, and Peter Pan. Ana attended Rivercity High School, where she took part in various school activities, including a state-competing debate team (Mock Trial). Because of her family’s musical background, Ana was also the drummer/vocalist of the jazz band Syncopating Sea Monkeys. Ana is currently attending Stephens College, in Columbia, MO.

 

Playing Joe:

Zack Huels

 

Playing Cecil Baker:

Robert Doyen, Professor of Theatre

Rob Doyen is a resident actor/teacher at Stephens, where he teaches Acting, Directing and Musical Theatre. He also teaches in the Stephens Summer Theatre Institute (STI) and has spent the last 37 summers at Okoboji Summer Theatre. This past summer, he appeared in Blithe Spirit, The Foreigner and Little Shop of Horrors. Last year at Stephens, he was featured in A Catered Affair, Inspecting Carol, Uncle Vanya and A Shayna Maidel. He earned an M.A. from Illinois State University and a B.F.A. from Stephens College.

Father Malcolm: To Be Announced

Playing Race Volunteer:

Itohan Amayo is a sophomore student at the University of Missouri majoring in Communication with a minor in Theatre Performance.  Itohan LOVES acting and performing. Although she is going to school for communication, she continuously is striving to accomplish a career in performance. Itohan has been performing for 5 years now, and most of her performances have been in musicals, she is slowly creeping into a world of strictly acting, and she is loving the challenge.  Itohan is inspired by many people in her life like her family and friends, but her other inspirations are Oprah, and Todrick Hall, for obvious reasons. Itohan is excited to work with the cast and crew of Chasing AllieCat and hopes that this experience will create more experiences that will expand her talents and create new, awesome memories!

Playing the Nurse:

Danielle Doyen is excited to be a part of this SFI project. Danielle is back in Columbia after spending a decade in Los Angeles and New Orleans…it’s nice to be home. Selected Los Angeles and Regional Theater credits include: Natalie in AFTERMATH with Annie Potts, Constanze in AMADEUS, Vita in ANGELS FALL, Maria in TWELFTH NIGHT, Margaret in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Woman in THE 39 STEPS, and she appeared in MACBETH, THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL and AS YOU LIKE IT. She co-stared in the indie film UNMANNED, which garnered many festival nominations and awards.

Check out the crew, and see more details HERE.

Having Fun on the Bike

Everything about how I’m riding my bike these days goes against my natural inclination. After spending thousands of miles (at least hundreds and hundreds) in the school of pain and hard knocks, led by Mark Skarpohl (Skarpohli, as I call him, also known as Skarp, Mr. Twin Pipes, and several other nicknames), when you encounter wind, what do you do? Lean over, get low and dig into the wind. You go harder. What does that do? It elevates your heart rate. Doctors ordered me to keep my heart rate under 110 until June–six months after my brain surgery–and nothing that has become instinctual about cycling over the past 19 years fits that order.

The first hill I meet, I exert more pressure. Heart rate goes up. I turn into the wind. Heart rate goes up. This is completely counter-intuitive. It’s not what I’ve learned from Skarpohli or from Mike Busch, Gianni Anderson, Terry Beenken, Dan Friedrichs, and Brian Koenemen, who were the first guys who taught me to ride a road bike and taught me to draft and ride a paceline.

Now, granted, those guys also know how to take it easy and how to have fun on the bike. I’m not saying they only hammer whenever they go out. They don’t.

I’m just saying that I think about them when I turn into the wind, see my heart rate rise and have to back off. Soft-pedal until my heart rate goes back down. What? Yeah, my life and my brain are important enough that I am listening to the doctors, but I’m having to re-learn a lot of things. I’m rethinking what it means to ride a bike.

Few of the people I usually ride with want to ride my pace this year for very long…and I’d only ask them to on a rare occasion. (I do that). We have fun putzing along, and I appreciate those friends willing to putt along with me.

So what have I done? Mostly, I go to the woods. In the woods, the wind barely exists. It’s blocked. I turn into those welcoming trees, and the wind just goes away. If, on the outside chance that I crash (I haven’t since the brain surgery, knock on wood and hopefully not with my head), I land softly on grass or dirt. Absolutely no pavement. And I’m not going fast, so even if I should crash, it’s not going to do much damage.

What have I found? Fun! I feel like a kid on a bike, just tooling around, exploring. I’m riding the April Nicollet Bike 30-Days-of-Biking challenge, so I have to get out at least 2 miles a day. I go to the woods determined to find or at least photograph something new. It is truly like being a kid again. Exploring. Having fun. I love my bike, and I’m not kicking ass to go faster than or keep up with a paceline of a bunch of other people.

Maybe I’m discovering another stage of being a cyclist. Who knows. I know I’ll want to hammer again, and I’ll want to do time trials. And go fast. But for now, this is enough, and I’m having SO MUCH FUN.

Here’s what competitions looks like….

Senior games 1st copy

And here are some photos from this month. I have been riding around the woods, where the former Haunted Hayride was staged until ten years ago. Exploring has made my slow rides all the more fun!

Buds

Here’s admiring the bursting buds on the trees.

Clydesville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clydesville on the old Haunted Hayride route

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old screamsOld screams linger.

 

 

 

 

GreeterThe tattered Greeter. He doesn’t look so threatening against the blue sky.

 

 

 

 

 

The old Torture ChamberTorture chamber

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite tree in the "Haunted Woods." Beautiful against the blue sky, but it always looked creepy in cemetery light.

My favorite tree in the “Haunted Woods.” Beautiful against the blue sky, but it always looked creepy in cemetery light.

Crashing and Readjusting…

I’m thinking about how we adjust when we’ve had setbacks. I was in Barnes and Noble today and saw a plaque that read something like this:

“All of us fall down. Living means how we get up.”  Hmmmm. Well, I can relate to that, due to some of my recent setbacks (the bike crash with five broken bones and a ruptured brain aneurysm, to be specific).

Indulge me here for a paragraph about pro cycling. Online, I’ve just finished watching Milano-Sanremo which was held March 19th. Milan-San Remo, or Milano-Sanremo kicks off the spring classics of the European professional race season. The spring classics are known as grueling, long and tough, both in weather and terrain. This race was scheduled to be 291 Kilometers, but due to a landslide on the course, it ended up being 300K.  That’s 186 miles. Frenchman Arnaud Démare won in a very exciting finish. I, of course was rooting for Fabian Cancellera, my fave, who appeared to have a shot at winning until a crash in front of him in the last kilometer forced him out of a good position. Who knows if he could have won, but that crash changed his chances.MSR-Watson-01

Crashes. I don’t recall very many one-day races as riddled with crashes as this one was. I’ve watched lots of pro race crashes in my day, and as anyone reading this knows, I’ve also had my share of crashes!SPTDW505crash-661x440

Every crash in that race changed the day’s outcome for some rider. For some young men, a crash on March 19 may have changed his career path.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we readjust goals for ourselves as we move through life. If we live with passion (and sorry, but I actually don’t understand people who have no passion for anything), we are striving or at least working at things that matter to us, whether it’s knitting or reading or writing a book or racing a bike or fixing a car. Doing stuff takes passion.

I’ve been thinking about how many times my passion has been interrupted or rerouted and I had to re-gear myself and my life.

When I was four years old and wanted to grow up to be a writer, I thought I’d have published dozens of books by the time I reached my fifties. Well, little things like having kids, earning a living, and the *$&%*# publishing industry get in the way of being able to control that. The old adage proclaims, “You can be whatever you want to be. You can do whatever you want to do, if you just set your heart and mind to it.” Well, yeah. But there are limitations. You can’t be a movie star if you’re note beautiful and talented. There are limitations.  I’m not a best-selling author. I have not won the Newbery Award. Or a Pulitzer. I don’t care so much about the best-selling part, seriously, but I was hoping to retire sometime because I’d supplemented my teaching income with enough writing income. I’m still waiting on that deal. It appears that I could be waiting until I die. But I keep plugging. I love my life, and I would never NOT be a writer, but it sure as heck is not the way I thought it would be when I was at the other end of my life.

I became a runner by default when I attended Oral Roberts University. I wonder if I’ve ever actually admitted online that I attended ORU. It’s not something I’m proud of. It was the beginning of my rebellion against oppressive organized religion, which is such a long story that I shan’t recount it here. But a good thing that came of that place was the desire to “educate the whole person: Body, Mind, and Soul.” So not only did we study and attend mandatory chapel; we were required to accumulate aerobic points for various activities every week of every semester while in attendance.

The first semester, running was required. I HATED it for two weeks, thought my sternum was going to crack open and my heart would attack my life right there and I’d die on the track. But it didn’t happen. I got better. By the end of a month–actually at the end of the third week–I realized that I kind of liked it. At least I liked how I felt afterwards, or how I felt every day when I ran.

By the end of the semester, I was hooked. During finals week, no aerobic points were required. I was so stressed out that I realized I wanted to run. Not just wanted; I needed to run. At 10:00 that night, I went to the indoor track and ran three miles. My stress disappeared. I was addicted and ran for the next nineteen years–until just before my 40th birthday.

That’s when another of those setbacks occurred.

I trained to qualify and did qualify for the Boston Marathon. I ran it on April 15, 1996.  I was running stronger and faster than I had in the previous 19 years. I had my heart set on running a P.R. marathon at Grandma’s that year, which fell on my 40th birthday. I was very excited and was training well. I ran a 6-mile race in 42:08. I was looking at a P.R for sure, I thought.

Five weeks after the Boston Marathon, however, about a month before my birthday-Grandma’s-Marathon, my son Josh and I were out on our bikes (BRAND-new bikes; our old ones had been stolen; home insurance replaced them, and we were just out on the Sakatah Trail trying them out), and I crashed. At the turn-around point, we traded bikes. I was looking down to figure out the shifters. I’d never been on this bike before. I looked up and Josh was stopped on the trial RIGHT in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and veered to miss him. He was in 8th grade, running varsity track for East High, and I actually thought, “I can’t hit his legs! He might not be able to run!” So I crashed and broke my knee. Severed my tibia inside the knee so that a piece was hanging by my ACL. Needless to say, that was a long, painful recovery.

When I could bend my knee, still inside a massive leg brace, I started riding my bike. I actually put quite a few miles on my old Haro mountain bike the last half of that summer. It was fun, but I was eager to run again.

I was determined to run again, and I did.  After intense and motivated physical therapy, I worked back into running. I ran the Winter Carnival half-marathon the next winter, about eight months after the crash. The first seven miles felt great, and then my knee started to hurt. More and more. I hobbled through the last five miles of it, in some pretty serious pain. The next week, I was running and my knee collapsed. Just GAVE OUT and I sprawled on the pavement. I tried again, but it just never worked right again. I did more running over the next few years, but I couldn’t run seriously. Nothing like I used to do.

Runner’s World Magazine arrived, and I threw it across the room, too depressed to look at it.

I had to change one of the things that helped define me. One of the things I was most passionate about in my daily life. I had to admit that I couldn’t really be a runner any more.

So I started biking more.

One day that summer, on that old Haro that probably weighed 50 pounds, I rode to Faribault and back on the trail, tacking on a few extra miles so that I rode my first century: a hundred-mile ride.

The next twenty years were full of bicycle adventures, too many to list in detail: long cross-country rides with a variety of casts of characters, Dairy Queen rides, breakfast rides, the Minnesota Ironman ride every April, the MS Tram, road races, criteriums, time trials, the National 24-Hour Challenge (which I actually won twice), and weekly rides from bike shops…all fun and memorable.

Then I hit some hole in the road on a group ride on Labor Day and flew into the pavement and broke five bones. I was just recovering, on my way out for a road ride in early December when a brain aneurysm ruptured (See stories in other blog posts).

Of course, I’m still determined to ride and race and do 100-mile rides, and even perhaps the 24-Hr Challenge when I’m in the 60+ age division.

Except. My doctor told me I could NOT ride my bike, not even sit and spin easily on my trainer for 3 months after the brain surgery. I obeyed. At my check-up, my doctor told me I could spin easily, but I could NOT get my heart rate up over 110 until 6 months after surgery. WHAT? 6 months? June? 110? Have you ever tried to ride a bike quickly and keep your heart rate under 110? It’s not easy. I’m riding the trainer almost every day, and doing it, but it takes concentration and commitment.

Here’s the kicker: Am I going to get it back? Am I going to be a chicken to ride in a large paceline after my last crash and now, an added fear of smacking my head on the pavement, even in a helmet, since I’ve had a chunk of skull cut out and replaced?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I think about rethinking how I approach my sport. Maybe my competitive days are mostly behind me. I don’t like that idea. But I like to hike and walk. And riding a bike is fun even if your tongue isn’t hanging in your spokes from trying to keep up with speed demons in a paceline.

So that idea of getting up is what living really means just that. We get smacked down. Some of us more than others. Because we put ourselves out there in smacking zone. But it’s worth it. And we keep getting up, and we keep looking for new ways to keep moving forward with our passion.

I’m writing more than I write while teaching. That’s good. I’m slowly getting back in shape. SLOWLY. that’s good. I’m walking a lot. That’s good. And Freya loves it. I’m home more. That’s good. I don’t have definitive discoveries here. I’m seeking and growing and thinking. And I guess all of that is good.

After all, what do we do? Onward! That’s what we do and where we go.

 

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.

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!

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.