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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Running Out of Stories?

 
During the winter, our friends Phyllis and Harvey came to visit us in the Berkshires for a skiing weekend. As Harvey and I were riding up on the chairlift together, I characteristically began telling a story that connected that moment in time to some event in my past. This is what I do; I tell stories or relate memoir monologues, if you will.
I completed my story, and Harvey said, “Wow! I think that’s one I never heard before.” The comment brought me up short. What was he implying about my storytelling?

I like to think my stories are all interesting both to me and to my listener. Not always the case. I also like to think the stories are in their first telling to my audience and are not recycled. Also not always the case, as Harvey’s comment seemed to show. Sadly, these days the recycling seems to be overtaking the new telling. Which has sparked a great fear in me. Could I be running out of stories!


This could be a serious problem for me. I’m reminded of an old joke. (Don’t stop me, if you have heard it before.) “What do you call a fly when its wings are removed? A walk (rim shot).”  So, what do you call a storyteller whose well of stories is drying up? The answer depends on how determined and insistent the storyteller is. I like to think I am both.

I have taken a few months off to deal with more pressing matters, but I am determined to get my mojo back and to get back into the storytelling racket! It’s a matter of finding some new stories to tell or some new audiences to tell the old ones to. Either would work as far as I am concerned. So I am not really concerned about running out of stories. What worries me is whether I can find an audience for my new or old stories and whether I can convince the audience I find to listen—at least as long as it takes to reach the top of a ski mountain or to get to the end of a blogpost.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Going Up!!!

 
We’ve been spending a lot of time in hospitals lately. My son Brett has had four operations in and around his brain in the past six weeks. The surgeries were followed by stays in the ICU (intensive care unit) and a few weeks in a rehabilitation facility. All of which allows me to generalize a little—hospitals are scary places. They have a look, a smell, and, most of all, a sound all their own.

I thought I had experienced most of the hospital sounds over the past few weeks. Bells, alarms, beeping monitors, loud hacking coughs, cheery nurses, and more. Then I heard something different and a little exciting during Brett’s most recent stay. When we entered the elevator on the ground floor at NYU Hospital, a recorded voice said, “Going up.” Nothing surprising there. But I could swear the words were spoken with an upward lilt. It sounded something like this, “Goooooing uP!”  Not to be outdone, when we entered the elevator on a high floor to start a downward journey, the voice said “Going down” with a little bit of a descending tone, like this: “GOOOing DOWnnnn.”
 
Movin' on up...
Now this may have been my imagination, but I know what I heard. I also see a metaphor here. There is a happiness when you are going up, even if it’s to a hospital room. And if you’re a visitor coming to see a friend or family member, even better. You’re on a mission of hope and joy. When you leave, you might be a little down. After all, you have just experienced being in a hospital!

We are all happy to be hospital free for the near future. There will be some scans to accompany Brett to on a regular basis and perhaps some other potential procedures down the line. Who knows? A lot is unknown when you are dealing with hospitals, no matter how many monitors, and dials, and tubes, and X-ray or CT or MRI machines are there to demystify the unknown. Good health is a precarious thing, as my mother-in-law often wisely noted. She put it this way: “As long as you have your health. . .” She often left the rest of the sentence blank, but we knew just what she meant.

I am happy to report that, for now, Brett has his health. And that sounds pretty uplifting to us.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

 
Too Many Changes 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
                        -- David Bowie

My life had been getting into a pattern lately. Days took on a sameness with slight variations. Work on a few different writing projects. Go to the gym or go downstairs to our exercise equipment. Read from books or on the computer. Watch MSNBC for hours on end and curse the darkness taking over the White House. Think about and do some research for that long-anticipated book (short story, essay, paragraph, sentence, whatever) about my father’s family’s migration from Eastern Europe to the Deep South—which I still haven’t begun writing in earnest, etc.

Some people hate sameness and look forward to change. Me, not so much.

But change seems to keep coming in waves into my life lately.

Last Friday, for instance, I had to work with a new trainer at the gym. New for me at least. I have gotten accustomed to Marlon, my exercise mentor from Peru. He pushes me, but not too hard. I sweat, but not in buckets. But Marlon was going to be away from the gym for several weeks with a mysterious illness. So, I agreed to work with Will, who, as it turns out, seemed to have no respect for my advancing age. Here is an example. He put me on a new machine and showed me how to push and pull properly. He figured I knew what to do after I pulled or pushed five times. Then he said, “Good, do 20 of those.”  Then we began our count. I figured we were starting at 6 since I had already done 1 through 5 getting into the pattern. He began counting at 1! So, we were doing 25 and not 20, it seemed. Outrageous!

Then, he kept increasing the weight on each machine with each rep. Soon, I was sweating buckets. Amazingly, I agreed to work with him two times next week.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
 
Small changes at the gym, big changes elsewhere.
 
The patterns of our lives have been undergoing major changes at home.  Our son Brett initiated those when he collapsed on a New York street a month ago and was rushed to NYU Hospital. Three life-saving brain surgeries later to deal with a long-festering brain tumor, and all of our lives have been turned upside-down and inside-out. For the next several months, he will be living back in our house in New Jersey, building up his strength and stamina and getting his overall health in order. His doctors are optimistic. He and we are learning to be optimistic. We’re looking to get our patterns back. It’s not quite as simple, or as satisfyingly boring as it was before, but we plan on getting back there again soon.

Brett has a happy reunion with our dog Tess.
He'll need the helmet for a few more weeks
to protect his fragile skull.

Brett posing with two fellow baldies.
His recuperation has been going remarkably well.

 Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange) 

Audrey turned to me the other night in bed and said, “I really don’t like change that much.” I have to agree. After all, I remember those days, just last week, when 20 was 20 and not 25.