Sunday, July 31, 2016

'Brain On Fire': An Appreciation, Not A Review ...

The phone rang, a month or so ago, at an hour when most people don't call, and a number appeared that I didn't recognize.

I let it go to voicemail.

It was my friend Kris in California. He started his message saying that it had been a long time since we'd talked. Indeed. It had been so long, I didn't recognize his number. Or maybe it had changed.

But we had been trading comments on Facebook, so he thought he'd pick up the phone, because he wanted to tell me about a book he'd read that I had to read: Brain on Fire.

He talked long enough that my voicemail cut him off – Kris, if you read this, know that I'm chuckling about your loquaciousness – and a few days later, I heard my mail arrive with a louder-than-usual thud.

The book had arrived. I opened the manila envelope, read his sticky note, and added it to my "someday" pile. I had a book languishing from the library that I wanted to finish first.

Yesterday afternoon, though, in the mood to read, I grabbed three contenders from the pile and plopped myself on one of Angelo's chairs in the dining room, and opened Susannah Cahalan's book, flipped past the lengthy table of contents, and began with the Author's Note.

I finished it a little while ago, here on Sunday night, having slept 10 hours last night – uncharacteristically – and having devoted a good portion of today to not reading, which is to say, this book is riveting. And you should read it.

It's a fascinating memoir of her medical journey – "blood brain barrier, sure," I said, wondering if Dr. Keith Black would end up on her team. Nope, he doesn't, but I knew of his work because I wrote a short feature about him for the Tribune 20 years ago. Susannah's a journalist, so that aspect of her work felt relatable, too, though my newspaper days are well behind me. But it also broaches the subject of medical care in this country, of how many patients go un- or misdiagnosed either out of ignorance or expediency on the part of physicians – they need to see so many patients, many can't devote the time necessary to individual cases nor stay abreast of every new development – or simply from a lack of resources. We're making strides in insuring more people here but universal health care should be the goal. (That's my opinion, not hers, at least, not overtly stated, but I wouldn't be surprised if she agrees.)

It will set you to wondering if some people in your life have been misdiagnosed. Folks diagnosed with a host of conditions – from autism to schizophrenia – may in fact be going through what she endured.

It's a serious book and it contains a fair amount of science, yet it reads quickly because it's so well written. I had heard about it before but for whatever reason, it didn't register as something I should read at the time. So thank you, Kris, for sharing it with me. Your reason for sending it was spot on, but it was so much more important beyond that.

As the title of this post proclaims, this is an appreciation, not a review. I've stopped reviewing everything, intentionally, anyway. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone nor do I want to dissuade. What I love may not be what you love and vice versa. But when I read something I love, the least I can do it add my voice to the zeitgeist so, perhaps, others will read it and love it, too.

And speaking of love, I read the acknowledgements, as I do. It feels like the right thing to do, to acknowledge – albeit it in a different way – the people who help an author with a book's journey. Occasionally, I see a name I know and that's nice. So I read Susannah's, though none of the names connected.

Until I arrived at the penultimate line: "And thank you to Preston Browning, who offered me a place to write at his charming Wellspring House, which has become my second home."

I burst into tears, because I am an enormous sap.

And because Preston was one of my favorite professors in college. I love that Susannah has the privilege of knowing him, too. He's extraordinary.

(I had to Google him. An article about him ran at the end of June. The man hasn't changed in his activism and ideology, and I swear to God, he looks younger than when he taught me more than two decades ago.)

But I digress, though anyone who knows Preston understands. The man is digression-worthy to the Nth degree.

Find Susannah's book. Devour it. Or savor it. But do read it. It, too, is extraordinary.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Makes Beth Happy, July 23 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

It's become my go-to adjective. For a while, I was prone to using "lovely." Then "delightful." These days, "grand."

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day are:

Blackberry Cheesecake Galette
Blackberry. Cheesecake. Galette. Three of my favorite words, together!

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Tufted Bench in Velvet Aubergine
I don't need a large, gorgeous tufted bench. But I love this large, gorgeous tufted bench. And really, I'm more drawn to the green (although the pewter is also very pretty) but given that my home contains so much brown and green (and grey), I figure I should opt for another color every now and then.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Roundabout Reminder From The Universe ...

I love Twitter.

Some folks profess to not understand it but Twitter is the most amazing conduit ever conceived. In what other way do any of us have real-time access to such a vast array of people? None. Twitter is it.

Now, granted, tweeting at someone doesn't guarantee that they'll see your tweet. And you are far more likely than not to never hear from the tweetee.

But you never know, do you? About seven years ago, I tweeted at Angelo after seeing the best reveal in the history of reveals and today, he's a dear friend. (Hi, dear friend! Octopus!)

Occasionally, I have a fleeting interaction with someone interesting – Mia Farrow and Lizz Winstead spring to mind – and sometimes, I try to be helpful. As was the case on Friday.

Dan Pallotta, for whom I have great respect, tweeted a link to a shortened version of his first TED talk, which you should really watch in its entirety. Surely you can spare 19 minutes.

Alas, when I clicked, I landed on a page that informed me "The link you followed may have expired, or the page may only be visible to an audience you're not in."

So I tweeted at him, so he could check to make sure the video had been made public. We had a brief exchange. "re-posted. videos and facebook and me not a good combo," he shared. Later, I saw that he had posted the YouTube link. I clicked. "This video is private." I mentioned that to him, too.

But in the meantime, now that Pallotta was on my mind, I thought back to my first 3-Day, which was a Pallotta TeamWorks event. Dan created the AIDS Ride and the 3-Day, and it truly took me just a few minutes of experiencing the world he created to decide that I wanted to work for him.

Alas, Pallotta TeamWorks was not very long for this world. Which is very unfortunate, because the world was a better place with Pallotta TeamWorks in it.

Happily, Dan is still very much about making a difference.

On that first 3-Day, though, I reconnected with my friend Adam. He and I had met in college but had lost touch. I knew that he was working for Pallotta, though, and I hoped to see him. But with thousands of people, how likely was it that I was going to be in the same place at the same time as my friend?


And, as is often the case, it happened when I least expected it.

I was done with my Day 0 duties – once upon a time, kids, the Internet was not as robust as it is today, and some things could not be accomplished online; I know! It's difficult to fathom, isn't it? But we had to do some things in person – and was walking back toward the coaches that would shuttle us to our hotels for the night. I was walking down a road in the park where we'd kick off the next morning, walking with some new friends I'd made, and he was just ... there. Off to the side. He saw me. I saw him. We screamed and hugged. Kismet.

The crews on 3-Days work their butts off and so I didn't see him a lot during the event but on the second night, he found my tent and climbed inside. It was chilly that night, unseasonably chilly for Atlanta, but the tents are not big. He wasn't going to be there long, though, and Pat, my walking partner and tentmate, didn't seem to mind the extra coziness for a few minutes.

Adam presented me with a little care package of Pallotta swag (I don't spell it "schwag." "Schwag" looks schweird.) including a waistpack, which I would use on every 3-Day thereafter, but also a note, written on the back of a Pallotta TeamWorks flyer.

On Friday, I remembered that note. I remembered that I would take it out of my waistpack before the start of every 3-Day and read it. It was an invocation of sorts, and Adam's kind words would carry me into another event, another trek, another 60 miles.

The waistpack is still in the same place though I haven't walked in years. But on Friday, I pulled it out of the drawer and retrieved Adam's note and unfolded it gingerly. (It's a little worse for the wear after so many years of folding and unfolding and getting wet more than once.)

I've been struggling with some things lately. But on Friday, I was reminded, as my friend Nona would say, that I can do hard things. I have done hard things. "Hard" is relative, of course, and I may well face even harder things in the future. But Adam's note reminded me that hard things are rarely accomplished alone. If we are fortunate – and most of us are – we have lovely people around us, believing in us, supporting us, cheering us on. Or lending a hand or a shoulder when we need to steady ourselves or lean.

My friend Gemma's sister Devereaux once said, "I want to live in the 3-Day universe."

Indeed. It is a place of extraordinary kindness. Dan created that universe. On Friday, he reminded me of it. And reminded me of Adam. And reminded me that I can do hard things.

Here's to the next of life's treks.

Thanks, Twitter. Thanks, Dan.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Mysterious Behavior ...

I don't know what comes over me on days like today.

It seemed normal enough, upon waking. A reasonable hour. A reasonable amount of rest.

I made coffee. I made my bed. I poured juice.

I made my usual rounds on the Internet. I was pleased to see that someone had read my wee-book.

Then a voice told me to read it again and I spied a sentence missing a word.

How had that happened? I had proofread the file several times back in the day and I had a friend proofread it, too.

I decided to upload a corrected file but first, it made sense to read the whole thing.

So I did. And I spied an extra word. And several stick apostrophes. I made the corrections and uploaded the file.

I hit the button on the garage-door opener before heading outside to retrieve lawn chairs for tomorrow. But my mom stopped by then, so I paused for a spell, but then, while we continued to talk, I did up the few morning dishes and scoured both basins of the kitchen sink.

When she left, I followed her outside and retrieved chairs and put them in place.

I headed across the street to chat with a neighbor I mostly talk to during winter, when we take a break from shoveling.

I returned and chatted briefly with my next-door neighbor – the one with the immaculate gardens – about the 4th of July.

"I think I'll pull some weeds for the occasion," I said.

And then I did.


There was a time when I was limber. There was a time when I could sit on the floor with my legs stretched straight out in front of me, together, and touch my forehead to my knees.

That was a long time ago, not long after man discovered fire.

Yet I was bending over and pulling weeds and then – and this is the more miraculous part – standing upright without grunting like a pro on the court at Wimbledon returning a volley.

And so it went: bending, pulling, standing, tossing, over and over until the front beds looked slightly more presentable.

And then I grabbed the smaller of my two rakes and raked up a bit of detritus in the beds. And raked out the grass I'd dumped last year, to help it decompose a little more quickly now.

And then my brain was telling my body that it was time to stop.

So I put the bag of weeds by the garage and removed my gloves, but then thought that I should sweep the front walk and the front stoop and a few cobwebs I'd spied near the front door.

And so I did.

Seriously, my brain said, go inside.

And so I did.

I don't remember now what made me go for the vacuum but I found myself headed back out to the garage to grab an attachment from the vacuum I keep out there for cleaning my car. And then I was inside again. In my bedroom. Kneeling on the floor. Vacuuming underneath my bed.

I stopped to empty the canister on the vacuum.

And then I began again. To reach better, I laid down on the floor. On my stomach. Yet I was using my arms. It was almost like ... exercise.

Finished, I stood up – again, no grunting – and proceeded to vacuum everything I could think of to vacuum with the wand and attachments – apparently, it had been quite some time since I'd thought to vacuum the vents near the ceilings in the bedrooms – and then I tackled the floors.

I paused now and again, to answer a text, to retweet some tweets, but I kept looking for things to do.

Having tackled the weeds in front, I decided to start on the weeds in back.

And so I did.

I remembered the wind chimes in the garage that I haven't hung up for several summers, so I retrieved those and hung those up. And I proceeded to pull some impressive piles of weeds.

I heard the phone ring. Mom had said she'd share dinner with me tonight, so I finished my most immediate weeding and headed inside to check messages. Yep, she had called. My keys were in my car from the morning, when I pulled it out of the garage to retrieve chairs, so I shut the front door to head to Mom's.

Wallet. My wallet was still inside. On the other side of my now-locked front door. So I grabbed the keys from my car, returned to the house, let myself in, grabbed my wallet, locked the door, and got on my way.

Home, I ate – everything; thanks, Mom – and watched the second half of "Close Up with the Hollywood Reporter." (It's good. If you don't watch it, check it out some Sunday.)

And then I tried to get off the couch.

Ha!, my muscles said. Did you really think you were going to be mobile all day and we wouldn't protest?

There seemed to be nothing to do at that point except ... go outside and pull more weeds?

The hell?

So I did. A lot of weeds. Tall weeds. For quite a while. I have a big yard.

I could have kept going but the bag for yard waste was full. And it seemed like a good time to stop. So I put everything away, including my car.

And I came inside and washed my hands and filled a large plastic tumbler with ice and poured a glass of lemonade and plopped down on the love seat and here I am, a bit bemused.

I planned on getting the chairs out today. That was as far as I'd thought.

I hope tomorrow's more boring.