Just a Little Cake Talk

strawberry whipped cream cake

When it comes to baking cakes, I am no match for my mother.  Actually, I am no match for my grandmother, either.  Yet, I am the one who loves cake probably more than both my mother and her mother put together.  Perhaps that is because both were so good at baking them.

My grandmother made the same cake for most occasions. It was a simple homemade yellow cake with homemade chocolate icing.  She made everything homemade, including bread, including sausage…and she grew fresh vegetables in her garden.  I’ve always said that she could make a fried egg taste like filet mignon.  My grandmother was a natural, wholesome cook.  She somehow got us kids to beg for more broccoli.  That’s how good hers was, cooked to perfection, even though it was just plain broccoli.  I would give anything to have the cake recipe my grandmother followed–or probably didn’t follow; she rarely followed a recipe.  My grandmother’s yellow cake was hands down the best cake I have ever tasted.

My mother, ever the rebel, baked differently from her mother.  My mother not only followed recipes (at least until she made the cake a couple times), she often tried new recipes, or made up her own recipes that she rarely wrote down.  You might say she was a visual cook, a creative cook.  She could also have something in a restaurant, go home to her kitchen and duplicate it.  She seemed not only to guess the ingredients but also the correct amounts and combinations. 

If you had to pin down my mother to one cake, you might say she was mostly a master at the cake du jour.  poke cakeThat is, whatever cake was trending: dump cake, bundt cake, poke cake, angelfood cake, cheesecake, banana cake, coffee cake, chocolate eclair cake, tiramisu….She loved what she called an “easy” cake, but none of them seem all that easy if you don’t make as many cakes as she did.  She would even go beyond wild on occasion and try things such as Pumpkin Caramel Dream Cake or Tartufo –whatever she might come across– this woman who whipped up Baklava like it was omelettes. In truth, my mother was an expert in all things phyllo dough.  She used it regularly, while I am afraid to open the package. There were also the many fruit pizzas, which were cake-like with their crusty cream-cheese bottom, along with the various cookies, the millions upon millions of mint squares, the occasionally poorly shaped biscotti of her arthritic years.  All and all , you could pretty much rely on some kind of dessert whenever you had dinner at my mom’s, and more often than not, it was a cake she made while dog-tired after preparing a lavish little feast, just to let you know she was excited to see you.

Tartufo chocolate cream cake

Tartufo chocolate cream cake

So here we are, nearing my father’s 85th surprise birthday party, trying not to be too sad because Mom’s no longer with us. I’ve got her and her cakes heavy on my mind, and wish so much that she were here for the festivities.  As I prepare, I do spontaneous impressions of her, knowing what she would say and how she would say it, if only she were here to see the plans taking shape.  My mother loved joy, and nothing feels or is as joyful without her enthusiasm, without her excitement.  You know, that feeling of wanting to call your mom when you can’t.  Because nobody cares like your mother does.

So I ordered one big cake, enough to feed 50 people, at the same bakery I always got my mom’s birthday cakes.  Mom was easy…she liked strawberry whipped cream cake; that was her staple favorite.  Dad, less a cake fan, harder to predict; I guess he mostly likes cannoli cake, which is often served at weddings.  After hours with the baker, I finally settled on something called “success cake,” with a sort of autumnal look to the orange ganache on top. I liked the name. It’s supposed to have hazelnut and almond cake with praline and macadamia nut French buttercream.  I got to taste it when I was trying to decide, and it was very light and not very nutty-tasty, just delicately flavorful–probably the tastiest cake they had at this popular neighborhood European bakery.  I’m worried we might not have enough, so in addition, I want to make one of my favorite cakes, a carrot cake, just in case. In my mother’s honor, I want people who want it to have a piece of cake to take home with them.

strawberry whipped cream cake

This is Day 16 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

Look, look, look! A book! A book!


While speaking in depth recently with a new friend about my writing and the challenges of finding one’s voice and genre, along with the complications of writing what’s right and true to one’s experience vs. the need to protect those in our story, she made my day by recommending a few books that might help me to answer these questions.  Then she made my day even better by saying she was going to send them to me. When they arrived in the mail this week, my heart and psyche did some unanticipated healing.

As a reader, there isn’t anything better than receiving a book you truly want to read, except reading it.  So, when a huge wave of fatigue visited last evening as I continue to write and walk daily, and I was left taped to the bed, committed to staying off Facebook at least while I focus on breaking my fatigue in new ways, I reached for one of the two books she sent.  Within five minutes of reading, possible fewer, I was dead asleep.  When I awoke shortly after, panicked and most likely from not breathing, I thought, “I should put on my CPAP.”  As is often the case when I am fatigued, I was just too tired to reach down for the mask, to turn on the machine,  I fell back to sleep wondering if this would be the night I died in my sleep.

I didn’t want to die, but I knew I could, just as I always know. After all, I believe I had a friend die this way, not long before sleep apnea was commonly understood; “He died peacefully in his sleep,” they would say. He had gained a significant amount of weight; I could hear him breathless after climbing the building stairs; he probably did not understand why, probably dieted as best he could–or at least thought he needed to start, likely chalked it all up to smoking and/or even drinking.  So jovial, intelligent and big-hearted was he…yet, he likely had no idea that sleep apnea was the bigger culprit. Only now do I presume it was.  No one ever really said–I’m not even sure the coroner knew.  One day, after having yet another great conversation with him in the parking lot before leaving work, just as I watched him drive away, he was within moments gone, never to return.  That was seven years ago, almost to the day.

I slept deeply for about fifteen minutes when another episode of interrupted breathing again awakened me. This time when I awakened, I was more alert, refreshed from having slept, yet so much so I no longer felt sleepy.  I decided to get out of bed to go read in the living room.  As I passed the study, I saw the mounting mess upon my desk–the mess I’ve been wanting to clean all week.  When I was in sales as a young woman, I was taught never to leave work with a cluttered desk.  The idea later echoed by a rhetoric professor in graduate school, who warned us about the limitations of writing in texts.  You always want to return to both with a clear mind, refreshed, with a new way of seeing, in any small way uncluttered or possibly improved, both the professor and the sales manager would say.  My clean desk at the university, taken from my experience in business, contrasted with those of my less focused colleagues, proud of their messes, unaware of the advantages, not at all interested since they saw such feats as either impossible, unnecessary or anally retentive.  With all work experience behind me, the sight of my cluttered home desk on my way to read in the living room sickened me, made me feel like the failure I sometimes feel I’ve become, the woman who returned from death to begin back at square one to evolve, yet again.  The powerhouse of energy who is no more.

The book I began reading stunned me with its exquisite prose.  The perfect example, as my new friend said, of poetry fashioned into memoir.  I was able to read the first fifty pages, before turning in for the night, again too tired to hook up myself to the breathing machine.  This is as self-destructive as I get; I’m just too tired sometimes to function.  Fortunately, last night was not the night for me to go in my sleep, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.  Around 5:00 this morning, my sweet husband lifted the accessory tube to me to put on, asked how to work the machine, and I muttered, “You just have to press the button on the left twice.”  Too tired to feel embarrassed, I drifted back to sleep, while in my thoughts beginning to compose this post on my grateful introduction to “I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl.”

Let me tell you that I am bowled over by the writing in this woman’s story, just as my new friend said I would be.  So beautiful, so anxiety producing, so heart-breaking, so perfectly paced and so well-crafted, so happily self-examining, revealing and insightful.  I am startled by the contrasts in our life experiences, yet how they appear to end up in much the same place. The writer, with experiences much different from my own, led an early life of promiscuity and self-destruction.  She works at fighting alcoholism and goes to rehab only to end up the self-professed “Queen of Going Back Out.”  I have never been much of a drinker–you can’t even really classify me as a social drinker, although I am not a teetotaler…and though I’ve read about Alanon and attended a few meetings, I mostly attend lectures and go on spiritual retreats.  I am more like the nun in her story, who tells her that no matter what she’s done it isn’t her fault when in fact it pretty much is, the nun who wants her to choose hope, the nun she does not return to see.

Yet, I walk a parallel line in my own life’s experiences.  At the very least, I share the same keen perception and attention to detail that she maintains even during fog-infused blackouts from drinking too much. During the worst of my head injury, I was similar to her in her drunkness–still able to take in so much from any given scene that, despite our deficits, much of it remains unapparent to most.  She has been raped by three men at once and had countless sexual encounters with many others, while I have not, yet when she writes, “I need to be touched in a non-violent way,” my head and my heart explode with recognition.

This is what good writing can do.  It can bring into the universal that which is private, personal, exclusive. You might think it is the plot that carries this story, but the specific experiences are not what capture me. While some readers may look for this sort of adventure, titillation, intensity, the action of it rather repels me; not morally so much as psychologically.  It’s almost as if the appeal for me is the moment where the writer takes or gets a breath, some ease, a glimpse of rest.  That she survives it all and wants to keep going… and so much more, too soon to be articulated.  Mostly, undoubtedly, it is the level of the writing that makes this book stand out.

My new friend warned me that I would not be able to put down the books she was going to send me.  Her statement is so true, that I hope we can be friends forever.  Regardless, I greatly appreciate and will never forget this gift she’s given me.  As I read, I carry forth in my head what I want to write, what I really want most to say, but until now have felt I could not, should not. It is such a balancing act, and Kelle Groom succeeds, masters it.  I am still afraid, but now feeling somewhat liberated. As if the possibility of sharing “The Worst Thing That Can Happen” (Chapter 6 in Groom’s memoir) can be done with grace and precision, and to benefit readers who will empathize without judging, and judging all characters, not just my own–which is part of what I do with others who may not deserve any sympathy or empathy.  This tolerance and perspective that comes naturally to me (at least in most cases), which I haven’t worked out from a writing standpoint. The quandary that keeps me from feeling I can draw my characters fairly, objectively, roundly, whether they deserve it or not.  Kelle Groom writes boldly, and I really cannot wait to read more to see how the book continues.

This is Day 15 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

Cubs Win, Bernie Sanders and Anne Lamott

Tuesday, October 13, 2015–On this day in American History:

  1. The Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series. They now go on to play in the National League Championship Series, the winner of which plays in the 2015 World Series.
  2. The first 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary Debate was held in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  3. Writer Anne Lamott gets sassy on Twitter.
  4. It was my first full day off of Facebook since I can’t remember when.

Having the whole day off Facebook went better than expected.  I stayed busy and on the go throughout the day, and even got my pantry cleaned, organized and looking much improved.  I didn’t check my phone repeatedly for updates, but instead talked and texted on it quite a bit, and a whole stack of mail was sorted and discarded.  So, really, the change initiated to help push past fatigue was quite successful. I’m doing it, and it’s exciting!  I was, sadly, too busy to get my full five mile walk in, but I am still on target for my weekly goal, fingers crossed.

I found I didn’t miss checking Facebook until it came time to sit down to watch the playoff baseball game and then the Democratic debates.  I missed interacting with friends, though team loyalty and politics are volatile topics on Facebook and not always pleasant.  To find the news, I checked Twitter, but much of it wasn’t as accessible to me as it is on Facebook, which has a selective newsfeed.  I’m not sure how I will proceed, but when it comes to information, being off Facebook already feels like a bit of a disadvantage.  I am also missing out on most of the writing challenge news, so that may drive me back faster than anything.

Yesterday’s Twitter included some haughty tweets by the popular writer Anne Lamott, whom I met last year at one of her book signings.  It isn’t unusual for Anne Lamott to be sarcastic. After all, she’s known for her wit and outspoken humor, but I was a bit miffed when she turned the sarcasm on the presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, because of what she characterized as his being too loud.

I guess I don’t really agree with this assessment. I see him as passionate about the issues; I see him as speaking to a large group of people; if he has a bit of a hearing deficit, I can forgive that, even overlook it entirely–if she’s even right, though I don’t think she is on this matter.  I listened after the debates to an MSNBC interview with Bernie Sanders, and there was no mistaking that Chris Matthews was louder than Sanders.  Lamott seemed to be reaching to have something funny or otherwise derogatory to say.  This made me think a little less of her, not of Bernie Sanders.  Women have been saying for years that they do not want to be evaluated by their looks or demeanor, hair styles or age, yet Lamott’s focus turns these tables on Sanders.  It seemed as if she was trying to make herself seem superior to him, a man of vast public service contribution as well as a graduate of the esteemed University of Chicago.  This time Lamott’s chiding just didn’t sit well with me–her varied and overdone tweets about what she assessed as his being too loud.

When Lamott said Sanders will never be president because of his shouting, one millennial tweeter who happens to be her son, Sam Lamott,  schooled her by saying, “never say never.”  When several people favored this tweeter’s admonition, Lamott reacted defensively (and again sarcastically), saying:


Of course, it’s supposed to be humorous…and I’m sure it drew several laughs from the crowd.  Yet, this sort of arrogance, to me, illustrates exactly what is wrong with social media.  The 162 you see beside the star (*162) naturally represents people with well over 40 followers favoring Lamott’s quip.  They clearly want to be included in the big group, the “in” group–the group of tweeters who have lots of followers, not just a few (under 40, in fact)…and more importantly, to be aligned with her via her opinions–or, in this case, attitude. This approach proliferates a class system where more is more, based on ego and an otherwise utterly vacuous measurement, because then (if we have lots of followers) we can feel smug and self-righteous and as if we have arrived.

In this mentality, everything’s a competition…and that fits right in with playoff games and presidential debates; might as well take it down to the level of social media, where people are supposed to be “connecting.”  Hundreds of twitter followers clearly means we are smarter and happier and probably even wealthier than those with much fewer.  This is a reductionist philosophy if there ever was one.  Akin to the Facebook “like,” the number of followers (like the number of “friends” or the number of “likes” accumulated) becomes a measure of one’s worth, one’s identity.  Social media is the new country club.  Status is everything; how many followers, how many friends, how many likes, how many pins, how many favorites…which all have their own complicated cultural qualifications.  This is the sort of silliness that annoyed me on Facebook.

It seems arrogant and sophomoric, not to mention short-sighted, to believe one’s worth is congruent to the number of followers, as people come to Twitter at different times and sometimes very briefly.  As one tweeter from Maple Grove, MN pointed out in response to Lamott’s address to “annoying people”:

“@ANNELAMOTT, weird that the word “follower” is used when really

we are curious about what ppl can express in 140 characters or less.”

Likewise, if a person is new to twitter, or if they are trying to keep a low profile maybe expressly because they do not want to play the game, they naturally may have few could be by choice, and have little or nothing to do with their ability to secure an audience.  In the aggregate, a large group of tweeters with few followers is still substantive; those opinions are not necessarily diminished by their lack of volume.

And why the elitist stance coming from Anne Lamott after all?  I imagine she would just laugh incredulously at my reservation here, saying, “I was joking, dumbhead!”

I know I’m not going to win any fans by criticizing Anne Lamott (whom I like (!), as she says about Bernie Sanders).  Perhaps she is just a Hillary supporter.  Perhaps she decidedly set out to make Bernie look bad just to keep him out of the running…or to knock him out of Hillary’s way.  If so, I think both she and Hillary herself took care of this matter.  I wouldn’t say Sanders is out of the running, but I would say that between Anne Lamott’s Twitter and Hillary’s live vitriol, Senator Sanders looked like a bullied middle-schooler just wanting everyone to get along.


This is Day 14 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

On Going Off Facebook

IMG_0085_Fotor Dorothy

Something odd happened to me today.  I no sooner got finished telling someone how happy writing makes me, than within hours I felt sick of it.  I thought maybe I would drop out of this challenge, even though I never had that thought before.  I thought maybe I don’t really like the activity of writing so much that it eclipses all other activities.  I thought maybe I don’t really want to publish a book, after all.

I got busy with my day and didn’t think too much about it again until I sat down to write my post just now for Day 13.

A question came up on Facebook on our Write31Days group page, and yet again the very defensive administrator with a lot of bravado was rude in response to my follow-up question.

I decided just to think about her retort; perhaps to address it tomorrow, if not disregard it altogether.

Then I poked around for a bit, and independent of the thought of her curtness or any other specific impetus, I decided on a bit of impulse just to deactivate my Facebook account.

I’m really surprised I did this.  And yet I am not at all surprised.

Ever since I started this challenge, and the actual putting into practice-do as I say Breaking Free from Fatigue-I have really been too busy for Facebook.  And I also have not been as reliant on it…

Facebook was a perfect go-to when I was fatigued, but now that I am trying so hard to push past the rest it required, I find I not only don’t have the time for Facebook, I also find I am losing interest in it.

For one thing, I have a stack of books I want to read, a party to plan, a bunch of writing to do, and a house to prepare for guests, along with meals to prepare to feed them.  Plus, I am still trying to walk 5 miles a day.  Just the party prep could take me the whole of the rest of this week.  I wonder what life will feel like without the daily connection that is Facebook?

Actually, as this 31 Day Writing Challenge continues, I think going off Facebook is the perfect thing for me to do.  It’s such a perfect idea, I really don’t know why I didn’t think of it in the first place.

Perhaps it was because at the time this writing challenge launched, I was involved with 100 Days of Happy Photosand wanted to finish that challenge, which was also initiated on Facebook. In fact, tomorrow is our last day: it will be exactly one hundred days that I’ve been sharing in the group, mostly daily, photographs of things that bring happiness my way each day (the featured photo above is one I took for this group).  I feel a little badly about abandoning the 100 Happy Photographs project, but I can always post my photo(s) here, if I want to. Or, I can explain when I return.  I will go back on Facebook in time–I just don’t know when.  Perhaps I will wait until this 31 Day Writing challenge is over.

Most importantly, being off Facebook will give me more time to focus on the new habits I am trying to build, in order to replace the physical rest that dominated my days.  This will be a great day for me, if not being exhausted ever occurs–a day I’ve long awaited!  In addition, I feel burned out on the pettiness that happens on Facebook, which I try most of the time to ignore.  I get tired of the superficiality and some of the practices that goes on there.  I feel as though I am looking for deeper, more meaningful connections, as I have always had in real life, since I try to avoid wasting time frivolously.  When I was fatigued, I had a lot of reading time but not always the best concentration.  Facebook was great for little blips of interest, even though I often fell asleep laptop in hand.

Yet, being as communicative as I am, it is difficult for me to spend five minutes and then disappear for six days–or worse, just to post a photo of a contorted cat that says, “Hang in There,” or some such thing, and then move away.  I don’t think in soundbites.  I may be too expressive for Facebook.  Too contemplative, maybe.  I don’t like the rituals that remind me of junior high/middle school, even though, again, I rarely let myself be bothered by them.  I’m just aware…and I need a break from all of it, apparently.

Besides, now that I am finally beginning to feel like a normal person, I want  to return to in person relationships, not just virtual.  I think this break is going to be beneficial, although I will probably miss all sorts of important news and changes in people’s lives.  I guess someone will have to call me, or I just won’t know…

This move is a big change for me, as I have been reading Facebook posts nearly daily for the whole latter five years or so of my recovery.  The operative here is “move.”  Alas, movement!  This has been my goal for so long.  It is exciting to be finally achieving such an important goal (even as my head hurts just a bit still).

Indeed, while almost completely unanticipated, going off Facebook feels like a huge evolution.  I mean, I knew I was aggravated with it at times, but I never realized I would be able to make such a swift, clean break.  I also guess I never let myself realize just how aggravating it has become.  I always tend to focus on the positives, and there are many positives to social networking.

Perhaps blogging fulfills a similar sort of social need that Facebook does?  There certainly is not the same amount of interaction.  Same with tweeting, I suppose, which is also different from the Facebook culture.

I do worry somewhat that people won’t know what happened to me, since I made no announcement of my leaving, and maybe even that I will lose “friends” I don’t want to lose.  But anyone who cares should know how to find me here; at least they say they are reading my blog.  All and all, if they really want to connect, I’m sure they will be able to find me some other way other than Facebook.

I don’t think anything urgent will happen while I’m gone–except, OOPS, I was supposed to go pick up a Halloween costume for $6.00 for our granddaughter from someone I don’t know and will no longer have contact information for.  Oh, my.  Like I said, I really didn’t think it all the way through.  At the time, it just seemed like the perfect thing to do.  Surely it is better than stopping my writing challenge, no?  Better than giving up writing for good?  And by for good, I mean for forever.  If I have to choose between writing, moving and Facebook, Facebook is going to lose every time…

I do wonder how much time will pass before I return to Facebook.  I’m hoping that I at least take the rest of this month off.  It’s going to be interesting to see how this goes.

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can’t I?

This is Day 13 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

Remembering John Denver


Today is the 18th anniversary of the fatal air tragedy that took the life of popular American folklorist/singer/songwriter John Denver.  You can find a vast amount of information about John’s accident and his career on the internet.

I have also written about John Denver frequently on this blog.  A lifelong fan, I was led to an even deeper appreciation of his work during my recovery from acquired head trauma.

Please feel free to remember John by visiting any of the following links:

On Tributes, Love Letters, and Sentimentality: To John Denver from Aspen

On Writing It Down

Aspen In October 2012, Introduction, Part 1

(there are three posts that follow this):

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Talk About Opening Doors: A Tribute to Steve Weisberg


This is Day 12 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

The Old Man Who Cared

I heard a touching story today.

An elderly gentleman was leaving a doctor’s appointment.  On his way out of the office building, he saw a woman sitting outside on the steps.

He wouldn’t have given this a thought, except he noticed that the woman’s shoulders and head slumped down low into her body.  She looked dejected.  He wasn’t sure if she was physically hurt, or dangerously upset.  Something about the sight of her seemed alarming.

The old man with the wobbly gait and arthritic hands held onto the railing as he slowly made his way down the stairs, gingerly navigating one concrete step at a time.  His legs carried pain that couldn’t be treated.

He noticed the woman’s face, and described it as “tortured.”

There was no denying the woman looked uncomfortably sad.

The old man did not know what to do.  He felt bad for the woman, and wasn’t sure if she was okay.  All of this began to make him worry.

He wondered whether the woman was safe enough to speak to, since one never knows in cases like these. You can’t just approach strangers that you know nothing about, he thought to himself; you don’t know what they will do.

Still, the man sensed the woman needed assistance.  Though he didn’t want to bother her, he imagined he ought to try to do something.

“How’ you doing?” the old man asked, the words spilling quietly from him.

The woman, who appeared disheveled, with hair unkempt, looked to be about 45 years of age.  Much younger than the man.  Yet notably careworn.

The woman, looking tearful, turned reluctantly toward the man.

“You are going to be okay,” the old man reassured her.  Then, with an urgency:

“You are the best there is!”

The woman remained silent.

The old man could see that the woman was utterly dispirited.  He was just hoping to help in some small way, uncertain as to how.  Her crisis was unclear, but he felt badly for her unknown suffering.

“You are the best person you know,” the man continued.

The woman slowly lifted her head into the sunshine.

“Don’t ever doubt yourself,” the old man added affirmatively, “There is no one better than you.  You know that.  No one is better than you.”

“Thank you for your words,” the younger woman said, “I appreciate them.”

The man nodded his head and started at last to move on.

With hesitation and a bit more concern he added, “Do you have a ride?”  He didn’t feel she should just be left alone in the state she was in.

“Yes,” the woman said, “A cab is on the way to get me.”

“Good,” the man said, turning to go, taking another step away.

Yet again, something made him pause, perhaps it was her sadness, the thought of where she might have been or where she might be going.  Would she be safe?

“Do you have kids,” the old man asked, not meaning to pry.

“Yes,” the woman said quietly, “I have three.  But, one committed suicide,” she added.

“Ohh, that’s hard,” the man said, “really tough.”

The man then opened up to the woman with the very first thing that occurred to him.

He knew it might not be the best thing to say, but if he could, he wanted to make her feel less alone, hopefully less despondent.

“I had a similar situation,” the man confided.  “My own son became seriously ill.  Eventually he died too. It was very hard.”

“Both situations,” the man continued, “yours and mine–they’re so terrible.”

“We can’t give up.  We just can’t, even though it hurts so much,” the man concluded.

The woman agreed, and now lent her sympathy to the man as he shared with her a little more about his son.

“I am so sorry to hear about your son, Sir.  I’m just so sorry,” the woman offered.

“Well, you just remember what I said,” the old man said.

Then, as he turned to go the final time, he said:

“You are valuable.”  “Your other two kids need you.”  And then he repeated, “You have as much right to be here as anyone else.  No one is better than you.”  “Don’t forget I said that.”

“Yes,” the woman said, still looking sad, still disheveled.  She did seem perceptibly a wee bit stronger, her head and shoulders a bit less slumped, perhaps breathing a little deeper.

“Take care of yourself,” the old man said as he walked away, hoping he had made some difference, that he had been of some small help to this sad, broken woman he knew so little about.

“Sometimes,” the old man–who was actually the one telling the story–said to me, “The smallest fact is everything you need to know.  That’s when a small fact can become the major fact.”

“That’s a good story,” I said to the man telling it to me:  “I love you, Dad.”


This is Day 11 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

The Space that Keeps Us Honest and True: Last Night and This Morning

DSC03123_Fotor john prine

John Prine fans love stories.  Beyond the American folklorist’s songwriting success is a fundamental interest in writing, as described here: “I guess I always loved to write, but I never had anything to really encourage it. I never thought I could be a journalist or novelist or anything, I just had a wild imagination and songwriting gave me enough rope to run with it.”  This doesn’t sound exactly like an authentic John Prine quote to me, maybe it’s a paraphrase, but there is no disputing that John does have a wild imagination, and no doubt John experienced an early interest in writing.  He and I certainly have that in common, even though he makes a lot more money than I do.

Indeed, John Prine generally has had greater fortune than most of us.  Like some of us, however, the famous lyricist has had his share of health scares, and like some of us, he continues to work hard to persevere.  Without any of these challenges, he would still be admirable. Yet, I might point out that his health challenges likely include the sort of debilitating fatigue that is the focus of this 31 day writing challenge for me.

Certainly it feels a bit disingenuous to be comparing myself to John Prine, but as a writer, comparisons and differences come automatically.  They are instantly recognizable, and then sometimes, well, undeniable. The fact that one of  the greatest living songwriters of our time shares interests and ailments in common with one of the most unknown bloggers on the internet seems a rather compelling synthesis–and this connection with the ordinary person explains, in part, what makes John Prine’s writing so successful.  His humility enables him to identify with his fans, and we in turn, identify with him.  He comes before us as a regular guy, albeit in his trademark black suit and carrying his guitar or guitar case, but on stage he laughs with us, he connects with us, and even shows his appreciation for us.

In all the John Prine concerts I have attended, my favorite ones have occurred since my head injury. Because of my growing adoration for him, my gratefulness to still be here able to enjoy art, and at that very moment, his music in particular…or maybe just because of the emotional lability that comes from concussion, after his finishing a song with his band (which is awesome and worthy of its own post), I have screamed to him on stage at the top of my lungs, “I LOVE YOU, JOHN! I LOVE YOU, JOHN!”  During last summer’s 2014 concert at Red Rocks near Denver, Colorado, he clearly heard me (we were in Row 11; although I am pretty sure he heard me at other concerts, too; it may have been that he even recognized me as that screaming fan again), to my surprise, he didn’t turn away or act annoyed, but instead looked right at me and said with love, “Thank you.  We appreciate that.”  The man has a heart so big that he truly appreciates his fans’ appreciation. Like all great artists, neither joy nor sorrow escapes him, and we hear this in his music, we witness it at his concerts.

One characteristic most praiseworthy about John Prine’s work is that he takes cliche’s and spins them into extended metaphors of high art.  Or to borrow a teaching metaphor, he turns “D” writing into “A” writing. I’m not sure he has to work all that hard to do this; at least he makes it appear effortless.  His Irish whimsy and sense of the absurd seem ever present, and this elevates his language from prose to poetry, as if his inner William Butler Yeats is always there having a beer with him.  His lyrics are filled with literary embellishment that employ tropes, wit, satire, sarcasm, irony, and even once in a blue moon, allusion.  The best thing is when he draws his own characters, real or imaginary, such as “the oldest baby in the world,” “Sabu,” “Mr. Peabody,” the “big old goofy man dancing with a big old goofy girl” and “some humans [that] ain’t human.”  Like a fine novel, his songs will make you laugh and they will make you cry.  He’s like a modern day Dickens contrasting the great expectations of a people, large and small–but mostly examining the life of the small.  Or, as John Prine plainly puts it in “Humidity Built the Snowman, “The scientific nature of the ordinary man / Is to go on out and do the best you can.”

That idea is certainly the philosophy behind Stumbler.  We live our lives, take a few hits and a few falls, pick ourselves up as long as we can, and keep trying.  That’s what’s happening with this piece, too, as I write spontaneously and a bit rushed to finish it a day later than hoped–hoping to have the day I hope to have today.  Yesterday, I just got to busy living and then too tired to write about it. So, because writing is what matters here, this is what I stitched together last night–after the Cubs beat the Cardinals 6-3 in the second of five games in the National League Divisional Playoff Series–Lord knows (and John surely knows) that that was rare tv worth watching.  Even though it was his birthday, John even may have been following the game himself…



It’s just past ten o’clock on the 10th day of the tenth month of the year, October, 2015.  It also happens to be the tenth day of my 31 day writing challenge and one of the busiest Saturdays this woman has seen in a long time.  I completed Day 9 of this writing challenge at about this same time last night, however mostly with my eyes closed.  I’ve got no guesses as to what all of these tens could mean, but hopefully I will figure out something.  I’m a little slap-happy here, but let’s see what happens.  We can relax, because even though we’re on the internet and all, it’s only blogging.  And we don’t really care that much; the point is to write.  Sleepers may sleep, but we writers–we don’t sleep.

As I fight the fatigue that has plagued me for so long by forcing change in the ways I have been discussing on this blog and more particularly in this challenge–and mostly by just good old fashioned keeping busy–I find the days flying by, seemingly as quickly as the years that are already gone, including the long-suffering ones which were all but lost entirely.  The decade and the decades–gone in a whoosh!  But that’s cliche, I know.  So I hope everyone will forgive me if nothing gold comes from this keyboard tonight–because I really hate to have to be writing this on the fly.  Real writers write ahead of schedule; they make no apologies, but I’m just working a  writing challenge, trying to figure out what all to say, and mostly trying to make my deadline by midnight tonight, because…

Today is the birthday of the great American singer/songwriter John Prine.

That is 10/10/46.

He is (or was) 69 years old today!

You would think that on such a great writer’s birthday I could get it together to permit the possibility of writing earlier in the day when one hopefully suffers less fatigue…but alas, I could not.  I’ve been busy planning another birthday party; in fact, this one for my father’s 85th–a mere one week away.  I had to get the cake ordered, the balloons, the photos…and there’s been some drama.  So, stay tuned for all of that.


I just figured out the significance of all of these tens…even though it’s probably passe’ to say it now,

John Prine is a 10!  /  John Prine is a 10!

So, please allow me to trace, if you will, a summary of my affiliation with “John,” as most of his fans know him.  I first heard John’s music coming from my brother’s bedroom stereo around 1971.  Back then, I didn’t pay much attention; my brother was always listening to music; I just heard it enough to notice that it wasn’t Cream’s “White Room” or Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.”  I remember lifting my head toward the newness, then I kept right on staying out of my big brother’s hair, the way he and I both preferred.  Most likely, I was on the phone.  The land line.  We called them house phones back then.  They plugged into the wall and they had cords that were coiled and cords that were extenders, so we could walk around the room, kind of like we walk around the mall now, phone in hand.  I had a phone that was pink.  It was called a Princess Phone, and it had a rotary dial.  I wonder whatever happened to all the phones people had.  Was there a telephone landfill?  John Prine started out as a mailman.  I don’t think he ever worked for the telephone company, though lots of people did.  Telephones have changed a lot over the years.  I don’t think John has ever written a song about telephones.  Maybe Bonnie Raitt has.  If you know, you can tell me in the comments below.

So, my brother was a senior in high school, a gymnast, and four years older than me.  John Prine was six years older than my brother; that is, the “middle” one–I had two older brothers, so one year older than my oldest brother, I would later learn, and also, whadd’ya know?, a gymnast, as both my brothers were–which was a huge deal in our family–and at a high school not twenty miles down the road from where we lived. I’m not sure what all these coincidences mean, other than it must have been meant to be that I found John Prine.  I’ve got to be one of his biggest fans, in my way; certainly much bigger than my brother who still listens to him, but has become more like one of the people John sings about…

But back to then, the 1970s and 80s–years that felt like days passed….I didn’t hear John Prine’s music again until I was with my brother during his senior year and my freshman year of college when we were driving the long distance back home from the university we both attended (because my parents, imagining he would look after me, made me go to the same school as my brother).  Of course, he didn’t look after me at all…but we did drive to and from school together whenever the occasion arose.  Actually, he drove while I endured his driving.

So, one spring day toward the end of the semester, we were driving along in my brother’s old Pontiac Catalina convertible, listening to an 8-track audio tape of one of John’s most famous songs, “Illegal Smile.” Since this time I was stuck in the front passenger’s seat of the car with nothing but time, I now listened more carefully.  My brother has always been more prone to “illegal smiles” than I, but to see us both, you would expect that even this first time listening that I was enjoying the song every bit as much as he was.

I remember how my brother and I laughed when John sang the surprise ending, which includes the words–with a big, sloppy caesura, a catastrophic pause to set the scene–

“Sonofagun /my sister / is a nun!”  

We laughed at the irony of the tale of a stoner pulled over by a cop, nervously reciting all the excuses lawbreakers do to try to persuade cops to let him off the hook…because way back then, marijuana was not even close to legal.  We laughed, too, at the wordplay of the sister being a nun, since as Catholics we always knew nuns really to be sisters…and of course there I was in the flesh, the always holier than thou, in fact biological, sister!  If neither one of us was stoned at the time, we both certainly were beginning to feel like we were.  As we laughed, we were bonded in a collision with our innocence, and I always remember this as one of my favorite memories of being with my brother.

The years went by, and we experienced tragedy in our family.  Above all, we lost our oldest brother, whom we were both closer to than each other.  It ripped the hearts out of my brother and me, and of course out of both of our parents.  We all dealt with it in the individual ways that people do, and before we knew what to think anymore, my brother and I; that is, my only living brother and I, had grown divided and stopped speaking to one another altogether.  In our disunity, we both remain John Prine fans to this day, some thirty years after the drive with Sam Stone in my brother’s convertible.

Here is a John Prine song that encapsulates some of these sorts of experiences between siblings, between me and my only two older brothers, both of them now gone from me.  It has the lines, “We lost Davey in the Korean War / We don’t know what for / Don’t matter any more,” called “Hello In There.

Hello In There

Here is another song I shared yesterday on the John Prine Facebook page, called, “All the Best.”

All the Best

Awww, shucks, this has been fun.  Yesterday, I woke up thinking of John on his birthday and then throughout the day.  What I’ve found is that I could just write and write and write about John Prine.  Maybe I will have to write about him again another time.

Fortunately, thank the heavens, I got some living to do.

Fortunately, thank everything I know, I got some gold inside me, too.

Here’s to all of you, John Prine fans old and new, remember always “You Got Gold.

You Got Gold

This is Day 10 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

U.K. Celebrates National Poetry Day

internet image, source and photographer unknown

internet image, source and photographer unknown

I am going to interrupt my regularly scheduled blog post on this 8th day of the Write 31 Days challenge, because today is National Poetry Day in the U.K. and Ireland.

It is always a good day to celebrate poetry.  Poetry helps not only with fatigue, but really–with everything.  If you know me at all, you know that I am all about poetry.

I write it, I read it, I study it, I teach it, I live it, I love it.

Poetry has sustained me throughout my life, including the darkest times, which include my recovery from acquired traumatic brain injury.

I encourage you to read and even share some poetry today…

You can find posts online under the hashtag #NationalPoetryDay

Here are some poems to get you started, the favorite poems of a collection of readers and writers.

It is difficult to choose a favorite poem; much easier to choose favorite poems, but I suppose it could be said that what follows is my favorite poem of all time.  But only if I have to pick a favorite.

This poem, Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour, happens to be by an American poet, Wallace Stevens.  It contains a line that I chose to be the name of this website,

I hope you will enjoy this poem.  Let me know what you think…


Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one…
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

                               — Wallace Stevens


This is Day 8 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

On Social Isolation and Brain Injury

Fatigue is common with concussion, even long lasting, which has to do with the severity of the injury and the age of onset.  For example, when I was 12 years old, one winter I slipped on the ice while walking to a friend’s house, causing a concussion serious enough to hospitalize me.  I had some of the same symptoms at 12 years old that I did at 50, when I was hit 38 years later by a heavy, fast-traveling steel door.  With both injuries, I was tired, listless, nauseous, and extremely weak for more than 48 hours.  At 12, I was able to leave the hospital in 6 days and return to school in 8 with no notable effects whatsoever.  At 50, it was a much different story, even though the force of the blow was admittedly much greater.

One of the things that goes along with the age of onset of any illness is the development, sophistication and maturity level of the patient.  These things generally work in favor or against healing, depending on the particulars.  Of course, all this is also intricately connected to one’s social world.  At 12 years old, for example, quite a fuss was made over my hospitalization as family, school friends, and even teachers visited or sent well wishes.  At 50, even though it was nearly four decades later and one would imagine people would be ever more knowledgeable about head injury, I had almost no fuss made over me, and in fact became secluded with help originating almost exclusively from my husband.

As a consequence, many adult head injury survivors find themselves isolated from peers, unable to drive or even walk safely, and without the energy or communication skills to keep up with fast-paced conversation. Furthermore, if you talk with adult survivors experiencing the effects of brain injury, it’s not unusual but rather the norm that they suffer long lasting chronic fatigue.  Some doctors like to think fatigue goes away or should go away within a certain amount of time, or even that it shouldn’t be there at all; but then, they aren’t the ones who have been hit in the head.  They really cannot know what the experience feels like; they can only guess using whatever instrumentation and testing is available to them…and hope to help with whatever known treatment is available.  Sometimes treatment can be quite helpful, but not always.  Either way, the period of sick leave or convalescence often changes a brain-injured survivor’s life in a big way, because they simply cannot participate in life the way they once did.

When writing about my fall outdoors two days ago, I failed to mention (in Wednesday’s post) that I had to cancel a much anticipated breakfast with a friend.  This becomes a common occurrence for people unable to meet their social obligations, because they just are not well enough to live normally.  For the survivor, this causes more problems than anyone might realize.

Thankfully, my friend yesterday was understanding, and we made plans to meet another time soon. Unfortunately, during my early recovery I found that this was rarely possible, and also that not all people are as patient or as gracious.  In the end, interpersonal relationships are challenged to the point that many (if not most) of the injured survivor’s friendships end.

At this point, due to repetitive health challenges such as fatigue and falling, it feels as though I have run the gamut of dropping out of social situations and activities that I used to engage.  To an extent, the hard part has been that no one has come close to understanding.  I am sure that not one person who cares about me tried to read anything about traumatic brain injury or understand it on their way to analyzing the new me.  It’s frustrating and hurtful, but when a person is especially ill, she just doesn’t have the energy it takes to worry or stress about what people imagine. Equally troubling, cancellations and refusals end up hurting those holding expectations of your attendance, and then you’re feeling bad on top of feeling bad.  The last thing a survivor wants to do is hurt anyone; after all, they above anyone know what hurt feels like; they’re not plotting or scheming anything–they’re just trying to get through what sometimes can amount to some of the roughest days of their recovery.

I specifically recall one holiday season when we were invited to a friend’s annual party.  I said we would attend and we were expected, but a wave of severe fatigue hit and I spent the entire night from daylight on in bed, in pain and dreadfully uncomfortable.  This was before my nasal surgery, which helped my breathing and was so key to my improvement, so that may have been one of the complicating factors.  Needless to say, this person was so offended that my husband and I didn’t show as indicated, that our friendship never recovered, even though I called the next day to explain.

I also received strange looks from fellow members after dropping out of a group I belonged to that I just could not manage anymore while also working.  Even worse, my own group of friends always treated me as though I was a hypochondriac.  Whenever I mentioned any of my symptoms or tried to explain to them what living with post-concussive syndrome was like, they would look away, look at each other, or sometimes just break out laughing.  I never could understand how such well-educated women could be so narrow in their thinking, and so heartless and unimaginative…but they are a highly competitive group, accomplished people with high energy.  I was one of them myself, so I know what it’s like to teach three classes, meet seven students in conference, go to a department meeting, then play nine or even eighteen holes of golf before fixing dinner for the kids.

Still, I thought I would walk out the night, suffering from post-traumatic stress, I mentioned wanting to have my heart checked because of the tightness and fluttering, and they all broke out laughing and almost couldn’t stop.  I wasn’t in on their inside joke, but I could see there was one, and every time I attended those gatherings, I would say it was to be the last time.  I’m sure they hardly cared what I was thinking, since, for whatever reason, they had given up believing that I still could think at all.

People who don’t feel well are not understood.  People who do feel well need to try to have a little more imagination, at least when it comes to what it means to be ailing.  People can be a whole lot less compassionate than we might imagine.  I guess everyone is afraid of “babying” people or “over-indulging” them, or just “giving them attention,” because they have been taught to be suspicious and to suppose that that is what every sick person wants.  What a sick person really wants is to be well again.

When a person that you know to otherwise be credible becomes ill for whatever reason, and they try to tell you what they are experiencing, you generally have no reason not to believe them.  They are trusting you with words and feelings that are hard to articulate and hard enough for them to accept themselves.  They don’t want sympathy.  What they want is a vessel for their fear, a place to vent; or, some information. Support is always good, of course, as is love, but out and out denial, laughter, judgement or scrutiny is a waste of your time and theirs.

This is the reason sick people withdraw.  It isn’t necessarily depression, although isolation can cause depression, so much as their realizing how pointless it is to try to keep up and to connect with people who refuse to slow down and listen or care.  It is true that everyone has challenges.  When someone is suffering some illness, however, we cannot pretend to be in the same equal world where our troubles are just as important as theirs, feeling impatient that they just don’t get with the program.  Perhaps this sounds extreme, but I promise I experienced it.  Even my own family had trouble understanding, and only my husband who witnessed so much of my suffering had any notion of just how serious my condition was.  Of course, I tried to act “normal,” but it is a little difficult to hide deficits (particularly physical and verbal) with head injury.  People can’t see your pain, but they do hear your speech slur or witness you searching for the word you want but cannot locate.  You look healthy enough to them, so instead of wondering how it all works, they instead wonder if your delayed communication isn’t some adopted affectation or psychological quirk.  Do they really think a person would do this to get attention?  I know I would much rather have my active and productive lifestyle back.

If you are a friend to anyone who is suffering an illness, the thing you can do is carefully watch and listen. Pay attention, but do not judge.  About a week ago, I had an hour long conversation with a neighbor who recently underwent brain surgery for stage 4 brain cancer.  His wife stood in awe at my patience with him and how I kept finding ways to navigate the conversation and move it forward.   Sure, he mixed things up and repeated them and asked questions about things he already knew well; sure he said some odd and erroneous things, such as saying twice that his daughter is 72 and his son 78–when it is more like 34 and 29–but whenever I corrected him I didn’t bust out laughing, and sometimes I just let him say the wrong thing or stammer or do whatever he needed to do.  After all, the poor man kept tearing up as it was, telling me the small things he’s come to value like an invitation to breakfast or a visit from his children on his birthday.  He must be terrified.  He’s been emasculated enough by losing the ability to drive.  For all I know, he may make a complete and miraculous recovery.  None of us can know.  And whether someone lives to tell the story as I have, or sadly loses the fight, I would think one would want to treat that person with as much dignity as possible.

How could it be that we have become so distracted and self-motivated

that we have lost our fundamental respect for another person’s life?

You may say, “Oh, I am so sorry you had this type of experience!” or “What kind of friends do you have?” Yet, I assure you, we all commit these oversights every day. It’s easy enough to do. The thing to embrace is to try to learn what you can, to try to think before you judge, and to recognize always that that person who is so annoying or confusing or slow or whatever you ascertain they are, could one day, more easily than you imagine, be you.


This is Day 9 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

Wednesday Challenge Checkup


Today is the seven day mark in the Write 31 Days writing challenge.  I thought I’d report on how it’s been going for me so far.  I am pleased to say that I have made it through one full week of blog posting, a first! This is a feat in itself, and I am grateful for the few new things I’ve learned about blogging (how to do a new page, which is different from a post, and how and why to do a landing page).  The time it takes to work the electrical end of the internet has me wondering about blogging, though.  So many uploads, so much time. Editing can be a nightmare, and photo sharing is also something I need more practice with, obviously. Everyone says to compose outside of the blog and copy/paste, but I like writing here, because it helps me stay in my blog-voice.  I think I’ve found my blog-voice!?!

With just one week in the trench, I’ve gotten more comfortable with sharing and have received some new feedback and I think maybe one more subscriber and a few twitter followers, which is all helpful in its way. I shared my landing page on Facebook for a few hours, then chickened out and removed it.  Why do I still feel that publicizing my blog is imposing on people?  Why do I hear in my head their gossip more than their praise?  I really don’t like such distractions to my writing, so I’ve decided for the time being not to worry so much about the sharing, and just to continue to focus on the writing.  I hope someone is reading this thing, but it really isn’t essential at the moment…

My own private writing has not caught up to the progress my blog posting has, and that is definitely something I want to improve.  So much so, that I am thinking about following up this challenge with my own 31 Days of Writing Privately!  Skip the blogging altogether, unless I am so moved.   I do love blogging, but I want to return to my poetry writing and my novel/book writing (I think I’ve decided to scrap the memoir at this time).  Writing is hard work.  Blogging is a little more forgiving, at least at this stage…

This Write 31 Days challenge has certainly had its share of surprises.  The first five days were the bomb in terms of good energy and success.  I had a journal contact me requesting I submit to it, an entertainment writer quote me in an online piece, and a meeting scheduled with a credible source on a line on a possible publisher for the future. It might not sound like much, but all had me doing the happy writer dance.   In addition, the few comments I have received have been positive and encouraging.  My husband and daughter have taken even more active roles in supporting my writing…so, all in all, it’s been a really healthy experience…

Did I mention that my daughter caught one of my grammatical errors, questioned it, and she was RIGHT? She was reluctant to tell me, but honestly, could I ever be prouder of that girl?  My husband even caught me writing “somedays” when I meant “some days,” and I thought I was going to marry him all over again! I like when people correct me, if I am wrong.  My brain just doesn’t see how it used to, and I make errors I am not accustomed to making.  About the only thing that is exactly the same in my writing as it was pre-injury is that my mind is ahead of my typing.  I’m so glad I still at least have thoughts I want to convey…if even they come out a bit mooshier than they once did.  See, I have never used the word “mooshier” in my life.  I know, because I mean MUSHY (er)!  Oh, the brain…

These last two days have not been so great.  I’ve been marginally disappointed by the lack of feedback on my posts, but I realize people are still reading and that that is what matters (MR, if you’re reading this, I’m missing you!).  Of course, there is so much on the internet; I’m not sure how anyone stays in any place long (as I myself sit with five windows open above my screen).  There really is an amazing amount of text flying around the internet.  What a great time to be alive.  Especially for a writer…

Somehow through this challenge I have gotten myself aligned with a christian group, which ends up meaning I have seen some hypocrisy–just a wee bit, fortunately–but that is never a pleasant experience.  I still think it’s fine because it introduces me to an audience I’ve lost touch with, and some of the women have been refreshingly supportive (not the hypocritical ones, obviously).  I also find this mildly intriguing as I lean toward rejuvenating my spiritual center within, which was all but lost to my injury…

What’s really surprised me is the number of people in the challenge wanting to post something, anything, no matter how short, just to fulfill the daily requirement.  These are the people always looking for a shortcut. They ask about posting things they’ve already written, about having guest bloggers or just doing giveaways–basically, filling the space of the day.  I suppose it is fine to use the challenge however one wishes, but…excuse me, um…I thought this challenge was supposed to be about writing?  I realize my blog isn’t like those with a few quick bullet points, but I’m not really after that sort or readership, at least not at this time…

I hope to secure readers from the actual reading public.  Someone looking for some inspiration or some ideas to consider, perhaps.  People who like to engage in meaningful conversations, maybe.  Plus, I consider myself a writer, working on my writing skills–not on my design or layout skills.  I do admit, I like design, but prose is what I am ultimately after.  My daughter says my posts are so long that most people who aren’t readers leave right away anyway; “It’s too much, ” she says.  I have to laugh, but I know she is right.  Still I tell her, “I am writing to write, and you can’t do that by not writing!” I do, however, apologize to Stumbler readers impatient with my long(ish) posts.  I’m hoping readers know my back story and why I’m blogging, that this is cognitive therapy for me (for recovery from acquired traumatic brain injury), and that getting where we want to be isn’t always pretty.  We all need to know that, don’t we?  To newcomers, well, I guess many just click away or never return…

Speaking of head injury and breaking free, let’s talk about that really big “f” word:  FATIGUE.  A powerful word, I now know.  Unfortunately, a condition shared by so many…

Writing every day has caused me more fatigue than I hoped it would.  Of course, there was a time in my recovery when one sentence was too much, when I couldn’t even read, let alone write…but I didn’t expect this 31 day challenge to be as hard on me physically as it has.  I have had head pain every day.  Not unbearable, but worse than before I was doing this challenge.  I also missed my daily walks the first three days, and that wasn’t good, even though that doesn’t necessarily help my head pain and I walk slowly–it’s still good for me in many ways.  Fortunately, my sleep hasn’t been too disturbed by the writing, though I have recently returned to my CPAP, which always seems to help (but is embarrassing)…

The worst thing that’s happened during this writing challenge is that yesterday, on day 6, just as we were completing our daily walk, I FELL.  Unfortunately, I fell on concrete.  I thought I could catch myself, as my legs have grown stronger from the walking, but despite my nearly doing so, I ended up flat on my face–crushing my nose that had been surgically widened to help my breathing, smashing my teeth that I am in endless pursuit of trying to have repaired (from the first, most intense blow of which this writing is about), and sadly, even though I tried so hard not to let it thump–my head.  I have lost count of the falls and the head thumps, but at the time of this fall, I was still nursing my second broken toe of the year.  As my father says, I “cannot catch a break,” but he means for healing, not bones.  Broken bones, I do catch…

The silver lining, if there is one, is that I was near my home when it happened, and my husband was with me this time.  I was able to make it inside okay.  I thought I may have broken my nose (again–this would have been the fourth time, shriek!) but fortunately that does not appear to be the case now.  We iced me up from head to toe…

I did a supreme job of jarring everything, including my shoulder, wrist, neck, back, knee and ankle.  But it took my mind off the broken toe…and I’m pretty sure that I am going to be fine.  Of course, it could have been worse!  The worst part of this fall was the shock and the fear it created.  It took me several hours just to feel calm (can you say anxiety?).  I have to work on myself not to feel jinxed or cursed.  The spills have a way of adding up…

I would have to mash my face again!  I wonder if people have any idea when they look at me what my poor face has been through?  Yet, a face can be seen, a brain cannot.  There are the visible wounds, the not so visible, and the invisible ones, aren’t there?

Forgive me my self-compassion.  I do love my brain!  You should love yours, too.  Phenomenal organ.  The finest.

So, here’s how I’m feeling on this seventh day, ending week one:

a poem for mornings BLOG

Ugh, thank the beverage gods for coffee, real or metaphoric…

Soldiering on…writing on…because, really, we never know what tomorrow will bring.


This is Day 7 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

The Shame We Don’t Discuss

three in autumn

The Shame We Don’t Discuss

Fatigue is a complex condition that is sensitive to several influences, not the least of which include stress and anxiety.  A person does not have to suffer the intense level of anxiety brought on by an illness such as cancer or by conditions such as post-traumatic stress to know the distraction and sometimes debilitation anxiety can produce.  Nearly all humans experience circumstantial stress and anxiety to some degree. Stress and anxiety also worsen compromised health conditions, creating additional complications.  The problem intensifies when a person addresses such discomfort with addictive substances, which ultimately develop dependency.

Early on in my convalescence, I noticed the lack of information nearly everyone had surrounding head injuries. It also wasn’t hard to miss the high level of discrimination that matched the ignorance.  The level of processing and tolerance it takes to understand people’s biases just compounds the stress most survivors experience. While each injury is unique, closed head injuries do not typically lead to insanity. stupidity or even aggression, as is often characterized.

People with closed head injuries can still be cognizant and perceptive, despite compromised interactions with others.  Most brain injured find themselves laughed at and patronized, even though they can still distinguish many nuances of thought, and genuine concern from criticism.  With respect to the sophomoric ribbing that typically accompanies the condition, one’s illness is never a joke–unless you’re the one not suffering it.  Ironically, one might ascertain that the common misconceptions forced onto the victims might more persuasively be reflected back onto the unenlightened.

Fortunately for me, I learned at a young age the value of calmly addressing both the anxieties of myself and others.  From the beginning, this premise influenced my response toward the effects (that is, once I broke my own initial, and realized I wasn’t going back to work the next week, as I tried to do).  I never hid what had happened to me, nor did I or do I carry any shame.  I know, perhaps better than most people, that what happened to me can happen to anyone. The Center for Head Injury Services states that in the United States, a head injury occurs every 15 seconds.  According to the Brain Trauma Foundation, traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death in children, adults and the elderly. If you have never experienced a serious concussion, you want to keep it that way, if you can.

book cover patrick kennedyWith these thoughts in mind, I recommend viewing this Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview with Patrick Kennedy about alcohol, mental illness and his family, as outlined in his new memoir entitled, “A Common Struggle:  A Personal Journey Through the Past And Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.”

Although my struggle has not been exactly the same, there are enough overlaps among the stigmas.  As Kennedy points out, the problem centers around what we all know, but are reluctant to talk about.  His coming forward has caused a rift in the Kennedy family, he says, because they “do not want to be associated with a medical illness. That should tell you something about the shame and stigma that still surrounds these issues.”

Similar to concussion or perhaps more so, all individuals and families are in some way affected by mental illness or addiction, if only secondhand through their relationships with those who share the curses.  Especially notable is what Mr. Kennedy has to say about the shame and impact that accompanies these lifestyles, and how it is time to stop hiding from what makes us uncomfortable, and start discussing what we can do to make things better for all concerned.

With so many mentally ill and addicted people unwilling to receive help, it is often up to friends and loved ones to offer support and encouragement…or to suffer the frustration of not knowing how to help.  Kennedy also emphasizes that “there is hurt to keeping this secret; if you don’t talk about it you’re in trouble” in part, because of the delusional nature of these illnesses.

What about you?  Here are some journal questions to explore:

  1. Are you open to discussing your problems with a trusted friend or family member?  If so, who would that be and why?  If not, why not?
  2. If you are not able to do #1 above, what makes it difficult?  How did this come to be, and how can you change things so that you are freer to speak authentically about your feelings, needs, and concerns?
  3. If you are not able to discuss problems, what do you to cope with the stress and anxiety?
  4. Is there anything you feel you need to help you improve and move toward better, more fulfilling health?  If so, how can you secure these things?
  5. If your health doesn’t feel compromised, what about your work, your social life, your relationships?
  6. Are you as healthy and as happy as you want to be?
  7. Write a script of what you want to say to yourself or someone else about a feeling or a need.  Include others and what you imagine their responses would be.
  8. Ponder some health goals for the coming year. Include mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health as well as physical fitness.

Following is some video coverage of Patrick Kennedy’s call for awareness:

You can see the 60 Minutes interview from Sunday, October 4, here:

This is Day 6 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

Oh, Those Sister Wives

Oh, Those Sister Wives

One remedy for breaking free of fatigue is to find a way to be amused.

Millions of women have somehow become interested in the TLC Sunday night show The Sister Wives.  If you ask these women what the show’s appeal is to them, they say they don’t know.  They’re not exactly sure why the series fascinates them; they’re not planning on joining the polygamist lifestyle, nor are they studying world religions, which is just as well because religion really isn’t the focus of the show, anyway.  Most watch the “reality-based” episodes to study and albeit be entertained by the complexity of the interpersonal relationships this peculiar dynamic engenders.

The peculiar dynamic resides between the four wives–Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn–as well as their occasional interactions with the 14 children among them, interesting in itself, and most especially the one husband in command, Kody Brown–the self-proclaimed “guy with the big boy panties” at My Sisterwife’s Closet, the ladies’ latest entrepreneurial endeavor.

There is a lot to be amused by in this television show.

While women viewers may get sidelined by the appeal of having girl time together daily, the price of a few laughs and a good vent with the girls gets murky for viewers when the requirement is that each woman has to be intimate with the one husband who is husband to all; that’s right, husband-sharing.  A bit of a deal breaker for most of us, but not for these sister wives, however.

Yet, the true comfort level of each sister wife is really the center of the question, and probably what has us watching so closely. While they each proclaim repeatedly that they believe in the polygamist lifestyle, most Sister Wives’ viewers are pretty confident it’s doomed to fail.

As we watch, count up the failures do we do.  The women are often crying, sometimes bickering either with the kids or each other–and lately, with the master hair-tossler himself, their shared husband Kody.

Interestingly, Kody has a mop of blonde hair that rivals any of the women’s tresses in beauty.  He keeps it sun-kissed and shoulder-length, perhaps as an apparent sign of his virility, but also we see, to disguise the balding head we know is just beneath it.  This physical characteristic seems emblematic of his persona, which also carries an undeniable air of deceit.  Somehow, we get the impression that Kody’s jovial, child-like playfulness is fooling no one but himself.

Most of the sister wives at any given time seem depressed; yet, they are full of smiles and long in-his-eye gazes whenever Kody is around. Perhaps it’s the competition to look and behave like the perfect wife as defined by their own family standards, or maybe it’s just that absence does make the heart grow fonder. With various commitments to each wife and the children she bore him, Kody flits from house to house in episode after episode, which appears to viewers more the attempt at creating the impression that he is all in.  Indeed, Kody Brown’s visits give new meaning to the term “bosom buddy.”

The show can be confusing, and feminists especially can find themselves outraged by the subservience both handed to the wives by Kody, and so readily taken on by themselves.  Viewers are constantly wondering what the women could possibly be thinking.

It is nearly impossible to tell what each of the wives really thinks, because they work so hard at going along with the tenants of the polygamist lifestyle and the expectations of the husband, Kody.  In a most recent episode, for example, the #2/4 wife Christine finds herself frustrated with Kody after they share an anniversary trip away from the rest of the family.  (It is Christine and Kody’s 21st wedding anniversary, and each wife has her own wedding day and anniversary date and celebrations.)  Kody makes the mistake of saying at the start that it is his and Christine’s 22 anniversary, and when she quickly corrects him, he jokes, “Whatever; okay it’s our 100th anniversary!”  Female viewers, and apparently Christine herself, find his childish retort exasperating.  Shall we just say that Kody could use a few pointers in the art of foreplay?

To cover his slip-ups, Kody likes to pretend that he is above pedestrian concerns, such as how many years he’s been married to his first three wives or which wife he made love with last, whatever the inconsequential case may be (to him). Kody’s clearly got bigger things on his mind–which generally seem to center around himself, his beard or his hair.  Nonetheless, he seems to want us to believe that it is “the family” that is the big picture, and the decided object of his concern and passion.  Of course, we never really seem to see him go to work to provide for this ever-increasing family, as most of his time on air is taken up by trying to placate one of his tearful wives.

And, Oh, there are a lot of tears shed on the set of Sister Wives.

In some moments, one feels incredible compassion for the women, but in most one feels even greater frustration and anger that each of them seems so un-evolved for a woman of the 21st Century.  Between their denial and Kody’s audacity, we end up “hate-watching” Sister Wives, even as we yell at our television sets for somebody to wake-up and leave, or at least kick this man to the curb.

The attention from Kody never gets divided fairly among the wives or the children, but how could it.  He is, after all, human?  Interestingly, Kody addresses this problem and any complaints that come his way by demanding family unity.  When on their brief and unsuccessful anniversary trip, Kody’s and Christine’s marriage therapist (you read that right) assigns the couple the task of building a tower from rocks on the beach, Christine complains that she has to do everything Kody’s way and that he doesn’t bother to consider her thoughts or desires.  She tells Kody, who dominates the endeavor and makes the project a facsimile of the family, that she wishes he put the focus a little more on her and on their relationship because it is after all, their time together, and she would like some reassurance of his love.  Kody shames Christine for speaking up and basically for putting their marriage before the family by being quick to tell her,  “I am looking for a solid structure in our family.  Honor our ENTIRE family, and I will love you.”

You get the formula:  “Everybody has to love everybody, but I get a pass, while most of all, everybody has to love (and obey) me.”

Once one gets past the unnerving tone of Kody’s words to Christine, one can see that Kody’s agenda is to force her acceptance, bonding and cooperation of the other wives.  In other words, by “honoring the family,” she must express no protest to anything Kody has to do in the name of keeping the other three wives happy.  Naturally, because she really is human (while somewhat misguided), Christine responds nearly in tears, saying that she needs Kody to trust her, and she emphasizes the word trust.

Christine wants to assert that she is a good girl, a team player, fully on board and cooperative to his expectations (and really, demands).  Yet, the irony is not lost that she is asking the man who kisses other women right in front of her and oh, lord in her pesky imagination to trust her, even though he’s the only man she’ll be kissing until the end of time.  Still, Christine wants to underscore that she wants Kody to trust that she indeed loves her sister wives…

For her cooperation, Christine gets from Kody her first smack/peck of the filming, almost on the mouth but not quite–although it happens so fast it’s nearly missed entirely.  Viewers have to wonder, probably along with Christine who’s got to feel it deeper within, what the *#@%’s  up with that?

It’s hard not to get frustrated with Christine’s tolerance and regret, particularly when she pleads Kody’s forgiveness for “just not getting it” about the crucial intent of being tied into the family (which is really Kody’s intent).  And it’s really hard not to get frustrated, if not angry, with Kody.

One has to wonder what Kody is avoiding; what he is trying to secure.  The answer, as everyone seems to complain is the case, is that he favors #4/4 wife, Robyn, thus keeping a noticeable distance from the other three wives, both emotionally and physically.  And herein the proverbial plot, as it were, thickens.

The truth appears to be that three of the (older) wives are all at least sub-consciously aware of Kody’s disinterest in them and his undeniable favoring of the fourth (younger) wife Robyn.  As a result, there is a good deal of tension and frustration in each household and each of the wives seems increasingly depressed –including the fourth wife Robyn, but only because she’s taking a lot of flack these days for being Kody’s chosen girl.

Robyn’s perch shows us that in fact all these women are at the least psychologically and emotionally abused, because even the “winner” of Kody’s attention and affection is also naturally a “loser” when she is put in the position of being resented by the other sister wives. How are you going to get along with the family when nobody trusts you? This is to say that Robyn’s unique and also controlling personality plays right in to Kody’s mis-conceived agenda. As a result , polygamy ends up looking like a lose-lose-lose-lose, for each of the four wives and many more losses for each of their individual children. Kody is the only winner, and yet with most viewers, he is really the biggest loser of all.


This is Day 5 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

Day 5, #write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved,

A Truth That’s Told with Good Intent

autumn's first leaves

A Truth That’s Told with Good Intent

On July 6, I began a 100 day photography challenge that I wrote a bit about here.  Today was our 90th day. The simple purpose of the challenge was to take one photo each day of something that made us happy. Most of us took our photos on the fly with just our cell phones, but a few more professional posts were taken with digital cameras.  We started out with a group about twice the size as we ended up with; so about half of us are still participating with only ten days left to go.

When I started, I was in a whirl of agony from a couple of traumas I have no control over; not little stuff, big stuff.  I was determined to do what I could to get through the storms and to enjoy summer as much as possible, mostly because I’m just tired of suffering.  It wasn’t easy, but I was flabbergasted by how this photography challenge helped me.  On my worst days, I did not participate, but as soon as I could rejoin the group, I did.  What I found was that wherever I went, I was looking for the good.  To do so is my nature in the first place, but everyone is only human, and sometimes heartaches throw us off course.  I needed this assignment.  With the discipline of this challenge, I was able to add more joys to my day each and every day.

Years ago I adopted the philosophy of the English poet, William Blake, who wrote centuries ago about seeing heaven in a wildflower (Auguries of Innocence).  This focus enables us to experience delight in the smallest, most ordinary things, and to value them.  Because this challenge of focusing on something that makes me happy came easily, on a few days I was even hard pressed to decide which photo I wanted to post.  Other days, I knew instantly.  On a few occasions, I was unable to take the photo that captured my attention, because I did not wish to be intrusive.

Still, often enough, I came upon images, particularly on my daily walks. Here are a few photos I shared in the group from my nature walks and walks around town…

100 days photo

one hundred happys

little library
IMG_1917 (1)


Then there were the occasions, the dinners with friends and breakfasts with my husband, the family vacation, preparing for our granddaughter’s Sweet 16 birthday party, not to mention our occasional road trips and bike rides, gifts given and recelk 100 happy dr seived..along with the simple, everyday things like reading a book at the library, taking the dog for his walk and watching the children flock to pet him;                                                               a IMG_1678visit to one of my favorite doctors who takes good care of me and seems to care genuinely about my healing; the day I received my t-shirt for this challenge; seeing the grand baby grow and make her first friend….All of these things and more brought joy to my days.

100 happy days dad's giftday 50 happy pics

IMG_1192 100 happy days
Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 6.40.40 PM






baby with dog

romeo and the kids 100 happy days

grandbaby and her first friend one hundred day pics














In the collective, these daily photographs made me realize that our suffering is actually a small part of us, though it feels constant.  We should keep this in perspective, and focus on the good to the best of our ability.  Even if we have to look back or forward, the good is there.

Even with all this happiness, life can be hard.  We all must do what we can to break free from the trials that plague us.  It’s all a matter of how you want to define your life.  Do you want your illness to define you?  Do you want tragedy or heartache or disappointment to define who you are or how you face your days on this planet?  All of us are living on borrowed time.  All of us know sorrow.  If you are a person who suffers, try searching for whatever makes you smile.  If you are a person who is greatly blessed, try doing what you can to bring a smile to someone else’s face.  Remember though, it is not so much what we can do for others–though that surely brings joy–but more to the point, what we can do for ourselves.


This is Day 3 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

Day 3, #write31days

                                       © debra valentino, all rights reserved,



On Breaking the Rules

mykonos stairs
On Breaking the Rules
(and Some Happiness on Day 2)

Yesterday I broke one of my own writing rules.

I always told my students, both in class and when they came to me whining or even crying, never to write while they were tired.

There is no sense in it.  Writing is thinking.  It takes energy, focus.  It draws on everything you know and were ever taught.  It even draws on all the questions you have or will ever have.

It’s a mistake to write while you’re tired.  If you do, you will spend a lot more time trying to articulate what you want to say.  You will get angry and frustrated; you won’t enjoy it…and writing should always be enjoyable.  At least that is the goal.

Not to mention the mistakes you will make.

If you want to embarrass yourself, write when you are tired. Even if you save face, you’re likely to get mad at yourself for doing it.  The only benefit to it is that you have written.  But sometimes all that yields is bad writing.  Fortunately, I had lessons for my students on what to do with bad writing, too.

Most people cannot write effectively when they are sleepy or muddled, and yet I did that yesterday.  I did it because of this 31 Day Writing Challenge, which has already taught me to be intimidated by it.

So, today I’m writing first.  I’m getting it out of the way (did I just say that?) (haha, it doesn’t take long for an opportunity to feel like a task)!  I am going to re-calibrate.

The amazing thing is that even though I broke my own rule yesterday, I also achieved my number one goal for this challenge, at least the blogging part of it.  I OVERCAME MY OWN FATIGUE.

I DID THAT.  ON DAY ONE.  Day one of the challenge, and I put into practice a technique that I had only hoped to achieve.  I stayed busy the entire day.

And I didn’t die!

I think this proves that I am a LOT wiser than I ever imagined.  Or, a lot stupider.  Ha!

You see, my premise is that it is possible that the lingering effects of my physical fatigue from my head injury have become rote.  That the behaviors of all my long days of healing somewhere along the line became habituated.  That I do not need to rest, so much as I think I need to.

I’m trying to break this habit.  I’m wondering if we don’t become identified with a thing (in this instance, fatigue), and that thing then informs our actions.  I know that as a mom, I think like what I believe a mom should be.  As a wife, I behave like a wife — I like to tell my husband that I don’t even know how to flirt, so he better not leave me.  I sharpen the skills that matter, and don’t pay a lot of attention to the ones that don’t.

Do you do this, too?

Yesterday was such a big day for me.  It was the launch of this challenge, which I have never before attempted.  And it was just a regular day.  Except it was more like a regular day from my old life, than a regular day from me current life.

That is incredible.  When something like this occurs, it’s a metaphoric closing of the briefcase.  We can turn out the lights and go home.  Class dismissed.   We have accomplished what we set out to do.


So, while I am mad at myself for blogging last night at midnight after a long day with no rest at all, I am also very proud and rather astonished.  It’s like I gave myself the suggestion, and it was done.

Can you imagine the changes we could make in our lives if we were always this successful?

How did this happen?  I must have been ready.  But I didn’t feel ready.  And it was such a whirlwind, I am still feeling tired…

Does it matter what I did with my day; did that influence my success?  I suppose it did.  I did not get my walk in.  Lately, walking has been my priority–but it always seems to wipe me out.  All exercise does.  I thought I would die on Labor Day when we took a 35 mile bike ride.  It took me days to recover from that. It doesn’t matter if I walk one mile or ride my bike 35, I always get fatigued.  That wasn’t my pre-injury habit; my pre-injury habit was to keep going until the day was done.

Yesterday, I did not get any physical exercise, but I kept going until I finished my first official 31 Days blogpost.  I went shopping with my husband for the first new table and chairs I’ve gotten since 1985.  It took HOURS at the furniture store.  Hours to select, hours of listening to the saleswoman drone on.  I was amused by how she would always say how great something was, but never include the cost.   Despite my pointing that out to her (we brain injury survivors can be a bit unmonitored), she kept doing it, even when she knew the price without looking it up.  I wondered if that was just her or some faulty sales training.

When we finally escaped the furniture store, samples in hand, I remembered that I had promised to call an elderly friend early in the week, and that it was now already Thursday.  I telephoned her as my husband drove.  Naturally she needed my help.  The weather has changed and she was freezing, with her thermostat still set to air conditioning.  I hadn’t planned on a visit with her, but alas, I couldn’t let the poor woman freeze, and made time.

First, however, we had to stop at my father’s to switch his regular-sized bed frame to the low-profile bed frame we had just picked up from the furniture store with the chatty saleswoman.

That took longer than hoped.  My dad kept getting in the middle of the furniture shifting.  He’s 84, overweight, and no longer exactly agile.  “DAD, sit down,” I kept saying.  I kept seeing tragedies.  I was relieved when we finally got the job done and no one had gotten hurt.  My father was happy with the three inch height adjustment.  Success!  Falls averted.

Then it was time for my haircut.  I never do three appointments in a row these days; especially not three so intensive, time-consuming, stressful ones.

Just before I went into the salon, I turned on the car radio and heard the news of the Oregon school shooting.  That threw off my whole day, as I used to teach in a similar environment and have a lot of trauma connected to school violence.  I was never really okay once I heard this news, and I am still feeling unsettled about it even as I write…

On the rest of yesterday’s occurrences:

You know us women with our haircuts. I had some anxiety about getting one.  I have hair I could write novels on.  Anyway, we got through it, and the stylist was very pleased with her artistry.  I admit that I looked 20 years younger when she finished, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the styling.  That was okay, though, because I usually never am.  I am a bit more plain than the sort of girl my hair belongs on.  I never know how to carry myself with confidence with a fancy, show-stopping hairdo.

Then it was time to check on my elderly friend.  I figured out her thermostat, then she wanted me to sit down.  I thought I could spare 20 minutes, but I was there well over an hour.  She needed to talk, and the conversation turned to her end of life planning.  We had a lot to say about it, even though she kept repeating the same stories and asked me seven times what city my daughter lives in.  It was apparent that it was high time she did some thinking about this.  I was proud of myself for how much I knew about end of life planning–I didn’t even realize I knew as much as I do–and all the examples I was able to give her, mostly from experience with my own parents.

When I finally got to leave, she seemed motivated and changed, maybe even hopeful.  She kept telling me that she used to be able to travel unattended–but I told her she used to be able to dance, too.  I made her face the hard realities that what is ahead is cause enough for her to do the planning now, and I even mentioned while she is still lucid.  Similar to talking with my students, it was easier than talking to my own children.  I could talk straight with her, when I am not equally as effective at having the same conversation with my own father.

When I returned home, my dear sweet husband was just waking up from a nap.  Wait.  He took my nap–the nap I never got!  Believe it or not, he said he was too sleepy to fix dinner.  I didn’t expect that, but neither one of us had eaten since breakfast.  SO I FIXED DINNER.

WHO was this super girl I had morphed into in just one day?

Then my daughter called.  She talks more than the furniture saleswoman.  “Honey, give me your update, quick.  I need to blog!”  We both laughed.  She always laughs at my writing urgency.  After all, she sees me as her mom; she just can’t make the leap into serious blogging woman that I am.

My daughter’s updates are never uneventful.  It’s a good thing she calls me daily.  I could never take a full summary.  Last evening it was the fundraiser she attended with 200 people and the co-worker that came to her office and closed the door.  In her mother’s fashion, she drew out the story…what was happening; why did she close the door?  She said it was an employee wanting to secure permission to help another employee’s boyfriend stage an engagement proposal at their office.  It was all interesting and rather exciting, but I still had to get some writing done.

So, you have to forgive me for yesterday’s post, which I wrote while exhausted.

Please do celebrate along with me, though, the change accomplished that is the focus of this challenge.  I broke free from fatigue!

On Day 1.

Here are some photographs from today’s proposal, which happened this morning at my daughter’s offices. She said the boy brought his mother along.  In the video link that follows the photos, you can hear the mother calling the young woman her “new daughter-in-law.”

You know I love that.


proposal acceptance


engagement proposal video

Day 2, #write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved

Welcome to 31 Days of Breaking Free

Today is the first official day of writing for the 2015 October writing challenge that I joined not knowing anything more than that I wanted to commit to writing daily.  I’ve already discovered some amusing factoids about this particular challenge that I may be addressing later, most hopefully when I am more awake than I am at the present moment.  For one thing, I never got my nap today.  Or this morning.  Or this evening.

Ironically, I wrote yesterday but not today.  Even though, as I said, today was the scheduled first official day of writing.  I didn’t mean for this to happen and I certainly didn’t expect this kind of launch…but here I am, going on midnight (did I mention without any nap?), trying to string together something cogent–not because writer’s write, but because I committed to a 31 Day writing challenge.

I am nothing if not dedicated.

So here I am fatigued, writing about fatigue.  We’re talking about keeping it real.  And not falling asleep at the keyboard.  (I do that a lot; do you?)

Let me just say that during this challenge, I would like to write all day every day.  I love to write.  Even when I don’t write well.  Writing is so liberating that even after just one day, I think I am already feeling physically better than I have all week.  I mean, I hated today’s news about yet another school shooting, and I am disappointed today got so busy that I couldn’t write until the last minute, but I am still here.  Maybe it’s just as well that I am so tired, because with all that occurred today I would want to be writing about that.  Now I am too tired to fuss with myself.  I can leave those subjects for another day.

I wish that during this challenge I could write all day every day.  Given the opportunity, I truly believe that I could write for days on end; that is, if fatigue didn’t stop me.  I hope to take at least one day each week of this challenge and do just that.  Write only. It will be interesting to see how that goes.

For the blogging part of this challenge, I have chosen Breaking Free from Fatigue as my focus  because I have been battling fatigue for eight years now, something I couldn’t even clearly define before I suffered an acquired traumatic brain injury.

So intense a blow to the head was it that it took me years to recover, and I still have the vestiges of post-concussive syndrome that undeniably includes fatigue.  You might think that it would have resolved by now, but in truth it has improved notably but not completely.  Nearly every day is still disrupted by at least some level of fatigue.  I just can’t move at the pace I once did, nor at a pace I can live with.

The truth is that a person doesn’t have to be hit in the head to experience fatigue, which comes from a myriad of conditions and origins.  Millions of people suffer from fatigue for all sorts of reasons.  Fatigue can be a surprising teacher, and there are both literal and figurative things to say about it.

One thing to know about fatigue is that at all costs, you do not want to suffer it.  When a person suffers from fatigue, it is kind of like giving themselves up for adoption, only to discover there are no fit parents available.  It’s not at all a fun way to live, because it really isn’t living; it seems more like some form of paralysis.  And it is very tough on your body, which needs movement to thrive.

When you suffer daily from fatigue, you just want to get rid of it. With the many new and traditional treatments I have tried that resulted in only small increments of improvement, I have finally wondered if maybe the last vestiges of my fatigue are not being caused by my identification with it.

You know how it is–you do something long enough, it becomes part of your identity. Your psyche takes over and before you know it, your behavior is informed by what you think you are, by what you imagine that thing to be.

I wonder if writing daily about Breaking Free from Fatigue could put an end to my suffering the effects.  I want to break free and reclaim my life to a closer proximity of how I once knew it.  I know many people are mired in this same challenge.  I also hope to prove that a person can return from the hollows of death, can survive, and thrive, even and especially when others have written them off…and that even if they do not, their life is still sacred, still valuable, still worth living. I also want to share (and to finally experience) how a full recovery can not only overcome impossible odds, but maybe even be natural.


So, if you have a challenge in your life, if you need to break free from some pattern of thinking or behaving or being that plagues you–or if you know someone you wish would do the same, I invite you to follow my daily posts to see how I untangle myself from this mess that was not of my own creation…but in the end, may be.  In addition, how we can break free even from messes that are of our own creation.

If we have anything to do with who we are, if will and desire and effort count for anything when it comes to change, I hope to show both of us just how it could happen that it is not our maladies that define us, but our determination.  I hope to show that on some level the only prison we are in is the one we allow ourselves to occupy.

Come along and break free with me.

This is Day 1 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue


@ debra valentino, all rights reserved,