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Body: in sickness and in health

I won't lie; this body and I have had our issues with each other for many years. Body image -- sure. Physical and mental overextension -- comes with being a Type A kind of girl. I still struggle with these things, so they show up from time to time in my writing.

More recently, illness, pure but not simple, has added itself to the mix in a multi-system sort of way. And the challenges in figuring out exactly what's gone wrong are many. As problems have revealed themselves in the last few years, beginning with reactive hypoglycemia in late 2008, I've documented them here, partly to gain a little clarity on managing complex conditions but mostly to give voice to vulnerabilities I feel but don't normally share with anyone face to face. Better out than in, they say, right? (Oh yes, humor is one way I deal.)

The links below cover the different angles I've examined (and from which I've been examined) within that experience.

Travel: neither here nor there

When the person you're married to lives two time zones away, you log a fair number of frequent flier miles. And if you blog about commuter relationships, you log quite a few posts en route too.

Since we're no longer in separate places, I blog less often from airports. But we do travel -- together now! -- which is much more fun to write about. So in addition to thoughts on our years of commuting, the links below cover the places we've been as a pair and, in some cases, the adventures that have happened on the way.

Writing: the long and short of it

Why do I do it? Good question. Maybe it's not so much that I like to write but that I have to write, even when the words refuse to stick to the page. Believe me, I've tried doing other things like majoring in biochemistry (freshman fall, many semesters ago). Within a year, I'd switched to English with a concentration in creative writing and wasn't looking back.

After graduating, I taught English for a few years and then worked as an editor, which I still do freelance. In 2007, I applied and got into an MFA program at a place I like to call Little U. on the Prairie. I finished my degree in 2011 and have been balancing tutoring and writing on my own ever since.

The following links cover the writing I've done about writing: process, content, obstacles, you name it. It's not always pretty. But some part of me loves it, even when it's hard. And this is the result.

Heart: family and friends

I'd have a hard time explaining who I am without being able to talk about the family I grew up in as well as the people I've met beyond its bounds. But even with such context, it's not easy! In the simplest terms, I'm a first-generation Asian-American who has spent most of this life caught between cultures. That, of course, doesn't even begin to describe what I mean to, but there's my first stab at the heart of it all.

That's what this group of posts is reserved for -- heart. The essential parts of my life whose influences I carry with me, for better or worse. The links below cover what I've written as I've learned how these forces work within me, for me, against me, in spite of me. They anchor me even as they change me, and they keep life interesting.

Recommended reading

What do I do when there's too much on my mind and my words won't stick to the page? I escape into someone else's thoughts. Below is a collection of books and articles that have been sources of information, inspiration, and occasional insight for my own work.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hold, hope, repeat

I was finishing the hem on one of the curtains when my phone rang last Friday, a call from Canada. I've known in my heart for at least a year that such a call might come at any point. But I hadn't thought about what I'd do when it did come. At least, not recently.

It was my grandmother, my aunt said. She was in the hospital, some kind of infection -- a lung, her bladder, her kidneys. It wasn't looking good. Was my mother around?

I told her she wasn't -- Troubadour Mom was actually visiting Almost Dr. Sis -- and gave my aunt their cell phone numbers.

That's where it got complicated.

Some time later that night, while D and I were grocery shopping, the calls started coming in -- Troubadour Dad (also visiting my sister) and Almost Dr. Sis, trying to figure out what exactly my aunt had told me about my grandmother's condition, updating me on my mother's plans to fly to Toronto right away. Was I planning to go?

I didn't know.

"Of course you should go," said one voice in my ear as I stood immobilized in front of the meat counter. "You want to be there."

"But are you really up for this?" said another, the one I've been trying to listen to more. "Can you handle it?"

"Well," I said to them both, "what does it entail?"

It was never clear for three days afterward. More calls, back and forth, trying to assess how serious my grandmother's condition was, whether there were imminent end-of-life decisions on the line. She was fighting the infection but unable to eat, or so it seemed. Not having an answer, I held tickets to get me to Canada on a red-eye every night of this week, since I couldn't get updates on the situation until the end of each day. If this was indeed the end, I did want to be there, to bear witness -- my grandmother was unlikely to recognize me or respond to much, given her condition, so being there for her was sadly not the primary reason to go.

But being there would also mean getting drawn into family politics, volatile and difficult to navigate (in crisis or at any other time), and the associated pressure to look after others first before myself, as I'd always been taught. This, in a larger sense, is what I've been trying to disentangle myself from for so long: the familial forces that make any decision to act in my own interest so hard. The forces that have made me fearful of being a nuisance with my own needs, fearful of being hurt because I put those needs out there only to have them struck down. Stay or go, speak or keep silent, and for whom?

Last night, my grandmother was released to go back to her nursing home. Yes, she rallied and survived, to our relief. She still can't eat much, which is of great concern -- dehydration and the dangers that come with it will keep looming unless she's monitored closely, and the staff in her residence are spread thin. What concerns me more, though, is this battle of my own, selfish as it may sound. I didn't go because I couldn't bring myself to face my fears. It was too soon after I'd finally identified what those fears were.

But it kills me now that I was and still am in my own way, at such a crucial moment. I'm better than this. Or at least, I want so much to be.

16 comments:

Corinne said...

Oh honey, it's so hard to step out of our own way. So very very hard.
Your grandmother will be in my thoughts.

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks, Corinne, so very much.

Kristen @ Motherese said...

This post tears me apart, CT.

First of all, I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother. She and you will be in my thoughts.

I suppose we all have some version of the "familial forces" you describe so painfully and so powerfully, but the idea of yours intersecting with your grandmother's situation makes the concept almost unbearable. And there's just no easy answer, is there, because neither option is an attractive one?

Ugh. Just so sorry that you have to deal with these forces mixed with your fears. So, so sorry.

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks for such kindly worded understanding, Kristen. It's very much the lack of attractive option that makes the whole situation feel ugly. Sometimes, no matter how hard we mull over ways to make things work, they (and we) are just not flexible enough. I won't let this go down in my mind as "giving up" -- but the residual feeling is one of loss.

suzicate said...

Those kind of decisions that make you choose your own comfort or the needs/demands of family pull right at our very cores. Only you know the dynamics of your past and your family and how it affects you. Only you can make those decisions. And as difficult as it is to choose yourself is usually the best thing you can do for your own health and sanity. I know sometimes some families use manipulation and guilt to get ther way at the expense of others. I hope that is not happening to you because it is a nasty process and you will hurt.

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks, SuziCate, for the wise words. At the moment, there's no manipulation going on -- but old habits of being (the ones we slip into when we return to our families) are what I'm wrestling with. In a way, those habits are the manipulators. They convince me to force my own needs out of the picture in unhealthy ways. In a situation with less at stake for others, I might be able to push back on those tendencies, but my mother's well-being was going to take precedence. I wasn't ready to weigh that against my own, even though I felt I ought to.

theycallmejane said...

Holding you and your grandmother close to my heart. I've been in this very difficult spot a few times in my life. Always painful, to be sure. So sorry you're having to struggle.

C. Troubadour said...

Oh, Jane, such warmth! Thank you. I'm sorry you've been in this place before -- and more than once. I imagine it's never really easier, even with practice.

TKW said...

Man, I wish I could make things easier for you, sweet CT. You have so much to offer. It's hard to forge those boundaries, isn't it?

I hope your grandmother improves. And I'm sorry you feel so stuck. ((hugs))

C. Troubadour said...

They are, Kitch, very hard to forge. But they're necessary, as I know you know -- you've written about that subject with such grace. Thinking of you too.

BigLittleWolf said...

You are not alone in this at all. So many women are - as you say - "in their own way."

This statement could probably be my mantra, and the mantra of tens of thousands of women. And you put it so clearly:

This, in a larger sense, is what I've been trying to disentangle myself from for so long: the familial forces that make any decision to act in my own interest so hard.

Learning to disentangle ourselves and care for ourselves is a long slow process when we've been trained to watch after everyone else first. It sounds like you are taking steps. That's important. It's progress.

As for your grandmother, my thoughts are with you. There is a special bond, often, between grandparents and children. Surely she knows and feels your love.

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks, BLW, for the words of comfort and solidarity. While I wish being in our own way wasn't such a common experience, knowing that others feel this lessens the sense of isolation. It is hard because of how we've been trained. I forget that being conscious of this is progress at all.

I'm not sure how much my grandmother knows and feels my love from so far away -- more often than not, she is heavily medicated and not by choice. But deep within her mind, she is still able to understand my relation to her when she's told who I am. She knows who I am supposed to be -- her granddaughter -- and she loves me just for that. So you are right. I just hope she also knows that I love her the same way, because she is my grandmother.

Good Enough Woman said...

(((CT)))

Your little picture of your ticket holds makes my heart reach out to you. I can just see you at your computer, undecided, unsure, staring at the flight times on the stupid screen, trying to decide what to do.

Suckage.

(((CT)))

C. Troubadour said...

Hey there, GEW. It does look pretty undecided from all those holds, eh? Extra complicated having to fly from our coast :P. I'm glad there were overnight flights -- makes me feel like I can shorten the trip somehow by flying when I'm supposed to be sleeping (because I conk out on planes before they've left the ground). Otherwise I'd leave here at 6 a.m. and still not get in till evening over there.

Thanks for the hugs.

French Fancy said...

I can totally understand the dilemma you were in, CT. You must have been going through agonies - you were right to put yourself first. You've had such a rotten time within the family and this is now your time - the time for you to do just what you want to do. I realise this makes me sound a very selfish and self-contained person and I suppose I am.
But then I do not have parents any more and that is sad but it is also very liberating.

C. Troubadour said...

Ah, but what is it I actually want, FF? That's what I don't exactly know.

Selfish and self-contained? I don't think those are the words I'd choose. I'd say you understand the need for self-preservation. If you were truly self-contained, how would you be able to have such a life as you do with Mr. FF? :)

As for liberation -- what I'd really love is to have that without actually having to lose my parents. But they're not making it easy to make progress on that goal ...

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hold, hope, repeat

I was finishing the hem on one of the curtains when my phone rang last Friday, a call from Canada. I've known in my heart for at least a year that such a call might come at any point. But I hadn't thought about what I'd do when it did come. At least, not recently.

It was my grandmother, my aunt said. She was in the hospital, some kind of infection -- a lung, her bladder, her kidneys. It wasn't looking good. Was my mother around?

I told her she wasn't -- Troubadour Mom was actually visiting Almost Dr. Sis -- and gave my aunt their cell phone numbers.

That's where it got complicated.

Some time later that night, while D and I were grocery shopping, the calls started coming in -- Troubadour Dad (also visiting my sister) and Almost Dr. Sis, trying to figure out what exactly my aunt had told me about my grandmother's condition, updating me on my mother's plans to fly to Toronto right away. Was I planning to go?

I didn't know.

"Of course you should go," said one voice in my ear as I stood immobilized in front of the meat counter. "You want to be there."

"But are you really up for this?" said another, the one I've been trying to listen to more. "Can you handle it?"

"Well," I said to them both, "what does it entail?"

It was never clear for three days afterward. More calls, back and forth, trying to assess how serious my grandmother's condition was, whether there were imminent end-of-life decisions on the line. She was fighting the infection but unable to eat, or so it seemed. Not having an answer, I held tickets to get me to Canada on a red-eye every night of this week, since I couldn't get updates on the situation until the end of each day. If this was indeed the end, I did want to be there, to bear witness -- my grandmother was unlikely to recognize me or respond to much, given her condition, so being there for her was sadly not the primary reason to go.

But being there would also mean getting drawn into family politics, volatile and difficult to navigate (in crisis or at any other time), and the associated pressure to look after others first before myself, as I'd always been taught. This, in a larger sense, is what I've been trying to disentangle myself from for so long: the familial forces that make any decision to act in my own interest so hard. The forces that have made me fearful of being a nuisance with my own needs, fearful of being hurt because I put those needs out there only to have them struck down. Stay or go, speak or keep silent, and for whom?

Last night, my grandmother was released to go back to her nursing home. Yes, she rallied and survived, to our relief. She still can't eat much, which is of great concern -- dehydration and the dangers that come with it will keep looming unless she's monitored closely, and the staff in her residence are spread thin. What concerns me more, though, is this battle of my own, selfish as it may sound. I didn't go because I couldn't bring myself to face my fears. It was too soon after I'd finally identified what those fears were.

But it kills me now that I was and still am in my own way, at such a crucial moment. I'm better than this. Or at least, I want so much to be.

16 comments:

Corinne said...

Oh honey, it's so hard to step out of our own way. So very very hard.
Your grandmother will be in my thoughts.

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks, Corinne, so very much.

Kristen @ Motherese said...

This post tears me apart, CT.

First of all, I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother. She and you will be in my thoughts.

I suppose we all have some version of the "familial forces" you describe so painfully and so powerfully, but the idea of yours intersecting with your grandmother's situation makes the concept almost unbearable. And there's just no easy answer, is there, because neither option is an attractive one?

Ugh. Just so sorry that you have to deal with these forces mixed with your fears. So, so sorry.

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks for such kindly worded understanding, Kristen. It's very much the lack of attractive option that makes the whole situation feel ugly. Sometimes, no matter how hard we mull over ways to make things work, they (and we) are just not flexible enough. I won't let this go down in my mind as "giving up" -- but the residual feeling is one of loss.

suzicate said...

Those kind of decisions that make you choose your own comfort or the needs/demands of family pull right at our very cores. Only you know the dynamics of your past and your family and how it affects you. Only you can make those decisions. And as difficult as it is to choose yourself is usually the best thing you can do for your own health and sanity. I know sometimes some families use manipulation and guilt to get ther way at the expense of others. I hope that is not happening to you because it is a nasty process and you will hurt.

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks, SuziCate, for the wise words. At the moment, there's no manipulation going on -- but old habits of being (the ones we slip into when we return to our families) are what I'm wrestling with. In a way, those habits are the manipulators. They convince me to force my own needs out of the picture in unhealthy ways. In a situation with less at stake for others, I might be able to push back on those tendencies, but my mother's well-being was going to take precedence. I wasn't ready to weigh that against my own, even though I felt I ought to.

theycallmejane said...

Holding you and your grandmother close to my heart. I've been in this very difficult spot a few times in my life. Always painful, to be sure. So sorry you're having to struggle.

C. Troubadour said...

Oh, Jane, such warmth! Thank you. I'm sorry you've been in this place before -- and more than once. I imagine it's never really easier, even with practice.

TKW said...

Man, I wish I could make things easier for you, sweet CT. You have so much to offer. It's hard to forge those boundaries, isn't it?

I hope your grandmother improves. And I'm sorry you feel so stuck. ((hugs))

C. Troubadour said...

They are, Kitch, very hard to forge. But they're necessary, as I know you know -- you've written about that subject with such grace. Thinking of you too.

BigLittleWolf said...

You are not alone in this at all. So many women are - as you say - "in their own way."

This statement could probably be my mantra, and the mantra of tens of thousands of women. And you put it so clearly:

This, in a larger sense, is what I've been trying to disentangle myself from for so long: the familial forces that make any decision to act in my own interest so hard.

Learning to disentangle ourselves and care for ourselves is a long slow process when we've been trained to watch after everyone else first. It sounds like you are taking steps. That's important. It's progress.

As for your grandmother, my thoughts are with you. There is a special bond, often, between grandparents and children. Surely she knows and feels your love.

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks, BLW, for the words of comfort and solidarity. While I wish being in our own way wasn't such a common experience, knowing that others feel this lessens the sense of isolation. It is hard because of how we've been trained. I forget that being conscious of this is progress at all.

I'm not sure how much my grandmother knows and feels my love from so far away -- more often than not, she is heavily medicated and not by choice. But deep within her mind, she is still able to understand my relation to her when she's told who I am. She knows who I am supposed to be -- her granddaughter -- and she loves me just for that. So you are right. I just hope she also knows that I love her the same way, because she is my grandmother.

Good Enough Woman said...

(((CT)))

Your little picture of your ticket holds makes my heart reach out to you. I can just see you at your computer, undecided, unsure, staring at the flight times on the stupid screen, trying to decide what to do.

Suckage.

(((CT)))

C. Troubadour said...

Hey there, GEW. It does look pretty undecided from all those holds, eh? Extra complicated having to fly from our coast :P. I'm glad there were overnight flights -- makes me feel like I can shorten the trip somehow by flying when I'm supposed to be sleeping (because I conk out on planes before they've left the ground). Otherwise I'd leave here at 6 a.m. and still not get in till evening over there.

Thanks for the hugs.

French Fancy said...

I can totally understand the dilemma you were in, CT. You must have been going through agonies - you were right to put yourself first. You've had such a rotten time within the family and this is now your time - the time for you to do just what you want to do. I realise this makes me sound a very selfish and self-contained person and I suppose I am.
But then I do not have parents any more and that is sad but it is also very liberating.

C. Troubadour said...

Ah, but what is it I actually want, FF? That's what I don't exactly know.

Selfish and self-contained? I don't think those are the words I'd choose. I'd say you understand the need for self-preservation. If you were truly self-contained, how would you be able to have such a life as you do with Mr. FF? :)

As for liberation -- what I'd really love is to have that without actually having to lose my parents. But they're not making it easy to make progress on that goal ...