Your Story — Your Legacy

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Your story is about how you changed or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody can truly know this except you. Your gift is sharing what you learned with others, so that they can learn from it, too.

1. Your story is being created.  It may not be written down, but it is being told, except maybe not the way you would want or by whom you would want.  It could be everything that you remember, but perhaps not the way you would remember it.  If you grew up in a family with siblings, you know what I mean.  “My side of the story” was often in conflict with my brothers’ and sister’s, and sometimes still is.  That is because we have different perspectives on events that we shared, the household we grew up in, the people we knew and the people we loved.

2. Your story is your own. You are the narrator, the protagonist, the hero. There are those who would disagree with your story, but that’s because it’s not their own.

3. Your story is about how you changed or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody can truly know this except you. Your gift is sharing what you learned with others, so that they can learn from it, too.

4. Your story is probably incomplete or inaccurate if you depend upon the objects you leave behind to tell it for you. I have photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, journals, poetry, report cards, greeting cards, household and personal items, yearbooks, scrapbooks – that witness my life and the lives of people who were and are important to me.  They can contribute to, but not tell my story.

5. Because I have all of the above, I have a good starting place for my own stories – my own personal collection of “story prompts”. You probably have your own, waiting for you.

6. If you choose to do nothing, your story may turn into a challenge (or a burden) for someone else to figure out. The day may come when people who don’t know about how Aunt Agnes taught you to cook from your great-grandmother’s book of recipes will toss that very cookbook into the trash along with the unlabeled photos of family members nobody recognizes.

7. If you get started, you’ll be ahead of where you are now. You’ll have more labeled family pics, plus you might have photos of meaningful items you possess, with notations of why they are important to you. You might have a new binder filled with written pieces by family members (or yourself). And you might have a plan (and/or instructions) for where your story legacy should be passed on.

8. You might decide it’s time to write a story – your own story – one page at a time. You can tell the world (or just your family, or just yourself) what you experienced and what you learned. It might turn out to be your greatest legacy.

 

A Bookwoman’s Vision: Myopia, Cataracts, Glaucoma and Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome

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Are you familiar with Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome? Read on to learn about this rare but sometimes devastating visual condition can affect those who have lived in Missouri, Arkansas, parts of Oklahoma, as well as other states.

I have attempted to write this post twice before and I hope the saying about the third time being charmed is true. I am in a state of uncertainty about how to talk about my own issues, especially about my health,  in light of my blog’s focus on books and reading. I don’t want to make this about me — but don’t know a better way to illustrate how vision can shape the worlds of us all, particularly those who love and promote reading. So, I will share my vision story while I prepare for my cataract surgery tomorrow morning.

My vision problems became apparent when I was eleven years old. I remember that my dad noticed that I was squinting and pointed it out to me, suggesting that I try to break what could become a bad habit.  He also decided to have my eyes examined and I was diagnosed with myopia and fitted for glasses. I was also subjected to weekly sessions in a darkened room at the optometrist’s office with exercises that were designed to improve my vision. I don’t remember any positive results from the exercises, but have memories of how tedious and boring they were.

The good news was that I could see beauty in new detail with my new glasses.  The shimmering leaves became visible individually and the fluffy white clouds appeared to take on lives of their own.

The bad news was that I could also see (what I perceived as) ugliness in detail. The only positive effect of my glasses was that they partly camouflaged my pimples and the red birthmark on my cheek. I could also see much better, so I wore them.

Julia Reagan -- Age 14 -- High School Freshman

I had heard the Dorothy Parker trope which was popular at that time: “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” At age eleven, I had no experience with men (or boys) making passes, but I had hopes for the future.  My glasses didn’t reassure me, and as I entered high school, I became even more dissatisfied with my appearance. I was given permission to experiment with makeup (with strict admonishments when my experiments went too far) and I looked for ways to “accentuate the positive”, as the teen magazines advised.

Very fortunately for me, contact lenses became available and I was fitted for mine in 1963, when I was a junior. Some of my friends tried to wear them without success, but I was determined and fought through the days of getting accustomed to the hard lenses. I had chosen vivid blue lenses, which made them easier to see if dropped and which made my eyes a rather startling color, which I loved.

With my new contacts, new skills in makeup, and the new popularity of hair teased and sprayed into unconquerable heights, I finished high school and entered college with new-found self-confidence.  I thought that my vision problems were over.  They weren’t.

It is true that I had years of uncompromised vision — time enough to complete college, marry and have children, and enter a career as a librarian. I am grateful that my contacts gave me few problems, other than an occasional broken or lost lens and discomfort from wearing them too long or (horrors!) while sleeping.

Then I noticed an oddity in my vision, a certain waviness in the outside line marking the lanes of the highway where I was driving. By this time I was in my early forties and so accustomed to seeing without difficulty that I convinced myself that the problem would disappear.  It didn’t.

I made an appointment with my optometrist and he sent me to the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City. Their tests concluded that the wavy line was a result of Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome, a rare bi-product of a fungal infection that I had as a child.

I learned that as many as 90% of the population in the states where it is endemic (including all of Missouri and Arkansas and part of Oklahoma) have had the infection, which is spread by breathing the spores released by bird and bat droppings in those areas.  (It turns out that people in the construction trades are especially vulnerable, since their work often includes the disturbance of the soil where the bird droppings fall.  My dad was a building contractor and we usually lived near or in subdivisions he was developing.)

Most of those infected by histoplasmosis are not aware of it, because the symptoms are similar to a cold or mild flu.  Occasionally it can spread to other parts of the body and cause serious illness. Rarely, the spores can travel from the lungs to the eye(s), eventually causing vision problems or loss.

What I was seeing was the result of the growth of abnormal blood vessels.  I was told that surgery was an option and that waiting could sooner or later result in the movement of the affected area to the center of my vision.

I decided to wait (for just a while).  Within a couple of weeks, the movement had occurred, and my vision was gone in the center of my right eye.  It was and is as if someone placed a gray splotch in front of whatever I focus on (including any sentence or paragraph I’m reading or any person’s face I’m trying to recognize).  It was final and irreversible.

My eyes adapted and my left eye took over the tasks my right eye could no longer perform. I continued my life as usual until middle (and beyond middle) age took their toll.  Isn’t it amazing how many conditions can affect something as small as your eyes?  I now have four: myopia, glaucoma, cataracts and OHS.

It is time to deal with the cataracts so that I can feel comfortable driving (and reading road signs) when it’s raining, at night, and when I’m out-of-town. I would be dishonest if I told you that this surgery on my left eye doesn’t cause me a little anxiety. I’ve been protective of the full (if flawed) vision it provides me.

At the same time I am a realist — my husband says that I focus too much on the negative. I don’t consider it negative to practice walking with my eyes closed (to see what it would be like to lose my vision completely) or to think about how I could still read if I couldn’t see. (I would use audiobooks or press family members into service to read to me.)  I call it preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

I am also full of gratitude for the corrected vision I’ve enjoyed and the members of science and medical community who have guided me through my problems.

I am also aware of the many, many people who have dealt with more tragic and heart-breaking health issues than my own and admire the grace and grit that most of them display.  Several of them are in my own family and I imagine that some are in yours.

As for myself, as always, I look forward to seeing more clearly.

 

 

 

 

My Mid-Year Five-Star Fiction Favorites

It hardly seems possible that 2017 is more than half over. I have read 27 books so far this year, which is pretty close to my average of one book per week. As mentioned in the “About Me” section, my reading preferences include southern fiction; books about family relationships and friendships; books with connections to Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas; memoir and history. I do read outside my “preferences” and have discovered many wonderful books and authors through recommendations, award nominees and winners, and reading reviews.

I keep track of my books on Goodreads and would encourage you to connect with me there. My ratings on Goodreads and Amazon are rarely lower than four or five stars, because there are so many wonderful books available that I usually won’t continue with a book that doesn’t captivate me in some way. I have also fine-tuned my selection process to the point that most of the books I read please me greatly. That doesn’t mean that they will please every reader; that’s why I’m happy that there are so many to choose from!

 

The Feathered Bone

The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell

A young girl disappears on a New Orleans school outing just before Hurricane Katrina.  The tumult and tragedy of the entire city frame the fate of one child during the months, then years that follow.

 

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Flight Patterns by Karen White

Southern women’s fiction at its best.  Two sisters with such a bone to pick that they don’t see each other for ten years, a beautiful mother who isn’t as loony as she seems, and interesting tidbits about beekeeping fill out the plot nicely.

 

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I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows

A region and a family in crisis. Beautifully-told story of the Dust Bowl with nuggets of truth and wisdom that I won’t forget.  Oklahoma Book Award finalist.

 

Mudbound

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

A superb book, recently released as a movie and already receiving Oscar buzz.  The story of two families — the owners of a Mississippi Delta farm at the end of World War II and the sharecroppers who live and work on it.  Winner of the Bellwether Prize for fiction (promoting social responsibility).

 

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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Based on accounts of an adoption ring which operated in Memphis from the 1930’s until the 1950’s. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings are stolen from their parents and turned over to an orphanage without fair representation or recourse.

 

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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Two families, five decades, two married couples, six children who only agree on their hatred for their parents after the dissolution of two marriages.  Anyone who has been divorced and remarried, been a part of a blended or dysfunctional family, and created their own narrative about the situation will identify with this story and each characters’ interpretations of what happened and why.

 

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The Risen by Ron Rash

A “summer of love” for two teenaged North Carolina brothers comes back to haunt them decades later when the fate of the girl who bewitched them both comes to light.

 

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The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

Two women of remarkable intellect are separated by centuries but united through history and seventeenth-century documents. The “weight of ink” takes on new meaning through this absorbing and thought-provoking book.

Are you a member of Goodreads? If so, please connect with me there.  In the meantime, consider commenting on your own book selection or ratings method. Please share with anyone who might enjoy any of these reading selections.