Thursday, May 23, 2013

Life, Death, Man, Woman

Countless articles, books, seminars, retreats, pow-wows and treatises have delved into the subject of gender differences and relationships, or specifically working relationships.  More to the point, and if I may, the issue of keeping the fire hot with burning love in a relationship with the two opposing, or at least contrasting genders in effect, or ineffectual, unaffectionate, inefficient, inundated, and inept is in  real need of revelation and renewal.

The ethereal, somewhat obscure, stream of consciousness, out of both gender body experiences that Terrence Malick conveys in To The Wonder, as well as The Tree of Life are perhaps, or at least in my twisted little mind, the new blueprint for gender disparities and maybe holds the key to relationship building, or keeping.  OK, I know, it’s art house drivel, ethereal who-hah, whispering winds, and let’s get the hell out of the theater before my goiter acts up, or my veins throb, or my indigestion becomes unbearable.  But hold on, pay careful attention, Malick creates these caricatures of American Men and American Women that are not quite so far fetched from the reality of  a gender based role call  that was created by early Neanderthal beings.  Man hunts, Woman does the rest.  OK, fine, hunting was really hard, and the threat of velociraptors interrupting the card games was stress producing, while the girls stayed home and picked fleas, or mites, or ringworm from their blessed babies heads, and trunks, and scabied ankles.  You know, doing all that girlish primping and such.

The menfolk go to WORK.  They carry the weight of the toxically polluted world on their shoulders.  How can they find words when faced with the life and death realities of everyday living in sprawling suburban Tru-Green enhanced yards?  The women, left to care for the children and twirl around in dresses as light as the toxic fumes that dull their wits, crave the words that men can’t bare to mutter.  Life. Death. Man. Woman.

Terrence Malick takes a bold risk by introducing a modern, new concept in To The Wonder, a woman that goes to WORK.  She twirls. And breathes in the same light toxic fumes that make her crave the words that man won’t speak.  Even while she manhandles the feed, in gasps and sighs as she cares for her cattle, and horses, and buffalo on her manly ranch, where men won’t stay, or speak.  

So I don’t know Terry Malick, or what goes on in his curious little mind.  (Oh, sorry, Mr. Malick, I’m sure it’s a verrrrry big mind.)  Anywho….I think he’s onto something huge.  Or at least he’s laying the groundwork here and it’s high time us girls either embrace the twirling or balance the twirling or put a new spin on our expectations.  For reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, but I am altogether giddy about, I have recently, over the past year or two, embraced my twirl.  I like it.  I’ve always liked a twirl in a particularly twirly skirt, but that was generally between hurling feed, and digging trenches and working and picking tics off the backs of my babies.  And it might have something to do with aging, all twirly and gracefully, and with more time and less trenches in need of digging and babies that have grown far and wide and can do their own picking should they be inclined. 

My mind wanders, as it does, so lightly and twirly like the toxic fumes of a polluted world.  I will add, I did my little part in keeping the world safe by limiting or refusing the use of most toxins so that I could feel all good and twirly as I raised up my babies to raise up their babies and so on and so forth.  Read that sentence again.  It’s the kicker, the secret, the difference between Man and Woman in the world at large, the world of cinema and the world of differences that still, always, infinitely exist, unless we heed Terrence Malick’s certain message and change our way of being.

A few months back I saw another deep and thoughtful non-art house flick.  Warm Bodies.  A zombie love story.  It made me cry. Really.  My friends laughed at me.  They seem to imagine me an art house flick bon vivant. (snicker snicker).  And everyone knows zombies are for boys, and Men.  But Warm Bodies was a love story of boy meets girl, a modern spin on Romeo and Juliet.  After my friends are finished laughing at me, we start to talk about the zombie genre and well, the gender difference.  Girls like vampire romances, beauty and the beast, bad boy, hungry man, ggggggrrrrrrrrrlllllllll   sexy love and romance movies.  Those hopeful tales of true love conquering all.  The biggest problem in these flicks?  What will the babies be like?  Monsters like their Dads?  No matter, we’ll love them anyway.  The zombie movies that the boys like are entirely different.  Post apocalyptic plagues, lead pollutants in your water supply, one surviving antidote, all of man kind perishing, save you (him) and his family that he stoically loves without smiling or revealing as much.  He must save the world. Now. Within his lifetime.  Those damn silly women are always out there procreating like rabbits filling up houses and suburbs with babies that have more babies and so on and so forth that all need to be saved, by Man, One Special MAN. 

After watching  To the Wonder, I start a thinkin’ like I do.  I’m uncharacteristically unoffended by the portrayal of women, and men in this movie.  In fact I can relate to them.  The bright twirling dresses, the faith bound hope of church membership, the desire for children, the joy of a new washing machine.  I get this.  How can I not?  I was raised on it, spoon fed like the grass fed cattle on the ranch of hope and desperation.  And I mean that in the most twirly of ways.  I think of movies that evoke something familiar.  OK sit tight, The Sound of Music.  I know it might seem silly.  But there are meadows and spinning and twirling, and THE DARK BROODING MAN that gets the sweet pretty little nun to stop serving God and sing all day with 8 or 9 of his cherubic, corn fed children.  I don’t know, was little Lisl the 9th child, or the 8th, let’s see, Greta, Sprilinka, Hans, Dunkoff, Ninkumpoop, Heindrich, and Sleepy or Dopey…No matter, they will all grow up and have children and ride a bus through the alps singing for their supper, and having more babies and life will go on and on and on, in spite of the DARK BROODING MEN that start wars to ensure the self-fulfilling prophecy of apocalyptic doom and gloom and Gosh darn it someone has to take these things seriously, how the hell can women expect men to come home and talk when the world is ending?  How can they take us seriously when we are spinning ourselves into little tizzies of joy and elation because the socks are all matched up and balled and placed in individual laundry baskets that line the laundry room floor?  

But for the life of me, and maybe it has something to do with the serotonin rush and euphoric daze caused by spinning, I have permanently slowed down the neurotransmission connectors with all that turbulence, but how on Earth do women today, and even last week and back a decade or three, how is it that we keep raising up our boys to be stress mongering apocalyptic doomsayers, and our girls to be planning a big fancy dress twirling wedding from the time they are old enough to stand up and carry a bouquet? 

But enough about the kids.  Here’s the bigger question, or the question I know many of my peers, colleagues, confidantes, a couple or so narcissistic bon vivants, friends, and lovers are facing.  What do we do when we reach this age of say 40, or 50, or 60 and the kids are already screwed, or like that other flick, The Kids Are Alright, and we aren’t dead yet, and 50 years into it the men are starting to see they were fed a lot of toxic feed and the world isn’t really ending, and even if it does, well they are not in the same tip top shape to help slay the zombies and they might put up a little fight for old time sake, but that’s what the young turks are here for.  And the women, we are wanting to be all twirly and have our flaming embers stoked as we ride into the sunset naked without children seeing us or pointing to our privates and asking us annoying questions. 

Somehow along the way, we stopped understanding these big vital differences, or the pact that we embraced, and lifted, and placed on the altar of dreams and desires.   We let the men believe they were big and strong and everything we needed to make our lives complete.  They let us believe a lilting laugh and little twirl could get them to save us from the big bad world filled with all those other twirly women and non-talking men.  And now what?  It’s hard to keep up this version of the pact and well, our children aren’t around so we tend toward not putting on our game faces and promoting the dream that our children will also aspire to but not quite figure out how to see through, because it’s a bit impossible and we are sick little f’ers for continuing to promote it.  (It may not sound it, but I am truly, twirly and happy even in my honest and direct approach at getting to the heart and soul of something, even if I may be caught eating the heart out of it in the process.  (Suffice it to say, I’m tactile, I need to experience things full on, hungry like the wolf, or the wolf man, all full of determination and grit and twirl. Or maybe the Terrence Malick thing is offending on some subconscious level of a biologically gendered, inclination toward denial and festering up and through.) 

Aha, my subconscious streaming of thoughts and ideas just revealed this to me: we are biologically inclined toward denial.  How else do we continue to raise babies and make mountains of hope in a world filled with war, and poverty, and pollution, and poisons?  Damn if the men know, they are busy working on new weapons of mass destruction and wondering why you need them to mow the lawn, can’t you see they are slowly dying a thousand deaths.  Is it too late to keep pumping that toxically magic fantasy into our tired veins?  Can we make up a new pact or reexamine what was in the original?  I think Terrence Malick, has come upon something big.  Maybe not as big as the Book of Mormon, or the Burning Bush, but something big nonetheless.   We need to change things up.  Life is different, waaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy different and we need to acknowledge that and embrace it and lift it toward our newly fashioned altars. 

When I was a young’un, people didn’t actually live as long as they do now.  People died of heart attacks and cancer, most of the time.  They didn’t get second and third and maybe fourth chances with the modern scope of medical advances available today.  They didn’t get new hips and knees and hearts.  They didn’t hike high peaks and run marathons at 50 and 60 and 70 with new knees and hearts and reworked feet.  Women didn’t work in the same way we work now, full time, with necessary wages that also provide for the family.  We aren’t as dependent on men as we once were, but we still have an innate or ingrained lingering sense that we can’t live without them.  Maybe, just maybe, we don’t need to, but we still want to. 

Men still carry the burden of stress, real or imagined, it’s still there and it still impacts their health, their outlook on life.  They feel under appreciated and maybe even unnecessary.  They reach this point when they face the reality that the apocalypse was safely held at bay at least for the next generation and find themselves living with someone that seemed to be twirling and breathing in toxic fumes and wiping snotty noses, but suddenly has a financial portfolio and a 501K that can support them into a couple of wild romps with a few newly hipped models, and how the hell did that happen? 

Jon Baskin, writes of the film, in the Los Angeles Review of Books “ Salvation, if there is any, resides in the kinds of commitments that the characters fail over and over to make — to one another, to God, to themselves.”  I think another change worth noting, in society, across the genders, is our concept of time.  Everything is so fast and instant and gone.  Commitment is a term that has changed in etymology.  Marriage was a lifelong commitment, back when life was not as long.  Adherence to religion and God, is also fluid with fewer palpable consequences for any lack of adherence.  A world with pharmaceutical potions and plastic surgery packages to reverse time and aging, make commitments to health and well being a pill or appointment away.  But meaningful relationships and deep compassionate connections are not easily borne or sustained.  They only work as well as the time and effort given to them.  There is no pill or procedure that can change that.

I don’t have all the answers, and I, myself am in the market for an originally hipped, or newly hipped model of my very own, but I do still believe this concept of marriage or gender-blending, or gender identical relationships can work.  Call me crazy.  I am a true believer, in spite of needing a few test models to see it through.  Love deeply.  Be twirly around the big strong protective arms of your man.  Reinvent, or brush off the old charm, add a few new tricks.  Reveal some deep hidden wanderlust, or get out and make a go of it with a wide open heart on the road to new beginnings. Try really hard to imagine that we don’t have to keep these roles in lock-step concordance for a bright or bleak tomorrow that may or may not belong to us.  Live today, fully with love and joy.  Twirl in the not so toxic meadow of marital bliss or the newly found meadow of another chance.  And if that doesn’t work, go all out and introduce wild, erotic, zombie fantasy extravaganzas to rekindle the fires of earlier twirls.  For heavens sake, the kids are all gone, loosen up and laugh widely.  Remember and Rebuild. 

Personally, I am letting go of a lot of old conformities.  I’m challenging the system.  My flames may or may not be stoked but I’m risking it, and ready for direct and honest let’s meet head on sparks to fly.  Winner takes all.  I’ll be out twirling and laughing and looking over my shoulders for men and zombies and life giving kisses because I did my laundry and balled up all my socks.  It’s Go Time!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Potential Magic of Pie on the Time and Space Continuum

A friend recommended I read the book Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins recently.  So I did.  The illness that I’m currently dealing with is skin cancer.  The biopsy, diagnosis, scheduled surgery, extensive follow up reconstructive surgery that came on it's tail, occurred across 3 weeks time.  Hardly enough time to read a book dealing with an illness in an effort to prepare, cope, come to terms with, and land squarely on my feet.
But hey, that’s the time-frame I’m working with.  And the months preceding as I wondered, checked, taunted my doctor by showing up with my nose and the tiny, little mark on it, and viewing all of the videos and images that deal with skin cancer and treatments and reconstructive surgeries, well, those months are long gone, and I wasn’t reading any books, but ‘cept those I needed for my current college course load, Policy, Public Administration and other romantic comedy sketches of that nature. Additional surgery is scheduled and so I have some more time and this new book to read.
Waiting until the mark was good and raging before approaching my doctor and saying, “hey, dr. buddy, not for nothing, but what the hell is that thing and why won’t it go away?” was maybe not the best use of my time.  I still haven’t exactly mastered the best use of my time.  Strategies and schedules not withstanding, I fill up every ounce of my time and even borrow some into the wee late hours of the night.  Living to the fullest, maybe to make up for some other long stretches of time I did not use so well, or toward the best possible outcome.  I have wasted a vast chunk of time.
My daughter spent the first four years of her life in a constant state of wakefulness, for similar reasons, most of which are genetic and biologically inherent of nature.  She is “her mother’s daughter” as they say.  She did not want to miss a moment.  Not a single one.  I was unable to convey, the moments that were going on, had she taken a nap, were not moments that amounted to much.  They would have been quiet and calming and restorative.  Instead they were moments of struggle and determination until ultimate collapse and exhaustion as I attempted to get her to take a nap because she needed one.  Had I stepped back and let her refuse her naps, she probably would have learned this on her own.  If she wasn’t inclined at 14 months old, to hoist herself out of her crib onto her 3 year old brother that she had already trained to become her safety mat for high performing stunts and hi-jinx, maybe I would have stepped back in calm and assurance.  He broke her fall enthusiastically awaiting an adventure to fill those otherwise mundane moments of time.  Those two, loose at her command?  I wasn’t ready to find out where that train was headed.  Twenty plus years later, she has filled up her moments with joy and color and life, her safety mat lives far away but continues to be entertained and enamored of her charms and adventure seeking zest for life and filling up of time. 
I have this memory from long ago.  I was maybe 5 or 6.  My family packed into a car heading “upstate” late in the night.  We traveled at night, a good use of time.  Beating the traffic.  Following my father’s work schedule.  When three of four children would be sleeping as opposed to talking and bickering and asking are we there yet and needing to go to the bathroom or wanting to sit near the window or crying because she touched me or he looked at me or she always gets the window, and he won’t give me back my doll, my pretzel, my blanket….  This may be the one time that I made the best use of my time.  I stayed awake.  Quietly.  Taking it all in.  The thinning of traffic, the stars alight in a vast and open sky, the sounds of crickets, or cicadas, or frogs.  The sound of my parents speaking gently and friendly, amiably, maybe even affectionately.  A sound not often heard around a railroad flat in Queens with four sprightly, frenzied, teetering children and all the charms that go along with that particular continuum of time and space. 
Late into the night we drove, and then my mother suggested we stop, so that my father could eat, he must be hungry from a long day or at least get coffee for the continued drive.  By then they knew I was still awake, as they checked on my siblings, all deep asleep, safe.  I joined them in a diner for coffee and pie.  Coconut Custard pie, just because, it was exotic, and I could read the words, and I could ask for it, in a diner late in the night.  Also a rare and magical occurrence, we did not tend toward diners or restaurants or luxurious expenses such as these.  I have never experienced pie quite that magically again, but I continue to enjoy late hours with a glint and optimism and a readiness to say yes to pie and drives late into the unknown star filled evenings.
I’ve just marked a big birthday.  50 years. Beautiful, amazing, challenging and happy, give or take a month or two, years of life.  I was planning my time.  I scheduled an art opening commemorating what it has meant to be this woman, in this time.  I have planned a party to mark these years and look forward to spending more time in peace and happy and hopeful for all of the pie seeking adventures to come.  But as much as I like to fill my time and use up every moment, my time was being a little unruly and had thoughts of it’s own.  It scheduled in an unpredictable amount of illness, in the anatomical region of my nose.  I went and got skin cancer, so I needed to go and get rid of it, and a large portion of my nose right smack in the middle of some timed events and an otherwise complete face. 
The procedure to rid oneself of skin cancer that was performed on me is called Moh’s Surgery.  In stages, small, specific amounts of skin is removed and biopsied until the cancer is removed.  The hope is one stage will get it, but it usually needs a couple.  I needed three, each one leaving me sinking further into a place unknown and unwanted.  The thought about skin cancer these days is that it is not really a big deal, and it is easily dealt with.  In the scheme of things, this is correct.  If the scheme is around cancer, and long term illness, and fear of death or permanent disfigurement.  In my mind, I was not comforted by the ease and ordinariness of skin cancer and it’s removal.  I had a big sinking feeling it would be bad, and it would need big, reconstructive surgery.  When this was confirmed I had a choice between a skin graft that would not match my skin, would not adequately conceal the surgery or conform to my sense of self, but could happen immediately, and reconstructive surgery that will take several weeks to complete and have amazing results over the course of a year, I did momentarily think of time, and plans, and my party and art show.   And well, giving in to time and space, and the reality that I don’t have to spend every waking moment seeking out the pie chasing potential is a lesson whose time has come.
I’m enjoying the book a great deal and appreciate the recommendation.  Norman Cousins, the author recounts an illness he had in 1964.  Sure, a great long time ago.  Back when people couldn’t say illness, or cancer, out loud.  They didn’t discuss fears and fatalities and the psychological manifestations of physiological ailments.  This book speaks to the power of the human spirit, hope and faith and laughter.  It also speaks to the “subconscious fear of never being able to function normally again”.  We speak about things more these days, 49 years later, but not exactly openly.  More in context with an Oprah approval rating, information that is shared on live or taped television segments with applause and timed close-ups helping us to know how to react and respond.   This book, is helping me to focus in on this particular time of my life, and reading it slowly through my recovery stage has been a gift.  My fears are not so large.  I’m gaining permission to feel them and not push them aside or hurry them through for fear of losing time. 
I’ve been in a mad rush the past few years to overcome a divorce, a marriage that supported a lifetime of suppressing my desire to live fully in each moment, within some socially acceptable time constraints, of course.  In retrospect and within the cliché of being forced to put things in perspective, I feel quite differently about time today.  There was this vivid moment in time between surgery when I understood how much time I have wasted on foolish possibilities and out of control fears and what ifs when I could have been simply enjoying pie.  Chasing down dreams with intensity and near bouts of despair have not served me. I won’t spend another moment thinking that through, and over, and wrestling down regrets.  I was talking to the doctor and assisting nurse, lightly discussing life, parenting, being single, being me, basically. Open and approachable and grounded.   Laughing.  It suddenly struck me how surreal everything was.  I was talking and at ease and laughing, without a nose on my face.  With cancer doing it’s thing and a warrior doctor removing it. 
There have been times that a pimple, or a few extra pounds would make me debilitatingly self-conscious.  Decades of social anxiety have left me mumbling and awkward and staggering with hives to find my place.  And then cancer arrives and provides this opportunity to gently remind, life is short but pulsating and thrilling with equal amounts of mundane.  Naps are restorative.  Kissing is pleasurable.  Talking to your children with love and compassion in between bouts of what the hell is happening is necessary.  Sunblock is non-negotiable.  Laughter is infectious. Worry is wasted.  Dancing is exhilarating.  Being open to encounters with other humans is life giving.  Pie has the potential to be magic. 
Norman Cousins sums it up best, the question to be asked of doctors, of hospitals, and for me, of myself, is whether or not I am of the belief and expectation that good things will happen .  Maybe just not on a schedule written in pen that I want to have control over.  In the Anatomy of an Illness, Mr. Cousins weaves a great deal of Albert Schweitzer’s zest for life into his story of overcoming disease.  He talks about his propensity toward life and laughter and how it helped him overcome illness and pain.  Music and humor and keeping company with caring compassionate friends seem timeless antidotes.  I have been enjoying encounters and the opportunity to have my flame burst open and rekindled of late.  Of course all the flaming bursts of inner fires rekindled could be the comorbidity of menopause and cancer.  It could also be the euphoric effect of pain killers, but I don’t think so, I stopped those a day or two ago.
In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. 
   - Albert Schweitzer
The party is on.  There will be dancing.  And laughter and maybe I will wear a scarf or an obnoxious pair of Groucho Marx glasses with a disguised nose, or maybe I will trust that good things will happen and time is of the essence but it is not mine to mold.  My scars, and stitched up nose are suddenly insignificant  minor flaws in the scheme of things on this particular stage of my place on the time and space continuum. 
Come and dance with me for this brief and fluid time.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Extreme Wishes and Abundant Satisfaction

In less than a week I am going in for surgery to remove a small bit of cancer.  This news was discovered rather quickly and I scheduled the surgery as soon as possible after hearing.  It’s skin cancer, which could mean very little, in the scheme of cancers and concern and the ratio of worry that I should expend on it.  It’s still scary.  There is still a process to go through and it will still have an impact on my life that will alter the way I do business from here on out. 

For starters, I will never leave the house again without sunblock.  Which might actually be a little too little, a little to late.  But it will impact my children and my children’s children.  It will impact my friends.  It has already, I am happy to say.  They will be much more sun sensible.   Today was sunny and clear and beautiful.  It was the first day in two weeks that I have actually gone outside under the sun.  I had a most incredible day.   I was lathered up in sunblock and so I only worried a great deal as opposed to completely catastrophising and hiding indoors or starting work on building my underground bunker. 

I’ve started to consider what I might want from the Make-A-Wish foundation as well.  But I don’t think they will deliver him.  And I’ve even begun to explore the idea of doing something over the top in a thrill seeking capacity like maybe riding REALLY fast through Walmart on one of their motorized scooters, or maybe inviting a friend or three to play bumper scooters or capture the flag.  Maybe I’ll just rent a very large RV and park it at Walmart, put up a sign that says “if the van’s a rockin’ don’t come knockin’ and buy a few mini-trampolines for my friends to jump on.  You know wild and crazy stuff like that- Extreme.  I think the high school social studies teacher from my high school on Long Island had that on his van come to think of it, way back when, high school teacher’s could be pedophiles and no one raised an eyebrow.  Way back when we didn’t need sunblock and the students had a smoking lounge.   There was probably a lounge for that long-haired hippie-like teacher too.  Jeez, now if you want a smoke you actually have to walk off school property and the schools are mostly closed campuses.  No wonder kids take to extremes and scream and threaten.   I suppose it’s not all the violent video games, after all.  It’s probably thrombosis from the walking or a nicotine withdrawal, God knows it’s not linked to twinkies ‘cause they took those away too.  The kids these days need something to suffer on.  They don’t have to wear Jane Fonda inspired leotards or Pat Benatar headbands. Now that was extreme.  

I found myself looking at a cute little BMW convertible a nanosecond longer than I typically might.  Wistfully, more than longingly.  No one has loved a Toyota Corolla quite like I have.  A few days ago, a green jaguar pulled into the parking lot at school, two cars beyond mine, as I spoke with wild-haired Fred, a colleague, about my generous parking job.   The forest green jaguar pulled right in without a sound, making my parking job boast fall with a loud clunking thud.  Now there’s a car I could enjoy, say on my way to some "extreme" event, or maybe not.   Don’t know why that particular car thrills me, except for all the obvious reasons. I’m not much of a car person, but I do like me a nice little forest green jag.  Classy.  It wasn’t the ‘66 XJ13, or the ’74 XKE, but it was a looker just the same.  But I’m just not interested in that as my EXTREME.

So I played softball this weekend.  Y’know, with the guys.  And some girls.  And a dozen or so young-uns with loving, encouraging Dad’s that guided them into the game and let the little guys bat and run and play the outfield.  (They have pretty decent Mom’s too but quite a few of them are competitive beasts and game night rivals, and while I would like to keep it clean and polite…competitive and beasts… are you hearing me?)   It was a beautiful day.  I realize it might be strange to say, but I think it was up there with the all time top 20 days of my life, give or take.  From start to finish this was a spectacular day of the most calming and joyful proportions. And filled with all this love and support and encouragement.  Nectar of the extremes.

Before the game, I got an offer for breakfast that I declined, because, well, I shared,  “I have a game.”  I stood a little taller.  “Oh sorry I’m playing softball this afternoon.”  I tried it on, saying it as though it was just an ordinary Sunday and I was playing softball.  Because well, it could be just ordinary for that to happen, somewhere, to someone that isn't me, prior to now.  I reveal that I am trying it on, because I have never played softball.  And it feels pretty darn, maybe even, extremely nice to say.   The softball game is actually an “extreme” for me.  It becomes really extreme because not only am I putting myself out of my comfort zone, but I am entirely relaxed about it and not having more than a few, contained fears of ruining it for the team, striking out, not hitting quite hard enough and otherwise hoping there are some rocks on the field to crawl under. 

Aside from the predictable, somewhat linear, course of aging, throwing in cancer, even a still thought to be not very serious form or two, puts things in perspective.  Not being able to hit the ball hard seems like a very small worry.  It is, however, the very type of worry so many of us suffer, like those poor thrombotic children that have to walk off campus for a smoke to relieve the stress of 3rd period phys ed, or seeing him with her near the locker, or not being invited to the party with the kids that you don’t really even like to begin with.  All those wasted worries that keep us from trying, or joining, or doing something for fear of some extreme failure, that we won't recover from, or some extreme joy that we somehow imagine we don’t deserve or won’t get. 

I hit the ball.  Five whole times!!!  I ran maybe not sooo fast but made it home 4 out of the 5 times.  That aging thing is slowing down my reflexes a tad.  I think I could have started my running a bit sooner after hitting, but I might have needed to let it all in each time I hit it.  I understand now, after all of those little league and softball games when I sat and watched my children, why they should not look back after hitting it, but just run like a jaguar, or dance like Jagger toward first base.   It was extremely fun.  I didn’t squawk or whine or complain when they put me in the outfield, somewhere sort of toward right field.  I got it.  I’m a rookie.  And there is that pleasure of being outside, with enough sunscreen to only slightly panic, on the field where balls never come, so you don’t ever have to pay full attention.  The best part of playing quasi right field?  We were in Gardiner, NY at Majestic Park.  Ohhhh, about two minutes from the Skydive the Ranch headquarters or drop off point.  Low flying planes, sky full of parachutes in a rainbow of brightness falling from the heavens all day.  Extremely cool.  
photo credit Thuy Bonagura

I was taking it in.  I was thinking.  It’s definitely still a thought.  Maybe not between now and my surgery date, but maybe after my clearance date.  Me and brightness falling from the heavens???  I’m definitely considering it.  So it turns out I don’t really have a burning desire to do some extreme activity between now and next week.  The reality is, I’m extremely happy right now.  I am satisfied, and surrounded with the knowledge that I have done a great many things that I am proud of.  That I have enjoyed and that I have seen through to the other side.  I have incredible people in my life right now, more than a few.  And sure, if someone pulled up and revved his engine and was ready, willing and available to knock my socks off, I would certainly have some more extreme fun, but being able to look back and smile, a bit sheepishly and wide open is pretty nice too. 

I share a bit more lately.  As I have been doing openly with the abundance of friends that seem to not mind my humor, or twisted perspective.  I have been considering what I will miss most during recovery and what I would like to get in before I lose the opportunity.  If the Make-A-Wish folk are listening, I would like very much to be kissed before next week.  In that way that we kiss when we are young, or newly in love, and passionate about our kisses.  When we grab each others faces to pull them closer to ours to really bring that wet kisser in.  As though we are still afraid they might not return, we may not ever see them again.  Or as though we were blinded by the last kiss and now we have to feel each others faces for identification.  In visualizing this kiss I can’t help but imagine some awkward attempt that puts an eye out, or wipes the snot off someone, and so if the kiss doesn’t come I have others to look back on.  I think I want my face to be seen and touched and grabbed before next week when there is the potential, post surgery for my remaining intact nostril to be sewn back on to the remaining cheek skin too tightly.  When I might end up with a permanent stink-eyed snarl as opposed to the chronic snarl I often wear by choice, or deep and serious distraction.

Godspeed and quick recovery to me, I have to go to the batting cage, game on, gamine that I am.  And then the kissing booth....I might as well throw in a pedicure, I've never done that either.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What's That On Your Nose?!

(How to conceal stupidity and other life altering troubles)

Lately, I’ve been walking around my house like an interloper.  I’m in hiding, irrationally, and too late.  The thing I’m hiding from will not go away and up until recently I have actually been awaiting it’s arrival with great expectation and anticipation as I do each year.  These feelings came on me heavily about three weeks ago.  Starting with a cold, a long drawn out one, with a fair amount of nose blowing.  All of that blowing and wiping, flared up and reddened the small, almost indistinguishable, scrape, or minor abrasion on the tip of my nose.  The one that has been lingering for over a year.  Never quite healing, sometimes slightly inflamed, occasionally just about, sealed, but not quite.

Last summer I went south.  Deep south.  Geographically and emotionally.  I needed to travel far away and deep within myself to gain back a sense of who I am and who I had buried deep within.  I was also carrying around with me some deep, cellular knowledge that I was harboring a modicum of mutant cellular growth.  Irish voodoo.  The “knowing”.  That gut feeling that tells you what’s what but you choose to ignore because, well Irish voodoo, intuition, also let’s you know you can’t really do much about the lot in life that you’ve been allotted.  I was worshiping the sun and simultaneously cursing myself for not wearing sunscreen, enough, regularly, or even slightly more often than three times a summer.  Maybe I should have been allotting time to see a dermatologist, oncologist, and a plastic surgeon instead. 

As I traveled to beaches along the coast of 7 southern states, I behaved recklessly.  Baring my soul and my breasts and soaking up that sun, as though I could somehow face my skin and curse the sun in one fell swoop.   It felt decadent and reckless and devil may care sometimes.  Bad. In that wild, sexy way that bad can be. It felt like a part of me that had been long buried and tamped down, out of commission and ambivalently afraid.  It felt freeing and spirited and I felt defiant, and sad at the knowing.  But I had done sad up pretty good, so I pushed that aside as much as I could. 

I was never so big on sunscreen, because well, I wasn’t really just laying out in the sun trying to dare it into radiation poisoning.  I usually did wear it when I was formally in the sun as opposed to casually out in it from 6 am until 11 or 12 most sunny days in spring and summer, working in a garden that I loved deeply, playing with children that I loved deeply, hiking in the mountains that I loved deeply or walking along the beaches that I loved deeply.  Cancer on my face?  Not feeling the love so deeply. Sad to think it could have been prevented somewhat.

Two weeks ago, I finally spoke up during my regularly scheduled doctor’s visit. When he hadn't noticed it before, I tried to convince myself, it wasn't really cancer.  This time he saw right away and spoke the words I had already known.  Basal Cell Carcinoma.  Of course he couldn’t  really say it with certainty so he sent me to the dermatologist.  So off I went. Where I had the full body skin scan.  It sounds a little like some jazz doo wop song.  Flim Flam.  And she saw it right away too, even though she stopped to say, “I usually start at the bottom and work my way up, ending with the face, but that looks like….” she said it too, “Basal Cell Carcinoma”.  But of course, she couldn’t really know for sure, which is why she needed to do a biopsy and the open wound that won’t heal, had to be shaved, and become a larger open wound that won’t heal.  So she cuts my nose to spite my face or maybe she cuts my nose to save my life. And so then she needed to burn it and I had to smell the burning skin of my once healed nose.  And this is when your once clear head goes elsewhere because it can’t really grasp that your nose is being burned and your skin is smelling burnt and there is cancer growing and living and killing cells in your nose and maybe elsewhere.  Like on your shoulder, so that thing gets shaved off too and thrown in a special jar and whisked away to some special lab.  But you never really liked feeling special, you’re more into behind the scenes and low key.  It’s your special day anyway so you go along with it. 

For now you stay calm because two doctors say Basal Cell Carcinoma.  It’s only Basal Cell Carcinoma and it isn’t that big a deal, you tell yourself, but the Irish voodoo is doing a jig and getting all hyped up (you know how those little green gingers can be).  And you will survive and you will get through it and all the videos and images that you have googled and binged and yahooed will scare you out of your mind.  So then you will look for alternative ways to cure cancer to avoid the 100 plus stitches that are on the googled images and testimonials.  Where on earth will they fit 100 stitches even if you have a liberal amount of nose space?   A liberal amount of nose space that you are quite fond of.  My mind starts to wonder as it does.  And what else can you do while you await the biopsy results?  So I stop and think about noses.  I really like a good strong nose.  Think Liam Neeson, or too dreamy Adrien Brody.  Now there's an Irish nose!  A good solid nose is right up there with a good solid handshake in my view.  This is when I know I might want to figure out how to keep my nose intact.  

The alternative remedies include eggplant extract, iodine, baking soda with maple syrup and howling at the moon.  Which is where I messed up because I howled at myself while flaunting my self at the sun.  I got close to hitting the 1 click purchase of the eggplant treatment better known as black salve.  Or maybe black salve is made from sheep hooves and bloodroot? I read about how it cured and sealed and left no scar tissue.  I also read testimonials from people that shared things like this, “ the burning, debilitating pain lets you know the salve, or orange oil, or acid is rooting out the cancer and killing it”.  I suppose I haven’t tried to pour acid or eggplant extract on my non-cancerous skin, but I think if something’s causing debilitating pain and burning, it might be related to the fact that it has a a toxic impact on your skin, with or with out cancer.  Sloan Kettering seems to believe black salve could cause disfigurement.  I’m not sure if disfigurement cures cancer, but what do I know?  I suppose what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  I am certain that burning my nose did not heal my cancer, and it made my minor abrasion more noticeable and myself more self-conscious.  Forget the maple syrup and eggplant baba ganoush, a nice chick pea paste would probably make a better concealer…

Tuesday morning before work, I decide to go for a run.  Cause life is still going on.   The big thing in the sky that I have been hiding from, couldn’t hurt me at 5:15 I reasoned.  My quirky little village was asleep, but for a few commuters slumbering toward the train.  I was slightly worried about them.  I approached with such speed and joy as I ran to the trellis stairs to enhance my work out, and shake off a long winter’s ass growth that I might actually need for the skin graft.   I was afraid I would collide with such force.   I was glad not to know any of them.   I was glad for my run.  Glad for the beautiful sunrise and the stillness of the Hudson River at daybreak.   A very good start to my day.  When I get to work, I’m trying not to think about not hearing about my results on Monday.  Which means I won’t know until Wednesday or Thursday, which suddenly seems like each minute is slowly moving forward but I am now moving quickly from my hyped up rubber-legged morning run buzz.  This ought to be interesting….I think.  The day will be interesting.

Irish voodoo, the knowing, I’m certain the day will be interesting and then… just like that! It is! ..the visit comes.  Uninvoked, or invited….She arrives at my door, and comes close.  Too close.  “What’s that thing on your nose?” This person asks as though I owe her an explanation, as though it is somehow interfering with her life.  I’m thinking she should know, she’s close enough to bite the damn thing off and cure me instantly.   I’m slightly stunned, but quick on my feet or with my tongue anyway.  “Welllllll, umm, probably skin cancer.”  I say this in a minor tone thinking it will at least communicate that she came too close, physically and verbally.  My private space, that bubble or wall that I have been building and carrying for far too long was intruded upon, and knocking it down on her behalf,  didn’t even slow her down.   She replied, “Well, everyone has their share of problems”, as though I was somehow intrusive and sharing them with her.  The incongruity of this little interaction seemed to move years of not quite right into  absolute clarity.  Because suddenly I'm off the hook.  I'm not so incongruent after-all.  This new wisdom helped me feel about 30 pounds lighter, in focus, and suddenly as though I could get through a bit more, since, well that seems to be the plan anyway.   

I don’t need to be intensely private it turns out, that might be my lesson, but Rumplestiltskin! I miss the long ago days when people knew about boundaries, and social graces were somewhat important.  I don’t think we have to whisper the “c” word,
shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh cancer

Since I'm trying to hide from the sun, and people from my cancer, I get my concealer out.  It turns out concealer doesn’t work so well on hiding shhhhhhhhh  cancer.  Try as you might.   I guess if skin can’t regrow on top of it, why would I expect concealer to be able to mask it?  I didn’t read the fine print on my cover stick or the liquid concealer with two applicator tips, but I think it did promise to cover and hide.  I don’t generally feel the need to conceal much lately and I don’t particularly like being in this position right now.  Not that I can think of a more convenient time to conceal cancer.  I have spent a fair amount of time concealing all sorts of unsightly troubles, I was kind of thinking I was done with this particular lesson that was put before me.  I guess I have more work here too. Being zealously private hasn’t really served me well, I thought that was my lesson.   The gaping wound right on the tip of my nose?  I wouldn’t mind covering that up. 

The lesson from being isolated and private helps me to realize it’s not healthy feeling so secluded and secretive about all of my woes.  I want friends to know enough to support me and help carry me through. I wouldn’t mind if a few gazillion or so other people would keep to themselves.   Working in a school  and living in a small town, it seems everyone knows your business. (whether it's personally posted in said blog, or not.) I wouldn't mind if my colleagues and students remembered or were raised on the commercials of days gone by.  Remember, “Does she, or doesn’t she?”   Way back in a time when it was scandalous to discuss whether or not someone was covering their grays, or not a true blonde, brunette or "ginger"?  

My students announce my occasional hair color change as though I had just walked in with a hickey,  the scent of his* aftershave, musk and funk, and yesterdays dress on.  "Look! She colored her hair!" Scorn.  (Where did I leave that damn red letter arm band?  Oh probably at his house with my panties no doubt.)  Sadly, however, it wasn’t a student that shouted about my nose.  And even though that’s the least of my worries, it lightens my mood even more than my run. Because I have an odd sense of humor.  Because I can't really believe that someone that I don't know very well, could just walk up and demand to know about my nose and it just makes me laugh, because what else can you do in this situation?

I get the phone call later in the afternoon. I won't have to worry any longer.  It’s confirmed.  I’m an over achiever, even when it comes to cancer.  Basal Cell and Squamous Cell, all mixed in.  Fortunately, it’s the end of the day.  I can take in the news in peace.  I can drive home quietly stunned, in spite of the knowing, the Irish Voodoo certainty, I still don't want to know this.  I don’t know what this will entail. Well, I know it will entail surgery, my nose, and my face.  I have scared baby bejeezus and all the saints alive, out of my mind by watching YouTube videos of cancer surgery.  I have seen legions of zombie faced survivors and their stitched up now cancer free faces.  I have nothing else to do really, but call my family.  Call my friends. I consider not going out although I have plans.  I’m not feeling much like wallowing.  I’m actually somehow feeling a little more appreciative of the abundance in my life that I can now see and feel clearly.  

I go out.  My face, still kissable, gets a kiss.  I am surrounded by love, and happiness, and music.  I am free and spirited and relaxed in a way I have not been in ….maybe ever.  Irish voodoo, devil may care.   Light and smiling.  Lots of laughter.  1 Jameson's, neat.  

I am surrounded by love, and it is a very good place to be.   

*Believe you me, when there is a his house to leave my panties at...several small towns deep might whisper it,  "Did you hear where her panties were?"  "shhhhhhh No!"   "Unnn hmmmm."    .......Dreaming Big.