Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Struggles with the Stream of Consciousness

Despite my early struggles with typing, I now am capable of touch typing, allowing the thoughts that race through my mind to have a physical dimension. They appear in black and white (or whatever font and background color I choose), and allow me to share what's on my mind. Yes, you, lucky reader are privy to some of the craziness that flows betwixt my not-so-pointy ears.

My normal script
The advantage of typing is that my thoughts can be conveyed in a form other people can understand and allows me the priviledge of being able to edit the text after it has been spewed.  As an introvert, I need to take some private time to focus a thought, organize it, edit it, and present it.  This is great for when I'm writing emails, work documents, resumes, etc.  It is important that all these documents are legible.  Those of you have been afflicted with my handwriting know that me using a writing utensil to communicate is an exercise futility.  On good days, those who are familiar with my handwriting have a 90% chance or so of understanding what I want to say.  On bad days or for people who have not been exposed to it, well, that understanding percentage drops to about 40%.  So, I type.

Well, not being able to use my right hand made even the most simple of written communications slow and difficult.  Though I have practiced writing with my left hand, clearly it has not been enough. While my hand was trapped in it's blue cast I wasn't able to hold any type of writing utensil and I was limited to typing with my left hand and right ring finger.

This is what I learned when I couldn't use my right hand to fully type.  I need my right hand.  Not able to type properly I wasn't able to get thoughts out of my head.  They were dammed up behind the part(s) of my brain that had to look at the keyboard and direct my right ring finger to the appropriate key.  Even though I was in a writing mode, the words would not flow out of my head.  And (at least in my head) when words are trapped by a dam, like water they eddy and swirl and are lost.

Things didn't necessarily improve once I was in the splint.  I could use all the fingers on my right hand. Except my thumb.  Which I use to hit the space bar.  My typing turned into "Is [hit-space-with-left-thumb] this [hit-space-with-left-thumb] thought [hit-space-with-left-thumb] ever [hit-space-with-left-thumb] going [hit-space-with-left-thumb] to [hit-space-with-left-thumb] be [Ow!-Use-left-thumb-for-space-bar] completed?"  I spent so much energy trying to teach myself to use the left thumb to hit the space bar that once again swiftly flowing thoughts washed away.

On the other hand, I went back to a standard two-button plus scroll wheel mouse, switched the buttons and was able to mouse quite competently with the left hand.

It is now a month post-break and the majority of the pain is gone.  I can use my right thumb for both the space bar and the track ball on my mouse.  I can use forks, spoons, and table knives with my right hand.  With any luck I have strengthened my brain by learning to do simple tasks in mirror image.

And I'm now able to capture my stream of consciousness, once again, in legible text.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Some Books

For whatever reason, there are books I simply can't finish. I have started to read Anne of Green Gables* innumerable times and I have never been able to finish the first book nor even watch all of the wonderful PBS mini-series of the same name. There are many others, but Anne is perhaps the most egregious example.  I think I even got to within 20 pages of the end once and just couldn't finish the book.  Yes, I stopped reading Stephen King's The Stand because I got grossed out. I stopped reading The Canterbury Tales because the book was so old I was having an allergic reaction it it.  I stopped reading Kingsolver's book of essays, The Year of Wonders, because I was irritated by its self-righteousness. And those of you who have been my loyal blog followers will have noticed that Watership Down has been sitting in the "What I am Reading" section for quite some time.

Amazon's book image
My interest in the book was piqued some time ago following an email discussion of Young Adult (YA) literature and  how it was "better" or at least more satisfying than adult books (of recent books, the Hunger Games series comes to mind).  I, for one, have always loved to read Newbery and Caldecott winners, but I think more than one Booker, Pulitzer, and/or Nobel prize winning novel sits abandoned on my shelves.

It's not uncommon for me to be reading several books at once and for one or two of them to be abandoned, unread, and left to their own devices**. Watership Down seemed to be the next likely resident of the abandoned book pile.  After being chastised for not having read the book, during our work discussion of what was or was not a  YA book, I ordered the book and started to read it.  And didn't get very far.   But I was determined to be determined in finishing the book.  I had purchased the book to participate in discussion, it wasn't right for me to stop reading just because I didn't find it all that compelling.

And so I plugged on.  And in fact, started to enjoy the book.  I realized that some of my earlier dislike of the book was based on vocabulary bias.  The author was clever enough to develop a language for the rabbits. The etymologist in me was frustrated by these words--they weren't based on any words or language I was familiar with.  Instead of treating these words as something to be savored and admired, I was fighting against them, refusing to memorize them or acknowledge their value. I, also, allowed myself to be irritated by the names of some of the characters, particularly that some of the male rabbits had names that I associate as female names.

Once I settled into the book, I was able to enjoy the adventures and the myths of the rabbits and it became a rapid and satisfying read. My opinion, not only based on the fact that the book was a book written by a father to amuse his daughters, is that this is a book intended for the YA audience.  After all,

  • A group of young rabbits, who were already disenchanted with their status, leave their home
  • Several characters have "coming of age" moments
  • Friends are made with those who are "different"
  • The establishment is defeated by the cleverness of youth
Really, the only thing that was missing from the script was the death of mentor (e.g. Obi-Wan or Dumbledore).

There are also some who rail against the treatment of the female rabbits in the story.  My opinion, is that one should read the story as an ethnography.  Yes, the treatment of female rabbits was abhorrent to our standards, but quite likely representative of rabbit society.

Have you read Watership Down?  What are your thoughts?  Are there books you simply can't finish, no matter how hard you try?  What's the last book you finished that you had thought was doomed to the discard pile?


*My mom signs notes to me and my brother with L. M. for Love, Mom.   I have always harbored a sense that my mother is also, somehow, associated with Anne's author, L.M. Montgomery.

**This is why I don't use my library card as much as I should.  If I have troubles finishing a book, it ends up buried someplace and forgotten until three months have gone by and I owe an absurd amount of money in library fines.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I saw the following in Gantthead Lite, a project management newsletter, in early March.

March is the month that God designed to show those who don't drink what a hangover is like
Garrison Keillor

I forwarded it on to my parents who responded with "Amen to that" and an "I believe that is true."  A couple of weeks ago I saw it again as a trail of stolen status updates on Facebook.  To me that seems like evidence of the ubiquity of the sentiment.

And how true it is.  By March 18 it seemed that Spring might finally be making its way to Minnesota.  We could see and use the grill, snow had started to melt, and new growth was visible.

And then it snowed.  Again.

The first crocus, valiantly fighting the snow 
It seems like, in March, as soon as it seems like spring might be arriving, Mother Nature reminds us who the boss really is.  March even seems to smell like a hangover.  There's something in the smell of melting snow that's reminiscent of one's mouth the morning after over-consuming cheap booze. All the litter that appears as the mounds of snow melt, simpy further reminders of fun that might have been had the night before, but now seem like festering blots on the landscape.

Now April is here and like that long, hot morning-after shower, its winds and thunderstorms purge and freshen the landscape.  No longer does the outside smell like the ice from the back of a freezer; sunny days bring forth the smell of fresh grass.

Right now the smell of tornado season is in the air.  Not that we're in the middle of any severe weather, but the air has that heavy, damp, changeable feel to it that precedes a boisterous thunderstorm.  The birds, at times deafening in their courting and territorial calls, are silent.  The warm sun has slid behind darkening clouds and the breeze that earlier was wafting through the screens carrying the scent of warm grass has turned into a cold wind  cruelly throwing tree buds against the windows of our house.

Tonight's likely thunderstorm is welcome.  It will wash away the last dregs of snow, make the grass even greener, and force the tree buds to the point of exploding. Like brushing one's teeth the morning after, April storms purify and refresh.

It's April, and Spring is well and truly here.

The crocuses have flowered,

The hyacinths are preparing to bloom,

And the spunky rhubarb leaves are unfurling from the dirt.

*ducks, geese, grackels, robins, blackbirds, crows

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pedal Power

There is a sense of freedom and power I get from riding a bicycle. From that first banana seat bike to my current road bike, I love that feeling of first taking off; right foot on the pedal, pushing off with the left, and starting to fly.

Betsy, my least favorite of the dogs** we had growing up,
chewed up the nose of the seat.
To some extent I still feel like Jennifer Weiner's Candace Shapiro.  "When I was eight* I learned to ride a bike.  And this, too, opened my eyes to a new world that I could explore on my own...".

Of course it was a limited world. Not limited by the vagaries of small town or suburban boundaries, but limited to the rideable places on the farm and by the arbitrary borders set by my parents.

There is a paved quarter-mile lane leading down to the farm.  We (my brother and I) were allowed to ride about half-way up the lane by ourselves.  Eventually the border was extended to the full length of the lane (I'm guessing so that getting the mail could be added to our list of chores), but no further without escort.  We could also ride around the buildings and out to the back fields on the gravel lanes.

 And ride I did.  Up the lane, down the lane, up the lane, down the lane.  Again and again and again and again. Slaloming around the dirt clods left by tractor tires.  "Racing" my motorcycle-mounted cousin as he left for the day.  Chasing gophers, imaginary armies, and herds of fantasy animals. Whirling by the red machine shed, around past the big corn crib, back towards the white machine shed and around again in my own little velodrome. Pedaling down the back lane to deliver newspaper-wrapped Pepsis and bags of Oreos to my dad and grandpa working in the fields. Pedaling up the lane to put the out-going mail in the box and up the lane again to get the mail after it had been delivered.  

This is Tai.
She played soccer with a basketball
A bicycle was also the first major purchase I made with my hard-earned allowance money. For weeks (ages and ages it seemed)  I watched my savings balance slowly increase as I saved up for a new 10-speed.  I don't remember too much about the shopping experience, but I do remember being told it was more important to buy a "quality" bike, rather than a "pretty" bike.  And so I ended up with a black bike rather than the pink and gray*** one I had yearned for at ShopKo.            

Me, my black bike,
my brother, and the lane.  
Riding a bike has always been a way for me to escape and to feel empowered by my own abilities.  I have never been nor will I ever be an athlete, but I usually feel strong, athletic, and sure of myself on bike.  Well, except for when I'm dying biking up a hill, but the sense of success of having made it is totally worth it.

Sadly, I have been let down by bikes and my own clumsiness on more than one occasion.  I'm not talking about the normal spills of bike riding, but the bone-breaking splats of the truly graceless.

The summer after third grade, newly freed from the wrist splint I had been trapped in after falling from the monkey bars and breaking my arm near my wrist, I went racing up the lane on one of my parents'  too-big-for me-and-therefore-more-fun-to-ride bikes, accidentally hit the front brakes, and went head over heels into the ditch, and broke my arm again.  Truly, it takes a talented third-grader to break their own arm twice, in two different spots, within three months.

And now, this week I have done it again.  Proudly setting off on my new bike I managed to ride for three whole (city) blocks before I shifted the wrong way while going up a hill, fell over, and in the process of landing I broke my thumb.  But hey, at least I got a pretty blue cast out of it.

Still, my faith in the power of riding is undaunted. Once the pain goes away and the thumb is healed I will be back on the road.  I may no longer race against motorcycles or  chase herds of unicorns, but you can bet I'll be out there again, flying down the road on two wheels, slaloming between the dirt clods left on the road by the construction equipment.
Maybe I do still need those training wheels

*Well, actually I must have been six or seven

**I don't  have any pictures of Betsy, but here are pictures of Kate, Skip, and Pete because who doesn't like pictures of happy  dogs.

Kate.  We got her when I was two.   

Skip.  Yes, he did look like a Coke polar bear. 
Thanks for asking.
Pete.  He was a little Kong obsessed.
It's likely at his feet in this picture

***I would like to hereby thank my parents for not letting me get what I now think would have been a horribly ugly bike and for teaching me the value of buying for quality.