The Inspiration of Junk Mail

When you sit in front of a computer all day like I do, the temptation to look at interesting websites is, well, tempting. And sometimes that temptation leads me to purchase items from those websites. And once you do that, they have to mail stuff to you. That puts you on their mailing lists. Then they send you catalogs. Forever.

And they sell your email address and your snail mail address to anyone they want to. So I get some odd stuff, and I get some interesting stuff: a catalog for “goddesses,” for example, featuring “vixen” clothing, not exactly my style, arrives the same day as one from JC Penney, also not my style, but which must have given our mail carrier a bit of whiplash.

I reached for the LL Bean catalog (more my style) tucked in the middle of all this and took in the comfort of its Caslon typeface and tried to feel the nap of the chamois shirt with my cheek—maybe because I miss Maine, maybe to shake off that goddess catalog.

But yesterday’s mail also brought another catalog from that place that offers great courses, I mean Great Courses, I mean THE GREAT COURSES. You know, you send them money, they send you DVDs or CDs of lectures by leading professors on the history of European art or the joy of astronomy or argumentation: the study of effective reasoning. All for a reasonable charge, of course.

This is what inspired me. No, not the reasonable charge. We’ll deal with that later.

It was the description of the courses that inspired me.

I was fired up to learn something. Old Testament? New Testament? The Art of Critical Decision Making? Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution? These were indeed THE GREAT COURSES.

The various courses on brain matters (pun!) caught my eye. Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide To Critical Thinking Skills. Understanding The Mysteries Of Human Behavior. Understanding The Brain. Egad. How to choose!

Then I turned the page. There was the right course, the one and only course for me, the course that would challenge me, push me beyond all reasonable limits and at the same time give me a skill I could maybe someday actually use, not to mention bragging rights, and maybe homework help for my son.

Calculus.

Or, more precisely: Change and Motion: Calculus Made Clear. See, doesn’t that sound friendly? And the blurb that accompanies it compares calculus to Beethoven’s symphonies, which I understand fully.

The blurb (which is nearly a page long) also says: “…the course takes the approach that every equation is in fact also a sentence that can be understood, and solved, in English.”

Hey, that’s my language! I speak it every day! And I’m writing in it right now!

The blurb continues: “It requires only a basic acquaintance with beginning high-school-level algebra and geometry.”

O.K., stop snickering. Yes, I know I am defeated by long division, thanks to that blasted stroke, but that’s what calculators are for. And that’s not algebra anyway. That’s—that’s—fourth grade math, and dear Mrs. Monell taught it to me, and it’s gone forever, but I remember the concept at least, and I think that’s what is important here.

Algebra is a bit tricky. I had two years of algebra in high school, more or less, mostly less, because the second year was more of a social gathering than anything else. I’m trying very hard to remember what we were taught in that class, and all I can really recall is sitting around in a circle on cozy chairs and chatting about anything we wanted, but that can’t be right, can it? We were a hand-selected group of seniors, at a school that did not believe in “honors” classes.

The teacher was a tall, spectral man, given to long discourses on topics unrelated to mathematics. He had more than a passing interest in a girl a year younger than I; he ended up marrying her. If I learned anything in this class, I must assume it too was lost in the stroke explosion.

As for geometry, this was one class where I wish I hadn’t done so well. The teacher’s name was Mr. Sharpe, and most of the kids didn’t like him. I adored him. He was rather elfin, and strict. He would explain the topic, and we would work out the exercises, and he would wander among us, correcting our work and explaining further. Not to brag, but I excelled. I loved this class.

I did so well that Mr. Sharpe pulled me out of it and sat me in the back all by myself at a bigger table and had me compile his bowling league averages instead. Lots and lots of adding and subtracting and percentages. No geometry. I could do the geometry in five minutes, while walking down the hall.

I was too good for his class. He adored me.

See? I wasn’t always a math dolt.

So for a mere $39.95, discounted from $254.95 (wow!), I can learn, at my own pace, in 24 half-hour lectures, one of which is entitled, Owls, Rats, Waves, and Guitars, all about calculus.

Am I nuts? Maybe. Probably.

Downside: Blowing 40 bucks. Frustrating myself with something I cannot do.

Upside: Triumphing by reawakening my math brain. Learning calculus.

Inside: Fear and trembling.

Outside: Cloudy, chance of rain.

I Haz Cheez Stix!

It was official. I could not get to sleep. 3:00 A.M. My socks were hopelessly twisted around my ankles, and my feet were cold. Where was that cat who was supposed to keep them warm?

CAUTION! TRUE CONFESSION AHEAD! No, not an etymology lesson. In fact, this caution comes a bit late, since the true confession has already happened: I wear socks to bed. And a tee shirt.  (14-year-old child. Carefree manners.) END TRUE CONFESSION.

I decided the solution was two cheese sticks, fuel for my toes.I stumbled quietly down the hall, checking on aforementioned son, making sure his noise machine (iPod) was still silenced for the night (he likes to turn it on after he knows I’ve gone to bed), taking care not to wake him, the dog, or the assorted cats draped around him, including the traitorous one supposed to be warming my feet.

The cheese sticks were in a monstrously unopened bag fresh from the store, requiring me to manipulate wrong-handed scissors in my half-awake state. These scissors were hard enough to use when I am fully awake. Trying to use them against uncooperative plastic was like trying to force a pill down a cat’s throat.

CAUTION! LEFT-HANDED SCREED AHEAD! The majority of right-handed people do not understand the difficulty that left-handed people have with simple implements such as

scissors, measuring cups, computer mice, car controls, etc. We eventually adapt, but right-handed scissors never become easy. It’s not just a matter of the shape of the handle; it’s also the way the two blades come together SCRRKKKKKKKKKKKkkKKKKKKK

That was my screed being wrenched to a stop by the blog master. Sorry.

So I ate my two cheese sticks and started back to bed.

CAUTION! TRUE CONFESSION AHEAD! Another late confession. We eat those string cheese sticks. They’re good, easy junk food. We got into the habit when we were going to 107 baseball games every week, I mean every month, I mean every season. END TRUE CONFESSION.

I wondered if those cheese sticks would make me thirsty. I decided no.

Hark! What was this ungodly squawk? Could it be the sound of “music” gurgling from my son’s bedside? I tiptoed through the dark of his room, guided only by the green light of his iPod speaker and his fake sleep breathing to turn it off, not noticing the one cat who chose to sleep on the floor, until it let out a shocked shriek, which started a general cat rodeo, with dog as guest star, around me.

Back in the dark hallway, I heard the sound, the offbeat sound a cat makes when it is about to hurl an object of indescribable origin from its bowels into the atmosphere: eh-YUH! eh-YUH! eh-YUH!

My options here were few. I could chase down the cat in the dark and thrust a piece of newspaper under its recoiling chin, hoping to catch whatever repulsive object it was about to offer the world.

Or I could note the cat’s location for cleanup at a later, more light-filled time, if the cat was in an out-of-the-way place.

Or I could just ignore the whole—no, I couldn’t.

eh-YUH! eh-YUH! eh-YUH! I thrust the newspaper under the cat’s chin in time for the final gruesome ack! ack! and….nothing. The cat glared at me and stalked away.

The dog stood at the door hoping I would let her go outside, but I knew this was just a ruse so I would give her a treat. I ignored her and headed back down the hall. My son had cleverly not turned his music on yet.

Perhaps I was having trouble sleeping because I needed more clothing. I decided to add a pair of pajama pants to my nighttime couture. CAUTION! TRUE CONFESSION AHEAD! And this caution comes ahead of the confession. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wear pajama pants without putting on underwear first. END TRUE CONFESSION.

This is where things got interesting. This is where everything about multiple sclerosis, everything about the stroke, everything about rotator cuff surgery and all that physical therapy came together. Right here. In this dark bedroom at 3:15 A.M. with CF asleep five feet away. Right here with this pair of underpants and pajama pants.

CAUTION! TRUE CONFESSION AHEAD! I watch Grey’s Anatomy. END TRUE CONFESSION.

For some reason, I thought of Cristina Yang, one of the doctors on Grey’s Anatomy, and how she has to visualize the surgery she is about to do. So I visualized what I was about to do. Cristina Yang is an actress named Sandra Oh cutting into plastic. I was wobbling on one leg and then the other, groping my way into undies and then pajamas without falling over.

For the uninitiated among you, imagine standing on a large beach ball while doing this. While on a skateboard. That’s not what I visualized. I visualized solid ground. You should add the beach ball. I don’t need to, but you should. Do not add a scalpel.

Now I was thirsty. Back to the kitchen for a bottle of seltzer. Back to the bedroom to sit on the edge of the bed in the darkness to open it, why I do not know, where I cannot see the bubbles over-bubble onto my socked-in feet.

The water felt better in my mouth than on my feet.

CAUTION! TRUE CONFESSION AHEAD! I went to sleep with damp socks and feet. END TRUE CONFESSION.

Notes on Being a Fake

There are three ways to be a Fake:

  1. Unintentional
  2. Egregious
  3. Internally painful

For the purpose of this discussion, we shall dispense with the first two types rather quickly, since it is the third type in which we are principally interested, this being my blog and me being, unfortunately, the third type. Your opinion may vary, in which case you are a second opinion and you may write your own Note on Being a Fake, which you may send to me at your own expense.

Additionally, our discussion will be limited to Fakery as it refers to recovery from a stroke and/or life with M.S. and/or other such life-challenging situations. Fakery outside of this narrow field of health issues will not be considered.

Additionally additionally, I am giving my Observer to these discussions a Fake Name. I had to think for a while to come up with a name not likely to occur in human beings, and finally settled on Nilla, as in ’Nilla Wafers.

The Unintentional Fake
The Unintentional Fake is often not a Fake at all, but appears to be one by being over-enthusiastic about gains in health recovery, such as a gain in ability to walk, or speak, or even recover consciousness. The enthusiasm can be on the part of a patient or a caregiver or a health professional (doctor, nurse, etc.). The enthusiasm is genuine; the over-enthusiasm curdles it.

The Egregious Fake
The Egregious Fake usually has absolutely nothing physically wrong with him or her but wants you to know all about it. His cold is much worse than yours. Her knee is too painful to help carry those boxes into the house. He’s worried about his terrible headache—he’s had it for days. She hasn’t slept for weeks. But wait! Who’s that strolling out of the bookstore carrying an armload of books? Why, it’s your weak-kneed friend! And she’s with her friend who has overcome his intolerance to lactose and is enjoying an ice cream cone! The Egregious Fake is worrisome to be around until you realize that he or she is in fact an Egregious Fake and not For Real.

The Internally Painful Fake
The Internally Painful Fake walks among people every day, and she sees the judgment in Nilla’s eyes. Nilla sees my cane, and her eyes say, “The cane? Are you still using that cane?” Yes, the stroke was nearly two years ago, but I also have M.S., and the combination makes me stagger, makes me weak. It is internally painful for me to admit this, but whenever I leave my house I use a cane. It wards off other people, gives me balance, reminds me to be careful.

The Internally Painful Fake talks with Nilla every day, and she sees the judgment in Nilla’s eyes. She hears my hesitation, and she rushes to fill in the word I cannot find in my aphasic moment. She is thinking, “It’s been almost two years. I thought she was over all of that stroke stuff.” It is internally painful for me to admit this, but when I am speaking there are times when my mind becomes completely void of words and I cannot complete a sentence.

The Internally Painful Fake parks in the disabled parking spot near Nilla very often, and she sees the judgment in Nilla’s eyes. I don’t limp enough for her satisfaction, or use a wheelchair, or have enough missing limbs, or whatever her personal definition of disabled might be. She huffs at me to let me know that she considers me an Egregious Fake (about which see above), about which I consider acting like an Unintentional Fake (about which see above) to prove her wrong, but instead I just wobble normally into the store. It is internally painful for me to admit this, but when I park in a disabled parking spot, I am glad that I will be able to find my car easily afterwards because those lights in the store scramble my brain if I stay longer than 10 minutes.

The Internally Painful Fake is an amalgam of half-started, half-finished, half-baked disabilities. Nothing is right, but nothing is wrong. Doctors examine me and say, “Hmm, that’s not good.” Friends look at me and say, “Hey, you look great!” Family members look at me and say, “Wow, you look wonderful!” It is internally painful for me to admit this, but I feel awful. The truth is there will be effects from the stroke present in me for years to come: how I look, how I feel, how I think, how I act, how I talk.

What’s right? Nothing. That is one truthful answer from the Internally Painful Fake. Another truthful answer would be: I can read again. I can write again. I can usually remember to scribble down notes when I think of something good. I can usually remember to scribble down notes when I remember something important.

What’s wrong? Nothing. That is one truthful answer from the Internally Painful Fake. Another truthful answer would be: my eyes, my ears, my shoulder, my brain, my mood.

What is really wrong, actually, is that the Internally Painful Fake hates being the Internally Painful Fake. I would much rather be the Egregious Fake and have everyone discover my deception so I could just stop it all and go back to riding my bicycle everywhere and playing softball like I used to and taking long walks on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine.

Except now that I am verging on old and decrepit, I probably can’t play softball anyway, and the walks would probably require at least a walking stick, and the bicycle might even require fat tires. We probably need to add a fourth kind of Fake: the Old and Decrepit Fake.

Total Brain Dump

When I was a kid (yes, I am actually starting out with New Jersey this time), we lived down the street from a dump. This is not as awful as it sounds. We were not rednecks. We did not live in some godforsaken beer-swilling rifle-cracking hog-grilling kind of place. No sir. We did not.

We lived in a respectable suburb smack dab triangulated between New York City and Newark, New Jersey, THE MOST POPULATED STRETCH OF LAND ON EARTH at the time, it seemed to me, and we had the BIGGEST MALL ON EARTH to prove it. Yes, we did, the Willowbrook Mall, built on land that once housed an amusement park, which somehow seemed appropriate to me.

Nevertheless, there was a dump up the street from us, on the land of a farm and nursery owned by the Pfitzenmayer family. They just let anybody who had anything to dump come and dump it. It was all very casual.

The nice thing about this was that the neighborhood kids—at least the ones that Mr. Pfitzenmayer approved of—could go rummage around the dump and find all kinds of neat stuff. We found old radios and magazines and dolls and just junk. Once we found $30, I think in the back of one of those radios.

Lately, my brain has been like that dump. I have been unearthing all kinds of neat stuff. No, not old radios and magazines, and certainly not dolls or $30. For one thing, as you might have been able to tell, it has been overwhelmed by details of my childhood. Vivid details of vignettes long forgotten have been sparking through my mind nonstop.

Just the other day, for instance, I remembered for the first time since the stroke a website I used to visit daily because I enjoyed it so much: Arts and Letters Daily. I recommend it if you want a good source to keep you up to date on the latest in all the arts journals we never get to read, the latest books we swear to buy, and the essays we wish we had thought to write ourselves. Plus it has an exhaustive list of columnists, online radio stations, newspapers, and so forth.

And then I had another brilliant find at the Brain Dump. This little gem is sure to come in handy for all of you folks who wear clothes, which I suspect is most of you, if I know my audience, which I suspect I do. Call me crazy, but for some reason I just picture most of you wearing clothes, and I really don’t think it has anything to do with me having brain damage. I think I would picture you that way whether or not I had had a stroke. Really. Not even kidding. Not even a little bit.

Maybe I should qualify this handy little tip a bit. Now those of you who know me can testify that I have an absolutely flat-as-a-pancake stomach. I mean, from my nose to my toes, it’s a straight vertical drop, 180 degrees, bombs away, look out mama, here comes trouble. Please keep that in mind as I describe the aforementioned gem in the followingmentioned explanation:

(But before we get to that—and you suspected this was coming when you saw the parentheses, didn’t you?—we must ponder the curious absence of the opposite of a word for “aforementioned,” which means CAUTION! ABSOLUTELY USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON AHEAD! which I have never done inside parentheses before, which shall, no doubt, present interesting punctuation issues. But in fact this turns out to be a decidedly uninteresting etymology lesson, since the proper opposite of “aforementioned” is simply “later,” yes, simply “later,” and now I’ve lost my place, oh well, let’s start a new sentence. And I am tempted to wipe out this etymology lesson entirely but I’ve tormented myself this far, and “aforementioned” is, I have found out, not even included in my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary except under “afore” [unfortunately, no more recent than 1987 but I am sure this was a word by then—and I told you we would get into some interesting punctuation issues, and Merriam-Webster confirms it was, by 1587], and now I’ve lost my place again. Oh, let’s give up. END USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON)

On to the followingmentioned explanation I promised a few breathless parenthetical breaths ago. Flat as pancake stomach, etc. The problem is holding up my pants. Or my shorts. Or my skirts. But I hardly ever wear skirts. I’m just not that kinda girl. And if I was, I would definitely want them to be held down.

No matter how tightly I cinch my belt or elastic, my pants have a southern mind of their own. Last week, I remembered my solution for this problem: tuck in my damn shirt. Waa-laa! Problem solved! After 18 months of pants-droopiness, I now am clam-happy. And as I’ve said before, light dawns on Marblehead. (I’m allowed to say that; I used to live there, and I’ve seen it happen.)

So that’s two very exciting finds at the Brain Dump in recent days. And then just yesterday I unearthed a third, this time from the computer pile, the long-neglected computer pile. I’d almost forgotten it was hiding there in the corner.

Now that I am no longer gainfully employed, CF and I have rearranged our house so that our computers are about six feet apart. Given my loss of software knowledge, this immediately put us at a disadvantage, networking-wise, because our cabling system was de-cabled. We would strangle each other trying to figure out cables, strangle each other trying to figure out Wi-Fi, or strangle each other paying someone to configure the whole thing. So for a couple of months, we have been emailing files back and forth six feet. Ridiculous, I know.

Then yesterday dawned light on the dump and the brain woke up again. I noticed a funny little item in my list of folders on my computer that seemed to be CF’s folder. I clicked on it, and what do you know, it was! I could copy a file directly from my computer to hers! Through the magic of my superior operating system I had complete access to her computer. At least I think that’s why. I’m not sure. I don’t understand these things anymore. Please don’t try to tell me why. Those brain cells are really gone forever. I think.

If they come back, I’ll let you know. I think.

Therefore, I am.

Stack overflow

Better tighten your shoelaces, everyone, because I am about to combine software, brain trauma, elementary school, piles of junk, and who knows what else — oh yeah, New Jersey — into the next several hundred words.

First of all, stack overflow. For those of you who are mercifully uninitiated, that is, those of you who were never forced to learn what the heck it means, it means that the computer memory got all jammed up, and it didn’t have enough room to put everything. It overflowed. Who knows why they use the word stack? I don’t.

CAUTION! ABSOLUTELY USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON AHEAD! And why do they use the word “bug” to describe a problem in computer stuff? Well, it was a moth that gummed up the works way back in the dark ages of room-sized laptops. You can find it taped to the pages of a log book on display at the Smithsonian Institute. The word “bug” was used to describe something out of whack long before computers came along, but this moth brought it to the computer world, and it also inspired the invention of the word “debugging” by computing pioneer Grace Murray Hopper, a word still used today to describe the process of ridding computer software of its flaws.END USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON

Now where was I? Oh yeah, stack overflow. Having gone through that stroke thing, that brain trauma incident, the grand explosion, the Brain Twister, I have a new perspective on stack overflow. Some of my stacks overflowed, all right.

I’ve muttered a bit about how I’ve lost the ability to do long division, but that never really mattered to me all that much—that’s what calculators are for. More significantly, my ability to do anything sparkling on a computer just fizzled.

You’ve seen the commercials on TV where those little girls go stamping along the tops of picnic tables flinging the tops of their computers at each other, haven’t you, showing off how great Microsoft Surface is, or completely grown men in completely serious business meetings snap their laptops shut in corporate harmony while some well-paid orchestral group swells in eight-part harmony? Yeah, well, I don’t get it.

We gave NF one of those Surface things for Christmas, and I sat down with it the other night, and it sparkles, all right. Wow, does it sparkle. I mean, I wanted to play with it so much I broke a sweat. (This is the first time he has let it out of his room since paper-tearing day because he loves it so much, so it’s the first chance to play with it that I have had.)

But as I sat there watching it sparkle, I realized that I couldn’t sparkle back. I couldn’t even glimmer back. I could give off a sort of dull glow, like a flashlight about to die.

Yeah, I don’t get it. My stacks have definitely overflowed forever. I have become one of those geezers who can’t figure out new technology.

Much to CF’s dismay, I will always be a stacker. She, on the other hand, is a stuffer. I pile everything into stacks; she stuffs everything into drawers. My piles drive her crazy; her stuffed drawers drive me nuts.

I have a theory that every successful couple has one stacker and one stuffer. I don’t think two stackers or two stuffers could survive in the same house. If you are part of such a couple (stacker & stacker / stuffer & stuffer) and you are successfully sharing living quarters, please let me know, and send photographic evidence.

One of my vows for the new year was to get rid of the stack overflow from my office. That has not yet happened, and the year is nearly one-fourth gone. Therefore, in order to embarrass myself, I am posting evidence of my overflow, hoping that by next week I can post evidence of my underflow, with an affidavit from CF attesting to my honest cleanup effort (i.e., that I didn’t just stack it elsewhere).

Hmmm. I planned to post photographic evidence, really, but I have spent three days trying to do so, really, that’s why this post is so late, but my withered computer skills once again let me down. With any luck I will post before and after pix next time.

I learned to not be a stuffer the hard way in fifth grade (and, oh no, here comes the New Jersey stuff) when our teacher, Miss Coffin, asked us to rearrange our desks. These were the good old-fashioned wooden desks that had a drawer underneath the top without an end cover into which you could stuff all kinds of papers, and a groove on the top for your pencil or pen and even a hole bored in it for your bottle of ink. I know that makes it sound like the 1890s, but I think they used those desks well into the Clinton administration.

It was the first day back after winter break, and our desks were in a circle around a very bedraggled Christmas tree, which in those benighted days we were allowed to have in our classrooms. As I recall, my sister’s doll got to be the baby Jesus in the school play, and she got to play a dreidel, which offended our Catholic mother somewhat, but seemed to make everything balanced in the school’s ledger. Someone did offer an infant brother for the baby J part, but that offer was rejected,we thought because of the diaper problems, but in hindsight other issues now present themselves.

As we pushed our desks back to their normal places, out from my overstuffed desk drawer fell my brand new glasses case, which I had hastily stuffed in there as soon as I got to school that morning before anyone saw it.

“Ooh,” hissed Donna to Carol, “she got glasses.” I snatched the glasses case up as quickly as I could, but the damage was done. Donna and Carol were the trendsetters, the cool kids, the cheerleaders-in-training, soon to sprout pom-poms and rah-rahs from every pore on their body.

For some reason, I poured my fury about my imperfect eyes in the eyes of their perfect ones into stuffing. I unstuffed everything and became a stacker. I was cured of stuffing. No more stuffing for me.

Except for Thanksgiving. I was addicted to Thanksgiving turkey stuffing, especially my grandmother’s turkey stuffing. There was something unique about her stuffing.

We never figured out what made it unique, and she could never tell us what it was. We watched her every year, joked that it was her sweat, or the water in Irvington, N.J., or her well-worn bowls. The secret, whatever it was, she took to her grave.

And now I must go make short work of at least one pile of my precious crap before next week. It pains me, it really does. So much of importance in that stack of paper, so much of significance, so much of….overflow.

Will You Be My Valentine?

All of you, each of you, every one of you who reads this blog any time I manage to post something wins my heart. You are my Valentines.

I don’t know what it is that keeps you reading me, week after week, blog after blog. Maybe you are a friend, a relative, a stranger who stumbled on my blog, or someone I met in passing.

Maybe you read me while waiting for your iTunes to download. Maybe you read me while waiting for the teakettle to boil. Maybe you read me while waiting for the dog to do his business. Maybe you read me on your iPad while on the Green Line in Boston and no one reading over your shoulder can figure out why you’re reading about someone in Washington who keeps talking about New Jersey.

Writing a blog like this one isn’t easy. It’s all very self-centered, since I’m writing about my stroke, my brain damage, my recovery. My, my, my, ain’t I selfish, talking about myself?

Just before I graduated from high school (in New Jersey), I remember I promised one of my teachers (who happens to read this blog) that I would talk more in college. I wasn’t very successful at that, but a few years later, two friends pummeled me good-naturedly enough that I learned to carry on a decent group conversation. I thanked them for teaching me to learn how to talk, but I still prefer to write.

When I first started to recover from the stroke I was having a very hard time putting thoughts together. Since writing was still my preferred method of communication, it was natural for me to at last come up with the idea of a blog, rather than try to talk things out.

But since I was convinced I made no sense, I gave everything to CF to read first. For all I knew, I was spewing forth in dactylic pentameter unconsciously, or nattering about celebrity gossip I had overheard on TV while drooling the day away.

Only after the writing had gotten CF’s seal of approval did I post it online.

Even after she started to assure me week after week that I was making perfect sense I continued too make here read me, word for word. I was convinced i was making an idiot of myself somewhere biy lapzsing n2  co0mpleeete nonnseeeense unknown 2 me  and she had to sAVENE ME FRUm nyslfef.

This is the first blog entry she has not read ahead of time. That is because the rest of this blog entry is about her, and I didn’t want her to have a chance to stop me from writing it. She is my loveliest Valentine.

Many years ago, when CF and I were young and in love, she used to worry that there would come in day when I would take her for granted.

After nearly 31 years that day has not arrived. I don’t think it ever will.

Because I have MS and because I had a stroke and because the stroke gave me diabetes and because all this made me unsteady and I fell and tore my rotator cuff and because I needed surgery from that fall and because I got blood clots from the surgery and because I now have to have my blood thickness tested, I have had an enormous number of doctor appointments in the last 18 months.

CF has driven me to and/or from most of those appointments. She also sat next to me in the doctor’s office, making sure I understand what to do. Which was rarely.

She has also almost single-handedly maintained our household and raised our son.

She has been a fierce protector, a tender caregiver, a tough coach, and a gentle soulmate. Could I ask for more?

It’s not as if her own life has been quiet. Remember, she broke both of her hands in one way or another last summer. One of her sisters moved out of town last year, which placed more responsibility on her for their elderly mother, also. She has accepted more responsibility at work, also, with a nice promotion, meaning more responsibility, of course.

When I think back over our years together, I realize we’ve been through three heart attacks, three strokes, one bout of colon cancer and two deaths together. Everything but my stroke belongs to our parents.

We’ve also invited two of her sisters to live with us for extended periods of time, stood by my sister through a difficult time in her life, helped nurture an infant nephew through his first year, adopted a child, moved cross-country, lost a house to the mortgage crisis, and suffered through an interminable lawsuit. (I don’t use that word “suffered” lightly. It was truly awful, as many of you know. If you don’t know, just Google “Madsen v. Erwin” for 33,400,000 explanations.)

I suppose in some ways I have come to take CF for granted. I’ve come to take for granted that she will be honest, that she will be loyal, that she will be true, in some sort of grand and glorious post-Girl Scout way. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

CF and I have always agreed to not get “mushy” on Valentine’s Day. I have always gotten her a card with lace and hearts and a red envelope and she has gotten me nothing, at my insistence. I am breaking with tradition by writing this blog. She will not speak to me after she reads this.

Just kidding. I hope. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Crossing birds and dotting eyes

Sometimes, as they say in Massachusetts, light dawns on Marblehead.

The double meaning of the name “Angry Birds” finally dawned on me. It’s a rather silly double-play on “crosswords,” as in, cross meaning angry and words rhyming with birds. It took me only 18 months to realize this.

It also took me only 18 months to be able to solve the Monday crossword puzzle in the New York Times, something I used to be able to do without glancing up from the newspaper. There was a bit of consternation and foot dragging and gnashing of teeth, but I did do it in pen with only one slight over printing, and no cheating by looking things up in the dictionary or on the web, I swear.

Of this I am very proud, even more proud than of my Jumble Triumph a few weeks ago, I blush to say.

Then I got greedy. I tried the Tuesday puzzle. And it didn’t go too bad. Not being a big consumer of Apple products, I got hung up on the iMac clue, and having no idea who Emma Stone is also hung me up, but other than that, I sailed through.

Unfortunately, those two clues were in critical places, which gummed up the works significantly. Then, one thing led to another and I missed doing Wednesday’s puzzle. When I looked at Thursday’s puzzle, it was full of puns and little quiz-like things and references to pop culture, never my strong suit (I have referred to my sister’s gift of an iron buttercup before, when I got the name of the band The Iron Butterfly wrong.)

Thursday’s puzzle was a disaster; Friday’s puzzle was a no-go. I will look at Saturday’s, and despite the promises I made several weeks ago, I have yet to make it through a Sunday newspaper.

But I have, haven’t I, made good on my promise of a weekly blog entry, whether you’ve wanted one or not?

As for my third promise, a tidy office, well, I’d have to say that promise has been half-way fulfilled. And that half has been half-way fulfilled by CF.

Since I am no longer gainfully employed, it seemed a bit selfish of me to continue to occupy an entire room of our house as an office, especially since her desk was perched uncomfortably next to the kitchen counter. So we decided to rearrange the room that was my office so we could share it. This meant that someone had to clean half of it. More precisely, this meant she had to clean half of it.

So right now, our dining table is stacked with piles of my crap. This dining table, I should point out, is handcrafted from 200-year-old pine boards harvested from the floor of the old barn behind our first house in Maine before it collapsed of old age. It is the most gorgeous object in our house. But right now you can’t see an inch of it.

Nor can you see an inch of any other surface in my office, except the surface of my monitor and keyboard, which is all I need to keep working. Oh, and that of my headset, which I need to keep speaking into my handy-dandy Dragon software, which has worked surprisingly well for dictating this blog.

My son snickers at my headset, which has those big, comfortable ear cushions that make you look like a real science geek. He of course has his iPhone earbuds flung casually around his neck 24/7, which is good because if they were actually in his ears I think they’d be pretty painful.

As I admitted earlier, I’m not exactly up-to-date with everything Apple has to offer. I’d never heard of the iMac, for instance. But I do own an iPhone and iPad (a huge admission from a diehard PC programmer), although I do look at that Windows phone with some envy.

I don’t know if it’s because of my brain injury, or because I was a PC programmer, but no matter what I did, I could not figure out how to copy a paragraph from one place to another on my iPhone. In desperation, I asked my son. He glanced up from his Xbox (a Microsoft product), rolled his eyes, grabbed my iPhone, copied the paragraph, handed the phone back to me, and went back to his game.

Was this the day that I was undone by technology? Was this the day that my son knew more about it than I did? Or was this simply a day that my brain injury got in the way?

None of the above, I decided. It was…just a day.

But it was a day when I knew a four-letter word for a mound containing prehistoric remnants (TERP) and a three-letter word for a boggy land (FEN) (sorry, that’s an in-joke, that some of you might happen to be aware of, that is, you might happen to [KNOW]), and some day there will be a crossword puzzle with both of them in it, and I will take that puzzle and shake it under my son’s nose and point out those clues to him, and he will pull his earbuds from his ears, glance up at me, and roll his eyes, confirming, once and for all, that I come close to the craziest of all two-word phrase for an AMC series starring Jon Hamm (MAD MEN).