Monday, January 19, 2009

Society Update: Letter from the Editor(NETS Journal)

Letter from the Editor
A Personal Confession of sorts…

by Jessica Burke

I’m writing this to you all and asking Anthony to post this independently of our next issue of Parma Nölé for several reasons. It serves as a bit of clarification on some things that have happened on a personal level, and a bit of news on the societal level. I’m also writing because, fundamentally, I’m so grateful and so lucky that I can write at all. As you all know me, I am an honest, aboveboard person—almost to a fault. So I will be sharing something very personal for me, but most things in my life are personal. I ask your indulgence, by way of explanation –for both where Anthony & I’ve been, why we dropped out of sight toward the end of the year, and why we missed our January 3rd toast for the first time in what seems like forever.

Anthony & I knew 2007 was a tough year, but we didn’t know that in some ways 2008 was tougher. It’s our hope, and the hope of millions, that 2009 will be better, brighter, and full. I can’t say that we necessarily hope for change—because the world changes each and every day; every millisecond is a change, and not all change is for the greater good. War is change and death is change and taking in a new breath is change. But, we do need things –for everyone—to move in a more positive direction. We need to feel empowered, as a people and on the individual level as well.

2008, for me personally was a year of great accomplishment, great sadness, and an even greater appreciation for life. The year began and ended with a focus on employment. I found myself unemployed for the better part of the year, finally earned my Masters degree, and with the luck of the Goddess, the Irish, and the persistence of being a person who doesn’t take “no” to heart; I was hired as an Adjunct Lecturer by the College of Staten Island. With the help of so many, we brought our society back from the brink with the NETS calendar. 2008 also saw the last print copy of the journal and the first PDF version of our beloved Parma Nölé. For the first time in more than 6 years, I wrote a story—still unfinished, but at least I began it. And then something more than unexpected happened—something truly unbelievable, and I am a person who believes a lot. I suffered what can only be called a mini-stroke.

It was little more than a week before Thanksgiving. I was still marveling at our nation’s insurmountable chutzpah and unmitigated brilliance in electing our new President, having the first weekend to myself without papers to grade or student emails to plow through, and folding laundry while watching the Obamas on 60 Minutes. To be honest, I don’t know what happened. One minute I was laughing at the Obamas’ exchange about battered clothes and a car with a hole in the bottom, the next, I was doubled over, in what’s got to be the most pain I’ve ever felt in my entire life, surrounded by toppling mathoms of laundry.

I’ve never been good with doctors. I go, when I feel it’s necessary. I’m much better at ignoring my own ailments and making sure those around me are healthy. I can tell my mother to go get checked-out, or tell my husband, but I don’t take my own advice—partially out of obstinacy, partially out of pauperism and the fear that I’ll wind up like those poor folks in Michael Moore’s Sicko, having my health insurance decide to drop me for being too costly.

After about a half hour of trying to reach my cell phone, which sat maybe an arm’s length from me, trying to remember what it was called and how to make it work, I called Anthony at work and he teased me for drinking without him. My speech was slurred, and he told me later that I wasn’t making much sense. I don’t remember what I told him, or what I did really, except that I found myself unable to walk without dragging my right side—which wouldn’t respond properly. I wouldn’t let him come home early, not that it would have done much good since it was just about time for him to come home anyway and with his commute, he’s already 2 hours away. My brother who lives next door wasn’t home, and I didn’t actually think of going to the hospital myself. The time between when I called Anthony, when he came home, and when I went to the hospital the following morning, are a blur. In fact my memory from that entire week, and indeed my short-term memory in general are what’s been affected.

I was in the hospital for the better part of the week, and fought to get released when my tests came back negative or inconclusive. I found myself having been put in the geriatric ward (I know I’m not a kid anymore, but I didn’t think just out of my tweens categorized me as geriatric), visited by a host of doctors—including one who I thought was about to have a heart attack over me (which would have been really bad because then I would have died from being crushed to death by a very large man—think Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man), and subjected to the caterwauling of a deranged senior who screamed from the moment she woke up (at 8 am) to the moment she succumbed to sedatives (2:45 am). I found myself told that I suffered from everything from MS to Lyme Disease to Kidney Stones to Lupus to Spinal Meningitis to Gastroenteritis. My regular doctor refused to come see me because he felt his practice, on the North side of Staten Island, was too far away from the hospital where I was placed, on the South side of Staten Island—and that from a man who commutes home to Israel every fortnight.

The first two days I had a total loss of sensation on my right side, and a partial loss of mobility. I found myself having more blood-work than I have ever have had, put on a forced starvation diet for 2 days (by the idiot Marshmallow doctor who was sent by my personal doctor when Anthony threatened malpractice), and given the Technicolor experience of having an IV put in, not once, not twice, not thrice—but FOUR times because of a combination of weak veins and partial incompetence (not on my account). I was given some medication by mistake and had what equated a VERY bad drug trip—with no euphoric advantage—and FINALLY, on the day I wanted to check myself out, was seen by a doctor that knew what he was talking about. He explained that my condition was one of two things—a mini-stroke or TIA (Temporary Ischematic Attack) on its own, or a TIA brought on by a migraine. He was leaning toward the latter because my partial paralysis was not permanent, although I am still a great deal weaker in strength on the right side and won’t be wielding a saber or shield any time soon. I was also lucky enough not to have permanent damage show up on my CT scan—hence my ability to type and think and write right now. However, as I write this, I am coming to terms with the fact that all my sensation did not return on my right side and I have a slight dulling on that side.

I do still have inordinate fatigue, and find my concentration is a bit harder to hold onto than before. I find myself texting Anthony while he’s at work to ask him little things that have slipped beyond the realm of my memory. If I think too long and too hard, I find myself spiraling downward, and when I mentioned this to my mother, who may actually be a bit in denial or disbelief that what I suffered, a TIA, was indeed a mini-stroke, she shrugged it off by saying that it’s my age. I know I’m getting older, but come on… I find a little in common with old Barleyman, and can honestly say that there are more times that my mind is like an old lumber-room, thing wanted not found quickly enough. To humor myself, I keep thinking of my beloved Peter Davidson’s 5th Doctor when he shouts, “Quickly now, my concentration’s likely to go at any moment.” It makes me laugh, as opposed to the morbid reality that my brain has been affected in some way by the experience. Rest assured, I can still recall exactly what chapter Sam talks about being part of a story that doesn’t have an end, how to say the Ringscript in the Black Language, what Shakespeare’s last play really was, and can recite the first few lines of Beowulf in the original (although before November, it was the first 14 lines).

The day after I was released, I went right back to work, terrified that I wouldn’t be rehired if anyone found out that I may have suffered a stroke. Luckily no one did, and I was rehired for the Spring term. It was most difficult the fortnight immediately afterwards because my short-term memory was the most affected—it still is, but I’m working at it consciously and aside from the momentary forgetfulness partly expected in someone of professorial attitude, it is much better than it was during those first weeks. I have found, however, that I have to consider and think about things before I write or speak, whereas before I never had to do that. I also find myself committing what my family used to call “popisms”—so called for my father’s occasional word mix-ups. I might have a thought cross my mind, or a word pop into my brain unbidden, and it gets mixed into what I may be saying at the time. I can easily laugh off calling a bag of kitty litter a bag of antibiotics, but there are moments of terror when I feel like a filing drawer that someone’s rifled through carelessly.

My dad’s “popisms” were the result of a massive stroke he had 12 years ago next month. For the first time, I can say I know exactly what it’s like to do that—to get your wires temporarily crossed, although, my comprehension has not been affected at all: thank the Goddess. And, I do have Her to thank, in addition to my family, for helping me through what has been a most difficult time. I have always been a spiritual person, but did find this experience has brought me in closer contact with that side of myself. Being close to the beyond can do that, but it’s also brought back my old 4am malady of mortality.

Because of my dad, I always thought I knew an awful lot about strokes—symptoms of, prevention for, et cetera. When it happened to him, I found myself just about to graduate from Brooklyn College with my Bachelors Degree. I stopped pursuing any career after graduation in order to stay home and care for him. I knew, first-hand, about the recovery process, so I know even more acutely how lucky and blessed I am. I can stand, speak, think, care for myself.

Why have I divulged this to you all? Not for any strange voyeuristic sense or for any desire for compassion, but because I want you all to take care of yourselves. There’s always an undercurrent thought of invincibility, and it’s something much more pervasive in today’s world than perhaps it ever was. I am not a child any more, but still there was this thought that things like this happened to other people. Perhaps, I should have thought differently and taken care of myself more. The weeks following the attack, I don’t really want to refer to it as a stroke, I was basking in the freedom of being alive, not hospital-bound, and able to actually eat foodstuff that didn’t consist of watered-down jell-o, un-salted broth, and Sanka. I feel the need to be honest, and to tell you all not to ignore your health. Take care of yourselves, even when to do so is perhaps the scariest thing in the world.

And, when taking care, make sure you keep your eyes open. Ask questions and do NOT allow any medical “professional” treat you like some lowly peon just because you don’t have a medically inclined alphabet after your name. If I hadn’t asked questions, I might have been kept in the hospital for quite a long time waiting for my health insurance to approve the MRI I’m still waiting for. I also might have had that MRI skewed to give false readings if I had allowed the Marshmallow doctor perform a Spinal Tap on me, just because he thought it would be a good, aggressive first course of action. I would have most likely had to endure an IV in an area other than my arms if I didn’t tearily insist my nurses limit their IV probes. I was concerned that my knuckles and feet would have been considered, if I hadn’t drawn the line somewhere. I would have been treated for gastric diseases I don’t have, and put on some of the heaviest sedation ever just because they could offer it to me since I was placed into the exclusive “In-Patient” club.

I think it’s also a bit easier to explain myself once, rather than continually on an individual basis. Only a very few knew what happened when it happened, not because we wanted to keep the information from our friends, but because we weren’t sure what had happened. The last thing I wanted to do was to alarm anyone with the myriad diagnoses that those morons masquerading themselves as medical professionals so happily ladled out to me during my weakest moments.

Finally, I wanted to offer this as an apology to everyone that I’ve not called back or emailed, to everyone that I’ve lost contact with unwittingly. I can honestly say that for the first time in some time, being busy wasn’t my excuse, but I rather miss using that as an explanation.

Parma Nölé
What does any of this mean for the journal or for the society for that matter? As you might imagine, I am rather glad Anthony & I made the decision to put the journal in a strictly PDF format, and switch the society to a free format. Having Parma Nölé in an online PDF format makes it easier for several reasons, not the least of which is layout. I still aspire to have timely issues, but am content to say that Parma Nölé is a quarterly-ish publication.

Many of you know that in December, our home computer—perhaps feeling a sympathy with me—suffered a stroke of its own, but unlike my own situation, the computer is not recovering. We found it necessary to replace our old clunker, but have a very large amount of information housed in the old carcass. If anyone sent a submission for the journal, I beg you to resend it to us at:

I cannot place any date for publication for the next issue, but can say that unless we have submissions, no new issue will be published any time soon—so the invitation stands, send us your words, your enlightenment, your opinion, your art, your poetry, your fiction (provided no copyright infringement takes place & it’s PG-13 rated).

For those of you new to Heren Istarion and Parma Nölé, take a look through past issues, particularly the last issue, to see what we’re about. I encourage you to send us something. When in doubt, you can always send a “Why Tolkien?” We are open to everyone, whether you came to Tolkien from the recent films, or whether you detest these interpretations; we’re friends to academics and non-academics, geeks and wonks and timey-wimey wordsmiths.

I would ask that you send me a query for pieces longer than your arm, and remind our staff contributors that I am in need of your contributions.

For the visually inclined, having our journal in PDF, makes it much more amenable to vivid color art. Again, any art submitted must not conflict with copyrights. We’re looking for original art, Tolkien &/or fantasy inspired, but art that gives us a mythopoeic feel is what we’re really after. Again, look at past issues to see our preferences.

To anyone seeking submission, please refer to our Submission Guidelines, but be aware, I’m intending to revise those to make them a bit more user friendly. If I’ve learned one thing as I do get older, I tend to be a bit caustic when I’m most passionate about something. So, please don’t get frightened off by my rather heavy-handed tactics. I’m just a hobbit really, but do sometimes identify with poor old Lobelia and her pink umbrella.

Heren on Facebook? Is that Tolkien?
Those who know us, know that Anthony & I have resisted the electronic age staunchly. We chose to run our society singularly when the notion of an exclusive online community and electronic journal was thrust upon us some years before we were ready to consider such things. We must note that despite some current changes, we will not become an exclusively online community. We will continue to hold moots when time and finances allow, although turning to the Net in the way we have recently allows us a certain freedom we haven’t had before.

Necessity had us turn the journal into a strictly electronic format—both financial and environmental. In an age that may see The New York Times move over for Politico, how can such a modest society as ours continue as we have? Having Parma Nölé in an online format also allows us to remove the membership fee and make the society free.

More on Parma Nölé
For those, like me, who will never replace a page with a pixel, we will continue to offer Parma Nölé as a print-on-demand at a cost determined by the size of the issue. Email us directly for information. We will also, with the proceeds from our calendars, begin another print-on-demand venture, or series of ventures, with the bibliophile in mind. After getting our personal lives in order, Anthony & I will begin to compile a “best of” series of Parma Nölé, which may finally bring to fruition our desire to do a collection dedicated “To the Professor” some years ago, the title of which hasn’t been finalized or even temporized as of yet. We’re still tossing around the ideas, and when we have a more distinct game-plan, we will pass on the information to you all.

I can say that if you wish to see your work in one of these bound volumes, submit something for consideration for Parma Nölé to get your foot in the proverbial door.

A final note on the e-Age…
I will never be comfortable with the Internet. Big Brother isn’t just watching, he’s behind many of the conveniences that have become addictions. However, I’ll reiterate something I said on a post to a friend’s Facebook page as part of an on-going dialogue about the pros and cons of putting Tolkien Societies on something like Facebook. Heren Istarion, as many of you know, is a small society who has struggled to keep afloat over the last year or two. Our society was saved monetarily by our calendar, however, Anthony & I have noticed that our modest society was stagnating nonetheless. We’ve never been interested in running something with vast legions, nor running something that becomes the focal point of our existence. We’ve done the big events and small ones; we’ve run large, complicated websites, and more streamlined ones; we’ve seen our membership lists swell from the hundreds to less than 25; and we’ve come to a conclusion that we can’t fight the e-Age if we want our society to survive… at least, not for the moment. I love having a group where I know everyone by name, but Anthony & I also want to run a group that’s overflowing with discourse, communication, and an expanse of ideas. We did have that, but for some reason or a myriad of them, it faltered. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I think we can have an intimate group with an expanse of discourse at the same time. And, at the same time, not be bound by the limitations of what a metro or plane fare can bring us. It would be truly a marvel to have a round of hobbit talk with good plain hobbit fare as we were able to do in the wilds of Berkley or Toronto or New Britain—but not all hobbits were able to make those rare occasions and with the world the way it is now, how many of us can say they can spare to hop on a transcontinental excursion to belabor the Balrog/wing debate?

Some of you may think I’m trying to justify NETS on Facebook, but again, I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me. I’m not a Facebook fan, and have a bit of a problem with sending people “Karma” or even playing bizarre games involving elves’ blood that uses mice instead of dice. Anthony & I may even branch out beyond Facebook and take advantage of what They have put in place—for now. And, until the apocalypse or 2012 brings back the use of wax to seal real live letters, then why not use what the tech-geeks have gifted us? Not to would have been to shove fire back at Prometheus and to go back to dragging things in the dust when a perfectly good wheeled cart was available.

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