‘Just remember, open up your mouth every once in a while’

I believe that if I listen to Hestina enough, spring will come.

Science/magic

It’s been cold lately, really cold. Near- or below-freezing temperatures have gone uninterrupted for several days to weeks. We’ve had single-digit stretches leading to massive electric bills causing communitywide panic. We even had to endure an entire week out of school thanks to icy roads. I was sick at the same time, so that was a really great week. It’s been a cold winter overall. Seems like the 50-degree days have been scarce.

On a recent very cold morning when I got into my car to head to work, I looked down to the console and saw my water bottle — a plastic Smart Water bottle I refill as needed — and was surprised to see that it had not frozen overnight. The temperature outside that morning was 29 degrees. But the water in the bottle was as clear and liquefied as ever. So I opened the cap, intending to take a sip, and watched as in the span of about five seconds I was treated to some science that felt like magic in my hand.

The water inside the bottle, as soon as I removed the cap, began freezing from the top down, right in my hand. The ice curled down the sides of the bottle in little spirals of frost, spreading downward and inward until I was left with a bottle holding a tiny iceberg, some unfrozen water left trapped around the sides.

I’d never seen anything like that before, much less held it while it happened.

Move over, Elsa.

Art-ing

I’m trying.

It’s never flattering, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. Opening up your chest and letting people see inside and maybe take a swing at your softest parts, if they want.

I happened to see a last-minute call on Facebook for an open slot for love-themed artwork for the February exhibition at the Gordon JCC‘s art gallery. I emailed the curator my balloons-in-the-trash photo from a few years ago and asked if she’d be interested in it, even though it’s not, ah, all that lovey-dovey. She was more into it than I figured and asked me to bring both the black and white and the color versions. Fast forward to me frantically Googling how to frame/mount photos for gallery display.

When I delivered them — an 11×17 and an 8×10, both framed crisply — she seemed to think they were well priced and might actually sell. Stranger things have happened, probably. So, that’s something to look forward to this month. There’s an exhibition opening on Valentine’s Day, with snacks and wine and such. Pretty neat. Can’t wait to see the other works.

I wrote and submitted a poem to Nashville Review. I’ve got a couple other things I’m working on that I don’t feel are polished enough to submit yet. Truthfully, that one might not have been either but it felt right and the submission deadline clock was ticking and I was having an otherwise very productive day so I felt like “submit a poem for publication” was a reasonable things to want to get ticked off the ol’ to-do list so I just did it. Uncritiqued and everything. Yes, I know how silly and brazen that is. And still. I did it and I lived and I will also live if and when I receive a rejection. It’s the doing the thing that matters, right now.

Next month I’m attending a mixed-media collage-making workshop put on by Wayne Brezinka, who makes such beautiful things. I’m hoping to unblock some creativity. Get some things flowing. Think differently. Lose some fear. So forth and so on.

I’m also trying to fit some writing workshops and meet-ups into my schedule, although this part is a little more daunting to me than the actual writing stuff. My introversion wants to take over and tell me that I cannot possibly mix it up with strangers and show them my work or get anything useful from them — or offer anything useful to them — from them in return. But I know this is not true and that I must. And I will. It will get easier.

I’m doing a Project 365, but this one uses one second of video from every day of your year to make an end-of-year 365-second video. There’s an app to help, of course, and yeah yeah I have already missed one day, but who’s counting?

And then the biggie: I’m working on a novel. Two, actually, but the one I started the year working on has taken a back seat to the one based on this horrifying story from my hometown, which I have written about in passing before. I think about that story from time to time and mentioned it to my friend Olivia, who co-hosts a true-crime podcast that specializes in obscure and local true-crime stories. She did some digging in old news clips and put together an episode about the case. She and her co-host Thashana were kind enough to invite me on Something’s Not Right to talk about the murders from my perspective as a then-17-year-old high school senior. (Click here and select episode 33 to listen.) I hope it goes without saying that my contributions are unscientific and purely speculative, based on innuendo and rumor, so don’t @ me.

Anyway, that story has haunted me through my adult life and I’ve always wanted to write something based on it. So I finally am. I am basing my story loosely on the true events but with purely fictional twists. I started out thinking it’s a YA novel but the deeper I get into it, the less sure I am that that is the right fit, based on how depraved and dark it is going to be. It might be NA or maybe just plain old fiction for whatever age wants to dive into this kind of story.

I’m not ruling out some day trying to write a nonfiction retelling of the real story, but that will require taking time off to do proper research on site in Hardin County, and I haven’t been able to commit the time to that. I want to, though. I feel like a sabbatical from work to write a book is a rite of passage that I would like to experience some day.

Career change

How do you reinvent yourself?

I keep thinking of a career change as a moment where you’re riding in a car and the car door opens and you have to lean out of the door and keep rolling as you fall. If you roll just right, you will have minimal injuries and you might just be able to stand up and walk it off.

A few months ago, the career I had been building in visual journalism ended. It was a weird, anticlimactic ending. Some people leave journalism through an ejection seat — SPROING, you’re out! — but my departure was more like my sidecar pin was removed and I just had to spend the last bit of the ride anticipating the separation. It was instigated by the company I worked for and engineered to take a couple of months. My whole department got the boot but we were all encouraged to reapply for some remaining jobs in other divisions of the company.

I had just celebrated my fifth anniversary at the studio, and was about to close out my third year as creative director. A lot was good but a lot was bad, too. I can’t and won’t get into it all here. I’m sad that it had to end — that we couldn’t keep trying to improve on what we were doing — but if I’m being totally honest, I’m glad to be out of the media grind. It’s such a fickle, demanding, cruel master. It took a lot and gave back very little.

I chose not to reapply for a job. I guess I wanted to take a chance on a change of pace and direction in my professional life, even though I had no clue what that might look like at the time. I was fortunate enough to land a new gig that let me roll out of the car and begin walking again with some semblance of grace. I’m grateful for that.

But who am I now that I am no longer doing, no, living the thing I always assumed was central to my identity?

Turns out I’m free.

I’ve realized that the thing I thought I was passionate about was siphoning time and energy from my own creativity, leaving me feeling a bit empty and resentful.

There are lots of upsides to the change.

Now I can be a news junkie without having to log in or haul ass to the office anytime major news breaks. The holidays feel much less frantic and it is expected that I will take some time off. I can speak freely about political issues and participate in activism.

The big thing I’m confronted with here at this crossroads is what do I want to do, long-term, with myself? With my time?

The other day Holden asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t hesitate. “A writer and an artist.”

In some ways, saying that feels like a kind of revelation. A career coming out. It’s something I’ve always flirted with, always loved, but never actually believed could be a career. That’s in part because I’ve never given it serious time and attention. And in part because I’m terrified of failing.

So, this year I am writing. Here, but also not here. Part of the key to writing for a living is not giving away every little morsel for free on your own website, apparently! This year I am going to submit my work in earnest. I plan to start small — magazines, journals — and work my way up from there.

I’ve got ideas kicking around for picture books and YA/NA series mostly. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on about writing and publishing. I’ve got to reach out and get critique groups and beta readers. Attend workshops and conferences. Put the time in. Rewrite and revise. Rethink and reframe everything I’ve experienced in my life and use it.

It’s exciting and scary. But the thought of going for it feels more comfortable and exciting than any other grand ideas I’ve had about who I am and what I’m meant to do.

From the mouths of babes, January 2018

Without any prompting, ask your child these questions and write down EXACTLY what they say.

Holden, 6 years old:

1. What is something mom always says to you? Stop getting in Sandy’s face.
2. What makes mom happy? To listen and get out of Sandy’s face.
3. What makes mom sad? When I don’t listen to you.
4. How does your mom make you laugh? By saying I’m gonna poop in your face.
5. What was your mom like as a child? I think you were a genius.
6. How old is your mom? 36
7. How tall is your mom? I think 45 pounds.
8. What is her favorite thing to do? To be a artist.
9. What does your mom do when you’re not around? Works.
10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for? I think a Power Ranger.
11. What is your mom really good at? Building lightsabers.
12. What is your mom not very good at? Putting really hard puzzles together.
13. What does your mom do for a job? Works!
14. What is your mom’s favorite food? Pomegranates
15. What makes you proud of your mom? When she does what I tell her what to do.
16. If your mom were a character, who would she be? Ventress!
17. What do you and your mom do together? We play.
18. How are you and your mom the same? We talk the same words.
19. How are you and your mom different? We look different.
20. How do you know your mom loves you? Because I lived a long time with her.
21. What does your mom like most about your step-dad? He’s really funny.
22. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go? Home.
23. How old was your Mom when you were born? Ummm, six?

What are you going to do with your life?

My budding mid-life crisis is apparently that I want to do all the things.

• write and illustrate children’s books
• run a cute farm, like one where there’s a corn maze and people come to pick out pumpkins
• be a travel writer/photographer
• move to a small town and run a photography business and unite the town with spirit-boosting photographs of their lives
• become a letterpress printer
• freelance design part time, have more babies and be a stay-at-home mom
• make jewelry
• move to a mountain town and open a gift shop where I make and sell art and gifts
• write short stories
• get paid to blog and do it better than I do it now, obviously
• work for a social-justice nonprofit
• work on political campaigns and bury Republicans for the next 40 years
• be a trust-fund kid
• make wine
• teach design
• flip houses and retire early

Deck the halls with boughs of snot rags

I was sick the entire first half of 2017. It was a tour de force of ailments — sinus infections, ear infections, pink eye, strep throat — cycling through my body and returning at their leisure, like microbial timeshare owners trying to make their individual marriages work.

I remember two low moments in particular in that span of months:

1.

Sitting in the Walgreens well clinic exam room, my throat swollen painfully shut, unable to issue words louder than a short whisper, shoving my phone at the doctor so she could read the notes I’d written in the Notes app. I was unable to speak and in so much pain that I was sobbing. She told me unceremoniously that she could not look at my phone for information and that if I could not speak, she could not help me and would have to send me to the ER. I cried hot, desperate tears and felt so humiliated. I had been sick for weeks, inexplicably, and I was so tired of being sick. I could barely swallow the excess saliva that had been worked up in my mouth due to my crying, but she made me sit there and gulp it all down, painfully, until I was composed enough to hiss my phone notes to her rather than read them herself.

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2.

The second round of allergy testing at the allergist’s office. The first round of side-by-side pin pricks on my bicep looked gnarly and cruel enough with each pen mark accompanied by a bead of blood, in some places turning to a trickle. But none of the pin pricks swelled up much. That meant that I wasn’t allergic to any of the typical stuff that most people with allergies are triggered by. The allergist was puzzled and asked me for my other arm, so they could go to round two with different triggers. Those pricks barely swelled either. A little for dust, a little for mold and a little for horses. It was just exhausting to go through all that and not feel any closer to understanding what was making me sick all the time.

I was told to stay on a regimen of Zyrtec to control whatever allergic reactions I was having to my triggers, however small they might have been. And the allergist referred me to an ear, nose and throat doctor and for a CT scan, to see if there were physiological/structural issues inside my head.

And were there.

When my ENT doc showed me the scan images, I immediately thought of the outline of the state of Maryland. My septum, which had a bone spur, was all jacked up and impaling a turbinate. Apparently I had had some kind of injury when I was a wee one (my mother speculates that I got beat up on the way out of the birth canal) because so much of the injured area had ossified into bone. On my left side, there was very little opening to allow for air transfer, and my maxillary sinuses were opaque, which is not how they are supposed to look.

So the doctor said that he could do balloon sinuplasty to get in there and clean out the maxillaries, but that if I wanted long-term relief, it would be a good idea to fix the septum and the turbinates (septoplasty + turbinate reduction) so my shit would drain right again and I could breathe like a normal human being.

Which is how I got to looking like this.

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Just your standard-issue mustache bandage, that’s all.

Friday morning I reported bright and early to St. Thomas West and, after two or so hours of prep, I slipped into delicious unconsciousness and my doctor poked and prodded around in my nose endoscopically until he get things arranged in such a way that might lead to normal human functioning.

When I woke up in recovery, the inside of my nose burned and I had dry mouth like you wouldn’t believe. The nurse hustled to get me a Sprite but I kept having to give her the evil eye so she’d bring it over to me every time she placed it just out of reach. She was busy and I was very vocally grateful when she remembered me. They gave me a pain pill and I had been loaded up with anti-nausea meds, and sent me on my way. I felt pretty good the rest of the day and even for most of Saturday. My mom was there to help out (and bring medicine and Ginger ale and distilled water — my version of gold, frankincense and myrrh) and I felt chatty enough to be social for much of the time, as ridiculous as I looked.

It hasn’t been easy to sleep; you have to damn near sit up straight and breathe through your mouth. Mom got me some Biotene for my mouth so it wouldn’t dry out completely while I slept slack-jawed. And since you can’t blow your nose, all this junk gets caught up in the scaffolding (the stents) so it rattles around and feels heavy and pressurized and drives me nuts.

The pain wasn’t too bad until Sunday, when the soreness inside my nose really kicked in. And the sore throats from the drainage and the mouth-breathing while sleeping are pretty gross. And my skin itches from the dry air and the painkillers. So it’s a lot of annoying discomfort, interrupted by short and unfulfilling naps.

Still, it’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s certainly been a less painful recovery than having an ovary out. That hurt. And if all this discomfort leads eventually to being able to breathe normally without Afrin, it will be completely worth it.

I’ve been watching a lot of TV and doing Christmas shopping on the ol’ Amazon. And some wrapping! And I’ve made a bunch of stationery and done some laundry. You can’t keep this gal from doing laundry.

My post-op is Wednesday, when they are set to remove the stents. The stents are severely annoying. They hurt and there is gunk trapped up around them. I am constantly trying to flush it all out with my little sinus rinse kit, but the pressure from that hurts too, and frankly the stuff I am flushing out is VERY DISAPPOINTING compared to what I was reading about pre-surgery on the internet. Oh well. I’m not too torn up about it, I guess. There’s always the internet if I need disgusting photos of things that came out of people’s bodies.

UPDATE: Tuesday, 12:55 p.m. I got too cocky. I flew too close to the sun! I was feeling pretty good over the weekend but yesterday it hit me like a truck and I’ve been feeling horrible. I have a headache that won’t quit and nausea to boot. My doctor called in some Zofran that my lovely husband picked up for me. The mouthbreathing is getting to me. I am so tired but getting no good rest. The stents come out tomorrow so I’m hoping for some relief after that. The pressure inside my head is insane.

UPDATE: Friday, 9:38 a.m. Wednesday morning my dear and patient and lovely husband — who, the night before, endured a bona fide temper tantrum as I was lying in bed, unable to breathe through my nose at all but plenty able to yell at the ceiling — took me to the doc to have the stents taken out. I took a pain pill that morning in anticipation of the unpleasant experience, so I sat there in the waiting room, blissed out except for the moments when my reality was interrupted by the acute inanity of Pickler and Ben, which was on the waiting-room television, until we were called back.

First order of business was to weigh me, and I swear I had gained 10 pounds since they weighed me the day of the surgery (thanks, painkillers!). Then the nurse had me sit so she could snip the stitch at the inside of the tip of my nose. That took a few tries but wasn’t painful.

Then she removed the left stent — the side of my nose that had had the most surgical work and had been the most sore — and it was a surreal mix of pain and relief that was closer to childbirth than not.

It was like this thing bloomed out of my face. A disgusting flower, grown from just beneath my eyes.

Also, IT WAS HUGE. It was basically the size of two fingers, but flat. I had my glasses off so I couldn’t see it in all its glory for very long, but here’s what we were dealing with.

She then removed the stent from the right side, and I had the same nose-giving-birth-to-a-giant-plastic-flower sensation. The nurse complimented me on my nasal rinsing, which I had done religiously, as what she pulled out of me was not nearly as disgusting as what she probably pulls out of some less meticulous rinsers. In fact, they pulled out almost entirely clean. (So if you ever get this done, rinse every two to three hours, no joke. It makes a difference.)

As soon as those things were out, I COULD BREATHE. I could feel air entering my head and hitting the back of my skull. Sort of. It felt that way, at least. I had never realized that this is how we are meant to breathe. That oxygen can just waltz into your head so effortlessly. It was a revelation.

The doctor came in to look at things and declared everything to be looking nice and clear. He used an analogy to explain what had been going on in my head. Let me see if I can relay it:

If you’re sitting in a small room and there’s a wall, a door and a cabinet with a drawer, and the drawer works fine, but the wall is bowed in to the point where it’s forced the door open and the wall and the door are blocking the drawer, the drawer won’t open. The drawer works fine in theory but all the other stuff is making its job impossible. So you have to fix the wall, move the door back in place and then the drawer will be able to open.

The wall is my septum, the door is my turbinate(s), and the drawer is the opening of my maxillary sinus.

He also explained some things about my particular allergy triggers — dust and mold — that made them seem a lot more serious and in need of active management than I had realized. So I need to probably do more proactive management than pop Zyrtec in the near future. Like, say, fast-track the plan to rip up the carpet in the den. Just throwing that out there, in case anyone I am married to reads this blog.

Anyway, I felt like I was on top of the world and able to conquer anything, so I set out to run errands that afternoon. But, again I was being too cocky. I got one errand done and ended up going right back home, as motion sickness and fatigue kicked in.

Nausea and fatigue were the name of the game the rest of that evening and all of Thursday. (I’m now wondering if it’s the antibiotics, since I’ve had a fair amount of gastrointestinal distress.) Thursday I stayed glued to the couch the entire day, unable to do much more than load the dishwasher. My left nostril started acting really weird when I tried to blow it. It was obstructed with something that made a loud and uncomfortable flapping noise and sensation (a nose trumpet). It wouldn’t budge with gentle-to-medium-pressure blowing so I assumed that I had broken something in there with my vigorous blowing from the day before.

I envisioned my septum, unmoored, flapping around in there. I know that’s not how it works; I have an active and neurotic imagination.

All day Thursday I was convinced I was going to have to go back under the knife. I laid there, seething with every breath I took where I could feel something rattling around in there.

It wasn’t until my gentle, patient, humble, loving, long-suffering husband came home from working while I watched cartoons all day that he reminded me it was probably just a giant scab booger that had gotten loose. So I steeled my jaw and gathered my petticoats and abandoned my fainting couch and retired to the bathroom to do a sinus rinse. And lo and behold what broke free and exited my face was cathartic. And horrible.

Husband really wanted to see it but I am just not ready to enter that phase of our marriage. I want there to be some mystery about my secretions for at least a year.

Anyway, I could breathe again, air-to-the-back-of-my-skull breathe again. Nothing was broken. Septum wasn’t flapping. Everything was clear. It was amazing. Life affirming.

So the moral of the story is keep doing those rinses. They help.

It’s now Friday and I am feeling the best I have yet. I went to sleep able to breathe and woke up able to breathe. No nose spray required. I have not been able to go to sleep, sleep all night or wake up without a spritz (or five) of nose spray since I was in sixth grade.

I’m feeling less nauseated than I have in several days, which is good because school lets out for winter break at 11:30 and I’ve got to go get the boy. I am hoping to be able to get out and about with him this weekend. We’re going to pick out a real Christmas tree — the first of my adult (and most of my) life.

I cannot wait to smell it.