On Bodies

robinson

While surfing around for something to watch, I checked out Ted Talks. I clicked on “25 Most Popular” and was surprised to see the 15-year-old talk by Sir Ken Robinson still at the top of the list. I loved that talk from the first time (of many, many times) I listened to it. There was one part – and not a really central one – that has stuck with me for some reason. Robinson asserts that “the purpose of the education system is to produce university professors” and then goes off a bit sideways on that group . . . one that I belonged to more than any other at that time.

And I like university professors, but, you know, we shouldn’t hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement. They’re just a form of life. Another form of life. But they’re rather curious. And I say this out of affection for them: there’s something curious about professors. In my experience — not all of them, but typically — they live in their heads. They live up there and slightly to one side. They’re disembodied, you know, in a kind of literal way. They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads. (Laughter) Don’t they? It’s a way of getting their head to meetings. (Laughter) If you want real evidence of out-of-body experiences, by the way, get yourself along to a residential conference of senior academics and pop into the discotheque on the final night. (Laughter) And there, you will see it. Grown men and women writhing uncontrollably, off the beat. (Laughter) Waiting until it ends, so they can go home and write a paper about it.

This section of the talk struck me so deeply because – except for the bad dancing part – I completely recognized my own relationship to my body. I lived mostly in my head, taking my body for granted and ignoring it as much as possible. It was basically just my head’s means of transport. I needed it to get my mind back and forth to work, to get my dog walked around the cornfield every day and to take my mind and heart on travels to different places. If my body ever needed my attention for some reason, it had to yell pretty loudly before I would listen.

And yell loudly it did last December.

One major change that has come from dealing with serious illness is that it has forced a realignment in the relationship between my body and mind. I have had to focus on my health and learn about every organ and system inside me. At the same time, I unavoidably and unfortunately discovered something else:

The human body is revolting.

Seriously, the body seems to have a hundred ways to shed and spread little pieces of itself all day long and every day. To continually eject its detritus out into the world in various forms.

Put aside the Big Five (Blood, Sweat & Tears, Number One and Number Two) and it turns out there are all these other ways for the body to get rid of stuff – from dandruff, to ear wax, to eye gunk. There are boogers and snot – sometimes aerosolized by sneezes. There is spit and drool and phlegm coughed up from the lungs. There are scabs and puss. There is burping and farting. There are secretions, menstruation, ejaculation, regurgitation. Hundreds of hairs and thousands (millions?) of skin particles departing every day. There are fingernail cuttings and callous scrapings. There is toe jam.

It is uncharacteristic of me to even talk about such gross things, much less write about them. In fact, words like “booger” in the paragraph above are probably making their debuts on this blog. I’m quite sure that “ejaculation” is.  But almost all of these bodily expulsions have become issues at one point or the other in the past three months. And with dignity being one of the first casualties of a cancer diagnosis, they have become topics of open conversation in my household. (It reminds me of our first days with Mitzi when we could spend hours discussing with fascination the changing color, volume, form, and consistency of her poop.) I haven’t been able to just ignore it all. And I sooooo want to. I want to get back to my more professorially distanced relationship to my body. But I am not sure that is possible.

In a therapy session I heard the theory that cancer patients see their lives as split into two – the Before and After Times, so to speak, separated by the day of the original discovery and preliminary diagnosis. I have been chewing on that nugget ever since. I have met cancer survivors who have called their tumors “a gift” because they were propelled into a whole new set of priorities and attitudes that changed their lives for the better somehow. My problem is that my Before Times Life was a pretty great one and not particularly in need of big changes. I don’t want to let it go – or to let go of the hope that I can get back to it someday.

And then there is my Trek* blog – a weird eclectic mix of memoir, reflection, musings, travel experiences, moments in parenting and teaching, silly daily life stuff, and the occasional rant about politics or religion. And chickens, of course. Goats sometimes too. The thing is – I like it the way it is. I don’t want it to turn into Cancer Blog. I don’t want to keep polluting it (like I have done here) with talk of disease and detritus, littering and splattering it with all the little undignified turds of the cancer experience.

So even though I have been writing and writing and writing, I haven’t been doing much posting. And I miss it! I need a solution. One where I can keep this Trek* the way it is and still share my cancer story with those who may be interested in that.

kraken01

So here is my little announcement . . .

I just set up a separate page where I will post all of the health-related stuff and where I will tell my whole cancer story from the beginning, one chapter at a time. You can get to that by clicking on “Let Loose the Kraken” up in the menu line. (I’m still working out the technical side, so expect some hiccups.) You can also get to it by clicking on this link:

https://circumstance227.wordpress.com/let-loose-the-kraken/

You can also ignore the page altogether, which, believe me, I will understand. Especially after this post, which gives you a little taste of what to expect there. It’s not all pretty.

Still Here

 

There are about two dozen people scattered across the globe who might have noticed that I have been absent from WordPress for a while. But then, it is exactly these people who also know why.

June is the cruelest month for teachers here. Particularly cruel in my school and in the era of Covid-19. Particularly cruel for an American watching helplessly from afar as her country suffers.  Unnecessarily.

In the midst of all the chaos, I HAVE written the occasional post – and then not posted it – mostly because it was, in the end, essentially a rant.

One was titled: “America! Please! Wake Up and Smell the Mental Illness!”

One was titled: “Parents! Raising your Children is YOUR Job!”

One was titled: “How Covid Killed the Hummingbird”

One was titled: “Sick of the Dick’s Shtick”

One was titled: “Dead Brain Walking”

One was titled: “Goat in a Tree”.

Actually, the last one was kind of inspiring. It began with something I observed while standing on my screen porch, drinking my morning coffee.

Background info: There was a single apricot tree that unfortunately ended up inside the area we fenced off for the goats. Upon arrival, they quickly killed it by eating off all of its bark within their reach. It stood there afterwards, dead, and unnoticed by both goat and human.

Until one day  . . .

 

There is some kind of metaphor here, but I am not sure what it is. I suspect it has something to do with “fruitless endeavors”. And that there are things you can do that bring no rewards whatsoever, but you do them anyway because you can and because that is who you are.

In my last post, I was a “Karen”.

In this one, I am a goat.

Progress.

 

 

Sorbus Terminalis

 

A visiting botanist once told me that one of the trees on our property was a very rare and special sort. The news gave me a fleeting appreciation for the thing. (As I have mentioned several times in this blog, no one would ever call me “Nature Girl”). But when the tree was destroyed in a storm a few years ago, I was sad and missed its shade. I had forgotten what kind of tree it was by then, so I wrote a blog post (“Goodbye, Tree”), asking my green-thumbed blog friends to help me identify it. Unfortunately, you all were pretty useless. I then forgot about it.

Well, I just ran into that botanist and had the presence of mind to ask him again about that tree. I give you . . . (drum roll) . . .

the Elsbeere

(aka Wild Service tree, aka Checker – or Checkers or Chequers – tree, aka Sorbus torminalis)

A little googling told me that this truly is a rare tree, its wood is prized, and its berries are used in cooking or to make one of the most expensive types of schnapps there is. Hundreds of years ago, the fruits were considered to have medicinal value – torminalis means “good for colic”. It is also good for bees. It was named “Tree of the Year – 2011” by a German forestry association.

These trees usually live for 200-300 years, but mine was ripped apart by a storm at the ripe old age of 15.

Darn! Now I really miss the thing!

 

After writing all of the above, I went back and reread the old post. A very earnest commenter had suggested (among many other things) “Wild Service Tree” which I apparently pooh-poohed offhand. A later commenter (Hi, Alison!) commiserated with the first: poor girl, she wrote, “she really thought you cared”. (Alison has had my number from the start.)

Clearly, I have appreciation issues.

Goodbye, Wild Service Tree.

 

Sorry Life Stories

 

After reading a blog post that she really liked – but one that got little attention – my sister pointed out to me that it is perfectly okay to repost from time to time. Especially when life events aren’t conducive to inspiration. That is certainly true right now. My decision to go shopping this morning in the village store rather than the big supermarket doesn’t really lend itself to storytelling. I also doubt that anyone out there is particularly interested in how I cleaned out my refrigerator today, or how much I miss my cleaning lady. Besides, I already covered those topics years ago . . .

. . . which gave me an idea . . .

As I reread this post from 2016, there were a few added surprises. One is that my mom commented on it – something she rarely does. Another comment came from a stranger who also announced she was now following me. It was Joan, aka “42”, who has since become one of my very favorite and core blog peeps. Finally, it struck me that life truly does keep spiralling back on itself – everything here has become relevant again – but with an added corona twist.

So . . . enjoy! (Or re-enjoy!)

 

Trek*

My cleaning lady and I don’t talk a lot. Partly it’s because her German is quite limited, her English is nonexistent, and my Hungarian consists of hello, goodbye and “one coffee please thank you”. Usually when I say something to her, she just smiles, laughs a little and agrees. So we have conversations like this:

“How was your week?”

“Yes, yes.” (Little laugh).

Or, today:

“J., you don’t have to do anything in Mitzi’s room today. It’s a disaster zone. Just shut the door and forget about it.”

“Yes, ok, yes.” (Little laugh.)

She then started on the upstairs bathroom while I did the kitchen – the other disaster zone she doesn’t have to deal with. As I was sorting through the vegetable and fruit baskets, removing all the things that were no longer edible, my cleaning lady came in with a huge collection of dirty, crusty dishes and glasses…

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Hatched!

 

The video is not new – but it WAS the start of something new. Have a look.

 

Poor little thing. Two seconds into the world, he already gets his first whacking.

 

I tried to post this video on my blog almost a year ago and failed. My free WordPress plan wouldn’t allow me to. That was the first time I considered an upgrade. Later, when ads started appearing annoyingly mid-post, the idea took more concrete form. Being a somewhat elderly blogger, it took me yet a while longer – five months or so – to gear myself up to taking the step. Today, finally, I clicked on the “Upgrade” button. What ensued was . . . surprisingly quick and uneventful.

It may not look much different to you, but it feels different to me. Like I am now really out there in the blogosphere for the first time

And now here I am, taking my new-and-improved Trek out for a spin. Checking out what it can do. Different font sizes? (Nope, that doesn’t work.) Can I finally use different colors? (The answer is “Yes!”) Next will come layout changes maybe. Before you know it, I’ll be following those WP tips for increasing readership. Scavenging for views.  Foraging for Likes . . .

“Let the bullying begin!”

What Did I Tell You?

After uploading my last post, I logged out of WordPress. Then I went to my site out of curiosity to see which, if any, ads appeared.

Just had to take this screenshot to prove my prescience. And yes, those are real ads – not graphics put there by me on purpose for effect. Coincidence? Educated guess? Or is Big Brother watching me?

Refreshed Start

 

Here was the first sunset of 2020:

 

But the world is not the only thing starting a new year. Here we go . . . (sound of throat clearing) . . .

It’s my baby’s 5th birthday. I’ve decided to give it a present: an upgrade. For no other reason than to get rid of those crappy ads showing up in the middle of my (so carefully designed) posts. I bet you are seeing one right now. Probably one telling you that you can learn to speak a foreign language fluently in just five minutes. Or maybe it is that picture of ugly feet that keeps popping up.

I’m a bit nervous about how this will go – if and how my blog will change in content or appearance.  Or something worse. If you happen to notice in the coming days that it has disappeared from your Reader (or the face of the Virtual Earth), well, then you will know that I messed it up.

Wish us luck!

 

I Blame Bill

 

Of course it is partly my fault. Over the past year, I have allowed digital chaos to creep into my life. Thousands of school and work photos remained scattered over 5 different devices instead of being regularly uploaded in an orderly fashion onto my laptop. Work and private files were saved . . . oh, wherever. (I’ll clean it up later.) Blog posts – finished or not – were also saved willy-nilly in various dark corners of my hard drive. Backing up files was something that could be perennially put off till some later date. I’ll get to it during my next work break, I told myself . . .

I never did.

And then came the ominous news that Windows 7 would no longer be supported after January 14, 2020. A few days later I discovered that the 2/” button on my keyboard no longer worked (which might have had something to do with the water I spilled on it the previous day). I found a workaround using Insert and Symbol, but it was (and is) a pain in the asterisk. To make matters worse, I started noticing that it was taking longer and longer for my laptop to fire up in the mornings. Between the moment I turned it on and the moment it was ready to accept my password, there was plenty enough time to take the dog out for a quick walk. Between entering the password and it being ready to use, I could go take a shower. After clicking on Thunderbird, I could go make my morning coffee and still get back before the Inbox showed up on the screen . . .

I put “new laptop” on my Christmas wish list.

 

December 24th, 2019. 10:32 pm. My entire family has now gone to bed after our wonderful Christmas Eve. I plug my new super-duper laptop in and nervously push the power button. A screen appears and asks me if I want it to speak English or German. I choose English and a “Please wait . . .” message appears on the screen for a matter of seconds. Suddenly I hear a pleasant female voice.

“Hello,” she says. Out loud.

“I will be helping you through the process of setting up your laptop,” she continues. Then she asks me if I want to respond to her manually or by speaking back.

I am completely freaked out. And speechless. I just click my way through the rest of our “conversation”, feeling like a dork. I can tell she thinks I’m a loser.

Five minutes later I am immersed in the foreign-looking bowels of Windows 10 with offers of tips and random websites popping up on my screen, email notifications dinging one after another on my nearby cellphone. I am in over my head. I get the hell out of there.

Once she has gone dark, I lean back and my first thought is that my new laptop is female. In the future I’ll probably be referring to . . . her . . . as “she”. I’m pretty sure my old one was an “it”. My second realization is the horrendous amount of work ahead of me before I can make this transition. My third thought is that I should write Bill Gates a letter of complaint, asking him not only where he gets off gendering my machine like that, but also pointing out what should be obvious to him – the fact that a lot of older people also depend on computers and he’s putting us through some major stress. I’ll tell him it is his fault that the first half of my Christmas vacation is going to be spent carefully ordering all my files and readying them for the move from my old machine to my new bff. (Actually . . . more like “bf for 10” – or however many years she lasts till Bill decides to end her.) Then I will quickly thank him for all his good work in Africa and sign off with “Indignantly yours”.

 

Fortunately, the computer specialist in my husband’s school is willing to spend a few hours with me tomorrow, helping me find my way around this new terrain. He’ll show me how to install all the programs I need and to get rid of all the useless stuff that is already on there. I don’t suppose there is anything he can do about her being a girl.

 

America Report – Day (Minus) One

It hasn’t been mentioned here before (as far as I can remember) but I’m back in Milwaukee for Mom’s 90th birthday party slash family reunion. It’s 10:00 am on Day One and I have already been up for about six hours. I’ve had a pot of coffee and listened to a couple of podcasts on yesterday’s impeachment hearings, which I find oddly calming. I have taken a long walk, bought a Christmas present, and written a blog post longhand – this one – which I am now trying to type up on an IPAD. (It is my first time using this particular device and it is not going quickly.) I have also started my latest crocheting project. It is another symbolic one – a pink flamingo – to bookend the bat (-shit crazy) one I made during my last visit . . .

(screeching brakes sound)

Back up to Day Minus One.

There is nothing like flying direct on a decent airline (Austrian). Having stayed overnight in Vienna at my generous brother-in-law’s apartment with its impressive collection of single malts, I awoke at a civilized hour, had an unhurried coffee and shower and then meandered casually the two blocks to the airport train station (with its convenient check in counter where I relieved myself of my heavy suitcase. ) I arrived at the airport with plenty of time for duty-free shopping and podcast downloading and breakfasting.

The plane started boarding and, as always, the first impression was that the plane would not be full. Of course things changed. A half hour after we should have been I the air, passengers kept straggling in – most of them harried American senior citizens who had had the misfortune of being randomly selected for an extra security check. They were NOT a happy bunch. Women in a tizzy shared their stories of being “tickled”. The men were more angry and the baseball capped specimen in the seat behind me was particularly enraged. After his first sentence, the thought “Twump voter” passed through my mind. He went on with his complaining:

“This is just a third rate country trying to act important,” he said. “We should strike Austria off the list for the next trip.”

I went through a myriad of unspoken responses to this affront to my adopted country, but finally landed on “Austria says thank you”. Later I leaned my seat back at the first opportunity.

Despite delays, we made up all the lost time, the food was actually good (haven’t said THAT in years!), the landing soft, the arrival procedures quick and my bus to Milwaukee left just ten minutes after my leaving the terminal. My sister was there to pick me up, and when I brought my suitcase up to my room in her house, what did I find?

Next it was all talk talk talk talk until Rachel Maddow finally gave my sister some respite from me. Ten minutes into her A block on the impeachment hearings I was fast asleep.

It is going to be a wonderful week.

Senior Moments – Chapter Five

I went to the kitchen to refill my coffee this morning and while I was there, I saw the leftovers of yesterday’s chili, still on the stove-top. I thought I should probably transfer it to a bowl and stick it in the fridge, which was what I proceeded to do. Of course, in the process, I forgot to take my coffee with me as I returned to the library.

So I went back to the kitchen to get it. The bowl of chili was curiously still sitting on the counter and my coffee cup was nowhere to be seen. I tried to focus and mentally retrace my steps. I opened the fridge door . . .

Sigh.

This is just the latest in a string of my recent actions falling somewhere on the spectrum from merely “Absent-minded” to downright “Moronic”. Just last week I booked and paid for a flight with the wrong return date. Then I accidentally claimed to be the sole caregiver of the family in my tax filing. Days later I got tricked into an internet scam which necessitated locking down my credit card and replacing it with a new one. Which in turn meant changing my payment method in places like Amazon and Spotify . . .

 

Again. Sigh.

 

But before you start worrying about me, most of these things turned out to be fairly easy to deal with and filled with unexpected silver linings. Despite the mistake (or because of it??) this is first time I can remember that my taxes aren’t being audited – releasing me from the yearly half hour drive to the nearest Finance Ministry office, documents in hand. I also get an extra day in my upcoming trip to the States. And having upgraded to a Gold card last year, replacing it was free AND the fraudulent charge is going to be reimbursed. This episode alone more than covers the slightly higher credit card fees I have been paying.

Still! This series of brainless moments has gotten me thinking about mental and physical health. Rather than worrying about creeping dementia, I realized that a person can allow their brains go to seed in the same way they can neglect their physical bodies, and that I have been guilty of that. I’ve decided it’s time for me to give myself a kick in the mental butt.

It’s 6:00 pm on Sunday, December 1st and my Christmas decorations are up, my advent wreath is made, my courses are prepared for both Monday and Tuesday, all the laundry and ironing is done, the house is clean, and I just finished a project that has been meandering from one To Do list to the next for the past 15 months.

Now hand me one of those mints!