Sufjan Stevens once made a joke about how he was going to write an album for every state in the union. That he then followed this by writing both about Illinois and Michigan seemed to imply it wasn’t one. For those holding out hope it might still happen, his latest record is probably quite the tease.

Having lived here my whole life, I forget that Oregon isn’t really like other places. I mean, it’s like Washington of course, but most of our country is not made up of places that have ocean coastline, mountain ranges, high desert, temperate rain forest, and prairie all within a few hour’s drive of each other. It has for some people achieved somewhat mythical status and stands out as remarkably well-represented as a mecca for nature-lovers, adventurers, and seekers of peace alike.

What brought Sufjan Stevens to Oregon wasn’t nearly so romantic or whimsical. Reunited with his estranged mother through the efforts of her second husband, Stevens spent time here in fits a spurts as a child until the relationship once again deteriorated. “Carrie & Lowell” recalls that time and place while simultaneously probing his grief in the face of Carrie availing herself of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act. There is a candid intimacy to this music that conveys a sense of emotional and visceral locus more powerfully than almost any I have ever encountered.

Such A Long Time Ago

I concede, my own degree of susceptibility to this record might be fairly apparent. The aching eloquent lament of a grown person with mommy-issues recalling a dappled Oregon childhood has some pretty obvious resonance for me. That truth notwithstanding my daughter, who isn’t burdened with these same concerns, also found the album all but irresistible. We listened to it on our way to Bend last weekend and she was humming one of my favorite tracks for the better part of the following day until she asked if we could listen to the entire record again on the way home.

It is, as all my favorite albums are, a suite of music. Each song is deliberately linked in melody, theme, and tone to every other. It has the feeling of a progression through a landscape both internal and peripheral. Stevens’ characteristically gentle guitar and vocals perfectly evoke the longing, sorrow, and grief he explicitly acknowledges inspired his songwriting. That being said, it is patently not a sad record. The melodies and message are both infused with a certain weightlessness that rarely accompanies music about death, loss, and regret. When he says “we’re all gonna die,” over and over, it feels not like a condemnation, but a reassuring statement of fact.

The music rambles all over its vast setting. From the Tillamook burn to the Sea Lion Caves. From Cottage Grove to The Dalles, each song speaks to some corner of Oregon and of Stevens’ memory in concert. In doing, it never forfeits a sense of connectedness within that scope. Much like the state in which it is set, varied though the conditions might be, it remains bound together by shared inevitabilities, circumstances, and space. Though I’m still convinced he has no intention of completing the task of an album for every state, Sufjan Stevens has rendered a beautifully realized offering for Oregon, nevertheless.

Highly recommended.

adjective

  1. Having patches of black and white or of other colors; parti-colored.
  2. Composed of incongruous parts

noun

  1. A piebald animal, especially a horse.

 

We are none of us promised consistency. In many ways, this is probably for the best. 

The human knack for adaptation being what it is, we pivot at some point between experiencing a comforting reassurance in the face of predictability to a stifling sense of ennui which is the ultimate suffocation and demise of the soul.

So, you know, vive la difference!

I’ve been playing with this notion visually for a while. In the two places I spend the most time I have been creating a graphic representation of outcomes I want to manifest in my life. There is less distinction in the messages, admonitions, and tender reminders I am putting under my notice than I would have predicted.

All The Livelong Day

All The Livelong Day

I see both instances declare happiness is a choice, work is requisite, and compassionate attention most desirable. How they are stitched together, and in what proportion each theme appears differs based on the setting and focus of my visioning, but I find the consistency – with crucial differences – augments my understanding and encourages their integration more thoroughly.

Where The Heart Is

Where The Heart Is

The colors are similar but they ramble and riot each in their own particular way.

I started out no less than 5 times, over the course of the weekend, to run. I knew it would be a challenge – as it always is with the differing elevation and climate in Bend – but I was determined to get some miles under my feet nevertheless. Though the medication I am taking will inevitably make me puffy, I have decided I need not become soft, thereby. Moreover, training for the Blerch and a potential half-marathon in October, I know that running in varying conditions is both good for me generally and imperative to any race since I won’t have the luxury of meticulously curated route selection.

Previous attempts at running in central Oregon had not gone well. Even at times when I was in a good and stable pattern covering decent distances, as soon as I’d set out I’d be forcefully reminded that there is just more air in the air at sea level where I live than there is at 3625 ft. Usually about the middle of my first mile, I’d be stricken with the feeling that my lungs were like to simultaneously explode and collapse and I’d stutter to a halt, ashamed of the ill-founded confidence I’d developed running in Portland where the oxygen rich atmosphere makes a person soft and air greedy.

Couple this with the strong preference to run somewhere scenic which would on its face seem a small thing to ask; literally ringed with mountains, rivers and lakes as Bend is. Instead I was confronted with a surprisingly vexing scenario wherein I set out on what appeared to be a picturesque gently winding trail that would follow the river for miles, but was instead quickly dumped unceremoniously out on the street through neighborhoods I can only describe as “High-Desert-Ant-Farm-Chic”

This time I was armed with a route map for the Deschutes River Trail, and I thought with a clearly marked legend, I’d be able to plan my course such that I needn’t ever hit the street. More, I’d be able to get the lead out in the most scenic possible setting to forestall too much notice of my lungs fighting to extract as much oxygen from the scanty amount present in the air. Assured by my host the trail “totally flat” along the river, I felt that would increase my odds of getting in the extra-long run I was shooting for on Saturday. Having hosted guests, had my long run curtailed earlier in the week, and traveled the previous weekend as well, I was a bit behind on the self-imposed 20 miles a week quota. I knew I wouldn’t make the 12 I needed, but I figured 7 more miles to hit 15 for the week was perfectly reasonable.

Silly, silly me.

For you see, I didn’t realize how atrociously bad I am at reading maps. I started out driving 15 minutes in an attempt to start at the end of the trail that would give me what appeared to be the longest uninterrupted stretch off pavement. What I actually situated myself to do was to try to run north to the south end of the trail, and was totally baffled when the course simply came to a hard stop at the river bank. I ran the length of this section twice before I realized I’d been reading the map backwards.  So, that was a mile, total.

I tried at this point to just turn around and head north. A closer inspection of the legend made it clear that doing so would require me to run over paved roads and surface streets for more or less the entire distance I wanted to cover. Because I was reading the legend backwards, too; blue meant trail while green meant road. Took me about a mile to figure that out here, too.

I decided I needed to give up and start elsewhere. I drove back toward the other end of the trail, which I realized was the unpaved, river parallel portion I had been looking for all along. I got diverted in downtown (thanks Bite of Bend!) and ended up encountering another section of the trail in the meantime.  I thought I’d just start there instead. I was jumpy from having powered down a coffee and wanted to get my legs under me as soon as possible; the dithering was making me cranky. I started off lakeside, but only made it about a ½ mile before the end of park trail and was back out on the street. More or less insane with annoyance at this point, I got back in the car and made my way back over to a trailhead that once and for all seemed to be the starting point I had now spent over an hour trying to find, less than 5 minutes from the house.

Argh.

Determined to log some distance, particularly after all the false starts, I trotted off riverside. I was struggling for air, taking in noseeums with every gasping breath, and feeling fairly grumpy about the whole effort when I came around a curve and was confronted with what ended up being the death blow for this “run”; a decidedly not-flat section of trail. Sharp enough I could not clearly see the top of the hill, faced with its prospect, I simply turned on my heel and ran the other direction. Mark down a mile, on that attempt.

I figured, if I wanted to start the new week with the right number of miles, I’d have to mount the hill at some point. I reckoned if I tried it with fresh energy and expecting the climb, I’d be able to marshal the resources both physical and mental to make that happen. At this pass, I was beyond my ability to buck up and power through anything. I wanted hollandaise and a hug. Happily, I went back up the hill and was provided with both, before the morning was out.

Sunday, eyes open at just shy of 5 am I climbed out of bed and forced down the handful of Ritz that allow me to take my prednisone without incident. Guts gurgling in more than customary protest, I ignored their exhortations and before 5:30 I was at the trailhead lacing my shoes around my swollen feet trying to remember the last time I’d actually felt like I wanted to run. It had been only the previous Saturday, and I’d logged three runs in the meantime, so though I was disappointed not to be more excited about what is usually one of my favorite things to do, I was grimly satisfied at my perseverance in the face of a dearth of enthusiasm.

Even expecting it, rounding the corner to face the first hill, I was daunted by its pitch. It has become pretty apparent to me over time that what some people consider “flat” may not be in perfect alignment with my own definition of the term. This, however could in no way be construed as anything other than a climb. It was relatively short – no more than several dozen yards – but it was unquestionably steep.

I straggled my ass about halfway up at the best speed I could muster before I realized doing that might push my lungs past a threshold where they would be distressed enough I might struggle to complete the rest of the run. Resigned, I slowed to a trotting walk – which always feels like cheating, and blows my pace all to hell – and mounted the hill as quickly as I could shy of actually running.

Much to my chagrin, immediately thereafter was the other side of the hill and its concomitant downside slope. Turns out the trail climbs and descends again rather quickly to avoid a golf course built more or less right in its path. I was both annoyed that I’d had to make the detour and dismayed I’d have to work my way back up the opposite direction when I’d be considerably more tired. Boo.

Once past this initial obstacle the trail proved to be exactly what I would have asked for. I was surrounded by rimrock, clifftop river views, and vistas of the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Mount Jefferson. I saw bunnies, squirrels, birds of all kinds, and at one point a trio of deer barreling down the path directly for me as they fled from a cyclist coming the other direction. Plenty of charm! Nothing but picturesque!

All The Scenery A Girl Could Want!

All The Scenery A Girl Could Want!

Finally at about mile 2.5 I hit my stride and began to enjoy the run itself. I knew I’d be able to get to my turnaround point feeling I’d allocated my energy such that the rest of the run would occur at a relatively stable pace, and I was feeling like I could relax into the process.

Then again, I saw something decidedly not flat.

Definitely. Definitely a hill. Yeah.

Definitely. Definitely a hill. Yeah.

To a cyclist, or even someone walking, this wouldn’t present much of a concern; such a short distance to cover! As a runner – and one who already struggles more than average with hills of any kind – it was profoundly sad-making. Cue another bout of shuffling semi-trot uphill.

Overall average pace having slowed to the neighborhood of a wounded buffalo, I just kept pressing on. I might not be getting there quickly, but I was going to cover the ground nevertheless. Back to grim determination, me.

At about 3.75 from my starting point, the trail ended out on pavement near the far end of the golf course that had thwarted me near the beginning. I started back calculating the reserves I’d need to deal with the handful of ups and downs I knew were in between, a mild interest in trying to reclaim some speed on the backside to make up for the slowdown on the out, and deciding how much a walk I should take at the end to wind down.

About a ¼ mile from my turn, I saw the first runner I’d encountered that morning. Considering it was even then only just past 6am I wasn’t too surprised to have the trail largely to myself. He offered a cheery “Good morning!” which I pantingly returned. This fella was moving a whole lot faster than I was and I noted with some amusement he’d be lapping me in no time at his current pace.

Sure enough a few short minutes later, I watched as he passed me going the same direction I was headed.

Good Morning!

Good Morning!

And very quickly disappeared from view.

Good Afternoon & Good Night!

Good Afternoon & Good Night!

The backs of other people being the most common view I experience when I run, I found this fairly comforting. He got so far ahead of me I lost him entirely, but it’s still nice to know the members of the early morning running club are by and large a pretty friendly lot.

I didn’t end up gaining as much speed back on my return as I would have hoped and my overall pace – usually between 12:00-12:30 – plummeted to a dismal 13:46. That I could finish a run of that distance, at elevation at all had to be my only consolation. And it was. I was proud of my ability to complete an effort that had always been beyond my capacity before. It was gratifying to feel the difference between coming to a hard halt and pressing on through the resistance to do what I believed I could despite the added opposition.

Suck It Up Buttercup

Suck It Up Buttercup

And though I am not a girl who glitters instead of sweats, I was nevertheless flush with my accomplishment. Though you can’t read it here, my shirt says “Suck It Up Buttercup” I am pleased to say I did.

 

I’ve been fantasizing a lot lately about 2003. I haven’t been able to say precisely what it is about that year in particular that has been pulling at me, but it’s been going on long enough that I’ve become curious enough to indulge exploring potential reasons.

When I do, I realize 2003 was a temporal fulcrum of sorts in my life. I was emerging from circumstances where it felt like I’d just ended up, and was instead planning a future I intentionally crafted. I was living on my own and single for the first time in my adult life.

Apart from motherhood, which I did not view in terms of its limitations but rather its advantages, there were essentially no constraints on my choices. Laid before me was a landscape of boundless possibility. I was confident and assured that whatever I decided, it would be realized through dint of will and work, with no other outcome seriously weighed.

Just Cause You Feel It Doesn’t Mean It’s There

My visual memory of that year is limned in golden light; I am sitting on the balcony at the Brazen Bean with a lavender martini, dappled sunshine playing across my bare arm. I am driving Datsy to Seattle to see Radiohead with giant sunglasses firmly in place. My sister and I are tromping across the footbridge at Drift Creek Falls during a weekend of campfires and pirate jokes.

I have no doubt whatever that the truth of that year was much more variegated than memory serves. Romantically, I enjoy the version I’ve created in my head rather enough to prefer it over the pesky truth, anyhow.

I do know it was before I made what ended up being some fateful and less-than-completely-well-advised choices about my education. It was before I met the person who would change the course of my life such that unto the very day, most of my social circle is comprised of people met through his offices. It was before I lost the girl I still think of as occupying the role of “never to be replaced love of my life/best friend” It was before I had to reconcile myself to the notion I’d only have one child, may never remarry, and that ultimately my life would turn out looking a lot different than I expected.

I am happier, healthier, and far far wiser now, than I was in 2003. Though I think certain things would be easier if I had made different choices all those years ago; it’s really impossible to say. If I’d pursued a different course of study or attended a different university, how different things would be. Of course in that backcasting “If I knew then what I know now…” lament is something everyone falls prey to from time to time and while I’ll indulge up to a point, I also know it serves no purpose other than to entertain.

To that end, I’m setting aside the wondering and complied a playlist: Chutes Too Narrow, Fever To Tell, Dangerously In Love, Boy In Da Corner, More Parts Per Million, and Hail To The Thief. As far as entertainment goes, that’s been far more definite and much more rewarding.

I am not a particularly imaginative person. I am instead better at observing, synthesizing, and interpreting data. To encounter unquantified mystery and produce novel results is generally beyond my ken.

I’m fairly equivocal about this truth most of the time. I lament that it causes each song I write to end up sounding and feeling a lot like every other song I’ve composed, but apart from that and my comprehensive inability to pen fiction, I don’t find it really interferes with my quality of life overmuch. It has instilled in me a reverence for people who do possess that kind of visionary knack. It is curiosity and courage wed to intangible inspiration and it is the closest thing to magic that we can encounter with regularity.

There is after all an upside to this lack of imagination; though I conjure worst-case scenario fantasies as readily as anyone, it turns out most of what I come up with is fairly tame and doesn’t begin to be as awful and crippling as some of the things I hear other people fret over. I worry about my daughter crashing my car and my insurance rates going up – her father worries she and everyone involved will be decapitated. For example.

That being said, when I have access to that data I like so much, I can work myself into a FRENZY OF CONJECTURE based on the available information and outcomes I can gather from various sources. I thank my training in the scientific method for the ability to verify with rigor the quality of the data I encounter; this saves me a lot of time on the internet trapped in the equivalent of a bad drug deal:

“No, man… I just came in here looking for a peer-reviewed research paper about treatment modalities for this syndrome. I don’t want to see your lesions. Or hear about how Melaleuca cured your pancreatic cancer and post-nasal drip all at once. Nope… don’t want to hear about the healing power of Jesus. Or to show you my boobs.”

That being said, with the exception of things like Celiac – for which there are blood tests and a distinct treatment protocol – the nature of a lot of gastrointestinal ailments are such that they are notoriously hard to diagnose, have multivariant symptoms that overlap, and rarely present a clear mechanism of cause or cure.

Crohn’s Disease is one of the slippery kind. It was first suggested as a possible cause of my distress back in early October of 2014. I had been having symptoms off and on – much more off – since about 2010. I chalked it up to a wide variety of causes before it finally became clear there was something systemic going on that wasn’t just going to resolve on its own. Some of the highlights of conjecture:

  • Food Poisoning: given the rather dubious quality of my diet, this was of course a natural place to begin. Problem here being that I was eating much the same crap all the time and only having wrenching gut pain and firey liquid excrement as an (ahem) outcome once in a great while.
  • Antibiotic Poisoning: this one was very convincing for a long time. After being hospitalized for a serious pelvic infection, I was put on IV antibiotics for 4 days and then a course of other equally nuclear pills for the following 2 weeks. I am absolutely positive it killed everything in my microbiome dead as a doornail and I have never been quite the same since. I do think this is at least a point in the map of the constellation of conditions which lead me to where I am now gut-wise.
  • Food Allergies: eliminating dairy, being tested for gluten intolerance all yielded nothing, and like the food poisoning, it was so intermittent and seemingly unaffected by what I was or was not eating it didn’t really ever present a compelling case.
  • Endometriosis: in this particular case, I did in fact have stage four (!) endometriosis and a bum ovary. However, their treatment and removal did nothing to abate the symptoms I was hoping to alleviate. On the whole, my quality of life has improved in lots of other ways since I lost the extraneous ladyparts, so I see that as a net win, but it wasn’t the answer I’d hoped it to be.
  • Porphyria: I was never sure about this one, though my doctor insisted we test for it. Minus the hallucinations, I wasn’t convinced. Lots of other symptoms did fit, but I could never quite see King George and me really having that much in common.

So this list of options eliminated, no less than 4 different kinds of pipes, tubes, and cameras strung through various openings in my intestinal tract, and 9 months of increasing physical and emotional distress I was last week finally vindicated to hear my gastroenterologist concede it was “almost certainly Crohn’s.” This continued equivocality would trouble me more except that this turns out to be the most definite she is allowed to get without an actual tissue sample. Obtaining such would require yet another possibly-fruitless trip up my bunghole, and since I am the opposite of keen on that, it’s what we’re going to work with for now.

This kicks into motion all sorts of contingencies that I wasn’t quite able to be sure were the right course of action for me. Being both viciously sick and held in abeyance all these months has been incredibly difficult physically, emotionally, and psychically. Everything felt futile and interminable and unknowable. Simply having an answer – even a hard one with long term consequences that are Decidedly Not Awesome Mostly – is still far better than the aching sensation of searching for a horizon that cannot be seen for the glare of blistering uncertainty.

It’s not what you thought, when you first began it

More, it frees me to collect data – very specific data – about my condition, my treatment options, and what lifestyle choices I can make that will best support my ability to heal and minimize future insult to my system. So much of what was frustrating was the sense that any action I took would be a wild shot in the dark as likely to cause additional distress as any kind of relief.

In fact, much of what I had been doing to try and “improve” my diet over the last few years likely contributed – not to the cause, which is autoimmune after all– to the exacerbation of my symptoms. Eating a varied high fiber diet loaded with nuts, olives, berries, and coconut all turns out to be really hard on the lining of the intestine afflicted such as mine.  My previous tendency to eat fast food 6-7 times a week, though obviously less than ideal in many other respects, was still in the main less problematic for my compromised GI tract to process.

Oh, the irony.

The “low-residue” diet that is recommended for the Crohn’s patient is a pretty amusing read. The things I “can” eat are hilariously, notoriously not the stuff we all hear we should be eating. Some highlights:

 

  • Breads/Starches -White breads, rolls, biscuits, muffins, crackers, light rye bread without seed. Pancakes, waffles, refined cooked cereal such as cream of wheat, cream of rice, grits. Dry cereals including Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Special K, Puffed Rice. White or sweet potato (no skin), white rice, pasta
  • Vegetables – All allowed except those not recommended or those with skin or seeds. Cucumber, green pepper, romaine, tomatoes, onions, zucchini tomato, carrot
  • Fruits – All allowed except those not recommended or those with skin or seeds. Apricot, banana, cantaloupe, honeydew, nectarine, papaya, peach, plum, watermelon
  • Meats/Proteins – Tender, ground or well-cooked meats. Fish, poultry, eggs, tofu, creamy peanut butter
  • Fats – (A favorite category, this one) Bacon, margarine, butter, vegetable oils, salad dressing, mayonnaise, cream, plain gravies, whip cream, creamy peanut butter
  • Miscellaneous – Plain cakes, cookies, pastries, pies, sherbet, gelatin, sugar, plain hard candy, condiments, coffee, tea, carbonated beverages

Meanwhile, I CANNOT have:

  • Whole grain, stone ground cracked wheat, pumpernickel or dark rye bread. Whole grain crackers, muffins or cereal. Corn bread, corn muffins, bran cereals, granola, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta,
  • Legumes (beans and peas–kidney, navy, lima, black, chickpeas or garbanzo, pinto, soy, black-eyed split and yellow peas, lentils, peanuts, crunchy peanut butter
  • Lima beans, green peas, broccoli, parsnips, corn
  • Seeds, nuts, olives, coconut, poppyseed dressing, crunchy peanut butter
  • Horseradish

So. Those corn-tortilla chicken chilaquiles & $5 bloody Marys I was so cranky not to be getting at Henry’s last weekend turn out to be bad for me. Guess I can stop being irritated they have all but eliminated brunch, now.

The olives, beans, and nuts are the biggest blow as I eat them basically every day; though my extreme fondness for coconut is right up there in terms of bummerness. In the main though, it is actually kind of comforting to know the things I should be avoiding are things I have been eating like it was my job. Because if this level of distress is at least due in part to continually shoving exacerbating elements into the mix, it is a huge relief to think I could easily just stop doing that.

Even more, a lot of things I was imagining I’d to have to eliminate – bread, cheese, bacon – are all on the list and a pretty decent consolation prize for being relegated to the consumption of the clearly inferior creamy style peanut butter. My need to have exclusively tot-chos, and never again Juanita’s Crack Chips of Doom under my black beans and heaping cheese.

I was imagining it would be a lot worse, is what I’m saying. Now, armed with data – and access to bacon – I feel much better about the things I am confronted with. The horizon, now visible, is still a hard climb but surmountable nevertheless. 

One of the side effects of all the steroids I’m taking* is that my already tenuous grasp on sleep has become even slipperier. Though I have gone to considerable lengths to control for sound, light, and other elements of sleep hygiene it has been my custom these last few weeks to waken at about the same time the very faintest traces of light begin to show in the eastern sky.

The Angle of Approach

The Angle of Approach

This works out to be a time that a lot of people still consider the middle of the night. And I am one of them.

Try as I might, I am usually unable to coax myself back to slumber. At some point, I realized that given the turn of season, and the impossibility of running after work for the intolerable temperature that time of day, I might as well avail myself of the insistence of my body and use my wakefulness to put some miles under my feet.

I love running first thing in the morning. Everything is limned in pinkish light and cool as it will be all day. It is quiet and still on the streets and down the trails I favor. The city is stripped of pretense and beautifully bare. Places are unhaunted by a populace too occupied with their devised reality to notice or participate in the full flower of the one around them. I am elated to encounter the bronze-haired Portlandia as I have always known her; maiden earnest, singular, and strong. That is how I prefer to see her, rather than the awkwardly hewn caricature she has been wrought of late.

So, despite a list of complaints that range from a shocking need for drinking straws at every turn for my newly sensitive teeth, to aching tendons, to butterface of EPIC proportions, I am grateful to these chemicals in my blood. Not least that they allow me to rise from my bed of pain at all, but also so that I do in such very good time as to see my city in a way that reminds me why I love her after all.

 

*Not the kind one takes to get mad gains in the gym, though don’t kid yourself; ‘roid rage is a thing. I can’t speak with authority about whether my testicles have shrunk…

I eat a mess.

Don’t Forget Greasy!

While I’m not immune to the appeal of the trite and its conferred understandings, I like to think I approach most areas of my life with more nuance than clichés will usually afford. In this case, given all things in consideration, I’m willing to concede the allure.

Today, I’d felt sort of defeated by the onset of tasks I was previously able to defer for one reason or another. Whether it was the lack of a clear diagnosis for my ongoing health issues, a series of beloved out of town guests, or simply the weekend there were a slough of excuses this past week to keep me from any sort of practical application toward the undertaking of some much needed lifestyle modifications.

I thought I had come upon a clever solution to skirt the hardest part of the changes I want to make, and was quite pleased with myself on account of it. Upon further inspection and in consultation with both my doctor and a friend who is much more experienced with dietary restrictions (plusalso smarter and more observant) I realized this clever plan was both bad and self-defeating as it actually failed to eliminate several of the components I am trying to isolate from my diet for diagnostic purposes.

Confronted with this information, I started crying.

I have always had a combative relationship with food. I know most people encounter food as a joyful sensory experience to be savored. I generally encounter it with the satisfaction of a well-completed chore I’d prefer never to repeat. Like cleaning out the lint trap; I love when it all comes off in one piece, but better to never have to deal with it in the first place. It has perpetually seemed like a cruel cosmic joke humans don’t run on batteries or gasoline; something one could obtain, of which there was basically only one kind and quality that did not necessitate further planning or preparation than plugging the full thing where the empty one was and moving on with the day. This was why when the Kickstarter campaign for Soylent came about, I was super excited. This seemed like a thing for me! Something I would willingly try and possibly find perfectly suited to the amount of time and energy I would ideally like to expend thinking about, obtaining, and consuming food. 

Things have gotten much better in the past few years as I am both more rational and less cavalier about the results of ignoring the consequences of putting things in my body I should not, as well as depriving it of things it needs. Yet even with that being the case, I am still occasionally brought to a complete halt by the decisions I have to make about eating. The last time I tried an elimination diet to the ends I am aiming for this time, with my very patient and compassionate boyfriend going so far as to prepare meals for me on a regular basis, he was nonetheless baffled by all the tears I shed over what I was – or was not – eating. Without anyone holding my hand or looking over my shoulder this time, I am even more intimidated by this prospect.

Hard experience has taught me how to minimize these occurrences; planning, easy access to acceptable options, and the support of the people I am eating with are all very helpful. However, even bringing all of this to bear, there are still moments – and they are both more frequent and intense when I am trying to defy my natural tendencies in a systemic way – where I feel so overwhelmed by the task of nourishing myself that I simply refuse to do it at all. I have legitimately taken a sleeping pill so I could sleep to avoid making a decision about what to eat.

With a Crohn’s diagnosis, I have an explicit set of challenges to consider with regard to my diet going forward. While the condition itself is autoimmune and not driven by dietary factors, there are undeniable connections between diet and immune response. Moreover, since the gut is the arena-of-action, as it were, there is no real way to extract the process of eating and digesting food from the experience of having Crohn’s. All that being said, there isn’t consensus about the kind of diet that serves a person with Crohn’s best. There is ample anecdotal, testimonial, and promotional advice, but no evidence based, peer-reviewed dietary recommendations for this diagnosis. The most echoed sentiments are things like “Patients must pay special attention to their diets as concerns about nutrient absorption persist with this condition.”

Read: “since whatever food you do eat will likely shoot out of you at both ends in a spray of hot bile and sadness, make sure you take some vitamins, okay?”

Being my particular difficulty with the whole idea of confronting food that isn’t bacon, ice cream, or potatoes as a source of thwarting my attempts to consume more bacon, ice cream, and potatoes, this lack of dietary guidance feels especially ironic and defeating. 

Hearkening back to the Soylent; I thought I might have a simple solution to eliminating some of the main culprits in my diet that might be contributing to the inflammatory response in my guts. I could simply spend a week or so NOT EATING FOOD AT ALL but instead having that decision already made, and a meal just the quick shake of a plastic tumbler away. It seemed likely to remove most of the emotional angst about the process and I was fuckin’ pleased with myself for thinking of it.

Alas, it was not to be.

For you see, in my head, Soylent was dairy, gluten, and soy free. In reality, it is only one of those things, and the other stuff they put in it to make up for it not having dairy are weird and turn out to be pretty counterproductive in terms of providing any kind meaningful information about things I might need to keep away from.  

So then, crying.

Luckily, that smart friend of mine is also someone who cares enough about me to make an effort to suggest some alternatives and offer meaningful practical support like going to the grocery store with me. She may not be my boyfriend, but I still think I can count on her to look over my shoulder if I ask her to. We found another option which really IS gluten/dairy/soy free, and though I probably can’t just survive on it alone, it can be a go-to default option should I arrive in the valley of the hard stop where my options seem only to be defeat or starvation. 

So here begins my attempt to gentle my ileum into complacency again with tender words, good intentions, and apparently nothing that tastes good ever again.

Time to clean up the mess.

 

É¡rit/

noun

  1. Abrasive particles or granules, as of sand or other small, coarse impurities found in the air, food, water, etc
  2. firmness of character; indomitable spirit; pluck:
  3. a coarse-grained siliceous rock, usually with sharp, angular grains.
  4. sand or other fine grainy particles eaten by fowl to aid in digestion.

verb (used with object), gritted, gritting.

  1. to cause to grind or grate together.

verb (used without object), 

  1. to make a scratchy or slightly grating sound, as of sand being walkedon; grate.

Idioms

  1. grit one’s teeth, to show tenseness, anger, or determination by or as if by clamping or grinding the teeth together.

 

Tires On My Go Machine: AKA Happiness in Pink

Tires On My Go Machine: AKA Happiness in Pink

 

I get it in in my shoes sometimes, grit. My tendency to wear ankle socks, instead of something sensible when I hike, my headlong enthusiasm for the shore, covered in sand; all these result in carrying home tiny passengers which will take up residence in my bedroom rug.

I also demonstrate it on occasion; when faced with opposition.

I feel like my life has required an uncustomary degree of the stuff, for about the last year and a half. I am both impressed with my fortitude and tired of needing so much.

It has cast all that came before it in terms that help me realize how precious certain things I once took for granted turn out to be; freedom from intense physical distress, a reasonable presumption that laid plans can be executed given sufficient will, only chief among them.

I woke up early this morning. No particular reason, but my mind was scampering around such that I knew no more sleep was to come. Lying there in the early dark, I took stock of my physical well-being. I do this every morning now, and I am very sorry to say that for the last few months in particular, the answer is almost never “I feel well/good/fine.”

Some days, indeed it is not so much an inventory of my flesh as a catalogue of affliction. There have been respites – aided by medicine that is somewhat vile to take and odious to endure – but not since early in March has there been a string of days together where I was not in pain and some other alimentary torment. I cannot eat, sleep, work, exercise, or even lay still like a beached walrus with any degree of comfort or surety that the activity will not send my guts a-roiling in fashion like to result in moaning and exhortations.

I have resorted to medicaments, ablutions, and medical invasions I would have declared unthinkable this time last year. The various caretakers attempting to unearth the cause of all this fortitude are as yet stumped. Various incomplete and unsatisfying suggestions – along with odious and drastic treatments accordant – have been floated and ultimately found wanting; if they are not wrong entirely, they do not encompass the entirety of what seems to be going on.  

So, it happens I have become keenly aware of the exquisite value of a moment when I feel able to set my mind to a task such that I believe my body can complete it. When the sun is shining inside my skin, oh the hay I make, these days.

So then I strapped on my shoes – which are too tight because my feet are swollen from the meds that keep me on them – and went for a run. I managed 3 miles at more or less my top speed and was very pleased indeed I did. Now that I am sitting at my desk, barely able to sit up straight for the grinding inside my belly, it pleases me all the more.

 

The parameters and articles of love change over the course of a lifetime. From our earliest experiences cradled in the arms of our parents and caretakers, we develop a sense of the shape and texture of attachment. 

Some elements take on greater prominence as we grow into adults who engage in companionate, romantic, and parental love. The ways we both give and receive affection change to suit the moment and object of that love. I experience a profoundly deep and abiding love for my daughter that applies to no other person, nor ever shall. My attachment to the beautiful brilliant women of my most intimate acquaintance cannot be compared to the enduring bond I share with my brave and brazen mother.

While all of these are precious and necessary, they are unto themselves none entirely sufficient. Though I detest the trite ubiquity of the term “soul-mate” I do know it attempts to encompass and illustrate a connection most humans crave above all others.

We begin to sketch the margins of this personified role when we come awake to the longings of our body; when these are clamoring at such pitch that all other considerations are lost in the din. Some people never move beyond this manner of framing the place inside they are asking others to occupy.

Ideally, as we become more who we really are, the parameters and expectations for this relationship also take on the nuance and scope of maturity. We learn enough about ourselves to see who and how we are; who and what we need.

I’ve referred before to the fact my own experience of this process had soundtrack. This morning, while I was listening to Jackson Browne, I realized that part of my template had always been hidden in the middle of a song about blue-collar struggle.

“We’ll make love until our strength is gone. And when the morning light comes streamin’ in, we’ll get up and do it again. Amen.”

That I have been fortunate enough to experience this kind of passion is one of the great blessings of my life. That it was heretofore all but unknown makes it seem almost like a miracle.  No pretending.

[lohd-stohn]

noun

  1. A variety of magnetite that possesses magnetic polarity and attracts iron.
  2. A piece of this serving as a magnet.
  3. Something that attracts strongly.

The landscape – both within and without – is now so different from any ever before seen it is almost as though I have been transported to a new and unknown place whilst asleep.

A friend of mine once said to me, “Falling in love is like reaching into a bag of mixed candy. Everything you pull out is sweet in its own way, but no two pieces are ever the same.” This time it feels like I reached into the bag and pulled out a confection as-yet-unnamable but lovelier and more delightful than I had even imagined possible.

In the last week I have been confronted with the limits of my own beliefs, sighted the horizons of what I thought possible, and swept past both in a manner so compelling I know I will be forever changed by the experience. Outcomes being as unknowable as ever still take on the character of foregone conclusions.

Through it all, drawn irresistibly forward and on, when it is so tempting to submit to the gravity working on my heart, I admonish myself to breathe, to pause, and to dream that when I wake to this reality again, it is all the sweeter thereby.  

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