Thursday, March 27, 2014

Supposed former validation junkie

"I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem."
Practice never makes perfect, it just makes progress towards continued practice.
Beau Barrett, of Evolving Creations, who makes the most stunning boro glass art, posted this original thought on Facebook. It struck a chord. [You can follow Beau's philosophical musings on his blog, Identity Optional.]

Here are some of Beau's amazing beads.

There's a quote I like that goes something like this. "I don't shoot for perfection, I shoot for magic." I thought it was by Walt Disney or possibly Roy Disney, but I couldn't find it at all in a Google search, so maybe I made it up. We talk about perfection, we call some things perfect, but make it your goal and you set yourself up for failure. Shoot for improvement, shoot for excellence, shoot for your best shot, sure, but leave perfection as some mythical ideal. Shoot for magic.

I believe that, but sometimes I have trouble living it.

I'm always learning new things about myself. Some good, some not as good.

I've known for ages that I'm a validation junkie. What I realized only recently is that, for me, a validation fix is amazingly short-lived.

For example, validation for my art comes when someone likes my work enough to purchase it. Compliments are nice too, such as when someone "likes" a bead I post online, but easier to write off. I "like" a lot of beads that I would not have an interest in owning. I "like" beads for many reasons - to encourage fellow bead makers when I see progress in their work, to return the compliment when they've liked something of mine, and OK, sometimes because I seriously admire it.

I'll admit to a dirty little secret here. If I really like something enough to ponder owning it, on Etsy for instance, I don't mark it as a "favorite" because that just might bring it to the attention of others who follow me. I put it in my shopping cart so I can find it again. This doesn't reserve it, others still can buy it until/if I check out and pay for it, but it doesn't flag it for others either.

I have removed "favorite items" and "favorite shops" from my profile but I suspect they'd still show in my activity feed. I do "favorite" shops because that enables newly listed items to show in my activity feed. I like to keep up with what my favorite artisans are creating and suppliers are offering.

So, how long does a validation fix last for me? Less than a day usually. A matter of hours mostly. A really big fix might last longer but I haven't had enough of those to benchmark. So I sell a bead or a frit blend and I get a buzz. Multiple beads and blends a bigger buzz. I pack the order, print out packing slips, purchase postage. Sometimes before I've even made a post office drop, I'm already jonesing.

I've become obsessed with the new Facebook site, Lampwork Beads For Sale. I'm still flummoxed by what sells and what doesn't. I'm sorry to say that I see very indifferent beads selling for nice prices. I'm sorry to say that some of my beads don't sell in a 24-hour window and those that do most often sell for the opening auction bid. And I'm pricing beads to sell, because I have tons of inventory, lots of nice beads, and they aren't doing me a bit of good just sitting in my trays.

So, to ramp things up, I'm running "Bargain BINs" (buy-it-nows) with some of my odds-and-ends focals at prices in the $10-$15 range. I had some success the first time, if you can see past the fact that it takes just as much time, effort and packaging materials to ship a $10 bead as a $40 set. But I get that little validation fix each time someone posts "BIN". I suppose it's a loss-leader too. People will see the quality of my beads and will pay for them when I go back to running auctions and higher-priced BINs.

The only trouble with this strategy is that I have to stay on top of my listings so I can keep my listings cycling. I can have just one listing at a time. I posted a Bargain BIN before I went to bed last night and when I woke up this morning, it had been claimed 8 hours earlier. I have a new one listed now. They are supposed to stay up for 24 hours unless purchased, but if it doesn't sell within a few hours, I have to fight the temptation to pull it and list another one. It might have been purchased by a dark horse, you know.

In case you are wondering why I haven't been talking about my classes, there's a good reason. Spring Break. We're back in session now, but I went ahead and did this week's work for my WWII class over the break so I'm in a lull.

One of our last films were Civilians at War, a documentary narrated by Peter Jennings, one a 15-part ABC series about the rise of the United States as a superpower. I posted these thoughts in the Colgate discussion
I also found that watching this documentary was hard. Often I had to avert my eyes from the images and just listen to the audio. No matter how many times I see those images, it's painful. Many (most?) of us were born into the post Hiroshima-Nagasaki world. I for one have taken America's super-power status for granted. I've comfortably and securely lived my life.

At the beginning of Civilians at War Peter Jennings references "civilized combat." But is there really such a thing? We talk about "fighting fair" and "not hitting below the belt," etc., but what I also heard a lot in this film was, "they did it first." Germany targeted British civilians, therefore Britain could justify or rationalize bombing German civilians.

And at some point, America jumped in too. First it was military and industrial installations, then it was Hamberg and Dresden. You firebomb one village, one town, one city, where do you draw the line? At some point it escalates, and, having crossed that line, it's a short leap to "whatever it takes." All's fair in (love and) war. The boys with the best toys win.

Is it really so ethically different to drop hundreds of smaller bombs on cities throughout Japan or one big definitive war-ending bomb? (OK, two.) Someone was going to drop an atomic bomb. It might as well have been us. Collectively maybe we had the wherewithal to anticipate the consequences, but I'm not sure it wasn't as eye-opening for us as it was for the rest of the world.
I surprised myself, because I wouldn't have predicted I'd ever come around to condoning our nuclear attacks on Japan in 1945. But that's one of the purposes of education, to broaden your perspective, to explore alternative paradigms. In a perfect world of course, no bombs should have been dropped at all, no hand raised in anger. We would all have just been nice and gotten along.

The Day After Trinity was the other "atomic film" we were assigned. It's a 1980 documentary primarily about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who led the project to build the first atomic bomb. The plutonium fission bomb was tested in July 1945 in New Mexico, at a site Oppenheimer named Trinity.

One of our weekly discussion prompts was to explore the reactions of the scientists and military personnel upon witnessing the Trinity test. Here are the thoughts I posted.
Reactions varied greatly, from elation, to depression, to just another day's work.

It's curious that Fermi's betting pool about the power of the Trinity explosion ranged from zero, (i.e., no explosion) to the equivalent of 45,000 kilotons of TNT. The winning bet was 18,000 kilotons of TNT equivalent by Isidor Rabi, whose wager was based on the fact that all lower bets had already been taken.

Only one scientist, Edward Teller, lost because his bet was higher than the actual power of the explosion. Oppenheimer himself reportedly bet on a mere 300 kilotons.

Different reactions can be chalked up to different personalities, values, world views, contexts, backgrounds and visions. During the Manhattan Project, I think all the Los Alamos scientists had a sort of tunnel vision, to get the gadget designed and engineered. Having spent years of six- and seven-day weeks driving toward that one goal, it makes sense that all the next steps, testing and deployment, were only logical. Why go through those years to create something and then, when it worked even better than their wildest dreams, just walk away.

Writing this I thought about the story in the news about the Copenhagen zoo that has been so roundly criticized for euthanizing a healthy young giraffe (and feeding its body to the lions - in public) and then euthanizing four lions, including two cubs. Harsh as that sounds, neither giraffes nor lions are endangered species. In the wild they'd be culled by natural predators. We think nothing of thinning out wildlife such as deer when they get too prolific and disruptive. We eat poultry and meat raised to be butchered as expeditiously as they can be brought to market.

Perhaps the zoo could have been more discreet about its actions, less unapologetic in its attitude But as I thought it through, my initial reaction of outrage changed to reluctant acceptance.

So much in life is a matter of context.
Another discussion prompt was the trajectory of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life subsequent to the Trinity test. This was my contribution.
Oppenheimer was 41 at the time of the Trinity test. After the war it seems like he drifted a bit, transitioning back to theoretical physics from work on the bomb. He briefly returned to teaching, but then played to his strength, gathering scientists and intellectuals to tackle research questions that had been set aside during the war years.

In the late '40s he served as advisor to the Atomic Energy Commission, lobbying for nuclear weapons control and opposing development of a fusion bomb. The early '50s found him embroiled in various scientific controversies, as well as investigations regarding his communist affiliations. In 1953 his security clearance was revoked.

In the last 13 years of his short life, he continued to speak, write and work with physics until his death in 1967. One of the most poignant moments in the 1980 documentary The Day After Trinity is footage of a 1965 interview with Oppenheimer where he is asked for his opinion about the U.S. initiating talks to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

"It's 20 years too late, Oppenheimer said. "It should have been done the day after Trinity."
Spoken like a man with some profound regrets? We can't rewind time and un-drop Fat Man and Little Boy. Undoubtedly it was late, but maybe it wasn't too late. Because never would really have been the ultimate never.

"I woke up this mornin' and none of the news was good
And death machines were rumblin' 'cross the ground where Jesus stood
And the man on my TV told me that it had always been that way
And there was nothin' anyone could do or say

And I almost listened to him
Yeah, I almost lost my mind
Then I regained my senses again
And looked into my heart to find

That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Well maybe I'm only dreamin' and maybe I'm just a fool
But I don't remember learnin' how to hate in Sunday school
But somewhere along the way I strayed and I never looked back again
But I still find some comfort now and then

Then the storm comes rumblin' in
And I can't lay me down
And the drums are drummin' again
And I can't stand the sound

But I believe there'll come a day when the lion and the lamb
Will lie down in peace together in Jerusalem

And there'll be no barricades then
There'll be no wire or walls
And we can wash all this blood from our hands
And all this hatred from our souls

And I believe that on that day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem."

(Steve Earle)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A watched pot boils eventually

"And when you feel like this try to imagine that we're all like frail boats on the sea."

It's time for the eighth - and possibly the last - Bead Soup bead exchange and blog hop.

Bead Soup is orchestrated by Lori Anderson who writes a blog called Pretty Things and also the blog for the Bead Soup Blog Party.

This will be my third year as a participant.

My first partner was Margot Potter of The Impatient Crafter and DIY [Do it Yourself] Doyenne fame

Read about my first souploits here.

Last year my partner was Heather Otto, practically my neighbor, living on a farm near Austin Texas. Heather writes a blog called The Crafthopper.

See what I did with my second bead soup here.

My partner this year is Deborah Apodaca and you can read more about her and see the soup she sent me below.

Organizing the Bead Soup exchange is a gargantuan task. This year the blog party includes 490 bead lovers and spans 4 continents, 30 countries and 48 states. Participants have to be paired up, taking into consideration those who only use seed beads, those who won't or will ship internationally, and not pairing up previous partners. Sadly, Lori has been struggling with some serious health issues for the past few years and she recently made this announcement.
I care for you all, and it's important to me that you have a good time with this party. I believe it will be the last one for a while. I have ideas to keep the Soup tradition alive, but without swapping next year. It's a monumental task to do pairings anymore, so we'll take a break and do fun, related hops from your own stash.
Swapping and getting to know your partner is a big part of the fun of Bead Soup and I'll miss it. That said, I completely understand Lori's decision. So I'm planning to enjoy the heck out of this year's party.

My partner is Deborah Apodaca of Deborah Apodaca Designs and she writes a blog called, naturally, Deborah Apodaca Designs.

Deborah is a self-described "Carolina girl" who lives in Port Lucie, Florida, which happens to be the spring training home of the New York Mets. She and I found a lot of common ground in our career paths and creative challenges, but the funniest part is this. She mentioned that her husband "Bob" is a professional baseball coach. Bob Apodaca. Bob Apodaca. It sounded so familiar.

So I turned to my resident baseball trivia expert and asked Neil if he knew a pro baseball coach named Bob Apodaca. He did. In fact he knew a lot about him, including the fact that he pitched for the Mets for about five years in the 1970s. I might even have seen him pitch, since I lived a bike ride away from Shea Stadium and went to many, many ballgames with my dad. Neil also knew that he followed Mel Stottlemyre, Neil's idol, as Mets pitching coach in the 1990s.

OK, Bead Soup. Deb sent me some lovely bead ingredients. They came in this adorable box.

Deborah wrote me this very cute note.

First there were two sizes of these coin beads, made of some kind of brown stone. I love them. They are the color of my favorite food group, coffee.

Next, there were some beautiful green glass coin beads with iridescent silvery dots. These are top and front drilled, so I'm going to have to think (hard) about the best way (some way) to use them. There was also a handful of sweet little brown shell beads.

And the best for last. Deborah sent me a fantastic sterling silver clasp and a delightful little green cinnabar fish focal.

I'm very happy with my soup. I have some ideas already. Technically I only have to use the focal and clasp, and not necessarily in the same piece, but I always try to use most of my bead soup beads. I will mix in some beads from my own hoard and I'll probably try to match that pretty green fish with some of my handmade glass beads. Fun!

I'm pretty sure I'm going to use the focal and clasp in an asymmetrical necklace, maybe with the little shells, and then do something special with the other beads.

Of course since the reveal date and blog hop aren't until May 3, I have weeks to go before I have to do anything but imagine the possibilities. It would be sad, really, to finish something now and not be able to show it.

Now, here is the soup I sent to Deborah. You'll notice we picked a common theme color and the same style of clasp, although the ones I sent are copper.

Read Deborah's post about me and my beads here.

And please mark your calendars now and come back for the blog hop party on May 3. Think about it. 490 blogs full of artisan bead creations. That's some hot soup you won't want to miss.

I can tell by the way you're walking
That you don't want company
I'll let you alone and I'll let you walk on
And in your own good time you'll be

Back where the sun can find you
Under the wise wishing tree
And with all of them made we'll lie under the shade
And call it a jubilee

I can tell by the way you're talking
That the past isn't letting you go
But there's only so long you can take it all on
Then the wrong's gotta be on its own

And when you're ready to leave it behind you
You'll look back and all that you'll see
Is the wreckage and rust that you left in the dust
On your way to the jubilee

I can tell by the way you're listening
That you're still expecting to hear
Your name being called like a summons to all
Who have failed to account for their doubts and their fears

They can't add up to much without you
And so if it were just up to me
I'd take hold of your hand, saying come hear the band
Play your song at the jubilee

I can tell by the way you're searching
For something you can't even name
That you haven't been able to come to the table
Simply glad that you came

And when you feel like this try to imagine
That we're all like frail boats on the sea
Just scanning the night for that great guiding light
Announcing the jubilee

And I can tell by the way you're standing
With your eyes filling with tears
That it's habit alone keeps you turning for home
Even though your home is right here

Where the people who love you are gathered
Under the wise wishing tree
May we all be considered then straight on delivered
Down to the jubilee

'Cause the people who love you are waiting
And they'll wait just as long as need be
When we look back and say those were halcyon days
We're talking 'bout jubilee

(Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jubilee)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Butterflies in my brain

"And that's all yours, that's the guide, that's the map, so tell me, where does the arrow point to, who invented roses?"

I've had a hell of a time adjusting to the change to Daylight Saving Time.

That's unlike me.

I adjust to time zone changes of more than an hour fairly quickly.

But there's something about being in my routine and yet also being out of it that's disconcerting.

Of course, since Neil just went back to work today, I'm really only now really getting back into my routine.

Usually I sleep from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sometimes I stay up later, but I still get up at the same time. I don't set an alarm clock. I just wake up. And I like it that way.

But right now it's still dark at 7 a.m.

For the first few days after we sprang forward, I woke up at 8 a.m. when the light was saying it was 7 a.m.

Since then I've been getting up between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. Since I manage to goof away the usual amount of time with coffee and cats in the mornings, I feel like I've been losing a slice of my day.

Strangely enough, I still get tired at 11 p.m. and have no trouble falling asleep then. Maybe I just need some extra sleep right now. Maybe the 12-day hospital adventure with Neil taxed me more than I realized.

I've been easing back into my routine of beads and treadmill and later this week, shelter cats. I finished a Carry-a-Bead project for Beads of Courage, 50 pairs of beads for the NHL Phoenix Coyotes. Brick red, desert sand, black and white. Quickie iPhone photo.

I also took on another project for BOC. I had some doubts but I want them to keep asking me so I hate to say no. This project is called the Design Challenge. BOC chooses 10 hospitals and holds an art contest, asking the kids to create a bead design for the theme "if hope was a bead ... what would it look like?"

An artist is then recruited to interpret the winning design in a bead and make 25 of them. Five of the beads are given to the "top designer" child and family. One goes to a challenge sponsored by Softflex, one goes to another sponsor, Jewelry Television, one is kept for the BOC archives and the remaining seventeen are sold to raise funds to support BOC.

There's an honorarium and a lot of publicity and exposure for the artist.

Sure, I said. No problem, I said.

This is the design.

I honestly thought it wouldn't be that hard. We agreed it would be best to do it as a design on a tab bead. I've made butterflies on tab beads before.

Four beads in and struggling, I sent a photo and said it was my best effort and I wasn't sure it was good enough. I knew they needed one on a short deadline and I didn't want to waste their time. They said there was a little leeway on the time.

Four more beads in, I sent another photo of the better two and offered to mail them in. If they couldn't use them, they could keep them as donations for the Act of Courage program. I got the green light to keep going, but I was frustrated that they weren't as good as I thought they should be.

As a result, I've ended each of my last few torch sessions feeling angry.

The one thing (in addition to Neil and my children of course) that makes me truly happy has the power to make me truly unhappy.

Here are the two I sent in. Another down and dirty iPhone photo.

Oh yes, they asked me to add the word "hope" on the back side of the beads. That should be easy for me, but I've screwed it up six ways from Tuesday, from grabbing the wrong color stringer (a green that bled) to starting to write "hope" but writing "hove" instead, because I've written "love" on beads before. Have you ever tried to make a 'v" into a "p"? No, probably not.

The butterflies are getting better. I've done a dozen now and I think I've worked out the best way to do them. I tried working in the middle of the mandrel, but wound up burning my finger, because while I was search for the right color on my bench I must have put the tip of the mandrel in the flame. When I change hands, well, ouch. I made a really awful sound. Even with no one near enough to hear me.

I finally tried outlining the butterfly first and working in, instead of working out and then outlining, and that was a breakthrough. So now I think I'm ready to start the final 24 in earnest. But each one is stressful and it's so easy to hose them up when they are almost done that I'm not having fun.

The butterflies aren't the whole reason I've found myself feeling angry after torching.

It's a combination of things.

I'm angry because I'm unsatisfied with the beads I made. Although sometimes when I take them out of the kiln in the morning, I see that they really aren't that bad and some are even nice.

I'm angry because, no matter how much time I spend making beads, I feel like I don't have enough time to make beads.

I'm angry because I'm letting other things in my life slide because I spend so much time making beads.

I'm angry because,no matter how many times I push the negative thoughts away, I despair of becoming a shining star, to take a place among the lampwork legends. Most of my life, I've been OK with being competent, adequate, good enough. I've made my peace with not being outstanding or exceptional. I don't know why this is different. I don't know when I made excellence mandatory for myself.

I'm angry because my hands hurt. My arm hurts. My neck hurts. And that's just how it is. It's the price I pay if I want to keep making beads.

Which I do.

There's a new Facebook page called Lampwork Beads for Sale. Anyone can post an auction for a minimum of 24 hours. You may only have one active auction at a time. You can have a "buy it now" price that is ended by a bid, or not ended.

It's a no brainer that the best way to leverage this venue is to have attractive "buy it now" pricing so your auction ends quickly with a sale and you can post a new auction. On the down side, playing by the rules, you have to let your auction run for 24 hours, even if your item gets no bids or comments. Comments bump your beads to the top again. You can interact with anyone who comments but you can only bump your own bead once a day.

I've sold two items, both at the opening bid and had several auctions end without a bid. I've become obsessed with looking at what beads are selling, checking the page compulsively and trying to figure out what captures a buyer's heart. And I'm baffled. Yes, some of the beads that sell quickly for good money are exquisite. But others, well, I don't see what makes them attractive in comparison to mine.

So I guess, all things considered, my ego is alive and well.

"I don't go to therapy to find out if I'm a freak
I go and I find the one and only answer every week
And it's just me and all the memories to follow
Down any course that fits within a fifty minute hour

And we fathom all the mysteries explicit and inherent
When I hit a rut she says to try the other parent
And she's so kind, I think she wants to tell me something
But she knows that it's much better if I get it for myself

And she says ooh, aah, what do you hear in these sounds?
And ooh, aah, what do you hear in these sounds?

I say, I hear a doubt, with the voice of true believing
And the promises to stay, and the footsteps that are leaving
And she says, Oh, I say, What? she says, "Exactly"
I say, what, you think I'm angry, does that mean you think I'm angry?

She says, look, you come here every week with jigsaw pieces of your past
It's all on little sound bytes and voices out of photographs
And that's all yours, that's the guide, that's the map
So tell me, where does the arrow point to, who invented roses?

And ooh, aah, what do you hear in these sounds?
And ooh, aah, what do you hear in these sounds?

And when I talk about therapy, I know what people think
That it only makes you selfish and in love with your shrink
But oh, how I loved everybody else
When I finally got to talk so much about myself

And I wake up and I ask myself what state I'm in
And I say, well I'm lucky, 'cause I am like East Berlin
I had this wall and what I knew of the free world
Was that I could see their fireworks and I could hear their radio

And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing
And they'd know that I was scared, they would know that I was guessing
But the wall came down and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling and their calling out just like me

And ooh, aah, the stories that nobody hears
And ooh, aah,I collect these sounds in my ears

And ooh, aah, that's what I hear in these sounds
That's what I hear
That's what I hear in these sounds."

(Dar Williams)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A little cat chaos

"Come to me now and rest your head for just five minutes, everything is good."

Amid all the chaos of Neil's appendectomy and intestinal obstruction, I had another emotional trial. My small cat, Zamboni, was a very sick kitty.

When Neil came home from work on that "fateful" Monday a couple of weeks ago, on the day he wound up in the ER, he emptied his pockets onto the kitchen island and changed from his work clothes to sweatpants and a jersey. One of the things in his pockets was a small silver pillbox, just big enough to hold a couple of Advil. Or three.

I was in the ER with him until midnight, waiting for him to go to a room, and when I finally got home, there were some pieces of what looked like an aspirin tablet on the floor. I picked them up and tossed them in the trash. I was too exhausted to think any more about it.

In the morning I headed right back to the hospital. Neil had his appendectomy that afternoon. After the doctor spoke to me, and while Neil was in Recovery, I ran home to feed the cats. I cleaned up some cat yak. That wasn't unusual. Loki, my big cat, frequently barfs up another cat. Then I went back to the hospital. When I got home about 9 p.m. I ate some dinner, picked up some more bits of pills and cleaned up more yak.

Then I went upstairs. There was cat yak on the landing and more in the hallway. I came back down and that's when I saw Zamboni vomiting up what looked like white foam. My vital signs blipped momentarily. I Googled cats and Ibuprofen. What I read was all bad. Ibuprofen is toxic for cats. It can harm their livers, destroy their kidneys, cause seizures. I was shaking.

I called my vet, got the answering service, left a message and got a call back from the vet on call just minutes later. He told me to take Zam to the 24-hour vet clinic. Ironically, it is right next door to the hospital. I crated Zam and off we went.

I filled out forms and handed over my credit card. We waited while triage was done on a dog that had been hit by a car. Then Zamboni was taken back for an exam. The vet recommended lab work. I handed over my credit card again.

Then I waited in the waiting room. I briefly considered running over to the hospital and telling Neil but I decided he didn't need to worry about anything but getting well just then. I tried to read but was distracted when another cat was brought in for what the owner thought was a bite by another animal. The owner was a hot mess, a lot like me. We talked each other off the ledge to pass the time.

Zamboni dodged a bullet. His labs were normal. He got a dose of anti-nausea meds and some hydration and advise to bring him to our vet the next day for a recheck. It was 1 a.m. when we got home.

I brought Zamboni to our vet for labs the following day and again they were normal. We went home with four tablets of anti-nausea meds for use as needed.

On Thursday Zam started vomiting again. I managed to get him to swallow a pill, after which he drank a lot of water. And vomited again. I wasn't sure if he'd absorbed any of the anti-nausea medicine. I watched him for a while. He made a valiant effort and managed to upchuck a wad of chewed-up blue rubber band.

After that the vomiting abated. Further crisis was averted. I was a dishrag of emotion, but we'd weathered this storm.

I couldn't lose Zamboni. He's only 20 months old. He has so much personality and he's still a baby, really. He's small and I have a feeling he may be a perpetual kitten. I just have to keep him alive.

In the meantime, he's back to playing his favorite game, String Theory. He loves ribbons and strings. He carries them around all over the house. He brings them to you and wants you to throw them so that he can bring them to you again so you can throw them again. I've never had a cat play "Fetch" before.

Now if I could figure out how to stop him from dragging them through his water bowl, I'd be just a little happier.

But all is well with the world again.

"I'll light the fire, you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today
Staring at the fire for hours and hours while I listen to you
Play your love songs all night long for me, only for me

Come to me now and rest your head for just five minutes, everything is good
Such a cozy room, the windows are illuminated by the
Sunshine through them, fiery gems for you, only for you

Our house is a very, very fine house with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy cause of you

I'll light the fire, you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today."

(Graham Nash)

Friday, March 7, 2014

A wrinkle in the continuum

"As sure as time, as sure as snow, as sure as moonlight and as stars, the fallow times will fall away."

On Monday February 24 I was out in my studio making beads when I heard a car pull up in the driveway. It was Neil.

This never happens.

He never comes home in the middle of the day.

He got out of the car and came into the garage and said he wasn't feeling well.

He's not sick often, beyond an occasional cold that doesn't slow him down much. Last September he spent a Sunday in bed, sick to his stomach, but it passed, and by Monday he was OK to go to work.

I figured this was something similar. I asked if I could finish the bead I was working on. I thought he might want some privacy, to rest and not be bothered.

I finished what I was doing and shut down the torch, cycled the kiln to the annealing program and went inside. Neil was in the bathroom. I knocked and asked if I could come in and grab my workout clothes.

He said something like, don't leave, please.

He had abdominal pain and his stomach was swollen. He said he felt bloated.

Neither one of us was sure what to do next. Should we go to an urgent care clinic, such as the one that treated my cat bite? Go to an emergency room, and if so, which one?

In the end I called his regular doctor and spoke to the nurse, who said to come over and they'd work him in.

In retrospect it wasn't our best move. But I drove him there and he walked in and I filled out the paperwork. He was in so much pain that he asked me to ask if there was anywhere he could lie down. They put us in a room, but he couldn't lie down, so he stood and leaned forward against a cabinet.

I wasn't terrified. His color was not bad, not white or gray. He was actually quite pink but that may have been because he played softball in the Sunday afternoon sun just the day before.

He asked me to ask for a basin, which arrived at the same time as the doctor appeared. I said which do you need more, the basin or the doctor. He said, the doctor. After a cursory exam the doctor recommended we go to the emergency room at St. Luke's because they'd have the necessary diagnostic equipment.

We made it there and Neil got himself inside. I did the talking. The receptionist looked at me and said, there's a long wait to see a doctor. I said, I don't even know what that means. We didn't exactly have a choice, we couldn't say, well. in that case, we'll just go home. I said, we'd wait. Someone offered Neil a wheelchair but he could barely sit.

He was called for triage fairly quickly, and went through the drill of temperature, blood pressure and questions. They sent us back to the waiting room. Time passed. Other patients were coughing and talking on cell phones, some were watching TV. After a while we were called and taken to an examining room in the ER, really a sort of curtained alcove. We saw an ER doctor who ordered a CT scan and gave Neil two bottles of contrast beverages to drink. The nurse drew blood and got an IV started and Neil got some pain meds and anti-nausea meds.

Neil was only able to get down one bottle of the contrast serum, which the doc said would be OK, and he was wheeled off for a CT scan. Then we waited for the results to be ready and reviewed. The doctor then ordered a second CT scan to be done an hour later. Once again we waited. And waited. The staff was nice but we got no information unless I stood in the hallway until I got someone's attention. The shift changed, the doctor said goodbye and we waited for the new doctor who took her freaking time.

When we finally saw her, she had little to say except that she had called another doctor who was going to admit us. I mean admit Neil. The admitting doctor came and told us it was appendicitis and not a whole lot more except that they were waiting for a room to be available.

It was midnight by then, and I hadn't closed the blinds at home or left a light on or fed the cats. I was stretched to the end of my rope by then, Neil was getting fluids and pain meds, and there seemed no point in both of us waiting until he was moved to a room. So I went home, did what I had to do, took a hot bath and went to bed.

In the morning I went to the hospital and found Neil in room 414. Dr. Moore, a surgeon, came to see us and said Neil would have a laparoscopic appendectomy that afternoon. When they came to take Neil to surgery, they moved me to a waiting room and told me where to find coffee. It was stone cold coffee, to go with a stone cold waiting room, where I waited, totally alone. I read for a while and then, when it seemed like I should have heard something by then, I switched to pacing.

Dr. Moore finally came out and said all had gone well, and that Neil was in the recovery area and would be for at least an hour. (I think I remember that he said the appendix had not ruptured, although if he did, he later backpedaled on that story.) I went home, closed blinds, turned on lights, fed cats, and headed back, arriving just as Neil had been wheeled back in and transferred into bed.

It was Tuesday afternoon. Neil's abdomen was as swollen as before. He said he felt like he had a blowfish inside him, and he named it Hootie. You have to keep your sense of humor.

Now the days became a blur of trips back and forth between hospital and home. Neil could only have ice chips until his digestive system kicked back in, and it took its sweet time.

I would rather have been the one in the bed. I think I'm a better patient than a caregiver. I'm sorry to admit that I coped with my stress and fatigue and fear by being detached when I should have been compassionate. Sure, I did many things to help keep Neil comfortable but at some level I kept feeling like he should be feeling better, trying harder.

After all, men have a reputation for being terrible patients. I was a bit surprised because I think of Neil as stoic and I said as much, which hurt his feelings. I also said things like, you don't get your strength back lying in bed. God, when did I turn into my mother?

On Saturday there was enough action in Neil's system to start him on clear liquids. From there he progressed to full liquids, although he ate almost nothing. On Sunday he got as far as soft foods and managed an egg and a couple of bites of toast, and just as I got home for a break Neil called and said he was being discharged.

I went back and after lots of paperwork and more waiting, he was allowed to walk out and I picked him up at the exit. I was so happy he was home but it was premature happiness. He spend an uncomfortable evening but managed to drink a bottle of Gatorade and eat a few graham crackers.

I was exhausted and could barely keep my eyes open, so I went to bed first and an hour later Neil woke me to help him get to bed. I'm not at my most-patient-and-kind best an hour after falling asleep but we got him into bed and I went back to sleep. He had a tortured night, terrifying dreams, but I kept waking up too, and each time I listened to his breathing. He seemed to be sleeping all right, so I'd fall asleep again.

On Monday, March 3, I was up early, and after having my coffee, I went into the bedroom to see how Neil was doing. He was awake, sitting up, holding a basin, and that's when the vomiting started. After he'd finished, he felt a little better, but the bloating was worse than ever. Once again we sat in bed, wondering about the best course of action. We could have gone straight back to the ER, but we both had the troubling concern that he'd not been properly diagnosed in the first place.

We decided to call the gastroenterologist who'd done Neil's two colonoscopies, and the office worked him into the schedule. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Dr. Fiman just called Dr. Moore and (doubtlessly using doctor magic) got him on the phone. He sent us back to the ER. I asked if we had to go through the whole admittance ordeal again, and he said that basically that was the only way to get in. He did call ahead and told us to tell the ER staff that Dr. Fiman had sent us to be readmitted. From his lips to St. Luke's ear. You could tell he believed. We could only hope.

The same receptionist was on duty and I said, we're back. Things did move a little bit faster this time, as we went through triage and into a room in the ER, but the waiting room was deserted, so the efficiency could have been coincidental.

As we got into room in the ER, Neil started vomiting into the basin he was clutching. That was a wise move because it got us some immediate attention. He was whisked off for another CT scan, and while we waited for the results the nurse inserted an NG tube into Neil's stomach and turned on a suction machine. A copious stream of acid yellow fluid immediately began to flood out through the tube, into a clear plastic jar that was bigger than the biggest super-sized drink cup you could imagine.

Eventually the ER doctor came back and said Neil had a blockage or obstruction in his small intestine. I fired a million questions at him. The ER doctor (who was about 28 years old) looked at me and said, those are all very good questions. You can ask the surgeon when you see him tomorrow.

Evidently Neil wasn't critical enough for Dr. Moore to see that night, so now it was a matter of waiting for a room to be ready (again). It was shift change, which set us back at least an extra hour, and I was tense about the house and the cats again, and wanting to go home. Neil wanted me to stay until he got into a room, so I did, regrettably not with the greatest grace. OK, I was frazzled, worried and worn out, I hadn't eaten and I wanted to go home. I cried a few tears. But I waited. I wouldn't leave unless he said it would be OK.

Truthfully, my mood swings during this entire period were impressive. At one point in the ER, after Neil got the tube, he thought he couldn't talk, so he was trying to communicate by charades and I was making outrageous guesses at what his hand signals meant and laughing hysterically. I was calm at times and depressed at times and restless at times and nurturing at times and impatient at times and weepy at times.

On Tuesday morning Dr. Moore said we'd keep the tube in, keep suctioning, wait a day and reevaluate, with surgery being the fall-back plan. On Tuesday I Googled "bowel obstruction surgery" which was a mistake. Bad things can happen.

Neil's daughter came and spent time with him in the afternoon, so I went and walked on the treadmill. I've said this before, I'm a creature of habit, and being out of my routines makes me a bit crazy.

On Tuesday night I had a meltdown because Neil was talking about his will and where to find his online passwords. It was the first time I felt really scared. Right before I left, Neil felt some action in his digestive system, which seemed like a hopeful sign, so I went home feeling slightly comforted. Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. Neil texted me, Hootie is on the run! I texted back, Hooray!

Dr. Moore seemed a little surprised that things were going well (cough). He ordered the tube to be kept in another day though. Neil finally started feeling improvement, so I kept my hair appointment in the afternoon. Thursday morning the tube came out and Neil got moved from ice chips to liquids. We'd gotten this far before, but this time Neil said he had some appetite. By Thursday afternoon he'd moved to full liquids. And I got to go to my photography class.

And now it's Friday and it might just be the prettiest day of the year so far and Neil still is waiting for the doctor, to find out if he can go home or if he will have to stay another night and prove he can handle soft foods. Unlike last time, this time he feels ready to go home. I'm at home, still having wild mood swings. I can't live my life but I can't sit in the hospital room all day either. I'm in limbo, which may be my least favorite place to be.

I'm so far behind in everything, my class assignments, bead projects, walking on the treadmill, visiting the shelter cats and posting my musings here.

But Neil is better, the end of this horror show is within reach, and I know how damn lucky I am, we are. I know this could have been so much worse. So I'm going to grab my camera and take a walk around the lake while the sun is smiling.

"I will learn to love the fallow way
When winter draws the valley down
And stills the rivers in their storm
And freezes all the little brooks

Time when our steps slow to the song
Of falling flakes and crackling flames
When silver stars are high and still
Deep in the velvet of the sky

The crystal times, the silent times
I will learn to love their quietness
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I will learn to love the fallow times

I will learn to love the fallow way
When all my colors fade to white
And flying birds fold back their wings
Upon my anxious wanderings

The sun has slanted all her rays
Across the vast and harvest plain
My memories mingle in the dawn
I dream of joyful vagabonds

The crystal times, the silent times
I will learn to love their quietness
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I will learn to love the fallow times

No drummer comes across the plain
To tell of triumph or of pain
No word of far off battles cry
To draw me out or draw me nigh

I will learn to love the fallow way
And gather in the patient fruits
And after autumn's blaze and burn
I'll know the feel of still deep roots

But nothing seen to do or need
That crack the ice in frozen ponds
And slumbering in winter's folds
Have dreams of green and blue and gold

I will learn to love the fallow way
And listen for the blossoming
Of my own heart once more in spring

As sure as time, as sure as snow
As sure as moonlight and as stars
The fallow times will fall away
The sun will bring an April day
And I will yield to summer's way."

(Judy Collins)