My vacation from blogging

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Our first snow of the season is falling outside, an inch-deep Alberta Clipper. I am long past the cozy enchantment of anticipating snow drifts and the like. I’d rather watch it through the safe distance of film or video than experience it firsthand.

I’ve refrained from writing posts for the past couple weeks because I thought that doing so would be akin to pouring salt on a wound. Now that the worst of the nerve pain that plagued me through late summer to mid-November seems to be behind me, I have been quite angry over what happened. I am mad that I waited so long for relief (which, by the way, came randomly with the pulling of a heavy drawer while bent over at an awkward angle).

I am not exaggerating when I say that this interlude of nerve pain was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Maybe there is something in the nature of pain that inclines a person to believe that the latest acute episode is the worst one, sort of a photo negative of one’s love life, how often we hear that a person’s current lover is the best one ever. With that aside, I will tell that I really did feel worse than I ever had.

I am no stranger to pain. I had a radical mastoidectomy, wherein a damaged part of the skull that borders the ear is removed. I was in labor for 44 hours when I had my daughter, and I had no pain medication for 24 out of those 44 hours (and this was back labor). I would add this year’s spinal fusion surgery to this list, but the pain of that procedure and its recovery were nowhere near as bad the preceding two events in this paragraph.

I know that there are millions, if not billions, of people in this world who’ve lived through pain far worse than I have. I can only attest to my own pain, and I am mad when I think of all the effort I devoted to finding a resolution to my recent pain. I don’t think I was taken seriously because I could still walk on my own and keep a straight face while doing so.

It must be hard for orthopedic doctors to understand that the pain of a patient who can work and communicate as normal can be important. In any given day or week, they see patients who’ve been broken through traumatic accidents, people who arrive for their appointments in a wheelchair or on a stretcher. So when someone like me comes knocking, a patient who seems to walk with apparent ease and can report their symptoms in a near-clinical tone, they must be tempted to assume that such a patient is just worried but well. I was not.

After three months of asking for an explanation for why I suddenly felt so bad six months past my surgery, I learned a few things through an MRI and physical examinations. I am healing well from my L4/L5 fusion surgery. This does not surprise me because the pattern of my nerve pain was markedly different than what I experienced in the months leading up my surgery. Back then, I had numbness in my left knee and part of my foot, with flares of sciatic pain that struck at random. This time around, I had awful nerve pain in a band from my outer left hip to the inside of my left knee, only when I stood in place for more than a few minutes or walked more than a hundred yards or so.

It turns out that my L2/L3 and L3/L4 discs have degenerated more in the past year, but neither are in bad enough shape to qualify for more than conservative treatment measures. I also have bursitis in my hip and strain in a tendon that leads from my hip to my knee (ITBS, or iliotibial band syndrome). I’ve been doing physical therapy exercises for the bursitis and ITBS, but the aches and pains of those issues aren’t completely gone.

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I do not yet have clarity on what I can do to prevent further flare-ups of nerve pain. No one has offered me a prognosis or definitive reason for why my orthopedic problems continue. Last year, I heard that my lumbar degeneration is hereditary. This makes sense given that I have several close relatives with similar problems. However, there isn’t enough similarity between our symptoms and course of disease to model a course of action based on what has worked for the others.

I wish I knew if I there was something I am unwittingly doing that could be making things worse, that some qualified person could take me in hand and tell me that I should change my life in such-and-such ways because of my spinal stenosis. It seems I must draw that map myself.

I don’t think I have accurately conveyed how active I must be to lead the life that I do. Both my job and my life at home require all sorts of walking. Below is a chart of all the walking I’ve done since my surgery in March (from my Fitbit account, btw):

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I’ve discovered through long experience that the only sure thing that keeps my depression at bay is walking. I thank God that the chief prescription for my surgical recovery was walking. What would I do if my spinal stenosis progressed to the point when I couldn’t walk much at all? I’d practically need to remake myself.

I’ve watched far too many episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot lately. There was something Poirot said in the episode called “Appointment with Death” that is one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever heard:

“There is nothing in the world so damaged that it cannot be repaired by the hand of almighty God.”

Yesterday’s Fall Photo Walk

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The light prevailed so well over the weekend that I was able to do another photo walk. This one was at a different local forest park, one I’ve neglected in recent years because it is not heavy on wildflowers or maple trees.

There was still a coating of frost on some of the leaves as the sun rose, as was the case with the fallen bald cypress leaves below.

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The trail at this park had plenty of honeysuckle bushes on its margins. The leaves of these bushes have not changed in color yet, so it was odd indeed to see so much green at the end of November.

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Of course, the oak trees are the stars of this November forest.

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Fall Photo Walk, November 25

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I hope that your Thanksgiving was as lovely as mine was. My brother and his brood flew here from Denver. My parents’ house was full of food and conversation about the past, present, and future. I couldn’t have asked for a better holiday.

The light has begun to brighten from the dark damp of mid-fall. There were several evenings and mornings in which golden sunlight made a cameo, but I’d be reliably stuck on the wrong side of a window at work or home as it paraded by.

This morning I was finally able to catch some of the light with camera in hand. I returned to my favorite forest park, where the oaks are still hanging on with their many brown tones. It is not until fall is winding down that brown leaves reveal their glory.

There are also a few other trees whose leaves still linger. Among these were a trio of bald cypress trees, which is a true oddity this far north. I’m not sure who decided to plant these trees at our local parks, but I’m glad that it happened. Every year their shedding of needle-like leaves is a surprise to me. They look like evergreens until the moment those needles turn a tawny brown.

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(This post is also my entry this week’s photo challenge, Transformation.)

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Creative Inspiration: Part 2 from Intensity Without Mastery’s Michelle Cole

Here is part two of my interview/collaboration with Rebecca Moon Ruark of Rust Belt Girl, a must-read blog for those of you who are interested in the culture and arts of this area of the U.S.

Rust Belt Girl

How did we get here? Not here at Rust Belt Girl so much as here—writing, blogging, connecting? (Anyone else have that Talking Heads song running on repeat in their minds? You’re welcome.)

For me, it was my mom who was the reader in my young life, who made it okay to “waste” an hour or a day on a good book. She was my biggest fan, even when my writing hadn’t a prayer of reaching a larger audience than my immediate family. She made me feel like a writer—and sometimes a vote of confidence from someone you love is enough to begin to believe it, yourself.

As I emerge from my Thanksgiving Day food coma, I say thanks to memories of my mom and to everyone else who makes me feel like something of a writer.

Many thanks, in particular, to Intensity Without Mastery blogger and photographer Michelle Cole…

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Fall Photo Walk, November 19

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I hadn’t planned a photo walk today. As noon approached, a few patches of sunlight I spotted outside my windows persuaded me to take a short trip to a local forest park. Of course, the good light had fled by the time I reached the park.

As I started my walk along the forest trail, I felt that I was exactly where I needed to be. The chilly air and remaining leaves recharged my spirits. The beech and oak trees still had plenty of leaves fluttering in the blustery wind.

I walked until I had a silent sense that all would be well. I knew it was time to go home, where I could wrap myself in warmth and the company of those I hold most dear.

A Rainy Saturday Morning

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Around 11 last night, it started raining hard enough to turn all the pipes on the roof into little dissonant steel drums. My sense of what keeps a house from surrendering to noxious fluids and vapors is vague at best. It’s only during a hard rain that I know for certain where the all the exhaust vents emerge atop the house.

I awoke to the sounds of the same hard rain this morning. I’ve already done the dishes, started the laundry, and done some basic grocery shopping this morning. I really should fold the clothes. When the dryer starts dinging, it’s like a siren call of domestic duty–fold me now, lest you need to dust off the dreaded iron.

I will resist that call in favor of writing a bit. I don’t think there’s anything in that dryer that can’t be unwrinkled with a few minutes of fluffing.

I suppose it’s a cardinal sign of self-absorption to the start several paragraphs in a row with the word I. Indeed this post focuses on me and my recent struggles.

In sharing these problems, I hope that I am not merely alienating my readers. It is not impossible that some of you have endured the same or similar trials. If that is the case for you, I hope you find some solace in seeing a kindred spirit emerge from similar adversity.

I am just arising from flare-ups of chronic pain and depression that spanned three months. It began with hip pain and ended with the worst variant of sciatica that I’ve ever had the misfortune of feeling.

I did have a few random days I felt no pain at all. All the while, I had no pain unless I was moving. To feel no pain at rest is a blessing ordinarily taken for granted. I recently joined a Facebook support group for people who’ve had spinal fusion surgery. My first impression was how fortunate I am among that cohort of patients. Compared to that group of patients, my burden is light. I don’t struggle to sleep because of pain. I can work.

Here is the thing I gleaned from reading those stories: The only pain you know is your own, and it should not be discounted just because someone else has suffered more. There were moments of my most recent sciatica episode that afforded me the worst pain I’ve ever felt. It’s a pain that does not season you pleasantly with wisdom or humility. Instead, it just makes you bitter that it happened, a rude surprise that you still had a little innocence left to steal.

It all ended with a moment akin to the last bolt of lightning that flashes at the end of a storm. I was putting away laundry and leaned over to open one of my clothes drawers, a drawer that is heavy with clothes that need pruning. I felt rushed (for no good reason) to finish the laundry, so I stayed bent over at the same awkward angle as I closed the drawer. As I pushed it closed, I felt a bizarre stretching in my lower back, and the ends of my spinal fusion felt like they were sparking with a bit of heat.

I straightened myself out, dreading that I might have complicated hereditary lumbar degeneration with a careless accident. As I walked down the hallway from my bedroom, I realized that something quite different had happened. My sciatica was gone. My awkward maneuver made a supremely lucky adjustment, one that I couldn’t repeat in a hundred tries.

I am still contending with the ordinary legacy of ongoing recovery from my spinal fusion surgery, which presents a random array of numbness and nerve pains. It is a calm I’ve not known for long since the height of summer.

I’m devoting this time before the holiday rush to some deeper rest. I’ve been digging into some Agatha Christie stories, both in print and on television. Actually, Agatha Christie is an author I willfully ignored until now, dismissing her body of work as trite without having read a line of her work. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how witty and sometimes bawdy her prose can be. The stories I’ve read and seen on screen are reminders that the moral compass of humanity isn’t degenerating more with each succeeding generation. The good and bad have always existed, only the fashions and technology have changed.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how witty and sometimes bawdy her prose can be. The stories I’ve read and seen on screen are reminders that the moral compass of humanity isn’t degenerating more with each succeeding generation. The good and bad have always existed; only the fashions and technology have changed.

With that written, I will now attend to folding the laundry, avoiding any foolish haste with the pushing and pulling of drawers.

Life in Lima and more–from Intensity Without Mastery’s Michelle Cole

It is my great honor to share this post, a collaboration between myself and Rebecca Moon Ruark at Rust Belt Girl. She asked me some questions that really helped me break through the lack of inspiration that’s plagued me lately. This is part one of a two-part series.

Rust Belt Girl

For my next two posts here at Rust Belt Girl, I am honored to present Michelle Cole, a fellow Ohio native, who blogs at Intensity Without Mastery. I first stumbled upon Michelle’s photographs of the city where she lives: Lima, Ohio. I have posted before about abandonment photography, or “ruin porn,” as leaving me cold. Michelle’s photography, on the other hand, struck me with its depth of feeling, and I knew I had to learn more about the woman behind the lens. She has agreed to guest post here at my blog, and I’m so grateful.

As Michelle will tell, life in Lima—like in many Rust Belt places—has seen its share of hard times: leaving and loss. There are also sweet spots.

Between her photographs and candid backstory, Intensity Without Mastery moves me with its intense truthfulness:

My life was a mess of attrition and despair…

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