14 May 2021

Journeys, battles, spoons, and other metaphors

A woman holds a handmade sign that says "#Millions Missing" in red ink. The lower part of her face is partially covered by the sign, and the part you can see is half in light, half in shadow.

"Think of yourself as a healthy person who just happens to be sick," a doctor told me.

"I've seen many patients like you. You're ambitious and a high achiever. Find some ways to deal with stress, and you'll get better," another said.

Yet another specialist told me, "Stop telling yourself the wrong stories. Keep fighting, and you'll be back to your normal life soon."

So many medical professionals suggested how I should think in those early years of chronic illness. Yet, I struggled to formulate my own words and thoughts. At times, I literally could not speak. It took immense effort to sit up, let alone haul myself to a doctor's office on the other side of campus. I was overwhelmed by full body pain, pressing fatigue, and roiling brain fog (a state of cognitive dysfunction).

A healthy person with a side of sickness? It felt like the infection that had triggered this onslaught had already devoured my body and mind, leaving me a husk of myself.

Battle talk. Normalcy. Monsters and destruction. Language is powerful. Metaphors and stories help us understand our world and circumstances, in the hopes of recognizing ourselves and getting recognition from others. The right words can encourage empathy, assuming that a glimpse of another's experience will lead to compassion.

Great, right? The more metaphors, the merrier? Well... it's complicated.

19 April 2021

When your computer can read your mind


A cut-out comic strip from PhD Comics called "Should Be Writing," lying on top of a keyboard

Here's an oldie but a goodie from Jorge Cham, longtime friend and Virgil to haplessly lost grad students. Yes, I did cut this out of a printed newspaper many years ago when I first started my thesis work. Yes, I collect and keep the most random things. But this little scrap has staying power -- at least until the material itself disintegrates.

I invite you to save this image ...

... In case you need evidence that HAL is, indeed, in our immediate future.

... In case you need extra motivation to do what you need to do ... even if you already know you need to do it.

... In case you need evidence that spiraling thinking is not helpful. (Wait, it is helpful. No, it's not. I really should stop thinking about this.)

... In case you'd like to take your writing and yourself less seriously, even though it is your LIFE and you will never survive if you don't finish.

View of wall above my desk, showing 2 partial paintings, a comic strip, and 2 drawings.
My perpetual writing reminder perched above my desk, alongside creative works by talented friends (and me, too).

#motivation #psa #computerscantalk

25 March 2021

The necessity of letters and National Letter Writing Month

An open notebook with "National Letter Writing Month" written above two pages filled with hand drawn envelopes
My visual letter writing log for National Letter Writing Month 2020

It's been such a heavy week, heavy month, heavy season upon season. And yet we're not meant to carry it all alone. One tradition that has sustained me in this past year is letter writing, putting pen (or pencil) to paper and mailing a hello and a paper hug. The month of April, National Letter Writing Month, supercharged my letter writing habits last year, and I'm glad it's around the corner yet again. It's a time to celebrate the connections that a handwritten word can bring, to express some gratitude, to lament together and encourage one another. Plus, it's simply delightful! Who doesn't love getting mail?

I've been a habitual letter and card writer since I was a kid. I still have boxes of correspondence from classmates and penpals (aka notes passed in class or scribbled letters) stashed away somewhere, revealing my friends' shared obsessions with Sanrio, Lisa Frank, wide ruled paper torn out of spiral notebooks, and other popular stationaries of my youth. (They also featured LOTS of stickers and exclamation!!! points!!!)

But the start of the pandemic made me long even more for connection, when a unmasked greeting or a trip to see family and friends was logistically difficult or simply not possible. So last April, I joined the Write_On campaign and wrote a letter a day -- as short as a single quote on a postcard to multi-paged letters. That daily practice me feel a little lighter and hopefully gave some light to others.

This year I plan to celebrate by write cards and letters during the month of April, whether part of an official challenge or not. Will you join me? It's not necessary to send 30 pieces of mail. The idea is to simply write and spread some joy. Plus, if you are in the U.S., we have the added bonus of supporting the postal service!

Here's a little round up of my favorite letter writing supplies and inspirations:

02 February 2021

Bookishness / Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Cover of the book, Thorn. To the right: Thorn (Dauntless Path Book 1) by Intisar Khanani, published March 24, 2020 by HarperTeen. Genre: Fantasy, Audience: Young Adult. Below, the Bookishness logo

Read _ For the second time, right before starting The Theft of Sunlight (eek!).

A princess finds her voice,
realizing that courage is more than skin deep.

2020, what a year.

When the stay-at-home orders first clamped down last March, I wasn't able to read or do much of anything. You can probably relate. Even though I'm used to spending a lot of time at home due to remote working and the boundaries of chronic illness, it was still an abrupt halt, couched in a haze of confusion and fear. I felt displaced from my everyday life. Then I was literally displaced from my home when I went to shelter in place with my parents for a few months. It was a sweet time with my mom and dad, for sure, but it was also a hard time -- a time of exile that continues well into 2021, although I am thankfully home and reunited with the Tall Man.

Books eventually became my solace again. I read THORN by Intisar Khanani right before the chaos fully set in. Little did I know how much Alyrra's story of persistence, clawing her way out of darkness towards the light of justice and hope, would mean in those days. It became one of my favorite reads of 2020.