Random List of Happiness

One of my goals this year is to share my every day joys on Saturdays. I just pay attention to the things that make me happy, watch for some sort of photo op (I try to not have it be a selfie) and then post a list on Instagram at the end of the day. (You can follow me on Insta! amylsorensen )

But of course there are happy things that happen all the time, so just because, today I’m making a list of some random stuff that made me smile, laugh, or feel happiness in some form during the past week.

  • It rained! And rained some more! It’s actually been really chilly for last week, so no warm afternoons spent reading in sunlight, but I will always be happy when it rains here. It also snowed in the mountains and if I could I would be up there hiking in the last of the powder.
  • Speaking of rain. Yesterday it was raining, and slowly turning to snow, and I looked out my window when something caught my eye. (Had to lower my reading glasses to understand what I was seeing!) There was a guy on my neighbor’s roof. Washing windows—in the rain. “Like a man washing windows in a rainstorm” feels like a line from a poem to me.
  • Cooking with Jake. I made a roast on Tuesday and since I worked that afternoon, he peeled the potatoes for me. Then he hung out and made biscuits while I made the gravy. We listened to his playlist and talked a bit and it was just…nice.
  • On Sunday I was pondering what to make for dinner and I was like… “it’s going to cause an argument but I really want spaghetti with red sauce so that is what I am going to make.” (Kendell doesn’t like spaghetti, even though I make a scrumptious red sauce, but it is my favorite meal and yes, we have had several arguments during our marriage over spaghetti.) And just as I was finishing the sauce, Nathan walked in! He had his Guard weekend so I didn’t think I’d see him, but he surprised me. And then I surprised him with perfectly-timed spaghetti! (He does not share his dad’s spaghetti opinions.) After eating (kind of a late lunch because no one had eaten anything yet), he took a long nap in my bed and it just made me happy. Happy to have him home and to be able to take care of him.
  • Sharing poems on Facebook for National Poetry month. Almost no one responds with comments but I still like the thought that I'm putting poems out into the world. 
  • Nathan sending me pics of his drawings. And a good, long phone call with him.
  • The social media trend I’ve been seeing here and there (I don’t know if it’s even a trend) of writing a poem with the titles of the last books you read. I am totally working on mine!
  • A few days ago, the city I work for posted on Facebook the requirement to still wear a mask in all city buildings. Holy cow. I thought the anti-mask crazies had found some sanity, but apparently they’ve just been being quiet because there is a bunch of vitriol in that thread. I posted my thanks to the city for protecting its employees and things got ugly. But Haley waded in and started arguing in my defense. (I can’t really say much, as a city employee, even though I have some strong opinions.) My daughter kicking ass and counting names for me? Ummmm. So good.
  • I took Kaleb to get dinner one night at KFC. We had to wait a bit for his order and so we just hung out in the car and talked. He makes me laugh.
  • I drove! First time since January. It felt weird at first but muscle memory is a thing. SO NICE to have my independence back!
  • At PT this morning, the tech told me he used to play a game with his dad, trying to be the first to say who sang whatever song came on the radio. So for the rest of the appointment I called him out on songs. I was a bit disappointed he didn’t know Prince or Michael Jackson (and it made me feel old) but it was the first time I’ve really laughed during PT, so that was great.
  • Listening to Kendell’s story about his first trip back to the (newly remodeled) gym. There’s a slide and an uphill ramp and let’s just say neither of those were great for his 50-something body…
  • I finally got the quilts that have been waiting to be sandwiched pinned together. The pinning did not make me smile. (That is my least-favorite step of quilting. I actually detest that step.) But having them pinned did! And I started quilting one.
  • My audio book was making me so happy. I have been listening to N. K. Jemisin’s “Broken Earth” series because I never read the third one and I decided I want to, but I couldn’t remember enough details. So I’ve been listening and oh my. They are so good. I mean…a world with a community that lives in a giant geode? God, she’s brilliant. Sewing and listening to audio books is just a little piece of peaceful nirvana. BUT THEN. I have only about 90 minutes left in the second book, The Obelisk Gate, and my check out expired! NINTY MINUTES. And now I’m #13 on the hold list. I mean, I own the actual book. I could just finish it. But I was so enjoying listening to it!
  • I cooked dinner. I cleaned the kitchen. I did laundry. I vacuumed. None of which usually find themselves on my happiness lists…but having not been able to take care of anything much lately, it did make me really happy. To just walk around my house on my own two feet and do all of the normal things.

What made you happy this week?


on Writing: Tearing Down the Dam

Writing on laptop 4 14 2021

I read two different pieces of writing yesterday that have been working in me. Here’s the first one:

I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

This comes from a conversation between Agnes de Mille (a dancer who choreographed the dances in Oklahoma! and many other Broadway plays and who changed the way dance was used in drama) and Martha Graham (a dancer who revolutionized modern dance and all-around brilliant, creative soul). A writer I admire, Katherine Arden, shared it on her Instagram and I read it about twelve times yesterday morning, almost making myself late for my PT appointment. It ends with the declaration that no artist is ever, in the end, fully satisfied with her work. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.”

The second one comes from an essay I read last night at work, when I had roughly 27 minutes left before I could go home. In theory we’re not supposed to read at the desk, but sometimes you just need to. I was feeling worn out all day from my PT appointment (he worked my foot in hard but lovely ways that made me feel that it won’t always be a stiff club at the end of my ankle), but at that point I was just out, so I read for a few minutes:

She made weather, like all single peaks. She put on hats of cloud, and took them off again, and tried a different shape, and sent them all skimming off across the sky. She wore veils: around the neck, across the breast: white, silver, silver-gray, gray-blue. Her taste was impeccable. She knew the weathers that became her, and how to wear snow.

This is from an essay called “A Very Warm Mountain,” which Usula K. Le Guin wrote in 1980 about the eruption of Mount St. Helens. The essay itself is a masterclass about how a piece of writing is “about” one thing but then that thing is about everything, and if I could I would read it out loud with you and then discuss it. But what really, really hit me in the gut, what mixed with the Martha Graham words, was this small paragraph. It made me think Ursula would so understand my relationship with my mountain. She writes that of course St. Helens is a woman, but not in the way men believe, and that she is a sister, not a mother.

I have loved my mountain—Timpanogos—since before I even knew her name. And ever since I first hiked to the summit with my sister in 2006, I have carried an essay in my mind. If I had written it in 2006, when I had only hiked it once, it would’ve been much thinner than what I would write now, having summited it many times and grown intimate with its foothills and crags, its secret meadows and exposed ridges, its temperament from different directions and altitudes. Her temperament. But the basic construct would be the same, the way the local story explaining why she looks like the profile of a reclining figure, created by a white man and then labeled as Native American myth, is wrong. Of course Timp is a woman. But not only a virginal maiden pining for her lost love.

because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique

And yet, there in that essay is one of my favorite writers, exploring the same idea. Mountains as women, and how men don’t get the metaphor correct at all. And that sentence: “She knew the weathers that became her, and how to wear snow.” It is one of those sentences that fill you with both the joyous spark of something perfectly constructed and the despair that you, yourself, will never be the one to construct it. Someone else already did.

❦❦❦

I took a little break from my April social media goals, after last week when I posted every day on Instagram (for a photo-prompt challenge) and blogged almost every day.

I started this blogging challenge because I wanted to reestablish my writing habit. A writing practice of showing up, every day. I imagined that it would help me tap in to the old feeling I used to have, when I was brimming with ideas and potential pieces. I wanted to reconnect to my writerly self, who I have carried with me every day of my adult life. Every day, in fact, since that time in April during my junior year of high school, when I tried to show up at school again, and in English class another student read a poem she’d written to the class and I realized that writing wasn’t just the thing I did in my notebooks, it was a thing that actual people did and shared with the world.

I have always, for maybe even longer than I have loved Timp, processed my world with writing. “Writer” has always been my highest aspiration. Words have always been my structure.

But here I am, almost fifty. I could tell you: I raised four children. I could say: I married a person who is wonderful but who does not understand this aspiration in any way, and that makes me feel ashamed and blanketed. I could make a story about how the words of a professor two decades ago still linger in my psyche, reminding me the odds are not in my favor.

I could explain all the many reasons I have doubts and hesitations and how they have stopped me from pursuing what I always wanted to do.

But deep down I know: they aren’t reasons. They are excuses.

The truth is, fear has stopped me. I have let fear stop me. Out of fear I built a dam and closed the channel.

I never stopped writing, not really. Even when blogs fell out of fashion I kept blogging. If you follow me on Instagram you know that my photos are mediocre but I spend a lot of time writing my caption. Before social media I wrote letters and kept a detailed journal.

I have always written.

But after I got married and started having kids, I stopped chasing my “be a writer” dream.

There was school and then there were kids and then there was unemployment and then there was teaching. There was the long decade of Kendell’s medical issues. There was my dad’s dementia and my floundering relationship with my mom. There was this messy, freeing, painful, redemptive process I am still inside of, the rebirth that is midlife. Through all of it I had the same sparks, different colors: I could write about this, I could write about this, this is how I would write about this experience…

I have sometimes written those ideas. Fewer times, I have polished and rubbed until the edges were smooth enough and I have submitted. Even fewer times have I received the “accepted” response and seen my words in print. I have written, yes, but not done what writers do, which is the work of having your work be seen by the world.

I wanted to find those sparks again. I still want to, but they are slow in returning. The dam is sturdy.

But I am finding something is different in me. I am having dreams and falling in love with images. I am putting my pen onto paper and writing, trying not to censor myself, trying to just follow where the ideas lead. I haven’t, perhaps, found my “blogging mojo” again. Maybe I won’t. But there is something moving. And o how I want to not let fear hold it still. How I want to not be constrained by the fear of how good or valuable it might be, by my feeling that my small life can’t be important enough to connect to the larger world.

I want to be like Le Guin and like all the other writers whose work has brought me joy. To leave something of myself behind that perhaps someone exhausted late at night might find, and read, and be, during the reading, lifted instead of tired.


Eau de Good Mormon

[This post is long and touches on religion. In fact, it sparked me making a new category, because it is a topic I would like to explore more even as I know it's not a topic that most people care about reading. I wanted to put a name to where I am at with my religion right now, and I ended up with "Mormon Fringe." As in...that is where I am. Still thinking about Mormonism but not really IN the church.]

As we reemerge from our shutdowns and quarantines, blinking again in the light of interacting with people in the same space, I am remembering that there is something I still have to process. I put it aside during the pandemic because I could, because my world was comfortably small: home with my family, and a few stints at work, passing people during a hike but not really engaging with them. Now I am out in the world a little bit more, I am rediscovering this. It didn’t ever get better, I just put it away because I wasn’t forced to pick it up, examine it, figure out what to do with it.

The thing is this: I don’t really fit here anymore.

(It’s also that I never really fit, but I didn’t clearly see it. Now I do.)

The reason I don’t fit in here (and by “here” I mean: deep in the heart of Utah County, where some ridiculously high percentage of people is staunchly LDS and so the majority is safe to assume that everyone is staunchly LDS) is mostly because I no longer go to church. There are many stories I could tell to explain why. Many experiences and realizations, so many months of grieving and aching and crying and then finally coming to a sort of peace and a sort of acceptance. Some things I have shared on my blog, but most of them I haven’t. Not because I am ashamed or don’t want to talk about it, but because most of the people in my life don’t want to listen to it.

One of the last public things I did in 2020 was a sewing class. I got a new sewing machine for Christmas in 2019 and it came with a free class, so I spent a Saturday at the Bernina shop, learning about my machine. I arrived with my machine and my hydroflask and my always-present hope…maybe I’ll find a new friend here? But, nope. I learned a ton that day about my machine, but I also learned something about myself. I had already not been going to church for a year, so honestly it had been awhile since I’d hung out with people from the UC at all. So as I watched and listened to the other people talking, laughing, and connecting it felt like anthropology. Like observing a society from the outside. That was my realization. I really don’t fit here, there is something different about me.

It was like…there is something they can read about each other’s body language that is an invitation. They just immediately find their connections: a son and a cousin who actually were mission companions in Guatemala, they are both primary presidents,  they each bought their machines because they wanted to learn how to sew ruffles to skirts to make them modest enough. My personal favorite were two women realizing they live only three blocks away from each other, in one of the fancy neighborhoods in Orem, on the east side of course. “Oh, don’t you just love living in there? The views are so amazing and the air is so clear and everyone’s landscaping is gorgeous!”

(And meanwhile I’m like…well, thank God they won’t even ask me where I live because I’m just down here on the flat part of Orem with the dirty air and the views of everyone’s trash landscaping and if I admitted that to them then they would know I am NOT seriously so blessed like they are.)

(I’m not bitter.)

Here in the Provo/Orem area, what it means to be LDS is to be a person who is ALWAYS and WITHOUT A DOUBT LDS. They prove it with their big east-side houses, with their top-of-the-line Suburbans (to carry their seven children of course), with the mission references and the temple-wedding references and the this-is-my-calling references. With their blonde hair and their modest clothes and the occasional flash of garment just so everyone knows they follow The Rules. They talk about it. (It seems it is all they talk about.) They assume everyone knows the cultural language they speak. They never have a thought enter their heads that someone else might be different than they are. And if you do happen to be different, it’s like they can smell it. They know there won’t be any connections to be made with you, so there is no reason to be friendly.

Even when I was trying my hardest to fulfill that appearance of “perfect Mormon person” I still didn’t really fit. They could still smell my wrongness. I was accepted on the surface, but actual, real relationships with my Mormon neighbors were few. And then as life progressed and I didn’t “earn” all the righteous blessings they did—I mean, it’s OK to start on the west side, it’s never being blessed enough to move up that proves your worth, and then none of my kids went on missions and actually none of them are even interested in the church and my husband was never a bishop and I was never a Relief Society president—my lack of those “blessings” proved I had earned the way I smelled. I didn’t do it well, I wasn’t righteous enough, I didn’t get the blessings I wanted because deep down I wasn’t good enough. If I were I would’ve earned those “good things” and would be happy.

Finally accepting that in part they were right—deep down, I am different—was one of the most freeing, if painful, processes of my life.

After that sewing class, I confess: I went home and cried. Honestly, every time I sit down at my machine I feel a little bit of a scrap of that feeling, that realization: I never fit because I don’t fit. I tried to fit for two decades, but just broke and tore and cut and scarred. It was a turn in my path, a realization and acceptance: stop trying to be someone you are not.

Of course, church members would say “no, there’s a place for you here, too. And maybe if you come and work harder, if you pray more and do more and believe more, if you stop being a lazy learner and just have a little faith, your children will turn around and everything will be OK, you just have to not give up.”

But here’s the thing.

I don’t want to sit in church and continue to feel bad that my kids didn’t turn out like everyone else’s did. I don’t want to be in a supposedly-holy place that demands I feel that way about my own children. I don’t want to pray that they will want to “go back” to church. I want to pray that they have happy lives. That they find relationships that fulfill them, careers that give them confidence and purpose. I want them to have meaningful experiences, to help others, to be healthy and safe. If they choose to get married or have families, I want them to do that because it will be a part of them being happy, not because it’s what a religious institution told them is the path to happiness.

All told, what I want for them, what I pray for and hope for, is that they don’t have to live their lives this way. Feeling like they are odd, like they don’t fit. Like they smell wrong.

❦❦❦

So, here we are, more than a year after the start of the pandemic. I’m starting, just a little bit, to go out into the world again. Last week, I reluctantly started going to PT again. Reluctantly because while I trust the PT I’ve been going to now for seven or eight years, I don’t love going there. My not-a-good-Mormon smell is especially potent there.

I knew to expect it so I was pre-hardened.

But this morning I struggled. Everyone talked about their weekends. “My nephew was ordained.” “I got to go to in-person church for the first time!” “I went to my cousin’s baby blessing.” One woman and her tech discovered they both went to the same mission in Switzerland, twenty-odd years apart, and then she glistened and glowed about her husband, a BYU professor who served in Belgium and also speaks French and so they decided to move to Provo instead of Orem so they could put their kids in a school that does French immersion and “of course it didn’t hurt that we’re only a few blocks away from the temple” (ie, east side on the hill) and now they only speak French in their home. (“Home” is spoken with a special reverence in LDS parlance, an extra-rounded O and a drawn-out M. It is never a house.)

I listened to them, patients and techs and therapists, speak their Mormon language, smell each other’s correct and pleasing smell. I started wishing again—wishing I could speak it, too. Wishing I had the right smell. Wishing I could laugh and start conversations easily and just…be involved, wherever I go.

And then I wondered: what do people outside the Book of Mormon belt talk about?

I don’t even know.

(Like, literally. I don’t know.)

I looked at Mrs. We-Only-Speak-French and young I-Know-Everything-About-BYU-Sports dude and the lady talking about how sweet it was to go back to church and hear signing again and the tech expounding on the church’s policy with polygamous families and how gracious it is. The guy getting his knee massaged with 4 inches of garments hanging out from his shorts and the older woman working on her shoulders, her g top exposed with each weight lifting.

I thought you are all insane. They don’t know what to talk about or how to be outside of their religion, and even more disturbing is they don’t know how strange that is. They fit because they fit here, so nothing hurts because why would it? Round pegs, round holes.

And I stopped with the wishing. I can wish this thing away all I want, but it isn’t going anywhere: I don’t fit here. My shape is spiral and convoluted and angles, and that is who I am.

And maybe if I were at another physical therapist’s office in, say, Seattle or Helena or Orlando or Detroit, I still would listen to the easy conversations around me and not know how to be a part of them. Maybe there is no place my shape fits.

(Actually, strike that “maybe.” More than likely.)

But I want to write this thought anyway, this thought that I had as I came home, again in tears, to write this post. The thought I had after putting into words this thought: I hope my kids don’t have to live this way.

Do I have to?

Is there somewhere I could fit, some place where I am the missing piece?

I’m not sure. But I am sure I don’t fit here. I could ignore that during the pandemic, but I don’t think I will be able to for much longer.


In Defense of Running

On Friday at my physical therapy appointment, there was a woman on the table beside mine who was having her knee worked on. She was telling the tech doing ultrasound how she’d injured it: she decided to start running. She ran for three miles (“that distance seemed easy enough”) for a couple of days and by the end of the week her knee was swollen. So she went to an orthopedic surgeon (“one of the most famous surgeons in Utah”) who told her that no one should ever run because it’s bad for your knees. Then she stopped talking to listen to me explaining to the tech who was helping me about my bunion surgery. “Oh, yes. See, running is bad. Running also causes bunions.”

Thanks lady.

Am I a runner amy sorensen

She kept talking for the rest of the appointment and inwardly I was seething. I’m already seen as the “bad” patient in this office, because once I accidentally said the F word. (Utah is a weird, weird place.) So I just seethed quietly, and maybe rolled my eyes a few times, and didn’t say what I wanted to say:

Running doesn’t cause bunions.

And you know what’s bad for your knees? Deciding one day that you want to be a runner and then just tossing on a pair of shoes and running three miles.

But ever since I started running 21 years ago, I’ve heard the same thing about running. From friends, family members, coworkers, random strangers: running is bad for you.

Even as recently as my surgery, several people told me that I must’ve torn my tendon because I run too much.

These comments always come from people who aren’t actually runners.

Here’s the deal: Running is like any other sport. There are things to learn, research to do, techniques to understand.

Of course if you just randomly run a few miles, your body is going to hurt somewhere. People tend to think that since running is a similar motion to walking, and since walking is what people do, then it follows that you already know how to run.

In my two decades of being a runner, I have taken two running classes from a local running coach. I’ve had my gait analyzed by professionals and spent months teaching my body how to adjust to a proper cadence. I’ve read countless books and articles about techniques. I do push-ups and ab work and hip-girdle exercises, yoga and pilates and barre because I learned that strong muscles mean fewer injuries. I do cross training and take rest days. I’ve been injured and learned that it is part of being a runner. I’ve learned about overtraining, about the muscles that are generally weak in people who run, about how to stretch properly to release the strain that the repetitive motion of running causes. I’ve made mistakes and done it wrong and started again. I’ve had long discussions about the correct shoes with employees at running-shoe stores. (Dick’s doesn’t count.) I’ve experimented with different socks and anti-friction creams. I’ve learned how to time my runs around my meals, how to fuel without getting nauseated during long runs, what to eat after a run.

You wouldn’t decide one day “I’m going to be an ice skater” and then attempt a toe loop without getting injured. You wouldn’t take up rock climbing without first learning how to use your equipment.

Running is the same: you have to start at the beginning. You have to develop strength and stamina. You have to give your body time to adjust. You have to learn about your sport.

“Running damages your joints” is actually a myth. We are discovering, as people have begun running longer and longer, that our bodies adjust. The joints of a runner at the end of her life will actually be stronger than the joints of a non-runner. (HERE is just one article but there are many.)

And “running makes bunions” is just bunk.

What makes a bunion form is either wearing too-restrictive shoes or genetics. I’ve never really loved pointy high heels and have basically lived in Doc Marten’s for a good portion of my adult life. Foot problems run deep in my mom’s paternal line; my sister has had bunion repair, too, and she and some of our grand-nieces and nephews have club feet. I’m 99.99998725% sure that running did not give me bunions.

And as for too much running causing the tear in my plantar plate…only kind of. What often causes second-toe capsulitis (which is the beginning of where I ended up, with my tendon torn and my toe flopping around) is abnormal foot mechanics, which are often caused by a…bunion!

The bunion that I investigated having removed 10 years ago, which my insurance wouldn’t pay for because since it wasn’t causing me pain, it was only “cosmetic.”

Maybe if I had only sat around for the past twenty years and not done any running at all (or hiking or walking) the tear would’ve been delayed. But until the bunion was repaired, the capsulitis would only get worse.

Really, short-sited medical insurance policies caused my tendon tear.

Yesterday I talked to a neighbor I haven’t seen in a while, and he asked me why I was so anxious to get back to running. “Why not just do other things?” he asked.

And I think it is a thing you don’t understand until you actually do it. Until you feel what it’s like to be seven miles into a ten-mile run and you suddenly notice how your body is singing with movement, under the blue sky. How your skin is soaking in sun even as it drips sweat, and how deep your lungs are pulling in air, and how alive you feel. Or until you have the confidence of knowing you can always get yourself back home on your own two feet. Or the pleasure of driving past somewhere you’ve run. The excitement of slipping your feet into your shoes at the start of a run. The sweet relaxation of drinking something cold and fruity while you stretch after. All of it.

I will always be willing to put in the work that allows me to continue running and I hope I can do it until I am very, very old.


The Shushing Librarian Archetype is a Myth

A page putting books on the shelf. The creak of a cart wheel. Two patrons in the cookbook section, laughing quietly. Another walking towards the art section, a thin stream of music coming from her headphones. One patron types rapidly on the computer behind me, another hesitantly at the catalog. The buzz of someone's cell phone quickly silenced, the slam of an office door, the ding of the elevator as its doors open.
 
When I tell someone I work at a library, I am often met with a similar response: "Oh, it must be so lovely to work somewhere so quiet." (There is also the assumption that librarians just sit around reading books, which would be lovely but, alas, no.) The shushing librarian is an archetype, that, once studied or actually lived, falls apart quickly. We try to keep the noise levels manageable, and often the library is quiet, but not really.
April 2021 library
 
The library is a place filled with books and formed by the shapes needed to house them, but it really is a place of stories.
 
I didn't really expect this when I started working as a librarian nearly twelve years ago. I didn't understand how bartender-ish it can be, working as a librarian. How people tell you their stories, or small parts of them, either overtly through their requests for help finding books or directly, by just starting to talk to you.
 
It's also a place where stories happen. In interactions between patrons and librarians, between patrons and other patrons. Sometimes between librarians. People come to a library needing something. A book, a computer, some free wi-fi. An escape from their husband or kids or mother or annoyingly loud neighbor. Sometimes, they just need a place to sit out of the rain. To be a person who needs something can be a vulnerable position to be in, and that is often where the stories happen.
 
Just thought today I would share a few I took part in.
 
Even though the library where I work has been open for almost the entirety of the pandemic (we were closed for about seven or eight weeks but then opened with varying levels of modification), there is always someone angry or annoyed by what we aren't doing. Right now, we are open for our normal hours, and we have started putting back some of the furniture. No comfy chairs, but there are chairs at the study desks. The study rooms are not open and probably won't be for some time yet.
 
I had a patron this morning come to my desk and demand a study room. "I need a room right now, and the wireless password." I took a breath before responding because I could guess, by his body language and voice tone, how this would go. I explained that the study rooms are not open yet, but he could use one of the laptop bars if he wanted. He pushed back and insisted: "your colleague on the other side told me I could have a room, so I want a room." I apologized and he walked away, muttering.
 
He walked back across the bridge that connects our two wings. He shouted at the librarian at that desk. She called me and I said the same thing: tell him the rooms are not open. (I also said "I'm sorry he's being such a jerk" but quietly, so he didn't hear me). Then he stormed back across the bridge toward my desk. I looked right at him, daring him to catch my eye. He didn't, but he walked by and muttered something that included "pandemic" and "fucking ridiculous."
 
And I'm just now SO looking forward to working next week, when the statewide mask mandate will be lifted but not in city buildings. It took a pandemic to teach me that some people really are asses. 
 
❦❦❦
 
Downstairs, I helped an older woman. She needed to save and then email the Word doc she'd been writing, but wasn't sure how to on our system. She very apologetically asked me for help. I always try not to read the documents a patron has created. It's none of my business and they can have their privacy, but it's impossible not to see a few words. Her document, which she explained was a letter to her brother, included the words "funeral," "mom," "inheritance" and "lawyer."
 
I helped her save and then showed her how to attach the document in her email, then left her to write whatever else she needed to. When she was done, she came over to thank me for helping her. It's never required to thank your librarian, but honestly it is awfully nice when someone does. She told me her document was "a very important one during a hard time for our family" and then got a little teary but didn't actually cry, and I just said "you're welcome, you enjoy the beautiful day" and she smiled at me with her eyes. 
 
Two different people. Each needing something. But how they each approached the experience was totally different. The woman's heartfelt "thank you" contrasted with the angry man's swearing...that is the realness of the librarian experience, not sitting behind a desk in a cardigan and bun, shushing people. It is talking about books, sometimes. Often it is talking about printing or other basic computer skills. But always it is about interaction. Not all of them are positive, but I am grateful for the ones that are. 

Messy Craft Table as Self-Portrait

This morning my plan was to add the border to the baby quilt I’ve been working on, so I can get that one and the other two that I need to finish sandwiched and quilted. I got derailed by laundry, though, and needing a quick trip to Target for the laundry and since I’m still not driving I had to wait until Kendell had a break in his calls and then…

I walked into my crafty space and just kind of had to laugh. Because look at my table:

Messy crafty desk 4 8 2021

I’m not the kind of person who’s bugged by some clutter. I’m OK to work around it. But this is ridiculous…all the useable space is used up! So before I did anything, I needed to clean up my space.

But then I really looked at it, and I thought….hmmmmmm. That’s kind of a self-portrait right there, isn’t it? My desk says a lot about me, my personality, my affections, my obsessions. So before I cleaned up I snapped a pic. I know it looks like a cluttered ridiculous mess, but here’s what my table mess reveals about me (starting from the left and working to the right.

  1. I make quilts. I make baby quilts. If you are my friend or my family member and you have a baby, I’ll probably make a quilt for you. SOMETIMES I will buy the fabric but never make or actually give the quilt to you. But I still thought about it, that counts, right? It’s probably me overthinking, but the making of baby quilts is not just a shower gift for me. It is a love language that I speak to other people, a way of giving them my time and something tangible. It is because of Aunt Merle making me a baby quilt, and I can’t actually remember Aunt Merle but I can remember loving that baby quilt she made and so in essence some part of her is still here. Still remembered. Am I saying I make baby quilts to ward off my fear of death? Maybe. Don’t tell the new moms that though.
  2. My ginormous paper cutter. Kendell surprised me with this Rotatrim in 1997 or 98 and 20+ years later it still works perfectly. It felt obscenely expensive at the time but the long-lasting nature has made up for the cost. It is one of my most useful and most-used scrapbooking tools. And there on top of it is a quilting ruler, which I use interchangeable for quilting and scrapbooking.
  3. There are actually four things for placing cups on on my desk. The one I’ve used the longest is the one Elliot made for me. I think about him every day, partly because I have this beautiful and useful object he made for me. (Translation: my favorite gifts are the thoughtful and useful ones that carry some of the giver’s personality.) Also Monet’s Water Lilies, which I bought at the Denver Art Museum after seeing the exhibit. The corner is chipped because the airport security made me empty my entire carry-on bag (as has happened every time I’ve flown out of Denver) and the woman handling my stuff dropped it. Guilty of transporting art over state boundaries I guess and there’s always a price to pay for that. I’m not bitter.
  4. I didn’t think I would love having a laptop. I like the sturdiness of a desktop. But since Kendell’s been working from home (for the past four years, folks, don’t complain about your year-long time of never having any solitude or peace or quiet until you’ve done it for almost half a decade) and he uses the desktop, I’ve fallen in love with my laptop. Poems, essays, blog posts, political diatribes, editing photos, chatting with friends, writing scrapbook journaling and in my journal and bits & pieces of unfinished stories and…I use it a lot. So much so that I’ve worn out the left arrow key. (I don’t know why it’s that key.) Yes, I do have a purple mouse.
  5. The last scrapbook layout I finished, some supplies I still need to put away, my box of pins (unapologetically pink), a pile of purple pens. Just pretty and fun and colorful stuff I use.
  6. A couple of the border strips. I’m not 100% sure I can make the vision of this border actually work, but I’m going to try! I’ll let you know!
  7. My surgery amulets. I like Alex + Ani bracelets. During my recovery I wore those two gold ones. One has a seashell and it reminds me of the moment on the beach at Carmel when I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t muscle my way through this injury but would probably have to have it fixed. I cried a little but then I felt a deep sense of peace. Maybe the ocean waves were fooling me, but I felt like it would eventually be OK. The other has a charm of a gymnast doing a pose similar to dancer’s pose. I wore that one to remind myself that I have been strong and flexible in the past and those traits will help me be strong and flexible again. I’ve worn them every day since my surgery.
  8. Burt’s Bees. My favorite line stamp for journaling. My only real “mixed media” supplies that I actually use (the Heidi Swapp Color Shine spray). A box of new stuff from Felicity Jane, one of my favorite scrapooking companies. A book I’ve partially read.
  9. A headband and a scrunchie. Head bands are starting to show up around the house again, proof that I am doing more outside movement. I have some longstanding and fairly deep Forehead Issues, friends. It’s a story. I can’t stand to have my forehead exposed to sunlight. So I have a, well…a generously-sized collection of Bondi Bands. I keep them handy in all the spaces just in case.
  10. That clear tray holds new photos and supplies I want to use ASAP. The smaller pink one holds scraps I’ll use to make cards. As soon as I make cards. I still need to make, write, and send thank you cards to the many people who helped after my surgery. Three months later isn’t too late is it? 

I had to slightly clean off my desk just to write this post. Now I’m going to put on the border. Except I just heard the laundry machine ding…


Science People Doing Word Things and Other Surgery Microstories (Surgery Story Part 2)

I am feeling many Feels today, and this is not what I want to write. What I want to write is about “lazy learners” and faith transitions and the dissent of zealots, but I am not quite ready. So today, just continuing yesterday’s story. Sort of. Not even really a story, but a list of microstories, little things I want to remember about the day of my surgery:

  • The day before my surgery the surgical center called to confirm what time I should come in. She told me and I thought “I should write that down” but then I didn’t because I also thought “that’s not any earlier than getting up for a race, so no big deal.” BUT THEN. Then I woke up at about 2:37 in the morning in a panic. Did they tell me to come at 6:00, so I should get up at 5:15? Or to come at 5:00 so I should get up at 4:15? (Both are times I’ve gotten out of bed to run a race.) So then I fretted in bed for awhile and castigated myself for not listening to that “write it down” wise voice and I imagined all sorts of scenarios of what would happen if I got the time wrong. I even got out of bed, found the number of the surgery center, and called them. (It’s a same-day surgery center. No one answered at 3 in the morning.) Finally I actually woke up Kendell and said “what time did I tell you I needed to be there?” and he said “six, stop worrying, get some sleep” and you know? I’m STILL not sure what time I was actually supposed to be there, but if it was 5, no one said anything about me being 45 minutes late. (But then they also didn’t say anything about me being 15 minutes early, so…)
  • Just this moment: walking from the car into the building. It was still midnight-dark at 5:45 in the January morning, and so cold, but the stars looked so bright. They calmed my nerves and made me feel like it would be OK.
  • I intended on painting my toenails. I did not paint my toenails. I went into foot surgery with naked toenails, which is kind of obscene...
  • When I was changing out of my clothes (I wore flannel pjs because that seemed like the easiest thing to put on after the surgery) into the surgery gown, there were nurses standing outside the changing room. One of them said “today is a cool date, January 12, 2021. 1/12/21” and another one said “it’s like…ummmm, there’s a word for it? Like mom or wow?” and they couldn’t get there so after thinking ahhh, cute, science people trying to do word things!” I said “it’s like a palindrome” through the changing-room curtain. (It is almost a palindrome, but not really, but that’s OK because at least I had the word they were searching for, if using incorrectly.)
  • I had to pee in a cup so they could do a pregnancy test before my surgery. I had a four-minute panic thinking what if it’s positive? I mean…I love babies and I love my kids but I’m almost 49 years old. It’s someone else’s turn to test positive. (I was not pregnant.)
  • The usual compliments about my gorgeous veins when my IV was inserted.
  • The doctor had me write “yes” on the foot he was supposed to operate on, just to be sure. I found this to be oddly positive so I added an exclamation point. I wish I would’ve also drawn a smiley face.
  • It was so strange to be the patient instead of being the patient's spouse. SO WEIRD.
  • The anesthesiologist came into the pre-op room to talk to me. He was awesome. He told me about every step of the process and what I could expect. He told me that he and my surgeon had discussed my case the night before, and decided they wanted to ask me if they could do a nerve block on my leg. Apparently this is a new thing they do, both the anesthesia and the block so that there’s no pain for 18-24 hours after the surgery. I told them that was great, but what really struck me about this was imagining them talking on the phone the night before about me. It made me feel like they both really wanted to make sure they surgery went well, like I was a person who mattered instead of just a patient.
  • There were a bunch of people in the room before they wheeled me out and down the hall to the surgery room, so Kendell stepped out to make room. Which means I didn’t see him or tell him goodbye or hear him tell me good luck and I was just high enough on whatever they put in the IV to calm you down that I thought about turning around and shouting “where the hell are you, Kendell!!?!?” but not so high as to actually do it.
  • I did not believe I would actually go under with the anesthesia. But my last memory is of them telling me to scoot onto the table and I said “aren’t you going to 1-2-3 lift me?” If they actually had me count down from 10 like you see on TV, I forgot!
  • My first thought when I woke up: I HAVE TO PEE. RIGHT NOW. Those were also my first understandable words. Luckily the nurse believed me and got me there in time. I’m totally OK with being the nerdy patient who knows stuff about words. I am NOT ok with being the patient who pees the bed!

(You can read Part 1, where I explain how I got to the point of needing surgery, HERE.)


Torn Plantar Plate Surgery Story: Part 1

I just realized it’s been almost an entire year that I’ve been dealing with my toe issue, so I thought I’d write about how my injury happened (even though I don’t really have an amazing story to tell!)

I’ve been wearing orthotics for about five years now, ever since I started having capsulitis in my second toe on my left foot. (This is inflammation in the joint that connects your toe to your foot.) I wore them in both shoes to keep things even, although my right foot didn’t hurt in the same way. Then, last year after our epic May hike to Silver Glance Lake, my right second toe started hurting in the same way.

view of Timp along the way to Silver Glance Lake
The hike to Silver Glance Lake was epic because of the fresh May snow up there!


Since I was already wearing orthotics to help with capsulitis, I wasn’t sure what to do. At first, like all good runners, I just ignored it. Shook it off. But it kept getting worse so finally I visited my podiatrist.

We tried several different things. Some taping with an extra insert to relieve the pressure on the toe joint (didn’t work). Shorter runs. Then fewer runs. Then a week off. Still hurting. So I got a cortisone shot, which helped for a little while. I kept running and building up my mileage, but about a month later it started hurting again. This time I got a second shot and then took three weeks off from running. (I was still hiking, though.) I stretched, I massaged, I iced. It was feeling pretty good at the end of the three weeks, so one day I thought OK, this is it…going to start running again today.

Kendell and I went to Costco and then we went to a park where I intended on starting my run. I would run home from there, only about two miles from home, and start out slow, walking for three minutes, running for two. Before he left, I asked him to take a running pic for me, because I wanted to write about how that “first run back” felt, and it is much easier for him to just take it than for me to find a spot to prop my phone and then work with the timer for a few attempts. I walked a bit to warm up my legs, got him positioned, and started running toward him.

And…yeah.

running in the park
Five or six steps in...already hurting

I think it was either my third or fifth step, maybe my seventh. But just seconds into my run, something tore on the bottom of my foot. I didn’t really hear it, but the tear felt like a sound. Like the sound of wet cotton fabric tearing. It stopped me in my tracks (luckily Kendell had gotten a few shots already!) but I tried to shake it off. Shake, shake, shake, literally, just shook my foot. Rotated my ankle in circles. Wiggled my toes. Walked a bit. Then I tried running back toward him, and yeah: No. It was super painful and my toe felt wobbly.

So instead of running home I hobbled back to the car and had him drive me home.

This was the day before we were going to leave for our trip to California to visit Nathan. I had all sorts of plans for going running with him while we were in Monterrey, and he had a gorgeous route all planned out. But…running? I couldn’t even really walk well. With EVERY step, my toe would either slip into or out of joint, depending on where it was on the previous step. On our first day there, we walked around the beaches on Thirteen Mile Drive and gah…it was uncomfortable. Even worse than normal on the sand with bare feet. (But oh. It felt so good to hold my foot in the cold water!) So, no running on the beach during that trip. No nice long run with my soldier son on his favorite route. Just dislocating my toe over and over.

After months of wrangling with my health insurance, I finally got an MRI scheduled. (Side rant: They kept pushing back with things they wanted me to do before I had the MRI. Time off of running. A cortisone shot. PT. Two weeks of taking an anti-inflammatory. All things that I had already done and THEY HAD ALREADY PAID FOR.) The results only confirmed my podiatrist’s diagnosis of a torn plantar plate, the thing we were trying to avoid. Because my doctor’s surgery schedule was full into November, I decided to just wait until January so I could have an entire year of being at my deductible.

This is a great picture to explain what I tore:

plantar plate tear

That tendon helps to hold your toe into the joint where it joins your foot. You have one for each toe, but the second toe is the one most often torn.

While I waited for my surgery, my toe continued to slip in and out of joint. I almost got used to it. I found the ONE pair of shoes I could wear at work that held my foot flat enough to keep the joint stable so it didn’t pop around as much. As the tendon got worse, sometimes the toe would be so out of joint it was just lodged on the top of my foot. (Fairly unpleasant.) Thankfully, I could still hike. At this point, nothing but a surgery would fix it, so staying totally off of it wouldn’t repair it, and my hiking boots also held it enough that I wasn’t miserable. But running…running was out, because the real issue is the point of bending as the foot pushes off the ground in the running stride. Torn tendon made that nearly impossible. So I held on to my mental health by hiking as much as I could.

And that is the story of how I ended up needing a foot surgery. No big dramatic injury, no great story to tell. I just, you know. Sort of wore it out!

Up tomorrow, details about the surgery itself.


Connections

I spent a good chunk of time yesterday making side dishes for today’s Easter meal. (It took me much longer than normal to put together a pasta salad and a frog eye salad and some dough for sweet rolls, because I’m so slow and cautious on my feet right now.) While I cooked, I thought about cooking for holiday meals. My sister texted me and asked for the berry cake recipe, my niece texted and asked for clarification on the berry cake (salted or unsalted butter?) It’s been since I was a teenager that I prepared a meal with someone else in the kitchen, and those texts or phone calls have become part of why I love prepping for holidays: shared recipes, asking for help, knowing we are all cooking at the same time if not in the same kitchen.

Easter 2004
Easter 2004 in my parents' front yard

When my kids were growing up, I loved Easter. We would all gather for a meal at my mom’s house in the afternoon. We always had ham and cheese potatoes, with a rotating cast of side dishes. If it was good weather we’d eat in the back yard. Then we’d have an Easter egg hunt. Those afternoons of being in the yard I loved as a kid, vibrant with spring flowers, listening to my kids and nieces and nephews run around and laugh and cheer…I loved them. The days, the people, the setting. 

Easter party 2005
the last babies, Kaleb and Ben, with my dad, Easter 2005

About 12 years ago, I was shopping at Williams Sonoma and came across a Mary Ann cake pan on clearance. As I have always been the provider of desserts at family parties, I was intrigued, a pan with fluted edges and a well in the top to fill with fruit. I snatched it up and made it for Easter that year (after making a practice cake that was kind of a disaster…the pan is SO tricky to get oiled correctly so the cake comes out without breaking) and everyone loved it, so that is what I brought to Easter dinners forevermore. (Well, and sugar cookies for the kids, and also sometimes my lemon cake as well.)

Mary ann cake
my Mary Ann cake from last year, on my mom's cake plate

All these years later, I still have that pan.

What I don’t have: my dad, my mom, my mom’s house. Little kids who love going to grandma’s house. That easy and uncomplicated relationship in my extended family. Even not knowing that it wasn’t easy and uncomplicated. In this time after both my parents are gone, these post-trump, end-of-pandemic times, we are all deeply fractured and have retreated to the safety of our own homes.

And here it is, Easter. A gorgeous Easter Sunday and my spring flowers are perfect blossoms. There won’t be any little kids today, running around searching for candy. The Easter baskets are sparse because adult kids don’t care and the teenager just wants clothes. We aren’t even having the raspberry cake from the Mary Ann pan, because the boys voted for a Skor cake instead.

Easter 13 the girls 4x6
all the girls, Easter 2013

But it makes me happy, still, to think of my sister and more than one of my nieces, who have procured Mary Ann cake pans of their own, serving them to their families.

And I will have most of my family with me today. We’ll eat—steak, pasta salad, brown rice—and laugh. We’ll take some pictures among the spring flowers, maybe with bare feet in the barely-green grass.

And the rest of my extended family will be eating, laughing, taking pictures at the same time. It’s not how it used to be, and there is some devastation in that. But hopefully the ways we have influenced each other in the past—cake pans and recipes, encouragement and advice—will continue on in the future.

Easter 2012
Kaleb and Nathan hunting for eggs, Easter 2012

Thoughts on Walking

A few weeks ago, when I was approaching the doctor appointment where I would likely be able to stop using my crutches and put some weight on my foot—actually walk!—I grew more and more nervous. Eight weeks (and two days) is a long time to go without walking, and my mind just sort of stopped being able to imagine my body moving that way. I coached myself through the nerves by reminding my brain that I’ve been walking for, oh…47 years. I even asked my older sister if she remembered any stories about when I started walking as a baby, or if I was an early or late walker (alas, she did not).

I worried and fretted and had bad dreams until finally that appointment came. My podiatrist fit me with a walking boot and then it was time. My hands were shaking. I had to take several deep breaths before I actually did it. And that first step…wow. My leg felt so weak. Not just my foot, or my calf which had withered away, but from toenail to hip, my muscles were jelly. I was determined not to cry in front of the doctor and Kendell, and I didn’t. (Must maintain badass status.) But there were tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

How strange to be terrified of walking, that most human motion.

First walk after surgery 4x6
(my first post-surgery walk in shoes)

Three weeks later, I have now been spending some time walking in actual shoes. I still sometimes wear my boot, if I know I will be on my feet for a long time. I actually have to practice walking, because my gait is totally off and I am easing in that tendon, not wanting to stress it out at all, afraid of any little twinge or pull.

(I need to start physical therapy but it feels overwhelming.)

And I have been thinking about walking.

In boots on the top of a mountain, when I’ve made it to my destination and can just stroll around, seeing what I can see there.

Along a sandy beach, carrying my sandals.

Carefully, barefoot, along the stony, burbling path of a creek.

Around a city like a flaneuse.

Places I have walked in my life: across the sandstone and the sand at Lake Powell. The Green Sands beach on the Big Island. The soft green grass of the yard of my childhood home. On tiptoe atop a balance beam, in ballet shoes across a stage. Down streets in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Brussels, Rome. Into and out of hospitals and in paces across waiting rooms, anxious for yet another of Kendell’s surgeries to be successful. In front of the white board in my classroom. For a final time, out of the home I grew up in. Into a restaurant to meet a friend. Down the hall into the baby’s room, just to watch him sleep.

I have annoyed my teenagers by walking too fast through the mall and been annoyed by slow walkers in the exit line at Costco.

And I have thought about how, for those 47-something years of walking, I took it for granted. It’s what we do, as humans, the way we move within our world, the way we experience and process and get places. I never really pondered a life without walking, until now, when my two-thirds-of-a-mile loop walk takes me 20 minutes to finish and my foot is pounding when I’m done. So slow. So awkward. And knowing that even that, the slowness, the awkward pace—even that is a blessing. A privilege.

So as I continue on, improving my walking ability (I sometimes feel like a very old, slightly wrinkled, surprisingly grey-haired giant toddler these days), I will keep this knowledge. Walking, which seems so quotidian, is magic. I won’t ever take it for granted again.