Writer’s Cramp



When I was young, I thought writer’s cramp was a joke much like I thought older people always exaggerated their woes. I thought people were talking about the mental inability to write – more like writer’s block. Or freezing up.

My right arm first starting telling me this was not a joke and not a metaphor somewhere in my 30’s. I started seeing an acupuncturist around that time, and he helped me tremendously with getting my computer chair set up correctly with a keyboard and a bean bag rest for my wrists. I have also used the mouse with my left hand for years to take the pressure off of my right arm with all that I need it to do.

But I insisted upon journaling curled up in a chair with my notebook in my lap scribbling across the page. Something about this pose connected me to the page and made me feel like I could do what I had done in my teens and twenties — ignore repetitive injuries and keep going in spite of slight nagging pains.

Two weeks ago, I could not keep this up. My right arm ached all the time – in bed at night, while I was teaching, cooking for my kids, and sitting to read or watch repeats of my little boy’s movies. I think I have ‘tennis elbow’ rather than true writer’s cramp. Writer’s cramp, or dystonia, comes not just with pain, I read, but also involves coordination difficulties, even causing writers’ hands to jerk across the page. It is most certainly not a joke. When I looked up this writerly condition, I dropped my jaw to think that Botox injections are an accepted treatment. Botox. My arm, I will add, does not yet have wrinkles. And I so clearly remember my parents warning me of the dangers of botulism that I doubt I’ll ever willingly let someone inject it into my muscles except as an absolute last resort even if I develop dystonia.

So for now I am sitting up to write. I’m writing only one page in my journal with the puzzle piece cover instead of three. I’ve made a new appointment with my acupuncturist who has this annoying but effective habit of getting me to change my ways in order to lower my pain. And then, of course, he sticks needles (without Botox) in me and that helps. Really.

I also found a new way to hold my pen from a writing contact named Christi Krug who recently said we should all write by hand for the day. When I told her it was a grand idea but my arm was screaming, she shared this video with me about a remedial grip with the pen placed in the V of my first and second fingers.

I’d love to think I could study calligraphy or something fun to make this sitting up straight in my chair instead of comfortably curled business more fun. Then maybe I could also read what I’ve written. That might be nice.

And if you’ve got any suggestions for me about gripping the pen or a better pen to buy, I’m wide open to ideas. Just don’t suggest Botox. No botulism for me, thank you.

Chestnuts of Hope



At least 10 years ago, I read Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I think it was in this story that I first learned of the American Chestnut and how the trees had vanished from a blight about 50 years ago. I remember the deep sadness I felt for that loss. Towering trees that had filled the eastern landscapes were gone.

But yesterday I heard a story on the radio telling me that the trees haven’t completely vanished. A few have survived and an interviewer stood under 60 foot chestnuts with the couple who planted them, hoping that the trees might outlive them.  The radio sound of the bees swarming in the pollen of a tree’s canopy filled my car as I listened to the story. It’s a three minute piece. If you’d like to listen, I put a link to the story here:


This article has more information about the comeback and pictures of the ‘redwoods of the east’ with their fuzzy nuts and fat leaves:


I felt surprised at first and then the story of once gone chestnuts returning filled me with a strange hope. How many other ‘gone’ things in my life might come back?

What impressed me, too, was that people had cut down many of the chestnuts years ago when the blight took over. People had lost hope and simply chopped their trees rather than wait to see if the fungus would kill them.

The radio piece was a short story, yet it sits on my mind. I have a mental picture of the couple who planted these trees standing under their leaves, looking up, and hoping. Hoping even as they know that trees might die and giving seedlings away so others can plant and hope, too.

I know that too many people, plants and animals have truly disappeared. The Carolina Parakeet, as far as I know, is never coming back. Many people I have loved are also gone from this world.

But it gave me such a thrill to hear the bees buzzing over the radio at me as they worked a tree I had given up for lost.

At its best, I think life it like this. We know about death. We know we all will succumb. But in the meantime…in the meantime, there is life and bees buzzing to give us that little spark to keep on. I also wonder how many times I have thought something was dead and gone when it was just waiting for the right moment to come back. I wonder. And I’d like to think I can hold off on chopping trees down even though the end may be inevitable. After all, the bees might need that pollen. I know I need the hope.

The Birthday Ball with Adjectives



Every now and then I’ll find a great book in a quick moment. My discovery feels like spotting a nugget of genuine gold in a stream full of fool’s gold. I was at the library when I spotted my latest book while returning books, paying my usual fines and supervising my three year old in finding yet another video of trains or cars. On this occasion I made a grab of what was on the shelf to get something in my hands and then moved on, hoping it would be good.

In that moment, I lucked into The Birthday Ball audio CD written by Lois Lowry and read by Elissa Steele.

Both the story and the reader impressed me. Steele knows how to read like Jim Dale reads the Harry Potter series. Her renditions of the Princess Patricia Priscilla and the chambermaid Tess pulled me into the story from the beginning.

I’ve always admired Lowry’s storytelling powers even though her book The Giver upset me with its baldfaced treatment of painful topics. Gossamer impressed me again with the way Lowry wrapped tiny fairies into writing about foster homes and other heavy topics.

The Birthday Ball has very few serious issues aside from a princess doomed to marry repugnant suitors. For the most part it was pure joy and, to combat the sometimes painful plot twists of my own life, I appreciate an author who writes a story just for fun. I could feel Lowry’s enjoyment come through in every turn of the story.

Lowry plays with language throughout the book. She created the Conjoint Counts, Prince Percival and Duke Desmond of Dyspepsia. The author has the princess rhyming with a cat named Delicious, and the names of a few bordering countries are “Analgesia, Bulimia and Coagulatia.” I giggled while listening to Steele read these names with their alliteration.

And, as I told my writing friend, Lowry’s successful use of adjectives and even a few adverbs encouraged me because so often I’m told to avoid these types of words.

“Across the schoolyard the cat perceived an appetizing small rodent of some sort, nibbling on a fern. The tip of a rough, pink glistening tongue emerged.”

The adjectives worked for me. Deliciously.

I’m making up for reading such pure fun by now reading a very serious book: The Orchardist. But I hope to find another gold nugget like The Birthday Ball again soon.


A Moving Sky


IMG_1978This past weekend I helped my sister move into a much better home in hot dry Eastern Washington. The current heat wave on the west side of the mountains feels like an everyday hot in the Tri- Cities. The temperature routinely climbs to 90+ degrees and, even though it is dry, the air hits me like a physical force. I’m always grateful for the air conditioning and marvel at the reverse of words to my children: “Shut the door! You’re letting the cold out!” I never use that last phrase at home where we don’t have the AC.

For the most part, we worked like minions in the movie Despicable Me – getting the job done and having our laughs.  We found moments of joy tucked in between the lifting of lawnmowers and scrubbing. I missed my chance to take pictures of the adorable frogs hiding in the folds of the garden hose, but I did manage to take a picture of the sky. Quinton and I saw this reflection as we sat waiting in front of the McDonald’s drive in. Before the girl with long dark braids carried out our breakfast in a sack, the sky insisted that I take its picture. Not too long after this the thunder roared and that same sky rained on our yard work and truck bed packed with bags of clothes.

You may not be able to tell from this photo how it caught my eye, but the reflection was gorgeous. Hidden in unlikely places like a fast food parking lot and garden hoses, miracles wait.