Friday, April 27, 2018

Diagnosed by Poetry

It is all too tempting to diagnose people, real and fictional, from afar based on incomplete and sketchy data. Marfan syndrome can explain Abraham Lincoln's hight and appearance. Sherlock Holmes may have been bipolar or autistic.

Every week someone offers up a new medical explanation for our current president.
This may be Emily Dickinson (left).

Poor Emily Dickinson has already been posthumously diagnosed with epilepsy, tuberculosis, and agoraphobia. I'm going to add to her ghostly burdens by suggesting she might have had an autoimmune disease.

That she and I are both vaguely unwell on a regular basis is probably not good enough evidence. Emily lived at a time of extreme propriety when talking graphically about health problems was not done.

But this poem sounds a lot like my life:

For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.

For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years--
Bitter contested farthings--
And Coffers heaped with Tears!
--Emily Dickinson

Whenever I get overly energetic, physically or mentally, there is a disproportionate price to pay in tiredness and pain. 

Last week illustrates this. My step counter looks really good. The goal for most days is 5000 steps, about 2 miles. Monday, despite horrible wind storms, I walked over 7000 steps, so Tuesday I was good and rested.Wednesday, after resting, I felt good and went to the aquarium and the store and ended up with over 9000 steps. That was not smart. My body reacted with pain, nausea, hot flashes, itching and sleeplessness.

But I had planned a trip to the zoo with a friend on Thursday. I didn't want to cancel, so I persuaded myself that if I wore my hat for the sun and used a walking stick, I'd be fine.

I wasn't. Even though it was a pleasant, uncrowded day at the zoo, I couldn't enjoy myself.

 I was peevish. Everything bothered me and everything hurt. Smells hurt. Sounds hurt. I would have been miserable at home that day too, but I would have been resting instead of walking another three miles

I was violently ill afterwards, projectile vomiting all over myself and the inside of my car.

 Too overwhelmed to deal with it anywhere but home, I kept driving so I could get to my shower and my bed. 

(My reaction at the zoo and after is classic fibromyalgia. Here is a good article about fibromyalgia pain.)

I've been tiptoeing around myself ever since. Symphony tickets Friday night meant spending that day in bed. I skipped church on Sunday because the chairs there really hurt. Today (Wednesday) I'd like to go to the aquarium, but I'm walking the mall with my friend tomorrow and I've been writing all morning, so I think I'd better take my dog out to run around in the yard and then maybe lie down and listen to podcasts for a few hours. We may be bicycling on Friday or Saturday and I need to save up for my next ecstatic instant.

Speaking of ecstasy, this week's PODCAST is about Emily Dickinson's sex life.

Actually, we don't
really know if she had one, but she did write about desire and the double standard, all with pretty metaphors and omitted details, so there is no danger of me getting in trouble for explicit language yet. 


My bright blue cotton vest is coming along quickly. I am about 1/5 finished and hope I am about 1/5 through the yarn. It is always a little nerve-racking watching yarn being used up and worrying if there will be enough.

I look at the pattern for every stitch of my vest, so this is only a project for when I can concentrate. For social knitting, I am making a purse for one of my nieces.

And even though it is far too hot today for heavy wool, I had to wear the new skirt at least once before bagging it up with the winter sweaters.

Notice that my old dog and I are staying in the shade. Spring this year is jumping right into summer.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Slush and Slant Rhymes

Early Tuesday morning we got six wet, heavy inches of snow.

This is not unusual. My parents have dozens of slides taken during my childhood that feature bright
red tulips blooming out of the snow. Descendants of those tulips are just getting warmed up, plenty of more weeks with possible snow, but somehow it seems more like a personal affront this year.

So, I must be a good girl and count my blessings (or at least my blossoms).

My favorite exotic wildflowers are starting to bloom.

So is my birthday-present peach tree,

and the pears,

and Grandpa's cherry tree.

Of course that means if it doesn't warm up soon and stay that way, we may not have fruit this year.

Oops--supposed to be counting blessings.

Aquarium flowers count as mine, since I'm a member, right? The South American rain forest there is amazing. I see something new blooming every visit.

A huge blessing for me this spring has been the constant presence of daffodils outside my window for nearly two months. I had no idea what I was doing when I planted them, but I have managed to get five different varieties that bloom at different times.

Although unstable weather has kept us from riding bikes very often, I am trying to get my beast outside, which results in cold toes and sloppy shoes, but a happy mutt. 

And, once again, I am feeling the urge to write poetry and feeling stymied by my foggy brain. But I am reading about writing poetry and trying to dip my toe back in the water.

I have managed to write a short piece this week. It is a poem about writing poetry, which, as a genre, I find as annoying as those plays with plays in them. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Bill.) But here it goes--

I carved 
rare, juicy 
across the grain

hearty, roasted 

in a light

Now I lean over the sink
spoon in hand

eat cold alphabet soup
from a can

I wouldn't actually eat cold alphabet soup--but poetry isn't entirely non-fiction. Maybe if I keep doing these warm up exercises, the frozen part of my brain will actually warm up a bit.

THE PODCAST was enlightened by an episode of another podcast, Ben Franklin's World had an interview about the Great Awakening, which helped me understand Emily Dickinson's religious background and with it some of her struggle with faith. Emily and I confront big questions about the nature of God in this week's episode.

THE KNITTING comes along slowly. The skirt is monotonous and heavy. I have broken one needle on it so far and my arms feel like I have been lifting weights. When I finish, I will reward myself by knitting a lightweight, lacy cotton vest. I bought the pattern and yarn  years ago. Mine will be in bright turquoise. By the time it is finished, I should be able to find a place I can model it in knee-deep flowers.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Take My Idea, Please

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for?"
--Robert Browning

My imagination has a large reach. It has spent multiple millions remodeling and adding on to my home, refurbishing a historical church in my neighborhood, and building a vacation home. Not to mention the feral cat reserve.

Of course, financial reality keeps all of these dreams entirely in the world of imagination.

My imagination surpasses my physical abilities too. I have yard work, house work, and wool work plans that are made with the best of intentions, but never come to pass.

The idea I want to give away today is for a podcast. I currently create a short weekly poetry podcast (this week it's about the power of small moments of beauty-- listen here.) and this blog. Although neither look like a big deal, it is amazing how difficult it is sometimes to meet my own self-imposed deadlines. I hoped that after I worked on my poetry podcast for a while and learned how it was done, I could tackle something bigger. Well, I've published nine episodes and it is getting easier. I can record, edit, and publish fairly smoothly. I also know that my short podcast, based mostly on information already in my head, is probably the best I'll ever be able to do.

Of course the podcast of my imagination is probably too big for any one person. What I'd love to create, but love more just to listen to, is a project I would call "Beyond Cowboys and Indians: History of the Intermountain West." There is so much amazing history in this part of the country and I know it would be fantastic to share it in podcast form.

Daughters of the Utah Pioneers has inspired a lot of this interest. Every month I hear an hour-long lesson full of stories of bravery, intelligence, and humor. These stories need a larger audience. And they are just a tiny part of our great story--the Mormon settlers. There are also all the stories of Native Americans going back more than ten thousand years, plus miners, soldiers, trappers, explorers, and so many more people who came to make a life in this beautiful, but often challenging, part of the country.

A model for what I would like to do is the podcast called "Ben Franklin's World," hosted by Liz Covart. Each week, the interviews an expert about Colonial America.

There are plenty such experts here. A few weeks ago, I talked to a woman at the Utah Museum of Natural History who is working on a doctorate on anthropology. She was measuring and studying moccasins left in caves by the Great Salt Lake about 10,000 years ago. We have college professors, museum directors, tribal leaders, authors, and many knowledgeable amateur historians with great stories to tell.

A foundation funds and produces "Ben Franklin's World," and that would be the best course for this podcast of my dreams. If you are an ambitious influencer who could get this done or inspire someone else to do so, go for it. I don't even need credit for imagining the idea.


My sweater has been within a couple hours of finished for a week now. I broke my long needles, so the stitches are squished together and the sweater is hard to photograph. My dyed yarn is in progress toward becoming a skirt and my dyed fiber is being turned into yarn. I don't feel like I've been working on wool stuff much lately, but apparently, I'm wrong. Of course you can see more of my work in my shop.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

You never forget how to fall off a bicycle

I never rode like this and don't know these kids, but the helmet and padding look accurate to the time.

I've lately had strong memories of what it was like to be seven-years-old. That was the year I got my first bike. A box containing a blue bike appeared in the TV room a few weeks before my early April birthday. Dad said it was for my cousin in Idaho, whose baptism we planned to drive north for soon. But it was a powder blue girl's bike, so I was pretty sure it wasn't for Russell. When we headed to Idaho without it, I knew it was mine.

There was a wait before I could learn to ride because it was a snowy spring. 

I'm sure my parents must have helped with the first attempt, but all my childhood bike memories are of riding on my own. I remember learning in my Grandma's field, which sloped slightly downhill. Momentum and gravity kept me upright long enough to practice balance for a while before falling over. Falling isn't a big deal at seven, and nothing could beat the wild feeling of speed so I did that over and over until I could ride.

I don't remember ever riding that bike anywhere other than in the yard. The convenient park across the street would be an empty field for almost twenty more years. Our road was/is narrow and winding and dangerous for biking and my mom did not believe in letting us wander around unsupervised. Though I'm sure my folks sometimes drove me up to the newly built elementary school or the church parking lot, it is the field and the driveway I remember. The driveway was dirt and gravel and ran downhill from our garage to Grandma's house. On one early attempt at control, I crashed into my uncle's work truck and knocked off my front reflector. Apparently, I scratched or dinged the truck too, because my parents heard about it. 
It was my ten speed, also powder blue, though this time a sleeker-looking boy's bike, that brought me a degree of freedom as well as speed. I'm not sure which birthday brought this grown-up bike, but I was old enough to go on my own  (with permission) to visit friends and attend church activities.

It also brought new challenges. I had to learn how to use hand breaks to control myself on our steep hills. I had to figure out how to shift down to climb those hills. I also had to figure out how to get on the bike and get started. I couldn't reach the ground from the seat. My preference was to start next to a curb so I could have one foot on the ground as I pushed down on the opposite pedal to start.

I only remember one fall on the ten speed. Too  close to the edge of the road,  one wheel dropped off the four inch difference between pavement and shoulder and I went down. There was no real damage to me or my bike, but I remember this as scary and painful. Apparently even thirteen-year-olds fall less easily than seven-year-olds.

By high school, my activities were even further from home and my mom was relieved when she could let me drive to all the lessons, school activities, and 4-H meetings. My bike was effectively retired.

More than thirty years later, my sweetheart started thinking about getting bikes so we could explore the Jordan River parkway further than we can on foot. I was nervous, but don't want to discourage any adventures. Besides, our April birthdays were months away.

But in March, it really happened. We went into the Cottonwood Cycle to look around, but quickly became customers. Choosing my bike was love at first sight. Officially "green" (yes, I've heard the whole story) my blue bike matches my hair and caught my attention immediately. I patted its seat and handlebars and admired its beauty as my husband did all the bike shop business.
Our bikes are mostly indoors hiding from spring rains.

My birthday was Thursday (That's my excuse for a late blog too.) Despite frequent rains, we have been out on the bikes three times. This is the first time in my life I've worn a helmet and probably the least likely for me to need it. We plan to ride on nicely paved bike trails away from traffic.

 I'm 49 this year and hope not to fall at all on this bike. That was my thinking when I decided on a "girl" bike again. I can quickly put my feet on the ground if I have to. The other advantage I have discovered is in mounting the bike in the first place. I can almost lift my leg enough to get on this bike, but I still need to turn it sideways to lower things a bit.

Despite being an old lady, once I get started, I am seven again. I feel the same thrill over the slightly out-of-control sense of speed, the same roller-coaster-fear on a tight turn, the same sense of freedom.

I'll catch up on the knitting news next week, but should share the podcast.

My husband is amazing, so in addition to a bicycle and dinner, he got me a beautiful gift of flowers.
Coincidentally this week's podcast is about poems Emily Dickinson sent with gifts of flowers. 

You could make my day by subscribing to my (usually very short) podcast by looking for Poem Moment on either Podbean or iTunes.