First Week of Being Home Bound

After getting in bed much too late last night (actually this morning), I fell asleep almost immediately, but not before the thought went through my mind:  Oh, I forgot to record my blog on Green Room.  So this morning I am doing so.  I will eventually get the hang of a new routine.

Staying at home is not something I have been able to do much in recent years.  Consequently, I must confess I have really enjoyed this past week at home.  Each day I have become a little stronger and surer on my feet as I have accomplished my regular household chores and light meal preparation without breathlessness.
 
The lovely bouquet that Mary Ellen and Brianna brought me last Saturday is still lovely in the living room.  Jeannie’s huge flowering basket of purple petunias was just the annual summer lift I had failed to provide for the front porch this season. Together Gerald and I have kept it watered nicely.  I have slept late late late without feeling lazy, and I’ve worked slowly instead of having to hurry.
 
After the second shot to help thin my blood, the home health nurse reported the better figure to my doctor on Monday, and a call came from the doctor’s office that no more shots were necessary.  Now the doctor is trying to determine exactly how much warfarin (rat poison) I need each day to keep the INR figure ssteady between 2 and 3. Gerald took me to see the primary doctor on Wednesday, and the home health nurse checked me again on Friday.
 
I think the hospital doctor scheduled home health nurse visits for Monday, Wednesday, Friday again this week, and I am hoping by then my blood will be flowing perfectly at the correct thickness created with a stable daily dose of the correct amount of warfarin. And if my body has not yet already dissolved all the clots in my lungs as I think it has, I hope that task will have been completed by then too.   I have been emphatically told that I need to stay on warfarin for the rest of my life, and that I will be glad to do.  I was already glad to do so; but being told it was no longer necessary made me think I should follow the doctor’s advice.  I did not want to be a pill popper. I think the doctor’s advice was statistically correct, but unfortunately my genetic make-up was somewhat of an anomaly. For me going off warfarin turned out to be an expensive experiment. But now I know, and I will pop those daily pills with a clear conscience.
 
One of the negatives of old age is that a large number of your loved ones and friends are also.  Right before I went to the hospital, my brother Jim called from Mattoon to tell me their paper carried the obituary of a dear friend, who lived in nearby Charleston.  I guess Shirley Keller Karraker was my longest friend in the world since we were in preschool Sunday School together for at least a year before we started first grade and  then went through 14 years of school together.  Jim and his wife Vivian were inviting me up to spend the night in case I wanted to attend her funeral on Tuesday. 
 
Of course, I wanted to do that—especially since I have really been wanting to go see Jim and Vivian anyway—but I told him I really did not think I was up to it.  And, of course, by Tuesday I was in the hospital and glad I had declined the invitation.  But I remembered all the fun times Shirley and I had:  Sunday afternoon play dates or swimming at the creek west of town where we used to persuade a parent to take us, high school double dating, and perhaps, best of all, the long long talks on the rare nights she got the family car and we would discuss the world and all the people in it but mostly talk about ourselves—what we believed, what our plans were, and what we wanted out of life. 
 
Shirley had already survived two bouts of lung cancer (despite never smoking), lost her husband a few years back,  and because of medical carelessness, had lost her eye sight.  So I could not grieve for her.  She had lived well, accomplished what she was supposed to in life,  and is now in a better place   But I grieved some for myself that we would not have that final visit or even a recent letter I meant to write that her daughter could have read to her. 
 
Jim and I talked during last week, and on Friday  when I meant to call him to wish him a happy 86th birthday, I was thwarted again.  Since he and Vivian have busy lives that include four or five shots a day for her diabetes, and Jim also likes to sleep in, I was waiting until after lunch to see how his most recent doctor appointment had gone.  At the noon table, however, the phone rang and the name flashed up that it was a call from Jim, so I answered by singing “Happy Birthday” to him.  It was Vivian phoning to tell me Jim was in the hospital, had had a stint repaired or something of that nature that morning and would need another on Monday.  (He had four stints put in last autumn when he ended up in the hospital for a week or so instead of being able to give his granddaughter away at her wedding as he had rehearsed.)  Since that Friday phone call, I’ve been told he had a “mild heart attack.”  Whatever that means.  Needless to say, I am anxious about the procedure planned for in the morning.
 
This morning we learned that our beloved sister-in-law Ginger had once again woke with seizures, not too unusual for the last 13 years since she had a stroke that took away her short term memory.   She remained well dressed and attractive and could pass at social events as healthy or at least until recent years. If she talked about the past, she did well. But if she asked you a question about recent events, she would immediately forget your answer and ask again.  (I answered the same question once eleven times within an hour, and I knew she would ask again the next time I saw her.) Gerald’s brother Garry kept a wonderful care giver with her because of her need for help with medicine and meals and her intense anxiety about where he was after he took her into town each morning for breakfast before he began his day’s work on the farm. But the seizures and strokes eventually took their toll and she was often in the hospital.  
 
A couple of months ago, once more the ambulance took her to the hospital, and this time she did not get well enough to return home.  Much to her family’s discomfort, there were needs that could only be met  at a nursing home, but they banded together to be sure that during most of her waking hours, she had one of them there when her regular day caretaker was not present.  They cheered for her when she was finally able to stand, and the goal was for her to become sufficiently proficient with a walker to go back to her home. Our niece Vicki Sue grieved that her mother did not show many smiles although she sat through many funny movies with her mother.  Ginger’s sister Lillian, who lost her husband after a long illness during this time, came from Missouri to visit Ginger at the nursing home. Vicki was ecstatic because her mother responded with smiles and laughter during her precious sister’s visit.
 
However by the end of last week, Ginger was deteriorating. This morning Ginger was awake at 4 o’clock with yet another round of seizures, and the word went out to the family that she was taken to the Cape Girardeau hospital and life support might need to be removed if a MRI showed no brain activity.  When we checked into the lobby and Gerald spoke Ginger’s name, the receptionist there told Gerald, “Oh she has the sweetest husband.”
 
Soon we were up in the ICU waiting room with a large circle of family members including Lillian to be with Garry and Vicki and her brother Kerry as they faced the responsibility of doing what the doctor was advising and what Ginger had said she wanted back when she was still able to make such decisions. Two by two we were going in with Garry to say goodbye to someone who did not look like anyone we used to know and could not respond. Eyes were closed, and occasional grimaces indicated some discomfort with the equipment all over her face.  Garry, who has stood tall and firm for over thirteen years, was breaking up knowing what his answer must be for the doctor. The breathing tube was taken off, and Ginger continued breathing on her own.
 
We came home and there was a message on the phone from our neighbor telling us  that her relative, who has also been our neighbor for more that 40 years, is in the hospital at Marion and the family is awaiting her death. 
 
I had not checked the news all day, and so I did long enough to determine that things are not any better internationally.   There are other sad things going on that I could have also written about, but I have shared enough that I am sure you can understand why we are not looking forward to tomorrow.   There are numerous good things also in our lives, and we are grateful.  But right now our hearts feel concern and sadness for many that we love.
 
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God, Peace and Life: The Mourners Kaddish And Icarus

 On this day seven years ago my husband Tzvi died. In previous years, on the anniversary of his death,  I used to go up to his grave  with one of his devoted students. As is the custom in Jewish religion, he read  the Mourners  Kaddish  for my husband , it was a lovely gesture.

The Kaddish is a prayer in Aramaic, it  praises God and expresses a yearning for the establishment of His kingdom on earth. The prayer is recited by a man, usually a family member, at funerals and memorial services.

I am used to the music of the Kaddish, and could almost chant it by heart. Still  since I know only few words in this ancient  language,  I have never really contemplated the meaning of  the words, until yesterday when I looked for the English translation of the prayer for the purpose of writing this post..

 The Mourners Kaddish

May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen.) in the world that He created as He willed.

 May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,

and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,

swiftly and soon. Now respond: Amen.

(Cong Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.)

May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,

mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He

(Cong. Blessed is He) beyond any blessing and song,

praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now respond: Amen.

May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life

upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.

He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,

upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.

 The Kaddish is mostly about the greatness of God. It mentions the fact that He created the world the way He willed. But what I find most interesting is that this significant prayer ends with a wish that peace will descend from heaven and enable life on earth. If we consider that this is a mourner prayer, it is curious that death is not mentioned only God, peace and life.

A mourner’s prayer with no dead person could be compared to a painting about the Fall of Icarus with no Icarus or his wings, as can be seen in the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel. In that painting a ploughman is working the land, concentrating on his work, and only some smoke in the background faintly suggests that a tragedy takes place elsewhere. This painting was also the inspiration to W. H. Auden’s  poem Musee des Beaux Arts.
 

  Musee des Beaux Arts by  W. H. Auden

 About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

 In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Like the absent death in the Mourners Kaddish, Auden points out that in Bruegel's painting everything turns away from Icarus' fall. In both cases we would rather turn our attention away from death and other tragedies as life goes on .  

 The Mourner Kaddish ends with the familiar words: "He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen." The bond between peace and life is especially meaningful  in time of war. This year I choose to say the Mourners Kaddish myself , and when I get to the last two lines I shall say the the words with special intention hoping that finally God and man would  listen and bring Peace to our area, Amen.

 

 
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Another Time, Another Place: The Power of Words and Music

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Once upon a time, in another place, I ran a music agency called Intermezzo. It was dedicated to themed words and music programmes for a variety of events, private and public. The notion of 'spectacle' didn't for the most part enter into it since we were there to enhance someone else's party. Marking a special occasion calls for ambience. There are things about tapping into the natural music of the universe, the rhythms of prose and poetry, that express our longing to harness destiny.

Having grown up in the fifties and sixties, when mass imagery did not clamour for attention the way it does now, and before television was a way of life and the cinema a rare treat, all we had was books and radio to populate our interior landscapes. Now that technology has melded them, we can listen to stories, plays and poetry, with echoes of tales told by the camp-fire on the edge of that purple twilight beguiling our ancestors.

There are vital clues in audio it is easy to miss with stage and screen. Shakespeare is wonderful and in many ways richer in nuance. It helps that radio stations can afford to employ the best actors when costs concomitant with film and theatre aren't an issue. It's a sophisticated art. The whole picture is painted with voice, neither fanfare nor foible to distract.

Many years ago, Catherine Cookson described how she liked to plan the following day's writing in utter silence before she went to sleep. Whilst she was mentally configuring situations, she was listening for that canny modulation in Northumbrian dialogue. She referred to it as 'going to the pictures'.

A friend recently described how singing in a language that is not native to the piece destroys the atmosphere and complementarity, the words fighting the music. Like good poetry that cannot be fully apprehended at a first, or second, or third, reading, sound and rhythm hook in their own right. T S Eliot is a supreme example, enigmatic, intriguing. Yes, in a strange way, at a primal level, we've heard it all before. There is an ageless truth we recognise, like a mother's heartbeat, or the whispering sea.

The urge to convey our childhood mythology to our children is strong and I can't help thinking that something got lost in translation when television took over and many children's programmes became cult viewing. Edward Lear became Mr Men and Grimms' Fairy Tales, Dr Who. There is a distinct breach in the culture of centuries at the point our children were learning to decipher the world. The strange thing is that though television is intensely graphic, it seldom resonates deep in the psyche. It may have thought-stimulating potential, but it is ephemeral and depends on the acuity of the mind's eye there and then. In the twenty-first century, we tend to believe that only what has passed through the rational mind has reality, when the mainsprings of creativity arise in the subterranean deeps beyond our control.

My early education was spent in Church of England schools (at primary level with a staunchly English Roman Catholic teacher who introduced us to the Apocrypha, also an honoured part of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the C of E) and I'm glad to have been compelled to recite long passages from the King James Bible by heart. Those cadences, despite the archaisms and quaint imagery, set me up for life as a writer and prompted my choice of reading, purely from their compelling resonance. While Shakespeare paved the way between the medieval era, the realms of Chaucer, and the Enlightenment, the Authorised Bible was, still is, a pillar of our heritage, though it is now largely deemed an irrelevance. Surely those vibrations delivered from a shared unconscious make it a masterpiece of language?

As to sound, its colour and architecture, I remember being enthralled aged three or four, by the brooding mystery of a serialisation of Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White on Woman's Hour (still going, like The Archers!) That story influenced my fledgling novels in subtle ways, but when I came to read the book as a young adult, I found its thickets tedious to penetrate and soon gave up trying to follow the plot.

We all agree that music has a magical potential to dissolve any kind of boundary you can think of. I have long been fascinated by the process of harmonising libretto and score as a heightened means of storytelling, but what about the spontaneous images and scenes evoked by arranged sequences of notation? The atmosphere, approaching something like memory, of times and places we have not experienced. In a similar way, perfume can sometimes trigger nostalgia for venues that belong nowhere in the context of the life we know.

When I was thirteen, I fabricated a tale to music by André Grétry, logging down impressions, passage by passage, and linking them together. In my head, I wanted to create a ballet. I remember the piece was entitled Auphine and featured a black rose with mystical powers. The project withered when my Dad took a look at it and said there was no such thing as a 'black rose'. Several years later, when I'd embarked on novel-writing as a serious enterprise, like many scribes, I would use music as inspiration for the mood of a scene. I found it gave me courage to get words down on the page (ballpoint in exercise books in those days!) The overture to Beethoven's Fidelio accompanied the early passages of my second 'apprentice' historical novel, set in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. I knew nothing of the opera at that time and was only a vaguely familiar with the music. When, two years later, I attended a production in which friends were starring, I was astonished to see the scenes from my story translated to the stage! By what strange alchemy do the laws of physics and biochemistry become image?

One thing we can be sure of, our senses, and there may be many more than five, ebb and flow and overlap in a rich multiplicity. They are not as distinct as our impression of them. Use earplugs for any purpose and you could find yourself in trouble with spatial awareness. I was told by a musician that the virtuoso percussionist, Evelyn Glennie, who is profoundly deaf, senses music and vivid colour through vibration along the spine.

How the blind decipher sound, what kind of picture is formed in the imagination, can't really be known or compared. I'd like to think it's something the rest of us might well recognise.

But does image evoke sound the way sound projects image on to the imagination's screen?

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On beating bashfulness: why marketing my book is about them, not me...

b2ap3_thumbnail_72a58f27fbf1fa965aa56b3cc05d98c2.jpgThis is my first blog post here in The Green Room. I thought initially that this wasn't something I could sign up to. Not because I didn't think it was a good idea - it is a fabulous one and I have already enjoyed reading some of the posts published in recent days. No - it was about my ability to commit to writing for another blog, in addition to my own and at a time when I am getting ready for the October publication of my book Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War's legacy for Britain's mental health. But then I thought about the opportunity it offers to get things off my writing chest and perhaps learn a little more about what it really means to be a writer from those who have been there, done that, bought the paperback.

I posted on my book's Facebook page recently that I am worried about putting my head above the proverbial parapet and really getting Shell Shocked in front of those who will stock the title or offer me the opportunity to have a signing or do a talk for their organisation. The publisher (Pen & Sword) help a lot but still, the social media and talk booking side is largely down to me. For all of my adult life I have disliked that feeling of imposing on someone's goodwill - selling raffle tickets, asking for a donation to charity, marketing a business event. Even pitching for work has proved a challenge. Why would anyone want to read what I have to say, over and above all those other writers out there? How do I make my work stand out from the rest of the slush pile? Why bother?

It has taken three years of counselling to deal with that last one. I know I bother because I love writing, and thus far people seem to have enjoyed reading what I have to say. I look at other writers with admiration now, rather than awe. I have met and spoken to enough new writing friends (virtual and physically present) to know that I am not unique in my lack of confidence and that a certain humility is preferable to insufferable arrogance. But the selling thing is still a sticky one, and talks and signings even more gluey. What if I fall flat on my face? Look an utter pillock? See people fall asleep and hear snoring in the back row (if sufficient attend for there to be anything other than a back row.....)

When I wrote of my fears, I was wrong if I expected any sympathy for my own feelings in the matter. I was forced to consider whether this self-consciousness is itself a form of vanity. I am writing non-fiction, therefore it is not about ME at all. It is about all those who find their stories within the covers of my book; all those people whose struggles with the lasting trauma of a war experience and enduring mental illness I felt needed to be heard; about a view of our nation that, two or three generations ago, some assume to have been unaffected by a devastating loss that would leave society utterly devastated should a similar conflict happen today. It is them I will be talking about, not me. Stop thinking about yourself, I was told, very politely (for most writers are very polite). The audience (who more than likely will turn up,) won't be there to hear about you, or your own worries, so think about the stories and how important they are. Get over yourself woman!! (OK, that last one was me...)

So I am trying to lose a little weight and get fit, just to ensure I can stay resilient over the initial weeks after publication (and not to look too hideous in the photos) and I will buy a new outfit, keep clear of the dog (so I don't look down and spot hairs and dribble on my crotch at a vital point in the talk) and take the writer Gill Hoff's sage advice and resist eating before talking; burping is never a good way to show respect for your subject. I know there are writers on here with a lot more experience than me so any more tips will be gratefully received. 

And hopefully it won't be 'me me me' on here from now on....

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Latest Comments

Monika Schott A rickety bridge
18 November 2017
Thanks, Di.
Diane Rampertshammer A rickety bridge
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Pure poetry - very evocative - you are a painter with words..Di
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This is almost like a memory of birth, reviving those sensations, but translated in imagistic terms....
Rosy Cole Lamenting the Lost Art of Conversation
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