It has snowed an incredible amount over the past few days. The globs of snow are perched on weighed down branches. It is beautiful and yet so terrible for my sensitive eyes. The other day it was so white and bright I avoided being near windows all day because it just jarred my vision so badly. Brain surgery recovery at it's finest, I guess. In this picture I was trying to capture the snow formations as well as how blue the sky is all jutted up against the white of the snow. I wrote: "It has been snowing so much the past few days. Today I braved the intense light of the snow to run some errands and grab coffee with a friend. So glad that I did. I need a different environment more than I realized. I needed a visit with a friend even more. Good day."
Forcing Myself to Picture Things
Now that I've realized the issue I'm having with visualizing things, I've been trying to picture things in my head on a very small scale. For example, taking a moment and thinking "purple teddy" and seeing if I can bring up the recognizable features of a beloved old stuffed animal of my daughter's. Thankfully, I can kind of do this but it takes far more concentration than it used to take, It is encouraging to think that those systems seem to be intact, they just have a really heavy door with rusty hinges keeping me from getting to that part of my brain right away. I have to push hard at the moment.
Certain things I can visualize with zero efforts, for example spatial things. Picturing where I am and where I want to go, no problem. I can call up my internal GPS system to lead me to my destination. Thinking about where I put the scissors. I can visualize what drawer those live in (of course I have three teenagers so the actual probability that those scissors are in the drawer are next to nil, but I'm used to that, scotch tape is worse) I was really nervous about losing this ability because before my surgery I was having a lot of memory issues. One night, we were looking for something in our basement. I looked at a box I had just put stuff into the day before and COMPLETELY drew a blank on what was in that box. Despite knowing I had filled it less than 24 hours beforehand. Chilling, that is an awful feeling.
Plus, true confession time - I have ALWAYS had issues with recalling faces of people. Unless I am really really close to you, I have a hard time picturing what you look like in my head. I am way more likely to remember your laugh or the way you walk than your face. The flip side of that is that I am very, very keen with recognizing faces once I see them. I'll often remember the oddest and smallest encounters with people and know that I've met someone in a very different context. I'll sometimes remember their name too. Of course I will recognize you when I see you if you know me. If I don't, I'll totally fake it until I figure it out, so for all intents and purposes, I'll TOTALLY remember who you are.
The Garden in My Mind
Words are far more important than I realized. My brain seems to have gone into overdrive with this lately too. It is almost as if removing that tumour has allowed that word processing area become this lush, verdant garden of phrasing and onomatopoeia. This garden, to me, is incredibly new. Words almost have a more physical presence right now than reality itself. Prior to this surgery, I never REALLY understood the deeper pleasure of reading poetry. I would rush through it, looking for the point of whatever was being written. Not really understanding the choice and omission of words was the point. I get it now. I understand. One word I secretly say over and over in my head lately is thrilling - what a great word. It starts at the base of your spine and gives you goose bumps and chills travelling upwards as you say it. Thrilling is fingers strumming a guitar for the first time. I understand now.
The idea that I can describe this as a lush garden allows me to visualize that humid warmth and the smells or dirt. The feeling of leaves brushing up against my face. I can see the greenest of greens. Left to my pre-seizure methods I could just think of a garden, only lightly using words as a bridge. Now it's almost like I need to go into my internal dictionary and select the most exotic words and string them all together to bring an imaginary world to life in my mind's eye. It is endlessly fascinating and interesting to me. These pictures in my head engage all my senses which I don't recall being the case beforehand.
Before my surgery, I had a lot of people comment that they were amazed I was writing these huge blog posts, which when I read them now, I'm surprised they make sense. They were my only lifeline keeping me afloat - the amount of brain space they took up during construction cannot be taken for granted. The only reason why they are coherent was because each word was a brick. A physical object. Something that might need to be filed down or broken up. Something with weight and a place to go while making a building. Thick globs of mortar were only smoothed on when I knew the bricks fit together okay. I moved the bricks around in my head over and over till they fit. It was very much a mental yet physical process. I understand making things in a physical way and I think my brain was at a loss for understanding the situation. My brain was spinning it's tires and it just borrowed some other part of my brain to make sense of what was going on. Plus, there was that huge tumour pressing against the word part of my brain, causing swelling and reading issues.
The Life Giving Power of Facebook Status Updates
When I noticed that things had grown even stranger with words was the day I had surgery. I woke up in recovery, felt pretty good, all things considered. Spent the afternoon with my husband and then he needed to go home to tend the household. Laying in that hospital bed that night, I went secretly on Facebook (partly to see if my husband had posted an update, partly to see if I could read still) and I started to think, "how on earth am I going to post a good status update?" (Seriously, even prior to surgery, status updates in my mind are an art form unto themselves. What is the perfect balance of humour and catching people off guard? I will spend hours hand crafting the right combination of seven words before posting.) That evening, I decided that my first message from "the other side" of surgery needed to be particularly memorable. I wanted to strike the perfect balance of "I am alive", "I have all my faculties", "I'm still pretty darn funny" and "it takes more than brain surgery to slow me down" - after considerable thought, I realized nothing says still functioning like an entertaining haiku.
I laid there for hours thinking about how to acknowledge some pleasure of being alive, albeit in a hospital. I laid there and in an almost tactile way, rolled each word around my mouth. The weight, the texture... almost the flavour. Comparing words for my little haiku was similar to putting a large Jaw Breaker candy in my mouth and experiencing it's presence as my tongue took off layers of colour and texture. I would then take a different word and like a piece of Hubba Bubba let the sugar ooze between my teeth as it conformed to each chewing motion. Compared to putting a stalk of celery into my mouth and the bracing crunch and non-candy like flavour invading my taste buds.
Once I settled on the topic, it was a matter of trying to add and subtract the correct amount of syllables (which is super hard when you are heavily medicated and just had brain surgery, you should try it sometime to appreciate my craftsmanship). I wanted words that "felt" good flowing into each other and I wanted someone to read it and laugh. Then feel relief, knowing I must be okay. Hours went into building this tiny poem. It quite possibly is the greatest thing I have ever written. I certainly put more work into it than most of my high school homework assignments. Okay, ALL of my high school homework assignments.
The Four-Story Mistake
One of my Christmas presents this year was unbelievably spooky in hindsight. When I was a little girl, I tended to read books that were just a little too far out of my age range. My comprehension just slightly less than ideal. This didn't matter. I loved words and was okay with reading words that I didn't totally understand, and I was a voracious reader. Even now, I like big words and I don't always know how to pronounce them because I've only read them. I figure, go big or go home and am okay with sounding kind of stupid the first time I say a word out loud, it's worth it. (On a side note, please never make fun someone who mispronounces a word. I know from experience how vulnerable that makes someone feel. Kindly repeat it back correctly but don't do it like some sort of learned scholar either. It's commendable that they trusted you enough to risk looking dumb.)
Anyways, when I was around 8 years old, I found a book at my school library that absolutely captivated me - it was filled with descriptive words that had depth and meaning (many of them I had never read before). I also couldn't finish it before the due date because it was a little too hard to take it all in. I didn't understand how the Dewey Decimal system worked but I was really good at remembering where I found things, so I returned the book before it was overdue. Then we had a school break. Time passed. When our next library visit came, imagine my horror as I realized that during the break, they had completely reorganized the library.
Where, oh where would I find this book? I'm not sure I ever really paid any attention to the title or author. I can, to this day, recall the cover of the book and the colour of the spine. I searched endlessly for this book, I was gripped by this story in a way that a book had never captured me before. Then it was gone. Not long after that, we moved. I never forgot the book though. A couple of months ago, I remembered a particular aspect of the book and so I googled it to see if I could figure out what it was called. In moments, I learned that it was titled "The Four-Story Mistake" written by Elizabeth Enright.
Now, any of you who know my family will know that I am married to an extraordinarily thoughtful man. He is constantly amazing me with the tiniest details that he plans out in advance. Half of which I don't notice or absorb completely to appreciate them fully. Anyways, my sweet husband sat on the couch a few months ago and made a note when I said "Man! I FINALLY figured out what that book was called! Now I can finally let it go and get on with my life". He then quietly ordered the book and it was under the tree on Christmas morning so that I could finally see how it ended. Unbeknownst to us, two days later I would have a seizure and it would make reading very difficult and yet, words would absolutely consume me.
This little gift is thoughtful on a different level too. During the past few years, a brain tumour was growing that we were unaware of, slowly pressing up on the part of my brain responsible for language stuff. One thing we did know (and this particularly concerned my husband) was that I was reading less and less. First to go was reading fiction for pleasure. Next it was reading fiction graphic novels. Then it was reading non-fiction opinions and ideas, Then it was reading non-fiction manuals. Then magazines and printed materials. All that was left was my iPad in small doses. (Even in that I had a small love affair with words. I play a game called Alphabear where you make words to beat levels. I might possibly have been stuck on a level right before surgery, and I might have made my husband promise that if I died or something went horribly wrong, that he would finish that stupid level for me if I was unable. I beat it a few days after I got home, thankfully. Take THAT, Alphabear!)
His Christmas present to me was almost prophetic in trying to find a way to re-engage me in the world of books that I used to love. Even if it was a kids book. Then everything happened. One of the things in my recovery that we have been really excited about is that it appears that reading printed material is no problem at all (in small doses). So, I have started reading The Four-Story Mistake. I am thankful that eight year old Michelle seems to have had great taste in books. Almost as great as fourteen year old Michelle having excellent taste in life partners, but I digress. This book is crazy and wonderful and wakes up my senses. I can hardly wait to finish it.