O Angelina

A Girl and Her Dog: Living, Loving, & Enjoying the Little Things

A Writer and a Scientist in D.C. (Part 1)

Angelina OberdanComment

My best friend, Tamara, moved to DC recently. While I was thrilled for her, leaving her job at Clemson meant that she wasn't going to have as many excuses to come visit me as she did in that small town. She was always escaping to the "big city" of Charlotte, and then she moved to her own big city. 

So I just had to go visit her. And it was pretty much the best weekend for my soul ever! 

(We won't focus on why I needed a soul weekend, just how wonderful it was.) 

When your friend is a scientist...

These are normal.

There are a few things you should know about us: 

  1. We love dogs. 
  2. We love running. 
  3. We are committed geeks.
  4. Tamara is a microbiologist, and I'm a writer. This also means we're fascinated by everything. 

Our first adventure was a run to the Capital Stones with Darby. 

Running has been a struggle for me recently, so this was perfect. T is a really strong runner and so is Darby. This really helped me get some of my confidence back. It might be the run that made me start enjoying running again. And look at how cool those stones are! I can't even imagine the lives they might have had. 

After getting a run in, our next mission was to get Library of Congress library cards! Because that's what all good geeks do. 

So we headed to the Capital.... 

And got our library cards and hit the Library of Congress! 

Honestly, it was kind of like heaven. And we did explore our way into the actual reading room. We took depth breaths like we could just breathe in the knowledge. That place, man. Next time I visit, I just want to sit there are write, even if it's about nothing at all. 

Then, despite the fact that we both had well-exceeded our step goals, we decide to explore two sculpture parks that T hadn't been to. And then I got side-tracked by the US Botanical Garden.  

They even have dinosaurs in there! 

Okay, we did make it to the sculpture parks where we had to a break to soak our feet and drink some beer. Obviously. 

After a much needed nap, our evening began with a tour of the Dupont Underground: a super-cool, underground art space. 

In addition to practicing our selfies skills, we did eat. Then we headed out to see the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the Washington Monument by moonlight. 

I'd honestly never been to DC before, and at the Lincoln Memorial, I remarking about how big Lincoln is. It seems like all great monuments I've ever imagined and then visited are actually smaller that their real selves. The Lincoln Memorial is not. 

And yeah, that was just the first day! Get excited about my Soul Weekend in DC: Part 2! (Spoiler alert: We spent the night at the zoo!) 

Also, both Tamara and Darby are on Instagram: @travel_run_puppy_repeat and @daysofdarby

Brooklyn Heights: Visiting Author and Activist Daniela Gioseffi

From My Writing Desk, Living Well, Thankful, WritingAngelina OberdanComment
Daniela and me in front of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade

Daniela and me in front of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade

Clockwise: view of Manhattan from the roof deck, with DG on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, view of Manhattan from Pier Park, garden on Pier 6. 

Clockwise: view of Manhattan from the roof deck, with DG on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, view of Manhattan from Pier Park, garden on Pier 6. 

Daniela Gioseffi is, like the title of this blog says, an author and activist. She's dedicated her life to fighting for people's rights, promoting multicultural literature and art, defending democracy, and advocating for the environment. She has written 17 books of poetry and prose, including one which I edited with her, Pioneering Italian American Culture: Escaping La Vita Della Cucina, and her 2017 collection of poems, Waging Beauty as the Polar Bear Dreams of Ice. She also edits the online anthology: www.Eco-Poetry.org. I know I've mentioned it somewhere before, but I am Daniela Gioseffi's literary executor. 

I first learned of Daniela's work when I was in an Italian literature class at Clemson Univ., and a colleague of my professor came for an Italian Studies Symposium with copies of Daniela Gioseffi's Blood Autumn: Autunno de Sangue. I didn't really know that there was a place or a space for Italian American writers. 

My desk/space in Daniela's Brooklyn Height apartment 

My desk/space in Daniela's Brooklyn Height apartment 

A few years later, I was writing a paper on Italian American poetry for my Bibliography and Historiography (Dr. Blevins!), while working towards my MFA in poetry at McNeese State University. I guess I was trying to figure out where I fit in the world of poetry. I'm not quite a formalist, I'm not quite a Southerner, I'm not quite an Italian American (3rd generation doesn't really count). Anyway, while writing my paper, I happened across Daniela's email address, and I sent her an overly enthusiastic, probably fairly spastic, fan letter. 

And she replied, and she asked me if I wanted to come help her with a few things if I was ever in New York. So I found a way to get to New York, crashing on the couches of my gracious friends and cousins. 

At first, when there was a lot to do--Daniela is a powerhouse of publishing--, and when we were editing a collection of her essays and essays about her for Bordighera Press, I went as often as every six months. Now that we can do so much at a distance, I only visit about every two years. 

Oh, I already wrote most of this in an earlier blog. Click to read that one about my last visit. 

Since my last visit, an archivist from Yale's Bienecke Library came to collect Daniela's vast donations of books and periodicals and papers and correspondence to what is the The Daniela Gioseffi Papers in their American Collection. Yep. For real. 

This most recent trip, we focused on organizing the rest of the papers that Daniela has kept, shuffling, sorting and recycling. Not only was this incredibly cathartic, but it helped remind Daniela of all the things she's done, all the readings, the events, the protests, the activism and the inspiration. Her work as both an author and an activist has really been groundbreaking. It will be my job to preserve it, to make sure her hard work and her memory endure. 

Going to Daniela's is like going home; I know all the doormen, it smells like home, I have my space. I love running at Brooklyn's Pier Park (which wasn't there when I first starting visiting), and walking through the neighborhood in the afternoons, soaking in the social and literary history of the place, its magnitude and all the greats who have walked there, too. 

Clockwise: signed edition of DG's The Great American Belly Dance, plague at Thomas Wolfe home (next to Auden's), flower on the Promenade, Ginsberg photo and draft in an old lit. journal. 

Clockwise: signed edition of DG's The Great American Belly Dance, plague at Thomas Wolfe home (next to Auden's), flower on the Promenade, Ginsberg photo and draft in an old lit. journal. 

Afternoon stroll collection

Afternoon stroll collection

I always leave Brooklyn Heights with a little more wisdom: about myself, my writing, my career. One of the stories that Daniela told me during this visit is that she had an early teacher who told her: 

"Be kind to life." 

As kindred spirits, Italian-Americans, Aquarii, Daniela and I are both easily frustrated and anxious with the world, with our situations. Perhaps this is indeed what propels us to write and act, what gives us our passion. However, Daniela's teacher told her to "be kind to life." Even in those moments when we are most tired and despairing at the state of the world, I guess we must be kind to life, forgive it a little bit, for being so hard. 

The hardness of life has not kept Daniela from achieving greatness, and her mentoring has helped me on my path to do the same. 

The Great Mountain Mural

DIY, Living Well, The Blue HouseAngelina OberdanComment

Don't worry. This is still a blog about living a creative life. (I think that perhaps living with RA is just another creative challenge.) 

One of the coolest things I've done in the last few months is paint a mountain mural on our stairway walls.

My obsession with mountain murals all sort of started in 2015. See, Dan and I both love the mountains. Dan was a backpacking guide (ranger and ranger trainer) at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch for years. And what I loved most about living in rural South Carolina was the view of the mountains on my drive to work and the easy access to hiking.

When I moved to Charlotte, I missed those mountains, and we were living in a quirky attic bedroom. So I painted a mountain mural on the walls. 


The Original

Mountain Mural 

Honestly, I loved that mural. I loved falling asleep being reminded of the mountains and waking up to them.

When we moved into the Blue House, one of the first questions was, "Where am I going to paint my mountains?"  And the easy answer was: "Straight up the stairway." The stairway (not the actual stairs) needed to be painted anyway; parts of the walls had been patched and never repainted.

So in an interview Layla and I did a few months ago, I committed. Finally. 

And over Spring Break, I got started. 

I had to get used the ladder, experiment with paint colors, prime the walls, and, accidentally, give myself and the dogs some sweet highlights. 

Once that was all done, I started taping off the mountains and experimenting with the colors I picked. 

For the paint colors, I worked with a lot of samples. I didn't know how much I would need or what colors would look good, so I went to Lowes everyday to try more. For real, the guys in the paint department at Lowes knew me by name and always asked for pictures of my progress.

I also painted and repainted some of the mountains to get the right contrast. First the mountains were too brown and green, so I added more blues, grays, and even purples.


Color Inspiration


And one day, I wandered into Marshalls and found this gem. A complete coincidence, but it really helped with figuring out which colors I needed. 

Waiting to take the tape off was one of the hardest parts, so I slowly took it off as I finished one color/peak at a time. 

Here are the final pics! 

I love that the mountains are visible from our den, and I love that as you walk up the steps, you walk into the mountains. It's amazing. 

And Now I Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

Living WellAngelina OberdanComment

A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

I kept saying that sentence to myself in my car on my way home from the rheumatologist, and then I called all of my closest family members. When I talked to them, I kept repeating that this was good: to have a diagnosis was good, to have a plan was good. Good.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease. In the crudest terms, it means that my immune system is eating my bones. I am lucky in that it’s currently not showing up in my blood tests, which means I have a higher chance of going into remission at some point in my life. However, we only needed to do x-rays (no ultra sounds or an MRI) to have evidence of clear bone erosion in my wrists and my hands. 

Of course, after  trying desperately to live and not drown in the mire of the unknown, I made a long-ass list of questions for my doctor:

  • What the hell is erosion anyway? Maybe I do want to know how bad it is. Maybe I do want those further expensive tests. Is it just going to keep showing up in my whole body, slowly progressing?
  • Are my feet really okay? I’m still running. Should I get better shoes? What about braces? I can get braces for everything.
  • Oh god. Swimming is probably bad, too! Can you tell me that swimming is okay? (Don’t worry! Swimming is actually the best excuse for RA. My life is saved.)
  • I assumed I could keep lifting weights. I don’t think my coach thinks so. He’s thinks I’m overly optimistic. Can’t I just wear like wrist braces to prevent further damage? What if I fling a kettle ball across the room and take someone out because my grip is so unpredictable?
  • What will cause flare ups? Is this a flare up? Or will my body just continue eating my bones unless we make it stop? Once we get it to stop eating my bones will it start again? What if I get a cold? Which I’m more likely to if I take the RA drugs, right?
  • I’m not good at figuring out my own pain. Did I tell you I ran most of a half marathon on a broken foot? My feet are okay, right? Can I run a half in the fall? Probably not, but I’m probably going to.

(I didn’t actually send these in this form, but I did send a well-composed long list of questions.)

Shortly after my diagnosis, I made it to a hot yoga class, even though as I was driving there, I realized there were probably a lot of the poses that would be too hard on my wrists.

  • Can I still do yoga? My back is really flexible. What about full-wheel pose? Wouldn’t that put pressure on my wrists? That hurts sometimes, but I feel really strong when I can do it. I’ve never been good at pigeon, but I don’t think that really is because of my wrists. So hand stands will never be an option for me? I can stop pretending to want to do them?  You know my hips hurt a lot? I notice this at yoga. Should we MRI my hips? What about my hips? Yoga?

And I was so that girl at yoga: I was 10 minutes late, I spread my extra-wide mat out in about two spaces, didn’t even straighten it, accidentally took the person to the left’s strap, farted at least twice, and on and on. (Isn’t it funny how we always remember exactly how many times we fart at yoga? I get home, and Dan’s like, “How was yoga?” And my answer is either, “I didn’t fart at all!” Or, “Why did we put so much cheese on those grilled cheese sandwiches?”) Anyway, about 20 minutes into that first yoga practice post-diagnosis, I was checking in with every move, every wiggle of my wrists (tenderness? swelling? pain? bad pain?), and the yoga instructor said, “Remember it’s a process. You’re not going to get it all right the first time.”

And I crumpled into child’s pose, ugly-girl-crying. Fortunately, it was hot yoga, so no one knew. Everyone was dripping with sweat and breathing like pugs on a too hot afternoon and the “power beats” playlist was rocking.

I just laid there, sobbing, and let it not be okay.

The yoga instructor reminded me that I am sure as hell not going to figure out how to live with RA in the first few weeks. (I mean, it took 4 days for me to find out if my kidneys and liver were strong enough to start taking a pill that might stop my immune system from eating my own bones in 8-12 weeks.)

I am the sort of person who wants to know everything before I start something. I don’t want to mess up. I don’t want to get halfway in and figure out I should have started differently. Part of that is my personality, but I also think part of it is just how people respond. Many of the people I've told want to offer concrete suggestions: Yes, I’m taking fish oil. No, glucosamine chondroitin won’t actually help with this. Yes, I’ll look at my diet.

Here’s the deal: my body is eating my bones. We’re trying to slow down the amount of damage it’s causing. We need something to slow it down quickly. So yes, fish oil and diet will absolutely help in the future, but the current goal is to get my immune system to stop attacking my bones. And for real, working full- and part-time jobs, writing, creating a life I love, monitoring my body, resting, trying to still get in some workouts (although triathlons are probably out this year), and getting used to all of these new medicines is enough for right now.

I’d been obsessing and trying to figure it all out. And I was telling people I was more confident than I was. I wanted to get this all right the first time, so that in a few months, someone wouldn’t tell me that “Oh, you should have been….” Or that in a year, someone wouldn’t say, “You know, she really isn’t taking care of herself.”  But you know what? That’s going to happen no matter how hard I try to get it all right.

This diagnosis isn’t a prescription. It’s a challenge. It’s a process to figure out how to take the best care of myself. And it gives me permission (that word again) to pay really close attention to how I feel and to SWIM as much as I want.