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?

 

Sock Monkeys I Have Known

I just texted my daughter: Give me a topic for a blog post — any topic. Sock Monkeys I have known? My favorite neighbor? Vegetables?

The truth is I couldn’t think of anything to write about because I am that worn out. I look normal, but then there is a reason Chronic Fatigue is one of the “invisible illnesses.” And if you ask me what I’ve done today I might remember washing a couple of windows, practicing piano, doing some laundry.I can remember that Emily Kimball, the Aging Adventurer, came by to have me trim her hair.

But I feel like I haven’t done anything for days. In spite of the perfectly gorgeous fall weather –red maple leaves against a cloudless blue sky, warm sunshine, butterflies on the just-about-done-for mums — I’m not quite connected to the world.

Let’s blame it on the election.

For example, after Emily arrived with a gift of unidentified leafy greens (not arugula, not watercress, etc.) and I was setting out the scissors and the clippers, she asked me how I was. I told her I was tired from getting swept up in the giant wave of emotional reaction following the presidential election. Swept up, dragged across the sand, and spit out limp on the shore! I was tired and there just couldn’t be anything left to say about any of it.

Then we BOTH proceeded to talk about the election for the next twenty minutes.

It’s no wonder I’m tired to the bone.

I’m not as bad as I could be. For example, I can make a decision about what clothes to wear and then put them on. I am keeping up with my morning exercises of making the bed and fetching the newspaper from wherever it has landed in the front yard. Then, usually, I practice piano. But the rest of my day seems to drift by, untouched by human hands, wasted. Rationally I know that I may have talked to someone or gone somewhere or done something, but it feels like I’ve spent the day doing nothing except reading novels. (I’ve read three or four or more in the last week.)

So I don’t have much to write about because I’m floating somewhere outside my own life.

So — what about those sock monkeys?

The first sock monkey I ever met was made by my friend Charlotte Henson. She brought him to the hospital for my new baby boy. Except, my baby was a girl, not a boy, but Charlotte had to rely on word of mouth for the birth announcement because the Shelby Daily Globe would not print the usual birth announcement for an unmarried woman. We removed the felt vest and little bowtie on that monkey and I made her a dress. A gender specific sock monkey seemed important at the time. She was Henson Monkey, named after her maker.

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Favorite book of a favorite grandson or two.

Henson became Anna-baby’s fast friend. When I went back to college, Anna brought Henson along with us. And there Anna and Henson played with blond, curly-haired Brian and his sock monkey who lived across the courtyard of married students’ housing on Mill Street. (I was the only not-married person to live in the complex.) Those sock monkeys got quite the workout on the exterior stairs and balconies of the apartments.

It was there on campus that I met the man who eventually made an honest woman out of me (as they used to say, and without irony). I stitched up sock monkeys for the first two of our boys but by the time my little girl’s third brother was born, she made the sock monkey for him. (We thought he was going to be a she, so Leslie Monkey wore a dress. She kept the name and the dress.)

Leslie Monkey and her fellows led interesting lives. Our middle son had the stuffed animals perform in a rock band. His sock monkey, Fred, was the lead singer. When the stuffed animals played baseball, Fred was the pitcher.

Over the years, with the help of my son-in-law’s keen insight, we’ve come to understand sock monkeys in general as sneaky tricksters. (Leslie Monkey is the exception.) Never buy insurance from a Sock Monkey!

These days my daughter makes sock monkeys for the grandchildren. I make the baby quilts.  But I always have sock monkey materials on hand and there’s no telling how many I’ve stuffed for other babies. Once I even made miniature sock monkey portraits for myself and my mother and a few friends. And I needlepointed a piano bench cushion with sock monkeys for my daughter and her husband. I’ve sent out sock monkey Christmas cards. I printed kitchen curtains with sock monkey linoleum blocks.  The same design worked on onesies.

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Is Santa Sock Monkey going down the chimney with that sack of toys? or coming UP

In 1999, I etched sock monkeys onto glass coffee mugs for my daughter’s Christmas present and she made me a millennium monkey commemorative plate. Once, Charlotte made a miniature flying sock monkey for me. Another friend gave me a sock monkey mug. A quilting friend gave me sock monkey fabric. And our favorite Christmas decoration is the sock monkey Santa snow globe my daughter made. Our son-in-law even wrote a sock monkey Christmas carol!

 

 

I am not a collector and I don’t collect sock monkeys. You wouldn’t come into my house and say, “Oh! This woman has a thing about sock monkeys.” You wouldn’t even notice at all.

And I can prove that sock monkeys are sneaky.

They’ve snuck right into this blog!

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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.

How to Save the World?

“Start where you are.

Use what you have.

Do what you can.”

Arthur Ashe

Before I got knocked flat by the “yuppie flu” (now more respectfully, if still problematically, titled Systemic Exertional Intolerance Disorder) I was an ambitious person.

In high school I answered the call from a favorite AM Radio DJ to collect money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. I organized other kids to collect donations door-to-door and street-by-street. We covered the whole town. At the end of the day, our kitchen table was covered with neatly stacked bills and columns of coins. As a reward, participants took a chartered bus to Cleveland to a live concert with the popular DJ.

While I was pregnant with my third child I organized other volunteers in Scioto county, Ohio’s largest county, to collect signatures for a state-wide ballot initiative. Collecting enough signatures for a bottle bill turned out to be relatively easy. Nobody likes trash and  a deposit on containers was a proven method to cut down on roadside litter and broken glass. Several other states already had a bottle bill and the facts spoke for themselves.

But once our bottle bill was securely on the ballot, those facts didn’t speak loud enough to drown out the flood of money that poured into the state in opposition. The widespread support we encountered while collecting signatures evaporated under the barrage of expensive radio and TV and print ads we couldn’t match. The bottle bill would destroy jobs! Factories would close! And prices on soda and beer would go through the roof! It’s a communist plot!

Okay. Maybe nobody made that last claim but, the bottlers and beverage producers smeared proponents of the bill as a mess of dirty-hippies-who-aren’t-like-you. It was the most expensive ballot initiative (campaign?) in the state up until that time. And, of course, we proponents lost, Big Time. And, of course, soon after that glass bottle factories closed and truck drivers lost their jobs when the beverage industry turned to plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Prices went up. And trash increased exponentially.

But I digress. My intent here is to illustrate my appetite for projects to Save the World! (or at least a part of it).  I was a big donor to the Mothers’ Milk Bank Club (started by bereaved mother and nurse Laura Taylor) and decorated and furnished a large doll house for the club raffle several years in a row. My husband and I were key members in a storefront food coop. If there was a local anti-war rally I was there with my kids and a sign. Etc.

Even after my fourth baby, I was confident there were lots more good fights out there for me, and, as soon as my children were a little older, I’d take on The World!

This didn’t happen. My illness destroyed my expectations. I can no longer be the kind of ambitious that talks to lots of people, remembers their names, encourages them to get involved, and gives them marching orders. It makes me tired just to think about it. These days, on a good day, I might manage to blow a fanfare or wave a banner.

You who have your own limitations, especially invisible illnesses, know the adjustments necessary to self-image. We live in a culture that values achievement and high income.  One where “What do you do?” is a common rejoinder after the exchange of names. Those of us who don’t do much or earn any money are stung by the assumption behind the question.

So what do I do with the embers of my burning desire to change the world?

As the joke goes:

Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time.

So I nibble on the problems of the world. When I can get my thoughts together, I write letters to the editor. I make sure that we take advantage of our relatively secure financial position and donate small monthly amounts to support non-profits. I am a faithful — if fitful– penpal to several incarcerated persons. I add my small bit to committees at our Quaker meeting. I compost. I recycle. I can still participate in the small things that, in the aggregate, make a difference.

Today, in this unseasonable November, I am tending caterpillars. I find black swallowtail caterpillars where the butterflies laid eggs on the carrots, fennel and parsley I planted to attract them. I confine the caterpillars to jars and feed them until they form chrysalises. I’ll keep the chrysalises safe over the winter so the new butterflies can emerge in the spring. Then the cycle will start over again.mermaid-1_1

Linoleum block reduction print/JBH

Not all of these caterpillars would make it to adulthood without intervention. Years ago, I  watched them on the parsley and wondered why I’d see a dozen one day and only three the next. Do birds eat them in spite of the foul-smelling orange horns they sprout when startled? Spiders?

A butterfly flitting by can lift the heart. And there are fewer of them than I remember as a child. As more gardeners use fewer pesticides and herbicides and plant more of the plants that butterflies need, we will see more butterflies. And my little guys and gals will be out there repopulating the world, lifting hearts wherever they go.

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“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

It is no small thing to lift a heart.

 

Internal Pressure

Our neighbor keeps a rain gauge on the fence marking our shared property line. After a light rain, or after the sort of deluge we’ve been subjected to this last season, this gauge supplies a neutral topic of conversation, devoid of politics and stripped of world view. (His front yard sports a Trump-Pence sign: our side yard, judging by its blue and white sign, hasn’t given up on Bernie Sanders.) As long as neither side of the fence brings up global climate change, an observation on inches of rain per hour makes for a pleasant topic for a chat across the fence.

Though I’d like to, I usually can’t use the weather as an excuse for the state of my house. The one clear exception is tree pollen season — you can’t clean while that’s going on. But then one day you look out the window at your car and see the windshield isn’t yellow and then you know you’ve lost your good excuse and you have to clean the house.

But the rest of the year, I can’t blame the weather for a dirty house. Of course, as a person with a cluster of disabling symptoms aggravated by plunges and leaps in barometric pressure, any thunderstorm can bring me down and when I can’t do much of anything, housework is not an option. But that presumes I was even planning to clean.

 

plastic_bottle_at_14000_feet_9000_feet_and_1000_feet_sealed_at_14000_feet

Plastic bottle sealed at 14,000 feet (4267 m) on Mauna Kea observatory on the island of Hawaii, taken down to 9000 feet (2743 m) and then 1000 feet (305 m), where the change in air pressure had crushed it.

 

It’s true that I am the kind of person who straightens pictures frames as I walk through a room and sorts out the junk as I pull the mail from the mail box. I line up the shoes in my closet and square up the magazines. The knowledge of objects in one room that belong in another room causes me distress. Disorder is a kind of grief.

However, I can easily ignore a certain amount of dust and dirt. I put off vacuuming, scrubbing and  dusting, and oiling furniture and Windexing glass until all of a sudden (it seems) I can write my grocery list in the dust on the buffet and I’m catching cobwebs in my hair when I walk through doorways.

I don’t like cleaning. There are so many more interesting things to do and so little time (and energy) to do them. Now that my husband is retired he does the vacuuming. But my part still requires a lot of moving around, and if I move around too much, I wear out quickly. People like me, with CFIDS or Fibromyalgia, have little or no stamina for exertion of any kind. If I clean, I probably won’t write or practice piano on the same day.

So it makes sense that I want to live in a clean, neat house AND I don’t want to clean it.

What would be useful around here is a sort of dust and dog hair gauge. It could be attached to the baseboard, say, and when it measured a certain size of dust bunny — one inch? two inches? ankle high? — I’d know it was time to clean. The dust couldn’t sneak up on me.

But we don’t have a dust gauge, so we’ll just have to continue setting our cleaning schedule the way we do now: Invite company and clean for two days before they show up.

How do you decide when it’s time to clean?

Or maybe you don’t?

Books: the Obvious and the Undercover*

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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

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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?