But Looking Marvelous Would Be Nice Too: Inching Back to Normal

Billy+Crystal+-+You+Look+Marvelous+-+12%22+RECORD-MAXI+SINGLE-524011My previous post generated an outpouring of love in a variety of forms—compassion and empathy, mainly, and also soup—so I feel compelled to offer an update. Here it is.

Great news! I’m back to my usual state of feeling better than I look! I’ve had three consecutive, fairly “normal” health and energy days. I am hopeful this trend will continue and that when I return to work next week I will feel fully recovered from my July 23 Colorado summer vacation heart attack. (No I was not a ganja tourist. I do not smoke. Anything.)

That is all.

p.s. Thanks for the love.

p.p.s. My husband is my prince.

p.p.p.s. Thanks, Shouts from the Abyss, Demotivational Specialist, Negativity Guru, and friend, for the most vivid and precise illustration of empathy I’ve ever encountered, in this video.



It’s More Important To Feel Marvelous Than To Look Marvelous: Invisible Illness

TWO YEARS AGO, post-Kauai

TWO YEARS AGO, post-Kauai (Who doesn’t “look great” after 2 weeks in Hawaii, I ask you?)

I hesitate to “post” about medical issues. I don’t want people (by which I mean my employer and much younger coworkers) to view me as different: older, weaker, less-than I was. Limited.

But limited is where I currently reside. I don’t know how long I’ll feel this way. Maybe another week? A month? Probably not forever, but for now, it seems as though my present limitedness knows no limit.

“You look great!” people say, and they’re being nice. And they sound surprised. Karma’s cute. About three months ago in a Fluevog store in Minneapolis, I said something along these lines to the woman helping me after she told me she has cancer. I was stunned. She had so much energy, her countenance was downright sunny. Actually, I said something even more insulting than “You look great!” I said, “But: you look so ALIVE!” And she’s like, “Uh. I’m not dead.” My foot has never lodged itself so firmly in my mouth.

So I look great, but I don’t feel great. I’m guessing the lovely Minnesotan woman I offended did not feel all that great. There’s pressure that comes with looking great, healthy, “fine.” I explained it to a friend recently thusly: It’s like when you see a two-year-old with tall parents, and that two-year-old looks like a four-year-old, and you expect her to be able to speak, potty independently, have self-control and manners. But she’s just two. It’s too much to ask of her. That’s how I feel.

It turns out I’m not alone in feeling this way. Did you know there’s an Invisible Illness Awareness Week? A friend who suffers from an invisible awareness made me aware of But You Don’t Look Sick.

When I change my profile picture on Facebook, I go out of my way to caption the photo, clarifying so there’s no doubt that my robust image pre-dates my cardiac event. Yeah, I DID look great and healthy in that photo. Thanks. Read the fine print, please. It was taken two years ago. Don’t expect me to act like I feel that good.

Feeling this way threw me into a quandary this past Sunday. At 9 a.m., before my husband showered he asked me whether to wake the teenagers, and I rolled over and wrestled with expectations of myself. I thought of my neighbor, one of the pastors at our church, who has Parkinson’s Disease. I thought of him and the effort it must take for him to show up at church, his job, to shake hands, give hugs, be cheerful and loving. As I lay there shoulding on myself, I opened the WordPress reader on my phone and was greeted by this post: When We Don’t Look As Sick As We Feel. I read it and thanked Jesus for the permission to stay home. I said a prayer for my pastor, decided to let go of my guilt for a moment, and “listened to my body.” My body slept in till 1 in the afternoon, and the day before that I had collapsed into a four-hour nap. It was a lost day.

But yesterday was a good day. It was a fairly high-energy day, relatively. I did what I could and even reached. It was more than I’ve accomplished since before my July 23 heart attack. Recovery Journal Entry:

Monday, August 18: woke at 10, got up, dressed, did one light load of laundry, took brisk 15-minute walk, 25 crunches, so far so good at 2pm. baked a cobbler, did some computer work, dinner was delivered which helped immensely, took another walk with Jack, went to bed at 11:00.

Part of what made yesterday a good day was the relief and security I felt knowing a kind friend was going to bring a meal at 6pm. (It was delicious and nutritious, Jenni. Bless you.) Knowing that if I pooped out, which is a common, capricious occurrence, my family wouldn’t have to scrounge in the fridge for something nutritious to eat, that my husband wouldn’t have to run out for take-out. Huzzah for good days.

Today? Not so much. But thank God for a solid employer with generous short term disability benefits. For two more weeks I can allow myself to go with however I feel on a day-by-day, hour-to-hour basis. If I’m wiped out, I rest in knowing I don’t have to push myself too far. I know I can drop and sleep if necessary. I will still get out of bed, wash my face and fix my hair, and get dressed. I will still take at least one short walk, because I’ve been told physical activity is good for my recovery. I will walk on routes outside my neighborhood in order to avoid running into a friend who may tell me how great I look.

And one of these days, there will be two good days in a row. And then three. But for now I will enjoy the ones, when they come. Without limit.

What a girl looks like 12 hours before a heart attack

What a girl looks like 12 hours before a heart attack


What a girl looks like 48 hours after a heart attack. Necrotic heart tissue is not visible on the face.

My Plateau

Beth Bates:

iPad Art by Amy Nelp (San Juans)

iPad Art by Amy Nelp

Honored to be included in this lovely series, American Vignette, and selected for Freshly Pressed. Thank you, Andrea, Brevity, and Susan Lerner.

Originally posted on Andrea Reads America:

Map: Colorado, setting of "My Plateau" by Beth Bates

Map: Colorado, setting of “My Plateau” by Beth Bates

This is a guest post from Beth Bates who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is Colorado. Enjoy!

My heart cracks a little when I allow it to revisit the scene where my teenagers are babies and I am a cattleman-turned-lawyer’s wife in southwest Colorado.

We’re living in a one-story house on a one-acre lot among farms and ranches postage-stamped on an irrigated mesa 6,000 feet above sea level. In the field behind our homestead near the Black Canyon, Grand Mesa, San Juan Mountains, and the Uncompahgre Plateau, an amber sea of barley undulates in the September sun. In alternating years the crop is corn. Nearby farms yield onions, the earthy scent of which wafts our way on windy days.

Winters, on the land behind our Spring Creek Mesa house, cows take up residence to…

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Healing The Heart with a Big Giant Kid and a Little Kiddie Lit

The Runaway Bunny

The second sweetest thing about cardiac recovery is the extravagance of time you find to loll on the screened porch playing the synopsis game with your 18 year-old son, who hasn’t yet read the books you’ve loved in college and half a lifetime, but who has read the books you loved and hated in high school but can’t recall.

The sweetest thing about cardiac recovery is winning at the synopsis game against your über literary little boy-man, with the clue, “a child tries to prove his independence by leaving in many ways, never escaping the persistence of his mother’s love,” and the prize: digging out, dusting off, and reading aloud to this man the book he doesn’t remember finding in his first Easter basket, a book you read and re-read to him before naps, after naps, at bedtime, and so many times in between until the pages were bent and sticky and smudged with too swift a season.

“Have a carrot.”

Have a carrot. Image borrowed from Rob's Thoughtful Spot

Image borrowed from Rob’s Thoughtful Spot

How women can have heart attacks without having any blocked arteries

Beth Bates:

Don’t be afraid, but be aware.

Originally posted on Heart Sisters:

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Turns out that the kind of heart attack that I had (caused by a 99% blockage in the big left anterior descending coronary artery) – the so-called widowmaker heart attack -may actually be relatively uncommon  in women. You might guess that fact by its nickname.  It’s not called the “widower-maker”.

While cardiologists warn that heart disease can’t be divided into male and female forms, there are some surprising differences. Cardiologist Dr. Amir Lerman at the world famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told the Los Angeles Times recently:

“When it comes to acute heart attacks and sudden death from cardiac arrest, women have these kinds of events much more often without any obstructions in their coronary arteries.

Instead, it appears that a significant portion of women suffer from another form of heart disease altogether. It affects not the superhighway coronary arteries…

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Got My MFA. Now What?

Beth Bates:

For my Just Write buddies and fellow MFA grads who are asking, “What now?” and “How do I keep writing in the absence of deadlines?”

Originally posted on Lit Grit:

As you may have read in the first installment of the Eliza Tudor Survival Guide to bridge the worlds of MFA-candidate and MFA-wielding god/goddess, Lit Mags are the Wheaties that can power a writer. In Survival Guide 2, writers submit. Step 3…


I did my thesis reading and a few hours later I was on a flight with my family to move across the country.  No joke.  The next morning, I looked at all the boxes in this new house, in this new state, with no friends, no childcare, no stinking coffee and I knew only one thing: I had writing waiting for me.  I bought a new calendar and made some deadlines and I got back to work.  I didn’t do this because I loved it (exactly).  I did it because I didn’t just want to…

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American Vignette: My Plateau



My dear friend Susan Lerner emailed me that Dinty Moore over at Brevity posted something about a call for submissions. Specifically, she wrote:

I’m thinking a CO piece from you is in order…

So I followed her link and found that Andrea Reads America is calling for American vignettes. Lerner knows me and how I feel about Colorado, the state where I spent 13 life-changing years, and she knows I’m stumbling around a new-job-post-MFA haze. She knows that such an assignment will kick me into gear, and for this one I had to find just the right 1000 words to lop off to meet the “fewer than 800 words” limit. [If you don't have a Susan Lerner, you need one. Everyone needs a Susan Lerner.]* This one’s for you, Sus.

“My Plateau”

Uhm. Oh wait. I just realized I’m not ready to put this out there, at least not on my blog. As transparent as some of my posts seem to be, I really reserve The Most Intensely Personal pieces I write for other uses. How does that make sense? This calls for a meditative blog post on the topic of What’s Too Personal To Share On My Blog?

As for my American Vignette, which I’d be happy to see on Andrea’s lovely blog or in another lit mag, here’s the gist sans gory details: I miss Montrose, Colorado.

But. You should submit to Andrea Reads America. I did.



*Susan Lerner wrote Reflections on a Friend’s Suicide, published in Word Riot. Isn’t it a stunner?

Writing Is Fun!

cheeriosToday, while sculpting chapter intros for my thesis I got to use a really fun building material. It’s like the day your mom would drop you off at kindergarten, you’d enter the room and see waiting for your eager little hands blobs of green and red and yellow Play Doh on one activity table, Cheerios on another table; and multicolor marshmallows on another table. You just KNEW you were going to have fun that day!

plasticineToday, my my rainbow marshmallow was a fun fun word I got to choose for my art and craft project for the day: “HERKY-JERKY!” Yes! I have the most fun vocation in the world. I get to play with words. I get to rub plunge my grubby little paws into piles of delicious words, grab my favorite color, and POP it into my mouth. And today’s word made me smile, made me feel like the luckiest person in the world to call myself a writer. It’s the little things.

It’s not the most elegant sentence I’ve ever written, and it’s just the rough draft (self-protective disclaimer), but here’s the sentence: “Another essay, a heartfelt motherhood-themed mosaic by Robin Black grabbed me by the throat, not only with its content, but with its form, which reflected the angst of parenting decisions in its own herky-jerky structure and section titles.”     Big Cheerio Rainbow

College Search Fun: Dirty Dirty Hippies, Elephant Girls and Walmart Oh My!

"Don't blink!"

“Don’t blink!”

There is enough hilarious college slam content in the ether to start a blog devoted to candid student reviewery. But who has time?

Some of my favorites today, from Students Review, offer balance to the admissions polish.

Oberlin (Boy and I just visited and were wowed by the art museum—Monet, Hopper, Arbus and antiquities—and a phenomenal junior violin recital. And, the friendliest admissions rep in the world.)

This is a school for a small precentage of freaks and geeks. Firstly you will do fine here as a homosexual, a hipser, or a hippie. There are all kinds of drugs here from shady hippie dealers that preach against capitalism, but have high prices. Lots of homosexuals, which isnt bad in itself, but they seem to hate on heterosexuals as if they are evil. Everyone is either snobby because they came from an East coast prep school, or a dirty dirty hippie. 

Hanover College (never been)

People are right this school is a waste… the professors dont speak english and the women look more like elephants… our teams are terrible… i think they should send murders here for punishment

Kenyon College (blew the boy and me away at junior visit day yesterday: campus more gorgeous than the website shows, killer bookstore, charming Amish presence, unreal town, like stepping into 1850 or Hogwarts, and also—Paul Newman and John Green)

No matter what people tell you, there is a very high possibility that you will feel isolated here. I go to Walmart for fun. I do not like Walmart when I am living at home. But here, it has become a great adventure.
from Kenyon Galleries

from Kenyon Galleries

Beautiful Things Out The Dust

Since I’m eyebrow-deep in thesis finalization, blog writing just ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. In the meantime, this song keeps me going. You gotta love a cello, xylophone and guitar with stripped-down vocals. I hope it soothes you as much as it does me. (See lyrics, below.)

“Beautiful Things”

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

Her Sunshine Was Her Superpower

An old friend died. I heard it on Facebook. People are posting their RIP messages while my heart is sinking.

My heart is sinking because… My heart is sinking because, I think, this one hits closer to home than other deaths. Other classmates have died, but none so dear to me.

Dear to me, yes, but she was dear to all who knew her, if Facebook is any indication. Post after post calling our old chum “sweet” and “bubbly” and “kind” and “loving” and “fun.” Remark after remark extolling her “infectious” laughter, her support and friendship. The comments build, repeat and crescendo into a multi-voice chorus that announces this fact: I am not alone in feeling the sting of this loss, of her absence from the world, even though I haven’t seen her in years.

I haven’t seen her in years, so the sting of this loss makes me scratch my head a little. Why am I this sad? I think it extends beyond the regular role she played in the first long act of my own life. It doesn’t hurt so much, to keep me awake hours past bedtime to process it, because of the history I shared with this dear woman—six years at Woodbrook Elementary, four years in junior high (foxhole friends), then three high school summers of twice a day marching band practice, band camp, dance rehearsals, three football and basketball seasons of often-embarassing halftime shows in tights and shorts, fishnets and leotards, raincoats and toy soldier uniforms. It doesn’t hurt this much because of the special bond we shared over a traumatic life event we had in common. She and I both had closer friends; we lost touch after college and I moved out of state. I feel the sting of her sudden death acutely because she was one of those people.

She was one of those people with the unique ability to make each person within her sphere feel something more than “loved,” something more than “special.” Connected. With each conversation, each passing contact she made us feel connected to something worth connecting to. Something trustworthy. Something good. She didn’t distantly interact, didn’t merely co-exist with us. Her special way—genuine warmth and eye contact, sincere caring, a truly listening ear—made us feel connected to her. To connect with dear DSJ was to be kissed by her sunshine soul, buoyed by her playful spirit, warmed by that freckle-face with that moonbeam smile.

That moonbeam smile which even now, the first night of her passing, warms me still and makes my heart smile through its heaviness. Tonight, the first awful night for her family, I ache for her little boy, her husband, her parents. I grieve for them the agony they’re facing in this jarring, sudden loss of Mommy, Darling, Daughter. And I pray they will learn quickly what we who knew her all those years ago learned. Most of us who shared with her the same hallways, locker bays, principals, lunch tables, unfettered teen laughter, ridiculous choreography—and secrets—learned to live outside her sunny orbit in 1980-something.

We learned that living outside her sunny orbit didn’t cool the warmth she lent us when we were lucky enough to share the same air with her; we learned that her smile, her way, her singular spirit that assured us down to the bone that we had a true friend continued to glow, even when she was very far away. Over the years, even a 10-second memory of that girl is enough to thaw the most life-worn cynic. We learned that D’s light can’t be dimmed by distance, that it somehow reaches through time, and I pray her loved ones will know this soon.

I pray that the loved ones she leaves behind, and the friends who saw her often, will know this to be true, will feel it at a cell level: that the light from her golden heart won’t be muted. It will beam through time, will still dazzle, still warm. Her sunshine was her superpower.

Rest in peace, sweet friend. Rest in peace. Thank you for warming all of us with your pure glow.


Guest Post From The Tolkien Scholar In My House: English to Orc (Orkish?) and Back

Since the thesis gods have smiled upon me and I’m finally churning out chapter intros, I’m pleased to share the blog today with my resident Tolkien Scholar, JPC. Enjoy.

an Uruk, by the author

an Uruk, by the author

For those of you who wish to learn Orkish, a less-pretty language spoken by Orcs, Trolls, and some Men in Middle-Earth in the Third Age. Orkish dialects were usually vulgar forms of the Black Speech of Mordor, the language written on the Ring. These words are scrounged from what little Tolkien wrote of the Orkish language as well as some reconstructions by Tolkien linguist David Salo.

An example of formal Black Speech as written on the One Ring:

“Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatûl,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatûl”
“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”

Some examples of colloquial Orkish written by Tolkien himself:

Improper Nouns



“old man”

“slave” (lesser Orc, common Goblin)





“Noldor” (Golodhrim, Exiled Elves)

“Man of Gondor”


“Dark Tower” (Barad-dûr)

An actual quotation, from the books:

“Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búb-hosh skai…”
“Uglúk to the cesspool, sha! the dungfilth; the great Saruman-fool, skai!”
– Grishnákh, an Orc from Barad-dûr, Book III of The Lord of the Rings

A Few Helpful Phrases in Orkish (courtesy of this website)
“Ashdautas vrasubatlat” — “Someday I will kill you” (a standard Orkish greeting)
“Nar udautas” — “Not today” (the standard reply)
“Nar mat kordh-ishi” — “Do not die in bed” (This has several meanings.)
“Ang gijak-ishi” (Angijak)– “Iron in the Blood” (a high compliment)
“Lul gijak-ishi” (Lulgijak) — “Flowers in the Blood” (usually in reference to Elves)
“Amal shufar, at rrug” — “Where there’s a whip, there’s a way.”
“Snaga nar baj lufut” — “Slaves don’t make war.”
“Ambor mabas lufut” — “Liquor after war”
“Vras gruiuk” — “Kill the women”
“Mabaj nar armauk” — “I have no enemies” (an Orkish lament)
“Mabaj bot ob armauk” — “I have a world of enemies”
“Mirdautas vras” — “It is a good day to kill”
“Vrasubatburuk ug butharubatgruiuk” — “We will kill all the men and take all the women” (the Orkish equivalent of ‘cheers’)

Orkish Oaths
“Afar angathfark” — “By the forge of my soul!”
“Afar vadokanuk” — “By all the dead!”

Orkish Insults
“Lul gijak-ishi” (Lulgijak) — “Flowers in the Blood” (literally “bloomblood”) (interchangeably “Elf” or “Wimp”)
“Zanbaur” — “Elfson”
“Nar thos” — “No Sack”

Some Orkish Names

Enjoy croaking in the foul tongue! -JPC