Sunday, November 29, 2009

Broken Brain-Brilliant Mind, The Story of Alicia, It's a Wonderful Life, Second Chance to Live.

I've been following a blog called Broken Brain-Brilliant Mind (excellent title) by a fellow who has sustained multiple MTBIs (which is more common than you might imagine; think about how one keeps hitting a sore thumb). He doesn't identify himself by name or location (he explains why and I think he has some good points) but writes a lot and has a lot of good resources.  His post the other day (the day before Thanksgiving) about his plan for handling all the activity of a holiday nicely describes what must go on behind the scenes for people with brain injuries.  I remember needing to plan like this.  I simply could NOT handle the noise and activity.  I couldn't follow a conversation.  So, I would have an escape plan; an excuse. When I got overwhelmed (which happened very quickly when I was first injured) I couldn't think and then the headache would come on and I would be debilitated... again.  Consequently, I spent a lot of time alone.  I lost friends (it's hard to maintain friendships when you don't call people back).  I never answered the telephone (and now, unfortunately, that's a habit that remains).

This fellow also goes on about the hope he has for a full recovery.  Where would we be without hope.  He quotes Winston Churchill: "Never, never, never give up."  Somewhere early in my healing process, I got a postcard from a friend (the source never identified her/himself) with this exact quote.  It stayed on my refrigerator for years.

He posted a link to this documentary about Alicia who suffered a TBI about seven years ago.  There are nine episodes from the documentary on YouTube.  It's amazing what the power of the human spirit can do.  She pulled herself (with the help of her family and care providers) out of the depths of her injuries and has fulfilled her dream to become an actress and this documentary tells her story.

I didn't want this experience.  I didn't ask for this. I didn't want a brain injury. But who does? Who wants this kind of trouble to land in their lap? Who wants to have to work hard for years and years to overcome problems like these?  These blogs, videos and stories I'm reading/watching are about amazingly courageous people.

We're in the season of It's a Wonderful Life.  I mentioned a little about this in my last post. I first saw this movie many years ago and now watch it every year after Thanksgiving.  In fact, for the last bunch of years, I watch it more than once, alone.  My family will no longer tolerate it.  As schmaltzy as this is, it brings me hope. It brings me joy!  There is so much symbolism in this movie for me.  So much!  Even down to the fact that when the depression hit, and it slapped me hard, and I became suicidal and I had my plan in place and I was going to leave my children without a mother (I actually thought they'd be better off without me), my angel was Clarence.  I swear to you!  The real life person that brought me back from the brink of suicide was named Clarence.

Clarence is a friend of a friend.  I knew him a little, not a lot.  I ran into him in Boulder in May of 1999 and he said, "I heard you had a car accident."  He asked me how I was doing.  I said, "Fine." Which was true, because, when you're actively suicidal, you are fine; all the pain and suffering is going to be over soon.  He said, "Well I have a little experience overcoming medical problems, could we get together for lunch some time?"  And that was the beginning of an unbelieveably incredible set of events that brought me out of the darkness.  I will post some selections from the book about this when they're ready. 

Second Chance to Live is a website/blog I ran across today.  I love his phrase: Through my process I have learned a valuable lesson. I am not my traumatic brain injury, my deficits or my limitations.

Here are some statistics I believe are worth sharing:
  • 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression. (The World Health Organization)
  • 18 million of these cases are happening in the United States. (The National Institute of Mental Health)
  • Two-thirds of those suffering from depression never seek treatment.
  • Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. 
  • Almost four times as many men commit suicide as women. (NIMH)
  • Someone takes their life every 16 minutes in the US.
  • Suicide is preventable. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Orleans is LOUD

I was in New Orleans last week for the annual ASHA (American Speech-Language Hearing Association) convention with ten thousand other speech pathologists and audiologists from the US and Canada.

Our hotel was just two blocks from the French Quarter a lovely and amazing historic section of New Orleans that is a must see.

On our first night, we walked the streets a bit looking for a place for dinner. We had a couple of restaurant suggestions, like ACME Oyster House, but there was a very long wait and we were all starving after a long day of travel.

We wandered the streets a while longer and happened upon K Joe's Cajun & Creole Cuisine. What an amazingly wonderful find. It was early in the evening and the restaurant was quiet, although not for long, because we kept waving people in who stopped to read the menu displayed out front.  They were mostly other people from the convention.

Our waiter, Andrew was friendly and efficient. Travis, the owner/GM came over to the table and chatted with us. He brought us freshly made crackers with a hot spicy jelly and cream cheese. I could have eaten just that for dinner. It was amazing.

I had the blackened catfish. It was perfectly moist and the etouffee sauce was tangy and of a good consistency, although, I'm not the best judge of etouffee, being new to Creole cuisine.

Travis promised to show us the upstairs private dining room and the Chris Owens room after our dinner. Wow! Beautiful decor. I'd love to arrange a private party! He showed us the back patio and explained it was still in the development stages; the restaurant had only been opened for two months.
And wow! Chris Owens, what a woman!

We finished up our experience at K-Joes' with Mardi Gras beads, with without expectation (wink).

Then we were off to, were else, Bourbon Street. It was loud, smelly and bawdy. But I had the Bourdon Street experience, minus the Bourbon. Loud music spilled out into the street. Live music. Rock n’ Roll. Jazz. We ended up at a karaoke club, Cat’s Meow

I had just met the ladies I was with. ASHA has a find-a-roommate section of their website for the convention and my roommate (a lovely gal from Boston) had a friend who had a friend who had a friend, etc. There were about eight of us.

Well, the ladies stopped along our walk on Bourbon Street to slug down Hurricanes, a fruity rum kind of drink, I think, in plastic to-go cups. So, by the time we got to the Cat’s Meow, they were feeling just fine. It was funny. They were funny. Very funny. 

New Orleans in LOUD. There’s noise in the streets, the cable cars clang, the riverboats whale, music blares from open windows and patios, even the elevators and airport shuttle blast loud music.

The week was full. There is much to tell. Of significance, though was that I am proud of my profession. There are a lot of people doing a lot of good things. I am proud that we, as a group of people are compassionate and caring. When I talked about the work I do with transgender people, there was only kindness and support. It should always be like that. 

But, it isn’t. While I was in New Orleans, the transgender community had their annual nationwide Transgender Day of Remembrance for honoring people who are murdered by the hands of others because they are transgendered. 

I didn't get much writing done while I was in New Orleans.  I could barely think with all the noise. 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Laptops and lattés

Last Saturday was the day!  My Chapter 1, Saturday June 13, was critiqued.  I meant to post this blog the next day, but that meeting sparked so many ideas, that I’ve been working feverishly all week.  I'm getting Chapter 2 down on paper, but haven’t had a spare neuron to devote to finishing this post (which I began last Saturday).  I decided to stop re-working Chapter 1 so I could let the critique and all the thoughts it created settle into some kind of order.

The Boulder Writers Meetup Group meets in the back room at The Cup on Pearl Street in Boulder every Saturday morning.  The Cup is a hopping place where the cognescenti of Boulder gather with their laptops, lattés and introspective glances to no one in particular.

There were about ten of us and mine was second of the two pieces that were presented.  It worked for me; definitely! I loved hearing the impressions people had of my writing, and what worked and what didn’t work about the chapter.  What was very meaningful to me was how people related to the characters, what they thought of them and how they interpreted their personalities and their relationships to each other.  I was pleased that some people got what I was trying to convey and connected some of the symbolic elements.  Without a doubt, the comments were valuable (whether they were positive or negative) and I will make use of them.  Thank you group!  

But, I was and still am quite overwhelmed.  

Out of the Darkness isn’t actually a story about a car accident; it could have been a story about a death, a diagnosis of cancer or the broken heart of a wife after 20 years of devotion to her husband which ends in him leaving her for a younger woman.

Out of the Darkness is about the events that occur after one single instant that changes the course of a life.  What are those instances that change us forever?  Those moments that are never anticipated and can’t be denied.  It’s about the hurdles the character faces in overcoming the ravages of her brain and body and the journey she takes to repair her life. 

It’s a bad-things-happen-to-good-people story.  It’s a something-goes-amiss story.  It’s a self-against-self story.  

In the Flemish morality play, Everyman (c. 1500), the character is representative of all of us--the human race. When Everyman is summoned by death, he discovers that his friends Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, and Goods will not go with him. It is Good Deeds, whom he previously neglected, who finally supports him and who offers to justify him before the throne of God.  

In literature and drama, the term "everyman" has come to mean an ordinary individual, with whom the audience or reader is supposed to be able to identify, who is often placed in extraordinary circumstances. 

So, is Camryn an Everywoman? Is she an ordinary woman? Camryn is a divorced mother of two children; she’s back at school for an advanced degree, works full time, cleans the house, cooks dinners, does the laundry, makes Halloween costumes for the kids and bakes Christmas cookies each December.  She is summoned by death when she faces the extraordinary task of overcoming a brain injury and chronic pain.  

There are so many of us who suffer.  I ran across a website over the weekend To Write Love on her Arms
We’ve learned that two out of three people who struggle with depression never seek help, and that untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide.  In America alone, it’s estimated that 19 million people live with depression, and suicide is the third-leading cause of death among those 18-24 years old.
The good news is that depression is very treatable, that a very real hope exists in the face of these issues.  We’ve met people who are getting the help they need, sitting across from a counselor for the first time, stepping into treatment, or reaching out to a suicide hotline in a desperate moment.
There are those who suffer and are those who reach out.  Someone reached out to me.  His name is Clarence; it was my George Bailey moment.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Where’s the damn fault line?

Ugh! Yesterday was rough. I’m just so stuck on Chapter 2.  My chapter 1 (draft 2) is being critiqued this Saturday by the Boulder Writer’s Meetup Group. I’ve attended a couple of times now.  It’s a good group.  The critiques are hard, but solid and thoughtful.
I’ve been writing a ton and reading a ton.  I’m currently devouring Lucky, by Alice Sebold.  It’s an amazing story--her first, her memoir.  Wow, my own sad tale pales in comparison!
I’ve been reading a lot of first books/novels/memoirs and then the same author’s second novel and third and so on.  It’s fun to see the progression, the development of their voices, the evolution of their skills.  But somewhere in me, I think my first novel has to be this amazingly brilliant work, and the truth is—I don’t have that skill yet. Ugh!
Winston Churchill once said, ''Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.''
So, I believe I’m somewhere between my book being my lover and my master.  I love it and I am a slave to it. I dream about it (literally and figuratively).  I loathe it. The process of writing, of trying to craft something for which I have little skill, is both a marvelous journey into the souls of these characters, who are asking me to tell their story, and a mad obsession to dance with the monster.
I’m relying on my experience as an avid reader, the fact that I have a story to tell and that I’m a talker (verbal story teller), but writing and writing well is an entirely different thing. I'll never be a Margaret Atwood or Joyce Carol Oates. And I’m trying to do this on top of a full time job/career (which I love and love spending time doing), the family, blah, blah, blah!
A part of me (big part of me) would love to be able to write full time; to spend my early mornings like I do now sitting peacefully (although the brain storm in my mind the last two days hasn’t been any fun) for a few hours; then go for a run; then come back and write/edit for a few more hours; then have lunch with a girlfriend; then come home and read, maybe clean the house (on second thought, no); then have dinner with Kevin make a few phone calls to family and friends; read; then off to sleep.  Yes, I would love my days to be filled this way.
But, in order to do the above, a writer has to be published, so there’s an income. The mortgage, utilities, car payment and student loan debt demand their due. And in order to become published, a writer has to have a completed book.  And in order to have a completed book, a writer has to carefully craft the book.  And then, here I am all over again, back at the beginning.  I doubt that I have the skill to craft this monster.
I’m in a master mind group and we’re reading Think and Grow Rich.    As I was lamenting my current state as a failing writer yesterday morning to Kevin, he reminded me of the story about Darby (an interesting sign and a story for another time) and his gold mine.  The story goes that this character named RH Darby had a dream of finding gold ”out west”  and heads for Colorado.  He gets some equipment and a small crew and has a little success—he finds GOLD.  But the vein dries up quickly and he abandons his dream and sells the equipment to the junk man. Well, the junk man is no dummy. So, he finds himself a mining engineer, uses the equipment he purchased dirt cheap from ol’ Darby and strikes it BIG.  The junk man takes millions of dollars of ore from the mine. As it turns out, Darby was only three feet from the mother lode, but he didn't know it.
The moral of story: never, never, never give up. Find an expert if need be (the mining engineer steered to junk man to the fault line where the gold was). Before success comes, most people are met with temporary defeat.
I’m listening to Kevin and thinking to myself--ok, this is good, I know this, I’ve had this experience before, on all my fingers and toes a hundred times over--I know this experience of defeat and doubt. 
I’ve been given a second chance at life that most people do not have. I’ve had to persevere through some of the roughest things life can throw at someone.  And if I had given up, well, this story would never have been told.
I guess that damn fault line is right around here somewhere—I’m only a mere three feet from success!