One Step At a Time, One Book At a Time

This past weekend, I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Festival of Books is a huge, two-day, annual event held on the campus of USC (University of Southern California). 

Years ago, before my son was born, I went to the Festival every year. Back then it was held on the campus of UCLA (University of California Los Angeles.) 

I attended the Festival last year for the first time in many years. There was a certain thrill and energy that came with being surrounded by all things book-related, at attending an event that is a true celebration of books and authors. 

This year, though, I really wasn’t sure if I should go or not. Because I haven’t been feeling well lately. Because my pain level has been high and my energy level has been low. 

That’s the hard part for me — deciding when to push myself and when to hold back and admit that my body needs rest.

The truth was, I really wanted to go. I didn’t want to stay home because I was worried about my pain or the heat. I wanted to prove that I’m still capable of being out in the world, doing things I feel passionately about, not letting my illness completely dictate my life. 

I tried to make it as easy and stress-free as possible for myself by not attending any panel discussions or book signings. I didn’t want to have to worry about being in a particular place at a particular time. 

I simply strolled around the Festival, wearing my mask and sunhat, and doing my best to be present and enjoy the experience.  

I admit — I did start to daydream about what it would be like to be an author with my own exhibition area, selling copies of my memoir. Immediately I thought of giving out small, wrapped candies to those who stopped at my table. (Starburst and Hershey’s Kisses came to mind, though the Kisses might melt in the heat. Jolly Ranchers could be another possibility.)

I walked around, I took pictures, I picked up books, chatted with some authors, and bought three books, even though I have more than a dozen books at home, just waiting for me to read them. 

I loved being there. But, (you knew there was a but coming) it was incredibly hard on my body. It took me about 15 minutes to walk from the parking structure to the exhibition area. Plus, I had parked on level 5 which meant I would ordinarily take the elevator down to the ground level. However, eager attendees were crowding onto the elevator each time it stopped at 5, and I will not ride in a super-crowded elevator. (During my teaching years, I once was stuck in the school elevator for 55 minutes one morning.) So I walked down five flights of stairs. (Thankfully when it was time for me to leave, no one else was waiting for the elevator so I rode it up to parking level 5.)

When I felt my speed decreasing, when I found myself searching for a place to sit and rest in the shade, I knew it was time to go. That’s when the mask comes in handy. No one can see me talking to myself as I retraced my steps back to the parking area. One step at a time. Okay, you can do this. 

Am I glad I went? Yes. 

But I’m also sad. Because I miss the old days, the years I could just go out and do something without weighing all the possible risks. When I didn’t have to worry about having a pain-hangover the day (or days) after a particularly strenuous activity. 

I Am Alive With Creativity

I have slowly been making my way through The Healing Journal: Guided Prompts and Inspiration for Life with Illness by Emily Suñez.

This is a book that you don’t read all at once. You “savor the flavor,” as we say in our family. You pay attention to each beautiful illustration and each writing prompt. (I last wrote about The Healing Journal in a December blog post. You can click here to read it.)

The book is much too pretty for me to write in. Instead, I use the statements in the book as prompts for my daily five-minute writing exercise. 

If you’re not familiar with it, my five-minute writing time is exactly what it sounds like. You set a timer and you write for five minutes. That’s it. Sometimes I am surprised by what I write during those five minutes. Something comes out on the paper that astonishes me, delights me, saddens me. 

Sometimes I know those five-minutes were just the beginning of something more to come. I feel as if there is more to explore and so I do. Several of my published personal essays were born from my five-minute writing exercises. But sometimes, the five-minutes were just that. Five minutes that are done and over with, that produced writing I won’t ever return to.

Last week, it was a case of me wanting to further explore what I began in my son’s partially-used composition book from last year that I now use for my five minute exercises. It was this statement:

“I am alive with creativity.”

I am alive with creativity. I write — in some way, shape, or form — each day. Sometimes it’s a blog post, sometimes it’s an article for, sometimes it’s just my five-minute writing exercise. 

What I realized as my timer counted backwards was that my definition of creativity has changed over time. It has broadened and expanded in ways I didn’t realize, until I answered this prompt.

I surprised myself by listing all the ways I am creative, all the ways I demonstrate my creativity. My garden. The way I display the books on my bookcase. The way I use stickers to decorate the envelopes for the letters I mail to my pen pal. The flowers on my dining table and the candles in my writing room. The earrings and necklace I select to wear each day. 

Many days, lately in particular, it’s easy to think of the glass-half-empty parts of my life — the unsatisfying physical therapy appointments, the prescription medications, the pain that leaves me crying when I step out of the shower. 

But my life is more than that. I am more than that. 

Dear Readers, I’d love to know about your creativity. Tell me about it in the comments! 

Describe Yourself — Easier Said than Done, At Least for Me

The other night at dinner, I asked my fifteen-year-old son a question.

What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

I was inspired to ask, because I’m reading Tara Schuster’s book Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, From Someone Who’s Been There and earlier that day had read the chapter titled “If You Can Play Nice with Others, Play Nice with Yourself: Do One King Thing for Yourself on the Daily.” (By the way, I’m loving this book; more to come on this book in a future blog post or two.)

In the first paragraph of that chapter, Ms. Schuster tests her readers:

How nice are you to yourself? Don’t know? Let’s try a test. Right now, write down ten things you like about yourself. Go ahead and use the margins of the book.” 

I didn’t write in the margins of the book, though plenty of pages are marked with sticky notes and yellow highlighter. But I did pause in my reading and try to mentally list ten things I like about myself. It’s a hard thing to do.

So at dinner that night, I decided to try out an easier version on my son. 

What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

Of course, he first wanted to know why I was asking, and I told him I was just curious, based on something I had read in my book.

My high school-freshman-son took a few seconds before replying.

“Creative. Unique. Likable.” 

It was quick and easy for him. And I love the three adjectives he chose! It just made me feel like that was one of those moments when my husband and I each earned a little pat on the back, an acknowledgement from the universe that we’re doing a good job as parents. 

I’ve been trying to think of my three adjectives. It’s definitely harder for me to do, than it was for my son. 

So far I’ve got, “neat, kind, punctual.” 

Another time I came up with, “passionate, friendly, literary.”

How about you, dear readers? Feel free to share your three adjectives in the comments.

No Rest for the Weary

I stood in my hallway the other afternoon, leaning against the wall, doing my physical therapy homework.

And I started crying. 

Not because of pain. Not because the stretch was overly difficult. 

I started crying because sometimes I’m just so tired of it all.

I’m tired of the bottles of prescription medication and supplements.

I’m tired of the doctors’ appointments written on our family calendar hanging in the kitchen.

I’m tired of watching a basketball game on television with a heating pad on my left leg.

I’m tired of waking up each morning and having my first footsteps feel and sound more like shuffles — heavy and slow and laborious.

I’m tired of lifting up my pant leg, trying to see if my leg looks different. Or swollen. Or bruised. 

It all feels like so much work. 

Living with a chronic disability is — a lot. Life-changing. Expensive. Anxiety-provoking. Wearing. Uncertain. Scary. 

My son is on his spring break this week. A week off from early morning alarms, five-minute passing periods, morning announcements, dismissal bells, crowded hallways, and nightly homework. 

But when you live with a chronic disability there is never time off.