Writing on Wednesday: Dear Cherry Bomb

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Dear Cherry Bomb,

I am so sorry to have abandoned you for so many weeks. You must be feeling like an abused or neglected child about now. Especially with your middle chapters sliced open and hanging there with dozens of revisions in progress. I can barely stand to look at your pages, wounded with red ink and coffee cup stains all over them.

Can you hang in there for a couple of more weeks? I don’t think I can help you until I get stronger. You know how they say to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others? Well, I’m having trouble with my oxygen mask. Some days it works better than others, but I’m just not ready to reach out. Please forgive me.

When sit at a table to try to work, my leg propped up on pillows on a chair, it’s a race to see which will happen first. Will my leg start throbbing or will my butt get numb? Or will my neck begin to hurt? And when I type, the damaged nerves from my cervical spine travel down my right arm to my index finger, which is perpetually numb, tingly, or cold. It’s all a fucking distraction from the work that needs to be done.

All I can do is try to secure that oxygen mask a little better each day. Yesterday I read a good piece by international literary agent and marketing expert, Linda Langton, that got me excited about getting back to work on your sagging middle: “Writing Tip: How to Write the Middle of Your Book.” It was short and point on.

And the same day I received an ARC (advance reader’s copy) of my friend, Julie Cantrell’s new novel, When Mountains Move. I haven’t started reading it, but just holding it in my hands is exciting. Maybe I can read and review it while I’m still getting my strength back. We’ll see.

So, please don’t give up on me, CB. I’ll be back to help you soon. And together, we’re going to make you into something exceptional. I promise.

Love,

Susan

Mental Health Monday: Three Weeks In…

old-woman-walker-10045597The wreck happened three weeks ago last night, and the first surgeries were three weeks ago today. Follow up surgeries were one week ago today. Friends (one is an RN) keep telling me that the surgery itself was more trauma to my body, and it takes a long time to recover from the anesthesia. I’m on half the pain meds I was on a week ago, which is encouraging. But what I didn’t see coming was the exhaustion.

 

I’m used to getting stuff done. Lots of stuff. Every day. My mental health has always depended on it. I equate my value with production. So when depression rears its ugly head I often manage not to cave simply because I know the price I’ll pay if I shut down. I never allow myself to just crash. A day in which I do “nothing” is extremely rare.

 

And so I find myself in uncharted territory. I get up off my rented hospital bed and using my walker I make it into the bathroom, and then into the breakfast room. I sit and prop up my leg and open my laptop. Waves of nausea and exhaustion wash over me. I sit and wait for a second wind. Maybe I spend a few minutes on email and Facebook. Or I place an online order  (we’re running out of K-cups for our Keurig coffee maker) or read a blog post or two that I follow. Just as I’m warming up to do some serious writing, I find my eyes physically closing.

 

CasaGirlFriends and family are with me 24/7… I think I’ll graduate to being able to be alone for short periods of time soon. But right now I can’t yet figure out how to carry a glass of water or a plate of food from the kitchen to the table using my walker. Especially since I can’t put any weight on the right foot and have to hop on the left one. I alternately feel like a child or an old woman.

 

So today I’ll celebrate a couple of milestones. This morning I gave myself my anti-coagulation shot (in the abdomen) for the first time. And yesterday I washed my hair sitting on the shower bench. My daughter was nearby with towels and all that, but I did the washing. Baby steps. And now my eyes are closing, and so is this post. Maybe I’ll have more energy by Wednesday. Thanks so much for reading.

Faith on Friday: Silver Linings Playbook Part 1, “Hope”

HopeForgive me, readers, for I have sinned. It’s been three weeks since my last blog post. Those of you who are on Facebook understand my absence. Others have sent emails asking if I’m okay and why I’m not blogging, since I’ve been posting three times a week pretty faithfully since August of 2007.

This will be the first of a series of posts in which I do a bit of explaining and a bit more reflecting on the life-changing car wreck I had on July 7. I’ve been thinking about what I want the focus of these posts to be, and I’ve decided on “Hope.” My precious daughter, Beth, who flew home from Denver to help take care of me for a week, made me this wonderful Build-A-Bear (complete with foot cast and crutches and neck brace) and named her “Hope.” Many cards and emails I’ve received have mentioned hope, including that wonderful verse from Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches on the soul.” So I wake up every morning and ask God to help me hold on to the hope that I will get stronger each day. So far He has not disappointed me.

Without going into too many details (maybe in a later post, maybe not) I was driving on country roads late on Sunday night, July 7, between Waterhole Branch and Fairhope, Alabama, when I ended up in a head-on collision with an ambulance. We are still sorting out the how and why of the wreck, but I was returning to my hotel after an evening at Joe Formichella and Suzanne Hudson’s home, where I had dinner with a group of writers and musicians who are being featured in an upcoming book, The Shoe Burning’ Anthology: Stories of Southern Soul. My essay, “Eat, Drink, Repeat,” is included in the anthology. Our publicist and publisher were there to oversee the shooting of a marketing video for the book the next day. I’m sad to have missed the video, but I’m honored to be included in the book with these amazingly talented folks. And I’m even more thankful to be alive. And that no one else was hurt. There were two paramedics in the ambulance, which was not transporting a patient at the time.

xray3I ended up at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida, where I spent 4 days. They did surgery on my cervical spine, where I had fractures, and also on my right foot and leg, where I had multiple fractures. The surgeons did external fixation with the first surgery. My husband flew down the day of the surgery and I returned with him to Memphis on July 11. On July 22 I had a second surgery on my leg, this time here in Memphis, where I now have internal fixation—lots of screws, plates, and bolts. I will be non weight-bearing on the right foot for 10-12 weeks. I am also in a neck brace for a number of weeks or months.

An incredible “team” of friends and family have me set up in my downstairs office (our bedroom is upstairs) with a hospital bed and other equipment. I have been flooded with cards, flowers, gifts, calls, visits, and meals. Volunteers are scheduled to sit with me during the days for two weeks after my daughter returns to Denver on Sunday. I’m hoping to be a bit more independent in a few weeks, but I will be using a walker for a couple of months and of course I can’t drive. I’m 62 years old, and I have never been in a completely dependent mode before. I’m learning to let go of the illusion of control and trust God and the people who are helping me. I’m also beginning to learn to slow down and live in each moment, being patient as my goals change. I yearn to get back to work on the revisions on my novel and my other writing projects. I miss my “life” as it was before the wreck, but I’m trying to accept the silver linings that come with such a life-changing event.

When Dr. Nawar Mansour and his family visited me at home last Sunday (his daughter, Sophie, is my Goddaughter) he looked at my medical records and the descriptions of the wreck. Then he said to me, “They made a mistake on this report.”

“What mistake?” I asked.

“It says here that you were the only person in the car.”

“That’s right.” I was perplexed.

“You were not alone. St. Mary of Egpyt was there in the car with you. You are not dead. You are not paralyzed.”

I love this poster at Campbell Clinic which says, "Thank you for putting us back on our feet." I love the image of the couple dancing.

I love this poster at Campbell Clinic which says, “Thank you for putting us back on our feet.” I love the image of the couple dancing.

Of course I burst into tears at Nawar’s reminder that my patron saint was, indeed, with me at the accident. And so, as I press forward with the long and difficult hours and days of pain, nausea, exhaustion, frustration, and everything else that goes with being a fallen human being, I am trying to remember how much worse it could have been. “Hope” helps me remember, with her funky hippie clothes and rainbow fur, and her cute little glasses and crutches. The physical therapists and nurses and family and friends are also reminding me with an outpouring of love that humbles me and feels like a loving heavenly Father holding me in His arms.

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past couple of years, you know that I’ve been in a messy battle with God, faith, church, and all that. Maybe O’Conner was right. Maybe the South really is “Christ-haunted.” All I know is that I’m not angry at God right now. And I do believe in Him. And for today, I believe He loves me. If this is what it feels like to have hope perching on my soul, I’ll take it.

Faith on Friday: My First Meeting With a Saint

product_thumbnail.phpMy friend, Alex Riggle, has a wonderful blog called “The Onion Dome.” His daily posts about the saints are filled with historical information, spiritual wisdom, and—this is what sets his site apart—kickass humor. Alex also published a book called Is Outrage! It’s a collection of posts from the early years of The Onion Dome, and it’s a great read. Alex links to his daily posts from the Dome on Facebook, so you can keep up with him there, or subscribe to his blog.

I was thinking about Alex’s humor on Tuesday when he did a post about Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, also known as Saint John Maximovitch.

35855_406658231422_6693168_nAnd then my friend David Twombly posted a picture of Holy Virgin Cathedral “Joy of All Who Sorrow,” in San Francisco. Saint John’s relics are at that cathedral.

So I commented on the picture, asking David if I ever told him the story about the first time I visited the cathedral. He said no, but he reminded me of my promise to tell him over drinks some time. I hope he will forgive me for not waiting, because I’ve decided to share the story today.

I can’t remember the exact year—it was about 1995. My husband, Father Basil, is also a physician, and we were in San Francisco because he was speaking at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hypertension. One day when he had a few hours off from his meeting, we took the bus from our hotel downtown out to the cathedral, where we planned to venerate the relics of Saint John. I had prepared for the visit by bringing a few items I wanted my husband to bless on Saint John’s reliquary. We had read that his relics were incorrupt, and I was both nervous and excited about our pilgrimage.

with orphans in Shanghai 1938

with orphans in Shanghai 1938

One reason I wanted to make this pilgrimage was because Saint John took care of hundreds of orphans and fought for human rights. I read that he sometimes served at the altar barefooted because he frequently gave away his shoes to poor people while walking to church.

No one greeted us when we entered the cathedral. It was a weekday and there weren’t any services going on at the time. We immediately noticed a coffin in the middle of the nave and approached it cautiously. There were no velvet-covered ropes to keep visitors from touching it, and no glass partition above the body. We crossed ourselves and made prostrations before the coffin, and then stepped even closer, preparing to place the items for blessing on the body. But what we saw both shocked and confused us.

Not only was the body completely incorrupt, it was also very light-colored and fleshy, as if the saint had breathed his last very recently. Tears came to my eyes as I contemplated how miraculous this was. And then it struck me as odd that he didn’t have a beard and wasn’t wearing priestly garments. I had read that bishops’ faces were usually covered with a chalice aer (cloth) for burial, but this man’s face was in full view. Just as my husband and I began to discuss these things quietly, a priest walked up behind us.

“Are you here for the visitation?”

“The visitation?” I asked.

“Yes. For the deceased.” (I think he said an actual name of the man who had died, but I don’t remember. It was Russian.)

saint_john_reliquaryOf course we were embarrassed but somehow managed to introduce ourselves and tell the priest that we had come to venerate the relics of Saint John. He smiled and showed us to a reliquary over against the wall on the far side of the cathedral. As soon as we saw it we were doubly embarrassed. How could we have mistaken the plain coffin in the middle of the nave for a reliquary? Blessed Saint John was visible under glass, his entire body covered, except for his hands, which were dark brown but clearly still covered in flesh. My eyes filled with tears as I placed a few items on the glass and prayed quietly before my husband said prayers of blessing for those items. I felt a love for this saint who lived humbly but courageously, always putting others before himself. It was my first experience of this sort, and one I will never forget.

BlessedJohnCoverThe man in the middle of the nave was being buried the next day. My husband would be in meetings, but I decided to return to the cathedral. It was early in our conversion to Orthodoxy, and I had never been to an Orthodox funeral. Archpriest Peter Perekrestov, who wrote this article about witnessing the opening of Saint John’s relics in 1993, over twenty-five years after his death, was celebrating the funeral. He also wrote the first book about his life, Blessed John the Wonderworker, which we purchased at the cathedral.

At his invitation, I rode with Father Peter from the cathedral to the interment, and then to his house to meet his wife and children. In many respects he was warm and welcoming. But he couldn’t resist lecturing me about the “slippery slope” my husband and I (and all the rest of the people from the Evangelical Orthodox Church who had cast our lot with Antioch back in 1987) were on because of our membership in the Antiochian Archdiocese. Father Peter was part of ROCOR—the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. He talked to me (yes, “to” me, not “with” me) about our foolish decision to join a church that didn’t follow the “old calendar,” and other inferior aspects of our chosen jurisdiction. For the most part I listened quietly. Well, maybe not for the “most part,” as he pushed some of my buttons with his attack.

As we returned to the cathedral where I would catch a bus back to my hotel, I couldn’t help but wonder what Blessed Saint John would think about Father Peter’s words to me. And about the fact that my husband and I had “landed” on a different branch of the tree of Orthodoxy. It’s been almost twenty years since that conversation, and I can only hope that we have all grown up quite a bit since then.

Items people place on a reliquary to be blessed

Items people place on Saint John’s reliquary to be blessed (not the day we were there)

Writing on Wednesday: Distractions

I spent a good bit of yesterday writing. I really did. Several hours with butt in chair working on novel revisions.

Except for a few distractions.

distraction2_0

 

Like when the repairman came back (for the 7th visit in three months from a repairman) to fix our oven door, which finally does seem to be working now. But the house smelled like something was burning for the rest of the afternoon because I decided to run the automatic clean cycle once the door would finally stay closed.

http://www.erinsmithart.com/

http://www.erinsmithart.com/

And then the nursing home called for our quarterly “care team” conference call about my mother. These are good people, and I’m so thankful for their watchful and compassionate care of my mother. The call usually includes a social worker, nurse, physical or occupational therapist, and activities director. One of the comments made by the nurse during our call today was this:

We have taken her off the Haldol. If she becomes agitated, we just leave her alone and approach her again later.

I laughed when they told me this, since this has been my MO with my mother for most of my life. But I also thanked them for taking her off the Haldol, even though doing so makes it a bit harder for them to deal with her at times. (I had requested this a few weeks ago after observing that she was overly drugged and not interacting much socially.) She is much more like her “old self,” even as the plaques and tangles continue to spread through the cortex of her brain.

from Victoria's Secret

from Victoria’s Secret

After the conference call I walked outside to stretch my legs and get the mail. Of course there were two new catalogs waiting for me. (Amazing how easy it is to get distracted when you’re writing or editing.) I immediately ordered two of these cuff-sleeved tunics from Victoria’s Secret—on sale for $9.99 each.

But then I called The Company Store to inquire about a product in their catalog, and that’s when the shopping distraction became an emotional energy-sucker. I’ve been considering getting some curtains for our breakfast room because the sun is so bright in there that it’s uncomfortably warm in the summer. But I don’t want to spend too much since we’re just renting this house. So, The Company Store has these “outdoor sheer panels” on sale for $49/each. They filter sunlight and they’re fade and water-resistant. The water-resistant part doesn’t matter, since I was going to use them inside, but the fade-resistant part sounds cool. And from the picture, the grommets look like they might be large enough to fit over the (probably expensive) large wooden rods that are installed above the windows.

panels-gp93-c13So, I called to ask one of their “comfort representatives”—as their automatic phone recording calls them—a simple question: how large are the grommets? My rods are 2 ½ inches in diameter, so I need to be sure the curtains will fit. This information isn’t included in the product overview. When the comfort rep comes on the line and I ask my question, she asks if I would like for her to do a “product inquiry” to find out this information for me and I say yes, please. She asks for my name, and then proceeds to say,

“Oh, I see you are NOT A CUSTOMER. I need to ask you a few questions to enroll you as a customer first.”

“What? You want personal information from me, a potential customer, before you will answer a question about one of the products you would like to sell to me?”

“Yes, ma’am. We can’t do a product inquiry until you are enrolled as a customer.”

“I’m sorry, but that’s really sucky customer service.”

“Well, that’s our policy.”

“Well, you just lost me as a potential customer.” Click.

The Company Store catalog goes into the trash.

Unless I’m willing to go against my principles and order this cool, “cloud quilt”  (love the pear color) that’s usually $179 and is on sale for $139.  Maybe I’ll order it online. You can bet I won’t be calling one of their comfort representatives to help me with the purchase. Hmmm, but if I buy the quilt, I guess that will make me a customer.

Today? It’s NO DISTRACTIONS THURSDAY. Back to work on novel revisions. Right after I walk to the coffee shop for a cappuccino….

Mental Health Monday: We Want More!

tumblr_mn2x890NjM1qk6zdio1_400I love the AT&T commercials featuring Beck Bennett and those cute little kids. I don’t know how much is scripted and how much the kids ad lib, but a lot of our humanness comes through in these 30-second spots. (This article says the spots are “guided improv,” FYI.) Like the one where the little girl keeps saying, “We want more! We want more!”

But once I got over how cute the spot is, I thought about how early in our lives the craving for “more” starts. And how devastating it can be when we aren’t able to moderate it as adults. What we want more of can be anything—money, food, clothes, sex, fame, success, alcohol, love, attention—it’s the wanting that gets us.

439-difficulties-meditating-cartoonFor me, it’s usually food or drink, although I’m also easily sucked into a myriad of other desires. Last August I wrote a post about an essay I had written called, “Eat, Drink, Repeat.” At that point, I had shopped the essay out to a few places, but it wasn’t accepted for publication, so I quit thinking about it for a while.

And then this spring, I was invited to contribute a short story or essay to a new anthology, The Shoe Burnin’ Antholoy: Stories of Southern Soul (coming out in November). I submitted an essay that the editors liked, but in working with them on revisions, I was asked to please send something else I had written (published or unpublished) so that they could get a better feel for my “voice.” I sent links to several published pieces, and then I sent my essay, “Eat, Drink, Repeat.” Well, it turned out they loved it and asked if they could use it instead of the original essay I had submitted. Fine with me. We worked together on a few revisions and it was done.

402-food-choices-cartoonSo, next week I’m headed down to Fairhope, Alabama, for some pre-publishing events, including the making of a video and some photo shoots with the other contributors to the anthology. Some of them are musicians. (A CD will be included with the book.) Ironically, as I’ve been considering the photo shoots and feeling fat and worried about what to wear and how I will look, I’ve been struggling again with binge eating and depression, the very thing I wrote about in the essay:

I celebrate the marriage of chips and queso with gin and tonic for about thirty minutes. And then it’s over. I place my hand over my full belly, moving it across my disappearing waistline and running it quickly over my growing love handles. I consider purging, a practice I haven’t outgrown from my teenage years. More shame sets in.

395-woman-eating-food-cartoons

Cathy Thorne’s insightful cartoons are helping me lighten up a bit, and I hope I’ll be able to shed some of my insecurities and enjoy being with this amazing group of talented folks down in Fairhope next week. And maybe Beck Bennett’s kids can help me believe in myself.

 

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