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Archive for March, 2012

Art And Drawing Apps

I’ve been playing with various drawing apps. Using these programmes is addictive and fun. Here are a few examples:

Beach Tussock

Beach Tussock 2

Sky

Wild Grass

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My mantra “determination, persistence and commitment” would be just words if it weren’t for The Dictator. The Dictator shouts and yells, he snarls and barks, he pushes and shoves, he cracks the whip. The Dictator gets me to the gym every day, he makes me go where I’m scared to go, he makes me stretch and exercise when I’d rather go to bed or watch TV. The Dictator calls me names and relentlessly keeps me moving forward. The Dictator denies temptation, keeps the troops in line, roots out subversion and keeps me on the straight and narrow. Yet The Dictator is not abusive and does not swear or curse. The Dictator says “DO IT” and I do.

What happens if the Dictator crumbles? If the voice cracks or is lost? Then the troops slow down, lose direction, become confused. Life becomes harder, the world darker.

That’s when I need inspiration from outside. Someone to listen is best, or maybe following the faint memory of routine brings me into contact with someone and I rediscover my self.

The world can be hostile when your mobility is impaired. Simple things can seem impossible. Anxiety and panic can immobilise you. Negative thoughts can creep in and overwhelm the optimistic, confident self.

I need some means of rediscovering the inner voice, the voice that gives the orders, pulls the troops back into line. I listen for an echo or a whisper “Do it”, or fake the orders until they become real, and the Dictator returns. I need the voice that says “DO IT”. I need The Dictator within.

That’s why routine is so important, particularly going to the gym. There, not only do I experience all the benefits of exercise and socialising, but that’s where The Dictator’s voice is loudest. Exercises that take me to the edge of what I can safely do, that test and recruit physical weaknesses, and that make my brain work out harder than my body, need the voice that says “DO IT”. It’s a challenging environment but it’s also a safe and happy place. That’s often where I’ll find My Dictator.

The Dictator

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Since I first tried walking by electronically stimulating dorsi-flexion and a little knee and hip flexion (see Bionic Woman)in my mostly paralysed left leg, I’ve made amazing progress. Particularly given that I have a spinal cord injury at T7/T8 and I was told I’d never walk …

I had been using a dictus to lift my drooping left foot off the ground (drop foot) – a dictus consists of a cuff around your ankle with a thick rubber band looped around hooks on the bottom eyelets of your shoe:

To walk I went up on the toes of my right foot, leaned over to the right and swung my left leg around. My spine was twisting and everything was out of alignment.

Now, using the Odstock to stimulate the muscles of my left foot, I walk with a normal gait, if a very slow normal gait. There is a switch in the heel of my right foot so that when that heel hits the ground, an electrical impulse travels up a wire to the small pocket sized computer on my belt, then down another wire to one electrode placed on my skin over a nerve that travels from the knee to the ankle, and a second electrode placed behind my knee. A micro second later my ankle, knee and hip bend and I am propelled forward. MAGIC!

Odstock Computer Unit


The image below provides an idea of how it works, except that it shows a male walking without sticks, with the heel switch on the same leg that’s being stimulated, and the second electrode on the calf rather than behind the knee. I’m a female, I walk with two elbow crutches, the switch is on my other heel, and I place the second electrode behind my knee (although I can place it on the calf but the response isn’t as good). But you get the idea.

Odstock stimulates walking

Even better is the U tube clip that shows <a href="http://“>how the Odstock works.

But here’s the catch. It’s not a sudden cure for spinal cord injury or stroke or multiple sclerosis. It’s a walking aid. And to get to this point of walking tall and straight I spend lots of time stretching and exercising the muscles that abused to be able to walk. I exercise weak muscles that I need to recruit to work with the Odstock. I spend hours repeating small movements that I need for endurance. I work hard to reconnect and reprogramme nerves that have learned a pattern that has to unlearned, corrected and relearned.

It’s intense. Determination, persistence, commitment is my mantra to which I’ve added creativity. Creative thinking. I discipline myself to follow precisely the instructions given to me by a clever personal trainer who thinks laterally and is always coming up with ways of tricking my brain so I can learn new, better patterns of movement.

Last week I walked two kilometres around a walking/running circuit at a local park. The expansiveness and wide open space encouraged me to stand tall. It took me 80 minutes, and apart from a few lapses of concentration I think my gait was fabulous.

Is it good enough? When will it be good enough? I’ve no idea, but this is good for the moment.

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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

This post is dedicated to my daughter who “got” Proust before she was twenty. I couldn’t get much further than the first sentence of “Swann’s Way” the first of seven volumes of “In Search Of Lost Time” (although, in my defence, the sentence was three pages long.)

I didn’t manage to read Proust’s novel(s) in English, let alone French, but with the help of my daughter I am better able than otherwise to enjoy and appreciate his (and her) reflections. As some wit remarked “they would rather visit demented relatives than read Proust”. I understand the sentiment and I am very lucky to have had some of his themes explained to me and discussed in contexts I understand.

Although memory, especially involuntary memory, is the main theme of Proust’s work, it is the idea that if we understand our life experiences and know how they affect us and change us, and we can use those changes to transform ourselves, that has me punching the air saying “yes!”

Now, I didn’t explain that very well, so I was really pleased to find this quote from Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.

I can apply that to so many of my experiences, from the traumatic to the seemingly trivial. And i think I can see how Proust spoke to my daughter. She was four when I damaged my spinal cord, and she adapted her life around whatever I could offer her. (As did my sons, and they too would probably “get” Proust if they ever decided to read his work.)

Some of my real voyages of discovery:

One of the most important lessons I have ever learned was after I lost my mobility – don’t let the things you can’t do stop you from doing the things you can do.

When my twin sons were babies I learnt that housework doesn’t matter. It will always be there, but your babies will grow up. (Or I needed to sleep more than I needed to vacuum.)

I learned that if I walked at the same pace as my toddlers we could all see the caterpillar in the grass.

Teenagers are extraordinarily receptive to exploring all sorts of ideas, from politics to ethics to science … They like to share their discoveries, and I learned to listen.

I learned that dreams come true, but my dream of walking has required determination, persistence and commitment. And creative thinking, by me or by others.

I have lots of art projects on the go all the time. I have learned that this is a good thing because something I read or hear or see adds to my experience and even the most subtle change can enlighten or inspire me to bring something more or different to what I am working on.

Writing focuses and clarifies my thinking, and often helps me look at issues from new perspectives.

I find myself wondering more and more how many opportunities I miss to learn about myself and others. This is not a bad thing. My mind is opening.

By expressing myself in art, no matter how skilled I am, I am translating to another medium an aspect of who I am and what I see. Art makes it easier to have new eyes.

I’ve also learned that those few words defining a real voyage of discovery have provoked me to think carefully about what “having new eyes” really means.

The Real Voyage of Discovery

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When Mike Williams and Matthew Hooten agree on something political it’s time to sit up and take notice.  During their regular spot, “Commentary From The Left And From The Right” on National Radio this morning (Monday 5 March) , they talked about Ports of Auckland. They agreed that management is a dinosaur (Matthew’s word), and that the dispute with the union is unnecessary. 

I don’t know much about the dispute other than that Ports of Auckland wants to set up a contractual workforce similar to that at the Port of Tauranga.

I also didn’t know much about Ports of Auckland’s expansion plans, and I’ll bet that most Aucklanders don’t either.  Particularly as Aucklanders are so lethargic about politics compared with those of us who live the Capital.  Should they be worried? Heck yes. Ports of Auckland wants to use 200 hectares of prime waterfront to expand the port. Management wants to compete with Tauranga and Marsden Point.

Problem is, Auckland can’t take the super sized container ships that are the future of shipping. The port could only take them in a very few very high tides. Tauranga is deep enough to take them, but isn’t big enough to take many. Marsden Point easily has 200 hectares available to expand, and it can take lots of these big ships. The cost of expanding Auckland Port is huge and a waste of valuable resources.. Marsden Point is the obvious place for NZ’s major port. All that’s needed is $40 million to build a train line between Marsden Point and Auckland. 

So, Aucklanders, get off your butts and do something about the management of Ports of Auckland. At stake is something far bigger than a union dispute. You’ll end up paying mega bucks for an expanded port that won’t be used, and you’ll lose a piece of your waterfront. If i heard correctly, part of this $2 billion spend on roads in Auckland will go on accessing the port.

I haven’t researched any of what I heard on the radio, but like I said, when all this comes collectively from Mike Williams and Matthew Hooton, and they are in total agreement that the management of Ports of Auckland is wasting resources trying to be something that it never can be, then it’s time to delve further. 

Something’s wrong at Ports of Auckland, and it goes way beyond a dispute with the union.

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I was looking at our living room this morning and my heart sank. I’ve been having a lot of fun messing around with art and drawing apps for my iPad, as well as designing some wedding stationary for my daughter and her fiancee, and I’ve been scattering bits of paper and “stuff” all over the floor. And the room intended for all this wonderful creative work is even messier. What to do? Where to start?

One step at a time.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of a task, or unsure where to start. Sometimes the whole picture seems too big to know where to begin to look. Sometimes it seems easier just not to start.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – Lao-Tzu

Nearly nineteen years ago I began a journey that literally began with one step. I was about to be discharged from the Spinal Injuries Unit in a wheelchair, unable to even stand. I had a little movement in my right leg but not enough to use functionally. I was unable to even pull myself to standing. Yet one afternoon in the gym, challenged by the other patients, I did just that. The physios didn’t think it possible, but said if I could stand they would place me between the parallel bars with a callipur on my left leg and help me walk. And I did. I pulled myself to standing for a few seconds before collapsing. True to their word, the physios put my left leg in a full length callipur and placed me beteween the bars. The callipur kept my left leg rigid, my arms took the rest of my weight and I lifted my right leg to take my very first step.

Some say that Lao-Tzu’s words are best translated as beginning your journey with the ground under your feet. That’s pretty much what I did, and still do. I focus on the step that I am taking now. I’m not thinking about whether I’m improving or whether I’ll be able to throw one or both crutches away. I’m thinking about the best possible quality of step that I can take now.

Action begins this very moment. Procrastination is the enemy. Pick up the messy papers and sort into folders. Do the exercises and stretches that keep me mobile. Go to the gym and focus on my body alignment. Enjoy creating the current artwork. And live in each moment that is part of every journey.

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