Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: The 5th Wave



Cassie is 16 years old, and alone. Not the kind of alone teenagers are wont to bask in while feeling tortured. Really alone. In the woods, her only possessions a sleeping bag, a backpack of provisions, with an M-16 and a teddy bear for company. It is so quiet that she can hear "the stars scrape against the sky."

What brought her there was the appearance of an alien mothership in the atmosphere above Earth. This was followed by four events — or waves — that one after the other eliminated more human beings. With the world in tatters and humanity on the verge of extinction, what matters? For Cassie, it's her younger brother, Sammy and she is on her way to find him. Along the way, she meets a mysterious boy in the woods and have to decide whether to trust him. And on the other end of her quest is Sammy, in a different but equally strange situation, also deciding who to trust. This is The 5th Wave and you need to read it.

In the post-Twilight era, the name of the game in the in the Young Adult genre seems to be dystopian post-apocalyptic novels, in which the female protagonist takes the lead in  fighting back against an oppressing force. To me, this is a welcome change from the milquetoast insecurity, passivity andself-loathing of Bella in the Twilight series. Having a female protagonist be badass when the target audience is adolescent girls is all kinds of good. I've read several of the big ones — The Hunger Games was good, but held back from a full commitment, being a sort of aggressive variation on "girl never does anything truly nasty and gets saved by boy." Divergent took it a step further and I liked that quite a lot, enough to read its follow-up Insurgent right after I finished the first book in the trilogy. It had a good conspiracy going, but although the oppressor is intimidating and very powerful, they are still human. Nasty humans, to be sure, but it limits how far the story can go.

Enter The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. You want an uncompromising, nailbiting story that makes you believe that this is really what would happen in an alien invasion? This is it. You want to feel something, to ache and worry for the characters, to whimper no no no when they are in danger, to care deeply throughout an entire book that is about something real in the middle of a fantastical story? This is it. You want a book that you can't stop reading and at the same time, you can't quite bear to continue reading? Pick up The 5th Wave.

You'll have noticed that I haven't told you an awful lot about what happens in the book. This is on purpose. I don't want to spoil any of what happens for you. Going into this book blind and following along with the characters right next to them, instead of vaguely ahead is mandatory for full effect. And there is an effect. There were times during reading this book that I deliberately also did other things that helped me get some emotional distance from what was happening. Because it's that good. The writing itself is fantastic — it has lyrical, evocative language, while at the same time perfectly capturing teenagers. Yancey’s ability to build tension and a vague (and sometimes intense) sense of unease is stellar and I can't wait for the next book in the series.

I have to also spend some time on the narrators. Phoebe Strole is perfect as Cassie, not so much reading the story as living it. Her ability to convey emotion by information is one of the best I've ever heard, and she completely carried me away. The other narrator, Brandon Espinoza, is good, but not of the same caliber. I suspect this partly the contrast — had it not been for Strole’s excellence, I probably would've given him a higher grade.

I normally recommend that you go out and get the audio book, especially when it's a really good narrator. This time, I'm conflicted. The audio book pulls you more into the story, makes it very difficult to take a break when you need to — and it's quite likely you will need to breathe occasionally. Reading this book the regular way might be more conducive to that. Still, the excellence of the narration, particularly the Cassie character, is enough to push me over the fence to recommend that you experienced this book full throttle. It's written that way, so you should read it that way.

And afterwards, come back and tell me what you thought. Because I really need to talk to someone about this book.


   

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Trekking in the Andes



Ever since I first read the book about the Peruvian soccerteam that had to engage in a bit of cannibalism to survive, I've wanted to see the Andes Mountains.

Yes, I realize this was a bit of an unusual preamble to a post about inflammatory arthritis, but it is relevant. Sort of.

Last week, I posted a news release from Show Us YourHands! with an update on what we've been doing this year. One of our big tasks was figuring out how to make an organization work when all members live with inflammatory arthritis. We very quickly decided that expecting healthy and able-bodied production levels was a recipe for burnout and an unstable organization. And then we set about creating processes that would support the talents and efforts of all team members, while accommodating their disease. It has been a long and rewarding process, resulting in an incredibly peaceful environment. Being able to be completely honest about your needs, especially when they sometimes mean a delay in a project, is nothing but liberating. More workplaces should try it.

Our second big thing this year was to choose a project to do for 2013 and it really was a no-brainer. We have some terrific posters and a wonderful photo book that help spread the word about the inflammatory arthritis community in a positive way. We want to lower the cost so more people can enjoy them. We want to make it easier for people to share them with others so the awareness message spreads. We want to make it possible for more than to decorate the walls of rheumatologists’ offices, just as our first Community Collage decorates the wall of my doctor's clinic


Mass production is the only way to lower the cost of the posters and photo book and in order to order many copies, we need to start-up funds. And this is where our first fundraiser enters the picture.

RA Guy lives in Bolivia, really close to the Andes Mountains. His health has improved over the past 6 months and he's been doing a lot of walking. Enough to plan a three-day trek from the mountains to the jungle and last week he did it!


Just think of it! Can you imagine having inflammatory arthritis and doing a mountain trek? This was a serious effort, but one filled with joy and hope (and some degree of soreness, now that he's back home). You can see photos on his blog from Day 1 and Day 2 — beautiful shots and it looks like all members of the group made it home without getting eaten!

RA Guy dedicated his trek to hope and to raising money for Show Us Your Hands! There are four days left to sponsor the trek over at Cause Vox. All proceeds go to Show Us Your Hands! Community projects, none to salaries — everyone on the team do the work for the joy of it.
   
We hugely appreciate any contribution, no matter how small. Although if you want to donate a heap of money, that's fine too…

Monday, August 19, 2013

Stress, Spoons and Overdraft Protection



I ran out of spoons around the middle of June. Then I spent the next six weeks teetering on the line between having just a few and being deep in energy overdraft, while mentally (and repeatedly) chanting just hold on until August 1 and not quite understanding why I was flaring to the tune of more pain than I've experienced in a long time. What can I say — I was too busy to think clearly.

I'm still not quite sure how I made it through that.

After a bit more than a week off, I was still hosting a pain party and remained somewhat surprised that I didn't get better the minute my vacation started. Friends  reminded me that it takes time to heal, but I only had three weeks left and would like to be able to do some other things I planned before I have to go back to work.

If reincarnation is real, my task this lifetime is to learn patience. After 50 years, I'm not doing too well.

What I am good at, however, is noticing patterns — partly genetic, and partly from spending a large part of my life doing jigsaw puzzles with my mother. Over those six weeks, it became abundantly clear that I need to learn a number of things in order to prevent a complete breakdown. How to manage stress. How to not spend all my energy in my various jobs, instead leaving something left over at the end of the day for me. To understand that other people's priorities don't have to become mine. To find time and energy to write, because it makes me a happier person. To have more time for my friends and family bcause that, too, makes me a happier person. To manage my tendency to overcommit and overwork.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Or so they say. And this was true for me, as well. I have had some great conversations in the past few months, as well as having read various things that when put together, helped me figure out the questions. And earlier this month, I found the answers.

A couple weeks ago, I found this great post by Laxmi about finding time to write. Specifically, the part about the 80% rule

"Most of the people on the island of Okinawa in Japan, live to be over 100. Researchers have traced their longevity to a Confucian practice called hara hachi bu that is “eat until you are 80% full.”  The result?  A longer healthier life."

Laxmi quotes Justin Jackson's post about applying the 80% rule to his own life in order to create energy and time to write. "He would deliberately pace himself so that he spent only 80% of his mental energy throughout the day.  He explains it as being mindful, to pick 2-3 big things to complete during the day and after that focus on little things which do not need energy. This means he is in for the long haul, without fear of a burn out."

This doesn't just work well for finding time to write. This works brilliantly when applied to life with a chronic illness. Can you imagine deliberately not spending all your energy? Can you imagine having 20% left at the end of your workday? I know, right? The very thought makes you all giddy!

After reading Laxmi’s post, I spent about a week kicking the 80% rule around in my head, but also wondering how I'd apply it to myself. Deliberately reining myself in during the day might work for a few days, but I know myself. If something interesting came up, or things got busy, I knew I would get sucked right back into the crazy.

Hence that bit about learning that other people's priorities don't have to become mine.

After a week of chewing on this, the universe apparently decided I was ready for the how. I read Danea Horn’s book Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness in preparation for interviewing her and it turns out that I actually learned something, as well. More specifically, she refers to a concept called 6 Things. This was a time management technique used by Mary Kay (of all people). Every day, she would put the six most important things to do on her list in priority order and when they were done, that was it. If one of the things didn't get finished, it carried over to the next day, becoming #1 on the list. Which would still be only 6 items.

And the lightbulb went off. This was specific, tangible and doable. This could be applied to The List. I tried it in my last week of working. One day, I had 12 things on my list. Even if I cloned myself, it wouldn't be possible to do all of them. And all of a sudden, I saw that by having more things that were possible to do on my list, all I succeeded in doing was adding constant stress to my days. So, I picked the six most important and ignored the rest. I still worked a full day, but knowing that I was done when I was done made me feel immeasurably lighter.

It's going to take some time to implement. Seeing only six things instead of 15 or 20 will take some doing. Blocking other people's sense of urgency so I don't absorb it will be a challenge. But,y’know? I think this may have potential for being the tool that gets me to where I need to be.

And for the duration of my vacation, I’m going to try to only do 3 or 4 things a day. Going to the park will be one of them.


I'm planning something exciting for September. Be the first to know what's coming by signing up for the Your Life with RA newsletter (scroll to the bottom of the page)
  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Reclaiming Your Voice



As some of you may have noticed, I'm on a much-needed sabbatical from my main day job and all this freedom has given me the mental space to think. As is my wont, thinking usually leads to writing and in this particular instance that, too, made me think.

When I was in university, I used to write my essays longhand and then do the final copy on a typewriter (yes, it was that long ago). In the late 1980s, I had a summer job that I didn't like much, but I used all the money I made buy myself a computer. And then I discovered that composing while you write longhand and composing while you type are two entirely different things. For a while, I wrote my essays longhand and used my computer as a glorified typewriter.

Eventually, I did figure it out. In fact, I took to it like a fish to water and writing got even better than when I used a pen. It seemed as if I managed to connect the deep recesses of my mind to my computer via the conduit of my fingers. Finally, my hands could keep up with my thoughts. As. There were times where it seemed as if it was almost automatic writing, as if I zoned out once I was at the keyboard. Somehow, an essay or a short story flowed out of me and I wasn't quite sure how. I didn't question it too much, just rode this wonderful phenomenon for years.

And then my RA and a repetitive stress injury in my shoulder took it away. Gradually, my pain increased and equally gradually, my ability to write decreased. It was devastating, like being forcibly silenced.

Luckily I had geeky friends, one of whom introduced me to voice recognition. I’d never heard of this type of software — a miraculous bit of programming that enables you to dictate while the computer wrote. What a marvelous idea! My friend gave me Via Voice, then the most widely available voice recognition software, and I set about training it. This was a somewhat frustrating experience. After a couple of hours of me and the program working together, I used it to send an e-mail to my friend. I dictated the subject as "d*mn" and Via Voice wrote "Beirut."  It never got much better than that.

Shortly thereafter, I became aware of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and invested in a copy. This was years ago and you can guess how long when I tell you my first copy of Dragon was v.7 and they are now on 12.5. This was an entirely different program — pretty intuitive, easy to use and although it didn't always understand what I said, it was highly receptive to training. Over the years, I upgraded every time a new edition came out and the program has only improved. These days, you can start dictating pretty accurately right out of the box.

How I work with Dragon has also improved. At first, I discovered that composing while you type and composing while you talk are two entirely different things. It took a while, but I learned to zone out while talking into the microphone and again connect to that place deep within my mind where the stories live. And I've gone from being able to painfully peck out maybe 400 words a day, to being able to write 2-3000 words every day.

Today, I write almost everything with Dragon. I wrote this post with it, I wrote all 70,000 words in my book with it and I use it to write chatty e-mails to my friends. And it's not just for writing — I can use it to browse on the Internet, post on Twitter and Facebook and navigate my computer. I wouldn't be surprised if it can make coffee, too! Overall, the accuracy is astonishing, although every now and again, there are what I call Dragon-isms when the program misunderstands me. Thankfully, the errors are not as profound as my first experience with voice recognition and the context usually helps explain what I meant.

I often recommend Dragon to my friends who live with chronic illnesses that affect their hands. Whether it's an accommodation for work, using it for CreakyJoints’ memoir course or chatting online with friends, voice recognition can help you find your voice and share it with others.

This post also appeared on CreakyJoints
   

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Show Us Your Hands! Works with Inflammatory Arthritis and Starts Fundraisers for Growth



(August 13, 2013) – Show Us Your Hands! is pleased to provide an update of the organization’s activities in 2013. Launched less than two years ago as a community collage project, our grassroots organization continues to grow thanks to the continued support from members of the inflammatory arthritis community.

We are happy to share that we have obtained official US nonprofit charity status. State of Illinois charity registration is in progress.

Show Us Your Hands! has also created an Advisory Council to provide ideas and feedback for awareness projects. The Advisory Council is composed of an international group of motivated and talented individuals: Andrea Sarullo (USA), Ferhaan Kajee (The Netherlands), Kimberly Cooper (USA), Nicole Dalton (USA) and Shelley Cook (USA).

All Show Us Your Hands! Directors and Advisory Council members live with inflammatory arthritis. This has presented our organization with the unique opportunity of creating organizational structures that support and accommodate the realities of life with inflammatory arthritis. To enable full participation without burnout, we have built a solid team with a "buddy system" as backup for all tasks, and include balancing work and inflammatory arthritis in all projects and deadlines.

The primary Show Us Your Hands! project for 2013 is to offer Community Collage posters and the Our Hands Can! photo book at more affordable prices. The proceeds from several fundraisers planned for the next few months will provide the funding necessary to lower the cost of the posters and photo books.  

Autoimmune diseases occur when a body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. In the case of inflammatory arthritis, a person’s joints are frequently attacked, resulting in chronic pain and debilitating inflammation. The most common inflammatory arthritis diseases are Ankylosing Spondylitis, Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, Psoriatic Arthritis, Reactive Arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Scleroderma, Sjogren's Syndrome, Still's Disease and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.

Show Us Your Hands! is an international awareness movement which serves to unite and inspire the inflammatory arthritis community. For more information, please visit www.showusyourhands.org. Show Us Your Hands! can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Winner - Chronic Resilience Giveaway

Thanks so much to everyone who entered the giveaway for a chance to win a copy of  Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness by Danea Horn. All of you wrote beautiful, thoughtful replies that I am sure will be helpful for those who are new to the disease and still feeling lost.

I asked The Boy's boy to choose the winner by selecting a number from 1 to 18. He liked the number 9, which means comment #9 is the winner! Congratulations to Cris Peacock (from Maui!), who wrote

"My greatest gift has been learning to truly enjoy my family. LIfe is too short. With my daughter and family 5,000 miles away and my son 2,500, I treasure the time I spend with them. No worries about appearances or expectations, only admiring and experiencing the amazing people they are."

Congratulations, Cris! Contact me at landers5ATgmailDOTcom so we can make arrangements to send the book to you!
   

Monday, August 05, 2013

5 Gifts that Come from Chronic Illness - Guestpost & Giveaway

Last week I interviewed Danea Horn about her new book for HealthCentral. Danea  agreed to do a guest post for The Seated View and generously offered to give away a copy of Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness. This is a great book that has lots of real, practical tips on creating a good life with a chronic illness. I plan to give it to several women I know, including some that don't have a chronic illness — the tips can be used by anyone who needs help with managing stress. Check out the bottom of the post for instructions to enter the giveaway.

Take it away, Danea!





Illness comes with many unpleasant gifts: fatigue, pain, appointments, worry, medications and a host of other inconveniences. These are obvious. What is less apparent are the unexpected blessings that can come from dealing with a chronic illness.

Of course, no one would choose to be sick for these gifts. However, if you have to cope with an illness, it’s good to be reminded of the positives that can come from the journey.

I was born with a congenial disorder that set me on a lifelong healing path. I’ve had many of the unpleasant gifts: pain, infertility and I am currently on the national kidney transplant list. I know that illness, in and of itself, is decidedly not a gift.

Yet, if the sky is blue, it is blue. There is no sense in arguing with reality. So, I decided to go on a treasure hunt through my health history to find 5 amazing gifts that have come from my health challenges. 

1. A Good Excuse to Rest: Everyone needs to rest sometimes. It is important for our body to recuperate from the rigors of work and family responsibilities. Every few months my back will remind me, through not-so-subtle pain, that it is time to take a break. I respond by putting life on pause and engaging in much needed self-care. 

2. Motivation to Eat Healthy: Due to the nature of my kidney disease it became important for me to adopt a vegan diet. I can’t say that I would have made this choice without the doctor’s nudge, but I’ve had more energy and felt better even with limited kidney function. I have also enjoyed inventing vegan versions of my favorite comfort foods. Last night we had biscuits and veggie “sausage” gravy. Yumm! 

3. Brings Dreams to Life: Illness is a poignant reminder that we don’t have all the time in the world. If there is something you’ve always wanted to do, now is the time. As the lab measurements of my kidney function declined, I knew I needed to switch gears. I quit my corporate job and began writing. Amazing thing is that my first book is in stores now.  

4.  Gratitude for the Small Things: I have never been more grateful for buttered crackers than after surgery. Disappearing pain, a call from a concerned doctor, warm hospital blankets, easy needle stick, short wait for an appointment, all of these tiny things become moments to rejoice in.  

5. Acceptance: I believe acceptance is one of the more important skills we can learn as humans. We do not get to control all of the circumstances and challenges in our lives. We do get to control our reaction. Accepting what we cannot change frees our energy to focus on how we can adjust and participate in our care. Illness has made me more trusting, more vulnerable, more open and more loving than I would have been without it.

These gifts don’t come wrapped with a bow. They are not always shiny, or even welcome at times. However, gifts are there, we just have to look for them.

Today, I’d love to give away a copy of my new book, Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness.  If you’d like to enter for a chance to win, Lene and I would like to know: 

What gift have you received from chronic illness or other challenges in your life?

Write your answer in the comment section below before Sunday, August 11, 2013 at 6 PM EST. Winner will be selected at random and announced on Monday, August 12, 2013. NB: Please remember to include your name on your entry!

________
   

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Freedom



Freeeeeeedoooooom!!

For the entire month of August, I will be on sabbatical from HealthCentral. This is my main day job, and one that I love passionately. That passion has a tendency to translate into a lot of work and to be fair, not just for HealthCentral. I wear a lot of hats and together, they take up the vast majority of my available time and energy. A couple of months ago, I added another freelance gig with The Aurora Foundation of Southern Arizona doing something incredibly exciting and by then, I was over capacity. Having a grand time, but still somewhat overworked.

And that meant no writing.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. I wasn't ready to dive into Book Two, so it was nice to spend a few months focusing on something else altogether. But the itch has been growing and the only way I can scratch it is by creating time. That meant a sabbatical and thankfully, my wonderful Producer told me to go right ahead and do what I need to do.

What I need to do is write. And spend time in the park doing nothing. For the next month, I'll get to do that.

Well, mostly. There is job #2 and I'm working on a really cool thing for September and yes, it's entirely possible I need to do some research on what the words "sabbatical" and "vacation" actually mean. Still, it will be the closest I can get to both and I can’t wait.

I've been anticipating this, counting down the days and the soundtrack in my mind has been looping the chorus of this song


I have no idea if the song actually reflects the concept of my August, but yeah.

Freedom.