Friday, December 24, 2010

Blogosphere 2


I haven’t posted a new blog entry in a while because I’ve been participating in online interviews. This is one of my favorites. It ran without the pictures, so I’m including them here.

On When Life Throws You Lemons...Make Cranberry Juice!
Q: Can you tell us why you wrote your book?
At some point during my nine-month hospital stay, I decided to write a book about my experience.

In the hospital, with nothing but my mind for company, I thought about how I would write a book. The rehabilitation center I was at specialized in brain injuries, and it was suggested to me that I write stories about the twelve patients staying there with me. My speech and physical writing skills were coming along very slowly at the time, so I wasn't up for conducting interviews.

I came home at the end of March 2007. I wasn't walking, driving, or working. Going to outpatient therapy kept me busy during the day. My kids kept me busy at night.

Writing the book started with long emails that I wrote to friends in the middle of the night. I had always been able to express my feelings better through writing than through talking--and express them I did!

By January 2009, I had read the entire Harry Potter series twice and I was ready to go back to work. I started going to an Adaptive Physical Education class at my college, helping in labs, and giving guest lectures. The busier I got, the more I did! I realized my experiences may be valuable enough to share. Those emails I wrote to friends in the middle of the night were a start. I divided my thoughts into "chapters" and got started. Once I had enough, I looked for a publisher. Publish America called me to tell me they accepted my story for publication at the beginning of 2009. Once I had a publisher (and a deadline), I set daily writing goals for myself. I went through my medical records (a two-foot high stack) and legal records for dates and names of medical procedures. I also interviewed friends to get parts of my story that I wasn't "there" for.

I finished the book in June of 2009, and it was published in October 2009.

Q: Which part of the book was the hardest to write?
The hardest parts to write were the parts of my story that happened without me there. You might have expected me to say that re-hashing the emotional parts was the hardest, but that was truly therapeutic for me. Getting my friends and family to share their emotions was tougher. They always seemed so happy when they visited me in the hospital--it didn’t occur to me that they were acting!

Q: Does your book have an underlying message that readers should know about?
Absolutely! Work hard, and don’t accept failure as an ending.

On Writing
Q: Do you remember when the writing bug hit?
I had toyed with the idea of writing a novel a few years earlier: a murder mystery set at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. It was going to incorporate a lot of scientific evidence, presented in a way that was fun, and even a bit chilling.

Q: What’s the most frustrating thing about becoming a published author and what’s the most rewarding?
The frustrating part is that I don’t promote it enough. The most rewarding part is yet to come!

Q: Do you have a writing tip you’d like to share?
Nobody likes to look at a blank screen. If you don’t know where to star--start in the middle! Start with a free-flow of ideas, and work it into sentences later.

On Family and Home:
Q:  Would you like to tell us about your home life?  Where you live?  Family?  Pets?
I live near San Francisco with my two kids and my two dogs. The photo at left shows what happens at my house when we’re painting the bathroom! We were never very conventional: I once brought my kids and one of their friends to a beach to harvest whale bones (with permission). After climbing down the mountain to the beach, I realized it was a nude beach. Lesson #: never turn your back on the…ocean!


Q: Where’s your favorite place to write at home? 
I have a computer downstairs at the dining room table and another in my bedroom. I love writing on my Ipod touch though. I can write my blog entries anywhere.

Q: What do you do to get away from it all?
I go to karate class 2-3 nights per week. In fact, I just got my blackbelt! Again--not conventional!

On Childhood:
Q: Were you the kind of child who always had a book in her/his hand?
I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist since I was seven years old. What every nice Jewish girl from Milwaukee strives for! I did not grow up wanting to be a writer, but I certainly enjoy writing now.

Q: Can you remember your favorite book?
I never really had a favorite book. Now, I read self-help/family issue books, or trashy novels!

On Book Promotion:
Q: What was the first thing you did as far as promoting your book?
I made a Facebook page, started writing a weekly blog, and held a book-signing. Ok, that’s three “first things.”

Q: Are you familiar with the social networks and do you actively participate?
I have nearly 1400 Facebook fans, so, yes, I actively participate. I also have a Twitter, which is updated automatically from Facebook.

Q: How do you think book promotion has changed over the years?
I’ve been told that books are “dead.” Everyone wants digital ebooks. I think people still want to see things in print...autographed books are still hot, although book promotion has changed to be mostly digital.

On Other Fun Stuff:
Q: If you had one wish, what would that be?
Only one? Isn’t it customary to have three wishes? My biggest dream for my book is to be on Ellen. Another is to meet Steve Young again. My kids don’t get it, because he’s “old” (sorry, Steve), but he’ll always be my favorite celebrity!

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world other than where you are right now, where would that place be?
Alaska, watching whales.

Q: Your book has just been awarded a Pulitzer.  Who would you thank?
Really? Cool! Thank you Lily Gordon, a Pacifica High School student who edited the book for me. Thank you Abby and Andy for being wonderful children who made it possible for me to get my life back enough to write this book. Thank you, Mom. Your encouragement to follow my dreams (including chasing whales and Steve Young) is embedded in my heart.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Prologue


Happy Chanukah!
For this week’s blog, I’m sharing the prologue from my book, When Life Throws You Lemons...Make Cranberry Juice!
Prologue
“That’s a big tumor, Shari,” echoed through my head as I packed for my short stay in the hospital.  The doctors told me that, even though it was large, the removal of this benign brain tumor (an acoustic neuroma) was something they did all the time, and that I had an excellent prognosis.  They said I should spend five to ten days in the hospital, recover at home for another three to four weeks, and I should not have major lasting effects.  I ended up spending nine months in the hospital and my body and face will never look or feel like it did before the surgery.

I went into this experience with the hope of a happy, healthy future, and I truly believed that I was embarking on an adventure. I knew it wouldn’t be fun, but everyone I talked to reiterated what I had heard from the doctors. This was a benign, operable brain tumor, I was in excellent hands, and I was going to be fine. I am not fine. I am and will forever be a work in progress.

Whenever someone is going through a tough time, people grasp for the “right” words. Some tell you to put your faith in God; others tell you to see the glass as half-full.
 “Think positive!”
“It could be worse!”
“What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”
“God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.”
And of course: “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade”.

Sure, I could put a positive spin on this.  The left side of my face doesn’t move—I’ll never need botox. Plus, since my face doesn’t show expression, I’m a really good liar. I would be great at poker!

If playing poker for a living fit into my goals at all, then there’s my lemonade. Since it doesn’t, I’m stuck with trying to make lemonade out of lemons. How do I make lemonade from lemons? If I squeezed lemons into a glass, I’d have lemon juice. Who wants to drink straight lemon juice? At the very least, I need to add sugar. So, I need to take life’s lemons and add life’s sugar to it.

My favorite drink is cranberry juice mixed with lemonade. When life throws you lemons, make cranberry juice! Take life’s lemons, and add some sugar and cranberries. But where can you find life’s cranberries? While my lemons had always been large, sour, and smacking me in the face, my cranberries had always been small and elusive. I really had to pay attention to find my cranberries, and I had to be willing to recognize them. My cranberries ranged from a rub on my shoulder to a friend installing my dishwasher.

Clich├ęs give words to the wordless; these words try to minimize pain and suffering. No matter how big or small, everyone is entitled to be upset when bad things happen in their life. Putting a positive spin on life’s disasters doesn’t always work. This book is not about making lemonade out of lemons, but looking for and finding sugar and sweet cranberries to add to the lemons. Finding, and accepting, life’s cranberries makes the journey much more palatable.

If you'd like to purchase an autographed copy, please visit my web site at http://www.wix.com/lemonsandcranberries/lemons


Friday, November 19, 2010

ACS Conference

I attended the American Cetacean Society's (ACS) 12th international Conference last weekend in Monterey. This was the first time I attended this conference as just a PARTICIPANT. In 1998, I was involved with a small group of people in Pacifica who wanted to turn an abandoned wastewater treatment plant into a marine life museum/aquarium. While I still think the project was a great idea, for various reasons it never got off the ground. This project did, however get my juices flowing in the direction of active marine conservation, and it gave me the confidence to move forward with my next project. A whale and dolphin conservation organization, of which I was a member, had no chapter near San Francisco. I changed that by founding the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the American Cetacean Society.

The focus of this chapter was education and research. We presented whale education programs at schools and libraries, and we gave out student research grants. I served as the president of this chapter until my brain surgery in 2006. Every other year, our chapter held an auction to raise money for student research grants. The National ACS Conference is also held every on alternate years, so on our chapter's non-auction years, I helped organize and run the silent auction at the national conference. I have gone to every conference since the beginning of the SF chapter, except, of course, 2006: the year of my surgery.

During the 2008 conference, my kids helped plan and carry out a raffle. This year, I decided to attend just for fun. 

Some of the talks were on the ecology of whales, and some were about conservation of whales. While scientific data was presented, one scientist compared fin whales to corvettes and humpback whales to minivans. The sleeker, faster fin whales got to be the cool car!

The last presentation of the conference was a showing of a clip from The Cove, followed by a discussion with the film's director. This film, which is really about gathering evidence if the horrific killing of dolphins in a small cove in Japan, has energized conservationists worldwide. Hearing the story first-hand from the director was a fantastic way to end the conference.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Black Belt!

Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? I can! But for me, that's an accomplishment!

Last week, I achieved a goal that I had once taken for granted, but then became a huge ordeal to complete. I received my Black Belt in karate. Two other adults (Mat and Pat) got their Black Belts at the same time as me and it was interesting that the three of us demonstrated very different levels of martial arts. Mat was awarded one of the very few "real" kajukenbo Black Belts in the history of our dojo. As a "real" Black Belt, he demonstrated a level of intensity and ferocity that is rarely seen.

One of my best friends, Pat, joined the dojo a few months before my surgery, partly because it was a fun activity to do together. She and I both got Black Belts in self-defense as opposed to kajukenbo. Neither if us have the ability or the ferocity to strive for a kajukenbo Black Belt. If receiving a Black Belt is analogous to graduating from college, Mat had a different major!

The difference in skill between Pat and me was, of course, remarkable as well. Pat performed each task with precision and power. I concentrated on NOT falling down!

A panel if VIP kajukenbo Black Belts was invited to watch our demo. Their expectations of our performances rightly varied depending on our goals. Mat not only had to beat up on three guys during the test, but he also had to reverse roles and let THEM beat up on HIM before the panel gave him a kajukenbo Black Belt. What I loved most about Pat's performance was that as she wacked this guy around, including slashing his throat, she never stopped smiling! I can picture her on the street. Someone tries to take her purse and she gives the guy a broken nose and a couple of broken ribs. She says she's sorry, takes her purse back, smiles, and moves on! The panel was split when critiquing her smile, but one of the top-ranking VIP's there told her that her smile was her spirit, and she should never lose it. I agree!

When the panel critiqued me, it was clear that their expectations were pretty low. They pretty much agreed that I should get my Belt for having the strength and courage to overcome my disabilities and go for it. I expected more of myself.

At one point, our teacher went into the back room to deliberate with a few members of the panel. Another panel participant took this opportunity to make the Black Belt candidates do exercises--sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, etc. We had practiced everything, including having Abby help me into a kneeling position when the time came, but no one remembered this exercise ritual, favored by one of the dojo's longtime Black Belts. When Seifu Scott said, "On your backs," and everyone immediately fell to the floor, I, quite ungracefully, bent over, put one hand, then the other, to the ground, followed by one knee, then the other. I then sat down, and finally lay on my back. When it was time to get up, I reached out to Mat and he helped me to my feet. During the jumping jacks and running in place, I did calf raises. Abby told me later that she was staring at my feet the entire time, willing me not to fall. I didn't. A couple members of the panel offered me a chair during these exercises. I could have been exempt, if I chose to be. This dichotomy between what others expect of me and what I expect of my self has been very noticeable these past four years.


Special thanks to David Durkin, a great partner!

To see the entire event, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IUm8N6Qc7M&feature=related



Sunday, October 24, 2010

Back to Bed

I was having one of those days when I just wanted to crawl back into bed and go back to sleep. So I did.



Next blog--I get my Blackbelt!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pacifica Book Signing

I'm having a book signing event tomorrow (Saturday, 10/16) at Florey's Bookstore in Pacifica. Jean Bartlett, of the Pacifica Tribune wrote a fantastic article about me, my book, and this event. I wish I could hire her to do all my PR!

The article begins like this:


Why didn't the brain want to take a bath? It didn't want to be brainwashed. What kind of fish performs brain surgery? A neurosturgeon.

While long-time Pacifican Shari Bookstaff knows from personal experience that "brain surgery" is no laughing matter, she also knows that humor can be found even after a life altering brain tumor.

She writes on her YouTube PowerPoint presentation "The 10 best things about having a brain tumor include I get to say, 'It's not like it's brain surgery,' and mean it!" The Bookstaff PowerPoint (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5yijl0mwCw) is highlighted by the chipper vocals of Alvin and the Chipmunks singing "Bad Day" by Daniel Powter.

Bookstaff's journey down this unplanned road began quietly enough. It was in April of 2006 when the marine biologist and Skyline College biology professor (since 1990) and single mother of Abby and Andy, began feeling dizzy and nauseous.

"I continued to go to work every day, but my nausea kept getting worse, to the point that I was throwing up daily," Bookstaff said, adding that the closest analogy is morning sickness or seasickness.

In April of 2006, Bookstaff was told "it" was just vertigo. Keeping to her schedule but feeling worse each day, Bookstaff was given the same diagnosis in May and in June. Reluctantly on July 1, 2006, the professor went to an Ears Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT). Among other things, she learned she had some hearing loss on her left side.

"I hadn't noticed," Bookstaff said. "I mean, I preferred to use my right ear on the phone, but who doesn't have a preferred 'phone ear'?"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Power!


The other day during chair exercises of my APE class, Chip directed one of his "regular" students to do what I could only describe as a "superman" push-up. The next day, during my work out, I inadvertently mentioned to Chip that I could do push-ups on the floor.

"Come with me."

Chip led me into the gym and told me to put my feet up on a bench, with my hands on the floor, in push-up position.

"What?!"

"Put your feet on the bench and your hands on the floor, in push-up position."

At first I thought Chip had gone crazy, or had something weird for lunch, but the look in his eye told me he was serious. So, I did it. Once I was in that position, with my hands supporting my weight on the floor, and my feet on the bench, I thought my arms would collapse and my face would slam into the floor. It didn't. Chip didn't make me do a push-up. He made me lift one leg at a time, bend my leg, and twist it under my body.

There is no one else in the world who could have made me get in that very compromising position. While part of me was thinking, "He's crazy!  I can't do this!," another part of me was thinking, "Well, if Chip thinks I can do this, I guess I can do this."

That's POWER!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blogosphere

Beginning today, I am embarking on a book tour that will take me across the country, and, perhaps, all around the world. Virtually. I’m going on a “virtual book tour” through a company called Pump Up Your Book.  You can follow along as I post guest blogs and am interviewed throughout the blogosphere (yes, of course that’s a real word!)

In preparation for this tour, I have answered the question, “What made you want to write a book?”

At some point during my nine-month hospital stay, I decided to write a book about my experience. I had toyed with the idea of writing a novel a few years earlier: a murder mystery set at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. It was going to incorporate a lot of scientific evidence, presented in a way that was fun, and even a bit chilling.

In the hospital, with nothing but my mind for company, I thought about how I would write a book. The rehabilitation center I was at specialized in brain injuries, and it was suggested to me that I write stories about the twelve patients staying there with me. My speech and physical writing skills were coming along very slowly at the time, so I wasn't up for conducting interviews.

I came home at the end of March 2007. I wasn't walking, driving, or working. Going to outpatient therapy kept me busy during the day. My kids kept me busy at night.

Writing the book started with long emails that I wrote to friends in the middle of the night. I had always been able to express my feelings better through writing than through talking--and express them I did!

By January 2009, I had read the entire Harry Potter series twice and I was ready to go back to work. I started going to an Adaptive Physical Education class at my college, helping in labs, and giving guest lectures. The busier I got, the more I did! I realized my experiences may be valuable enough to share. Those emails I wrote to friends in the middle of the night were a start. I divided my thoughts into "chapters" and got started. Once I had enough, I looked for a publisher. Publish America called me to tell me they accepted my story for publication at the beginning of 2009. Once I had a publisher (and a deadline), I set daily writing goals for myself. I went through my medical records (a two-foot high stack) and legal records for dates and names of medical procedures. I also interviewed friends to get parts of my story that I wasn't "there" for.

I finished the book in June of 2009, and it was published in October 2009.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Disney Cruise

Not to make everything about me, but Terra Nova High School's Back to School night was the hardest two hours of my life! That was my thought after the first hour. That has got to be one of the most inaccessible school campuses in the world. One way to have someone with limited mobility really feel disabled is to force them to cross a high school campus, including a trip in the dark over uneven pavement, in the time allotted for healthy teens to make the same journey. We gave up for period 4; Abby went with her dad and I sat on a wet bench, alone, and talked to you!

I don't know what the answer is, but trying to fit in with normal, healthy people isn't it. I made it to the rest of her classes, going home completely exhausted at the end of the night. 

Someone told me recently that if I'm upset and can't get out of a funky mood, I should "change the channel." I call it a change of "internal scenery." 

Here goes:

Walt Disney said, "If you can dream it, you can do it."

I've been thinking about going to Disneyland a lot lately. On our last trip, about six months before my surgery, the three of us splurged with a stay at the Grand California Hotel, which has a private entrance into California Adventure theme park. We had a great time on that trip, and given the drastic change in my health that shortly followed, I was glad we had our adventure at the "happiest place on Earth." 

I would LOVE to go to Disneyland again! The cool part would be that I would get a "get out of jail free" pass; a handicapped pass that I could use to get out if waiting in lines. If you've been to Disneyland in the past 10 years, it's like having an unlimited fast pass. Zooming through lines at Disneyland is very efficient. 

I'm also becoming obsessed with the idea of going on a Disney cruise. I was the Naturalist on an Alaskan Cruise the summer before my surgery. I loved giving presentations in the theatre with my PowerPoint slides towering behind me. I loved walking around the ship, talking to people about the whales we were seeing. 

When I picture myself on a cruise now, it's a very different image. I'd have to go as a regular, paying guest. I'd have to bring a wheelchair to make walking around the towns possible. On the other hand, the wheelchair-accessible staterooms look REALLY nice!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lottery Winner?


I logged on to the SuperLotto Plus website to check my lottery ticket numbers, knowing I would lose. As I pulled the ticket out of my wallet, I knew that none (or maybe one) of the numbers would match up. I knew I would lose. Even as that negative, "I know I'm going to lose" thought went through my head, in the very back of my mind was the thought that if I DID win, I'd be able to say in interviews how I thought I'd lose for sure.

While we were dreaming about winning, we, of course, talked about what we would do with millions of dollars. Trips to New York on a private jet to see Wicked on Broadway topped the kid's list, while a cruise to Alaska topped mine. Make that a Disney cruise to Alaska and everyone's happy!

Then we got altruistic and talked about how we would help others with the money. Scholarships for kids to go on school-sponsored trips topped that list. As a middle-income family, we do not qualify for many financial programs that are available. If we won the lottery, I'd like to help families like ours achieve their goals.

Now, in the wake of the San Bruno explosion, I would also help families to rebuild their dreams. For those of you who don't know, a community in San Bruno, less than a mile from Skyline College, was engulfed in a gas-fueled fire last week. The scene looked like a blow torch was coming out of the sidewalk. Several people died and many more were injured. Homes were lost, and stories of people literally running for their lives abounded. One of my students lost a close friend; others lost their homes, or hosted friends who lost homes. They started contacting me within hours of the tragedy, explaining why they couldn't come to class or turn in a pending assignment. Taking the time to contact your teacher in the midst of a crisis? That's dedication!

I wish I had some words of wisdom for these people, but in truth they don't need words--they need action. On my end, I will do everything possible to protect their education. Winning the lottery would help, but in the meantime I can offer compassion, understanding, and time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wisdom

Raindrops on roses and whispers on kittens. Don't you just love Mary Poppins? I know, I know--that song is from The Sound of Music, but those two movies are inextricably connected.

My daughter's having her wisdom teeth pulled right now, and I was going to sing that song to her, but I didn't want to punish her. It's going to be a long day, but maybe with a spoonful of sugar, we'll make it!

I had mine out just before my sophomore year at college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We had a week before classes started when we had to be on campus to register. We had to walk around to different buildings to register; we didn't know if the class we wanted was available until we read the posted sign. Anyway, I went to Madison for Reg Week, with swollen cheeks and a painful mouth. Since Reg Week in Madison was really "Party" Week, I used wine as well as Advil to dull the pain!

Abby made it through the first 24 hours without too many incidents. I'll never drink a chocolate shake again after watching what she did to hers, but that's about it. We also discovered that she does NOT like vicadin, but thankfully Advil did the job. After seeing her friends for a little while this afternoon, she had a milkshake for dinner and called it a night. 

The most touching moment on this little adventure came last night. Abby was planning to sleep downstairs on the couch because the doctor told her it would be better for her to sit up a bit. I don't move up and down stairs quickly, so Abby knew she'd be pretty much alone after I went to bed. Andy offered to sleep downstairs with her. Abby looked at him like he gave her the greatest gift in the world! Before YOU get all teary-eyed, Andy said he would sleep downstairs IF they watched what he wanted to watch on TV! It was a sweet moment while it lasted. They both ended up getting something--Abby had company and Andy got a free pass to sleep downstairs and watch TV. I'm sure they both thought of their favorite things!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, mirror on the wall: who’s the fairest one of all? Not me! And probably not you! Ok, maybe YOU!
I started a new research project this week to further explore exercises that are beneficial to brain-injured people. In this study, participants put their weaker hand into a box that has a mirror on the side. They then do various hand exercises, observing their “good” hand in the mirror as they move their fingers. This tricks their brain into thinking that their weak hand is adequately performing the tasks. This activity, as well as other exercises we do in the Adaptive Physical Education class, is designed to reprogram our brains.
Reprogram our brains? That sounds weird. We are not being brainwashed. The human brain is capable of reorganizing neural pathways based on new experiences. This is called brain plasticity.
Mirror, Mirror is being done alongside Wii-hab, which is entering its second semester. Biology students are running both projects. Although brain rehab strategies is quickly becoming my area of expertise, I’m still a marine biologist and try to “keep my feet wet” when possible.
For example, the Pacifica Chamber of Commerce asked me to help plan their new window display showcasing the local marine environment. While I’m not really in the market for more volunteer work, I couldn’t possibly say no to this opportunity to be creative while thinking about fish! The current display includes a fully-articulated sea lion skeleton. This skeleton,on loan from another organization, is being moved, hence the need for a makeover.
I’m still figuring out how to get students involved in the project. It’s a fantastic opportunity for an aspiring marine biologist!