Tuesday, January 22, 2008

sleeping is good medicine?


OK, I admit it. One of the reasons I haven't been getting everything done lately is that I haven't been able to sleep more than three hours a night since I can't remember when. How can I be expected to be a tornado of energy on that schedule? Even Martha sleeps more than that.

Last week I finally met my doctor for the three and a half minutes that usually constitute my annual physical exam. Blood work results were already in, and since I'm generally healthy, I've resigned myself to having her whisk in and out, briskly rattling the paperwork and dismissing my uninformed plain-ole-English questions (somewhere along the way it seems it's become necessary for patients to speak like doctors-in-training to merit any helpful attention).

She, perfunctorily: "Anything new?"
Me, daring to venture six little layman words: "Just that I'm not sleeping well."
She, with a yawn: "For how long."
Me, mentally calculating: "Since I can't remember when."
She, artfully ending the suspense: "No surprise there. Your blood work shows you have an underactive thyroid -- you know, trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, weight gain, hair loss . . ."

Thank goodness the three and a half minutes were up. I don't think I could have walked out of there trailing a longer list of decrepitude.

What I did walk out with was a prescription for thyroid medication and some sample sleeping pills. Little tiny pills, in pretty pastel colors. Nothing like those huge horse pills into which they've crammed enough indigestible calcium to grind a chalky pearl-sized hole in your stomach lining. And a schedule. Thyroid pills in the morning, FIRST THING, no food, no iron, NO CALCIUM. Sleeping pills at night, just keep the colors straight. No sweat.

Except that I'm having trouble remembering lately, what with so little sleep and my hair about to fall out. So my iron-stomach full-head-of-hair healthy husband, who already handles the dispensation of our daily vitamins, has once again smothered his comments on the frailty of aging women and is monitoring me. With the sample sleeping pills, I slept. No waking, no dreams, no nothing. Kind of anticlimactic, actually. Then I ran out of the samples. As directed, I went to the pharmacy for the actual prescription phoned in by the doctor's office. Of course, nothing in life is that simple. It seems that these little pastel pretties cost an arm and a leg, and that the insurance company wants proof of the doctor nodding her head while writing the scrip, of the pharmacist carefully counting by twos as he fills the little bottle, and of me grinning like a ninny so I'll be recognizable if they need to come arrest me for racketeering. No pills without pain.

Which meant two days over the weekend without sleeping pills. And without sleep. Any. At. All. Talk about lost weekend. What kind of medicine is this? Assurances on all sides that these little cuties are not addictive, in spite of the drug patrol. No mention of the downside, that you can easily stop taking the pills if you don't mind not ever sleeping again. Maybe it's only until the under-achieving thyroid gets booted back into action. If I live that long.

Ok, I admit this, too. I'm a babe in the woods when it comes to modern medicine. During all these decades of my staying healthy and pill-free, I thought I had it figured out. Eat well, love well, plant your own garden, exercise at least from the other end of the parking lot, and add a little A&A (argument and agreement) to keep life spicy. Oh, and avoid self-help books as well as over-the-counter self-meds. My grandfather, the one who taught me how to count cards in my head so I could almost beat him, always dosed me with a shot of whiskey and a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses whenever I had a cold -- no dangerous cough medicines allowed in our medicine cabinet! Since I don't drink (!), I now prefer a daily dose of pineapple juice. Unfortunately, it turns out genetic disposition is a crap game in which you're playing against the house. My sister, six years younger than I, has been on ever-changing thyroid medication for 10 years already . . . with all the symptoms. As my doctor did take a second to point out, the timing of your wake-up call is the only wild card in this game.

Rambling is probably another symptom of my sleep-deprivation. Or maybe that's just an excuse. But did I mention that my ever-brisk doctor was yawning, too, during my check-up? Afterwards, I overheard her complaining to the nurses that she'd awakened twice in the night for the past several nights and was dead-tired. Ha! I know where she's heading! Crap game, indeed!

Monday, January 21, 2008

reactive vs proactive

It seems lately that I've been a step behind, basking in some quiet time, indulging in a somewhat somnolent mood of watching and reacting to others instead of proactively stepping out at my own pace. Not a bad thing, since I'm one who needs gathering time to store the fuel needed for creative output. Although product is the obvious proof of creativity, I've learned that ceaseless production can sometimes simply stagnate the process, like spinning wheels in a rut. So I've been sorting my supplies to reacquaint myself with their potential and thinking about the direction of my new art journal and planning my next classes ... prepping to come out of low ebb.

Meanwhile, it's been great fun helping a friend furnish her big new home further out from the city. Our discussions about how happy she is to create her new environment just as she wants it, bit by bit, one found "treasure" at a time, reminded me of a passage in Jan de Luz's book The French Touch. It also seems an appropriate thought at the beginning of the year when so many of us resolve to make new progress:

"This is one reason why I enjoy interaction with people as they make major transitions in their living spaces. Humans are perpetually confronting or constructing turning points; and major changes in living space always indicate transitions are happening. The ones I witness are transitions that people have chosen for themselves. It is exciting, and a totally human event. Whether you are packing the crates for a move to a new country, unfurling the blueprints for a new house you designed yourself or had designed, or simply changing the mantel art, change always indicates a point of attention, and what we focus on changes us. As the American poet John Ciardi said, "A man is what he does with his attention."

"Today's speed of communication, the nearly instantaneous transfer of impressions, pushes change into individuals and cultures faster than ever. Humankind's ease toward distraction and ricocheting emotions becomes a problem. Neither individuals nor nations absorb change beyond some natural limit. This, in part, is why ... I have a passion for rescuing fine pieces of old architecture. Keeping cultural history alive slows the absorption of change. Pausing to reflect is a natural tonic. Whether stressed by duties or manic with the excitement of designing, I try to remind myself to pause, to not hurry so fast from task to task. The hour can get so cluttered with the details of the moment or the goal of the day that life itself gets buried. This is a form of demolition as surely as taking a wrecking ball to a thirteenth-century stone building."

It seems natural that many of us want to collect and reconnect with and even reuse "treasures" from the past as a means of anchoring our present to a longer chain of meaning. Wynton Marsalis, in his jazz lectures at Harvard, observed that even jazz musicians, improvisational as their music can be, need to know and respect the history of jazz that preceded them in order not to find themselves out on some overlooked limb with no viable connections to the living growing tree. Reflection, as a form of creative thinking, allows us to measure our individual and collective progress, strengthen our sense of what we already know, and energize the purpose of our next steps in our chosen direction. But then it comes time to focus our attention and move out.

As I blog visit, I am so pleased to see how many of my blogger friends are doing just that with their new or newly energized ventures. Hope you are all relishing the changes you've chosen!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

fresh start to old habits

Each year, as our family unboxes all the cherished memory-laden treasures to start decorating for our Christmas holiday season, we moan about who put things away the previous year in such a muddled mix. And each year we solemnly determine to have all the lovely Christmas decorations put away this time in an organized fashion by the sixth of January, the last day of our family's celebration. And each year, the only one left by the sixth of January to carry out this pledge is me. So I'm knee-deep in muddle once again.

I'm not obsessed by organization. Long ago I realized that if God really wanted me to be organized, he would have given me the secret to clone myself, so the other me could take on all the chores this me does so pathetically. No, I simply want the fun of decorating and creating scenarios for our family's gathering to be aided by some degree of knowing where the heck the stuff is. But by the sixth of January, my attention has moved on, impatient with the boring task of packing up the recent glorious past and reducing it to pedestrian order. Instead, serendipity takes over again, and stuff gets moved and maybe packed as I happen to need that particular space.

The dining room is not currently on the list of immediately needed spaces. All the family, houseguests, and the sprightly grandchild who stayed over for an extra week of fun with Nana are firmly back in their own routines in their own habitats. Even my husband is out of town. That leaves me with the quiet I crave, along with a craving for some personal regeneration after all that recently spent energy. What I really yearn to do is curl up in the cushy loveseat by the big back window, daydream a little as I observe the winter sky, and catch up on that growing pile of books that beckons forlornly. Unfortunately, those other piles of dislocated treasures have been accumulating in the dining room. The no-longer-fresh greenery is gone, leaving static arrangements of silver and glass. The straw joulupukki are huddling in the corner, trying to remember where their stable is. The partridge hovering atop the hall mirror is feigning invisibility like a possum, hoping to avoid the jumble and simply stay put, maybe for the whole year. Again.

But oh my, that new nutcracker! Over the years, during the several times we've lived in Germany, we've accumulated a wonderful collection of hand-carved and hand-painted wooden nutcrackers that we bring to the celebration each December. In spite of their occasional weapons, they are all normal-sized and well-behaved, and each has his own storage box proudly labeled and documented, even if some years the more intrepid stay out and abroad.

This December my husband came home triumphantly, grinning from ear to ear, with his new find: a gigantic solid nutcracker that reaches above my waist and weighs the equivalent of a tree trunk. The grandchildren applauded and danced around him. The visiting neighbors all noticed him and were amused. Since there was no denying my husband his trophy, captured on early sale from Costco (his favorite one-stop shopping mecca) and somehow representing his European background, His Regal Redness still fiercely guards his toys till his master consents to consign him out of the limelight and into the shadows of Christmas Future. Not only can I not budge this behemoth, but I have no idea where to store him if I could. Actually, it's nice to have at least one chore that is NOT my job. So I give the big fella a pat on the cap now and then as I pass by.

Of course, I have other excuses for not yet painstakingly packaging away the last of the Santas and tonttus, trees and ornaments, and many glittery things. Sunday, which was the sixth of January, required my full attention elsewhere for a full day of teaching at Scrapbooks Plus. And back at my desk, I am loath to do without the soft glimmer of my small pink and white tree even as it gets unceremoniously shoved aside by the growing miasma of Valentine stuff for my next class project. Want an in-progress peek?