Figuring

Figuring coverFiguring
Maria Popova
Pantheon (February 5, 2019), 554 pages
Kindle edition, $14.99, Amazon hardcover $19.49

I’m not sure what this book is trying to be and the lack of a subtitle doesn’t help.

The book opens with the story of the young Maria Mitchell on Nantucket in the nineteenth century, with her passion for astronomy supported by her Quaker father. In a world where such opportunities are mostly closed to woman she makes a name for herself in the field and goes on to teach astronomy at the newly-founded Vassar College.

We then see a glimpse of Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and frequently credited as co-inventor of the computer. We see a lot of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and then back in the United States there is a discussion of the Transcendental movement with Ralph Waldo Emerson and the bunch. In particular we learn a lot about the innovative, progressive Margaret Fuller.

From Fuller we are introduced to the early history of photography, and then the poet Emily Dickinson, after which we abruptly are presented with a discussion of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan regarding their work on the plaque and sound recording placed on the Voyager spacecraft. From there we are treated to a long discussion of Rachael Carson.

I’m leaving a lot out here.

Popova is trying to tell us something, but I’m not sure quite what.


Creation

Creation coverCreation
Gore Vidal
Vintage, 587 pages, August 22, 2018 (2002 reprint)
Kindle edition $12.99, Amazon paperback $17.95

Back in the 1980’s I tried to get going with Gore Vidal’s then-new book Creation. It is a novel narrated by a fictional grandson of Zoroaster, and is presented as a rebuttal to the Histories of Herodotus from a Persian perspective. I remember having a hardcover copy and trying to read it. I just couldn’t get excited about it.

Recently, however, I had been reading some nonfiction and I wanted a change. I downloaded the Kindle sample of Creation and found the book quite book quite interesting. It turns out that this is an expanded version published in 2002. It seems that an overzealous editor underestimated the interest of the average Vidal reader (or perhaps the average fiction reader) in the details of life, ritual, and philosophy in the ancient world and cut a good deal of what he considered to be minutia. That’s all restored in the 2002 edition.

The narrator is Cyrus Spitima, the fictional grandson of the Persian prophet Zoroaster. He is portrayed as being part of the royal family and a close friend to and the same age as the eventual emperor Xerxes. He is sent to India by Xerxes’s father Darius and to China by Xerxes. In the course of his travels he meets the Buddha, Lao Tze, and Confucius. Now of course it’s not entirely clear that the three actually lived at the same time, or in fact, that the first two existed at all. But this Vidal’s way of incorporating Eastern religion and philosophy into an entertaining novel.

In the end the book was probably over-long and in fact I ended up skimming the last quarter of it. Ultimately, though, I believe it was worth my time.


routine

I am big on routine. Perhaps that is where our four-footed child Tasha gets her insistence on routine.

I have made it a point to be disciplined in my exercise routine. For a very long time I walked three days a week listening to lectures from The Great Courses and I did yard work one day a week. When I needed to improve my strength in advance of my surgery I shifted to weight work three days a week along with a cardio and strength class one day a week. I tried to throw in yard work as well. It made all the difference in my surgery and recovery.

Right now I need to back off on all of that. My body needs time to heal and I need to scale back on the exercise. That’s OK. It will be nice to get back to my walks and Great Courses lectures down the line a ways.


pain management

My spiritual director spent many years as a nurse before becoming an Episcopal priest. She provided that fact during our very first session and that reality does at times affect how she interacts with her directees.

That was the case during our last session before my surgery. She stepped out of her spiritual director role and into her nurse role long enough to tell me to make sure that I was getting the pain medication I needed.

That advice did not work as well as it could have while I was in the hospital. I don’t know whether it was Kaiser policy or my surgeon’s directions, but I only received pain medication when I specially asked for it. That meant I probably missed a few doses I could have used.

I took that advice very seriously when I got home however. I made sure that I took my pill regularly, every four hours. That made a huge difference to me and my comfort level.

Sometimes we have the inclination to tough it out. That’s not always the best approach. We frequently need to give ourselves the care and comfort that we need.


it’s about the preparation

I knew for many months that I would need surgery. It was just a question of when. My surgeon told me very early on that I would do much better if I were in better physical shape.

As it became clear that the surgery would be sooner rather than later, I asked my surgeon about the kind of exercise I should be getting. Strength training, he said. I had been doing walking so I made the shift. I took the process seriously and added wight and reps to keep challenging myself.

I had also asked my surgeon about the length of my hospital stay. I said that for a youngster it could be short, maybe three days, but with my sixty-five-year-old body that was not possible. He was highly unwilling to commit, but he seemed to suggest that five days might be a minimum and that it could be eleven or so days.

As it turned out I spend three nights in the hospital and went home on day four. I took the need for preparation seriously and it paid off.

A lesson to remember.


post-surgery reflections

I am back sooner than I expected, but then I have a lot on my mind, as you might imagine.

This blog entry might contain TMI for some.

As I reported to my friends on Facebook, the surgery was scheduled for three-and-a-half hours, but was completed in less than two-and-a-half. I was moved from the gurney to the operating table, and the next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery room, feeling relatively comfortable. At the outset there was no pain unless I moved.

As I was coming up on the date for surgery I kept asking myself if I really needed to go through with it. The answer I gave myself was that anything that was causing me to lose weight and creating an elevated white blood cell count needed to be dealt with. I learned after the surgery that the object removed was the size of a golf ball, and that several other small objects needed to be removed as well. So I guess the surgery really was was necessary.

The hospital routine was an interesting one. I had my nurse on duty and I got a new nurse every twelve hours. There was usually a handoff to acquaint me with the new nurse and the new nurse with my situation. Then a lot of other people came and went. Technicians or nursing students to take my vitals. Phlebotomists to take blood. The head of nursing to get my evaluation of my treatment, and my case manager to get information about my personal circumstances. And, of course, my surgeon or the resident to see how I was doing.

It was an interesting experience and I was pleased with the quality of care I received. I was also very happy to get home.


blog break

It’s time for a short blog hiatus. I am having surgery on Wednesday for an object on my intestinal tract that should not be there and needs to be removed. I expect to be back blogging in a couple of weeks, the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, along with your prayers and good thoughts, of course.

laptopThat may well be all you care to know, and that makes perfect sense. If you choose to keep reading, however, I can fill you in with a little more background, but I will endeavor to avoid the slippery slope of TMI.

It’s been quite a journey, going back nearly a year. After my annual physical last year my primary care physician ordered a blood cell count, presumably because I told the medical student who saw me before he came into the exam room that I had lost weight for no apparent reason. My white count came back high, which resulted in an ultrasound and a referral to urology as the issue appeared to be kidney-related. A CT scan followed, with the urologist saying, “You don’t need me” and referring me to gastroenterology. Those folks told me that I had a GIST, a gastrointestinal stromal tumor. The medical team ordered two different endoscopic procedures to confirm that it was only that. The gastrointestinal surgeon partnered with the oncologist (head of oncology at Kaiser Riverside, by the way!) who prescribed a medication to shrink the GIST. No effect, the second CT scan revealed. Bad news: larger rather than smaller is harder to remove. Good news: the medication not shrinking it means it’s probably not cancerous.

So here we are. Think of me (as the song from Phantom of the Opera says), and my intent is to be back with you soon. I have cleared out my queue of backlogged blog entries and will be starting fresh when I return. Once restarted, this blog may take a slightly different approach or focus but I do plan to keep blogging. Writing is central to who I am, and I have much to write about.

Stay tuned.