Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What a difference a year makes

It was exactly one year ago today that I began this blog.  The night before, I saw the movie “Julie and Julia” and it sparked something. It’s funny how that happens.  There you are minding your own movie-watching business and whack an idea floods in, an idea so powerful that it crowds out all other thoughts. I had difficulty at times concentrating on the movie.  
I’d been working with a spiritual coach, Melodie Matice for about a month. Earlier that day at the end of our session she says, “OK, now, what about the book.”  I was surprised, because we hadn’t talked about the book
The next morning, I walked down to the basement, dusted off two plain boxes and pulled the contents that contained my life from 12 years, two months and five days ago.  My first blog entry was on this very day—August 18th--last year. 
So, the journey began.  Some things develop a life of their own. Some things have a path of their own.  And so it is with this project, this process of telling this tale.
I’ve been busy, very busy.  So much has happened. I’ll spend the next couple of blogs sharing some of this.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Oh, the places you’ll go!

 You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go.

What is Traumatic Brain Injury?
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is caused by a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. The severity of a TBI may range from “mild,” i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness to “severe,” i.e., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury.

How many people have TBI? 
TBIs contribute to a substantial number of deaths and cases of permanent disability annually. Of the 1.4 million who sustain a TBI each year in the United States:
  • 50,000 die;
  • 235,000 are hospitalized; and
  • 1.1 million are treated and released from an emergency department.
The signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be subtle. Symptoms of a TBI may not appear until days or weeks following the injury or may even be missed as people may look fine even though they may act or feel differently. The following are some common signs and symptoms of a TBI:
  • Headaches or neck pain that do not go away;
  • Difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions;
  • Slowness in thinking, speaking, acting, or reading;
  • Getting lost or easily confused;
  • Feeling tired all of the time, having no energy or motivation;
  • Mood changes (feeling sad or angry for no reason);
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping a lot more or having a hard time sleeping);
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, or loss of balance;
  • Nausea;
  • Increased sensitivity to lights, sounds, or distractions;
  • Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily;
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste; and
  • Ringing in the ears.

At the age of sixteen, Julien Modica was an Olympic hopeful.  His sport, pole-vaulting. In 1976, Julien was the Virginia State Champion pole-vaulter and was on his way to greater heights when an accident during one of his practices left him in a coma for thirteen days.  The severe brain injury he suffered left him paralyzed on the left side, unable to walk, and an attention span of a couple of minutes.  But with perseverance and hard work, he completed a BS in physics from  American University in 1987, a Masters in Public Heath from Eastern Virginia Medical school in 2003, a Masters in Public Policy from George Mason University and has gone on to become a tireless advocate for people with brain injuries.
Q:      Tell us what your process involved in the early days of your recovery?  
JM:     Very early recovery was me trying for months (hours every day) to straighten my left arm through various “home made” techniques and while using the wall for balance I stood for minutes and then hours trying to shift my weight from the left side to the right side and then back again.
Q:      When did you know you had “recovered” from your brain injury?
JM:     I fully recovered on three levels: physically, cognitively, and emotionally. After each level, I just instinctively felt whole again. After I fully recovered emotionally, I felt more whole than I had for each of the previous two levels. I can describe my feelings each time through a sense of relief, and each time the feeling was so overwhelming it brought tears to my eyes. I can also remember precisely where I was each time full recovery happened.
Q:      How has your brain injury made you a better person?
JM:     I was very lucky in the sense that pre-morbidly I was a good student and good athlete. After my injury, I had lost everything, from my ability to perform academically to my ability to perform athletically. The path to full recovery I accepted within weeks of my injury is a path, I don’t believe, many people would have attempted. The act of following through on the promise I made to myself has made me a stronger and more mature person than I probably would have been simply because I have now experienced the very, very bottom and managed to pull myself back up.
Q:      Do you have any regrets? 
JM:     Things you knew you would have been able to accomplish if the brain injury hadn’t occurred? My God, I have hundreds of regrets, but the one thing I don’t regret is having my two daughters with their mother. My daughters have grown to be as academically talented as their mother (a developmental pediatrician) and as athletically talented as me. Without my injury, I would have never met their mother and we would not have had our children.
Q:      Nearly all of us who have experienced the devastating effects of a brain injury have had to cope with very dark, hopeless days.  How did you get through yours?  What helped you to keep going?
JM:     Interesting question. The pure challenge of recovery has kept me motivated and out of necessity I quickly learned how to thrive off that challenge. Consequently, I have had very few dark days.
Q:      I know you’ve just begun the long, difficult work of a congressional campaign in the 10th district of Virginia.  Tell us about that .
JM:     I believe the community where I was injured and where I have recovered, the 10th District of Virginia, has been essential to what I have accomplished. My recovery has been touched by Virginians throughout  the 10th District in ways that I will never truly understand and will never be able to repay. It is this sense of community that has made America strong. As a member of Congress, I will bring this same sense of community to the legislative process and, again, make government work for the 10th District of Virginia.
Thank you Julien.  We'll keep following you and touch base again.  To find out move about Julien Modica, please contact him at 703-788-6636 or visit his website or his blog
 You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)
Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!


Oh, the Places You'll Go! (ISBN 978-0-679-80527-4), written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss, 1990. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Openings: Part I--I’m working on my opening paragraph and I could use your help.

The infrequent postings in the last two months have been due to work and family events. I have continued to read and take copious of notes, but actual work on the book has been stalled. I haven’t written a respectable sentence in nearly 6 weeks.

In the last week though, I’ve settled into my routine again of getting up early, having my coffee by the warm fire and writing. Finally, the rough draft of Chapter 2 is complete (well, as complete as anything ever is when you’re writing a book). My goodness, I’ve delivered babies easier than this!

My goal now is to work the first three chapters into a cohesive flowing third draft.

One of the reference books I regularly use is, The Complete Book of Novel Writing by Meg Leder, Jack Heffron and the editors of Writer’s Digest. The chapter, The Fifty-Page Dash by Dave King, an independent editor, discussed the all important “hook” that must grab the reader in the first fifty pages. He goes on the say that the opening pages are where the writer must create the tension to drive the reader onward, that the conflict for the main character must be compelling and link to the plot through subsequent scenes.

After my Chapter 1 was critiqued by the Boulder Writer’s Meetup Group, I put it aside. I only meant for that to be a week or two, but it’s been a couple of months now. One of the critiques was that my Chapter 1, which ends at the scene of the car accident, might be a better chapter five. Um! I’ll give that some thought. Other comments included: the characters have clear, distinct voices, but need to be more interesting, quirky; there’s a gentle sweetness to the chapter, but there needs to be more tension; show some bad behavior about the marriage gone bad; embellish the scenes more; dialogue needs to be more forceful; the chapter is constrained by the facts; it’s not believable how perfect the main character’s life is; the characters are real, believable and comfortable to get to know; great style; there’s a richness to the mother and daughters’ relationships; the chapter opens too slowly, it needs to grab the reader’s attention better; needs more action. I very much appreciated those people who took their time to read and comment on this first chapter. It helps a great deal.

I’m working on my opening paragraph and I could use your help. I’ll be posting four or five samples of an opening paragraph, which may turn out to be the opening page and would like your opinion. The basic question is: does this hook you? Would buy the book based on just this? If it doesn’t hook you, your comments would be most helpful.

The sun is rising. It’ll be a reasonably warm January day. Something got done during today’s writing time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Death changes things for the living.

It’s been a little over four months since this project began—blogging about writing my book Out of the Darkness. And, as one might imagine, life happens, things change. 
Kevin’s mother died on Monday the 14th of December.  His father died on a Monday too.  It was also the 14th of the month.  It was seventeen months ago.
I came late in their lives.  I didn’t get to know them well.  But, in the aftermath--the chores of cleaning up a life or lives--I am getting to know them.  It makes me smile.  Kevin is so much like each of them in different ways. The nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
Kevin’s poem to his mother:


          An anxious breeze
            A fractured, rustling scape,
          Unsettled mind
            Swirling, amorphous shapes.

          The thinning veil
            A sparkling curtain of light,
          The beckoning hands of her lover
            From the other side.
          Resurgent hope and promises to keep
            Melt into a euphoric peace.

          Mesmerized by that dazzling light
            Drawing her softly to the source,
          Sans fright.  She acquiesces willingly
            To its all-enveloping serenity.

One of the themes of the book-Out of the Darkness--is ascension to hope. 
Darkness turns into light/hope.  Death becomes rebirth.  Endings transition into beginnings.
It is my belief that all energy simply transforms itself and that there is never an ending in the way we might think. 
The day after my father died nearly seven years ago now, I saw him.  I did.  I was sitting in the family room in my big chair for my morning meditation.  I opened my eyes and there he stood.  Before me was not the old frail man who had just died, but my father about the age of 40, dark wavy hair, handsome, lean.  He was wearing khaki pants and a white button down shirt and dark loafers.  He didn’t speak to me, but simply smiled. And that smile spoke a thousand words and I was shown briefly, very briefly the beauty, peace and love from the other side.
Kevin’s parents are on that side now. Their human pain and suffering is over.  The anxiety, the fear, the loneliness have been transformed into peace, love and belonging.
Death changes things for the living, because death transforms us.