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Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Coping Advice from a Children’s Book

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One of my favorite picture books of all time is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.  I was introduced to it one summer, almost twenty years ago, when I worked with a class of autistic children as a teaching assistant.  This book was a particular favorite among the kids, and I read it aloud over and over and over.  It’s a good thing for me that I fell in love with it.

It drew me in with its repetitive and rhythmic nature. And I enjoyed playfully acting out the story.  Each section begins with the same chorus: We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one.  What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.

It then goes on as the bear-hunting family is confronted with one or another natural element—grass, a river, a snowstorm—that they must conquer in order to continue their hunt. And as they face each obstacle the family declares: We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it.  Oh, no!  We’ve got to go through it!

And so they proceed, relating the sounds they make going through each experience. Amid the grass it is: Swishy swashy! Swish swashy! Swishy swashy! In the river, it’s: Splash splosh! Splash splosh! Splash splosh!

My favorite though, is the mud the Thick, oozy mud. I like to think about it as I determine to tackle complications and struggles in my life—the small things, like going to the dentist; the big things, like submitting my novel; and the heartrending things, like my cat acting like she’s on death’s door (though, thankfully, she seems to be improving.)

I could wring my hands and rend my clothing at any of these things, but instead, I try to think about the mud. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it.  Oh, no!  We’ve got to go through it!  Reciting these words to myself helps me smile—however slightly.  It makes me feel that things are a little less wrought with difficulty than they may immediately seem.  Unpleasant though the situation may be, in some way or another, it’s a beautiful day! and the rest is all just mud to be gotten through.  One step at a time.

Squelch, squerch! Squelch, squerch!  Squelch, squerch!

 

 

 

Sickness & Health

The Worth of a Smile

I want to smile at the woman in the bathroom. I want to put her at ease, let her know that the bandage covering half my nose and mouth is okay, that the orange wash of Betadine on my face is nothing to fear.  I want her to know that I am not scary.  I am not other.  I want the bridge of connection provided by a simple exchange of smiles.  But this is impossible.  Because, for the first time in my life that I can remember, I am physically unable to smile.

In November, the surgeon told me that he would remove the basal cell carcinoma above the left side of my lip using Mohs surgery—a procedure during which tiny patches of skin are removed, then processed to determine if all of the cancer has been eliminated. If it has, the wound is closed.  If not, another excision is performed and those cells are processed, and so on and so forth, until all of the malignant cells are gone.  When, during the consult, the surgeon informed me that the recovery from such a procedure would require that I move my mouth as little as possible for a week afterward, I had thought only of the frustration of being restricted to a “mechanically soft diet” and not being able to talk.

These were indeed challenges. I experienced a second babyhood as I learned to drink from my Finding Dory sippy cup (I could not manage a regular cup or a straw) and fed myself with the silver baby spoon my father’s company had gifted to my parents on the occasion of my birth (back when companies did things like that).  For many years, I had wondered why I had held onto the seemingly silly utensil that had my name engraved boldly on its handle, and now, I knew.  As I pushed little pieces of flan through the small aperture not covered by bandages and scraped gently under my lip to remove the inevitable bits that fell short of their mark, again placing them mouth, I remembered the babies I had fed in just such a way.

I was thankful for the smart phone that allowed me to communicate with family members more quickly than pen and paper would have, but even with the phone’s assistance, I began to feel the isolation of not being able to jump into a conversation and insert my opinions and ‘witticisms’ in a timely fashion. I began to give up trying to express myself. What was the point? I thought, when the punch line doesn’t arrive until two minutes after the joke?

I had anticipated all of this—to some degree, anyway. But it wasn’t until the night before that I realized in a ‘duh’ moment, that, of course, since I wouldn’t be able to speak, I would not be able to sing, either.  I spent a little extra time with my harp that evening, singing Christmas carols to an empty room.  I thought about how it would be if this was the last time I could sing.  What would I want to bring to it?—even if just for myself, without anyone else to perform to.  I felt tenderness and gratitude for my voice and my harp.  I wondered what it would be like if I approached playing and singing with this mindset all the time.

Another thing I didn’t expect about my recovery week, was that I would not be able to brush my teeth. I won’t disgust you with the details, but suffice it to say, it was gross.

I had not given much thought to the surgery itself, either. It was something I had to do, so it didn’t bear much thinking about.  In addition to the facial surgery, I needed to have abnormal cells on  my leg excised, and I observed, with interest, as the surgeon sliced open my skin, taking a football shaped patch, exposing the bright yellow fish eggs of fat beneath.  I watched him stitch up the skin with what, I, as a crafter, would call a blanket stitch.  I marveled at the fact that I was witnessing, with complete detachment, something that should be quite painful to me. Thank, God for anesthesia, I thought.

Later though, when it came to repairing my face, the painkiller was not enough to disengage my emotions from the procedure. I could not see the surgeon working, but I could hear the scissors snipping along my lip.  I could smell my skin burning as it was cauterized.  This felt personal, intimate, inescapable.  I couldn’t help but worry about what I would look like after as the surgeon threw stitch after stitch.  And later, when I faced my swollen visage in the mirror, I had thoughts of Frankenstein’s monster—before I reminded myself that I was being ridiculously hyperbolic.

But those moments of tension under the knife and those bloody, bloated stitches are not what I will remember most keenly. What I will remember are those moments in the bathroom mid-surgery while I was waiting for them to process the tissue from my face the second time.  Instead of spending the 45 minutes by myself in the procedure room, I was allowed to use the restroom and join my mother in the waiting room.  It was then, as I tried to relate nonverbally to the various people around me, I realized how meaningful, how powerful, a smile can be.  The many signals such a tiny, seemingly insignificant thing can relay: friendliness, approval, connection . . .  I realized how lost I felt without my smile, how alone, how helpless.

It’s now been seven weeks since the surgery. I am healing well.  Though I do still have some swelling, the redness around my scar fades with every day.  And I have one more aspect of my face to make me look ‘distinctive’!  In a way, I am grateful for it, because it has taught me, a little, about the true worth of a smile.

Sickness & Health, Writing, Writing & Reading

The Values of Silence

My fingers hover over the keyboard. I have so many thoughts, so many reactions.  Sometimes I even type them out, giving fleeting voice to my opinions, but always—almost always—I think better of it.  I hit delete.  I watch as a blinking cursor erases my feelings one letter at a time.

I don’t think I need to say that it’s been quite the week. We all have feelings and many of us are expressing them—some in beautiful ways, some in hateful, many somewhere in the middle.  Mostly, I have resisted expressing my political opinions anywhere on the internet.  And after all that has happened, all that may happen, I wonder to myself why and if such a decision been wise.

The why is fairly easy: I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to get into it with anyone—start a battle that no one will win.  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I don’t want my words to be mis-taken.  There are people in my life whom I not only dearly love, but also deeply respect who vote very differently from the way I do.  I live in a predominantly red community.  Why risk a potential rift?  I hate rifts.  I abhor violence.  It feels, at this moment in time, that we seem unable to speak to each other civilly—that a disagreement about ideology immediately devolves into name-calling.  Demeaning the value of each other as humans whether they be called “deplorable” or “nasty” seems to be commonplace.  I don’t want to participate in this.

When I was writing my memoir about my diagnosis and experience of having CFS a decade ago, I agonized over how to portray certain people in my life—people who have hurt me excruciatingly.. I wasn’t sure that being candid was the right thing to do.  Who might I hurt by speaking my truth?  Was it worth it?  I also didn’t want to use “being authentic” as an excuse for calling people out in a childish way.  Even when I wrote my first novel, I worried how members of my family would interpret certain aspects of it.  Would they be upset?  Would they be mad at me?  I can’t stand it when people are mad me.  It feels like attempting to get a foothold on crumbling land beneath me.  It feels devastating and lonely.  So I have censored myself—a lot (it’s actually part of the reason I have not submitted my work as much as I should).  Some of it has been wise.  I have been grateful when I have held my tongue in situations in which I would have liked to spit fire, but I wonder where exactly the line is.  At what point does silence stop being golden and start becoming a prison warden?

Well, I guess, that point is now. People say that some of us are taking this too personally.  But it is has become personal.  My opinion about what constitutes good government policy differs greatly from that of President-Elect Trump.  That would have been enough for me to not vote for him, but it wouldn’t have made it personal.  What made it personal, was the fact that I, and many women whom I care about, have been victimized by men, and the words and actions of Mr. Trump have ripped open those wounds.  The fact that so many people voted for him feels like an endorsement of a man’s right to hurt and debase women at will.  I know this is not true.  I know that if you are reading this and you voted for Trump, you were not thinking about me or any of my friends who have been through similar things.  You were thinking about Right to Life or the next supreme court justice or repealing Dodd-Frank or any number of practical reasons—maybe even personal reasons—why you felt that Trump was the best choice for this country.  People are suffering and they saw this man as a way out.  I get that.  I can respect that.  But I also weep for it.  And I don’t know how I am supposed to forget all the varied hateful things that Mr. Trump has said and give him my support now.

I have been silent. I have been fearful.  Today, I am saying a little.  How much will I say in the future?  I don’t know.   A part of me wants to speak for myself and for others who cannot, but I still don’t want to start a fight.  I don’t want to cause irreparable damage.  Honestly, I don’t want to put myself in the line of fire.  A part of me just wants to meditate and pray and spread love with smiles and music—and I will do that.  But is continuing silence wise?  Is it responsible?  Can anything be solved without respectful discourse?  I don’t know, but I heard a stat this morning that chilled me to the bones.  Approximately 49% of eligible voters did not vote in this year’s election.  Almost half of the people who have the ability to help decide how we will treat our children, our fellow citizens, our country were completely silent.

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CFS, Reading, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Coming Home to My Body

curiously-smiling-attentively-coming-home-to-my-body-dianaklein-comMy mother and I are walking together this morning. It’s already apparent that it’s a tough one for both of us, but we still do our daily check-ins.  “My legs are hurting a lot,” she tells me.  She knows that the pain in my legs have been a merciless for several days now, so she adds, “Maybe your legs said something to mine, and it spread.”

She’s making a joke. I know this.  But this morning, I am not in the mood.

Despite the pre-dawn darkness she senses my chagrin. “Not you,” she assures me, “your legs!”

“My legs are me,” I explain.

This is a fairly new admission for me. I have spent many, many years dissociating from my body, talking about it in the third person, distaining its weakness.

There’s an interview with Toni Morrison from about a year and a half ago during which, because of chronic pain, she talks about her body in a similar way. “I did so much for you, body, why aren’t you helping me now, when I need you?  I was so nice to you.”  When asked if making peace with her body was hard, she confirms “I do feel like I’m under attack.”

It’s easy to feel this way: My body is failing me. My body hates me.  I hate my body.  I felt this way for a long time.  Oh, I paid lip service in yoga classes to “listening to my body”, but my subconscious was really thinking: Listen to my body? Are you kidding me?  That bitch doesn’t know shit!

Then, in my mid-twenties, a hypnotherapist told me to “Be in your body. You want your body to be there for you, so you need to be there for it.”  I was a little confused.  What does she mean, be in my body? I am in my body, aren’t I?  But then I started thinking about The Robber Bride, a novel by Margaret Attwood I’d read some years earlier.  In it, one of the female characters describes being repeatedly molested as a child, and that her response to this was to leave her body, so that she wouldn’t feel everything that was happening to her so intensely.  This is one of the things I love about novels—they teach so much.  They teach you things you don’t know you need to know.  I had thought, at the time, that Attwood was speaking metaphorically or at the very least, metaphysically.  People don’t really leave their bodies, and if they do, it happens very infrequently.  It took a few years for me to realize that Attwood and the hypnotherapist had it right.  We do leave our bodies.  We hover around them because we have so much about which to think—or so much from which to escape.

My departure from my body was mostly because of the pain. I couldn’t understand why meditation teachers kept wanting me to scan my body.  I knew what my body felt like.  It hurt.  A lot.  I didn’t need to know anything more about it.  I didn’t want to know anything more about it.  I wanted to feel something different, something better.  So I took off, without realizing it, without meaning to, I just left.  It seemed better that way.

But it wasn’t. My retreat from pain was also a retreat from my life.  I became less connected to myself and to everything else.  How can you truly taste an orange if you’re not really there?  How can you taste any of the fruits of life, if you are constantly running away?  Though perhaps, I wasn’t experiencing as much pain, I also wasn’t there for myself.  I had less agency in my life, less ability to accomplish things because I was taking refuge in fantasy and a future that might never come.  Leaving can be okay for a while.  Sometimes we all need a break from reality, but I came to realize that for me, giving up the pain meant giving up everything.

And even then, the pain chases me. Without my attention, my body becomes tenser, harder, unforgiving.

I have taken to doing body scans again—nothing formal, usually it’s when I lie down to take a nap, and I often fall asleep before I finish. But I try to feel the full weight of my body falling into the bed.  I start at my feet, feeling them, expressing some appreciation for them.  I work up my body in this way.  Relaxing into the pain.  Filling the entire volume contained by my skin with my presence, flooding the space between my cells with my being.  Some months ago, without really thinking about it, I started telling myself: This is my body.  It seems kind of silly to remind myself of that and as anyone who has spent much time going to a Catholic church knows, those words can’t help but remind me of the mass.  It seems appropriate somehow, though—that here be an inherent holiness to those words.  That fully inhabiting one’s body could be a sacred act.

When I do this, the pain does not go away, but I feel more relaxed. I feel like my body and I are in this thing together.  We are not at odds.  We are not separate.  I believe, I know, that I am more than a body, but I am also this body.  This body is home.

The artwork for this post was inspired by the work Austin Kleon and Cindy Shepard. If you like it, you might want to check out their stuff, too.  Also, if you enjoyed this post as a whole, please consider sharing it.  🙂

Sickness & Health, Writing, Writing & Reading

The Wisdom of Narrowing

A few years ago at a Sheep and Wool Festival amid stalls of colorful yarns of all kinds, my mom and I stood there and agreed: weaving was off the table. At least for this lifetime, this was one fiber art we were going to forgo.  Though we both found looms and their products tantalizing, we knew that, for us, there simply wasn’t enough time for it.

I have made more decisions like these lately—especially as I have trying to pare down my belongings. I am not, by any means, a hoarder, but I have often had difficulty getting rid of a thing because of the fear that I might someday, in the vast unknowable future, need or want it.  Reading Marie “KonMari” Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Cleaning Up (like just about everyone else) earlier this year, gave me the impetus I needed to try again.  I liked the idea of not being weighted-down by objects and of surrounding myself only with things that, in her words, “spark joy”.  Did I follow KonMari’s method to the letter?  Uh, no.  But I did, almost three years after I moved, finally open every last box I had stowed in the garage and edited many crafting supplies and several books.

As I contemplated each piece, I again felt the familiar tug of anxiety at my chest. Am I being stupid getting rid of this? What if I want it later?  I don’t have a lot of money and it might be expensive to replace.  In these moments, I did not hold the item quietly and ask myself if it sparked joy as KonMarie would have had me do.  Quite frankly, I forgot all about that.  Instead, I thought about what I was giving up by holding onto any given item.

I, like all of us, have a limited amount of time on this planet. If I choose to do X, say make rag rugs from old fabric, that will take energy and time away from doing Y, say writing.  Is making rag rugs important enough to me to take time and energy away from writing.  Would it help me in any way?  Well, the answer for me is no.  Like weaving, rug making could only be considered a backup plan to the other things I am more passionate about in this life.  And, the problem with holding onto the fabric that would be perfect for rug making only keeps the possibility of doing it, however faintly, alive in my mind.  One could say, (and I have) okay, you don’t want to do it now, but maybe in the future . . .  So the idea gets still more life, a tiny trickle of energy gets siphoned off to maintain something that, in all likelihood, I am never going to do and, for which, I feel only a minor excitement for anyway.  I don’t know if there is any physical truth to my energy drain theory, but there is sociological research that indicates that people who commit fully to a goal are more motivated to fulfill that goal than those who have “backup plans.”  It makes sense, I mean, how committed to something can you be, if, somewhere in your mind, you are still entertaining other options?  Plus, I think most of us probably have enough anecdotal evidence that single-minded people tend to be the ones who get the most done.

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Narrowing one’s focus is effective in writing, too. When I was 15, at Oprah’s urging, I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the first time.  It was my initial foray into reading contemporary literature and, holy smokes, what an introduction.  Considered by many to be the best novel of the 20th century, its narrative about slavery and love is as brutal as it is beautiful.  I felt breathless as I discovered how amazing and powerful prose could be.  How a mere 95,000 words, strung together like a magical incantation, could change me so profoundly.  Shortly after reading Beloved, I saw an interview with Toni Morrison in which she explained that her purpose, in writing the novel, was to examine slavery in a way that she had not seen it done before.  So many books had tried to capture the immensity of the American slave trade, but she felt their scopes were too wide.  She decided to go narrow and go deep. By telling the stories of a few individuals with whom a reader could feel a sense of intimacy, she was able to convey the horror of slavery so much more poignantly than by rattling off numbers that, no matter how big and atrocious, had difficulty making it past the mind and into the heart.

Go narrow and go deep. I think of this when I am confronted by the huge swathes of possibilities presented to me each day.  When I open my email account and see a plethora of urgings to go in any number of different directions.  I can’t do it all, and trying to will likely mean that I end up doing nothing.  So often when we think of investing in our futures, it’s about obtaining something—classes, books, materials—which, in many ventures, is important.  But, for me, right now, narrowing my focus is the best form of self-investment.  As I say no to many things that are not quite right for me, I am making my yes to those things that are most significant to me that much stronger.

This is becoming my practice: I look at each item in my life—physical and psychological—and I ask myself, Is this what you want to spend your life on? It’s tough when it’s something that looks cool, when my anxiety flares up that maybe I’m missing something (which is ridiculous since we are always missing many things!).  But it’s wonderful when, for example, I am hugging my niece—her buoyant spirit flowing out to meet mine—and the answer is like a chorus of bells all tolling, “Yes!”

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CFS, Mindfulness, Sickness & Health, Writing, Writing & Reading

The Power of Small

I crashed last weekend—exploding pain, unforgiving tiredness, the works. It was particularly disappointing because I had been starting to feel like I was building up a head of steam—moving in the direction I wanted to go.  I had plans.  I had thoughts and ideas sprouting and multiplying.  There’s so much I want to do!  And then plop—the other shoe drops.  It happens to all of us—we feel energized to make exciting, positive change and something happens that we didn’t plan for or something reoccurs that we should have seen coming.  A fly gets in the ointment.  A wrench is thrown into the works.  Our best laid plans go so infuriatingly awry.

When this happens, my instinctive reaction is to do a post mortem: What happened? What did I do wrong?  What did I not do?  This picking apart usually takes place in the presence of my mother, who listens patiently and then says, “Or maybe it’s none of those things.  Maybe it’s just the cycle.  Maybe it’s just what’s happening now.”  At which point, I take a deep breath and grumble, “Yeah, maybe.”

Of course, she’s right. Most of what’s going on is beyond any sense of my control, and I just need to ride it out.  My struggle with it, however, has to do with my expectations.  They have a tendency to get away from me.  I do one thing and then want to, or feel I should, do more and more.  Some years ago, a member of my then writing group brought up the notion of setting a deceptively small goal.  I took to the idea and kept telling myself to “start small”.  However, in the hands (and mind) of a Type A personality, this mantra developed a major flaw.  I might be willing to start small, but all too soon, my mind says, Hey, we better put the pedal to the medal if we’re ever gonna get anywhere! Which, of course, devolves into a wild attempt to do more, which in turn tires, overwhelms, and frustrates me to the point where I am ready to throw in the towel.

start-small-snail-dianaklein-comIn light of this, my new motto is: Start small—and then keep going small until you get whatever the thing is you need to do done. It doesn’t quite trip off the tongue, but, when I think about it,  it is pretty much how I made it through college.  When completely cowed by the mountain of writing I needed to do and the soul-crushing fear of not being able to do it, I would start by opening a document, forcing myself to add one sentence (more if I could) and then, moving to the next paper, do the same.  I would rotate through all of my current projects in this fashion.  Write a line, switch, write a line, switch.  After I had a draft down, I could go back and check for cogency and fix any problems, but it was getting that first layer down that was the biggest challenge—which I overcame only by taking it piece by piece, sentence by sentence.  I still write this way when I am stuck.  I ask myself, What’s the next line? I don’t think about what will come after.  I only have to write one sentence.  And once that’s done.  I do it again.

It can be hard to commit to small steps like this because societal norms so often tell us that if you can’t have the thing you want by tomorrow, you’d best not pursue it at all or worse, it’s not worth having.  I mean, why even bother?  Many of us, when we decide to turn over a new leaf, want to jump in feet first. You see books on lifestyle makeovers and they are all about making wholesale changes to one’s life.  We tell ourselves, we will do everything according to this new code: eat better, sleep better, do yoga, meditate, be creative.  And we forget that our lives are still our lives.  I think people feel either: that they want to change everything all at once without regard to whatever else is going on in their lives or that they are too overwhelmed by their lives to make any changes at all.

do-the-thing-you-can-do-the-power-of-small-dianaklein-comThere is an alternative. Start small.  Do the thing you can do—this is advice I have given myself regularly over the past 20 years (when I haven’t been busy trying to outsmart myself).  If you can meditate for two minutes a day, then meditate for two minutes a day.  If you can eat more vegetables, but can’t eat less sugar, than eat more vegetables and don’t eat less sugar.  And, *this is key*, don’t let your mind sell you a bill of goods that you are somehow falling short!  The saying A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step is, perhaps, a cliché, and, of course, you do have to take all the succeeding steps after that first one if you want to get to your destination, but if you tell yourself that that first step is not, won’t ever be, enough, you will never take the second.

I have big goals. I don’t know if there are enough steps in this body to get me there, but I want to keep walking towards them.  I want to do the thing I can do, consistently, and be proud of each step, giving it the recognition it deserves, because, in a one million-step journey, step number 45,682 is no less important than number 999,999.  Without either, small, seemingly insignificant movement, you will never reach your goal.

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Art & Crafts

Confessions of an Overwhelmed Crafter

I think there has never been a better time in history to be a maker of art and crafts. There are so many glorious books and fascinating tutorials out there all just waiting to be salivated over.  Walking through my local arts and crafts supply store, I am bombarded with one exciting possibility after another.

And all of this is great, except for this balloon-popping truth: I can’t have it all. I can’t do it all.  At some point, I am going to have to choose.

Which can be tough. I think most crafters have been in this situation: they start a project with gusto, only to have it turn from something they were excited to begin, into a chore they had to finish . . . at some point.  Some people deal with this problem by simply junking the un-fun project and moving on.  I have done this, on occasion, but, for me, it’s even less fun to waste resources.  I know, some unfinished projects can be repurposed, but then that can turn into another uninspiring task.  In order to avoid all this, I’ve recently begun paying a lot more attention to how and what I’m feeling while I’m crafting, so that I can understand what I like and don’t like about a given process and subsequently choose projects that reflect those preferences.

countryside-softies-amy-adams-dianaklein-comFor example, I finally decided to sew a duck, based on a pattern from Amy Adams’ Country Side Softies.  This is one of many, many books I’ve bought because the ideas are so cool, and I just have to try them and then proceeded to spend many, many years . . . not trying them.  Anyway, as I began, I could feel the tension building inside of me, Is this really what I should be doing? Is this really what I want to be doing?  But as I started to just pay attention while I worked, I found myself relaxing.  I realized that what excited me were the fabrics, bringing together coordinating patterns and colors.  Also, I was really happy doing the embroidery, and admiring it as I stitched along.  I wasn’t super happy with the duck itself, though.  The beak was too long, and I felt like there was more I wanted to say artistically that couldn’t find a home on this little canvas. Alright, I thought, good to know.

Later in the day, feeling tired and bored, I began looking around for something else to work on, but nothing seemed to grab my fancy until I remembered an article by Linda Willis in the January/February 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors about making an iPad pouch from a piece of embellished, raw-edged quilting. From my earlier run in with the duck, I knew that playing with different fabrics and embellishing with embroidery would be fun.  I was a little unsure, however, when it came to the matter of  raw edges.  I am the daughter of a master quilter, and raw edges (when a piece of fabric is topstitched, leaving its edges to fray at will) is something we just do not do, but it’s become a popular look in textile art (it also takes less time!), and I wanted to see how I felt about it.  So I went for it. But, instead of stitching the piece in straight lines on the sewing machine, as instructed by the article, I decided to hand quilt circles through the top layer, a felt middle layer, and down into the backing.  I quickly found out more things during this process: a) I needed greater overlap for fabric pieces than I had allowed for (oops!)and b) though the circles looked cool, sewing as directed would have minimized the fraying of the edges and made everything more secure.believe-pouch-pinning-dianaklein-com

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Alright then, on to the embellishing! I sewed on a little rectangle bearing the word “Believe” in fabric marker, which I then outlined with backstitch.  Then I did a lot of embroidery and a little ribbon work to hide those pesky spaces where the fabric did not quite meet, further lock down the fabric, and just because it’s fun.  Once I got the purple ribbon and the gold embroidery floss on there, I realized that those are LSU’s colors which, given the fact that I live in Louisiana (and it’s football season), I see a lot of around here.  I decided to dampen down the school spirit with a few blue and silver beads and some sequins.  I think that helped quite a bit, though when I look at it, I still can’t help thinking Go Tigers!

Finally, I zigzagged the edges of the piece on the sewing machine and then sewed it together to form a pouch, complete with a Velcro closure. The finished product is pretty small.  I can just barely get some index cards into it.  And it’s not something that will stand up to a lot of wear and tear—partially because of the embroidery, but also because of the raw edges.  Yes, the jury on seaming is in for me: I suppose in some art pieces, raw would be better, but in general I prefer finished.  They are simply more durable—and neater.

There’s a lot I like about the pocket though: It reminds me again of how magical I think hand quilting is (even when the stitches are uneven). I love the way the blue thread pops off the lighter fabrics and melts away into the darker ones.  I love the texture created by the stitches—the small hills and valleys.  And I enjoy the feeling of quilting and embroidering—weaving a needle through fabric, pulling thread up and down, watching as the many small stitches add up to something so much more grand than the sum of their parts.believe-pouch-front-dianaklein-combelieve-pouch-dianaklein-combelieve-pouch-closure-dianaklein-combelieve-pouch-detail-dianaklein-com

And I love that the pouch itself makes me think of Rita, a friend who died some years ago. She made God’s pockets for an entire confirmation class one year.  They were unembellished fabric pouches meant to be a place to house notes about things a person wanted to hand over to God.  It’s a neat idea.  I’m not sure that’s what this is for, but I am happy to note that this pouch did not turn into something for me to finish.  It was something I got to watch evolve.

What about you? How do you decide what to craft? Do you ever get overwhelmed by all the choices out there?

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Art & Crafts, Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Invoking Saint Frida

I spent a lot of last weekend in doubt. This is not an unfamiliar place for me.  I frequent the land of doubt on a regular basis.  The source, this time, was my last two posts on running.  Should I, as a CFS sufferer have written about that?  Should I have admitted that I can run now and again?  That right now I am choosing to run, even when there are many other things I cannot do?  When, on a good day, I can only work about four hours?

I felt strange when I started running again in August. I almost didn’t want to see my sister on my run because I was scared to admit that I was able to do it again.  The fear came from two places 1)I didn’t want anyone to think that this meant I was all better, and now could do anything and everything, i.e., I didn’t want people to expect more from me, because I knew I couldn’t give it.  And 2) I was ashamed.  I was ashamed that I was choosing to run rather than do something that might make money or make someone else’s life better.

And when I shared my two posts about running on this blog, I again felt conflicted and scared, and yes, ashamed because I am always scared of what people will think of me. I am scared that they will think I am weak, stupid, free-loading.  I am scared other CFSers will get upset because they aren’t able to run, and my posts might give the impression that they should be able to.  Or maybe people will think that I don’t really have CFS or any other illness since I can exercise at all.  CFS is a highly variable—not only among the afflicted population, but also in an individual.

On Sunday, I listened to a wonderful dharma talk from Tara Brach about how we try to control so many aspects of life and how these attempts ultimately remove us from those things that most make life enjoyable, namely connection and presence. I realized that (once again) I was trying to control what others think of me—my family, my friends, and all the good people of the internet.  And the truth is: it’s a fool’s game.  There is no way to win.  No matter what any of us say or do, no matter how perfectly we curate our feeds and our public lives, someone—perhaps many people—are going to take issue with some aspect of our behavior.

And it’s not always about us. As a senior in college, I took a class that was meant to integrate all that a student had learned within his/her major.  At the beginning of the semester, we were given a list of about 75 names and theories which we were instructed to look up and study independently.  At the end of the semester, we would be given a test on the information—20 questions, matching.  We were warned how challenging it would be and that often students did not excel at it.  I (for some inexplicable, bloody-minded reason) decided to attempt to ace it.  I spent hours looking up the names and making notes on whatever I thought the professor might think was pertinent enough to test us on.  And then I carried my little index cards everywhere, pulling them out whenever I had downtime.  When the professor gave back our tests, he told all of us that someone—not naming any names—had gotten a perfect score—something he hadn’t seen in a while.  I didn’t show anyone the 100 at the top of my exam paper, but as we filed out of the classroom, the other students looked at me knowingly.  One woman, who I had hitherto considered a friend asked, “Did you sleep with him?”  I didn’t even know how to respond.  I was so horrified and confused.  “How could sleeping with the professor have helped me on an objective test?” I wanted to ask, at the same time wanting to demand, ”How dare you?  Is that really what you think of me?”

I am convinced now that it wasn’t what she was thinking of me that caused her to lash out in that moment. It was what she was thinking of herself, how she was feeling about whatever grade she had or had not gotten.  In that scenario, I did everything right.  I worked hard and I achieved success.  And somehow, my behavior (or her reactions to my behavior) still caused pain.  If I were to get it twisted, I would think that I maybe I should have dimmed my own drives and accomplishments to make her feel better, but I think we can all agree that that would have been ridiculous.

What’s the answer then? I don’t know what it is for others, but for me, it’s to forget about trying to control others’ perceptions, and, instead, whip up as much daring as I can in order to be authentic—because I think that’s one of the ways we help each other (and ourselves)—by being vulnerable, being honest, and sometimes, admitting that which is difficult to admit.

invoking-saint-frida-dianaklein-comAs I think about these things, my eyes fall on a candle that lives on my desk. It’s from a line called Secular Saints by philosophersguild.com.  It looks like the regular seven day prayer candle with which most Catholics would be familiar, but instead of featuring the Sacred Heart or Saint Jude, it bears a portrait of Frida Kahlo.  I have long felt a deep connection with this Mexican artist, not only because she composed fascinating and bold paintings, but because she did not shy away from letting people know what she was feeling—the physical and emotional pain that walked with her throughout her life.  She did not try to be perfect—if anything, she exaggerated her perceived faults.  And though she is not a saint in the Catholic sense, I feel myself wanting to invoke her audacious spirit.  There’s a “prayer” on the candle which I like well enough, but my personal petition goes something like this:

O feisty Frida, help me to embrace my flaws and everything that is wrong with my life. Help me to know my true self and to show that self no matter who is watching.  Help me to be brave and bold and to act with resolve and passion.

 What keeps you from being authentic? Do you call on a saint (secular or otherwise) to help?

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Running, Sickness & Health

Interval Training with Runkeeper

I love running, like love it, love it.  I love the sense of freedom I feel when I’m trotting down the road, an easy breeze in my face, a powerful playlist in my ears.  I love it.  But I also have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  As you may imagine, the two things are somewhat at odds with one another.  That being said, it’s important for me to stay active.  Though doctors don’t know a lot about how to help CFS patients, most agree that regular exercise is vital.  So I walk every day.  I’ve noticed that although I don’t always feel good doing it (and sometimes I feel downright awful), if I don’t do it, I won’t necessarily feel any better, and often, I’ll feel worse.  So there has been many a day when I have shuffled through my neighborhood getting blown past by friendly, speed-walking grannies and gazing jealously at runners bouncing down the street.  But there have also been times over the last 20 plus years, during which my body has been able to run and—praise all that is good and wonderful—this is one of those times.

When I began in August, I determined to do it slowly. I have the tendency to go whole hog on things.  I always want to push myself to do more, achieve more, but my long experience with this stuff has taught me: that way ruin lies.  In light of this, for the first few weeks, I simply ran on the days I felt up to it for between 10 and 15 minutes and then walked home, always making sure that I was covering at least the same amount of ground that I would have during a regular walking day.  I was using the Nike app to track my runs, but after several annoyances in the past and a recent update that caused still more irritation, I finally threw in the towel.  I decided it was time to shop for a new workout tracker.

After looking at a few, I finally settled on Runkeeper. It tracks my runs via GPS and gives all the statistics one would expect—time, distance, pace, calories burned, etc.  There are even a selection of fun voices to choose from to give you those stats and to cheer you on—such as Boston Fan (think Good Will Hunting) and Yinterval-training-with-runkeeper-dianaklein-comour Conscience (somewhere in the realm of a goofy Tony Robbins?).  My favorite is Mademoiselle—a spritely French lady who tells me that I am fast (though, clearly, I am not) and maybe not completely helpfully encourages me to “Think of all the pain au chocolat now you can eat!”(I have thought about it—a lot.)

Runkeeper also offers a series of challenges to help motivate—one of which was that if I did a mile workout in the following two weeks, it would give me a month free of its premium service.  As I generally walk more than 2 miles a day, this was not too difficult.  Among other things, the premium service offers a series of workouts for each week based upon your previous running experience and the goals you are looking to achieve. Cool, I thought, let me try this.  It only took a quarter of the way through a 30-minute workout, for my thinking to change to: Argh!!! It wasn’t the length or the intensity of the workout that had me swearing, it was its interval nature.  What I hadn’t realized prior to the “run” was that each minute I would be alternating back and forth between walking and running.  I would just be getting into a nice groove with my running when a signal would come though my ear buds telling me that it was time to walk. Never again, I thought.  And then, Yeah, this kind of sucks, but maybe you should just keep with it and see where it goes.

I did stick with it. In the last four weeks, I’ve been following the prescribed four workouts a week and doing my regular walking on the other three days.  As I have progressed, the intervals of running have generally become a bit longer, while the walking intervals have stayed the same and while I don’t particularly like having to stop and walk, I think it’s been good for me.  It’s demanding that thing that I am so often reluctant to give myself—rest.

When I began running as a chubby middle-schooler, things were different. Those first few weeks of cross country practice our coach would lead our team of seven, five girls and two boys, over the lovely grounds of a local college campus.  I huffed and puffed at the back of the train, knowing I was holding every one up and hearing about it once or twice from the cute eighth grader with the floppy brown hair—as if my face hadn’t been red enough from the exertion.  It got better.  I got faster and stronger, and though I never made it to the front of the pack, I ceased to feel embarrassed by my every step.  The problem was that I always seemed to be dealing with some pain or other—knee, ankle, what have you—probably because I had gone from doing nothing to running somewhere between nine and fifteen miles a week.  That’s the way they did it back then.  You started running and just expected the first two weeks of training to be a hell during which you hobbled everywhere as your legs continually screamed about how mean you were.

In contrast, interval training eases a person into the process of running. And, as I’ve said, it seems to have been useful to me as I attempt to rebuild my running practice, but a few weeks ago, I discovered there might be even more to it than that.  I found out that the Runkeeper training program is based, in part, on the work of Jeff Galloway—an Olympian who trained with all the greats in the seventies during the last golden age of American men’s distance running (though, if the last Olympics are any indication, we may be on the verge of another).  Interestingly, despite the fact that the old school version of training dictates that walking during training is a fate worse than death, Galloway’s Run Walk Run Method advises one do just that.  He claims that not only does it help to reduce injury, but it also produces faster times.  He even suggests walking during races.  Doing so helps physically, by allowing the body to recover slightly, instead of going deeper and deeper into oxygen debt, and cognitively, by giving the runner a series of smaller goals to reach (just run these next two minutes, then you can rest) rather than an overwhelming one (run a whole 10k).

My month of free premium service on Runkeeper ended last week. Will I continue?  I’m not sure.  I have to admit, I would get a little excited each Sunday morning waiting for the notification that my workout schedule had been delivered to my app. What’s in store for this week? I’d wonder, What’s next? The drawback for me is that I fear the workouts will progress too quickly for me—demand too much.  As I am not a regular healthy adult, I can’t just expect that I will be able to continue upping my mileage and exertion.  There will be a cap, and I have to be careful that I don’t get caught up in the excitement and do too much.  It would be nice if the app offered a maintenance program or that a user was able to indicate how fast he/she wanted to increase.

Regardless of this, I think I will stick with the interval training. It seems to me that I am running more than I would have if I trained the old way.  I am certainly running faster—which hopefully improves my muscle development.  The big test will, of course, be longevity.  I am hoping that the interval training—if I’m cautious with it—will help me keep my compromised body running (and walking) for several weeks (months? years?!) to come.  We’ll see.

Now, about those chocolate croissants . . .

What about you? What running apps do you use?  What do like and dislike about them?  Have you tried some version of the Run Walk Run Method?  What do you think of it?

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Louisiana, Running, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

A 5k in Southeastern Louisiana

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This week, I took part in the World Wide WordPress 5K, during which bloggers are encouraged to complete a 5K and blog about it.  I walk, and sometimes even run, every day, but I don’t always quite get to the 3.1 mile mark.  Yesterday, however, under the guidance of the Runkeeper app (more about this next week), I went for a 3.5 mile run/walk—alternating a half mile of running with a quarter mile of walking.  Here is an approximation of that excursion. 

I start just after 6 am. It’s gotten a little cooler lately—only 73 degrees.  Of course the humidity is still at 95%, so I know I will be doing some serious sweating.  As I run out of my apartment complex, it’s still quite dark.  Only a few people are stirring.  I bounce across the squeaky wooden bridge that is slowly rotting away as everything wooden here does and into the business park car lot.  I am grateful for the street lights that light my way.  I like the flurry of insects dancing in their golden glow.  But I also enjoy the mysteries of the shadows—how everything is transformed by the dark, becomes more or less than it appears in the light of day.  I find the darkness comforting.  I feel held by it.

I cross the boulevard along which I will continue my jaunt. It’s a quiet artery, connecting several domestic subdivisions.  I take up the path—a few yards from the road—that will lead me alongside the street.  I am grateful for the trees that accompany me on both my left and right—the towering ponderosa pines, the flowering crepe myrtles, the sturdy live oaks, and all those others whose names I do not yet know. I glance briefly at the first drainage pond, often home to various water birds, but it’s still too dark to make them out.  During this first half mile, I groove to the strains of Lady Gaga and Rihanna flowing into my ears and delight in the slight rush of air my movement through the predawn causes.

As I reach each subdivision, I inspect the decorations hung on their signs.  It’s football season and they are mostly decked out in Saints black and gold and LSU purple and gold.  The combinations often come off as a bit funereal, once prompting my mother to amend the Saints slogan from Who Dat? to Who Died?

I’ve past a few other early exercisers already, but it’s three quarters of a mile in before I see any of the regulars: The speedy woman walker whom I often come up on and to whom I gently call out, “On your left.” She always squeezes her arms into her body to take up less space, preparing for any onslaught I might bring.  “Good morning,” I say as I pass her scenting her gentle baby powder aura.  Good morning,” she always beams back—as though her eighty odd years have done nothing to quell the joy that determines to exude from her body.  I want to be like her—not when I’m eighty, but right now.

I also see the adventure dog and her owner. She’s a small terrier mix (I think) who always seems to be moving forward toward a thrilling future.  Her real name is Jazzy.  She typically walks with an older retriever-like dog, but I guess she’s home resting her hips today.  Their owner—a fairly fit man in his fifties—usually has some wisecrack to lay on me.  To which, I all too often, I pull out an ear bud and reply cluelessly, “Excuse me?” making him have to repeat the joke.

I walk some and run some more until, almost a mile later I see my sister at the bus stop, where she has just sent one of her children off to school. We chat for a few minutes.  I love when I see her and my nieces and nephew when I go out in the morning.  I love those unimportant accidental meet-ups that can only happen because we live in the same town.  I turn around at the 1.75 mile mark.  My teenage niece and I exchange smiles on my return trip.  I let my hand rub against her back as I trot by.

It has become much lighter by now.  The streetlamps still smolder, but the sun is rapidly making them redundant.  I greet a few elementary school children in their navy blue polo shirts and khaki shorts.  I gaze at the vines that have conquered wooden fences.  I note the progress of the kumquats and satsumas on their respective trees.  I spot another older woman across the street with her spoiled, little brown poodle, also called Jazzy (we’re just outside of New Orleans).  I wave and she lifts her cane at me.  I see the grey minivan that every day conveys a golden retriever, his head protruding from the open window, proclaiming how wonderful everything is.

As I approach more high school students, an habitual debate resumes in my mind: do I inflict my hellos on them? I often wonder if I am being annoying to these teenagers who have plenty of other irritants roiling in their sensitive brains.  I usually settle for a smile and a quiet blanket good morning as I travel through the groups of students—though I tend to hold my breath a bit when I get to the cloud of cologne and body spray emanating from one particular gaggle of boys.

It’s not long before I return to the second drainage pond and see the various geese and ducks. Right next to it is a gazebo where the Catholic school kids gaze at their phones while waiting for their bus.  During my final walking interval I look up into the sky to find a great egret flying over me.  It looks as though its wide wings are flapping just past the moon whose face still shows in the now light blue sky.  I search the trees’ green leaves for the barred owl I spied a few days ago being chastised by crows, but no luck.

I begin the final bout of running and think about the day ahead.  There is breakfast to make and food shopping to do.  Oh, and let’s not forget a thorough shower.  My predictions were correct.  My clothes are soaked, my body is glossy, and my face—thanks to my Swiss heritage—is a feverish red.  As I run back through my apartment complex, I am passed by several cars leaving, people on their way to work.  I startle a bevy of birds and one squirrel who have been taking advantage of one of the tenant’s birdfeeder.  The white cat across the way peers enthusiastically through her window as they scatter before me

My app informs me that my “workout is complete”.  I stop and stretch a little.  I allow my face to cool a bit. I let a weeping willow tickle my shoulders as I walk toward my apartment, and I look around once more.  The world has come completely alive in the last 40 minutes.  The veil of mystery is lifted and the sun begins to burn in earnest.

Have you done a 5k recently?  What was your experience like?