She’s a Real Amazon

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I never used to like non-fiction.  Why waste my time?  It was dry and boring; I’d much rather spend my time reading fiction.  However, I quickly learned I would have to get over my dislike of non-fiction because I needed to do the research necessary to create a believable world in my novel.  True, I encountered dry and boring tomes but I encountered many more brilliantly written books that made the ancient world come alive.  I’ve been hooked ever since.  I do most of my reading about the Ancient World-Rome, Egypt, Carthage-and am thrilled when I discover stories of women who defy the strictures of society.  Women who made a name for themselves by living their lives on equal footing with men.  Women like Hypsicratea, the Amazon who fought beside and loved Mithradates VI.

I’d encountered Mithradates  in a couple of my Roman history books but never heard of Hypsicratea until I purchased Vicki Leon’s “The Joy of Sexus”.  It was there I discovered Hypsicratea-or Hypsicrates, as Mithradates called her.  I wanted to know more.  Ms. Leon’s book led me to Adrienne Mayor’s “The Poison King”.  I bought it and searched its pages for mention of this amazing woman.

Mithradates meets Hypsicratea after the Third Mithradatic War while recruiting soldiers in Armenia.  She belongs to to one of the nomadic Eurasian tribes where both boys and girls were taught to ride, hunt, and make war.  She’s most likely in her early thirties in 69 BC and is a proficient horsewoman, archer, and wielder of the javelin and battle-axe.  Hypsicratea begins traveling with Mithradates as his groom, caring for his horses, but quickly becomes his personal attendant and lover and, quite believably, the love of his life.

She would be at his side when he faced Pompey in battle and is more than likely at his side when he is forced to flee Pompey’s moonlight attack and take refuge in Sinora, his fortified treasury on the border of Armenia.  But then what?

Unfortunately, there is no historical account of Hypsicratea after the winter of 63 BC.  Did she die when Mithradates crossed the Caucasus?  The base of a marble statue unearthed by Russian Archeologists says no.  She survived the crossing and was still with Mithradates when he reclaimed the Kingdom of the Bosporus.  Yet she was not with Mithradates when he met his death in that same Kingdom.  Where did she go?  Did she survive?

There is plenty of fuel for speculation.  There are historical references to a “Hypsicrates”, a historian who wrote about Pontus and the Black Sea.  Is this Mithradates’ Hypsicrates, an amazing woman who would have little difficulty passing as a male?  There just isn’t enough information to know for sure but that doesn’t make the story of Hypsicratea any less fascinating.

 

The Human Effect

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I’m a subscriber to Conservation International and have been enjoying the “Nature is Speaking” series.  The message of each of these short videos is that we need nature; nature doesn’t need us.  These videos reminded me of a documentary I saw a while ago called “Radioactive Wolves”.  It was made to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear incident and is a fascinating study on just how well nature does without human involvement.

25 years has completely changed the landscape both around Chernobyl and within the zone so contaminated with radiation it’s uninhabitable by humans.  Cultivated land and the deserted cities have all been reclaimed by wilderness.  Man-made canals have been damned by beavers and the same beavers have undermined dykes thus returning drained marshland to its natural state.  The area around Chernobyl has become an unintended refuge for endangered species; species that seem to thrive despite the fact that bones of moose test at 50 times normal levels of radiation and fish bones from the area close to the reactor are so contaminated they can’t be touched by bare hands.

Gray wolf, Eagle, and Peregrine falcons are the top predator species that thrive in this reclaimed wilderness.  It doesn’t seem like thriving should be possible with the amount of radiation in the soil which is then taken up by the plants, eaten by the large herbivores and then consumed by the predators, but thrive they do.  The health of their populations stems from the fact that the area is toxic and thus lost to humans.

And, it is toxic.  The documentary referenced a six year study performed on dormice living within the contaminated zone.  4 to 6 percent of every generation shows some sign of abnormality, twice the rate of clean areas.  Those rates are unacceptable to humans and with an estimate of Chernobyl being uninhabitable by humans for the next 20,000 years; these species will be able to continue their uninterrupted life cycles without human intervention.

Almost without human intervention.  Bison were reintroduced into the Belarus side of the exclusion zone in the late 90’s and that decade saw wild horses being introduced on the Ukraine side.  However, wherever there are humans trying to help, there are humans causing problems.  Reproduction rates among the wild horses say there should be close to 200 individuals roaming the wilderness but poachers have brought that number closer to 60: a fact that seems to reinforce the Nature is Speaking message.  Nature doesn’t need us and, indeed, seems to do much better without us.

Does it have to be this way?  If human beings could realize our relationship with the world around us is symbiotic-our ability to thrive depends on the health of our environment-would we start living in balance with it rather than consuming its resources far faster than it can replenish itself?  As always, I can’t answer for anyone but myself.  I try to make the most responsible decisions I can and living in balance with my environment is an ongoing journey.

I am well aware I can’t survive without nature and I want to do all I can to ensure I don’t have to learn how well nature survives without me.

 

Vegan for Reasons of My Own

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My family and I rescued a baby rabbit the other day.  He got stuck in our basement window well and was too little to jump back out.  I realized I knew very little about rabbits.  At what age are they left to fend for themselves?  If we had to rescue the rabbit by touching him, would his mother reject him?  Was his mother going to come for him?  I didn’t know but we couldn’t leave him there.  My mother and stepfather couldn’t figure out how to pop the basement window out of its frame and we weren’t sure crawling under the porch was going to be feasible.  My stepfather remembered the grate covering the well at porch height lifted off so he headed out and I followed to help.  I tried to climb down inside the well and discovered I suffer from claustrophobia.  So, how to rescue the bunny without turning into a quivering lump?  My stepfather suggested putting our long handled shovel into the well and seeing if the rabbit would climb on.  I was skeptical: no doubt the shovel would scare him.  How would we get him on it-and keep him on it-long enough to lift him out without hurting him?

Imagine my surprise when the rabbit gave the shovel a sniff and climbed right on.  He stayed perched on until I’d lifted him out of the well and he could hop off under our deck to cheers from my mother.  I swear that rabbit knew we were trying to help him and REALLY wanted out of the window well.  Anthropomorphism aside, the rabbits actions denoted an intelligence and understanding that surprised me a little and then got me thinking about why I became a vegan.

My reasons were two-fold.  One, I was terrified arthritis was going to put me in a wheelchair and I wanted to avoid that at all costs.  I’d read that the vegan/plant-based diet cured all sorts of ills and I was desperate enough to change my lifestyle.  At the same time, I experienced a crisis of conscience.  The thought of eating specific animals horrified me.  Why them and not others?  Was intelligence the basis for my choosing to eat some animals and not others?  I checked The Kind Diet out of the library, even told my mother I was just curious and was NOT looking to become a vegan, and then became a vegan.

I confess better health was my driving force.  I was conflicted about animals and didn’t want to contribute to their suffering but had a long way to go before I could say with all honesty “I’m Vegan for the Animals”.  And then, I didn’t want to say “I’m Vegan for the Animals” because, as I studied up on nutrition and how to stay healthy on the vegan diet, I ran into authors who had the attitude that those who chose a vegan lifestyle for health were somehow less ‘vegan’ than those that did so for the animals.  I admit I can be a little too “my good opinion once lost is lost forever” (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen) but that attitude upset me so much I still won’t buy those authors’ cookbooks and I’ve been vegan for close to five years.

Fortunately, I encountered far more kind and supportive vegans than I did rude and obnoxious ones and my health has thanked me for it.  The improvement in my health did clear the way for me to consider how I thought of the other living beings that inhabited this planet with me; not just animals.  Now I can say; “I’m vegan for my health, for others’ health, for the health of this planet I live on, for other humans, and yes; for the animals”.

The longer I study, the more reasons I have for the lifestyle I’ve chosen and that’s just it; it’s my lifestyle and my reasons: I would never consider myself superior to anyone else just because I’ve made changes they can’t-or won’t-make themselves.  My choices are mine alone and, again, I want to send my thanks out to all the vegans and non-vegans alike who supported me, freely answered my questions, and let me make such choices for myself.  I strive to be so kind.

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The rabbit is being camera-shy so, instead, here’s a sampling of my cookbook collection. I use all sorts of things to bookmark recipes…

 

 

A Work in Process

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What is my writing process?  Apparently, all writers have them and all are unique.  Do you write standing up?  Write Drunk and Edit Sober or vice versa? Devote an hour a day?  Don’t stop until at least three pages are finished?  Don’t even think about your book until you’ve accomplished a half hour of free-writing?  I enjoy reading about other writers’ processes and there is a sense of community as I find writers share many of the same struggles, but though I’ve been working on my book for years, I still don’t have a process.  It’s constantly changing and has yet to be nailed down.

I try.  “I’m going to write an hour a day. Period.”  I begin with that goal but then I’ll have a day where I’m so tired I can’t string words together verbally much less type something other than gibberish.  Then there days when my arm will hurt and I can’t type or write by hand and, before I know it, days have passed with no progress on the manuscript.  That doesn’t mean I’m not writing if by ‘writing’ I mean thinking about my book and characters, plotting what happens next, or reading a bit by way of research.  In many ways, my process is to work on my book every waking moment-and some sleeping moments-even though words don’t always make it onto paper.

I hear advice like; don’t edit yourself-get it down on paper and then edit.  That makes sense but that doesn’t work for me.  I’ll be writing away and then I realize that both plot and characters feel dry and that a change needs to be made; often four or five chapters ago.  If I don’t go back and make the change, I CANNOT continue writing.  It’s like all creativity dries up.  So, I edit myself I great deal while working.

One piece of advice I have taken to heart is don’t throw anything away.  I have a dump file and, whenever I hit a situation mentioned in the above paragraph, I take the scene that isn’t working and stick it in the dump file.  This has been crucial for me.  There have been so many times I plopped something that wasn’t working in the file and forgot about it until I found I needed it; often years after first setting it down.  I recently copied in work I’d done in my earliest draft-almost ten years old now-into my current draft and was thrilled not to have to re-write the scene.

“Taking a long time” is definitely part of my process but my story arcs over seven books and I don’t want to make the mistake of introducing something in Book One that is utterly contradicted in Book Seven.  I hate it when authors do that.  I’ve had authors I like reference an instance from an earlier book that I remember happening differently and, sure enough, I scrounge up the appropriate book and find I’m correct.  Why does that happen?  Is it easier to tweak the facts for the current book?  I don’t know but it’s annoying.  I also have a hard time continuing to read an author that changes a character’s name in a later book.  Is the name unimportant because the character is a minor one?  No.  If you’re going to bring the character back in later books, make sure you use the same name!  I don’t know if that’s an author or an editor mistake but, again, it’s annoying.

I respect authors that go that extra mile in research and attention to detail.  The Denver Museum of Nature and Science recently had a Sherlock Holmes exhibit.  Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters and I enjoyed immersing myself in that world.  The exhibit had plenty of hands on activities and there was a mystery to be solved as I moved through the different displays.  Great fun but I enjoyed reading the letters written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  One such letter was to his publisher and Mr. Conan Doyle was requesting a copy of an early manuscript as he couldn’t remember all the details he’d set down and no longer had a copy of his own.  My writer spirit felt camaraderie with that: a writer respecting both his characters and his readers enough to research his early work.  Such an eye for detail and a respect for research-as well as great writing-keeps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on my shelves.

Sherlock

My Sherlock Holmes Collection

 

I knew Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote other books: I’ve seen The Lost World even though I haven’t yet acquired a copy of the book.  I did find a collection of stories I’d never known Conan Doyle wrote and I was especially interested in the Preface to The White Company written by Conan Doyle’s wife.  It begins:

My husband was intensely thorough in all his literary work.  He took enormous pains to have everything right.  For instance, before writing The White Company, he soaked his brain with a knowledge of the period he intended to portray.  He read over sixty books dealing with heraldry-armour-falconry-the medieval habits of the peasants of that time-the social customs of the higher fold of the land, etc.  Only when he knew those days as though he had lived in them-when he had got the very atmosphere steeped into his brain-did he put pen to paper and let loose the creations of his mind.  (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Historical Novels: Volume One; Preface to The White Company)

This, also, I deeply respect.  I do write a bit differently than this; I soak my brain in the period I’m writing in but there are things I don’t realize I should be researching until I’m already in the writing process.  For instance, merely having a character attend a public bath isn’t enough.  I need to know what the baths in both Ancient Rome and Ancient Arabia were like.  How did they differ from one another? Were there different rules for men and women?  Were there castes of society not allowed to attend at all?  What did one do with his or her clothes when bathing?  Fortunately for me, there are historians with these same interests and I can scare up a book or a documentary that will tell me what I need to know.

Maybe my writing should be more disciplined.  Maybe I take too much time.  Maybe I shouldn’t be getting wrapped up in these little details until a second or even a third draft.  Maybe, but it doesn’t seem to be part of my process.

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My Historical Volume Collection

 

Behold, Here’s Poison

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Poison book

Of course I picked up a book at the exhibit

My membership at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is so useful to me.  I do a great deal of research for my books at the different exhibits and I was able to make a long visit at the Poison exhibit when it was in town.  I haven’t planned on any of my characters using poison to off another character but I never know when information will come in handy.  I try to take advantage of opportunities like the Museum’s special exhibits and I have a growing file full of bits of information I find interesting.

The exhibit was fascinating and I spent hours wandering through the displays, trying to stay out of the way of other museum goers while I took copious notes.  This exhibit was one of the best I’d visited.  As an avid mystery reader, I’ve been aware of how various plants can be deadly in the right doses.  As someone who lives on a plant-based diet, I pay close attention to the fact that some plants are both edible and deadly, depending on what part of the plant is used.  I couldn’t wait to find out what more this exhibit could teach me.

I was not surprised at the presence of foxglove at the exhibit.  Agatha Christie’s books first introduced me to the fact that digitalis, derived from foxglove, could be beneficially used by people with heart problems and as a deadly poison by those with nefarious purposes.  It’s such a beautiful plant and I marvel at how something so beautiful can be at once to useful and so deadly.

Books also introduced me to cassava, a staple among some cultures.  What I did not know is that cassava contains cyanide and can be deadly.  It is only dried and ground into flour that it can be safely used; something that may end up in a book someday.

I was not fully aware of the part plants have played in the medical field and this aspect of the exhibit was fascinating.  I know of curare being used as a poison but had no idea it was used as an anesthetic.  It’s effect wasn’t fully understood and I’m thankful I’ve never been subjected to a surgical procedure under its influence.  However, according to the exhibit, curare can be used as an antidote for strychnine poisoning.  If I can ever come up with a valid reason why one of my characters would have curare on hand and then be poisoned by strychnine, I’m using this.

I learned that an extract of the yew tree is still being used as a cancer treatment, although it’s made synthetically now because of the ecological cost.  I thought it amazing that a derivative of yew bark could help treat cancer and was curious what other plants were being studied..  I learned that scientists were turning to plants like sweet wormwood and the opium poppy in search of medicinal uses.  And, scientists aren’t just studying plants but animals as well.

What makes a person look for cancer treatment in the venom of the Deathstalker Scorpion?  Pain relief in the venom of a black mamba?  Can the monocled cobra point researchers to a new arthritis drug or the Brazilian pit viper reveal an ACE inhibitor?  I took my notes, went home, and began googling.  Sure enough, the exhibit wasn’t lying to me: these animals and many more and being looked at for everything from tumor paint to anticoagulants.

I learned so much from this exhibit though I don’t know how much of it I’ll be using in the series I’m currently writing.  Still, I have all sorts of ideas for stories to write when I’ve finished this series.  I like knowing my file of facts is there for the gleaning.

 

Note:  My title is also the title of a mystery by Georgette Heyer.  Want to know what was used?  You’ll have to read it!

Parallel Cultures

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I’ve never paid too much attention to American History.  I’ve always been fascinated with Rome, Carthage, Egypt, and Parthia and Medieval England is the latest period I’ve spent any time with.  Still, I’m a history buff and I was able to persuade my family to stop at the Anasazi and Fremont Indian State Parks during our trip to Utah.  More on the Anasazi people later.

The Fremont Indian State Park was a fascinating place and I highly recommend stopping there if you ever get a chance.  My family and I were the only visitors so I had the museum to myself.  I was delighted to spend as much time with the exhibits as I liked without having to try and read over someone else’s head or dodge children.  It was in the museum that the similarities between Ancient American and Ancient Egyptian Cultures first clicked in my mind.  I was grinding corn with the mano and metate when I looked up to read the description of the artifacts.  Whoever had written it had added that the Ancient Americans suffered from painful teeth due to bits of stone ending up on the grain.  I’d read the exact same thing in Red Land, Black Land by Barbara Mertz and was struck by the similarity.  I shrugged it off: of course there would be similarities between cultures, I told myself: there are only so many materials from which basic tools can be crafted.  It makes sense both cultures would grind grain between two stones.

And yet…as I traveled through the outdoor exhibits and saw the cave paintings, I was struck again with how similar the two cultures are: similar and yet utterly unique.  I thought perhaps it was merely human nature to wish to leave something behind; something carved into stone that tells future generations ‘I was here.  I lived.’  Apparently, both the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Americans felt the same way.  I marked the similarities and went home.

I admit I didn’t pay them much more thought until I was purchasing more books.  I’d listed a few from the Fremont State Park library I wanted to read and, while I was searching for those titles, I found They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America by Ivan Van Sertima; a professor of Afro-American studies at Rutgers University.  I was reading Jack Turner’s Spice at the time and was curious what Professor Van Sertima had to say about pre-Columbian visitors.  I knew about a Viking presence but had never heard of an African presence before.

The entire book is fascinating.  I can’t say enough good things about it.  Get it.  Read it.  I wish I had time to discuss the entire book but I’ll limit myself to Chapters 7 through 9 because they reminded me of the sense of similarity between Egyptian and American cultures I’d felt at the Fremont Indian State Park.

Chapter Seven, titled Black Africa and Egypt, introduced me to the influence of racially black Africans on Egypt and how many of things I considered uniquely Egyptian-mummification, tomb painting, bird and animal deities-had their origins among Africans south and west of the Nile.  Chapter Eight, titled The Black Kings of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, introduced me to Nubian Kings who liberated Egypt from Assyrian vassalage and ruled it for a century.  Chapter Nine, titled African-Egyptian Presences in Ancient America, took me through the archaeological evidence that not only proves Africans had crossed the Atlantic and mingled with Ancient Americans, but that there are astonishing similarities between Ancient American and Ancient Egyptian cultures.

The North Equatorial current and counter current make travel between the African and American continents possible.  Professor Van Sertima includes descriptions of experiments proving such travel and culture sharing was possible with the level of ship sophistication of the time, especially that of the Egyptians and Phoenicians.  Travel and culture sharing happened across the Sahara and that culture sharing was carried across the Atlantic long before it was believed to be possible.

I found this absolutely fascinating.  Of course the two cultures are unique but, arm-chair scholar that I am-I saw the similarities and was amazed to learn there is archaeological proof for culture sharing hundreds of years before Columbus.  The culture sharing went both ways: I read it’s a bit more difficult to make the crossing from American to Africa but Professor Van Sertima shows examples of linguistic similarities that suggest an American influence in Northern Africa.

I never learned this in school.  Public school classes are, by necessity, overviews of history and I get that but I think this African influence, the culture sharing across the Sahara, and the fact that there were great explorers who carried their culture across a vast ocean, is worth knowing.  I look forward to studying more African history.  And, my interest in American history has been piqued.  I think seeing how these African-Egyptian influences were absorbed into and made unique by Olmec, Aztec, and Mayan cultures will be fascinating.  I’m going to need more bookshelves.

 

In Search of Myself

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Motivation

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t use social media to its fullest potential.  I have stacks of books to read and usually only use a computer for work.  Sometimes, I wonder if social media isn’t a waste of time but then I connect with someone, see something that makes me laugh, or read something that makes me think and I see social media’s value.  The image at the top of this post was one that rocked me back on my metaphorical heels.

I don’t remember a time when I ever had a wide-eyed, innocent moment.  My childhood wasn’t conducive to wide-eyed innocent moments, a fact I’m much to old to worry about now.  Besides, like the apostle; I forget what lies behind and press on toward the goal…

…of what?  I read this quote and was trying to remember any wide-eyed innocent moments from my past and I realized what I was really asking myself was, when was the last time I felt like myself?  I’m working as a bookkeeper for a nonprofit that does good work: why am I so tired, stressed out, and sad all the time?  The work is stressful, sure and I have a lot of responsibility, but it’s good work that’s making a positive impact on the community.  Why aren’t I fulfilled?  Why do I feel like I’ve lost myself?

Because, this job swallows up my entire life.  Earlier in November, I worked close to a 13 hour day.  Does that happen all the time?  No, but do I find I have to give more and more of myself to the demands of the job?  Yes.  And, that leaves little time for writing.

I realized those were the times I feel the most like myself.  I feel connected to those things that make me me during those brief moments when I had enough energy after making it through a day of work to write something, anything.  The second half of the quote is what really struck me.  If I’m feeling disconnected and, yes, depressed, what has changed?  What shouldn’t have?  The answer I came up with?  Some time during the last year, I allowed the demands of the job to be my priority and let writing be the thing I did with whatever energy I had left over.

This quote made me feel like I’ve reached a crossroads.  My job isn’t bad.  I have great friends I work with, I feel like a part of something every time an adoption of a child in foster care is completed, and I like the logic of bookkeeping; but a voice deep down tells me it isn’t enough.  I may be doing good work but it isn’t what my heart longs to do.  I have to make a change or something precious inside will die.

I quit my job.  It was an extremely difficult decision, especially as I don’t have another and every responsible bone in my body takes issue with leaving a regular salary for the unknown.  And yet…I’m beginning to feel like myself.  The outer me feels less like a shell going through the motions of being a responsible adult and is steadily reconnecting with something vibrant on the inside I fear I almost lost.

I am writing.

Who knows what will come of it.  There’s another voice that says no one will be interested in the stories I have to tell.  Maybe not but I don’t regret my decision one iota.  Sure, I’ll have to get a job eventually: my savings won’t hold out forever.  But, I know for certain my next job will support my writing rather than keep me from it.  I won’t make the same mistake again.

My thanks to Jonathan Scott and #MondayMotivation.  Who knew social media would provide the impetus for me getting my passions back on track?  I never would have believed it but they are, and I am, and myself and I are getting reacquainted.

 

 

 

The Anniversary of My Life

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October 4th was the 17 year anniversary of my car accident. In two more years, I’ll have lived exactly half my life “normal” and half as a disabled person; a fact that feels meaningful to my pattern-loving brain. Perhaps it it, perhaps it isn’t.

I don’t actually celebrate my new life anniversary. There are times I intend to: it’s a good excuse to eat cake (as if I needed one!), but the 4th of October usually passes by and it’s only a few days later that I go; Hey! Another year of life! This year, I spent the 4th at Arches National Park in Utah. I didn’t wake up that morning planning to celebrate an anniversary. I’m not even sure I remembered what day it was. But, since I had my Hey! moment ON the 4th, I’m going to tell all of you about it.

My family and I planned to spend a week touring as many state and national parks as possible. My focus was to get as much hiking in as my body could withstand. I used to be quite the hiker: 9 miles round trip with a night spent sleeping on the ground was nothing to my younger self. Now, half that distance seems insurmountable. I physically can’t do it and my brain injury comes with some oxygen processing/breathing problems. Still, I do what I can and I’m lucky to have family that is willing to wait for me as I start up a trail. Bless my mother: I know she has visions of my passing out and my carcass sliding into a ravine but she never says a word beyond “be careful” and so, I start off.

There are several trails at Arches and I could have spent a week in that park alone, still not seeing all of it. I hiked around the North and South Turrets and considered hiking the Primitive Trail but, as I hadn’t established that plan with my family, I had visions of emerging miles down the road with no way of telling them where I was. I passed on that trail and, instead, hiked to Delicate Arch. I’d misread the distance and thought the distance was a mile round trip. How bad could it be?

The answer? Bad. Delicate Arch is a difficult hike up a rock face with no trail to speak of. The way to the arch is marked out by little cairns and, believe me, those little pile of stones became my best friends. And, the round trip distance is 3 miles. Note to self: make sure to thoroughly read the description before setting foot on a trail. At least I had plenty of water.

Trail?  What Trail?

Trail? What Trail?

The first time I considered turning back was when the clearly outlined trail disappeared and I stood staring up at people scaling a rock face. “Don’t do it”, a voice warned. I was reminded of something I read in one of David Conrad’s blog posts: he says he believes the word hike should only relate to something that can kill you. I don’t disagree with that statement and my hikes these days are really more walks. I had an inkling this qualified as a hike. I turned and stared down at the parking lot. My family wouldn’t care if I turned back. Sure, they wanted a picture of Delicate Arch but no one had any expectation of me pushing my body beyond its limits. Really, the only one with that expectation was me. I knew that if I gave up, I would regret it. I would feel like I failed. I wanted to see Delicate Arch. I wasn’t giving up. I’d take my time, stop and breathe when I needed to, take some sips of water. I didn’t need to compete with anyone. I didn’t have to feel embarrassed at needing to stop and breathe. I started up.

Suck it up, Kate!

Suck it up, Kate!

I don’t have words to express how difficult this hike was. I feel a little ridiculous: there were people who breezed passed me like it was nothing. But then, I passed people who were also dragging themselves up to the arch, red-faced and wheezing. Solidarity, my hiking peeps. I did stop, frequently, and there were many times when I considered turning back. Those considerations flooded my mind more and more as the pain in my back, neck, and shoulder set in and it became more and more difficult to stand upright. Still, I persevered. Like an idiot, I’m sure.

It's wider than it looks...

It’s wider than it looks…

The hike to the arch ends with a series of stone steps and then a ledge that wraps around a cliff wall. I recommend hugging the wall as much as possible. On the day of my hike, the wind was rather strong and the drop off from the ledge is significant. But, it’s worth it. I rounded the cliff wall and the rocks dropped from my sight. There was Delicate Arch. It stands alone in this vista of rocks and sky and was worth every ounce of energy it took to see it.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

There were several intrepid souls who hiked down to the arch and took pictures with, under, and through it but I could not. I still had to hike down so I found a seat, caught my breath, drank more water, and enjoyed the view. I tried to take a selfie with the arch but my selfie skills are non-existent. My thanks to the stranger who offered to take my photo.

Proof I make it!

Proof I make it!

Down was, of course, easier but I admit I dragged myself into the parking lot. I laughed and told my family I was probably done with hiking for a day or two but I really wanted to burst into tears and stick my body in a hot bath. I had a picture of the arch and, in my seat in the van, I asked myself if all the pain and exhaustion I felt was, indeed, worth it. It was then I had my Hey! moment.

17 years. I must, after all this time, accept I’ve made all the progress I’m going to make. I’m not going to get any better. I’ll never hike another 9 miles with two days of supplies, a tent, and a sleeping bag strapped to my back. I’ll never work a full time job. That person did-for lack of a better word-die in that car. Now, I must learn to live as this person. I must accept that every day is going to be a fight to push the boundaries of my limitations as far as I can. It’s going to be hard. I’m going to want to give up. But, if I press on, there will be moments of breath-taking beauty waiting for me at the end of difficult trails.

It is worth it.

Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

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Borrowed this from Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/marcellajp/

Found this on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/marcellajp/

I’ve been considering this post for a while now.  I decided it was a good thing, and then no it wasn’t, wrote it, left it as a draft while I thought some more, and have finally committed.

This soul searching started when a good friend of mine posted a video of her monologue and, in it, she talks about her miracle friend who walked a mile and a half with a broken neck.  I listened to a few audience members gasp and experienced a rather surreal moment.  I’m that friend and it was…odd to hear someone else talking about my experience.  I try not to talk about it myself.  Oh, there are times when I think it’s necessary so others have an explanation for some of the weirdness that happens with me, but in general I try to keep it to myself.  Maybe I worry it will change peoples’ perception of me.  Why I care, I don’t know.  A terrible thing happened to me and I sometimes have to remind myself of it and tell myself to cut me some slack.  I was in a car accident.  I am a disabled person.

I hate being disabled.

I am ashamed of my limitations.

Why?

Because it’s like a puzzle I can’t figure out and I’ve always been able to find an answer if I just looked hard enough.  This I can’t fix.  Oh, there have been improvements.  My changing to a vegan diet did wonders for my arthritis and I almost felt like a new person. But, even with the dietary changes, there was a limit to how much I improved.  Again, I came up against the wall of my limitations and couldn’t find a way to smash it.  I’ve been told it’s been years since the accident, this is as good as it gets, learn to live with it.

How do I accept a disability?  I am in pain every day of my life.  I wake up in the morning and have to swallow the knowledge that every moment will be a fight against the pain and exhaustion; that I’ll push myself to accomplish something but I may run out of steam before it happens.  I get angry with myself, tell myself I WILL do what I have set before myself to complete but I’m tired and I hurt and I can’t always achieve my goal.  Then, I sink into a morass of failure and depression, and then I get to do it all again the next day.  If this is as good as it gets, I’m not doing very well at learning to live with it.  How do I learn to live with my limitations, accepting and loving myself for all that I am now instead of beating myself up for not being able to be more?  How do I accept myself for all I am-or am not-right now and yet still strive for ways to be better?  Where is that path and how do I walk it?

I think the first step is forgiveness.  It was a car accident.  I was in the car alone.  There is no one to blame for my accident beyond myself.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been out alone but I wasn’t driving like a crazy person and I didn’t intend to go off the road.  Accidents happen.  Even if I am entirely to blame, there’s nothing I can do about it now.  I have to forgive myself and let go of the self-loathing, the idea that I did this to myself and deserve to suffer.

The second step is gratitude.  Yes, a terrible thing happened and it changed my life forever.  And yet, it could be far far worse.  When I begin to list them, I have several reasons to be grateful.  Here goes:

  1.  I’m not dead.  Those who responded to my accident said they were sure a body had come out of that car.  They were amazed that I’d dragged myself out and walked to find help.  The accident should have killed me and it didn’t.  I am grateful for my life.
  2. I’m still me.  I suffered a traumatic brain injury, skull fracture, all that good stuff.  My family told me the doctors who treated me kept asking what was I like, my personality, likes, etc.  I was in a coma for five days and no one had any idea who or what I’d be when-or if-I ever woke up.  In her video, my friend says I’m a little slower than I used to be.  It’s true.  I’m no slower taking information in but I have trouble getting it back out.  I sometimes feel like I’m on a short delay.  When I start getting tired, I’ll be aware someone is speaking to me and that there is a response I should be making, but I can’t remember what it is or how I should say it or…too much time has passed; maybe it’s better to let it go-pretend I didn’t hear.  This delay comes on me all the faster if I’m in a loud restaurant or club setting.  Let’s turn the lights low and assault the rest of Kate’s senses with bad acoustics, background music, and the constant roar of people’s conversations.  I’d rather sit on tacks.  The feeling of torture would be about the same.  So, yes, I am slower than I used to be but I’m still me.  I still enjoy reading anything I can get my hands on, I still play my flute and piano, I still remember and love my family.  I am grateful for being me.
  3. I am not paralyzed.  I ought to be.  I suffered three fractures to my spine; the worst in my C7 vertebrae.  This one I compressed quite thoroughly, and my doctors couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t be paralyzed from the shoulders down.  I’m not.  I deal with pain but I deal with it on my own feet.  My other fractures were right between my shoulder blades.  Again, they weren’t bad enough to cause paralysis.  They’ll hurt and sometimes my muscles will cramp and constrict my breathing but it’s nothing a little ujjayi pranayama can’t handle.  I’m grateful I can walk.
  4. Still grateful I’m not paralyzed.  When I came out of my coma, my entire left side was paralyzed.  I discovered this fun fact when I tried to get up and take myself to the bathroom, my left leg collapsed, and I broke my nose on the bed rail.  The nurses kept me strapped to the bed after that.  I quickly regained the use of my left leg and walked out of the hospital five days later.  It took about three months more but I regained the use of my left arm as well.  It’s weird: I have this strange weakness in my left wrist and ankle joints but nothing I can’t work around.  I’m grateful both sides of my body work.
  5. I didn’t lose my right arm.  Something stabbed me in the back as the car rolled over, breaking my right collarbone and damaging the connective tissue in my right shoulder.  I don’t remember anything after walking for help, finding it, and being transferred to an ambulance, but I understand the damage to my arm was pretty bad.  It still is.  I have to be extremely careful of my right shoulder.  There are times when I over extend and it expresses displeasure with me for days.  Days of agony that include a numb arm and diminished ability to use my right hand.  These days make me VERY grateful to have two hands.  When my shoulder is bad, I have to keep my arm immobilized for a few days until the swelling goes down.  These days make me grateful I regained the use of my left hand (see number 4) and also make me grateful to know that, eventually, the swelling will go down and I’ll have the use of both my hands.  I cannot express my gratitude for both my hands.

I do, indeed, have a lot to be grateful for.  I think focusing on my gains rather than my losses will go far in reconciling me to the life I now live.  It isn’t such a bad life.  Maybe I’m not a financial success but my family has always made sure I was taken care of and that’s enabled me to help others in (very) small ways.  Number 6: I’m grateful for my family.

I try to make the most of this second chance I’ve been given.  So, I have physical limitations; that doesn’t stop me from being kind.  I try to be kind to my co-workers, my family, the world itself.  I don’t always succeed as well as I would like.  I was never the most out-going person and a hole in my head has done nothing to improve my disposition.  But, then my missteps give me an opportunity to apologize and I think that’s a good skill to have.  Number 7: I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made.  They’re few in number but are of the most excellent quality.

Norman Vincent Peale stresses how important it is to change your thoughts.  And it isn’t just him.  I find all sorts of studies, blog posts, and quotes that speak to how crucial the way we think and talk to and about ourselves is to our well being.  It’s been years since the accident and I still have a great deal of work to do in this area.  My resolution is to be gentle with myself, be accepting, and be grateful for all I have.  I also resolve to be grateful for the opportunities to better myself that come across my path.  If they work, great, if not, at least I’ve lost nothing by trying.

Me, getting ready to WALK out of the hospital...

Me, getting ready to WALK out of the hospital…

Norman Vincent Peale The Power of Positive Thinking

 

The Power of the Apology

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Nothing to do with this post, really.  Just a serene picture.

Nothing to do with this post, really. Just a serene picture.

I was thinking…

And, anyone who knows me is laughing hysterically.  When are you not thinking? they ask, shaking their heads.  It’s true.  I spend a great deal of time in my own head but it’s not such a bad place to be.

Anywho…I was thinking and it was a sci-fi novel I was reading that got my mind working.  One of the characters had to apologize and the writer had the recipient of said apology remark on the lack of the word ‘but’.  This got me thinking…

…and I remembered attending a writer’s conference down in Manitou Springs, Colorado.  It’s been years ago but I remember sitting at a table in an Italian restaurant with my book trying not to eavesdrop on the conversation going on behind me.  A mother was out with her two daughters, the oldest on that cusp of teen-hood, the other a couple of years younger.  I was doing a fairly good job at not eavesdropping until the younger girl began to cry.  It was the sort of cry that results from a deep hurt: I could hear pain in her voice.  I’d missed what the older sister had said (my nose *ahem deep in the pages of my book) but I didn’t miss her loud defense of herself in the midst of her sister’s tears.  Of course she hadn’t meant to hurt her little sister, of course her first impulse was to defend herself (maybe hoping she wouldn’t get in trouble?) but the fact remained she had hurt her little sister.  As I listened, I became convinced the ONLY words that would have been appropriate in that situation were “I’m Sorry”.  Heartfelt, honest, no if’s and’s or but’s.

Which got me thinking…

…and I remembered my short-lived marriage.  Yes, I was married.  Yes, I had it annulled.  Yes, it was a mistake.  No, I don’t regret it; the marriage or the annulment.  I learned a great deal through it and what more could I ask? The marriage fell apart fairly fast.  The main reason being my ex hadn’t been honest with me.  Which is an understatement: he had a pathological incapability of being honest.  Perhaps no apology would have been sufficient in this instance but his practically drove me to violence.  Every “I’m Sorry” was followed by a “but” and then a justification that pointed out how he was really right and I was foolish not to see that he’d only lied because he had my best interests at heart.  It was a good thing I packed up and drove off in a moving truck because if he’d said “but” to me one more time, I’d not have been responsible for my actions.

I needed a real apology.  One that saw my hurt, acknowledged it, and genuinely sought to make amends.  I never got it.

That situation has been long over and yet I’ve never lost my sense of how important an apology is.  I’ve tried to remember that in the relationship I have with my family, my co-workers, and my friends.  I have made mistakes and I find my first impulse is to point out how I didn’t intend to make a mistake or be hurtful.  If the other person merely understood…

…and I remember.  I apologize.  I say “I’m Sorry”.  No but’s.