Today I was driving along and listening to the radio when a pop song started to play. This was a song I never liked from a band that never interested me, but I found myself overwhelmed with nostalgia. I felt this song on a visceral level, in the middle of my body, like grief. I remembered being young, and never having what I needed to do what I wanted. I remembered the mad escapes and the regret over leaving. I remembered mistakes, damage, cold rain, driving through dark forests. I remembered choosing the people who cared for me instead of the people I cared about.
As a child I memorized the airline schedules for flights to England, and read my way through the entire library with no discernment. I constructed this fantasy of what life could be if I could just leave, get away.
Anna Ruby, Stevie, Marisa, Maki, AEM, Byron, Stella, Al, Erin Scarum with a chainsaw, an assortment of happy kids. Good food, slide shows, shadow puppets, laughter. How could a holiday get much better?
From my kitchen to yours, happy thanksgiving.
This weekend I learned that it is possible to leave the Bremerton Value Village at closing and still make the 9:45 Winslow ferry to Seattle. How cool is that?
Thrift scores included an assortment of garments that appear to have been tailored just for my quirky body: a black checked polyester blazer, yellow skirt, red and white floral hostess outfit, and a dress best described as demented majorette.
On Sunday we had breakfast with AEM and Mark from Negativland. Upon hearing that we lived in Olympia at the same time (and did in fact live near him on Cooper Point for awhile) he said but I don't remember you to which I replied I had different glasses then.
We had quite an interesting discussion about ghost towns in New Mexico before saying goodbye and departing to pick up and drop off various children.
Just before retiring for the night I heard that Gabriel, Danielle, and the girls probably won't be driving up for Thanksgiving. Although we understand, we will miss them.
I've been looking for a picture of Gabriel to end this message but my Rome book is missing. The only images I can find are from the time I ran away to the mountains and hid out at his family homestead. We had a fantastically fun New Year's Snow Party - but I don't think his friends would appreciate it if I published photographs of their naked jump off the cabin porch.
Recently I heard from various sources that a couple of people I know are hell bent on destruction. I mean this to be taken literally; both are making such extreme and specific choices I am surveying my clothes to figure out what to wear to the next funeral.
These are people who make me laugh, who shine with a particular kind of seductive genius. These are people I've scraped off sidewalks, bailed out of jail, visited in psych wards, mailed cookies to when they found far-away jobs that were supposed to be some kind of new life. I've given vast amounts of time over the years in an effort to help them.
Eventually, because I was tired and needed to protect my own physical safety, I drifted away. Not because I stopped caring but because the combination of poverty, mental illness, and addiction is lethal. I knew that if I stuck around I was risking my own life.
My instinct is always to help people, render aid, start rescue operations. But I've done that for these friends, with no marked change. They have benefited from the vast efforts of a large community. They have been diagnosed, medicated, analyzed, rehabilitated, and in the end jailed. They have held down jobs, gone to school, traveled. Nothing has ever worked for more than a few months at a time.
I think that the underlying mental and physical disabilities might be things that can be treated, but in both of these lives addiction has such a strong hold nothing else sticks. Or the variety of addiction works at cross purposes with the need for certain prescription drugs. Or the legal drugs can never fully treat the profound level of damage. In at least one of my friends lives, it is also a clear choice. Even if she had never started using she would be suicidal. The drugs are simply the method she picked.
Right now I feel sad because I hate waste, and these people have wasted their youth. I am angry because I love them and they are leaving.
I wish that I knew the magical antidote to alienation and depression. I wish that I could mend the terrors of a lost childhood. I wish that I could force my friends to listen and understand that there is another life. I wish that I could make it true. I wish that I could feel enough rage that this hopeless love would die. I sometimes wish that I could follow, grab their hands, drag them back. But I'm left behind, sorting the facts, writing empty sentences, wishing.
My friend Gayle wrote this funny essay about author photographs. You know, the kind that appear on the jacket of a book.
When Ariel and I edited Breeder we had the advantage not only of living in the same city, but also of having an actual trained and MFA certified photographer taking a sabbattical in my basement. He spent most of his time shooting pictures of the detritus of my household, so why not a few shots of two editors? Seemed like an easy plan.
Twelve rolls of expensive film, dozens of costume changes, and many ponderous hours later, we learned that it was not going to be quite as breezy as we had hoped.
James is an excellent photographer but his normal subject matter does not include live humans. If we had been broken toys, distorted family vacation slides, mercenary training manuals, or airports, there would have been genius results from even a short session.
But instead we are wiggly, talkative, blinking people. Even setting aside issues about depth of focus, the contrasts in the clothes we were wearing, our differing heights and hair texture, we just could not coordinate looking good at the same time. When one of us had the pose and smile in place the other was gawking at the window, or wrinkling her nose, or adjusting a garment at just the wrong second.
In the end there were lots of excellent pictures of us separately, and a few truly amazing pictures of us talking to each other. But nothing that fit the requirements of the publisher. The expenses for film and development at a professional lab? Completely out of our pockets. Plus I felt bad infringing on James, even though he was living rent free in my house.
Next we tried having a friend shoot some rolls of casual pictures as we stood around admiring fall foliage. These shots ended up much the same; the best are good souvenirs and catch the camaraderie we share, but there was not a single image that worked for the specific requirements of the press.
In the end we went to the photobooth at Newberry's. Our kids fed quarters to the bubble gum machine while we sat on the swiveling stool and zapped through a couple of bucks. We had decent photos within ten minutes - and in fact, we had at least a dozen to choose from, all of which worked perfectly for our purposes.
I am working on two books that will come out next year, and even though they are not finished, the issue of author photographs looms large. Particularly since one of my colleagues lives in a different state. At this point I'm partial to the idea of separate photobooth sessions - but maybe we should do something entirely different. Maybe we should be illustrated.
Our adorable old fridge broke! Or rather, the handle did. We have no idea what to do. Call a repairman? But who? Seems like a job for a welder; but maybe there are specialized beloved old object repair people nowadays?
Our insurance covers a new pair of glasses each year. I've used the benefit because I like to have an heir and a spare on hand at all times. Byron could not be persuaded that he needed to upgrade even though his old glasses never fit in the first place and lack of care has ruined the frames.
Then he watched a video of his presentation from the conference last week and realized exactly how disheveled he looks.
Yesterday as we were driving to a bookstore he said maybe I should consider getting new glasses and I blinked and immediately started issuing directives to drive toward Fremont.
We were almost turned away from the mission when we saw an old drunken man fall down a wooded slope, but after parking and hiking down to extract him from the blackberry bushes, dusting him off, and guiding him to a sidewalk, we went back to what I knew was an urgent task.
When Byron mentions even a glimmer of interest in consumer goods it is necessary to act quickly; coaxing him into a store is more difficult than caging a woodland creature.
Byron of course experienced the adventure as acutely painful. I helped him select spectacles that actually fit his face, inquired for the correct color, and examined the stock of vintage frames for additional options. While he paced and fretted, stopping occasionally to stare at himself in the mirror, I also picked out a new set for myself.
It took exactly forty-five minutes to choose, pay the deposit, and figure out how to get the old prescriptions from Portland.
This brings up a whole new problem for me. I may need to change my hair.
I had my final check-up and clean bill of health this week. The surgeon said that the organ and debris pulled out of my belly passed pathology - no cancer.
During the most severe period of illness I kept an accurate count of my scars, but stopped at 300. My best estimate is that this new set of five brings me close to 400.
Best of all, I now have an even number of surgical scars on my belly. I was bothered by having three; it seemed so untidy.
I told Ayun about my joy at having eight scars instead of three and she replied:
I was going to get all Schoolhouse Rocky on you and say place it on its side and it's a figure meaning innnnnfinnnnnnnnnnity! But that would have to be a numeral eight and I bet the last thing you want is a trip to the plastic surgeon to make that one happen.
I took my son to the dentist. Three damaged teeth were extracted from his mouth.
Afterward we walked to the car, tears and bloody saliva drying on his face, and I helped him put on his walkman and start a new book on tape.
Then I drove home, crying silently.
I was sitting here merrily typing away when I smelled blood - not unusual when I'm working - but then I tasted it. So I went and looked in the mirror and the gums near my front teeth were gushing. Blood was bubbling around the base of my teeth and pouring into my mouth. This would not be strange if I had been eating something hot, or flossing with extreme vigor. But I was just sitting here, typing. I had a glass of water before going back to my tasks.
A short while later I checked the phone messages. The school nurse had called to say that my sweet little boy had an accident (in which, apparently, some other kid smashed his face into the wall). His two front teeth were broken, destroyed - and he was bleeding copiously.
After I came home from the hospital Byron admitted that he was afraid that I would die during the whole ordeal. This is not an unrealistic concern. My first cancer diagnosis was the improbable outcome of an appointment to check an ear infection. The skin cancer was discovered by my oral surgeon. I am an oddity and rarely have normal experiences with medical problems other people experience as routine.
During the days of uncertainty Byron remained in good humor. He was courteous, kind, amusing, and helpful - everything that I could have hoped for. I didn't have to worry about the kids or, most importantly, render assurances that I was fine. He would have helped me if I had fallen apart. He didn't criticize the fact that I remained steady and calm.
He is, to say this another way, simply the best friend I've ever had. It is a piece of extraordinary good luck that he is also my true love.
While I wondered whether to go on with the surgery (this was not an option in the eyes of the doctors, but I like to maintain a facade of control) he kept saying that the timing was convenient because he had a conference coming up. I wasn't really paying attention but he has been putting in fourteen hour days for this:
In which he is one of the experts and has presented SDV. My bespectacled sweetheart is so smart, I have no idea what he actually does at work - but he always comes home with funny stories.
Another interesting thing - the Ask Adrian portion of the conference refers to someone I went to grade school with. Life is full of startling coincidences.
I was being overly optimistic about my creaky old joints. Eating a couple of crackers was more than enough to inform me that I am not in fact recovered from surgery. I can literally hear the bones sawing against each other - it feels like it is happening inside my ear. If I open my mouth more than half an inch I am entertained by a pop and vibrating whine like a rubber band violin.
Too many surgeries, too many dislocations, and now I'm just plain old. I would rather eat yogurt and soup for another twenty years than discover exactly how far I have degenerated.
In the middle of the first cancer year my mouth would occasionally lock open. Since then I've been more inclined to keep it closed.
I've had various alternative treatments to loosen up the joints and keep 'em limber, but the cartilage is long gone. I need to be very careful.
Remember that book I've been worried about since the only copy of the manuscript was stolen from my house two years ago this month? The project I have literally gnashed my teeth over, the one I keep threatening to abandon?
I haven't decided what to do with the thing. But I finished writing it yesterday.
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the treaty ending World War 1 was signed. That was the Great War, the war to end all wars.
Now we call it Veteran's Day, and the old men who sold poppies in front of the Merit Mart are all dead. I don't like the designation of Veteran's Day because it assumes future generations killed or maimed by war. I prefer remembering the Armistice, and the hope that an atrocity of such terrible scope might teach us something, might guide us toward an optimistic future.
After the war ended, when working men and women were continuing their fight for safety and fair wages (the eight hour day, basic standards of hygiene, and similar rights we take for granted were achieved within living history; if your grandparents don't agree, you can ask mine), the IWW pulled off the first general strike in the United States. On November 11, 1919, a much-disputed event occured in Centralia between the IWW and Legionnaires. Nobody is in agreement about the sequence of events, but many people died, and an IWW member was taken from jail and executed by a mob.
These are the facts I will think about today.
Last night I went out on my first excursion since the surgery. The affair was unexpectedly complicated due to the following:
1. I cannot yet wear clothes that come into contact with the incisions.
2. I do not own any clothes that do not come into contact with the incisions.
I gave Ariel my own beloved hoodie after I weaned the boy. Most of my wardrobe was purged during the move. I have only the bare essentials - perhaps even a bit less than most people. For instance, I don't own any socks.
So I edged into the world dressed in old tattered yoga pants (the voluminous variety with drawstring waist), a Breeder shirt, and Byron's black hoodie. I had to borrow socks from my daughter, who owns no hosiery that is not brightly striped and knee-high.
I helped the kids pick out birthday presents for friends and rode along while Byron dropped girls at a slumber party. We ate miso soup and saw the lunar eclipse. I was exhausted by the time we came back, but that just meant that I slept well.
In fact, I was able to sleep on my side for the first time in over a week.
Tonight I was feeling even more ambitious and drove myself to the co-op. The ride was fine but I had forgotten about the Utne thing - my daughter, ever the center of attention, kept announcing that we are in the current issue. She opened a copy to show the checkout clerk. I closed my eyes and hummed and pretended that I was somewhere else.
My tummy is settled enough that I think I can tolerate some normal foods. I am really looking forward to opening my black sesame rice crackers.
On Wednesday, armed officers stormed a public school and, in the course of a "commando" sweep, forced students face down on the floor while performing a raid.
Where did this happen? Iraq? Afghanistan? One of the many countries controlled by dictators where citizens have no constitutional protections?
No. This attack happened at a high school in South Carolina.
Given the recent history of violence in schools, this raid is particularly horrific to any parent who sends their kids out wondering if they will have to duck bullets to survive math class.
There is no acceptable excuse for this despicable breach of the public trust - and according to CBS news, the principal doesn't offer one. He defends the action as necessary for "crime prevention" even though no drugs were located in the school.
I have simple goals for my life and for my children. I want us all to live in the country I was promised growing up - a democracy with a constitution. I do not wish for more and I will not settle for less.
It is necessary and imperative that we act now to make sure this state-sanctioned violation of civil liberties is not repeated. Please take a moment and contact anyone you think should know about this disastrous decision. Check out the direct action of one concerned woman:
Last night I ate a sandwich and took a shower! I can chew and swallow again, and I don't smell like a hospital any longer! Small things are beautiful.
One stray hospital memory: after the surgery, as they wheeled me up to the room, my main thought was I wish I had asked to keep the gallbladder and I felt an enormous chasm of regret opening in my brain. Then I remembered but I'm not twelve years old.
Later when I confided these thoughts to Byron he said I had the same thought process. Plus it wouldn't be very attractive if they were using words like sludge to describe what they took out of you.
Over the weekend I ended up in the hospital with acute cholecystitis and cholelithiasis exacerbated by existing abdominal adhesions. In other words, my gallbladder freaked out and the scar tissue all over the place made the whole experience far more risky than might have been expected. I'm home now recovering from surgery. Thanks in advance for all wishes contributing to a speedy recovery.