From the Reading List

American Rust

 

Review of American Rust

Last night I read a very grim book. Its title is American Rust, and the author is Philipp Meyer. The setting is a Buell, Pennsylvania, a small steel town that is slowly dying. What was once a prosperous community is falling by the wayside as as result of plant closings and a lack of jobs for people who used to enjoy a comfortable existence. Men who once made $20 and $30 an hour are reduced to working for Wendy’s earning $5.25.

The two seemingly main characters are Isaac English and Billy Poe, a small thoughtful young man and his brutish best friend. Resonance of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which seems a tad too contrived. The other central character is Grace Poe, who embodies all of the lost and broken dreams and promises of the small town and its polluted environment.

Grace is probably the most sympathetic character, but I’m not sure that she is supposed to be the main focus. The name choice, Grace, is of course no accident, but this woman has no true shot at redemption. Her son is just this side of being a sociopath; her deadbeat husband is a drunk; and all of her dreams of going to school and making something of herself are buried in a trailer in which she never wanted to live. Her only salvation may come from the town’s Sheriff, who is himself a lost man, a man who bears an undercurrent of violence that he hides with his good ole’ boy demeanor.

The book is divided into five books, with each of the main characters taking a chapter within each of the books. It’s a structure that works well with the unfolding of the plot.

The plot is full of sadness, loss, regret, righteous indignation, anger, and instances of violence that, even though they are not described in gory detail, still leave the reader and the characters involved with a sense of  loss. More than anything the overriding theme is that some things in life are beyond anyone’s control: where they end up, who they marry, whether or not they lose their job, what they are capable of, and most visibly, living in a town that is falling apart just as the country around them is also losing its way.

abandoned steel factoryThat’s why I chose the word grim. What few instances of happiness there are in the book are short-lived and motivated by all of the wrong reasons. The one character who you most hope will escape, Isaac, ends his adventure of riding the rails and heading for Berkeley, California and returns home, where absolutely nothing awaits him.

A few times the author is a bit heavy-handed with the imagery, for example, too much repetition of the word rust. When using a controlling metaphor in the title of the book, it is not necessary to continue to bring it up at every opportune moment in order to say to the reader, “See. This is another instance of rust, decay, dying away.”

Another thing that can be bothersome for the reader is the narrative stance. Told in third person, the narrative moves into interior monologues as the characters switch to their alternative selves. For example, when it’s Isaac’s turn, he refers to himself as “the boy,” not “me” or “myself.” Sheriff Harris continuously refers to his “Even Keel,” in capitalized letters. It’s a bit hard to explain, which probably means that it is a bit ineffective.

Still, the author’s has a good turn with words, and is very adept at creating a sense of place. I just left the book feeling too depressed because no one escapes, which I suppose if the whole point: No individual is immune from the cycle of life. In the end, even the strongest steel is reduced to rust and decay and is soon overtaken by the landscape that it once obliterated.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with a novel that looks at life from a darker point of view. Meyer’s vision reminds me of the dark side of Steinbeck, the way in which is puts characters in impossible situations and leaves them to fend for themselves. Steinbeck embodied the time of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowls. His characters often faced horrible circumstances. The big difference here, I suppose, is that some of Steinbeck’s characters triumphed. No one in American Rust triumphs; some of the characters do escape the small town, but there is no better life waiting for them down the road.

I don’t regret reading American Rust. I never regret reading a book. It’s just that sometimes, I am not prepared for the mindset into which the book places me. Sometimes that is a positive surprise, but sometimes, as with this book, it was a bleakness for which I was not prepared.

“Young cat, if you keep your eyes open enough, oh, the stuff you would learn! The most wonderful stuff!” ~ I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss Green Eggs and Ham

Green Eggs and Ham: My Favorite Dr. Seuss Book

 

“Think left and think right and think low and think high.”

“Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!” ~  Oh, The Thinks You Can Think, by Dr. Seuss

One of my regular readers recommended a site that she thought I might find interesting. It’s called Goodreads, and it is a social network for readers. With over 1.2 million members, the site provides a way for members to create their virtual bookshelves.

Dr Seuss Oh The Thinks You Can ThinkAt first glance, I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to expend the time or energy on yet another social network. Within three minutes, I was hooked. I have spent the last two days on and off the site. My current pain level, which is hovering between 7 and 8 (out of 10), is making it pretty nigh impossible for me to sit for extended periods (another reason for the laxity in my postings).

Goodreads has proven to be a wonderful balm to my brain. Essentially, it works like this: The site contains the information on over 49 million books (yes, that’s million). By information, I mean everything: the publishing date, the ISBN, information n the publisher, author, genre, number of pages, etc.

Members of the site can search by genre or by lists that are generated by site members. For example, I jumped on lists called “The Book Was Better Than The Movie,” “Books You Must Read Before You Die,” “Best Books Ever,” “Best Science Fiction,” and many, many more. Then I did some searching by genre: classics, biography, crime. As you read through the lists, you rate books that you have read, which automatically adds the books to your personal shelf. You can also highlight books that you want to put on your “to read” list, as well as books that you are in the midst of reading.

If for some reason Goodreads does not contain a book that you have read or in which you are interested, you can add a book. You need to know as much about the book as possible, as in, have it next to  you when you are adding it so that you can consult the publication information page.

I have to admit, though, a few books that I thought that I wouldn’t find were actually already listed.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~ I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss I Can Read With My Eyes ShutOne thing that I did not do a lot of was to create reviews of the books that I added to my shelf. At first, I added a few short reviews here and there, but then I decided that I wanted to save the reviewing until after I had completed my first pass at compiling a semi-complete list. That way, I can spend some time on the reviews and add thoughtful comments.

The reviews are intended to help other members in evaluating whether or not they might want to read a book. Since I read book reviews all of the time, I think that this is a great idea. Of course, these reviews are not intended to be comprehensive. Instead, they should be on the short side, something quick and dirty, so to speak.

Another aspect of the site that I haven’t checked out yet is the whole idea of “friends.” I’m not sure how you make them, if you have to make them, if you appear hostile if you don’t actively search for them. Whatever. But apparently, the whole idea of creating a virtual bookshelf is so that your friends can see what you are reading, and check out what you have to say about it. I suppose I’ll get to that sooner or later, as well.

“It’s high time you were shown That you really don’t know All there is to be known.” ~ On Beyond Zebra, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss On Beyond ZebraI have a feeling that I am going to like this site. It’s somewhat of a bibliophile’s dream site: pictures of books, lists and lists of books, opinions of books—everything but the book itself.

Just in my few short visits, I have already added 653 books. And that doesn’t really reflect all of the classics that I haven’t gone through, or biographies, or poetry, or . . .

I checked out all of the site information (posted at the bottom of the page. Goodreads offers advertising opportunities for authors who want to promote their book(s), allows giveaways, etc. There is also a site blog that is maintained by the individuals who work on the site. In addition, Goodreads posts job openings for their site for anyone who might be interested and qualified. And of course, there is a method for contacting the site with questions or comments.

“I’m sorry to say so but, sadly it’s true that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.” ~ Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

I just wanted to add one of my little bits of personal history here as it directly bears on why I think that Goodreads is such a great find:

Dr Seuss Oh The Places Youll GoWhen I left my job at the Museum (left is such a nice word: laid off because of severe budget cuts is more accurate), I decided to spend more time on my freelance writing and editing. A very good friend of mine at the time decided to expand his business empire (loose use of word) by opening a men’s clothing store. The idea was that I would work for him by managing the store, and he would provide an office in which I could work on my writing. The space he provided was very roomy, and it contained several built-in bookshelves.

I nested immediately, as I am prone to do in any space that I occupy. Part of that nesting included bringing in my writer’s reference books, and since I had so many shelves, I also brought in my poetry collection. In all, I had about 150 books in my office.

Now I need to stop here to insert a very important fact: the building in which the store was located was very old. The heater was this huge monstrosity that was mounted to the ceiling. I was always in fear that the heating unit would fall on me because it never looked very sturdy.

The usual routine was that I would open the store every day, and around 2 in the afternoon, after his restaurant’s lunch rush, the owner would come by to check on things. One afternoon, I was sitting in my office space, and the owner was on the sales floor. The two were only divided by a three-quarter wall that did not go to the ceiling. I heard my friend calling my name, but I was very engrossed in something, so I did not respond immediately. Then he called me again, and I detected a not of panic in his voice.

“The store is on fire,” he said. I just stood there frozen. Finally, he yelled at me that we had to get out. I quickly grabbed the pictures of my family from my desk, and one framed photograph that was very old. I took a second to look around, realizing that everything on those shelves was about to be obliterated.

My friend grabbed my arm and hustled me out the front door. We got outside, and someone called the fire department. At this point, I think that I must have been in shock because I grabbed the handle to the front door and opened it. All I saw was black smoke. One of the firefighters later told me that I could have caused a flashpoint and an explosion if I had let enough oxygen into the room.

“So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a great balancing act.” ~ Oh The Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss Cat in the HatThey were able to stop the fire without much destruction to the building, which made the other tenants pretty happy. Once we were let back inside, the fire investigator was standing under the heating unit shaking his head. It was pretty obvious what had started the fire: the coil that attached the heater to the electrical source was old and bent, and as a result, it had sparked, and since the store was full of lots of burnable material, that is, clothes, it didn’t take long for the spark to turn into a fire.

After the firefighters had declared it safe to go back into the building, I walked through the piles of wet clothes on the showroom floor towards the door to my office. I had remembered to close it when I walked out. I admit that I was completely paralyzed by the image of what might lay beyond that closed door. Amazingly, none of my books or pictures had burned, but everything was severely smoke damaged.

In the end, many of my books were able to be saved because I used my homeowner’s policy to cover my personal damage. The insurance company sent someone out to my house to evaluate the status of my belongings. Fortunately, there was a process that the cleaning company used whereby they wiped every single page of a book with some kind of wipe that removed the smoke smell and soot from the pages.

The other good thing was that I had kept an inventory of all of the books that I had taken to the office, so I was able to reconcile my inventory with what made it out of the burned store.

“Oh the things you can find if you don’t stay behind.” ~ On Beyond Zebra, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss One Fish Two FishI mention all of this for two reasons: First, I have never updated my book inventory. I have plans to do so once we finally finish the remodeling of the house, and I have the built-in bookcases that Corey promised me.

Second, and this is very significant, I can now use Goodreads to create an online inventory of all of my books. I cannot recall every book that I own from memory, but by scanning the site’s inventory, I will be able to create a very good online inventory.

How will it be accurate, you ask? Well, I may have mentioned that I’m a bibliophile, and I am also a hoarder of a few things, one of them being books. I buy every book that I read, and I never give away books unless I absolutely hated them. So just about every book on my virtual bookshelf will be a book that I have in my possession, even though in possession at the moment means in storage containers.

“If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.” ~ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss

So, if you love books as much as I do, be sure to check out Goodreads. You can click on the link in the paragraph above. And if you decide to join, don’t forget to friend me (friend as a verb? appalling), or whatever it is you do to let someone know that you visited.

Seriously though, it’s a great way to spend some time immersed in book titles long forgotten.

See you around the bookshelves.

You’ll get mixed up of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
And remember that Life’s a great balancing act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

~ From Oh, The Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss

More later. Peace.

I sit and watch the years go by . . .

Picture Collage

Eamonn and Kelsie, Norview H.S. Senior Prom 2009 

“It is the evening of the day” ~ “As Tears Go By,” by The Rolling Stones

Eamonn 1995
Eamonn Four Years Old

Tonight, my eldest son is going to his senior prom. He is taking his girlfriend of six months, Kelsie. May I just pause here for a moment and tell you how old this makes me feel?

In my eyes, Eamonn is still a young boy in grade school, sweet-looking and acting, except for when he is acting mischievous. He and his brother Brett are best of friends, and everyone gets along; in particular, Eamonn and I get along wonderfully. He still believes in me and hasn’t reached the point at which I become stupid and out of touch.

Would that I could bottle that period of time, and dab a bit of its essence on my wrists whenever he is acting like a complete and total jackass, in other words, like a teenager on the precipice of manhood.

 “I sit and watch the children play”

Eamonn 1st & Brett Kindergarten
First Day of School (Eamonn 1st grade & Brett Kindergarten)

But that is not possible. Time passes. Your children grow into teenagers, then into young adults, then into adults. You hope with every fiber of your being that at some point, the lessons that you have tried to teach them and the codes by which you live will kick in and that they will become honorable people, caring people, people who realize that life is more than what is within their small circles of being.

All that you can do is hope, that and try to take comfort in knowing that you have offered the best of your wisdom. But if we are to be completely honest as parents, we must also acknowledge that we have shown them many of the disappointments that life has to offer: a failed marriage, a short temper, an absorption in work. You have shown them these things even though you never intended to do so.

And the world has shown them more than you ever wanted them to know: wars, intolerance, bigotry, racism, sexism, warped views of the roles that men and women can actually play.  If you have been careful, you have tried to balance those images with how you would hope they move into adulthood: more tolerant of others, less disparaging of people who are not exactly what you want them to be, more aware of how much they need to participate in their families, more willing to treat their significant others equally and with respect.

At some point, you realize when they are growing up that you have absolutely no control over certain external forces: the things they see and hear at school, what they choose to do when they are away from you, how they treat their friends, boyfriends, girlfriends. And most especially, how responsible they are in their choices about alcohol, drugs, and sex.

“Smiling faces I can see”

I know that Eamonn has tremendous respect for his stepfather. He loves and admires Corey, which I hope will translate into a desire to emulate the kind of man that Corey is.

makemie woods spotlight
Summer Camp: Eamonn top row, Brett Below

Nevertheless, Eamonn has still not forgiven me for divorcing his dad. He has said it more than once, and always, he says that divorce is the most selfish thing that a parent can do. Even though Eamonn still blames me for the divorce, he always follows those hurtful comments with a statement that he is glad that Corey came into our lives.

I have tried to explain to Eamonn that one of the main reasons that I asked his father for a temporary separation was so that we could get some distance between us in order to reassess what was important. In my eyes, that was our family. I did not want our children to be raised in an atmosphere that was continuously clouded with arguments and accusations.

So I asked his father for a separation. At the time, I never wanted it to be permanent, nor did I want our relationship to end in divorce. I never dreamed that his father would fall in love with someone within two months of leaving us. I never anticipated that he would be so angry at me that he would never consider coming back home. But that is how things played out between us.

In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened. I was no longer walking around on egg shells. The children were no longer subjected to a hostile atmosphere.

“My riches can’t buy everything; I want to hear the children sing”

Brotherly_Love
Brett & Eamonn Ready for Combat (unfortunately)

Certainly, it was very hard being the single parent of three children and working full time. Things did not always go smoothly. But I promised myself that I would not be one of those women who brought a series of men in and out of the house, leaving the children feeling confused and alienated. The end result was that I didn’t date anyone; truth be told, I wasn’t all that interested in dating anyone.  I went out on Friday nights with some friends, but I was always home before 9. I was very content spending one night a week out with my friends.

I was trying desperately to be a good role model, and I know in my heart that I did the right thing when it came to getting involved or dating. Then I met Corey. Neither of us were looking for a relationship, which is why we were able to talk so openly to one another. There were absolutely no expectations, especially on my part because of the age difference.

But a funny thing happened along the way: we fell in love. I introduced Corey to my children gradually. By the time Corey and I got married, there was already an incredibly strong bond between the five of us.

“It is the evening of the day . . . I sit and watch the children play” 

I Am Just Too Pleased With MyselfCorey had a lot of learning to do about parenting, but he adapted and learned, and managed to open my eyes along the way. We all adapted and grew to be a fairly close family. I know that I complain at times about Eamonn, but the reality is that he’s a teenager, and I’m his mother, and the two things don’t always mesh very well. But we love each other. There is never any doubt of that.

 Thankfully, my sons have had a remarkable role model in their stepfather, and a good idea of what it means to have a positive, loving relationship. Corey and I have a big argument about four times a year. When we argue, we try to keep it private, and we do not call each other names, especially in front of the boys, which is so different from how it used to be with my former spouse.

With any luck, the boys, especially Eamonn, will remember these things once he has a family of his own or even when he gets into a serious relationship. He will remember what it means to be an equal partner in a relationship. He will remember how sometimes, one person in the relationship has to do more of the care-taking. But I hope that the thing that he remembers most once he is grown is how important it is to say I love you often, even when you are angry or upset, and to mean it; and also, to love the members in your family openly, with hugs and kisses and a genuine pat on the back for a job well done.

“Doin’ things I used to do . . . They think are new.  I sit and watch as tears go by.” 

In the meantime, I’ll sit here tonight and remember how handsome he looked as he got into the car with his girlfriend. I will wish fervently that he remembers his promise to me to act responsibly, and that he and all of his friends make it home safely.

Eamonn in Papa's hat close up
Eamonn at 1 Wearing His Papa's Hat

No matter how old your children get, you never stop worrying about them, even when they are making you feel as old as dirt.

He probably does not realize it yet, but tonight marks the ending of one chapter in his life and beginning of a new one. He will be graduating in a few short weeks, and he will have to make some life choices. I will be here to help him if he will let me, but I realize that in the end, they must be his choices, even if they are not the ones I would have him make.

Nothing says that I have to let go of all of the pictures in my memory of Eamonn as he has grown through the years, from the moment that I first saw him, to his school pictures in grade school, to his first serious girlfriend, and now, in this closing chapter on high school.

I have always felt so fortunate to have had Eamonn as he came along a few years after we lost Caitlin, and with his arrival, I was finally able to open my heart again, not just to him, but to everyone who mattered to me. Eamonn taught me how to take chances again, and nothing that happens, nothing in the world will ever diminish the importance of Eamonn being my saving grace.

Just as his sister before him and his brother after him, I will have to let Eamonn go at some point, but that does not mean that I will ever love him less than with all of my being.

More later. Peace.

“Half my life is in books’ written pages, lived and learned from fools and from sages.” ~ “Dream On” by Aerosmith

die tanzerin poster

“Die Tanzerin” (detail), by Gustav Klimt

 

“Lost in a dream of mirrors. Lost in a paradox.” ~ “Dream of Mirrors”* (Iron Maiden)

“A reflected dream of captured time . . .”

kananga-mineral-water-japanAs I’m sitting here, staring at the blinking cursor, I could swear that it’s mocking me: You cannot write. You cannot write. Ha ha ha . . .

I know, I do have a habit of personifying inanimate objects quite often, but I’m certain that it’s because my mind works on the same plane as those very objects that I personify. In other words, I understand the cursor, the mouse, the keyboard in the same way that I know what my dogs are saying.

Trust me. It’s a special gift—being this in touch with non-living, objects. Notice I did not say non-sentient? That’s because these little buggers are sentient (I don’t care what you think Bruce Hood; this is my special kind of  Supersense). For example, the mouse knows precisely when to act up: When I am exhausted and having a hard time editing myself. The keyboard knows exactly when to shift the keys one place over: When I am on a roll and not paying attention to the screen so that once I finally look up, I have 20 lines of gibberish.

It’s a conspiracy, I tell you. And I think that the ceiling fan may be in on it as well. By the way, the dogs are laughing at me.

“Have you ever felt the future is the past, but you don’t know how?”

Of course, you are probably sitting there thinking, ‘She’s sounding pretty strange today. Stranger than usual, that is.’ Well you’d be acting strangely too if you had the dream that I had last night. It was filled with confrontation, religious symbolism, a non-working right leg, a professor who turned on me in class, and a red-headed woman who was out to get me. Trust me, all of that trying to escape, falling off a metal bleacher and landing inside a church: That takes a toll on a person’s psyche.

Nevertheless, the actual reason for this post is that David Bridger  posted an interesting meme: Describe the most interesting dream you have ever had, or the dream that you simply cannot forget. I have quite a few, but there is one in particular that really sticks with me because it did not feel like a dream. It felt like a memory.

Now we all know about my Buddhist tendencies to believe in reincarnation: You keep coming back until you get it right. Well this particular dream felt so real, so linear and complete that when I told Corey about it, I also mentioned that I thought that it was more of a memory than a dream.

Okay, for you non-believers out there, just go with the flow. I mean the whole reincarnation thing has always troubled me because I fear coming back as a cockroach; however as someone pointed out to me, coming back as a cockroach would not be so bad because someone would step on you or poison you, which would end that particular incarnation, and then you would be able to come back as something better, that is unless being a cockroach is your final destination, in which case, we really don’t want to ponder that too much.

Moving on. I find it particularly hilarious that many people who claim to have had past lives declare that they were someone famous. How many people could have been Napoleon, or George Washington, or Marie Antoinette. Why is it that no one ever remembers being a scullery maid, or a blacksmith, or a fisherman?

(Just a note: You thought that the whole first section was a complete drop-in, something to fill space, but I had my motives: If I began this post with something completely nonsensical and outrageous, then by the time I got to reincarnation, it couldn’t possible phase you, and you’d just keep reading. (I do have my moments of lucidity within my insanity . . .))

“Have I dreamt this time, this place?”

Delusions of reincarnation grandeur. Too funny. But as usual, I digress. Getting back to my memory dream . . .

utamaro-kitagawa-a-young-woman-seated-at-a-desk-writing-a-girl-with-a-book-looks-on
"Young Woman Seated at Desk Writing, Girl With Book Looks On," by Utamaro Kitagawa

I am a young Japanese girl in Feudal Japan. My mother is a person of some importance in court, not a princess, but someone who is definitely of the upper class. I am wearing a white kimono that is covered with small cherry blossoms. In my child’s mind, I think that the kimono should not be white as that is the color for marriage. I wish that I could wear a fancy kimono like the ones that my mother wears, but I am too young.

My mother is trying to teach me how to paint my characters, specifically my name with small willows on a sprig as decoration. I keep trying, but I cannot get the page to look as beautiful as my mother’s.

In leaning over the paper, I spill some ink on my kimono. It is red ink even though I am drawing with black ink, and I think that the splatter looks like blood. My mother chastises me for being so clumsy, and leaves the room with her maid. I continue to work, but instead of drawing what I am supposed to be practicing, I draw the following image instead:

 

Basic RGB

 Japanese Memory Dream Image by L. Liwag

And I think I’ve seen your face, seen this room, been in this place”

I draw this image repeatedly, trying to perfect it until an old man comes into the room. He is my tutor. He looks at what I am drawing and tells me to stop. For some reason, the image makes him uncomfortable. He tells me that I can learn how to draw my characters better if I practice drawing a small canoe first. He takes the brush, and in three easy strokes draws a canoe; then he adds fine lines and a bit of shadow that illustrate the water.

I tell him that I am not able to draw such a simple yet beautiful picture, but he instructs me to begin with the three lines of the canoe. I push aside the image from my mind that I have drawn over and over again, and I take a clean sheet of white paper. I dip the brush in the ink pot, and I draw the three lines. They look just like the old man’s canoe. He smiles at me and bows his head. I bow my head in reply.

The dream ends.

“Think I’ve heard your voice before, think I’ve said these words before”

In setting the action into words, it seems as if it is a very short dream. But the reality is that this dream or memory takes a long time. I begin the lessons with my mother in the early afternoon. I pursue the elusive image in my mind for several hours. By the time I finish the canoe, it is evening.

arnie-fisk-gilded-kimono
"Gilded Kimono," by Arnie Fisk

Things I remember about the dream: My mother’s hair is very beautiful, black and shiny. Her Kimono has very long sleeves or tamoto, that are trimmed in gold, and I wish that I were old enough to wear sleeves like my mother’s. My mother’s maid is short and not very attractive, and she gives me a dirty look when my mother says that I am clumsy. I know that she is trying to make my mother like her more. I shoot the maid a child’s dirty look, although my eyes are cast downward out of respect for my mother.

The red ink that I spill on my kimono spreads quickly like blood, leaving the bottom of my right sleeve, and a portion of the right side of my kimono saturated with the ink. I try to blot the ink with a piece of fabric, and I stick my fingers in water to try to rub out the ink . Someone, I don’t know whose voice it is, says that the ink will come out when the kimono is washed, but my mother scolds the person and says that the kimono, which is made of fine silk, is ruined now.

My tutor does not have a long mustache. He is thin, and he has brown leathery hands, and the bones are prominent. I think that he will not be able to draw well with such hands. My tutor has an assistant, a much younger man, who does nothing. He sits off to the side and drinks tea while the old man instructs me. I think that he is a lazy assistant and wish that I could spent more time with my tutor as I like him very much. He is not as stern as my mother, and he is very patient with me.

The room that I am in throughout the dream has long windows. At first, there is much sunlight streaming into the room. As the day wanes, I no longer notice the sunlight, but at some point my tutor lights the lanterns in the room. The floor is stone, and I am sitting on a large, red cushion. It has gold tassels on each corner.

“Have I found my destination?” 

Picture of the Upper Class by Kitagawa Utamaro
"Picture of the Upper Class," by Utamaro Kitagawa

Now, I had this memory dream several weeks ago, but I still remember every detail, even though this is the first time that I have written about it. I do remember my dreams, but never with this much clarity.

The other very curious thing about this memory dream and reality is that for a very long time, since I was in my early 20’s, I have felt that there is something Japanese in me somewhere along the line. It’s not from my father’s side of the family. In fact, my father hated the Japanese, and for good reason. His village suffered horribly under Japanese rule during WWII.

Despite that, I have had this feeling that I have Japanese blood, and I wrote about it in a poem called “Blood Tracings.” I never told my father about my feelings; in fact, I have only told a few people over the years about this sense of heritage, but I have not thought about it in years.

And then this memory dream pervades my bedtime sojourns and leaves me feeling very disquieted.

“Am I still inside my dream? Is this a new reality” 

Who’s to say if my dream means anything. It may just be my mind’s way of sifting through the detritus of the day, which is how I usually interpret my dreams. If there is a red-headed woman in my dream, it’s usually because I have seen a red-headed woman on television, or on a book flap (which was the case last night), or in person.

 But this dream has nothing to do with anything I have thought about recently, nothing I have written about, nor anything that I have seen. It just came to me, and when I awoke, I was certain that it was a memory. I felt that way and still feel this way because of the effect that this memory dream has had on me: I think about it constantly; the details are still quite vivid, and when I awoke from the dream, I immediately said to Corey, “I just had the most curious memory.” Of course he was asleep at the time, so I had to remind him later.

If it was indeed a memory, then it was a good one. Aside from displeasing my mother, I enjoyed my creations with brush and ink. I cared little about my kimono being ruined, and the old man who was my tutor gave me a great deal of comfort. The room in which I was working was obviously the room that was dedicated to learning as there was the one larger desk with several brushes, and many cushions on the stone floor.

I know nothing about Japanese characters. I don’t think that the drawing that I created actually translates into anything. But if it does, I would love to know.

またあいましょ : ‘Mata aai masho’ or “Let us meet again.” Peace.

claude-monet-the-japanese-bridge

 “The Japanese Bridge,” by Claude Monet

*All quotes in text subheadings are taken from Iron Maiden’s “Dream of Mirrors”
                                                                                                                                        
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High School Should Be Abolished

The Boardwalk Trail in Trail of Cedars Glacier Natl Park by Janson Jones
Trail of the Cedars, Glacier National Park, Montana by Janson Jones of Floridana Alaskiana

“The Long and Winding Road . . . ” ~ Paul McCartney, The Beatles

“Will Never Disappear. . .”

pathwayI picked up my son Brett from school today. When he got in the truck, I could tell that it had been another bad day for him. My heart aches so much for him as he is certain that the rest of his life is going to be as bad as it is right now.

Even though most of his teachers and his counselor have been extremely understanding and have agreed to work with him, he is still suffering the pains of the anxiety and depression, and I have little doubt that almost all of it is caused by school.

When he asked me if his life is always going to be so bad, I just wanted to cradle him in my arms and hold him and never let go. That’s the mom in me talking, but it is also the person in me talking who has been and continues to be terribly unsure of herself, even after all of these years. I know how it feels to believe that life just sucks and that it is never going to get better. I know how it feels to believe that you are worthless. I know how it feels to bear the burden of putting on a good face just to make it through the day.

And because I know these things, it makes me wish that he could just skip these years and arrive at a better point in his life.

“I’ve Seen That Road Before . . .”

stone stepsI mean, I actually didn’t have a horrible time in high school. I did pretty much whatever I wanted, managed to still get good grades, cheered, and belonged to every club I could join. But the truth is that it was all a big act: my attempts to fit in, to belong. And I always wore this façade, one that reflected someone who knew what she wanted and wouldn’t let anyone stand in her way.

I have to tell you that maintaining that kind of façade really takes its toll. I would move through school at this frenetic pace for weeks and weeks at a time. I would go to all-night study sessions, take my advanced courses, work part time four or five times a week. The pace I set for myself was insane now that I look back on it. But then the inevitable crash would come, and I would get sick and be out of school.

At the time I suspected that I was manic/depressive, as it was called then, but only from the little bit of research that I had done on the subject. Of course, information was not a mouse click away at the time, and research meant pulling books and articles from shelves and reading them on the library’s time. I just knew that I had these extreme highs that would shift on a dime.

My mother, of course, would say things like “snap out of it,” and “you’re just making yourself sad.” Or the best one: “You have your period.” To be fair, though, even though I cast my mother as uncaring, it was not that so much as uninformed. My mother came from a very small town in North Carolina and had no formal education. What she knew about depression was only what she might see in movies. And in her generation, mental illness was a big stigma: People did not talk about such things as it would end up on their permanent record.

Permanent record. You won’t believe how many times I used to hear that. I asked my mom one time where this permanent record was kept. She told me not to be a smartass.

But I digress . . .

“The Wild and Windy Night . . .”

Dark-stormy-cloudsMy main point is that high school is an unendurable test of strength, will, character, and emotion. Think back to your high school days: Did you love them? Do you look back on them fondly? Bigger question: Would you go back?

No. Absolutely not. No way. Never. Fry some chicken and call me for dinner but N-O.

I was telling Brett that there are some people who never leave high school because it was the best time of their lives. We all know those people, and we usually feel sorry for them.

But in retrospect, there are only a handful of people from my high school days that I still care about. One of them is dead; he died much too young of cancer. One I was married to (no, we were not high school sweethearts, ugh). One is his best friend and was my best friend. One reads my blog regularly and has come in and out of my life for years and has always been in my life because we have known each other much longer than high school. And one is a gay man who lives with his partner up north.

There are other people who I remember fondly, There are moments that I remember fondly. There are incredible adventures that I will never forget. But that was then. I’ve moved on, matured, grown, aged, changed and changed again.

“That the Rain Washed Away . . .”

silver-birch-forestWhat I was trying to tell Brett was that all of those popular people in high school, the ones who everyone knew and envied, or wanted to be like or hated just a little because they were too popular or too handsome or too privileged—those people are not who they were in high school.

For example, one of the really sad stories from my high school concerns the football star, the quarterback. He was actually a quiet, troubled soul, but few people knew that. Everyone just knew that he could throw a ball. A few years after high school, he killed himself. I won’t even try to surmise why he might have done such a thing. No one can ever know another person’s demons.

Or take some of the beautiful people in high school, the pretty blondes, the handsome jocks: Some of them are on their third marriages. Some are with spouses who they thought would treat them like queens only to find out that their husband is a monster who beats them behind the privacy of their closed door.

Some never made it to 20. They died from drug overdoses, suicide, homicide, illnesses. The ones other people looked down on, the brains, are working for GE, fortune 500 companies as engineers, NASA.

“Why Leave Me Standing Here? Let Me Know the Way . . . “

Standing AloneWe can never know where life will take us. Most of us would never have guessed that we would be in the places we find ourselves today. Some of us have done much better than we ever hoped. Some of us have done much worse. Fate is fickle, and life is hard.

When we are in high school, everything seems possible at some point. Then nothing seems possible the next day. We go from highs to lows in the blink of an eye. Maybe it’s because of a rejection letter from the college we really wanted. Maybe it’s because we lost a parent or a sibling or a best friend. Maybe it’s because our family’s circumstances changed, and what we once had was taken away. Maybe it’s because we have no support system at home. Maybe it’s because we have no home. Who knows?

All of the petty grievances we had with people in high school seem so small once we move on and have to deal with real world issues: paying the mortgage, working with a boss who is sexist, finding out our spouse is cheating, losing a job because of circumstances beyond our control.

How can breaking up with your one true love at 16 prepare you for such things? It can help you to understand loss, but without a broader context, that loss will seem overwhelming at the time.

How can failing English or Trigonometry not make you feel like a failure? It can’t at the moment, but in a broader context, it can help you to learn how to overcome failure, and as long as no one rubs your nose in that failure, you may be able to deal with it in a way that does not tear at your sense of self.

“Many Times I’ve Been Alone and Many Times I’ve Cried”

Wild and Windy NightI’m not trying to diminish all of the emotions, feelings and flailing that a young person in high school endures. It is precisely because of the constant bombardment of things that so many young people take their own lives. As I wrote about in a previous post, being bullied when you are 13 and unable to sort through all of the emotions can cause a young person to snap. And how sad and utterly wasted.

If only there were some way to go inside the heads of these young men and women and let them know that in one year or two or three, their lives will be different. They won’t have to endure humiliation, verbal abuse, or whatever obstacles they face now because they will have the power to get away from that source of pain. If only they can hang on long enough.

I’m not naive. I know that not everyone escapes. I know that for some, the abuse continues. I know that because of economic circumstances, some will never be able to touch even the periphery of their dreams. And some will continue patterns begun in high school that prevent them from ever really maturing emotionally.

Many an alcoholic and drug addict are born in high school. Those bullies grow up to be spouse and child abusers. Some of those who endured constant ridicule grow into people who survive by belittling others because that is all that they know. Others who had to lie and live in secret grow into adults who always keep their true selves hidden. And some who were never able to overcome their childhood fears grow into individuals who continue to be victimized their entire lives.

But there is always hope, and with luck, maybe the sorrows that they endure during this emotional, hormonal, confusing time will help them to become stronger people, or at least give them insight into how they don’t want to raise their own children, the things they should never say or do to their own children because they have the emotional and physical scars to remind them of how much words can hurt.

“. . . You Will Never Know the Many Ways I’ve Tried”

Solitary Walk on BeachIf high school was the apex of your life, and you still look on it fondly, then good for you. Cherish your memories. But for most of the rest of us, it’s a period that we are glad is in the past. We might go to a reunion to see a few familiar faces and say hello, and probably, we want to gloat a little inwardly at the beauties who have gained weight and the arrogant young men who are now balding and pot-bellied.

Sometimes, revenge is sweet when it is never served at all, when we just let life take care of things. When we just allow fate to dip into the well and present its own version of just rewards.

I wish with all of my heart that the high school years could somehow be avoided, jumped over, or abolished altogether. But that is not reality. As much as I might want to cosset my son and keep him from pain, I know that I have to step back and allow him to finish this particular journey in his life. I can be there to support him, but I cannot bear this burden for him, nor would I want to if I could.

“Don’t Leave Me Waiting Here/Lead Me to Your Door”

sunrise through treesThere is an old Spanish proverb that says “The journey is more important than the inn.”  Only when we are a little older and a little wiser and a few years removed from the hardest legs of our journey—only then do we begin to understand that life truly is a winding road, filled with twists and turns and hillocks and vales.

Until then, we must endure all of the more arduous legs of our individual journeys and bide our time for the smoother paths. And if we can be patient, sometimes along the way the light will shine through the trees to help us along our paths.

Let me leave you with this beautiful memory of Paul, George and Ringo together live with John in video. More later. Peace.

 

 

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Lola’s Etiquette Rules: A Few Gentle Reminders

hints-on-etiquette

“Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.” ~ Emily Post

“We are born charming, fresh and spontaneous and must be civilized before we are fit to participate in society.” ~ Judith Martin, Miss Manners

1. Movie Etiquette

We went to the movies last night, and on the entrance to the theater the following sign was posted:

“No cell phone use. Please do not text message.”

cellphoneWhat I want to know is why people will spend the exorbitant amount a movie ticket costs (I’m sorry, but today’s ticket prices are just stupid), only to spend the time in the theater text messaging or talking on the phone? First of all, no one is that important. If you are that important, put your phone on vibrate, and leave the theater to take your call.

Second, it bespeaks so poorly of our society that we need a sign to ask us not to use our phones in a movie theater.

Trust me when I tell you that no one, and I mean no one cares what JJ said to you or why she said it. No one cares that you caught your baby daddy with BB or what you did to her hair.

And believe me when I tell you that you might be 17 and have great eyesight, but if you keep texting in the dark, your eyes are going to lock together and your thumbs will fall off. This is a mother’s curse, and it will work.

“When a society abandons its ideals just because most people can’t live up to them, behavior gets very ugly indeed.” ~ Miss Manners

2. Parking Etiquette

If a No Parking sign is clearly prominent on the pole in front of someone’s house, that does not mean that you cannot just park in front of the pole. Note the arrow on the sign pointing down the road. Note the fire hydrant in the yard.

I know that you really need to get to your son or daughter’s game so that you can belittle the opposing players and yell like the madman that you are at your child when he or she misses the ball. Forget about the fact that your child is five. Self-esteem isn’t important until oh, three or four or ten years later.

I know that your car is new and you don’t want to park in a parking lot like normal people because after all, you are special. And I realize that you have ESP, so you know that there will be no need to use the fire hydrant if one of the houses in the vicinity catches fire. Let them use their garden hoses. Man up.

But when you get the ticket that I warned you that you might get, don’t come up to me, red in the face with skyrocketing blood pressure and an impending aneurysm. I didn’t write the ticket. The police officer wrote the ticket because you were stupid enough to block a fire hydrant.

“Honesty has come to mean the privilege of insulting you to your face without expecting redress.” ~ Miss Manners 

3. Grocery Etiquette

Boy that cotton candy looked good on the way in. Didn’t it? Nice and sticky. And why use one of the conveniently placed trash cans when you can just throw your used, snotty tissues in the cart and leave them for the next person.

Did you know that because of this force called gravity, your toddler, who is currently hanging over the side of the shopping cart, is probably going to fall head first onto this industrial tile floor? But don’t worry, if he does, you can sue the store, sue the manufacturer’s of the shopping cart. Why you can even sue the people who made this floor so darn hard in the first place.

And by the way, did I thank you for the poopy diaper?

4. Bill Collecting Etiquette

I am soooo sorry that the money that I agreed to give you every  month isn’t enough to make a blip on your commission radar. But if someone is offering to pay something, isn’t getting that money better than your idea that it’s more or it’s nothing at all?

And does your mother know that you talk with that mouth?

Just wondering.

“One of the greatest victories you can gain over someone is to beat him at politeness.” ~ Josh Billings

5. Protest Etiquette

tea baggingPardon me, Mr. Teabagger. I know that you don’t like the idea of raising taxes because they’ll only go to help educate children and make health care available to the masses. But do you think that you could possibly pay your taxes before you protest about having to pay taxes?

P.S. Didn’t anyone explain the meaning of the term tea bagging?

P. P. S. Since I’m a liberal dem (as in the sign), does that mean that I’m teabagging you, and if so, would you explain how that is anatomically possible?

6. Nasty Commenting Etiquette

Thanks ever so much for dropping by the site. I always love to see those visitor statistics rise. Having you as a reader means more than I can say.

No really, more than I can say, because if I pointed out your grammatical errors, typos, and completely illogical fallacies, that would be saying too much, and gee, it might cause you not to come back again. Or even worse, you might decide to come back and give me more of your pseudo-logical word thrashing , which, to be painfully honest, would be about as welcome to me as an abscess.

Might I direct you to another blog that actually cares what you have to say?

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” ~ Eric Hoffer

7. Everyone’s a Critic Etiquette

Just a word to the wise: If you want to use someone else’s words on your site, and you ask for permission to do so, it really doesn’t make sense to then ask the author to change those words to suit you. If she wanted the words to read the way you want them, why then she’d be . . . you!

Here’s a thought: Why don’t you go to another site that has words more to your liking? Say one in which you can do the writing.

8. Vice Presidential Etiquette

Presidential terms run for four years. Presidents are allowed two terms. Using the arithmetic that Mrs. Adams taught me in 4th grade, the totals eight years. As yet, no bill has been passed that allows for more than two terms in office. The vice president is elected to the office with the president. Hence, when the president’s term is over, the vice president’s term is also over. At exactly the same time.

It does not continue indefinitely until the former vice president decides that he’s done, no matter how ugly and out of shape his mouth is, nor how big his hat is.

I’m sorry. I didn’t make up these rules. A bunch of guys before me made up these rules. Would someone please let the former vice president know that his time is up and he needs to go now?

“You do not have to do everything disagreeable that you have a right to do.” ~ Miss Manners

9. Radio Host Etiquette

You say that you didn’t get your degree at Harvard? You weren’t president of the Harvard Law Review?

Oh, that’s right. You dropped out after two semesters at Southeast Missouri State University because you flunked everything, even ballroom dancing.

That’s all right. You’re a U.S. Veteran, right? So that makes your opinion on our service men and women valuable. Wait, not a veteran?Balloon Head Rush Limbaugh

Oh forgive me. I forgot that your draft status kept you from serving because of a football injury? Or was it that polinodal cyst, you know the ones you usually get on your butt from an ingrown hair?

But you’re still qualified to tell a political party how to do its job, right? Is that the oxycontin talking? I apologize. You kicked that habit and went to work for a very short stint at ESPN as a sports commentator.

You don’t do that any more? Oh yes. The racist comment.

But still, you support your country no matter what because it’s the greatest country in the world, and it allows you to open your huge mouth on a daily basis and say whatever you want to say. Right?

Oops. Obama. Fail. Forgot.

“Ideological differences are no excuse for rudeness.” ~ Miss Manners

10. Bad Day Etiquette

When you are having a bad day that is coupled with a bad hair day, it is usually not a wise idea to lock the bathroom door, drape a towel around your shoulders, and begin to cut your hair.

Just saying, you might want to reconsider doing this and have a hot fudge sundae instead.

I know. Sometimes I don’t follow my own rules.

There now. Use your hand sanitizer. Don’t you feel better now that you are plum full of Lola’s Words of Wisdom?

I thought you would be. More later. Peace.

“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small and the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all.” ~ Grace Slick, “Go Ask Alice”

Spitzer Rosette Nebula

Spitzer Rosette Nebula* (Images from space look very similar to brain scans . . . Cue Twilight Zone music)

“We can describe the thoughts of Hamlet, but we cannot describe a Migraine.” ~ Virginia Woolf

“There is much pain that is quite noiseless; and vibrations that make human agonies are often a mere whisper in the roar of hurrying existence.” ~ George Eliot

Hubble Pistol Nebula
Hubble Pistol Nebula

This is day five of this migraine. I am in the midst of a lull, which I hope is a signal that this migraine is finally abating. Or it could be the vicodin . . .kidding, only kidding. Geez.

After consulting with my migraine doctors, I’ve decided to stop trying the preventive medications for now. I’ve had so many horrible side effects with the last three that I’ve tried that I just don’t think that the preventive medication is working out for me. And the reality is that I’m getting just as many migraines on the preventive medicine as I am without. The main difference has been duration, as in, does the headache last a few days or a few weeks.

Those of you who have never had a migraine probably cannot imagine having a headache for weeks, but believe me, it is a reality. And it’s not just a headache—it’s a migraine, and there is a significant difference between the two.

“At first every small apprehension is magnified. Every anxiety a pounding terror. Then the pain comes and I concentrate only on that.” ~ Joan Didion

With a migraine, which is a neurological syndrome, several things can happen, but they do not always happen. Sometimes, it’s just one or two; other times you get the whole bag. There are actually four possible phases to the migraine: the prodrome, the aura, the pain phase, and the postdrome.

In the prodrome, or the phase leading up to the migraine, the sufferer can experience several things: euphoria (never had that one), irritability (yep), fatigue, yawning, food cravings, stiff muscles (yep, yep, yep). The prodrome can occur anywhere from a day up to hours before onset. The aura can appear 5 to 20 minutes before pain onset, and can last for up to 60 minutes. The pain phase, well, that’s self-explanatory. And the postdrome can be manifested as euphoria (what is it with euphoria?), malaise, weakness, loss of appetite, stomach problems, and cognitive function impairment. Some sufferers liken it to a hangover. I prefer to call it the limp dishrag syndrome.

Hubble Eskimo Nebula
Hubble Eskimo Nebula (resembles auras I have had)

Most of the time, I get an aura before the onset of the pain. This aura can be blurred vision, spots in my eyes, or waves, accompanied by tingling in the limbs. The aura is usually a signal that the pain is about to errupt in the brain. This pain can be a band around the head, sort of like someone tightening a metal band around the circumference of your head until you feel that you skull is going to crack open.

The pain can be focused in one or both eyes. I tend to get the eye pain. The only way to describe this is as if someone is taking an ice pick and sticking it in the corner of your eye. Or, if the pain is behind the eyes, it feels as if someone is trying to push your eyeballs out of your head from the inside.

Too graphic? Now you know why I have a thing about my eyes, as in, I cannot stand the thought of anyone approaching my eyes with a laser, or anything sharp. Strike the laser eye surgery.

The pain is often accompanied by other wonderful symptoms: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, clumsiness, a sensitivity to sound (hyperacusis), sensitivity to light (photophobia), inability to bend over. There have even been occasions when I have had a migraine, and I have had a temporary blinding light behind my eyes, which in essense, makes me blind for a few seconds.

My postdrome phase is almost always the same: I feel very weak, achy, and have a dull headache for at least several hours after. Often I am nauseous.

“When there is pain, there are no words. Everything is the same.” ~ Toni Morrison

According to an article from ABC News, many doctors believe that migraines are the result of “a genetic disorder that makes one person’s brain more sensitive to certain stressors that other people would barely notice—like missing a meal or a rainy day.

More than 26 million [up to 32 by some estimates] Americans suffer from the neurologic disorder,” according to the American Medical Association (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/PainManagement/story?id=4170218&page=1).

Hubble Massive Galaxy Cluster
Hubble Massive Galaxy Cluster

I think at this point, I should count as at least two people in that statistic.

In essence, people who suffer from migraines do not deal well with change (I’m not talking about my emotional dislike for change). Migraines can be triggered by changes as innocuous as not getting enough sleep. According to Dr. Joel Saper, founder and director of the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute, “Any change of the norm, any stress to your system, and your body will produce a headache.”

Triggers for migraines (outside and inside factors) include many different things: bright or flashing lights, certain smells, chocolate, caffeine, bananas, cigarette smoke, fresh paint, hormonal changes, climate changes (e.g., rapid drop in barometric pressure), lack of sleep, too much sleep (http://www.relieve-migraine-headache.com/migraine-trigger).

 In other words—life.

“It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.” ~ Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

Spitzer Towering Infernos from Hubble
Spitzer Towering Infernos

Triggers vary from person to person. I am sensitive to certain colognes and bright lights. Caffeine, which can be a trigger, can also alleviate a migraine, so I have not given up my Pepsi or coffee. I do know that certain foods can trigger my migraines, but I don’t think that a banana has ever set off my pain. 

One of my big triggers is MSG, or monosodium glutamate, which is a flavor enhancer that used to be a major ingredient in spices and packaged foods. Individuals who are sensitive to MSG, as I am, routinely scan the list of ingredients for this additive. Corey is particularly diligent in checking labels of any new foods that we may be trying for the first time.

Unfortunately, some of my favorite snack foods contain MSG: cheese puffs, Cheetos, Ranch-flavored Doritos. Even fast foods contain MSG: McDonald’s used to use MSG to enhance the flavor of their french fries. Chinese food used to contain MSG routinely; however, most Chinese restaurants have become aware of the large number of people who are allergic to MSG.

Adverse reactions are not limited to migraines or headaches. People who are allergic to MSG can have asthma attacks, nausea, vomiting, arrhythmia, rash, facial pressure, tingling and warming  in the face, arms and upper body, to name but a few of the possible reactions.

MSG is actually an excitotoxin, which means that it effects the brain by exciting it. Excitotoxins include MSG, aspartate (which is found in Nutrasweet), and hydrolized protein (http://www.ezhealthydiet.com/excitotoxins).

Another compound found in food that can cause migraines is tyramine, which is produced from the natural breakdown of the amino acid, tyrasine. Tyramine, which can cause blood vessel dilation is usually found in aged or preserved foods. For example, beef jerky. How do you go hiking without beef jerky? Other foods containing tyramine include olives, alcoholic beverages, aged cheeses, and soy sauce.

Okay. I’ll give up a lot of things, but I simply cannot give up soy sauce. I’m Filipina. My blood is probably 5 percent soy sauce. I was raised on soy sauce. I like soy sauce on cauliflower (weird, I know, but try it). Obviously, I’ve built up an immunity to soy sauce because I don’t have migraines every day of my life, and chances are pretty good that I’ll have soy sauce 6 out of 7 days a week.

Soy sauce? Is nothing sacred?

“Everything hurts.” ~ Michelangelo

Hubble M17 Omega Nebula
Hubble M17 Omega Nebula

I was reading an online article from Science News that contends that people who suffer from migraines have brain scarring, specifically on the cerebellum, which controls motor function and cognition. The odds of scarring for migraine sufferers who have accompanying auras are nearly 14 times higher than people who just have regular headaches.

Headache expert Dr. Richard Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City contends that “It’s pretty clear that migraine sufferer have more brain lesions [than people without the attacks] . . . That strengthens the view that migraine is a neurologic disease, a disease of the brain.”  (http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/41052/-migraines_leave_trail_of_scars_across_the_brain).

Great. My cerebellum has infarctions or dead spots, and my brain is scarred—I don’t think that this is the kind of scarring that you can fix with dutiful applications of aloe vera.

“Pain is real when you get other people to believe in it. If no one believes in it but you, your pain is madness or hysteria.” ~ Naomi Wolf

Hubble Eagle Nebula M16
Hubble Eagle Nebula M16

If you are a migraine sufferer (migraineur), you probably know that having migraines is not always looked upon kindly. In the workplace, there is often a stigma attached to migraine sufferers who call in sick, the reaction being, “I’ve worked with a headache before. Why can’t she?”

The Migraine Awareness Site had one of the best passages regarding this situation that I have ever read:

“. . .oftentimes people think that those with Migraines just can’t handle life or are drug addicts or alcoholics. Such perception can be formed when, for example, people see a Migraineur wearing sun glasses indoors due to sensitivity to light, lying in a dark and silent room due to sensitivity to light and sound, making frequent trips to the rest room due to nausea and vomiting, leaving work early, slurring their speech, or engaging in otherwise erratic behavior. According to Dr. Sheftell, “Historically, patients with the most intractable Migraines experience a downward spiral in terms of income and contributions to society at large.” (http://www.migraines.org/disability/impawork.htm).

I know that I had to attend a marketing meeting once when I was suffering from a horrible migraine, and I wore my prescription sunglasses during the meeting. Everyone knew that I had a migraine, but something was still said about it. I had one boss who was very annoyed when I informed him that if I had to share an office with someone, they would need to be able to use natural light and lamps.

We were relocating into a new building, and I had had a private office in the old building. I was not trying to be difficult, as I knew that there were two other migraine sufferers in his employ; I was merely asking for accommodations for my illness. In the end, I did share the office with another individual who didn’t like overhead light either, but my boss’s reaction exemplifies how uninformed people who do not suffer from migraines can be.

 “Life’s sharpest rapture is surcease of pain.” ~ Emma Lazarus

ESO Horsehead Nebula
ESO Horsehead Nebula

Even though a significant percentage of the population suffer from migraines, it is still one of the most stigmatized disorders in society. Small comfort is the fact that migraines have been around for centuries, actually longer. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, wrote in 460 BC about shining light that was typically seen in one eye and followed by severe pain that started in temples and worked its way to encompass the rest of the head and down into the neck.

Ancient cures included applying an electric fish (related to a ray) to the forehead (Greek). Albucasis, an ancient Arabian doctor (936-1013 A.D.) advised applying a hot iron to the afflicted head, and if that failed, he recommended cutting a hole above the temple and inserting a garlic clove (what?) into the hole for 15 hours. Russian folk medicine recommends placing large cabbage leaves on your head and neck.

I can smell like garlic or like cabbage. Great.

Well, at least I know that I’m in good company:  Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Virginia Woolf, Charles Darwin, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Cervantes, Tschaikovsky,  Lewis Carroll, Mary Todd Lincoln, Elvis Presley, and President John F. Kennedy just to name a few migraineurs in history.

And the good news is that they don’t cut holes in your head any more.

More later sooner. Promise. Peace.

*All images are from NASA’s Spitzer or Hubble space telescopes, which are part of NASA’s Great Observatory Program.
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