Tag Archives: Recovery

Anne Fadiman and Confessions of a Common Reader

As part of my ongoing concussion recovery, I’m teaching myself to read again, an activity that I always found so joyful before and now find so daunting. I am generally re-reading. It’s easier, what with my memory the way it is now. Anyway, the trivialities of my self-initiated treatment plan aside, what better book to re-read than Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris; Confessions of a Common Reader.  ex libris

In it are eighteen delightful essays about reading, about books, about personal libraries and about words by someone who is, I would say, an entirely un-common reader. Fadiman is the kind of person you see walking on the street devouring a book open in front of her. Her taste for reading was nurtured by her academic parents in a household stuffed to bursting with books. Her own writing is scholarly without being snobbish, a situation ripe for incidental learning. The book is full of factual tidbits so seamlessly incorporated into its text that I come away feeling as though I could hold my own at an English Department dinner party. The tone is friendly and confiding. Her vocabulary is vast and slants Victorian, which, to my mind, is an asset.

My copy of Fadiman’s book is slightly ruined in my own library – a little warped from moisture, a little dog-eared, and not without considerable underlining and marginalia. Her essay, “Never Do That to a Book” issues a solid approval of all of my mishandling of her work. She writes of her childhood in which she used her father’s books as building blocks and how her own children do the same with hers. She writes of people who eat books, literally digesting the words, and her own son’s consumption of the corners of Good Night Moon. It occurs to me that for Fadiman, the rating system for used books employed by on-line purveyors is entirely backwards. A five-star book condition for her would mean a book was stuffed with notations and worn pages and a “like new” book would not interest her at all. Her essay about inscriptions in books has left me changed forever. Never again will I just dash one off.

It is difficult to choose an essay to highlight. I love them all. Like all the best personal essays, each one touches the universal. We are not just reading about reading; we are reading about life and death, marriage and parenting, love and loss. Her description of the process that she and her equally bookish husband undertook to marry their libraries  describes both a marriage and a library for the ages. In a later essay, she explains how, after inheriting part of her father’s library, she kept it in separate book shelves at first and then changed her mind. Integrating his library into hers becomes a testament to how the people we love and lose become indistinguishable parts of our own lives. It is deeply reassuring.

If I had to choose a favourite, “Nothing New Under the Sun” might make the cut. It is a sly investigation into plagiarism that should be read by every teacher and every writer everywhere. The footnotes are screamingly funny. I would love to plagiarize it, but I won’t.

I remember exactly how I came to be in possession of this book. It was a gift from a dear friend, Arlette Zinck, a kindred spirit in reading, and I hope I thanked her appropriately at the time. If not, I do so again.

Lastly, as if these essays weren’t enough, Fadiman’s final pages include recommended reading (of course) – a bibliography of other books about books. It is marvelous.

Give yourself a treat and buy a copy, preferably from a dust-mote filled used bookstore, and curl up under a blanket. Lay it down, open and upside down, on your bedside table, pages splayed and dog-eared.

Fadiman, Anne. Ex Libris. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.

Recovery, Reframing, and Gratitude for 2018

Happy New Year. 2018 will be the year I recover from this concussion. I know, I know.  I said the same in 2017, and that came and went in a concussed fog. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, says someone in the back of my rattled brain. I’m ignoring that person, choosing optimism and saying this will be the year.

When this happened, way back in 2016, I couldn’t have imagined the time between then and now. My former GP told me dismissively that I would recover in three weeks. So I pretended I was fine and tried to carry on. I pushed and pushed until I couldn’t anymore. I remember thinking, “What is wrong with me?” and going into a blind panic amid the clangour.

What does recovery even mean? It’s a process, not a destination. I know now that it does not mean I will be like I was. There’s no going back. Time only moves forward, and so must I. But I will be something else, somebody closer to normal (whatever that is), somebody who doesn’t worry about falling sideways in the supermarket. I hope I’m somebody who can read quickly and deeply again, who can assimilate information, who can remember, who can write creatively, who can think creatively, who can understand a metaphor, who can ride a bike. I hope I am all of those things. And more. I hope I sleep soundly again.

I have been negative about 2017. The lost year, I call it. But it is time for a reframing. I accomplished something. I pursued my recovery. I followed up every lead on practitioners and treatment and completed every treatment plan given to me. I did puzzles and mazes and built with blocks meant for six-year-olds. I memorized patterns and tested my memory in thirty second intervals and two minute intervals and now a little longer than even two minutes. I filled in the pages of cognitive treatment work books. I budgeted my energy, learning over and over from my mistakes. I wore special glasses and eye patches and learned to see again and to focus and refocus close up and in the distance and every point in between. I regained my lost peripheral vision. And I read, doggedly, even when I couldn’t read, even when I had to use a ruler to follow the lines, even when the words swam on the page and pretended to be words they were not. I read something (anything) every day because I knew that to get my life back, I had to be able to read. And I wrote, little bits, tiny posts on social media, or here on my website. They took forever, but I tried to keep my hand in it any way I could. I launched a book, which I could not have done without Elaine (dear Elaine) but it got done. And then after my brain learned to understand my eyes again, I went to driver rehabilitation and got the go-ahead to drive. I still have huge anxiety in the car, but being told that I have the cognitive capacity to drive is a big step forward.

Creative writing is still elusive. The novel, almost finished in January 2016, remains where it was. Novels are big, you know? There’s so much to remember. So much logic and sequencing and so many words, words, words. Reading remains the second-most difficult task I have. To write, I have to be able to read. They are inseparable tasks. I acknowledge that there is improvement. I don’t need a ruler anymore. The words don’t jump around. I can read for twenty minutes or more most days without getting a headache. I still mix up meanings sometimes. I’m still extremely literal. But it is so much better than it was. Now I’m concentrating on concentrating, trying to build my capacity again.

I had (and continue to have) help. Lots of it. I heap special praise upon my neuro-optometrist, who really, truly, listened to what I was experiencing and didn’t look at me like I was crazy. She had seen this before. It was real. I was so grateful. I have a wonderful new GP, who, although she sees a thousand patients, is always able to make me feel like she has time for me. And I don’t want to forget the massage therapists and physiotherapists, a naturopath, a neuro-psychologist, an occupational therapist and a lawyer who helped me navigate the insurance and the crap I need to do to pay for it all. I thank them all.

I spent too much of my time in 2016 and early 2017 pretending I was fine. I wasn’t honest about how difficult it was to see friends or go on a simple outing. Some friends, close friends, knew and understood. They saw me cry, saw me fall apart, saw me have to disappear for a sleep like a cranky toddler. Thank you. People I know who face chronic illness gave me words and insight that helped. I can’t remember the past twenty months closely enough to give you all proper attribution. You know who you are and I am so grateful to you.

I am so grateful for my husband, whose life has also been curtailed by my brain injury. He has been patient and kind and encouraging. My daughter has too. She also had a big injury in 2016 and she was my recovery buddy for a long time. She’s all better now. She visited for the holidays and one day when I was out with these two cherished souls, I completely lost my equilibrium. My world slid down and to the right where I could not make sense of it. It lasted a long time. Too long. It’s a worry. But there they were, unconcerned about abandoning our plans and ready to take me home instead. It’s good to have people in your life who are with you, no matter what.

And I’m grateful for social media too and the friends I connect with there. Last January was a terrible time for me. I was standing at the edge of the abyss. I fought it back. I cannot overstate the value of social media in helping me back away from the darkness. It allowed me to connect with people without actually having to deal with, well, people, and noise and light. It kept me tethered to the world. To all of you who have sent along an encouraging word, thank you.

So here’s to reframing, to 2018, to health, to family, and to friends.

For the record, I started this post January 1 and it is now January 3. Good God. How can it take this long? Oh yes. Reframing. What matters is I could do it at all. I’m grateful.