Category Archives: quotes

delicious ambulando

how many tattoos do you have?

i kind of have 9, but 5 of them really go together to make 1. so 5 total? as of a few weeks ago, i have 11. or 10. or 6. or 7.

for a while i’ve been putting together plans for new tattoos – 2 that make up 1. on april 3rd, i brought it all to denise, my friend and tattoo artist, and she made them happen.

i’ll explain.

in middle school, my buddy robyn and i got pretty obsessed with the early days of saturday night live. we loved dan aykroyd, jane curtin, steve martin, buck henry, candice bergen, bill murray, andy kaufman.

and gilda radner. come one. i wanted to be gilda radner. she was funny and bold and adorable all at the same time.


soon after we discovered gilda, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. i watched her continue to live her life as funny and bold and adorable. she died on may 20th, 1989. i carried her obituary in my wallet for years.

robynlee and kristelee. on the verge of some delicious ambiguity.

robynlee and kristelee. women on the verge of some delicious ambiguity.

after my own medical drama i came upon a quote from her autobiography. “now i’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. delicious ambiguity.” with that, gilda explained to me how to continue to live my life after it was radically changed by my brain tumor. my recovery wouldn’t have been the same without her.

so for years I’ve been wanting to get a tattoo of that phrase, “delicious ambiguity.” my tattoos are all symmetrical along my midline – balance is a big problem for me in my body, so i guess i’m trying to not make it worse. i thought about where was left for a “delicious ambiguity” tattoo. below my clavicle was a spot that appealed to me. so while i googled clavicle tattoo images, i thought about what could go on the other side.

a clavicle tattoo i liked (ignore the birds)

a clavicle tattoo i liked (ignore the birds)

a few years back, i came upon the term “solvitur ambulando.” it’s latin for “it is solved by walking.” which made me think about the shift in how i think about walking. before my medical drama, i didn’t really walk. i grew up in southern california, so my instinct was to drive everywhere. i spent a lot of time in my car. then in 2009 i lost my ability to walk (and also drive). relearning how to walk took several years, a few great teachers, and a lot of practice.

dennis was my physical therapist during my stay in a phoenix nursing home. he spent a lot of time holding me up by a gait belt, making me look at myself in a mirror to convince my brain that, even though i felt like i was leaning way over to the right, i was in fact standing straight up.

the therapy folks at capri (that's dennis on the right) - they had never seen me stand up on my own

the therapy folks at capri (that’s dennis in the middle) – this was the first time they’d seen me stand up with a walker

anne was my home health physical therapist when i got back to corvallis. she taught me how to get in and out of my wheelchair, crawl around on the floor, and walk around my parents’ pool table as i held on for dear life. she got me back on my feet with a walker, but walking was hard and scary (i envisioned falling through the windows of shops as i walked by).

anne is remembering teaching me how to crawl

anne is remembering teaching me how to crawl

next was brian, the second brian to appear in my life at the exact moment when i desperately needed him.

the first brian

the first brian

brian wilson became my physical therapist after anne. i liked him right away – we laughed a lot (mainly at me) and i had a good time during my appointments. he started me walking with a cane right away – fyi, it’s terrifying to go from two-handed walking to one-handed. after i stopped seeing him in the clinic, we got together a few times for “therapy in the wild.” once we met up on a playground – he had always wanted to put me on a tire swing and turn me the opposite way from my vertigo to see if it would unwind my dizziness. it didn’t – but i was able to get on and off the swing without wiping out, so that was big progress. we played a little wallball with brian’s wife, brittany, and then he put me on a bike and ran around the playground pushing me like he was my dad.

good practice for when his new daughter, shelby, is ready to ride

good practice for when his new daughter, shelby, is ready to ride

to practice walking with a cane, every day i’d try to go for a walk that was a little longer than the day before – the “feeling stronger every day” plan. i remember exactly where i was when i realized that walking had gone from something that scared me to something i enjoyed. at the time, there wasn’t a lot that i enjoyed – generally, the things i did during the day were difficult and required a lot of concentration. but thanks to dennis and anne and brian, i had an outlet. walking became something that i did for fun, and when i had something on my mind. it was free, it didn’t require help, and i could do it wherever i was. i started exploring, and that was a huge part of my psychological return to the world.

b & b at t

brian and brittany at tumorfest

brian and brittany decided to move to montana, and i had dinner with them the night before they left. i was still carrying a cane but not using it – it was a marker that let people know that they needed to be careful around me, and brian really wanted me to stop. it was raining that evening, and since my left arm is too wonky to hold an umbrella, i had a choice to make – cane or umbrella. when i walked through the restaurant door, brian noticed right away that i didn’t have my cane, and he made a big deal about it. he realized that i had done a scary thing – his faith in me was the reason that i kept trying new things, kept trying to get rid of things that restricted me. he was the first friend i made who hadn’t known me before my medical drama, which made his faith in me matter even more – he was basing that faith in who i was after, which made me have more faith in myself. i really can’t describe how important he has been in my life.

so instead of trying to describe it, i asked him to write “solvitur ambulando” for my tattoo. it was an opportunity to take my unending gratitude and make it visible.

brian and robyn's drafts for my tattoo

brian and robyn’s drafts for my tattoo

when my buddy emily and i went to the bay area a few years back, i bought lovely california poppies letter-pressed notecards. i love my home state’s flower, and when i thought about these clavicle tattoos, i envisioned the poppies on one side. robyn’s side, since we grew up in california.

letterheadfor the other side, i wanted sweet peas (my favorite flower) in a similar craftsman style. i decided to put brian & the sweet peas under my left clavicle because my left side is the wonky one from my stroke.

i sent denise this drawing as inspiration

i sent denise this drawing as inspiration

i gave some thought to the color of the flowers, and since i love the orange of the poppies, i wanted the sweet peas to also be bright and vivid. i found this picture and knew that it was what i wanted the sweet peas to look like.


i brought all of these ingredients to denise and she combined them and improved them. getting the tattoos took a few hours, but mainly because we were chatting a lot. denise has been and continues to be a big player in my recovery. my tattoos are lovely – exactly what i wanted but so much more beautiful than that. they’re easily concealed, but they also reveal themselves differently depending on the neckline of the shirt i’m wearing. the way denise worked the words in is exquisite (robyn’s response).

morning after

this evening denise is going to touch up some leaves and darken the poppies.

my new tattoos are funny and bold and adorable. and i’m grateful for the people who are all woven together in them.






“there is value in standing up and being counted.”

i’ve had the hook from this song stuck in my head while i’ve been percolating this blog post.

the idea of “coming out” has been something i’ve been thinking about a lot these last few months.

at the forum on acquired disability i attended as a panelist last month, there was some talk about being open about being a person with a disability. i know that i am – it took me a while though before i could claim the title of “disabled” without feeling sad or embarrassed. it’s not my only identity, but it’s one of them and by being open about it, not only have i felt like i was living a true life, but my friends have developed more awareness of the realities of living with a disability as well.

a winter 2009 visit to the school where i used to teach.

“coming out” is probably most associated with the idea of folks in the LGBTQ community revealing their sexuality and gender preferences.  i’ve ended up having some interesting conversations with friends lately around this topic. one was a with the woman who waxes my eyebrows – yep, i’m coming out about having my eyebrows waxed! my eyebrow stylist said that her younger brother came out while he was in his late teens and that she once said to him, “i don’t care that you’re gay.” she realized that that didn’t sound like what she felt, so she clarified by saying that of course she cared that he was gay – it was a piece of his overall identity and because she cared about him, she cared about the pieces of his identity. i’m not sure that there’s a simpler way of saying what she meant.


a few weeks back, anderson cooper issued a statement in which he said “the fact is, I’m gay.” his statement was interesting to me, not because i’m interested in the sexuality of public figures, but because of this line – “i do think there is value in standing up and being counted.” although i’m not gay, that sentence really resonated with me. there’s value in standing up and being counted not only because you’re able to live a truer life, but also because the count is more accurate. i’m guessing that the more public figures come out, the less “different” people feel who are not straight, and the more regular folks feel safe coming out. there’s also the idea of community – i feel like marginalized groups naturally create communities which welcome new members with acceptance and experience. this is certainly true in the disabled community – i could see it so clearly at the forum i went to last month. it has also been a strong force in the “it gets better” campaign – this idea that other people have been through what you’re going through and have had similar experiences.

which all got me to thinking – is there any piece of my identity that i’m “in the closet” about? i’m out as a disabled person, a vegetarian, and now a person who gets her eyebrows waxed. when i was a foster parent, my foster daughter and i didn’t hide how we ended up together. i’m honest that i don’t care about sports. i admit that i love reading a super-trashy vampire series. what else?  in taking an inventory of my life, i did see one thing that i’ve made an effort to hide. so inspired by anderson cooper’s words, here i go.

i’m an atheist.

some background – i grew up in a secular home, but my parents really encouraged me to go to church with my friends, so that i’d have a better understanding of different beliefs. i enjoyed going to church, but the religious teachings never really resonated with me beyond the storytelling level. then again, i think that i might be hard-wired for atheism – i never really got into the whole santa thing, and when i confirmed my suspicions i was outraged that my parents had lied to me, and i made a catalog of all the other things they’d lied about – the tooth fairy! the easter bunny! so i think that i’m a skeptic on a genetic level.

but i also from a young age realized that being an atheist was something to keep quiet about. i really went into the closet about it when i started teaching elementary school in my mid-twenties. my first school was in a strongly religious community, and i worried what people would say if they knew. i worried that people would view everything about me through that lens. so when kids would ask me if i believed in god, i learned to shift the focus away from me – “what about you? do you believe in god?”

my foster daughter was really curious about religion. i was very honest about my beliefs. but she went to the school where i taught. so i explained to her that she could never tell anyone at school that i was an atheist. saying that made me feel morally wrong, but it was just too risky.

just like my parents did, i encouraged my foster daughter to go to church with her friends. i wanted her to be aware of many belief systems, but i also wondered if one of those belief systems might really resonate with her. because i’m not an evangelical atheist. what it all comes down to for me is that i admire people who do the right things in their lives – their motivation truly doesn’t matter to me at all.

i usually listened to npr on my commute, and enjoyed the “this i believe” segments. once a week a person would read an essay about something they believed in, with topics ranging from addiction to war. in 2005, penn jillette (of penn and teller) read his essay, starting with this – “i believe that there is no god.” i remember feeling a jolt when i heard that – did he really just say that out loud? on the radio? i felt like i was a little less alone, a little less different. and since then, whenever i see him on tv, i feel a connection to him – he’s like me. he could say the thing that i wished i could say, but i couldn’t because it would have put my job in danger. truly. i think that some people still have this idea that atheists are predators, and i was an elementary school teacher in a very religious school and town. not a safe place to out yourself. but i’m in a stage of my life where it feels safe to say it.

me with my first class.

so i’m standing up and being counted as an atheist.

and it seems fitting that i’m finishing this post on sunday morning. soon i’ll be heading out for my own sunday morning ritual – i meet my grandma for the $1.99 early bird breakfast special at a dive bar down the road.

delicious ambiguity

“now i’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.

delicious ambiguity.”

~ gilda radner

i’ve been a gilda fan since my buddy robyn and i discovered saturday night live during middle school. i remember that she died the night of my first prom.

this is technically my most recent prom, not my first. but how amazing is this picture?

i didn’t know this quote back then, and if i’d seen it in those days it wouldn’t have spoken to me. i was in high school – what did i know about ambiguity?

as it turns out, it came across my facebook news feed about 6 months ago. one of my friends (thank you, whoever you were!) posted it as his/her status. i remember reading it and thinking that it was such a lovely way of describing my mindset post-stroke. then i saw that it was gilda, and wasn’t surprised that she would get it. and would be helping me out from beyond the grave.

in true former-english-major fashion, i’ll take a look at this quote bit by bit.

“now i’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme,”

my poem doesn’t rhyme, and that’s fine by me. the only word that comes to mind that rhymes with tumor is rumor, and that doesn’t really fit with my life at all. and i certainly will claim my membership in the “the hard way” club.

me and robyn. so why did i grow up to be the one with the brain tumor? there is no reason. it was a random thing. no rhyme or reason.

“and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.”

for a while there, it certainly looked like the tumor would be the end of my story. but is it the middle? is it the beginning? i don’t know. it’s not up to me. i’m just gonna keep putting one foot in front of the other. i don’t know where i’ll end up, but i’ve learned from all of this that it doesn’t make much of a difference. i’m just so damn happy that after a lot of work and help, i can even do that with my feet again. so i enjoy the feeling of walking. and with all of that work and help, and a nifty pair of prism lenses, i can look around and enjoy where i’m walking. and this time next week i’ll even be able to tell which direction the cars are coming from – i’m getting a hearing aid (hearing in both ears = hello, triangulation!).

me taking a break during a recent walk.

“life is about not knowing,”

my life is fuller now that i don’t know. the less energy i put into trying to predict/change the future, the more energy i have for the present. and the present is where it’s at. i’m willing to be spontaneous, willing to take risks of many different kinds. these are some pretty major changes, and i had to make them if i was going to make it. i, and my friends/family, have just emerged from 2 years of not knowing – would i live or die? ever be able to walk again? recover from my brain injury?  – and those are some pretty major unknowns. but today i have things to look forward to and yesterday was great. that’s how much i know about life. i also know that i’ve strung together about 2 years worth of that. the definition of great has changed over those years, thank goodness. most of what counted as great in the nursing home wouldn’t count as great today. but nursing-home great was great just the same, and today’s great wouldn’t be here without it.

a recent spontaneous visit from friends led to a very thorough lesson about star wars. a great day.

“having to change,”

my first reaction to this part was that i disagreed with gilda. i thought that “being willing to change” was more accurate. but now i see her point, and i agree. from time to time i think about why trauma takes some people and why other people beat it. and i think that gilda nailed it in these three words. when your life changes, you have to change. you won’t survive trying to live your old life when that life no longer exists. it seems to me that the folks who continue on are the folks who can acknowledge that their life has changed and will live that changed life. the people who keep trying to live their pre-trauma life don’t survive – either they physically don’t make it or they become bitter and angry about the fact that they can’t live the life they were living before, and the trauma wins. i think that this is true in the short term – two examples that come to mind are gilda and warren zevon. they both knew that they were dying but they continued to live until that death came. my situation is obviously different than being diagnosed with a terminal illness. but the three of us could have certainly taken our news and let it kill us before we were actually dead. now i absolutely have spent time mourning the death of the life i had before my medical drama, and i’m sure that warren and gilda did too. but we continued to live in those new lives – and like them i will continue living until whenever it is that my body stops living. so i think that gilda was right – when your life changes you have to change right along with it or your trauma wins.

warren zevon on the late show after he was diagnosed. seemed to me like a guy who beat his trauma.

“taking the moment and making the best of it,”

now i can see that ultimately, this is all that we can do, trauma or not. we have some say in the moments that happen in our lives – we can do our best to surround ourselves with good folks and go to interesting places, but once we’re there we don’t have much control at all about what happens. there are too many variables. we can take the moments as they happen, and then choose our attitude about those moments. i have mentioned that pre-trauma i was convinced that choosing your attitude was b.s., but now it’s my religion. i think that fundamentally i did not believe that i didn’t have control over what happened to me. funny how a phone call from an ENT can change that.

in this moment that i’m writing this, i’m realizing that with this quote gilda is telling me the secret to surviving trauma. whoa.

this is me in the hospital. you can practice choosing your attitude about this picture.

“without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

i know that i have set in motion the potential for a great day today. i’ll head out into it and see what happens. and if i remember that great things can be big and small, i feel pretty confident that at the end of today i’ll look back on my day and see great things. choosing my attitude. i have a general outline of what my day will look like, but i don’t know what will happen. i don’t control that – too many variables. but i can control my attitude.

my mom, me, bucko, emily. i had a lovely dinner last night with mom, emily, and another friend. today bucko is in town so we'll get some rare quality time.

“delicious ambiguity.”

choosing your attitude. why else would she use the word delicious to describe ambiguity? frightening ambiguity. annoying ambiguity. alarming ambiguity. why delicious? because it’s an attitude choice. and the key to survival. we have so little control over the things that happen to us, but we can control how we process those things. in describing ambiguity as delicious i can hear gilda saying “ok ovarian cancer, you haven’t killed me yet.” in the shawshank redeption, andy says, “i guess it comes down to a simple choice, really; get busy living or get busy dying.” andy’s trauma was wrongful imprisonment. mine was a stroke. cancer was warren and gilda’s trauma. but we all got busy living. and chose our attitudes about the ambiguity that choosing to live brings.

beginning? middle? end? does it matter?