Fifty-Plus

I woke up this morning, as I always do, to music in my head. This one was Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.” I’m now obsessed with learning all its piano chords so I can sing as I play.

“Won’t you tell me ‘bout the 50 ways?”

I thought this obsession came from husband Ted’s text to me last night about how music is also helping fellow TBI survivor and gun-safety advocate Gabby Giffords, whose legislative career ended when a bullet pierced her brain.

The former Arizona congresswoman is one of my heroes.

Then I remembered an incident at the dentist’s the other day that I laughed off at the time. The young receptionist was scheduling a cleaning in six months, and I remarked that the date would be my 55th birthday.

“Fifty-five?” she gushed. “You don’t look a day over 50!”

For those old enough to remember Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella character on the old “Saturday Night Live,” her response to news anchor Jane Curtain’s scolding at the end of each “Weekend Update” segment would have been perfect.

“B——.”

Peace and paranoia

I have a love-hate relationship with my cellphone. On the one hand, it keeps me in contact with the world—and lets my husband keep tabs on me—plus it allows me to photograph the beautiful things I see each day.

Such as this.

And this.

On the other hand, my brain injury and general lack of technological know-how tend to make me paranoid about my phone. I no longer fear Vladimir Putin is secretly following me on Facebook … or is he? That’s just the kind of sentence he’d want me to type, nyet?

More than once I’ve been suspicious when my phone shows I’m getting a call from an unknown number. These days, though, the only known numbers I have are of close family members and the few friends I’ve kept in touch with. (And most of those friends would be appalled that I just ended a sentence with a preposition.)

Today’s crisis started when the morning’s Zoom yoga class ended. I was grumpy, as I often am, about what I perceive as other people’s lack of virus precautions and my own impatience over not yet having gotten the vaccine. I’m registered in my town, and today’s helpful email update counseled “patience.”

BUT THE PANDEMIC IS STILL RAGING, AND THE VARIANTS ARE … YOU, KNOW, VARYING!

Sorry, patience is not one of my virtues.

So I lifted weights and then, for the first time in hours, opened my phone.

And there it was: a Messenger alert. I rarely use that app, so naturally I clicked on it right away. 😬

It was a former co-worker, asking if I was still involved with an activist group from my former suburb and calling me an “awesome hellraiser.”

I answered, “I don’t know about awesome, but since we moved … I’m not” involved with the group. Looking back at the exchange as I write this, I must have been afraid she was a hacker of my account or hers.

I got a reply:

“Oh, that’s right! How are you? Besides awesome, which you are.”

I responded: “Oh, thanks for saying that. I’m good, I really am. It’s just. Can u call me when u get a chance?”

Both the abbreviated spellings and the fact that I was reaching out for help to someone I hadn’t seen in more than a year shows how upset I was.

She didn’t have my phone number, so, despite my paranoia over privacy on the Facebook-owned platform, I tapped it out with no parentheses or hyphens, as if that would encrypt it from evildoers.

Then I waited. About 5 minutes.

I IM’d her (hey, that’s the term, isn’t it? 👍) confessing my TBI-fueled paranoia and asking her to give me a quick call.

She (if, in fact, that’s who it really was😱) would get back to me soon,

I waited again. No way was I going to interrupt my husband’s Zoom meeting for yet another of my phone crises.

Then I remembered an email I’d gotten that morning from a woman we’d both worked with at that same suburban newspaper. I checked, and I still had this friend’s number.

I called, and though she didn’t pick up, it was reassuring to hear her voice in the outgoing message. I laid out the situation rapidly, ending by reminding her that I’m nuts and wishing her well.

She later texted me back, but by that time I was off the phone with … wait for it … the actual woman who’d contacted me earlier. Not a hacker. Not Vladimir Putin.

I was relieved and delighted getting reacquainted with my former office mate. I now have her phone number in my contact list, so she’s not just a face on Facebook.

Just Call Me the Beam Lady

In 10 or 11 oh-so-careful steps, I can get from one end of this balance beam to the other.

It started as a brain-body exercise, a way I could gauge my recovery from a 2008 TBI. But soon the feat of crossing the little balance beam became much more: a way to connect with people during this time of isolation and masks.

I found the beam a few weeks ago on my usual run, after something made me turn right instead of left when I got to Lake Michigan. I eventually came upon my new toy, part of a “fitness trail” of exercise equipment.

“This looks fun,” I thought (or possibly said out loud, because masks make that socially acceptable).

After stretching, I carefully stepped up, noting that the thing isn’t any wider than my shoe. I made sure my hips were level and my abs were sucked in (yoga training) before slowly planting my other foot ahead.

Oops.

Many tries later, I managed a few steps before falling off—always landing on my feet. Good thing that beam is less than a foot high.

By the end of the week, I was able to make it across; in another week, I’d learned to pivot at the end and sometimes cross back. I kept improving, but some days I just kept falling. (More yoga wisdom: Every day is different.)

Better day, better balance

So my brain was getting tons of stimulation, and I was having a blast!

But as I said, it’s really the social aspect of my daily-ish beam routine that’s made it worth my brain’s while. Who cares about some middle-aged lady waddling along a curved strip of metal, falling off and getting back on again and again, putting on warmer layers of clothing when necessary because she’s too stubborn to give up?

Apparently, lots of people.

I gladly stepped off and aside when a mother and her kids stopped by. The young girl and boy made quick work of the beam, but the mom said there was no way she could do it. The kids and I traded tai chi and yoga moves before they walked on.

Then there was the man who said he’d seen me at my quest (well, what would you call it, obsession?) and admired my determination. We actually introduced ourselves. S-O-N-Y (sounds like Sonny, I think, but … masks).

I started getting balance advice, too. Guy With Dog (guy masked, dog not) urged me to look ahead and slightly down, instead of at my feet. (That’s a yoga wisdom fail on my part: To keep your balance, gaze at a drishti, or calming point, downward in the distance.)

Similar advice came from a 20-something passerby named Vince, who was accompanied by Mary. We had a long, socially distanced conversation when I learned about Mary’s epilepsy. That’s a condition I’ve had since the car accident that led to my brain injury.

Unfortunately, in her case the grand mal seizures are not treatable by medication or surgery. (I didn’t get her number, but if I see them again I’ll recommend our neurologist, who specializes in intractable epilepsy, as my husband suggested.)

Another day, out later than usual, I met two fellow regular beamers, Ellen and a different Mary. We exchanged phone numbers and texts. Ellen’s a yogini, like me, so we did a few poses for fun on solid ground.

She can walk the beam backward but hasn’t mastered the pivot. Mary had been afraid to beam-walk but figured if I can learn … Anyway, backward beaming is not among my goals.

Bad selfie of me, Mary and Ellen

A piece of advice that has proven especially useful came last week from an elderly woman named Christiane (“like Amanpour”). She critiqued my technique between fascinating tales (“Oh, wait; that reminds me of another story”) of a childhood in Europe and a stint with the circus—she switched topics too quickly for my brain to figure out when she was in Germany and Switzerland, and her mask obscured her age. Also, she may well have just seen “The Sound of Music.”

Who cares? Her advice—to keep a slight bend in my knees and tilt my pelvis up so I’m not even slightly bending forward—has gotten me to a personal best of seven times across and back, with pivots!

Does it always work? No.

Do I always have fun trying? Yes.

Am I about to put off finishing this blog piece so I can go running to the lake and play on the beam? You bet!

While I’m gone, please enjoy this photo of my former Beam Queen daughter. This was taken when she was a high school senior, but she went on to become a college champion.

Now, where were we?

Mostly it’s been nice just to have conversations with people, whether it’s discussing the constantly changing beauty of Lake Michigan with Ellen and Mary, sympathizing with the other Mary over the injuries she’s suffered during seizures or agreeing with a passing couple that “We’re all crazy now” after they’d caught me talking to myself on the beam about which song I have to keep in my head to avoid falling off. (It’s the theme to “The Bob Newhart Show.”)

One day this week I was crossing the balance beam after pivoting when I heard clapping. It was Sony.

“Lisa, you’re doing great!”

I think we all are.

A Christmas (Tree) Story

Happy holidays, blog followers, if I have any! It’s been awhile, I know. I was busy stress-exercising during the election season, and—while our Zoomsgiving was fun—we didn’t get a good screenshot to post here.

Which brings us to Christmas.

Today the husband and I observed our post-Thanksgiving weekend tradition of decorating a tree. I’m pretty sure this one is more of a treetop, though, kind of an homage to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Before things got wobbly

We’ve been downsizing the past several years as we’ve come to accept that our daughter is now, at 27, an adult. This process has included our tree, once covered with every bauble we’d ever acquired, plus something meaningful from each year, plus all the annual Holiday Barbie ornaments, plus anything hand-crafted or -Crayoned that was too cute not to keep.

Ornaments made by hand and Hallmark

We ended up buying a special display for the Barbies and giving the collection to our daughter because, obviously, we’re not insane.

We gave away the non-meaningful baubles when we moved from our house to a condo. (Oh, by the way, we now live in a different condo, because it’s not insane to move twice during a pandemic.)

And our no-longer-little girl’s art projects? Kept ‘em, from the Popsicle stick Rudolph to the teeny-tiny Crayoned menorah.

We’re still not finished with the tree. The husband is determined to find lights that: a) won’t be a pain to put on and take off the tree and b) won’t knock over the whole works.

See, this tree took no less than four hours for a couple of stubbornly persistent quarantine buddies to secure in its stand. I’d spent part of my time while holding the tree steady and occasionally lifting it writing a blog post in my head about the experience.

It was going to be funny, suspenseful (Will this partly decorated thing fall over? Will a precious ornament break? Can this marriage survive?) and brain-injury-blog-appropriate, since each of the “special” ornaments relates to a specific story in our 29-year marriage and the years before, and some of the stories always have to be told to me because I don’t remember them.

But sometime during the task, I looked at my husband, the tree and the view of our city and realized there was nothing I’d rather have been doing.

Oops, I did have a Thanksgiving pic

Something’s Afoot

Again with the foot.

Okay, so I’ll take a break from my obsessive running/weightlifting/yoga-doing and other nonstop activity to sit and write about what’s really going on.

My expertly bandaged foot, amid calm and chaos

The other day, I missed the bottom step of my condo building’s stairwell while reading a Facebook comment. Dumb, I know. But years of seizures gave me lots of falling experience, so I let myself drop to the floor and did a body scan. No pain, just a rapidly swelling ankle.

Now, here’s where I get dumb again. Everyone knows the treatment for a foot ouchie is RICE–the acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. So any normal person would have taken the elevator back to our sixth-floor unit for some first aid and R and R.

But remember the title of this blog.

What I did was go with my impulse (something people with TBI tend to do). That impulse led me to walk outside–still masked, of course–for just a bit. Unfortunately, my impulses kept me walking. Why not? I felt great, as I always do when I get in nature.

I walked up the tall hill overlooking the city’s bell tower. Why not, I “reasoned?” I usually run up and around two or three times at the start of a 20- to 30-minute jog, darting around the unmasked.

No surprise–the swelling in my ankle didn’t go down. At this point, any sensible person with a heroic, selfless spouse would have told him the problem and rejoiced that he is able, willing and available to bandage her up.

Again, let me refer you to the title of this blog.

I hid the injury, secretly icing my ankle with a bag of frozen vegetables, while he was on a conference call. My reasoning? He’s overprotective, doesn’t like that I run at all (and, yes, I lied about the not-running for years, even in this blog), and …

… And if I can’t run, I’ll have to think more about what worries me, which is everything. The election, the virus, my husband’s job security, my 27-year-old daughter, my 92-year-old father, the fact that we’re about to make our second move during a global pandemic.

You know, the usual.

Anyway, back to my foot. A similar phenomenon happened a couple of (few?) years ago when I broke the metatarsal on my other foot, which is a fancy way of saying my baby toe got busted up. I was confined to the couch and miserable.

Then my yoga teacher (and dear friend) gave me an assignment: Design three yoga practices that can be done by someone wearing a walking cast. Suddenly I had an immediate goal. My creativity was piqued. I had a blast making use of a chair and the floor for such normally standing poses as Trikonasana (“Tricky Dick Trickonasana”), and I even included selfies in my emails to her.

That assignment ignited my creativity. I returned to the piano, remembering songs I’d learned in childhood and teaching myself new ones. It also got me writing again.

Before I close, I’d like to give a shout-out to my big brother Terry, who told me he reads what I write. When I was 4 or 5, a group of us neighborhood kids were playing in the field next to one boy’s house. A group of older girls were taking turns jumping off a neighboring home’s balcony and sticking the landing (different times). I thought to my little self: “I can do that!”

Nope. Oh, the pain! I cried like the baby I was. Before I knew it, Terry had scooped me in his arms and was running down the hill to our house. I had my first trip to the hospital that day and my first Xray.

Terry and I don’t agree agree about everything (Beatles forever! Duh!), but I love him from the bottom of my foot. And that goes for everybody else!

And I get my meds in the mail

Today I joined dozens of my fellow citizens in a demonstration at our local Post Office, protesting the administration’s cuts in service and equipment.

I tend to get enthusiastic at these things, and the organizer called me a “firecracker.”

“You should see me when I’m off my meds!” I joked.

Just then, I realized I’d forgotten to take my morning course of anti-seizure drugs.

Karma and my keys

Yesterday was the first time since the pandemic restrictions began that a group of my yoga friends and I got together.

I was a big grouch–and later karma let me have it. (If you believe in such things, that is. Work with me here; this is my blog.)

We’d gathered for a picnic under a tree near the Carillion, the tall bell tower whose peak I can see from my condo. The others had driven there, knowing I no longer drive and am squeamish about indoor venues.

As each of the six of us arrived, carrying a bag lunch or snack and individual blankets (lawn chairs, in a couple of cases), it quickly became apparent what my mask protocol was: Wear one.

Of course, the masks had to come off while we ate, and after that I lightened up, confident no one was closer to me than 6 feet.

But I kept a death grip on an antibacterial wipe. I flinched when my teacher playfully flicked a piece of fallen foliage my way or I overheard a mention of a shared car ride. Or Arizona.

Angry Me

At some point during the conversation, Angry Me escaped, and I ranted about my town’s seeming lack of concern about Covid. Every day I run or walk, masked, and veer off the path to avoid groups of the unmasked.

When I walk downtown, I keep a mental tally of who’s wearing a face covering and who’s not; though the ratio seems to be improving, “nots” are the norm.

I went on like this for some time, pontificating about science and why our country, of all countries, is in such a mess.

Now back to the picnic

At some point I realized I was making a minor spectacle of myself. Most of my friends have kids and grandkids facing the prospect of returning to school or not. And hadn’t my husband and I just briefly visited our own grown daughter, the two of us in masks but she and her boyfriend not?

I tearfully apologized. There was no need. “It’s okay to show emotions in front of your friends,” or something that effect, said one, a retired social worker.

We wrapped up eventually with virtual hugs and promises to meet again soon.

Too much sitting makes Lisa a dull girl

Once the others were gone, I hoofed it home, waved to my Zoom-engrossed husband, dropped off my backpack of picnic supplies, sterilized my keys and phone, grabbed a disposable mask and headed back out, waving again.

Keys in one hand, phone in the other, I turned left and meandered a short way along the path. I sat at one of my favorite quiet riverside spots, intending to meditate (OOPS, FORGOT THE WEIRDO ALERT), but the sounds of screeching children from the playground across the way made me get up and get moving already.

I trotted past our building to the Carillion, weaving around the unmasked, as usual, and then ran two loops up, around and down the town’s sledding hill. (Of course, at this time of year it’s more of a kids-rolling-down-it hill, but you get the idea.)

After that I headed toward home, stopping at a scenic grassy spot to take off my shoes and socks and do some of my favorite yoga poses. (YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.)

Instant Karma

I was checking the time on my phone and walking home when it hit me: The keys were not in my other hand.

Thinking I must have left them in the grass, I went back. I saw the indentations my feet had made the grass and knew I’d set my shoes, socks and phone down directly to the left. But the keys? Now I wasn’t so sure.

It occurred to me that the keys could be anywhere I’d been–the failed meditation spot, the kid-rolling hill loop, the path in between or the many zigs and zags I’d taken to avoid the unmasked. A kind stranger could have even found the keys and set them on a bench.

Then my brain spewed out what I thought was the answer: Not once but twice I’d stopped to tie a shoe, setting my precious cargo on the ground. Where? I had no idea.

So I retraced my steps. Nothing.

At this point, a rational person would give up, especially since her husband was in the building and, really, how big a deal is replacing condo keys and/or changing a lock?

I’m really asking, because I don’t know.

Regardless, I’m no rational person (See: name of this blog), plus my blood sugar was way low.

Putting my hand to my hip and realizing too late that my running shorts had a key pocket, I decided this whole affair was karmic retribution for my attitude at the picnic. (And hey, now that I’m writing this, maybe also for my attitude toward people in general during the pandemic. Hmmm.)

I closed my eyes and silently vowed to be a better person. (STILL READING? MMM-KAY.)

Full circle

In defeat, I called my husband. He put off his meetings and headed out, bearing protein bars and an understandable air of annoyance.

Guess what we did? Retraced my steps. Repeatedly.

Finally, we returned to the shady riverside patch of grass where I’d been practicing yoga. “This is where I did Tree Pose,” I whimpered, “and this is where I put my shoes.”

“Did you put them back on in that same spot?” asked my husband.

Bingo! This was the flash of memory I needed. In fact, I had walked a few steps closer to the path, all the better to impress passersby with my ability to put on my left sock and shoe while balancing on my right foot, and vice versa. (Cue “well, whoopdi-do!”)

So, we took a few steps and … my keys!!!

I laughed and hugged my husband, laughed some more and then apologized for once again making him drop everything and come to my rescue. As always, he told me I’m too hard on myself.

As soon I got home–and sterilized my phone again–I texted the yoga group, telling them how much it had meant to see my “yoga sisters.”

Their responses were heartwarming, including this missive from the former social worker, which will make a great caption if we think to take a group photo next time: “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Yoga Pants!”

Here I Am

My husband and now live in one of the condo buildings pictured behind me. In the Before Times, we’d put our suburban house on the market with the plan to move to Chicago, but a quick sale meant super-quick downsizing for us.

Ted actually handled everything, plus his job, while I was in charge of freaking out. I’ll forever be grateful for the counseling of family, friends and professionals.

Bonus: This new location has put us in the heart a vibrant protest community, reigniting a passion I’ve felt since late 2016 and helping assuage my guilt about… everything.#BlackLivesMatter

Crazy Times

Having computer problems and about to be late for a video appointment, I searched for my technical support, my husband. He was across the street, talking with a neighbor from the end of her driveway.

Surely I’m not the only one who’s ever shouted for all to hear: “I need you to help me with this laptop so I can see my psychiatrist!”