"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bill Got a Laptop

and sent this post. I don't know if he typed it, which would have been quite arduous, or dictated, which also would have been arduous, but it was a good read, and I've pasted in part of it here (I added the links):

A message from the other side of brain surgery

On July 17,2008, my neurosurgeon, Dr. Muizelaar, removed an aggressive meningioma tumor from my brain. The operation was successful and removed a mass the size of a mandarin orange, according to the Doctor! Now there will be a recovery period where I will have to relearn basic functions like sitting, standing, walking, and speaking in complete sentences. I feel great support from you all, through your thoughts, prayers, and postings on CarePages.

From the ragged ruins of my swollen brain, this passage from the poem “Ullyses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson beckons. It brings comfort as evidence of a memory at least partially intact and as a reminder of the brave work of my friends and colleagues who struggle every day to make this world just a little kinder.

Come my friends.
Tis not too late to seek a newer world!
…Though much has been taken,
Much abides.
And though we are not that strength
That in younger years moved earth and heaven,
That which we are, we are.
One equal temper of heroic heart,
Made weak by time and fate,
But strong in will.
To seek, to find, to seize,
And never to yield.

My Condition

Due to general right side paralysis linked to post operative swelling of the brain, my function is quite limited. I cannot stand, walk, or manipulate the wheelchair without assistance. I cannot speak in complete sentences, though I can conceive what I want to say. The most profound symptom I am faced with is fatigue. 20 minutes of any type of activity leaves me fully spent requiring sustained rest. This will improve as the swelling goes down.

I am in good spirits feeling loved and supported by all. It seems fortuitous that most of the irritation of the brain was in the left hemisphere, the general source of our individuality and ego. As a consequence, I spend a lot of time in that blissful region of the brain where all is “one”. I get weepy at times when I feel the connections with so many who share their own stories and support at this time. We really do have more in common with each other as a species, as a community and as friends than we have dared to admit. I like this side of the brain. It joins, as one, the spiritual presence of my friends and colleagues without regard to generations, decades, or specific relationships. It sustains non-specific bliss and support from all, and in combinations never before thought of....

It sounds like his experience is similar in some respects to that of the neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor who wrote a book about how her stroke & subsequent recovery lit up her right hemisphere in such a way as to change her whole view and approach to life.

Interestingly there is a passage from "Ulysses" that frequently pops into my thoughts as well, and has done so for years and years since high school so that it's like a kind of mantra:

"I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move."

I think especially the line "I am a part of all that I have met" is the one that has always resonated.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Zen and the science of fuel economy

Been hearing all about the benefits of driving 60 mph for some time now, and just (coincidentally) spent about $60 filling my tank, so decided to try it on the way down to this training in Los Gatos. My truck doesn't have cruise control so it requires me to pay attention. Sometimes it felt like I was moving backwards but mostly I noticed how much calmer I felt. I got behind a Prius driving 55 at one point, and thought about driving alongside it but people are probably already disturbed enough by anyone driving below the speed limit that it would be counterproductive to aggravate them by slowing down two out of the four lanes on that stretch of the 680.

I'm going to try to do it for the whole tank (which means at least until Sunday) to see what the difference is. I think I got about 25 - 26 MPG on the last tank. They said on NPR this morning that for every mile per hour you drive over 60 mph, you add about $0.30 a gallon to the price of your gas.

It seems like a form of protest against the car culture. Or at least a refusal to keep buying into the mindset that you have to get everywhere as fast as you possibly can. I've driven the hurried way for a long time and paradoxically I'm almost always late for everything. Today I drove 'slowly' and reached my destination an hour early. Maybe the gas price thing...maybe other, um, factors...enabled me to break through my resistance to the idea of not driving 70 mph everywhere I go. I drive a lot, so if I can practice mindfulness while driving, that's a lot of practice.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

She can swim, too!

Now this would have been something to catch on video (or even a still photo), but the first time it happened it was unexpected. I knew that Ripley likes to wet her paws. When she's hot (which is often), she prefers to wear her water rather than drink it. I was curious to see how she would react to Heather's koi pond. However, I wasn't expecting her to jump in and swim across. The first time she did it, I don't think she expected it either...it gets deep pretty suddenly when you're only 8" tall. I was momentarily terrified, ready to wade in and fish her out, but she kept her head up and made it to the other side just fine. The next day she was a bit more cautious but eager to try it again.

I'll have to get her one of those little doggie life jackets. I don't think they make water wings short enough.

Kinda seems like my dog is getting all the exercise lately, doesn't it? If she could learn to ride a bike she'd be ready for a triathlon. Heather is coaching a women's cycling group...maybe Ripley could sign up. Or maybe her mama just needs to get her that trailer and hit the road. Ripley could be like R2-D2...when I get tired riding uphill, I could say, "Ripley, try to increase the power..."

Update on Bill

No wonder he can remember all the lines. He's obviously a member of the troupe [as I have long suspected].

Bill's out of the ICU and into a regular hospital room. A colleague from our Executive Office in Sacramento posted this yesterday:

...[It] was wonderful to see how alert, aware and fully cognitive Bill is at this point. (And it is only getting better, as they dial down the pain meds.) As I walked up to the side of his bed, Bill began to quote back to me a poem excerpt I had shared with him several years back, from Lord Tennyson's Ulysses, "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." [...] I just hung out with Bill and, as I read the newspaper, he asked about the latest news and we talked politics. It was pretty much just like hanging out with him in his office (sans his usual sartorial splendor) and parsing and flaying the latest political headlines. Allowing for the predictable effects of his being tired from the surgery and a bit dazed from the meds and all, Bill was totally all over the topic at hand.

The guy's unstoppable. We're talking 100% Bill, here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


She chases the ball enthusiastically and usually brings it back, but doesn't like to surrender it. H's kitty is not very impressed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My friend Bill

Bill is one of my heroes and a great mentor. It's probably all his fault that I got a Legal Services job right out of law school (and if you're wondering what I mean by that, I'll just say that the feelings of gratitude far outweigh any feelings of blame). He has been doing this work for thirty-something years and still always seems full of compassion and enthusiasm. He is a creative and extensive thinker. Known for going off on tangents and having a rather messy office. Known for his ability to quote entire Monty Python skits. Sometime last year he was diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumor. I think he was having horrible headaches and perhaps other problems, but he works in our main offices 90 miles away and I don't have a good sense of how he has been affected day to day. When I've seen him in the last several months I wouldn't have been able to tell anything was wrong. He's the one who made it possible for me and a co-worker to go to a conference in New Orleans last March, where he was presenting at one of the sessions, and he went out on the town with us and treated everybody (who dared) to a round of Absinthe in the French Quarter.

He's having surgery to remove the tumor tomorrow. Apparently it's quite deep in there and nobody knows to what extent his functioning will be impaired when he wakes up, or for how long. He says he's in great spirits because friends and family and colleagues have been showering him with love and appreciation. This is a very scary thing. I can't imagine how his wife and son must be feeling. His last pre-surgery post today reminded me of a famous line from Moby Dick that I know he'd appreciate: "I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing"--Stubb.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Night of the living kitteh...

or maybe "28 Kittehs Later."

more cat pictures

Zombies, kittens...there's a whole untapped subgenre here.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Dogs love trucks

I picked Ripley up on Monday afternoon and Tuesday we headed back out to the coast. The trip was a bit more of an endurance event than we expected. Along Highway 20, about 20 miles from the first town near the lake (Clearlake Oaks), I thought I should pull off at a vista point to let Ripley have a potty break. In the process of removing her from her carrier and attaching her leash, I dropped my keys in the front seat and locked us out. (Both of us, thank goodness.)

My cell phone was locked in the truck but there was no service in that area anyway. Unlike Blanche Dubois I have not always relied on the kindness of strangers, though sometimes there are no alternatives. We stood by the entrance of the vista point and tried to flag somebody down, and after not too much time two men in a white crew-cab Dodge pickup stopped. Due to their very clean and well-groomed appearance as well as the immaculateness of their truck I thought at first they might be a couple, but then the one not driving showed me a cellphone photo of his wife and kids (as if to resolve any unspoken suspicions).

At any rate, they were very kind, driving us all the way into Clearlake Oaks before we had any cell service, letting me borrow a cellphone to call roadside assistance, giving Ripley water (it was pretty hot outside), and then driving us back to the intersection of highways 53 and 20 so that the tow truck could pick us up on the way back to my truck without racking up extra miles that my roadside assistance wouldn't cover. The driver told me I didn't look like a typical hitchhiker, and he thought maybe I was giving away puppies there at the roadside. He was ready to gun it and drive on by, but his buddy said, "She's in trouble," so he stopped. I thanked them as profusely as I could.

The ordeal added at least three hours to our trip (and added a good chunk of time to our rescuers' trip, too). Ripley was so well-behaved and mellow I started to worry that something was wrong with her. She just seems to go into energy- saver mode in the car and slept nearly the whole time.

She perked up when we arrived. In the last two days we've worked on 'Sit' and 'Come' and she already has those down pretty well. She had her first view / taste / feel of the ocean yesterday. And passed out when we got back to the house.

[She's in the back of the truck here for photo-op purposes only.]

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

His legs may run in the Olympics

[Note: Puppy update and photos from our first couple days are forthcoming.]

Just found this story in the NY Times about Van Phillips, who lives in Mendocino, and who invented a prosthetic leg for elite runners and athletes while he was working at the Center for Biomedical Design at the U. of Utah. South African double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius will attempt to qualify for the 400m sprint wearing two of Phillips' "Cheetah Foot" prosthetics after some controversy about whether the carbon graphite legs / feet would give Pistorius an unfair advantage over sprinters who are stuck with regular feet and legs. Huh.

Perhaps the I.A.A.F. was afraid that allowing Pistorius to participate would release a flood of double-amputee super athletes who would dominate the track with their springy, energy-efficient appendages. This man was born missing bones in his lower legs, so the fact that at some point, probably quite early in life, he decided he wanted to be a great runner kinda makes you rethink your sense of your own limitations, doesn't it? And Phillips' invention makes it possible. Sometimes it's a pretty neat thing to be human.