Free Write

Most of the writing that I do these days is quite strict. Skraeling, my manuscript-in-progress, is now 70,497 words strong. The protagonist, Aurora, is the first anti-heroine that I have ever created. I love the story, the challenge that it poses, the research it has required—but I miss playing with words.

To regain that sense of play (and have some fun), I decided to use this week’s blog post as an opportunity to experiment, to record observations, to simply let the words take whatever shape they wanted to. For this week only, my traditional blog post has been replaced by what is essentially a free write.

Nearly every English course that I have ever taken has employed free writing for at least one class session. Why? One plausible reason is that free writing helps students get words on the page by eliminating worries about grammar, story structure, and spelling. In free writing, these conventions don’t matter—it’s the ideas that do. Typically, free writing is not edited (but the perfectionist in me happily broke that rule). So, here it is. This is where my mind wandered to:

I recently heard Autumn’s first cricket chirp.

It seems a bit soon for the insect to resume its song. Yet, there it was, chirping a melancholy tune. Too soon, too soon, I think. I need more time. I’m still on too many immunosuppressants. The anniversary of my bone marrow transplant is approaching; my immune system is supposed to be mature by that date. My bones, and my borrowed marrow, tell me that it won’t be.

not a cricket
Not a cricket, but I thought this little guy (or gal) makes a good substitute.

I saw the first, crimson leaf on an Euonymus alatus (commonly known as a Burning Bush) yesterday.

My memory—what remains of it—pulls me back to the tan-colored, bricked buildings of our college campus. I think I see you there, amid the parade of departing students, but what do I know? I, the Woodcutter’s daughter, had to research which tree the acorn belongs to. Worse still, I had somehow forgotten that the helicopter-like seeds, the ones that spin and twirl to the ground every Fall, belong to the maple. These facts were once in my blood. How could I have forgotten?

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I have felt the comforting warmth of a favorite, over-sized sweater nearly every morning this past week.

The mornings, before the sun rises in earnest, are quite cool. I shrug into the sweater—the black and white one that my mother bought for me the first time that I had cancer—and I put the hood up. From my seat at the kitchen table, I can stare out the window. I can watch the sky as it begins to lighten, darkness melting away.

I tasted a tart apple and wanted to add cinnamon, sugar, butter, and oats.

apple crisp recipe

There’s more to the family recipe for apple crisp than all that, though. Once out of the oven, you will need vanilla ice cream to melt on top of it. Remember, innovation is acceptable, but only if it’s as sweet as a fine drizzle of caramel.

I smelled bitter, dark-roasted coffee.

morning coffee

Bitter is better at 4am in the morning. I don’t add sugar to my daily cup; God knows I have enough cavities. I only consume two cups—preferably using one of our giant mugs—and I’ll have to stop drinking after that because my heart will begin to race. My fingertips follow suit, flying over my laptop’s keyboard.

I am my own cricket, tapping out an oftentimes melancholy tune.

keyboard
Please excuse how dirty my keyboard is. The last time I tried to clean a keyboard, I accidentally fried the entire laptop. 

Thank you, Dear Readers, for allowing me to experience writing as a creative outlet once again. I apologize if this post makes very little sense, but please know that it was incredibly fun to write! I needed to do this. And, who knows? Maybe my next novel-length project will have its roots in this text.

As always, thank you for your prayers, love, and light.

 

With Gratitude,

Laura

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When Technology Takes Over

Thursday night, we did not have internet access.

About an hour later, I lost cell service.

Normally, I would not describe myself as someone addicted to technology. Just a few hours without the internet, however, proved that I am very much addicted to it. I became bored. Boredom breeds anxiety. I soon found myself thinking, “what if someone breaks in? I don’t have a working phone. I don’t know the neighbors. How am I going to get help?”

True, I should have kept my over-anxious, imaginative mind busy by reading or creating art. Instead, I chose not to. I think technology has, in some ways, made me lazy.

It’s so much easier to scroll through social media sites or use my contact list to message a friend or family member (there are only two phone numbers that I actually know; my own and my parents’). Thanks to my contact list, programmed into my phone, my brain doesn’t have to remember phone numbers.

When I want to use my phone, the slight tremor in my hand suddenly doesn’t matter. After all, I just have to press on an app button. That tremor does matter, however, when I pick up a paintbrush or a camera.

And reading? Well, I’d have to unpack a book in order to do that (because, yes, we’re still living out of boxes here).

A lot of excuses, right? I know. It’s quite embarrassing. Technology addiction, I think, goes beyond our smartphones. It enables sloth.

Think about cooking: would you rather use the microwave or the oven?

Cleaning: handwash the dishes or stuff as many as you can into the dishwasher?

How about spelling? Without Spellcheck, I can assure you that there would be many, many mistakes in this post. I blame chemo brain (also known as ‘chemo fog’) for that. The sensation of having a head filled with cumulus clouds doesn’t lift immediately when the chemotherapy stops.

There are, of course, advantages to having technology in our lives. For instance, can you imagine hand-washing every piece of clothing you wear? Technology, medical research, and Divine intervention have saved my life at least a dozen times. I believe, though, that while technology can accomplish great things, and make our everyday lives easier, we need to do as our computers occasionally do—restart.

Restart by putting the smartphone away for a couple of hours each day.

Restart by actually cooking our meals instead of radiating them.

Restart by memorizing phone numbers and the correct spelling of words. I mean, come on, imagine a writer that can’t spell….

As always, Dear Readers, thank you for your prayers, light and love. Your encouragement has given me the strength to continue writing—both on this blog and in my manuscripts-in-progress. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Part II of the Scavenger Hunt

I don’t think this will surprise anyone, but I have many frightening memories.

They tend to surface the week before a medical appointment, usually at night, as terrible dreams. The dreams are vivid. They feel real. I wake up wondering where I am and what’s happening to me.

Which hospital is this again?

What procedure did I just have?

Why is my port hurting?

To counteract this, I have decided to purposely create a plethora of happy memories. I’ll stockpile these pleasant thoughts as though they are index cards with information to memorize. When a nightmare visits, I’ll just pull out a joyful moment and meditate on it.

Last week’s post was about discovering inspiration and creativity. This week, I’m looking for happiness, beauty, and peace.

yellow butterfly 2.0

If you guessed that the above photograph was staged, you’re a hundred-percent correct.  A friend found the above butterfly, dead, in our driveway. Despite having passed on, the butterfly’s wings were undamaged and we placed it on one of the flowering bushes in the backyard. I’m not saying that we had a funeral for a butterfly—because we didn’t—but it did appear serene amid the flowers. It was as if it belonged there.

Little moments of kindness can be rather beautiful.

Of course, sometimes kindness requires a bit more work. Those of you who are close to me know that I despise cooking. I’ll live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just to avoid it. I’m not a gifted chef and I’ve accepted this. Still…someone special had a birthday this week…so I made a cheesecake from scratch.

cheesecake 2.0

Washing all of the required dishes was actually harder work than making the cheesecake. The finished product looked edible. I couldn’t really judge if I had had a baking success until we cut into it. Fortunately, although it was a little lumpy, the cheesecake was pleasing to the taste buds. I’ll count it as a culinary win—a happy memory.

Finally, beautiful memories are made when we do something or go somewhere.

Without a functioning immune system, my adventuring in public places is limited. I can go out and about, but wearing a surgical mask and gloves is an absolute must. Breaking this cardinal rule could result in illness and potentially hospitalization.

So, this past week, when my fiancé said that he needed to go to the mall, I donned my mask and gloves and went with him.  We stopped first at a sporting goods store, so he could browse through the fishing gear. Then, because I was wearing my new leg braces (which help immensely in the mobility department), we walked down to another store. Once there, I was able to pick up some small gifts for my father’s upcoming birthday—and I was able to visit, momentarily, with an old friend. It was a wonderful, surprise reunion!

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Memories of attending one of my friend’s childhood birthday parties filled my mind. The day of her party was wintry. We played in the snow for a bit and then we went to the movies. I remember laughing. I remember the peace of falling snowflakes. I remember the magic of animation on the big screen, the salty-sweet scent of popcorn, and cushioned theater seats.

Confession: in general, I am afraid of rejoining the real world. The idea of sitting in a theater seat now, makes my heart beat frantically. I often worry that, by the time my transplant anniversary comes around, my immune system will still be too weak to fend off viruses, infections, etc… But, then, seeing people that I know and appreciate, reminds me that the world is made up of more than just germs. It’s composed of lovely, kind souls.

Sometimes, the scavenger hunt that is life, brings us to these people.

As always, thank you Dear Readers for your encouragement. I’m off to Boston tomorrow for another check-up (lab work and a meeting with my transplant team). Please keep the prayers, love, and light coming. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

A Study

First, Dear Readers, thank you for your prayers, love, and light while I was in Boston.

view of Fenway

The check-up portion of my visit went fairly well, although I did learn that I may have to remain immunosuppressed (without a functioning immune system) for longer than the average bone marrow transplant recipient. Why? I’ve had Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD) so many times that it might have to be considered a “chronic” disease instead of just an acute condition.

Currently, the GVHD that I have is managed with my anti-rejection drug, which essentially suppresses my immune system. I have also been on a steroid for a fair bit of time. Long-term steroid use, unfortunately, can lead to other health issues, such as bone density loss and for some individuals, muscle wasting. Due to these negative side-effects, in “chronic” cases of GVHD, the patient often participates in a clinical trial or study. I don’t know yet if I have “chronic” GVHD—but if I do, and if it is offered, I will consider participating in a study.

Studies can be frightening (no one wants to feel like a guinea pig in a science lab), but studies can also save lives—or, at the very least, improve the quality of life—mine and maybe someone else’s, too.

There was good news at this latest appointment, too! My liver enzymes were normal again! I also started my vaccinations. I know it sounds strange, but I was elated to finally receive my Tetanus shot. The timing was perfect; a day or two later, I sliced my thumb open on a can.

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Secondly, I wanted to thank you for your patience while I was away from my blog. I realize that this post, too, is short. My legs (not exactly sure why) have been causing me a great deal of pain. I feel as though physical pain drains creativity.

Healing, as we all know, takes time.

Once again, Dear Readers, thank you for all of your kind support. Please continue to send prayers, love, and light. I need them. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Just Some Quality ZZZ’s, Please

Squishy

Confession: I’m 31 years old and I sleep next to a stuffed animal every night. More precisely, he’s a unicorn named Squishy. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been tremendously anxious lately. So, in an attempt to calm my nerves, I sprayed Squish (that’s his nickname) with lavender-scented perfume. It helped…a little…but I still didn’t make my big goal of sleeping in until 6am. I made it to 2:22am.

Like a lot of people out there, I don’t sleep well. I tend to be restless. When I do dream, I usually have outlandish nightmares (and not the good kind that can inspire writing projects).

Why am I sharing this? Because I am on the hunt for ideas to help me sleep.

When you, Dear Reader, have difficulty sleeping, what do you do? Do you listen to music? Do you have a glass of warm milk? What works for you? What doesn’t work? I am open to suggestions, so please send them my way!

We go back to Boston this week for another check-up. We will also be going to Burlington for a neurology appointment. It’s going to be a busy week; please keep the light, the prayers, and the love coming. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Prescription for Gratitude

february-flowers-2-1635

A sleepy hush seemed to fall over the apartment as I sat down to write this post. The tea in my cup was warm, soothing. Both of my fur babies were curled up together on the end of the couch. Another weekend had come to a close and although I was tired, although I was still in a tremendous amount of pain, I couldn’t help but feel grateful.

Grateful for a weekend spent celebrating birthdays with loved ones.

Grateful for the sights and sounds of beautiful Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Grateful that I have this life at all.

This kind of gratitude—in the face of physical pain—is not something that comes easily to me. I struggle with it, every hour of every day, but it’s something that I feel compelled to write about. To share. To maybe shore up my resolve in the pursuit of it.

I couldn’t tell you when or why I first made the decision to actively cultivate gratitude. Its roots have been forgotten, as lost as that first gratitude journal, but the practice itself has survived. Every night before I turn out the bedside lamp, I write down three things that I am grateful for. The things I list could be the names of family members or friends. Other days, I might record happy events that occurred during the day. Some days, I write down what I eat because, some days, that’s all I can find to be grateful for.

The magic of a gratitude journal is not what you write down, but that you write something down at all. Sometimes it’s the really, really minute things that soften your heart and help you realize just how fortunate you are.

With this in mind—and the fact that constant physical pain is accompanied by the temptation to be a Negative Nelly—I decided to turn my mind even more toward gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal at night has, on many occasions, shifted my perspective.

So what would happen, I wondered, if I started my day by listing three things that I’m grateful for?

Or, if I paused in the middle of the day to recall three additional blessings, would that have an effect on me?

And, if I faithfully turned to my gratitude journal each night to record three more things, would I finally be able to both see and believe that my blessings outweigh the pain in my back and my legs?

The experiment is young still, Dear Readers, but I am finding that that this self-prescribed regimen of gratitude three times a day has given me something to smile about. It’s something I look forward to. And, it reminds me, that even amid physical discomfort, there is always something to be grateful for.