Category Archives: Intersections

Brain Rest: The Hero’s Journey

To be clear, I do not fancy myself a hero. I am simply drawing a correlation between the experience of brain rest and Joseph Campbell’s, 12-step Hero’s Journey. I believe myself to be somewhere between stages 7-9.

In my own experience, brain rest is a journey of simultaneous torture and enlightenment. Brain rest = physical and cognitive rest in order to focus the brain’s energy towards healing as opposed to other cognitive functions. This means “completely withdrawing from any metabolically demanding activities that aggravate symptoms of a concussion.”

In everyday terms: no television, no computer, no telephone/texting, no caffeine, no alcohol, and wait for it…no reading. What’s really left after that? I’ll tell you: eating, showering, sleeping. And the fine art of staring at the ceiling. That’s what’s left.

I’m not much for disclosing medical experiences to the masses. In fact I’m the person that tells her parents days before heart surgery that it’s happening. I’m a silent and private processor when it comes to matters of the body. However, what I learned and experienced in these past few weeks is worth mentioning, worth sharing.

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Two weeks of brain rest means you need to actually rest. I realized quickly I don’t know how to do this exactly. This is why I don’t take vacations. The transition to relax is far too hard. This is why a sick day from work is never a day to rest but a day to get all the “other stuff” accomplished. I kept strategizing about how to spend my time over these next two weeks more productively. Lying around and resting seemed, well, wasteful.

I haven’t stopped and appreciated the opportunity to be entirely still, to be with myself for quite sometime. I’ve been too busy fighting and healing and charging ahead over the past year and there are times when fate intervenes and what seems like the most inconvenient of happenings actually brings you to a place you’ve needed to visit for awhile. That place, in this instance, was rest.

On a Scale of 1 to 10

From the moment the accident happened every doctor, every physical therapist, every concussion specialist, has asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Here’s what: this is a horrible marker for pain. Especially for someone with a head injury because what’s a 5 today feels like an 8 tomorrow or vice versa, and really I’m diagnosed “confused” so how credible am I? It’s all arbitrary. And now, everything is operating on a scale of 1 to 10.

How bad do I want McDonald’s today? Eh…6. How much do I miss coffee? 10!  To assign such specificity and labeling to a feeling, to the category of pain, is intriguing to me. (This is what one thinks about while staring at the ceiling for two weeks).

Getting Creative

I steamed every item of clothing I own. Even the t-shirts. That didn’t cause me pain and it was what I considered “mindless” work so why not. It ate up a day. One day out of 14.

Then, I listened to every CD from Poetry Speaks. I listened to podcasts. I began a love affair with meditations on youtube. I found the settings feature on my computer that would read articles to me. I used the voice recorder to record any notes/thoughts/poetry ideas that I had since it was not comfortable to write them down. In between all of this, I ran the gamut of emotions and the scales titled heavily towards the negative ones.

Thanks to the urging of a great friend (thanks CVB!) I learned to embrace the opportunity. I was granted permission to turn off my mind, to remove myself from social media, email, the phone. I was allowed to be still. And more importantly, I was allowed to heal, from that which got me in this situation and all that came before it.

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Up and Down

When one is still and resting, it’s inevitable to become slightly emotional along the way. To think of all the things you’ve avoided or suppressed. To reevaluate your place and your participation in this world. I forgave myself for mistakes and shortcomings. I celebrated myself for persevering. I thought about all the people past and present that have found their way into the fabric of me and took time to be present with the memories and experiences. And I felt richer for that time. I worked on answering the questions of what I want and what’s next.

On the Mend

Meditation, juicing (it’s as close to cooking as I will get), and vacationing. These are my new focuses as I hit reset after this experience. The frustration of doing visual exercises suitable for children to build my strength back up and deeming subtle neck stretches as daily exercise are taking their toll, but I’m learning to take my time. I’m slowing down. I’m learning to be gentle with myself. And every day I’m praying that I don’t forget how to be a poet. It sounds extreme but it’s a real anxiety (again, there was a lot of time to think).

What Awaits

Stacks of books. Poems swimming around in my foggy head. Running at the Parkway again. Somehow I’ve turned into a moderately positive person with a new appreciation for the road I’ve traveled in the past 12 months and am looking forward to finding my new normal.

Can't run but I can sit and enjoy the Parkway!

Can’t run but I can sit and enjoy the Parkway!

 

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The stack of gems I bought in early July that await me.

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Interview Up at The Collagist

Thank you to Matthew Olzmann and the folks over at The Collagist for asking me questions about my poem Ode to the Cortex published this summer. Thanks in advance for the read.


Community: noun – a unified body of individuals

One take away from last year’s amazing trip to Erice, Sicily to work with the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference: the essence of being a writer is directly hinged upon the community you create for yourself. At least for this writer.

Six years post MFA I’m finally “getting out there” in terms of establishing and becoming a part of a poetic community. I was a bit of a recluse for quite sometime, still am in a lot of ways, which is in direct conflict with my personality, but so goes it. In realizing the benefit of a supportive and encouraging group of writers to have surrounding you, what I have become more settled with is that sometimes your best, most supportive community is far-reaching. It’s not under your nose in all cases. It’s not even 10 minutes of DC traffic away. Sometimes you have to travel internationally, across email communication channels, or all the way to the abyss that is the west coast to find that which you seek: open minds, warm hearts – and by that I mean a warm reception where people are welcoming and encouraging most the time, but brutal and honest in the times you most need it.

Over the past year I’ve been blessed with continued relationships with Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick,  Shelley Puhak and Ethelbert Miller. I’ve also expanded my circle to the far reaches of Dubai with Ms. Hananah Zaheer , Ms. Ara Tucker in Jersey, Sonja Livingston in Tennessee, Hope Maxwell Snyder in WV. You see my point.

862459_10200858395248723_1575216453_nAnother instance of community was given to me last weekend in Lost River, WV. The kind souls and proprietors of the Guesthouse at Lost River, a cozy little retreat away form the hustle and bustle of the city life DC offers, have been our neighbors and friends for the two years we’ve owned our little “home away from home.” A few weeks ago, Jesse & Gary of Guesthouse fame and friendliness, proposed to my husband that I come down and share some of my work with them and their guests. My first response was “Thank you, I’m flattered” followed quickly by “I’m not sure how many people I can bring you or what you’d gain from it all.” They were less than concerned with what I could offer them. Their response: “We are doing it to support you!” And support me they did. We chatted often about the ins and outs of the reading, setting a date in April to coincide with National Poetry Month. As I visited over the months prior to the reading I’d see flyers for the reading posted in local businesses, I’d hear business owners telling patrons to attend, local friends were rallying the community to hear some poetry.  I was absolutely taken aback by the sense of community.

I’m not sure this blog post has an epiphanic takeaway as much as it serves as a gigantic “Thank you” to my community.

“By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay.’” ― Ted Kooser


Invisible Disabilities

6460_106918074940_3438260_nAs my annual cardiology appointment approaches (on April Fool’s Day no less), I find myself in that annual state of nostalgia that occurs every time around this year. It might have something to do with the fact that my husband and I trek 4.5 hours south of DC to visit my original cardiologist and surgeon. I am more than loyal in this respect.

When I moved to Northern Va over a decade ago I tried to find a new home in the cardiology mecca that existed up here. Instead, I found crowded offices that treated patients like cattle, ushering you in and out before you had time to process any of what they were telling you. Well-oiled machines: yes. The safe space I had been accustomed to: no.

453fb830a28f434d1c4288a6712507aaIt is necessary to point out that I fall under the category of “high-maintenance patients” in that I have a lot of questions and an even higher amount of anxieties. I have invisible disabilities. I need coddling. Thus, I travel to Virginia Beach where my original surgeon, Dr. Gottimukala, practices.

He and the pacemaker technician, April, have been with me in this journey of my heart since the beginning. They consoled me when I first heard of the diagnosis. They have learned the ins and outs of my anxieties and know exactly how to deal with me. They know what I will and will not tolerate. They take my calls, deflate my panic, and they give the kind of hugs that mean something. What I appreciate most: Dr. Gotti will spend as much time as he needs to with me without making me feel like I’m a hassle. I recall one visit, in the midst of diagnosis as well as my divorce from my first husband, when he walked in with his kind face and said, “How are we doing today Carrie?”  I didn’t answer. I sobbed. For at least ten minutes. He pulled up a chair, handed me a box of tissues and waited for me to finish. It could have been hours. He would have waited. Luckily it was not, I managed to pull myself together.

There’s something poignant about the literal and figurative breaking of the heart occurring at the same time in a small office of cardiology in Virginia Beach under neon lights. I remember bringing them a gift basket full of chocolates and crackery snacks after that. I think it’s the only gift basket I’ve ever bought anyone just because I thought they were deserving of it. That’s saying something.

I also appreciate Dr. Gotti’s one-liners. My first surgery went off without a hitch and as he emerged from the surgery he told my dad, “She’ll be walking down the aisle at 70 beats per minute.” (The surgery occurred four weeks before my wedding.)  My second surgery to replace the battery a few years ago went off well too. He appeared out of the operating room and told Jason that in twilight during the surgery I professed my love for him. It might have been partially true. I do love him.

I had my first implant when I was 23, so the issue of having a pacemaker was compounded by the fact that I was young, and believed I was “invincible.” My struggles were different. I was concerned with more vain issues like scar size and placement, and I found myself bothered by displacement issues. The waiting rooms were commonly  filled with patients three times my age. This was an issue I wanted to combat and which is discussed in the article “For Young People with Pacemakers” which gives a shout out to the Facebook group I created, “Young Pacemaker Patients and Supporters.” The group was created to allow younger recipients and their families a safe haven and communal space to share their challenges and concerns. It’s pleasing to see the group has grown in the last few years to almost 300 members.

So tomorrow I will drive down and back in a day to Virginia Beach for what will be a relatively quick appointment to ensure my broken lead in my pacemaker hasn’t wreaked too much havoc on anything. See Image B for a depiction of a broken lead. F1.medium

People are always surprised when I tell them I make the drive to visit him rather than find a doctor more locally. My priorities are different. My expectations are different. My experiences are demanding of difference.


Oh Facebook Friends, I Duped You

It recently occurred to me in a coffee-time conversation with a good friend that the capacity of individuals to share in and embrace each other’s happy moments is quickly dwindling. Said friend mentioned that the world we live in today has various social media platforms on which to parade around our achievements and happy moments in front of the masses, friend or foe. I was already aware of this shift in communication, and I also knew I was overly participating in the new trend. Then the poignant moment came. He said, and I’m paraphrasing: people are so inundated with each other that no one wants to be happy for your achievements, your progress. But they are quick to jump on the bandwagon of celebrating the negative. It’s a silent participation in your most intimate moments.

UnknownThis may seem obvious but I was hesitant to accept it as reality. I have already begun the downward decline of my appreciation and enjoyment of said Facebook craze, but I decided after this conversation stuck in my craw that I needed to test this theory.

Let me begin with what I concluded from my “test.” 1.) My friend’s hypothesis is true. The masses participate more in random comments or negative observations. 2.) The positive received very little love in the way of “likes.” 3.) People mostly subtly participate (and by that I mean they stalk the hell out of your wall).

Here was my test:

  • To my pool of over 300 friends (maybe 10 actually know of and love the ugly parts of me), I posted a few random comments regarding the ways of the world or something that happened to me. I ensured each of those posts contained a slightly or obvious negative undertone. 
  • The first post received 22 “thumbs up” and 11 comments.
  • The second post received 19 “thumbs up” and four comments.
  • Then I posted an announcement of an something positive. I received two likes the first week (the usual suspects). In the following weeks it slowly raised to nine likes (again the usual suspects).

I found myself genuinely disappointed. What I had feared social media was doing to our ability to interact and communicate with each other was actually happening. A general google search on the subject will bring you a slew of articles that broach the subject and mostly with the results and reactions we’d expect.  The stats yielded from studies will leave you wanting to deactivate everything immediately. The breeding of passive communication and pure laziness has taken over for the fine art form of interpersonal communications, a skill listed on my c.v. for decades that seemed mostly unnecessary until recently. It’s actually considered a practiced skill now. You can interact with other humans without the use of social media or technology? Hired!

Forbes magazine tried to get us to stop the madness before the new year was rung in with an article titled, “3 Reasons You Should Quit Social Media in 2013″ which highlights a UK Study in which 50% of respondents noted that social media has an overall negative effect on their lives.  We all know we should. We simply can’t help ourselves. I can’t help myself.

Last week I was in a funk for what seemed like entirely too long and for reasons I couldn’t identify until I began drafting this post. I was genuinely disappointed with people in general and decided I did not want to contribute to it anymore. I also did not want to continue giving those who don’t actively participate in my life a glimpse of what it’s like. Why call me or visit me if you can virtually do it on Facebook, right?

Now I do realize the irony of the fact that I’m writing this blog post which will post to my Twitter and Facebook accounts accordingly, but I suppose I justify the madness if it helps promote a business, or in this case a writer’s work. So that’s how I’ll trek on.

Just yesterday a good friend told me they don’t have a Facebook, a Tweeter (ha!), or anything of the like. I asked why and the response was so simple and so refreshing a thought: I have never liked people eavesdropping on my conversations. It’s hard to escape a life like that when everyone knows everything. I like me time and it’s hard to be present in certain moments when you are clouded by crap.  


Nostalgia (or lack thereof)

Recently, my friend Ara Tucker over at The Art Dealer’s Daughter posted about nostalgia which is quite the coincidence seeing as how a recent project had me quite nostalgic. Or at least, the project had me attempting to be nostalgic.

Hey, it's better than another sweater.

Hey, it’s better than another sweater.

It wasn’t until the last few weeks when I began working on a sentimental craft project for my brother’s 40th birthday that I began riffling through old memories, stories, photo books, letters trying to muster up some good ole’ memories.

Let me explain for those of you that don’t already know how this will end. It will end badly. I will have high hopes. I will have no patience or crafty talent for that matter. I will remain completely unaware of my half-assed attempt at perfection. Not to mention that said recipient’s birthday was February 4th, so at this point I’m well on my way to being a month tardy. Luckily, he grew up with me. His hopes are adjusted accordingly.

As I sifted through memories, only a half dozen came to mind. Then as I went through my memory bank, I found that it had become quite depleted. And not in reference to my brother of course, but generally speaking.

In that moment, I was feeling guilty for not being able to recall much of my childhood. I don’t think that has any reflection on the quality of it as much as my inability to savor on the chewy goodness of it all. I make memories. I’m in them completely. I’m lucky if I snap a picture or two. Then they either stick or they don’t. Simple as that.

I suppose I’ve always been bad at memory making. I’m not sure I understand at the time the fullness of events that are memory-worthy. I simply have snippets of things floating around in my memory bank. I become nostalgic, not because I am longing for the past and what it had meant to me but because I was longing to simply remember the past, all of it. My memory bank is depleted. Perhaps it’s because I’ve stockpiled my word bank.


Intersections & Insomnia

I’ve been lying awake at night for weeks now. Mostly churning over the happenings of the day, dwelling over the happenings of tomorrow and wondering how I’ll fit in all of my nifty little resolutions I’ve got listed under the bright blue title of January.

Lately, I lie there, mostly on my back, hands crossed calmly over my mid-section staring at the new chandelier. In my defense, it’s quite beautiful and quite distracting.

Fancy Distraction

Fancy Distraction

During these mind-numbing moments of insomnia, I’m not struck with brilliant ideas regarding the writing or my next manuscript idea. Instead, I’m finally tackling the intersecting segments of my life. For years I’ve kept them in distinct little silos, careful not to let them influence each other. Much like my plate of food at holiday parties. Nothing can touch anything else. In fact, as a child I’d get an extra napkin so if the corn started moving into the mashed potatoes, I could simply dab up the juice and keep them separate once again. I should’ve known then what this would do to my life.

I’ve been thinking about my extroverted daily interactions where personality and boisterous energy prevail, where hair and the efficacy of silk powder proteins and the description of the hair shaft and root direction are part of my daily vocabulary. Then I come home and try to turn off my hair brain and turn on my word brain. The transition is always sticky, messy, and usually not too successful.  So in my late night wanderings I thought to myself – why haven’t I tried to write about that which seems to consume my days. Hair Poems. Some friends and poets have been urging this since last fall, but I’ve been resistant. Now I’m going with the notion of stop resisting that which is natural. Hair Poems have begun. Stay tuned.


Why Now?

Why make goals/resolutions/focal points (whatever you want to title them) for the new year? I’ve never done it in 35 years and I’m moderately okay. I think I’ve said I was going to stop biting my nails most of my life or “be a better person” (whatever that means). Mostly my resolutions revolve around vague concepts that are so expansive I know I won’t even remember them by February. This year, I came back from my Christmas excursions ready and focused on doing something. Something different.

It started with a few vague goals: watch an indie film for every mainstream film, read more, write more, maintain work/life balance. Then I bucked my own New Year’s tradition and sat down for a few hours and flushed out my life into categories, which I then broke down into priorities and strengths and weaknesses ( I realize the ridicule that will ensue after this confession ). I was still unmotivated to actually change. I flushed out each category recognizing opportunity and tying each goal to a personal trait that I wanted to work on. Then I broke it down in a bulleted list by month. January looks something like this:

  • stop biting nails (check)
  • publish blog (check)
  • read Mary Karr’s “The Liar’s Club” (partial check)
  • attend a poetry reading (check)
  • find your “me time” spot (check, bless you Teaism)
  • get a library card (check)
  • submit to Breadloaf again (partial check)
  • conceptualize my literary career (partial check)

And hence, my intensity that my poor friend Elizabeth has had to endure everyday on phone calls since 1/1/13. I realize we are only 24 days in, but I envision a year of progress, a year of change. I’m somewhat destined for complacency and if I’m not careful it will become entirely too comfortable like my 2002 Steve Madden boots that have a hole in the sole that I refuse to get rid of. Perhaps in February I can work on replacing those. So here’s to a year of progress and making things happen instead of merely awaiting their arrival.


Jeffrey Levine

poetry, publishing, and mentoring

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