Facebook sucks my brains out

When you look at a herd of cows, do you recognize individual bovine faces? or do they all look pretty much alike?

This must be how we appear to those outside our own particular group: not individuals — not unique — just another (in my case) typical white female of a certain age.

Maybe we cows can tell each other apart, but even a distinctive coat is not enough for a non-cow to see me as a person and not just one of the herd.

But as a particular individual within the group, I am very much aware of what I perceive as my differences from every other member of the herd. I suppose each cow may also fancy herself as unique from all other cows. Do all cows experience the world in the same way? Do all humans?

The reason I ask, reader, is that I suspect it is my own wavering cognitive impairment that allows Facebook to suck my brains out.

I had never intended to sign up for Facebook and I didn’t open a Facebook account entirely voluntarily. A daughter-in-law told me that if I wanted to see photos of my grandchildren they would be posted on Facebook. It was convenient for her to share the pictures with the entire family at once. Did I want tons see the pictures? Guess how fast I set up a Facebook page.

At first I only “friended” family members and I only accepted as Facebook friends people I actually knew outside my computer. But then I made a few acquaintances through the comments section under the posts of friends and I accepted those friend requests, too. Then I set up an account in my maiden name so I could play Scrabble against myself (we are pretty evenly matched) and catch any old school friends who might be looking for me.

Since this was before I’d heard of Pinterest, I set up a third FB page just to repost and save amazing images or thought-provoking quotes or just over-the-top funny stuff.

Before I knew it, I wasn’t only checking Facebook for new pictures of my grandchildren, I was also reading about my husband’s cousin’s Alaskan cruise or a friend’s remodeling project or an update on a former classmate’s surgery or an obituary for someone’s dog. Because of my illness — CFIDS/ME, Fibromyalgia, SEID — I am not out in the real world as much as I would like to be. It can be hard for me to nurture or maintain friendships. These glimpses into the lives of my Facebook friends were a nice connection. And I like looking at pictures of other people’s children and grandchildren.

Of course, for a while politics consumed everyone on Facebook to an even greater extent than it did for the same people just walking around in the real world. Instead of an occasional post pleading a worthy cause, my FB feed was a barrage of political re-posts with little personal news.

I think I lost some FB friends during this onslaught. I don’t keep track, but I think some people unfriended me. When I read racist, bigoted, or factually challenged posts, I called the person on it. I was never nasty and, I hope, I wasn’t self-righteous. I unfriended one nephew myself: he didn’t even make sense and he wasn’t nice.

I am delighted to report that some of the comment threads on my FB feed were genuine exchanges of opinion. Civility reigned. Understanding, if not total agreement, was reached. Respect was burnished. All this in Facebook conversations.

Though the election is over (well, except for that pesky recount), there are still more political posts on Facebook than the normal stuff like cat videos and inspirational prayers and photos of roasted turkeys with cranberry sauce. I skim over the partisan to catch the more personal posts: a new granddaughter for some nice people, a fellow writer’s newest book or new blue car, a movie review, etc. All good.content But maybe there’s too much of it?

When I am tired but still, for some reason, am compelled to check for private messages on Facebook, I find myself reading the public posts, too. And before I know it, I am zoning out. Here’s a music video — with dancing! Here’s an insightful comedy sketch! Oh! these baby possums are SO cute!

Two hours later I am still flipping through the posts, looking for the next good thing. This happens more often than I want to think about.

So here’s my question: Is this just happening to me or is Facebook sucking the brains out of you other cud-chewers, too?


Plan to be Well

Right now, there is a wondrous light show going on just ten minutes away.

I am not there.

Life in a vibrant city offers more people, events, music, art, theater, volunteer opportunities, etc. than even a person in perfect health can keep up with. Life anywhere (assuming basic needs are met) is a rich offering. We all make choices about how we will spend our time. Even if — as we sometimes wish — we could be in two places at once, we still couldn’t experience everything.

I had plans for this afternoon. I ended up in bed.

Like countless others, I have limited energy. CFIDS/ME or Systemic Exertional Intolerance Disorder, or whatever else someone comes up with as a label for my group of symptoms, is a chronic condition with no known cure. Pain, vertigo, tinitus, brain fog. deep fatigue — all are worsened by too much stimulation or effort: Noise, lights, action — or thinking.*

Before this disease, I was curious about everything, high-spirited, and ready to throw myself into a challenge.

Not anymore.

I remember well when I was much sicker than I am now. I couldn’t keep up with the essential duties of a wife and mother. My children suffered. My husband had to pick up the pieces even as he feared for my life. In spite of every test the doctors could think up, there was no diagnosis and thus no prognosis.

I am convinced that the main reason I am doing better is because I have learned to be careful. If I write a time and place in my date book, I leave white space on the dates around it so I can rest up before and recover afterwards.

If I am getting ready to go somewhere and my head hurts too much for me to pick out clothes to put on, I know I don’t have the strength to go. I am still learning to be comfortable with canceling plans when I have to. I still feel guilty about it when it happens. If I’m not willing to take a chance on having to cancel, I can’t make plans at all.  I require a lot of down time — but too much time alone is not good for me either. It’s worth the effort to spend time with good-hearted, engaged people.

This morning, my plan was to stay home before joining the Quaker quilting group this afternoon. I did stay home. But an old friend telephoned.

highquality_pictures_of_ancient_english_letters_170435Except for a few months on a college campus, Anne and I have never lived in the same town. We met in a poetry class and our friendship grew stronger through countless letters, occasional phone calls, and rare visits. Anne is a cancer survivor, several times over. A few months ago, she left voice mail on my phone to let me know she can no longer see well enough to write letters. This was a blow to me. I can only imagine how much worse it is for her, who wrote letters to everyone, often.

It can be difficult for me to make friends or to maintain friendships. I especially treasure the friends who have stuck by me. So if Anne calls, which is still not often, I will answer the phone if I can. We had a long conversation this morning. And afterwards, I went back to bed. I slept through my quilting group. Later, I apologized to the quilters via group email.

Of course, it wasn’t the phone conversation that did me in. I did too much yesterday — met with friends for coffee in the morning, worked with my friend/collaborator on our Knitting Nana novel in the afternoon and then played with the grandchildren. No downtown. Overstimulated, I didn’t sleep well.

Yes, I am not as sick as I was. But I’m not as well I’d like to be or I’d be at that light show right now.

Oh, well. Life is still wonderful.

There’s always a next time. Maybe next time I’ll plan better, not be done in, and I’ll see that light show.


*E.g. I could think hard about the punctuation in this sentence but then I’d be too worn out to finish typing the rest of this post.

Keys and chords

When someone sees my piano for the first time, they usually say, “Oh! Do you play?” and I usually answer, “No. I practice.”

Once, during a visit, a friend watched me at the piano. “Are you having fun?” she asked me, skeptically. It didn’t look like it and it still doesn’t look like it, but yes, I am. The idea of one day being able to play music — which is so much more than just hitting the right notes — is enough to keep me going.

When I was growing up, I envied my classmates who took piano lessons. Kids who lived in normal homes (I naively believed there was such a thing) played piano. And there was even a piano, of sorts, in our home.  So I asked for lessons.

Other people had pretty little spinets in their houses. The piano at our house was an old upright, painted a flat black, with thumbtacks on the hammers. It lurked in the corner, waiting for those rare occasions when my Dad’s friends would get together at our house for a jam session. Daddy would dust off his stand-up bass* and his friend Bud would take his seat on the piano stool while Bottle Curtis moistened his clarinet reed between his lips. Someone might have a a trumpet, someone else a guitar, and someone, or two, sang. But usually the band played jazz down at 51 West Main Street at Bud’s bar,  Weber’s.


 Weber’s bar was fashioned in Cincinnati and shipped

in parts to Shelby, Ohio, where it still serves the public.


Bud Weber’s own piano, another old upright, sat right inside the front door of his business, its back to the street. Bud used to joke that the piano had termites. Turned out, it did. The  sound board crumbled around the same time its owner was eaten away by drink. (Or that’s the way my father told it, anyway, but then, he never let the truth get in the way of a good story.)

Daddy grew up in Norristown, PA, with a grand piano in the living room. My aunt played and sang, but I never heard her. My Gram put on concerts for my brother and me, singing silly songs and rolling grapefruit up and down the keyboard to play accompaniment.  The last I knew of that once distinguished piano, it was dusty and neglected, the substantial front legs chewed by Winston, the English bulldog. My uncle — motto: Real musicians play by ear! –has a beautiful grand piano in his home now. He also has a bulldog. Smedley does not gnaw on the piano. In my parents’ home, our mutt Gigi never even tried to attack that old black upright.

My brother and I used to mess around on the piano but only when my father wasn’t home. We were always careful to allow him the undisturbed quiet he expected from us, even though, during a nap, his own snores would often wake him up.

I had a few informal lessons from a friend of my parents, but that didn’t last, so I made sporadic attempts to teach myself from the John Thompson’s Piano Book  I retained. I could hit the right notes, but I couldn’t get it to sound like music.  51mcwggmpel

When fifth grade band came around, my grandmother sent my uncle’s clarinet for me. Real effort was required to get a sound out of  this horn; it was much easier to blow through one of the plastic clarinets rented by the other girls (for some reason the clarinet section was always all female). But I persevered and was eventually rewarded with a rich, layered tone. By high school, I played well enough to perform at the state level in woodwind trios and quartets. When the parts wove together just so, I was lifted out of myself, above the mundane, into timeless delight.

Like my father and my uncle, my brother couldn’t read music. He played trumpet by memorizing fight songs for the marching band and spinning  Al Hirt records over and over until he could reproduce them note for note. Me? I was confined to the written music. It was drilled into me that my brother was the musician, not me. No one ever invited me to join a pick-up band and I wouldn’t have known what to do if they had.

To play clarinet takes a strong diaphragm and a firm embouchure. It requires daily practice. Once I left high school, I didn’t keep up with it.

When my first child was just starting grade school, a friend was moving far away, somewhere mountainous out west, and she gave us her piano. It wasn’t the first time my husband moved one of those heavy old uprights and — bless his heart — it surely wasn’t the last. (I have lost track of how many times he moved even that one piano.) When the piano tuner took a look at it, he told us it wasn’t worth fixing. Since we didn’t have the money to buy a piano, I told him: “It’s this piano or it’s no piano.” So he spent most of two days working on it. When he sat down to play it for the first time, he was thrilled. It had a beautiful, full-bodied tone.

My husband and I made sure our children had piano lessons if they wanted them and three of them did, but only our daughter stuck with it. One year for my Christmas present she performed Scott Joplin for me! Recently, she brought that same book with her when she visited and played a few of those lively tunes.

When she first started taking lessons, I was busy, busy, busy — producing her brothers, taking care of them, volunteering, writing, etc. I thought I had plenty of time to take lessons myself — later, when the boys were older and my life took on a more predictable routine.

But “yuppie flu” felled me before the youngest boy was even in kindergarten. I thought I was temporarily sidetracked, but that train will never run fast or reliably again.

So, no. I don’t play piano. But I’ve been practicing for several years now. My teacher would rather I played at recitals, but I don’t. And she’s been flexible when I cancel a lesson less than an hour before because I’m too dizzy to drive to her house or too brain-fogged to recognize the notes or figure out what to wear. And arthritis has interfered with my progress. Still, my fingers can now span an octave and my thumbs cooperate on scales. Of course, I can’t do this every day. Some days I can’t read the music. This morning, pain made it hard to sit up. Sometimes I practice throughout the day, in ten minute sets. Some days I can’t even do that much.

I had anticipated that practicing piano would be like an extended, focused meditation, an experience similar to what Margery Abbott describes in “Dispatches from a Week of Piano Practice” (in the September 2016 issue of Friends Journal). But M.A. plays. I practice. And much of my practice is the physical part: shoulders relaxed, elbows up, wrists loose, hands curled, etc.

I will never meet my uncle’s standards: I can’t improvise. And I may never reach my own standards. I have yet to play even the simplest assignment all the way through without a mistake. But I’m practicing more difficult compositions and, every once in a while, I’m rewarded with a few measures of real music and I’m lifted with delight.



*Daddy claimed  Bill Haley, of Bill Haley and the Comets, borrowed this bass to record  Rock Around the Clock, because Daddy’s bass had a superior sound which came across better in those early recording studios. But Daddy’s other stories had him making a total break with Bill Haley, maybe before this song was ever recorded.

No post today – weather on the way

61u7hsheyzlI am down but not out for good!

While people on the southeast coast are evacuating for Hurricane Matthew, I am dealing with weather aggravated symptoms brought on by the same storm. I expect, as the storm travels north, I will feel worse. But unlike a house hit by the storm, I will shed the worst symptoms as the storm dissipates. And unlike those fleeing the course of the storm, I am waiting it out with all the comforts of home — including electricity (not to be taken for granted, as many in Florida can tell you today).

Since even mild mental exertion hurts, I’ll probably continue reading The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place to pass the time.


P.S. Cover of book mentioned in comments:


And, yes — I do like the artwork! Reminds me of a silk wedding dress I once embroidered with ferns.




Books: the Obvious and the Undercover*


Books out in the open and books inside a Kindle case.


There are not so many books on my side of the bed. Only five.

This is because our house was built in 1950 and our bedroom is not a large room. The bed itself is an old-fashioned ¾ size, extended lengthwise for my 6’2” husband. Only a small table fits between my side of the bed and the wall and it only holds around five books at a time while still leaving space for a cup of tea.

Here are my current five books:

  • The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
  • Far More Terrible For Women: Personal Accounts of Women in Slavery
  • The Quakers, A Very Short Introduction by Ben Pink Dandelion (you are getting the author’s name because I enjoy telling you his name)
  • A Fort of Nine Towers, An Afghan Family Story
  • The New Revised Standard Edition of The Green Bible

And doesn’t that make me look like a serious reader? Since nobody ever sees this pile of books but me, I am only fooling myself.

I’m only halfway through three of these volumes, just beginning the fourth, and open The Green Bible mostly for reference. (Can you hear me blowing the dust off?)

Stories of enslavement can be hard to read.

And I haven’t made it though the rape scene of a ten-year-old Afghan boy. (As long as I don’t read it, maybe it never happened.) And I was doing so well before that. Qais Akbar Omar’s prose is flawless, a joy to read. I am sure he will handle this difficult scene with grace and beauty but I can wait to find out.

In front of this pile of books, on the coaster waiting for that cup of tea, is my Kindle Paperwhite, hooked up to its umbilical cord and safe in its needlepoint case. Here is where I keep my light reading, the books that entertain me when I am immobilized with the fevers, aches or insomnia of CFIDS. I am grateful that when I can’t write myself, I am seldom so ill that I cannot read.

Currently, magically concealed behind the Kindle screen, there are historical romances by Mary Blalogh and Sarah MacLean and Marion Chesney. In Chesney’s other incarnation as M.C. Beaton there are cozy mysteries. And here’s The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe (recommended by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) and a book from Angie Sage’s Magyk series. And here’s the intriguing Transit in B-flat by Joeseph Erhardt, Fearless Leader of the Rich Writers’ Critique Group.

And oh, look! here’s have a sample of McDonough’s William Tecumsah Sherman. I read an intriguing review of that book somewhere and, when I didn’t find it in the library, thought I’d get acquainted with it before making a serious commitment that involves money.

There are also, sometimes, magazines beside the bed; rug hooking or quilting or mixed media magazines with articles that feed my dreams. But not today.

Less you might think me an ascetic, I will admit to more books in the bedroom than these few. There are books on the other side of the bed (which will not be listed because they aren’t mine since) and books on top of my chest of drawers and an actual bookcase on top of my husband’s dresser.

Of course, there are books, magazines, manuscripts, etc. in every other room of the house, too. And more books inside Little Free Library 3966 in front of our house, which itself is featured in the book Little Libraries, Big Hearts.

So, what books are beside your bed?

(*Books undercover are often also under the covers.)


A Smarter Phone


Above: One of these is not a phone. It just thinks it is.



My  reliable red flip phone did exactly what I expected it to do: it made phone calls.

But here’s what it didn’t do that I wasn’t expecting to need: easy texting.

Turns out, lots of people like to text and some of them text to me. To answer a text, I had to tap this key three times and that key twice and it took forever and my arthritic thumbs were sore! Not to mention (but I will) how frustrating this is and what confusion results when I’m in the wispy clutches of brain fog and anything and everything is already too much effort. When I wasn’t up to making a phone call because just the thought of interacting with a real person was overwhelming, texting on this flip phone was almost as taxing.

So I got a smart phone.

This phone is smarter than I am even when I’m at my most alert. E.g., I think I’m talking on the phone but the phone decides this would be an excellent time to take a video of my feet. OR — I think I’m answering my phone but my phone decides to show me little black and grey boxes of setting options.

Expletives were emitted (and not by the phone!) during these frustrating interruptions to my intentions. And my husband would say:

Why don’t you check the manual?

If there even was a manual, I wouldn’t want to check it. I just want to answer the phone! I DON’T WANT TO TAKE LESSONS IN HOW TO ANSWER THE PHONE!

Why don’t you check the manual?

So these days I’m getting along much better with my phone. We’ve had a while to get acquainted. Of course, I’ve had to give a little, modify my approach and pick up on the little hints my phone gives me about how it wants to be treated. In return, I get a little thrill every time I successfully answer the phone.

And the phone is kind enough to beautifully display photos of my grandchildren at the swipe of a thumb (such a useful feature when some kind-hearted person wants to show me endless photos of their cats). My phone will cooperate by taking pictures of an interesting bench for sale at a junk shop or kids rubber boots at a yard sale (Sent to DIL with Are these the right size?).

The phone is less cooperative when I want to play Pokemon Go with a grandson. It sulks and gets glitchy. I think it considers Pokemon Go beneath its dignity or maybe not part of its job description. Playing Pokemon Go is certainly way beyond any job description I would have ever written for a phone!

In fact, “phone” is not a good name for this device. Even “smart phone” isn’t sufficient. “Device” is more accurate but less descriptive. If you strung all the words that fit together to make a new noun to name this object in its full glory, you’d probably be speaking German and people would get up and leave the room before you were even finished enunciating all the syllables.

Now that the device and I are better friends, I am a better Friend (Quaker) because I am not cursing as often.

And my husband? Well, he decided to get his own smart phone (for reasons I won’t go into except to say that his black flip phone was left on the patio overnight during a thunderstorm). The phone came in the mail in a clean-looking box with a dock and a charging cord and a little folder explaining how to activate your account. Just like mine did.

And now, every time I hear my dear husband curse because he’s missed another call or he can’t access his voice mail, I oh-so-sweetly say to him:

Why don’t you check the manual?