A Snake, a Kitchen Ninja, and Japanese Art? (Plus Announcement*)

Back in early October my dog, Scarlet (aka the kitchen ninja I mention in my author bio) wanted to befriend a snake. Determined to kibosh that opportunity before it got started, I intervened. I knew it wouldn’t end well. As a result, I fell, hit my head, and suffered a mild concussion. (On the upside, I was right- it didn’t end well. But only for this silly human-snake and Scarlet were unharmed).

Scarlet resting after Snake encounter- while I was on opposite couch with ice pack on my head and back

  Thankfully, CT scan ruled out any internal bleeding from the blood thinners I take. But I became overly sensitive to lights/sounds which led to some severe headaches. A scarier symptom I had at the beginning was having a word in mind to write down yet writing a completely different word. I’m happy to say that hasn’t happened in a while.

Concerned when my severe headaches continued into December (past the usual 20-30 days), I decided to do what calms me- research. (Some people knit, I research) 😊 Before that, my husband reminded me that my noggin’ had been jostled in a rollover accident years ago. So, this is not my first concussion-is anyone who knows me really surprised?! 😊 (29 years ago, my husband and I were in a rollover accident on my birthday-yup true story! I hit my head on the passenger side window. My guardian angel definitely watched over us because it could have been so much worse-the car looked like an accordion). This could account for my symptoms lasting longer.

According to the Concussion Alliance, a concussion breaks the connections of the “billions of neurons” that form a pathway allowing our cells to communicate to do various tasks as well as react to emotions.
It takes a lot of cell energy to reconnect the network of neurons. That’s been the probable cause of my difficulties performing normal daily functions like focusing, forming words, pouring that much needed cup of java in the morning.

To complicate things further, as many of you know, I have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). RSD already messes (technical medical term) 🙂 with the sympathetic nervous system, so that could also prolong my concussion headaches.

But another issue resurfaced after my CT scan- anxiety attacks. The test brought back traumatic memories of the two years that I spent having MRIs and CT scans as I went in and out of hospitals-at weeks at a time and nearly dying from a blood clot I had no control over. It probably doesn’t help that February 14th marks 20 years since that first hospital stay with a DVT that began my RSD journey.) Those memories added to the layer of swirling anxiety we all have with COVID-19, put my panic attacks on warp speed.

On a day that my headaches wouldn’t let up and I was feeling sorry for myself eating crispy rice treats straight out of the pan (yeah it was one of those days); I was reminded of God’s perfect timing when I received this beautifully painted wooden ornament from a talented artist and sweet friend- Kat Whitham in the mail.

This ornament represents the art of Kintsugi. Kintsugi (golden joinery) is a Japanese art form (over 400 years old) that mends broken pottery. But it isn’t just gluing pieces back together-the art is expressed through the materials used such as a lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. So instead of blending in or hiding that it was ever broken in the first place, it highlights the broken area thereby bringing a new beauty to the item.

Interestingly, over 9 years ago while researching and writing TLCB, I came across Kintsugi art for the first time. I kept the notes in my folder labeled “to be used in sequel”- I was nothing if not hopeful 😊.

Being someone who tends to drop things a lot (even before RSD affected my hands) I have become quite a whiz with a glue gun. Whenever I mend a broken object, I try to make it look as seamless as possible so no one can tell (anyone else remember that Brady Bunch episode of trying to fix the broken vase from playing ball in the house?) I digress…

So, as I work on my sequel (ever hopeful), I truly feel that Kintsugi-beauty in one’s brokenness- applies to my mother. Her heart and life shattered into so many pieces on August 6th. Because of her survivor guilt, PTSD, and prejudice against atomic bomb survivors (out of fear of radiation poisoning) she didn’t think she had a reason for existing anymore, so why should anyone else want her? She felt she should hide so much of her pain.

When I look back 20 years ago, I see the beauty of the time my mom poured her heart out to me with memories of the atomic bombing at a time when I felt broken and that my life would never be the same because of the RSD diagnosis. Kintsugi’s concept that objects can still be beautiful even while emphasizing the breaking point made me realize that when life events shook me leaving a crevice that I felt could never be filled, followed by the belief that I would never be whole again-nor even want to be whole again; hope still existed. Instead of hiding these fractured moments in my life, it’s okay-even preferable to let them shine recognizing that they make me who I am today. The spaces in my heart now filled in with fortitude, empathy, and compassion.

Mom & I shortly after my RSD diagnosis 20 yrs ago

My Mom never discussed Kintsugi with me, so not sure if I’ll actually use the specific art in the sequel. But I can say you’ll definitely recognize a similar theme for the main character, Yuriko, as she tries to come to her own conclusion as to what “living her life” means for her after the atomic bombing.

Okay, back to the beautiful and timely gift. I love the hearts on the ornament. I feel that they are representative of the love of family, friends, along with my faith that slowly fills in the gaps yet, leaving me open to opportunities. Opportunities to share empathy with others who may have gone through something similar health wise as well as keeping my mother’s voice as a Hibakusha alive. I can find my purpose again (just as my mom once told me 20 years ago). ❤

It’s taking longer than I’d like for my neuron pathways to reconnect and I’m still working through my anxiety attacks. But the timing of receiving this ornament, being reminded of Kintsugi, has given me a new way to look at what I saw as a loss because of the months I had to take off from email, virtual events, and screen/phone time to deal with extra pain. I’m already limited from my RSD pain and I was angry at myself for doing something so stupid that made me feel even less productive.

Yet in that space, I found comfort working on my sequel. I couldn’t do it for too long because of the headaches but that took the pressure off of writing until I thought it was “perfect”. We eat by candlelight which was kind of nice-dare I say, romantic. Okay we can’t always see what we were eating, but sometimes that works to my advantage though. In addition to this, I’m learning to be better at setting boundaries with my time/energy.

So along with a lot of deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, virtual appointments with my therapist, and prayer, I have also been journaling my thoughts of helplessness, fear, and panic. I hope that it will give me some peace. I’m also hopeful that journaling about my panic attacks, will give me insights to my character Yuriko’s (based on my mom) PTSD symptoms in the sequel to The Last Cherry Blossom.

January and February can be reminders of the various breaks in my heart. My Godfather passed away on January 4th 7 years ago, my mom passed away 6 years ago on January 15th and February 14th marks the event 20 years ago that my current panic attacks are connected to. But even though I still feel the loss, I can also feel the love of all those that were there for me then and are here for me now.

I hope that some of my rambling today may help someone else see beauty in their brokenness. And I pray I’m able to continue to share my empathy and compassion for the emotional scars that my mother had from the atomic bombing with students/future voters so nuclear weapons are never used again.  Which leads me to my announcement:

*I’m humbled by and very grateful for an invitation from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to participate in a virtual event to honor my mom and discuss being a 2nd gen Hibakusha in the US, this Friday night(Feb 12th 8pmEST)!! ❤   My session is titled “A Hibaku Nisei’s (2nd gen survivor of atomic bombing) Labor of Love.” My friend (Hibakusha sister) and amazing award winning author Naomi Hirahara (Mas Arais mystery series) will also be speaking about her parents who were both in Hiroshima atomic bombing. The museum enjoyed the program we did together for the Japanese American National Museum last August.*

P.S.  In case you’re wondering, the snake was a black rat snake (Pantherophis Obsoletus – for you snake aficionados out there). They are supposedly harmless but did not look that way to me at the time! From now on the (aging) kitchen ninja can fight her own battles-I (also aging) have learned my lesson…

 

 

 

Also sharing at Joanne Viola

IN RARE FORM

A unicorn in rare form-w/cherry blossoms-one of my writing mascots 🙂

The month of February had me feeling like I moved backwards-and I don’t mean just a couple steps backwards. No, I’d say it’s more like giant leaps in reverse where my health and my writing were concerned. I’ve tried to do what I thought would help me, expecting one outcome and then it didn’t go the way I really thought it would/should(perhaps I’m a smidge of a control freak,yes?). Sometimes I can pick myself up and move forward. At other times, well, let’s just say crispy rice treats, chocolate, and a few muffled screams in the linen closet are the only remedy. February was definitely a month of  “other times”.

So, it’s fitting that last Wednesday was #RareDiseaseDay on the last day of February. Rare Diseases Europe (EURORDIS) and the Council of National Alliances began this movement in 2008(a leap year, which is also rare-hence the play on the name) to raise awareness and represent 30 million people affected by over 4,000 rare diseases worldwide.

Rare Disease Day in Hiroshima 2018

The United States began participating in 2009. In the U.S., a rare disease is defined as affecting fewer than 200,000 people. I’ve mentioned before that if there is a less than 1 percent chance of a medication side effect, then you can bet I will experience it. So, the fact that I have a rare disease like Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy is probably not a surprise to most people who know me.

RSD is also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS-or as I sometimes call it- “the craps” 😊). But since I’m old school and have lived with it for 17 years, I still refer to it as RSD.

The theme for this year’s Rare Disease Day is right up my alley-RESEARCH! Hopefully, by raising awareness that these 4,000 diseases exist – more funding will be made available, patients would get diagnosed earlier, and more clinical trials could begin to ease the symptoms or better yet, cure the rare disease!

I’ve had many, many, many visits with various doctors over the past 17 years. Most have been very compassionate and helpful. However, there were a few that insisted it was either “all in my head” or that “I’m a malingerer”. It seemed that if that physician hadn’t heard of RSD, then it didn’t exist. I would leave there thinking well, if it didn’t exist, how does that define me? If they wouldn’t take the time to learn about my symptoms, or about RSD- how could they possibly understand what the pain had taken away from me? I had become a shadow of my former self, and now they wanted to make me completely invisible.

However, since I’m more shall we say… experienced, I’m not as afraid of speaking and standing up for myself. I can look back and see that after the diagnosis, God blessed me with a different path. A path that has many wonderful new possibilities, but also can be quite rocky at times.

I have been stumbling along on the rocky path since my spinal procedure in October, I haven’t quite yet gotten back to my “normal” pain level. There have been issues with medication side effects early on and two weeks ago some new ones cropped up (perfect example of my less than 1%). These debilitating symptoms prevented me from doing anything but hurt, so I had to switch back to an older medicine that I knew I could tolerate(Warfarin), even though it meant routine blood tests and other accommodations. As they(whoever “they” are) say, sometimes newer is not always better.

Because of the newer side effects, I withdrew from a conference in early February, which I was really looking forward to speaking at/attending. It bothered me a lot because I hate giving in to the pain. I’m slowly getting some energy back and look forward to presenting for the first time at the South Carolina Association of School Librarians next week(March 16th 8:30am at the Hyatt Regency in Greenville, SC-for any SC school librarians who might be reading this) 😊

Recently, a few things helped me navigate my rocky path: two friends each gave me beautiful, timely devotionals, and I received a letter sent to me by a student in New York. I love getting snail mail and it was handwritten-a twofer! It wasn’t just that he read the book and liked it a lot (although I do take some pride in that-not gonna lie), but that he took the time to write me, and had discussed scenes from the book with his teacher that he found impactful.

I’m so very grateful for the rare gems sprinkled in between the jagged rocks that encourage me to continue striving so that I may be in rare form (in a good way) despite my pain.

I have some people in my life and there are also way too many people lately in the news that are dealing with an overload of rocks in their path, so I’m going to do my best to find ways to be that rare gem and maybe give them some inspiration knowing that they are being heard and are loved.

“We know that reading-and reading widely-helps breed empathy. We know that children find comfort in books. That they seek refuge in fiction and poetry. And we know that literacy skills are essential to helping people make sense of the world.” From LITERACY DAILY blog, if you would like resources on how literacy can help stop the hurting: literacyworldwide.org/safeschools  or  Letters to Parkland and Beyond.

 

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On The Road to Libraries, Book Festivals, and Pain Flares

It has been a whirlwind of a month since THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB) was published (I just need to pause a moment here, because every time I realize I’m actually a published author, I get giddy and giggle-okay I can continue now) :). I’ve spent a lot of time doing guest blog posts, sending emails to various schools, book festivals, and submitting conference proposals.

And two weeks ago we took TLCB on the road to attend the Mid-South Book Festival held in Memphis, Tennessee.magic school bus

On our way to the Mid-South Book Festival, we stopped in a little town named Ripley. My very dear friend Robin, (well she is more like a member of my family now), arranged for me to do a signing and presentation at the Lauderdale County Library. I hadn’t seen her since my mom passed away nearly two years ago. It was my first time visiting Robin in Ripley and it was a visit long overdue. The town may have been small but the southern hospitality was tremendous. Every single person was so welcoming and excited for me and my book. It was a wonderful, albeit, much too quick visit.

ripleylibrary-1

The next day we headed to Memphis for the Mid-South Book Festival. Now, my mom was a huge Elvis fan. In fact, when she first discussed moving to NC, she wanted to know just how many hours away we were from Graceland! She became a fan when LOVE ME TENDER first debuted in Japan. She waited in a huge line with her Elvis shoe laces on her shoes, and then stayed all day and night to watch every single showing. So watching Elvis movies and listening to his music together were some of my fondest memories with her. But because it reminded me too much of her, I hadn’t listened to his music since she passed away.

But, knowing this, how could we be in Memphis and not visit Graceland? I had been having leg pain from the drive, and was walking slowly. However, there were many benches and the tour is not that long(Graceland is surprisingly small), so I got through it okay.img_20160921_185004944

My mom would have loved it there. I got teary eyed when I first heard one of her favorite Elvis songs, but it brought me happy memories of her singing along to it.

The next day was the Mid-South Book Festival. I participated in my first author panel(Yay!) I was extremely nervous. But I brought my entourage (my husband, my friend Robin and her daughter Katelyn) with me, so I’d have at least three people in the audience that knew me. 🙂 The three middle grade authors on the panel with me were fantastic.  The moderator asked questions that I could answer easily and sound like I knew what I was talking about. 🙂 A little over an hour later, I could relax and celebrate with an ice cream sundae. The only bummer was that my book was on backorder, so it couldn’t be sold at the festival. But it was on back order because the first printing sold out, so I can’t complain about that!

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(with Barry Wolverton,Sonia Gensler, Alice Faye Duncan)

We drove back home on Sunday, and I spent the next 11 days in my room with a pain flare up. So I’m learning the valuable lesson of pacing myself. After 15 years with RSD you’d think I would have that pacing thing down pat. But, my type A personality tried to kick in again and it is a frustrating battle that I lose most of the time. This was definitely one of those times.

But while I was stuck in bed surrounded by crispy rice treat crumbs on my comforter, I spent some time researching various venues to market THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM. Right before I left for Memphis, I found out that I won the Honor Award for the Society of  Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Book Launch Grant!! I was beyond ecstatic!celebration hooray pokemon yay

My hope is to present my mother’s story to various Japanese societies, schools, and nuclear disarmament organizations. Because of this grant I will be presenting to Peace Action Staten Island, and am working on a presentation date at the Japanese Embassy in Washington DC in the Spring! Between now and then I will be practicing my pacing skills. I’ve heard that crispy rice treats & a little chocolate really helps with that….