“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.” ~ Toni Morrison, from Song of Solomon

My favorite image of Toni Morrison (Bettmann/Getty Image)

“And I am all the things I have ever loved: scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water, dream books and number playing. I am the sound of my own voice singing . . . I am not complete here; there is much more, but there is no more time and no more space . . . and I have journeys to take, ships to name, and crews.” ~ Toni Morrison, from the jacket cover of The Black Book

Sunday afternoon, sunny, warmer, 86 degrees.

We recently lost an icon in the literary sphere: Toni Morrison (born Chloe Anthony Wofford February 18, 1931-August 5, 2019). Novelist, essayist, editor and professor emirutus at Princeton University, Morrison (88), was the only African American writer and one of the few women to have received the Nobel prize for literature (1993). Among her other awards were the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988 and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon in 1977.

The Guardian‘s obituary offers a comprehensive look at her incredible oeuvre, and The Boston Herald ran an op ed by Joyce Ferriabough Bolling on August 11 that focuses more on Morrison’s incomparable literary abilities: “The quiet power of her prose was like a tsunami sweeping you to other dimensions — and sometimes you never saw it coming.”

Newsweek published an article that includes some of the renowned author’s best quotes. Here is a selection from her 1993 Nobel Prize lecture, powerful words that are incredibly significant still today:

The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

Barack Obama presents Toni Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012

. . . Stop thinking about saving your face. Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story. Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created. We will not blame you if your reach exceeds your grasp; if love so ignites your words they go down in flames and nothing is left but their scald. Or if, with the reticence of a surgeon’s hands, your words suture only the places where blood might flow. We know you can never do it properly – once and for all. Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul. You, old woman, blessed with blindness, can speak the language that tells us what only language can: how to see without pictures. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.

More later. Peace.


Remembering Toni Morrison (PBS NewsHour):

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“I will vanish in the morning light; I was only an invention of darkness.” ~ Angela Carter, from “The Lady of the House of Love”

411211-12
Winter Landscape (no title, no date)
by Stepan Kolesnikoff

                    

“Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?” ~ Lawrence Durrell, from Justine

Sunday afternoon. Cloudy, and much warmer, 62 degrees.

I have been so cold for days now; thankfully the temperatures today are milder, but a cold front is expected to move through the area soon.

Stepan Kolesnikoff title unknown winter landscape
Winter Landscape, title and date unknown
by Stepan Kolesnikoff

Let’s see, things have been taxing. On Friday, I was driving to my much-needed doctor’s appointment with the pain management group when the Rodeo overheated. I drove just a little bit more after the gauge shot up, and I was in the turn lane to get off the main boulevard when the car just died. I added water/coolant to the overflow and put the hood up. Of course it was the coldest day of winter so far, absolutely frigid temps. I’m glad that I rethought my outerwear when leaving the house and exchanged a long sweater for a wool coat and gloves. The only smart thing I did that day.

Would you believe that even with the hood up and the emergency flashers on, people still beeped their horns at me? People are completely stupid sometimes. And the only person who offered to help was a woman, and I politely thanked her, but truthfully, I needed someone to give me a push off the boulevard. Finally a cop showed up, and he pushed me off and into a parking lot, but I had to get out and help him push it into a space so that it wouldn’t roll backwards. Not the best thing for my back, undoubtedly. And of course while I was sitting there I became overwhelmed and texted Corey; I’m sure I worried him by asking him to call me asap.

Add to this that Corey’s check was supposed to show up in the mail on Friday, and it didn’t, so I have a broken vehicle and no money.

Perfect.

“Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
. . . Here is unfenced existence;
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.” ~ Philip Larkin, from “Here”

My doctor’s office was very understanding, though. I had called when the car stopped and told them that I was only a few minutes away. They said they would hold the appointment, but then when it was obvious that I wasn’t moving, they offered me a slot on Monday. I suppose I’ll have to drive Brett’s car on Monday, you know, the Honda that he still hasn’t registered. It’s legal to switch plates temporarily in Virginia in situations like this, though.

Stepan Kolesnikoff title unknown
Winter Landscape, title and date unknown
by Stepan Kolesnikoff

The other wonderful news I got this week was that Corey will indeed not be home until after the 16th of January. Because he has the necessary license, they are keeping him on the ship until it gets back in port in Louisiana, and they are not leaving Nicaragua until January 10th because of some port inspection. Further, they are talking about putting him in for his remaining training immediately after he gets back in port, so he may not be home until right before my birthday on the 23rd.

I have to tell you that this was most unwelcome news. I found this out on New Year’s Eve, of all times, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself. I had been alone in the house for days as Brett was out and about, and then I was hit with this. I had never felt so all alone as I did that night, even though I had Olivia with me.

“There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up; holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind—wrapped tight like skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.” ~ Toni Morrison, from Beloved

I mean, I know that Corey isn’t happy about the change, but we really don’t have a choice in this. The company needs him for this, and he isn’t exactly in a position to say no. We both know that it’s necessary, but that doesn’t mean that we like it. He sent me a text later to try to cheer me up, and for his sake, I am trying very hard not to be transparent about my sadness.

Stepan Kolesnikoff Winter gouache on cardboard
“Winter” (nd, gouache on cardboard)
by Stepan Kolesnikof

I will admit though that I was brought to tears after hanging up the phone. Here I was on New Year’s Eve, just me, the dogs, and a sleeping baby. Outside, all kinds of celebrations were going on, and people were setting off fireworks in the park. It wasn’t that I wanted to be out in the midst of the celebrations, but more that the celebrations were just a painful reminder of my solitude. The noise made the dogs restless, which only added to my own feelings of restlessness and loneliness.

I am glad that I had Olivia for the night, though, as she provided a much-needed distraction from my pity party. On New Year’s day I made her a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast as she is exploring finger foods, and tried to find comfort in her smile, which is not hard to do.

“If you want to become more than a shadow
Among shadows, you must carry back the memory
Of your father disintegrating in your arms,You must bring words that will console others,
You must believe in stairs leading upward
To summer’s resplendent, celestial blues.” ~ Edward Hirsch, from “Sortes Virgilianae (The Fortuneteller’s Words to the Poet)”

So there’s Corey, and there is the Rodeo, and then there is my mother. My mom has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning as a follow-up to her hospitalization. It’s a check-up, and they aren’t doing any procedures, but she had wanted me to take here, which wasn’t a problem until my rescheduled appointment also fell on Monday late morning.

I had called Alexis to see if she might be able to take mom to the appointment so that I could go to mine, but Alexis didn’t seem that willing to help. I know that she’s kind of caught as she has no drivable car at the moment (runs in the family), but she could take my mother’s car. Anyway, I told my mom that one of use would take her to the doctor.

Stepan Kolesnikoff Derevya aka Trees
“Derevya” (Trees, nd)
by Stepan Kolesnikoff

Now get this—I had told mom about my vehicle and about my rescheduled appointment, and she had no issue with me taking her and then rushing to get to my appointment, but when I mentioned bringing Alexis into the mix, suddenly my mother is fine in going to the appointment on her own so as not to inconvenience Alexis.

Am I being prickly because I find that bizarre? It’s okay if I rush around to take her and try to fit my appointment in, but not so much for my daughter?

Geez.

Of course I feel guilty because . . . whatever . . . guilt is my middle name.

“There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember that it exists.” ~ Derrick Jensen, from A Language Older Than Words

Add to this that Corey has asked me to keep the tree up until he gets home. That’s not an issue because it is a fake tree. What is an issue is that my house is cluttered with Christmas decorations, and I’m starting to feel antsy, as in I need to get things back in order. I had Brett take down the outside lights, and I think that this week I’ll take down most of the decorations but leave the tree for him.

This Wednesday we’re going to go ahead and open most of the kids’ presents, rather than have them wait another three weeks. Brett says he doesn’t mind waiting, but I’m leaving it up to Eamonn and Alexis as to what they want to open now. Corey said to leave it up to the kids as to what they want to do. I know that Brett doesn’t feel like celebrating without Corey, and neither do I. Lex and Eamonn are different—not a criticism, just an observation.

Stepan Kolesnikoff Wolf in a Winter Landscape tempera on paper
“Wolf in a Winter Landscape” (nd, tempera on paper)
by Stepan Kolesnikoff

And have I mentioned the ongoing migraine?

So once again I find myself physically hurting and emotionally bereft. I know I wouldn’t have made it as a Navy wife, those six-month long cruises? Never. That’s why I never dated a sailor. It has to be hard on everyone in the family, but they get through, and so will I. I need to stop being so damned pitiful and try to pull myself together. Yep. Going to work on that. Meanwhile, I’ll order some more makeup.

Geez, Louise. Where did that saying come from, I wonder . . .

Oh well, I need to do some laundry and dishes and other exciting things, but I am going to try to read another book this evening, try to get back into my reading groove.

More later. Peace.

All images are by Russian artist Stepan Fedorovich Kolesnikoff (1879 — 1955), also known as Stepan Kolesnikov. It was hard to find titles and dates for most of the works I wanted to include. If you know of any, please pass along the information. Thanks.

Music by Wilco, “Far, Far Away”

                   

Drink

When I woke up this morning
the lark was full of tears.
White, bright hail was frying
on the grass.
Now up against the wire
the falcon wrecks the hen
and carries her gray heart
over the redwoods while the new
sun burns on the former rain.
Crossed by her shadow, my hand
cupped beneath the spigot,
I am drinking last year’s snow.
How bad it hurts
that the mountains ascend
to their ghost-deals white
with the wine of next summer.

~ Denis Johnson

“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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