Panty shields up, Captain! We’re rebooting the Ovarian Operating System . . .
I know, the title of this blog alone makes you want to click fast and away. But I have to tell you a tale of consumer eco-angst removed from the simple and often expensive decision to buy local, organic products and food. But first, a little herstory . . .
There’s already been enough shame, secrecy, and taboo surrounding “that time of the month” and all the other fine euphemisms invented to be humourous or circumspect about the mystery of menstruation. There are countries where tampons weren’t and still aren’t sold because you’d have to “touch down there.” There are women who follow this practice willingly, even in forward thinking countries. They build huts and red tents and spas for this exact purpose. To wear pampers or to be pampered. Elsewhere.
But it’s moved beyond that to a place where we’re supposed to celebrate and “have a happy period,” a campaign from a company that stupidly chose their brand name to be “Always.” As in, “I’ll ALWAYS bleed, and I’ll ALWAYS wear these things.” At least Kotex, Tampex, and Playtex (all with –ex as a suffix to mean “out, from or away”) sound almost medical or medicinal. And it’s not ALL feminine hygiene, even wounded soldiers are prone to use a tampon (French for “plug” or “stopper”) to halt bullet wounds from weeping. “Always” doesn’t seem to imply medical or even chronic, instead, it implies a life sentence. Doesn’t your uterus protest? Well it should. War is hell and there’s a war in your drawers and the sick folks at Always were also responsible for aerodynamic pantyliners and pads. That’s right – they got your code red covered in homeland security and you can feel secure each month knowing there’s a little, white F-16 in your pants.
It’s not just a troubling war at home either . . . it’s covers many land masses and miles of ocean.
Your average lady uses 16,800 tampons in her lifetime, that’s 250 to 300 pounds of tampons and applicators. Tag on a few thousand pads and panty liners, and your ecological footprint is looking more like Sasquatch. Of particular offense are the plastic applicators some tampons are encased in. They are casually tossed into wastebaskets where they later escape the curb trash or landfill, trotted off by animals, resurfacing in parking lots and playgrounds and a host of other locations you’d rather not see them appear.
They come back from the watery depths to haunt you, too.
Plastic tampon applicators from sewage outfalls are one of the most common forms of trash on beaches. Yeah, you thought food wrappers and glass bottles and needles were the only gross & hazardous materials washing out to sea and coming back in with the tides. You flush them and that’s just the beginning. For building owners, pads and tampons that are flushed down the toilet are the most common cause of plumbing problems. Further down the flow, they end up the sewage treatment plants and surf into a lake or onto a river, and on into the ocean where they pool with the rest of the plastic detritus at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There it all sits and breaks down into ever smaller particles until they are the size and color of plankton or worse, are pelletized high-density polyethylene (HDPE) white “nurdles” that resemble fish eggs or food to sea creatures. Then the birds and fish ingest these hormone disrupters and concentrated toxins like PCB and DDE and the circle of life gets a big kick in the nurdles.
But it’s not just the animals somewhat removed from you, you’re an animal too, and guess what it’s doing to you by directly inserting it? Your conventional feminine hygiene products contain a mixture of rayon and cotton. Rayon is in your blouses, dresses, lingerie, linings, scarves, suits, ties, hats, socks, the filling in Zippo lighters, blankets, window treatments, upholstery, tire cord, yarn and diapers. It’s highly absorbent but no good at retaining shape and as far as biodegradability goes, it’s a real loser. Most importantly, synthetic materials like the Rayon used in tampons show an increased risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), particularly for superabsorbent tampons. So if you’re a bleeder, you’re a feeder.
And sweet, white cotton isn’t much better up in there. Cotton is highly pesticide-intensive; 25% of pesticides used globally are devoted to growing cotton. To achieve that lily-white look, pads and tampons are bleached with chlorine, a process which creates dioxins, a known carcinogen and those bad boys shouldn’t be placed anywhere near your reproductive organs. And you swear you never smoked a cigar in your life. Especially in a donkey show.
Think Outside the (Tampon) Box
It’s getting easier to select tampons, pads, and panty liners made from organic, unbleached cotton which is cultivated without the use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, sewage sludge, irradiation, petrochemicals, or genetic engineering. All of which we now have think about when looking at the towering isle of soothing, pastel colors, reminding us that yes – we’ll be back out there swimming, riding ponies, surfing at the beach and smiling while playing miniature golf in NO time.
O.B. tampons: small box, no applicator. Compact, simple cellophane wrapper covering them, easy to use, and take up very little room in your purse. It is unfathomable, but some women simple aren’t down with getting that up close and personal with their own lady bits and maybe getting their finger a little spotty. Come on darlings – this is no time to be prim and squeamish. If you haven’t seen it in a mirror to understand how it goes together and pushed the buttons to see how it works, you don’t deserve to have sex and should just hang an “Out Of Order” sign over your girdle loop. Get over it. Get into it. It’s yours. Deal.
OG-style Tampax: wrapped in paper, cardboard applicator that breaks down relatively quickly if they happen to get loose in the environment. Preferable to the Pearl brand, which has an indestructible plastic applicator strong enough for shotgun shell casings and is then further wrapped in coated paper. Awesome. Go ahead. Try running them over with your car. You can’t destroy them. They’ll only get dirty . . . and more angry. That plastic rocket launcher is just one more wasteful obstacle between you and your nana. I don’t even want to go into the perfumed varieties. Now on top of your plastic fetish, you’re going to open a vapor-impermeable pouch and stick this vulcanized, alcohol soaked albino vampire into your hoo-ha where no one and nothing but your senseless cervix can smell it? Well it doesn’t work and now you smell of lightly talcumed meat. Fail. p.s. Talc is closely related to the potent carcinogen asbestos and talc particles have been shown to cause tumors in the ovaries and lungs of cancer victims. So hey – go easy on sprinkling the Johnson’s about your leaky basement. It’s a safety hazard. You’ll slip and fall. No need to announce “clean-up on aisle one.”
Natracare and Seventh Generation: chemical-free, non chlorine-bleached, simple packaging which means even less waste. Eco-conscious enough with all the key ingredient and disclaimers including no animal-testing and skin-tested only on fellow humans. You can sleep well in the knowledge that no bunnies had to hop about with a maxi pad strapped to their fluffy bums and instead, some nice lady in a lab got itchy a few times. This is still within the normal scope of your monthly cycle.
Jade and Pearl Sea Sponge: natural tampons inspired by the traditional use of sponges by menstruating women of ancient times. So if you want to bleed like Cleopatra, this is your bag. The Egyptians invented the tampon too – so you can thank them for that little wonder. Sea sponges are available in Teenie, Regular, and Large and you precision(?) fit to size by trimming the sea sponge and experimenting with insertion. Wow. Try not to think about doing dishes or wiping counters or a nice hot sponge bath because really, I can’t see how this is either sanitary OR relaxing. So Sally, if you’re worried about sullying up the seashore, (welcome to my new menstrual tongue twister) this is all the rage amongst mythological aquatic creatures. Apparently, sea sponges are what mermaids use.
Menstrual Cups – i.e.: Diva cup, Mooncup, Instead Softcup, Lunette, Keepercup, LadyCup, Femmecup, Miacup: Ok. Here’s where I drawn the line. This ain’t a Dixie Cup, or a Sippie Cup, a Tommee Tippee Cup or an Ice Cream Cup. This is none of those fun, sweet, childlike associations. But I trust you probably got over that the first time you sprung a leak and wrecked your favorite Underroos or your expensive lingerie for failing to count the days. Maybe I just haven’t been brave enough to go with a new, miserable experience, but let me get this straight . . . i fold a plastic, rubbery cup into a jelly roll, insert this, it pops open like a tulip, I “stir” it around to make sure the umbrella’s been fully deployed, which may take some coaxing and pushing and twisting, and then I pull it out by its dangling tail at intervals, wash it and reinsert it like tiny, portable Tupper Ware?!?!
Oh, hell no!
I am not about to wash my snatch basket in the sink (and carry special, mild, perfume-free, hypo-allergenic fem soap) in between classes or you know, when I take a restroom break to freshen up while out to dinner. I mean, how does one do this discreetly? Oh, and once a month, I get the distinct displeasure of a 5-minute boil for my little traveling jellyfish at the end of the cycle in some dedicated kitchen equipment that never sees food. Or, hey, I can use rubbing alcohol (and not hydrogen peroxide) to sterilize it. But I have to be extremely careful not to soak it too long and allow it to dry completely and not degrade the integrity of the plastic and rinse the residue so I don’t fuck up my vaginal pH.
O.B. tampons sounding better all the time, huh? Can you imagine wringing out your sea sponge? Wouldn’t you rather “touch it” now?
Go With The Flow
There was a time when i worked at a place so uptight, they wouldn’t allow the female staff to carry in a purse. Whether this was for security or to keep outside worldly distractions such as cell phones to a minimum was unclear, but the idea completely incensed my friend Nicole.
“What?” she snapped. “Where are you supposed to carry your tampons, up your ass?”
I explained to her how bad the work environment sucked and how tension and impossible precision reigned, thus, the topic of anal retention seemed a very fitting description. The job had me so upset, i couldn’t poop for a week. Then I quit.
And many light flow days from then, here I was on a Wednesday nite, standing there in the supermarket isle, paralyzed by too many choices and horrible, far-reaching consequences of those attempts at informed decision. There I was: hungry, cranky, wanting ice cream and a heating pad at the same time, thinking about plumbing, and ocean waters and marine life and cancer of the Yoni.
I turn to the woman next to me who is clicking and sucking at her teeth in audible consternation, just like me, and we both smile nervously, amazed at the mini internal crisis over what we’re going to buy. Neither of us will move first, both seem to be wondering how the other will select, looking for a brave trend to follow. Somehow, there’s a preposterous sense of worry over being judged, like bringing a film or a music cd or a book to the checkout clerk, the fear of choosing poorly, unwisely, without taste or sensibilities. “Hmmm,” she says. “Yeahhhhh,” I mutter slowly and drawn out. And we both start giggling.
My cup of joy is overflowing
I consider my internal flowchart for assessing absorbency needs:
junior – aww, isn’t that cute, you inked!
light – Miss Kitty has a nose bleed.
regular – oh, yay. my period’s back.
super – omg that’s a lot of blood.
super plus – jesus, maybe you should go to the hospital!
ultra – uhh, I think that blood clot just asked for a cigarette.
I am looking for regular. Just something in between, just a few tampons, a starter pack, a holdover since i don’t see any of my normal go-tos. And all they have is “a mere scratch” or “Carrie – Prom Scene.”
So I think of the dolphins and the salmon and the seabirds and i grab the 10-pack with the small, recyclable cardboard box and no applicator with the green looking package and eco-claims to fame and the woman next to me does the same. Just enough to soldier on.
It’s all I can do, really. If I don’t want to leave with anymore acronyms. Say, add PTSD to my PMS. Christ Almighty in a hybrid – i can’t even BLEED with out feeling guilty about it in my new sustainable world concept! I leave with my chlorine-free, biodegradable, non-applicator, no plastic, rayon-free tampons and my razors (which are free from animal testing) and a pint of, yes, sorry, blood orange sorbet, and it’s a good thing. While I’m happily eating my cool treat, I don’t need to imagine poor, naked bunnies hopping around with razor burn and nicks with only a maxi-pad to keep them warm. And after all this guilt, I just want to sandwich a washcloth and tuck it in my drawers or just sit on a sock and call it good.
She is an egg and every shadowed glance,
every silent forest destroys her.
She is newborn and the shark-tooth grit
of the earth clings to her wet eyes.
She is in flames, the jeweled fire
that everyone remembers,
and then, what she had not foreseen,
She is burned and not consumed.
Burned. She feels her feathers
knit together. Burned. It hurts her
to heal. She is still.
She dreams of the next dawn,
a darkness, a nest of ash.
Tonight was the full moon. The 9th of April. The Pink Moon. The Egg Moon. Even the word April sounds like rain; it spittles from the mouth with the open promise, the gathering of air for the “A” and the plosive “pr” ending with the tongue lap of “l” at the back of the teeth. Water held back, pressed behind the dam. But that rain, as the rhyme goes, the April showers hold the promise of May flowers. Considering the wild rains Portland tends to get on the regular, I would wager that despite a couple of stellar 70 degree days that visited us early in the week, there is still a good bit of watery April left and that will require some patience. Next full moon—The Milk Moon. The Flower Moon.
Luckily, the flowers are already showing their pretty faces in the garden; purple and pink hyacinth carries on the air like a honeysuckle perfume, the camellia trees in my yard bloom bright red, some mottled with white stripes, the yellow, white and violet crocus and buttery daffodils are plenty, and the tulips have unfurled their emerald green bunny ears, though the buds are still closed tight as peapods, so many meditative eyelids, dreaming something deep and colorful. A flurry of cherry tree blossoms drift into the yard; heavy Spring wind casting a false snow, a white mimicry of Winter’s last stand.
While wandering the perimeter of the house, I found a lonely patch of trillium, a tri-fold of green heart leaves lifting up triangular white flowers, a basket of stars, everywhere in 3s.
But that’s the best part of Spring—everything coming back from Winter’s sleep, seemingly, from the dead: the flowers, the trees, the animals, the goddess Eostre, Jesus. Me.
I’ve been feeling better, I’m cooking more and enjoying all the smell and tastes and textures of food. Something happened last full moon, some strong anxietal force moved through me. Some part of me died a little, something, someone else resurrected. It was what i asked for, and lately, as I am sleeping more soundly, it is a common and powerful theme when i dream. Death, rebirth, fire, water, flying, wings, feathers, hands in the earth, digging and digging, biting and scratching my way through.
Two nights ago I dreamed I stood in a huge backyard, a large farmhouse behind me. It wasn’t quite an open field as it was fenced off. The grasses were tall in places and something straw-colored was moving through the area towards me. But all I could see were its dark eyes and furry antlers. It seemed to be part moose or reindeer and masculine—it was so large, but as it drew closer, it became softer, graceful, almost feminine despite the large antlers on its head to indicate male. It was more a Mule deer, a buck.
We both approached each other cautiously and as the deer stood still before me, it morphed into a woman. It occurred to me that i should invite her for dinner; a big party was being thrown by extended family, though it was no family I knew of and no occasion i could name. When I introduced my new friend to the men in the family, they leered a bit, patted at her long legs and lap asking why she was so quiet. I explained that she was foreign and didn’t speak the language, so the deer-woman just smiled softly at them and looked strangely at me. I grew anxious as we visited because I felt that at any moment, her glamour would break and she would morph back into the powerful, antlered creature that would bound through the room, kick over furniture and dishes and smash through the back door to escape. The thought plagued me so heavily, I pleaded with my eyes to the deer-woman, and indicated with my head that we should go back outside. She nodded and followed me.
Once we were outside, she became the buck again and wandered out into the forest where I followed her/him. A bright shock of sunlight stunned the deer and it turned on me, knocked me over, bleating, snorting and biting at my neck. It was part murder, part mating. The world went dark in a swirl of tree canopy, pearl grey sky and clouds of shattered eggshell.
When I woke, it was the woman again beside me, waiting for me to rise. My sense was that I was dead, but undead. Not quite vampire, but stony, pale and cold. I was able to move fast, to levitate, to fly and could bring someone with me, transferring the powerful ability to them, with them, so long as they linked hands or an arm with me.
The deer-woman had someone with her now, and I had a faceless someone with me. The four of us flew around until we came upon a memorial site. A grave with no body. A decorative brass commemorative plaque. With my name on it. But it was not my current married name. It was my maiden name: Andrea Jackman. I wiped dirt away from the plaque, collected cigarette butts and trash thoughtlessly discarded in the grass surrounding it and threw these things away. I felt sadness, but also, realized, it was not truly myself that was lost or dead, but a previous incarnation of self.
This lead me to seek out the mythology of the deer, the stag, ways to interpret the dream. Some of it I knew, but some of what I found amazed me in my own psyche’s ability to deliver the message.
It begins even in Neolithic Cave art where the depiction of people for hunting or shamanistic practice, dress in deer hide and wear antlers. In Classical times, the ‘Stag God’ was paramount to the Scythians and other peoples across the Eurasian steppes. To the Hungarians (my ethnic background) there is a great horned doe, which shone in multicolour lights and its antlers glittered from light.
There is the Spring renewal, the chase after the stag is a hunt for the return of the sun, searching for its light and heat which during Winter is taken away by the stag. The girls of the legend are the does, the daughters of light (Leukepius in Greek), who return the light and fertility of the sun. For that reason they have names which indicate “light, white, burning” Dula=Gyula,Gyul…, Sar=gold, light, stag. Bular or Bugur=stag in Turkic.
Ancient Norse mythology tells how 4 stags run in the branches of the ash and browse the foliage of the world-tree Yggdrasil, eating away the buds (hours), blossoms (days) and branches (seasons). Their names are: Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr, Durathor and are thought to represent the four winds.
In Greek mythology, it is the Keryneian stag, a fantastic beast with golden horns and brass hooves sacred to the huntress-goddess Artemis who turned herself into a white hind (female deer) to avoid being violated by two giants.
The deer is also a central religious image for Buddhism. Buddha is often pictured with a deer, and legend tells how he first preached in a deer park. The deer image itself representing innocence and a return to the wilderness.
In Celtic mythology, the deer is a magical creature, able to move between the worlds and many tales have humans transformed into deer. For example, St. Patrick was said to have transformed himself and his companions into deer in order to escape a trap laid by a pagan king. Cernunnos, the Celtic Horned God, was depicted with the antlers of a stag; he is said to be a god of fertility and plenty, and to be the Lord of the Beasts. According to some, his antlers symbolize a radiation of heavenly light. Images of stags were supposedly used to symbolize Cernunnos in non-human form. In the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen, the stag is one of the oldest animals in the world, along with the blackbird, the owl, the eagle and the salmon.
In some parts of Asia, deer are considered to be conductors of soul and thus the robes of shamans are usually made out of deerskin. Likewise, many Native Americans believed deer and other animals with forked horns and antlers represented forked or double nature. When the Cherokee traveled during harsh winter weather, they rubbed their feet in warm ashes and sang a song to acquire powers for the four animals whose feet never were frost bitten—opossum, wolf, fox and deer. To the Pawnee, the deer is a guide to the light of the Sun. The Panche Indians of Colombia believe that human souls pass into the bodies of deer after death and therefore eating the flesh of deer is forbidden to them. In ancient Mexico, deer were sometimes depicted carrying the Sun (similar to the ancient Steppe myth and the Scythians).
The antlers of the stag are compared to tree-branches (the world-tree Yggdrasil) and since they are shed and re-grown every year represent fertility, rejuvenation and rebirth. Carl Jung noted that “the stag is an allegory of Christ because legend attributes to it the capacity for self-renewal … In alchemy, Mercurius is allegorized as the stag because the stag can renew itself.”
This close to Easter, my mind is swirling with birth, bunnies, blossoms, eggs, animals, the moon, the sun, Christology, oh and sure, I’ve some room for chocolate in there, too. After all, it is the sweet delectables, the luscious plenty, the little gifts, and the small rewards that make such great love and transformation possible. But was my dream telling me to lay off the Twilight series by conjuring a vampire deer? Was I truly dead? Rutting? No—I’d like to think it’s the change on the horizon, the promise of sun, a great white fire I am still chasing after in the woods. Some promise borne out of rain, softening the edges, washing away the ashes, waiting for me to rise from a bed of flowers and turn my head up to the clouds of shattered eggshell to see the robin blue sky.
My favorite plum
hangs so far from me
See how it sleeps
and hear how it calls to me
See how the flesh
presses the skin,
It must be bursting
with secrets within,
I’ve seen the rest, yes
and that is the one for me
See how it shines
it will be so sweet
I’ve been so dry
it would make my heart complete
See how it lays
languid and slow
me here below
I’ve seen the best, yes
and that is the one for me
~ Suzanne Vega
::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: :::
He said, “I have seen a very strange sight. As I was coming hither, I saw two girls walking. Trees grew on their heads the boughs were covered with plums and the roots which came through their hair were fastened about their necks. They were beautiful and seemed to be very happy.”
“We will go and see them!” cried the women. They had not gone far before they saw one of the girls lying on the ground while the other pulled at the tree on her head. The roots gave way and the tree came out but all the hair came with it also. Then the other lay down and her friend in turn pulled the tree from her head. They were very angry and said, “If we meet with the man who played us this trick we will punish him.”
~ from The Algonquin legends of New England, or, Myths and folk lore of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot tribesBy Charles Godfrey Leland
::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: :::
The soft, white gardener’s gloves are coming off. i have been tending faithfully to my recovery. But two days before the full moon on the 11th, something moved in. Something came to a head, some terrible creeping vine got snarled in the works, slid through the garden, curled up around my ankles, tripped me up, sent me inside, put me in bed with cookies and tea and a warm cat and pulled from me a sobbing, frustrating confession that i laid out, soaking the cheek of my poor husband as i looked at him for consolation and answers.
i found myself frustrated, feeling ravaged, angry and sorrowful. It was all underneath there when the moon, a monstrous lever, became a shimmering coin wedged under me, a tightly capped bottle, and opened a geyser. The far away moon, a silver spade of light shot down a deep well, struck the ground and water erupted. i cried on and off for three days, mostly to myself, to a few patient and listening on the phone, and to my Joe.
For three days, i allowed myself to unravel, and found my heart weary and wrung out, resigned to being heavy and wet as a sodden sponge. My brain, a rabbit running circles in a electrified cage looking for an inch of wire that doesn’t shock. My insides, a calliope of dark, oceanic sound, guttural bagpipes under a taut waterbed. You think a waterbed is a good idea until you try sleeping on one, or moving it. Both are disappointing and painful endeavors and Buddha help you if you spring a leak somewhere. It will take all your effort to track down and fix it, if you don’t grow wildly impatient in the process. And my bum, well, it’s an occasionally unpredictable vending machine; every food an unmarked denomination that drops a bauble, a sticker, a spider, an unrecognizable & mysterious something or other and yes, we can end the metaphor right there without getting too indelicate.
My acupuncturist has said that i am very aware of my body’s innerworkings. Mmmhmm. i probably pay more attention to what i know is “me.” In fact, the biggest obstacle is likely “me” getting out of my own damn way and up from the circular pool that is my head, swimming with worry, diagnoses, concoctions, medications, and self-perpetuated misery which i think, despite the goodness of yoga and meditation has been affecting my sense of healing.
Still, i should not have to wake already dizzy and exhausted, twinged with fear; i still feel fatigued sometimes, even after decent sleep and for no good reason. i think i am in some sort of mourning stage and trying very hard to make peace with this major change and upheaval in my body. This good little machine which i feel has betrayed me somehow, or more, been betrayed by the path of care not clearly employed by my doctors and better researched, hacked at, tried and carried out by my own overwhelming desire to heal. i turn the whole puzzle with pointed questions around and around in my head: Why did my gallbladder go bad? Have i been unnecessarily harvested and robbed of a small but important piece of the original factory model? Will the rest of my body recover and compensate? Will i lead some compromised digestive and internal version of my former life? Will i ever truly heal?
how long how long how long was my teary mantra. i’m so impatient, i just want to smack myself out of it! i keep wondering “how long until i am completely well?” “how long until i have a day where i wake and feel mostly normal?” (aside from normal wear and tear or self-deprived rest). i keep asking the outside, the place without me, how long how long how long instead of delivering the directive be well be well be well to the place within me. i am not being as kind to myself as i should, i know.
What i noticed lately is this lump in my throat that appears and dissipates some. i felt it once the first week and apparently, it’s not uncommon after surgery as i’ve read other people complain about it. It’s also associated with GI disturbances and is mostly seen in the realm of anxiety and stress. My acupuncturist said it was know as Plum Pit Qi. Here’s where the explanation gets ancient, interesting and illuminating:
“The feeling of an obstruction in the throat (when there’s not an actual physical obstruction) is called Plum Pit Qi and is associated with Qi Stagnation (Liver Qi in particular). There is actually an emotional cause to this manifestation, Chinese Medicine diagnoses it as Qi and Phlegm knotted in the throat. Emotions such as sadness or frustration can produce a lump in the throat or Plum Pit Qi. The root pattern is a binding depression of Liver Qi with a concurrent inability to deal with an overwhelming emotional situation in which symbolically the patient cannot swallow. The Liver Qi attacks the Stomach causing Qi counterflow and thus interferes with the Qi transformation producing Phlegm and Dampness. The Lung and Stomach Qi counterflow causing Phlegm to become stuck in the throat so that the patient cannot expel it. Due to the severe depression of the Liver Qi there may also be rib-side pain and stuffiness in the chest.
Plum Pit Qi is first mentioned in Chinese literature in the Jin Gui Yao Lue, a treatise composed at the end of the Han Dynasty (ca. 220 A.D.). The text addresses miscellaneous disorders, mostly those suffered by women. In Chinese medicine, Plum Pit Qi corresponds to globus hystericus or neurotic esophageal stenosis in Western medicine. Sometimes, it’s even diagnosed as cricopharyngeal spasm. It refers to a sensation as if something were stuck in the back of the throat which can neither be spit up nor swallowed down. In the Chinese medical literature, this feeling is likened to a plum pit stuck in the throat or a piece of roasted meat. As its Western names suggest, this is a psychiatric diagnosis associated with anxiety, depression, and stress.”
:: sigh:: Great. In Eastern terms, i have blocked energy, stagnant blood, dampened, gummed up insides which lead my organs to attack, invade and otherwise kung fu the hell out of each other’s energy flow. In Western terms, succinctly, i am officially, a nutter. But if nothing else, and after all that fascinating text, i can put a name to it. i can actually visualize it all in terms of energy or in somewhat physically impossible metaphors. i KNEW it’s been my angry liver kicking the ass of my spleen and stomach.
i suppose you could categorize my private, internal emotional state as mildly depressed if not weathered by the experience of going from merrily eating and drinking up food, wine and life to this cautious balancing act with my body. So, my acupuncturist and i, through open discussion, have been concentrating on those points dealing with the liver and depression or mood. i DO feel better after yoga and meditation, but it’s been rather like an episodic bandage over an unclosed gash. i realize that the change for the better is going to be incremental, but what i’m really wishing for is for that big, red panic button in my brain to become the reset button or to be shot through with sudden, glorious, radiant, healing light.
This plum pit of mine is also thought to be associated with GERD & the like, though all i can say is the Pepcid i was prescribed for nausea from suspected reflux gave me headaches on top of it all and didn’t seem to affect anything dramatically over time or from withdrawal. On it, off it, nothing really changed.
i was never instructed how long to take them, never followed up with and i NEVER had acid reflux before, so why now? If i have to campaign aggressively for my own health, i’d rather do an ERCP, a barium swallow or MRI studies to determine the actual likelihood & amount of acid reflux if any. Then, at least there would be reason to have any given medication prescribed. The whole, “I have this symptom, so give me that med” without any physical diagnostic tool can’t be very accurate. That’s how the meds pile up. It becomes a Jenga game of stacking up pills that mask the inital symptom with a new, undesired symptom that requires counter-measures by way of new drugs further inducing another crop of symptoms until it’s about livable through layered pain management. By then, you are taking the first through fourth medication, you’ve built a wall around the actual foundation, the original underlying cause which, if pulled out gently and addressed is just like pulling the crucial block from the bottom that’s fucking up the whole balance, thereby, finally – bringing the unhealthy, leaning tower down.
As you’d expect, it’s also recommended from the Western side of things to try soothing the plum pit with anti-anxiety meds & anti-depressants (globus hystericus or neurotic esophageal stenosis) and/or to see if Valium or a similar muscle relaxant stops it (cricopharyngeal spasm). Now, i’m not worried about the stigma of anti-i-can’t-deal-anymore meds. They are a familiar friend in my family and we didn’t ask to be crazy or to live in such an occasionally mucked-up world. Trust me, when things got bad, i have used them to straighten out, click the serotonin up a notch and get back in the game.
But now, i seem to want less pharmaceuticals in me, less things for my liver to clear out and cough up and more vitamins and supplements for my body to take in. i added digestive enzymes which includes acidophilus, and that seems to help with meals and the end-product of, so to speak. They are also reputed to help with the supposed reflux problem i may or may not have. So, buh-bye Pepcid. This next visit to the acupuncturist will include new liver points and a specially formulated Chinese medicine specific to my symptoms, weight and constitution. Again, i have to ask, why doesn’t Western medicine do MORE of this special, individualized care better?
The time of the liver on the Chinese circadian clock is between 1 and 3 a.m. Guess what time i wake up to write and pace the house? Yeah. Even now, it’s 1:49 am as i type this bit of the story. Go to sleep liver, you’re wearing me out.
For those three days i argued with myself, maybe i SHOULD get on some anti-something-or-anothers to straighten out a chemical imbalance and let the rest of the healthy activities take their course & full effect. It’s so strange . . . i don’t really feel depressed, i interact normally and cheerfully enough with people, i’m still productive (albeit in personal endeavors alone since i am STILL unemployed) but people close to me have noticed i am not as light and confident as i used to be, that something in me is stifled. And it’s true, in my private moments, i DO have those dark blue thoughts, feel discouraged and notice the tension and discomfort move through my body in unpredictable cycles and in new, sometimes unpleasant sensations. So, perhaps there are these organic after effects i’m not consciously aware of, clouding things up in there. i am producing plum pits that rise and fall and when it falls to the bottom, what will grow then?
i am trying to count blessings; i am not battling cancer, i am loved by family, friends and completely supported by Joe in every manner as any woman could want for. i have all that i need to survive and well beyond basic necessities. But simply stated, eating to live is necessary and enjoying eating is difficult, thus life has become more difficult. Some days i am just throwing belly timber in. Food and vitamins and supplements to keep the fire stoked and the machine working. Good days, i actually enjoy the food. Bad days, i get it past my lips and worry if the enemy has crossed over and smuggled in a tank of gasoline to set the place on fire and shut the engine room down. But it appears the engine room is missing a particularly important cog. And in keeping with my current interest of interpreting maladies through Chinese medicine . . .
The functions of the Gallbladder are:
– Store and excrete bile
– Govern decision making
– Control sinews
– Affect dreams
– Close relation with the Liver
There is a reason i cannot sleep – my liver is angry, i feel indecisive and weakened besides the actual trauma of surgery. It is explained that “the Gallbladder affects the quality and length of sleep, if it is deficient a person will wake very early and not be able to return to sleep. When the Gallbladder is deficient, one dreams of fights, trials, and suicide.” (Spiritual Axis). Further, “the Liver is considered to be responsible for the ability to plan life, the Heart oversees all mental functions, the Small Intestine gives clarity and wisdom to decision making, and the Gallbladder gives the courage and capacity to make decisions. All these functions must be harmonized to plan and lead a harmonized life. If the Gallbladder is weak a person will be timid and lack initiative and courage. The Gallbladder gives us drive and the passion to excel and the action potential necessary for these to come to fruition. Dealing with adversity also comes under the role of the Gallbladder. It is often necessary to tonify the Gallbladder to support the Heart’s function.”
I wonder what Chinese Medicine says about cholecystectomy. About carrying on with missing, integral parts. Well – let’s deal with the big part that’s left . . .
i’ve begun to imagine my Liver as a powerful, insightful, well-educated, well-informed and well-manicured woman dressed to the nines, and someone stole her favorite little purse with all her money, identity and mojo. My liver was a vibrant lady and i though i gave her plenty to do, i never taxed her too hard. But without a place to store and concentrate on who she is inside and where she’s going, she currently finds herself rather lost in cortisol-laced, moonfaced dreams.
If i could paint the image of how i feel inside it would look like this:
A red-haired girl in the lotus position sitting below a Weeping Plum Tree, reaching up with both hands at the top of squared elbows, her fingers in Gyan Mudra, her index fingers and thumbs signaling ‘ok’ with her palms upturned to catch what may fall from the tree. She looks up, her chin lifted slightly, reaching more with one hand to draw down the perfect plum, dangling just out of reach. Scattered around her in the grass below, the flesh of half-eaten plums are lit upon by ladybugs, butterflies and pushed about in the mandibles of stag beetles, glossy as patent leather, trundling in circles like dark little bulldozers. The plum tree is unusual and split in half between two seasons of growth. Half of the weeping tendrils are covered in wintry, Valentine blossoms of red, pink and white with bare, black bark twisting though in burls and spirals; witchy, clawed fingers stretching down and pointed out as if to touch. On this side, orange-amber prescription bottles hang, some without caps, raining white pills like the petals of Ume flowers. The other half is covered in Spring & Summer leaves, drooping under the weight of fat, glimmering, thick-skinned, purple plums.
The Ume flowers on plum trees are celebrated and adored in both China and Japan. In China, the blossoms symbolize struggle and endurance of winter’s hardship; they embody resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity because it is in the winter snow they bloom most vibrantly. Conversely, Japanese see the Ume blossoms as a harbinger of Spring and tradition holds they function as a protective charm against evil.
That moon pulled on me as it does the tides, drawing the water down, out and away. In all those tears, the plum-pit in my throat has softened, but there are still these knots inside. Plum pits swallowed, waiting to surface, to be spat. There is an approaching midpoint; the fear of dying off, the relinquishing of control, the surrender in letting go and the promise of rebirth. Of something allowed to die in order to come back in a new form. The last fury of Winter Solstice. The first whisper of Vernal Equinox.
i am that girl, in seated meditation, grounded and split between two seasons, with both hands reaching for protection, for nourishment, for my favorite plum and for the small things tending the garden to carry away and bury the pit.
February is and in my case WAS such a short, sometimes brutal month. Then you have March, which does the ins and outs of wild predator to tame sweater maker. But in the short month of February i packed in a lot of healing, writing & music readying myself for the tempest of March.
Qi To The Kingdom . . . Or, i Am A Tiny Pin Cushion
i began seeing an acupuncturist to well, to unfuck my qi. Being a stickler for detail, i’ve kept a calendar since my surgery detailing and tracking my symptoms, moods, foods, internal movements, etc. i’ve been drawing a gradation of faces from frowny to flat to a simple upturned bow to smilies with big dotted eyes and a row of piano key teeth. i doodle and color my calendar with markers, moods, faces, any sign of discomfort and yes, even when i poo to be consistent with patterns. i do this NOT to become the obsessive spaz, holding onto illness like a war medal, but to determine severity & frequency to see if i am improving or moving towards healing. And if not – to do something very proactive about it.
My acupuncturist is a very kind man who went over my extremely detailed laundry list of complaints and undesirable changes in my body. We talked for over an hour before he even put a needle in me. Hardly any practitioner of any healing art, takes the time and energy to do this; there simply is no time to listen or touch or get all the detailed information that forges the craft of a good diagnostician. This is especially true in Western Medicine. Which is why i chose the modern miracle of Western Medicine for surgery and the centuries old Eastern Philosophies for healing.
“Wow, this is great,” he said, scanning my list of dates and list of maladies, “No one does this. It’s really organized.Very helpful.”
He went over the whole page with me.
Once we figured on a plan of how acupuncture and Chinese medicine could help me, i felt a sense of calm purpose, and he began tapping hair-thin needles into my legs, wrists, shoulders, neck, ears, all along my abdomen near the floating ribs and liver, a few near my stomach, even some threaded underneath the scar tissue on my stomach to soften and flatten.
Then he took what looked like a big black crayon, a half-smoked cigar, or a pointed smudge stick. It was moxa, heated Mugwort which he applied near the needle tips to send heat into the acupuncture points. It felt pretty wonderful actually. My stiff, knotted trapezius muscles softened, nausea vanished, headache faded and my stomach and bowels were still and calm. This last visit, i told him i had a creaky knee, he touched around, squeezed lightly and asked if i had been using my quads to do some lifting and bending the day before. It was true as i recalled all those half squats in yoga and he stuck one in for that. i also expressed difficulty falling asleep, and damn it i LOVE me some sleep, so he tapped a little silver needle right into the top of my head to clear the airwaves. Then he put a crinkled mylar blanket over me: light as air, silver as Mercury and i lay there, a little Fembot, conserving heat and energy under my quasi-futuristic Austin Powers blankie.
i feel like things are definitely improving inside. Much calmer and less symptomatic. yoga’s been great, food is becoming my friend again, acupuncture seems to be helping and i’m taking a Chinese herb called Shu Gan Wan (liver soothe) to stop my liver from being so pissed about my gallbladder being gone. They are miniature versions of Whoppers chocolate malted milk balls, but they taste like curry. The most interesting visual diagnoses delivered upon me: liver invading spleen and liver invading stomach. Not a bad way to think about it really. The way the Chinese see it accurately describes the miniature battle that’s been raging in my guts since surgery. In the 2 days following treatment, i’ve sometimes felt an internal struggle for domination, like there are knots being untied, like i’ve been damp and bit drowned inside and then i come out the other end and it’s all Snow White & bluebirds. i have more energy, i get ravenous and my outlook improves.
i’ve added a Calcium, Magnesium & Vitamin D supplement combo (what a horse pill), A Vitamin B complex & Spirulina. Rather than those amber bottles clogging up the cabinet, i now rattle vitamin supplements onto a little red dish in and effort to boost my immune system and well-being. i would say i’m at about 75%. i guess i’m just looking for time and worry to pass and toss me the other quarter.
Usual Suspects – Netflix – Matrix – Conflicts
i’m still unemployed, but trying to occupy myself. If i didn’t have yoga or the occasional social outing with Joe and his work mates, plus Tiffany & Chelsea, i’d be a house mouse for sure. Of course, this may change when Spring comes into full bloom and i expect it to. i can see happy little yellow & purple crocus poking through in the backyard, so there’s a spot of sunshine yet . . .
i fire off about 4 resumes every other day. Then i hear stories about how an ad for a front desk position at a local yoga studio garnered, not 6, not 60, but SIX HUNDRED applicants and i get to thinking, unless my email arrives blinking or on fire, there’s no way i’m getting noticed. i applied for a local position at a Chiropractic office, found my best business casual with a little Portland funk and showed up in person to the office where i found myself on day one of two amidst a light cattle call. 5 women were already standing in a room like Star Search & American Idol contestants, beauty pageant finalists, the weakest link, a lineup.
And it was the usual suspects. The over-bleached & frosted tan woman with alligator handbag face (too may hours poolside) drinkingCoors Light, guilty of wearing fluorescent cotton jumpers, coral lipstick and hair scrunchies, probably just relocated from the Carolinas or Florida. The dumpy girl in business casual, pock-marked, unremarkable, practically invisible, hunched back from self-deprecation, flinching & shying from imaginary social punches, shifty, downcast eyes and shuffling feet looking for a nice quiet office to answer phones in, listen to soft music, eat bologna and American cheese sandwiches in and hide. The Sweetie-pie mouse girl, flat brown hair, doe-eyed, squared off chiclet-smile, high-pitch, pedamorphic voice both docile and simmering. The other two women were variations on a theme. Background noise. i was just waiting for the talent portion so i could showcase my baton twirling.
The rotund, possibly former high school football coach now Chiropractor with soft, spiky, salt-and-pepper would-be-Mike-Ditka hair shuffled through our resumes like quiz sheets. Doctor Ditka then asked each of us if we had undergone any chiropractic work and for what ailment. Turns out i was the only candidate who hadn’t been cracked and i couldn’t tell if this fact was a help or hindrance to my cause. No previous body work and one couldn’t truly expect to explain the process or how it feels. Previous work and you may just be looking for some free medical care.
Then the assistant spoke up. She was Doctor Ditka’s little frau, and i caught her checking out my legs in black tights and eying my skirt up and down. She made a lot of eye contact with me but probably because i was taught it was polite to look speakers in the eye. Even when they’re addressing a group.
She went over the finer points of duties and representation at the job, stock still and legs straddled with a clip board held in one hand and wedged into her belly like she was about to call off a cheerleading squad roster, or note how slow your last lap was, or go body surfing. Except, this was winter and she wore burnt-caramel suede & beige fur boots, tight blue-black jeans belted off with a strap of leather i imagined she could unbuckle and snake through her belt loops to beat you quickly with. It was all topped with a grey angora sweater. A snuggly little snit, a real fuzzy blowhard, probably a former stoner, rock chick & bully known to sit on the smaller, smarter girl’s chest at school and bloody her nose for her.
i quickly assessed who was in charge of this operation and it wasn’t Doctor Ditka or the nice older woman smiling at the front desk. After receiving frau’s full up & down measure, i also knew that job was not going to be mine.
People aren’t going out much, home entertainment and movie watching is up, and this is true of me as well, so i applied at Netflix for shits and giggles. They called within hours and scheduled a phone interview. Apparently Netflix is a rarity in corporate customer service. They decided to employ human voices, eliminated e-mail-based customer service inquiries, chose not to outsource or go offshore, and set up their big call center in Hillsboro, Oregon “because it thought that Oregonians would present a friendlier voice to its customers.”
So, i had a nice chat with a woman who conducted a phone interview, went over some of those basic, “tell me about how cool, calm, successful and how much of a suck-up, pretty little cog, team player you are.” And then she asked two strange questions. “Would you like to be considered for a second interview?” Oh, no thanks Judy, i’d like to stay in my pajamas all day and ask my poor working husband to bring me bon-bons and tampons since i’m not a financial contribution to the household, but this has been a real hoot, thanks for asking. And,”Would you like to work in a call center?” Oh, yeah, i mean, i dream of sitting in a desk with open cubicles in a sea of heads wearing headsets jacked into the hive mind, assimilated like the fucking Borg, pausing just enough to slurp down a salty, stryofoam, pseudo nutrition container called Cup O’ Noodles and get right back to it at any time in the 24 hr span you’re open. Who needs a circadian rhythm, right?
But i answered safely, and quite honestly. “i’m highly efficient and i think i am fully capable of working in a call center.” Translation: “i am made of sturdy human material able to withstand the inquiries of irate morons and confused grandmothers and techless luddites. i am able to hack the necessary mundanity and the flexibility to talk to anyone from any walk of life even if all they want to do is talk. i am a meat popsicle. And yes, i will do it for $12 an hour.”
i wasn’t going to lie about it. What we want and what we are able to do, are often quite different. i want for things i am unable to do and i am able to do things i don’t want.
All of the above line of inquiry is mostly about touting one’s own work ethic, But i wish i had known about Chelsea’s latest answer to the interview question, “What do you consider your weakness.”
She simply rolled her eyes, tossed her head softly, sighed and helplessly replied, “Chocolate.”
Foolish Words, Bird Song & Shiek Music
Joe, Chelsea & i went to see Christopher Moore as he stopped in on Powell’s Books in Beaverton, touring in support of his new book, Fool. He didn’t read excerpts, but DID regale us with funny stories as any good jester would.
i waited for a little over two hours to say hello and have him sign my book, while i fumbled through half stories of the times his writing kept us entertained on road trips.
“Hi, we’ve met,” he said.
“Well, i comment on your blog.”
“Right, well, good to meet you in person.”
He actually recognized me, i think, and probably through pictures but maybe he says that to all his MySpace / Facebook buddies. So i dropped him a quick public thank you:
‘thank you SO much for coming out to Portland (Beaverton) and staying so long to sign books and chat with everyone.
i was terribly flattered you remembered me from photos here and said i’d looked familiar. (probably from blog comments). i’ll be riding that cloud all week . . .
i really enjoyed your stories (“sorry”). i also really enjoyed meeting you in person since, like a good friend, you’ve made me laugh at so many times in my life.
i probably should’ve said that, but you know, the mind goes blank in the “awkward moment” that accompanies book signing as you put it.
also, i probably should’ve offered to take you out & feed you, since they had you shackled to a podium then a table so long, but didn’t want to imply an undue familiarity. just sayin’.
next time . . .thanks again!‘
He was kind enough to write me a quick personal message back, which, as i informed him, made my millennium. i wonder if he’ll read this . . .
That same Saturday, Joe & i went with friends, Janet, Adam & Hillary out for a nice little dinner at Thai Peacock at then to see Andrew Bird at the Roseland Theater. i will not bore you with my full-blown review because, as anyone who knows anything about me, i am a HUGE fangirl of Mr. Bird and can gush at great length. Suffice it to say, it was one of the warmest, most intimate, tightly performed and emotionally charged shows of his i’ve ever seen.
Five days later, i’m sitting quietly at home reading my email when a blast comes through from the Aladdin Theater for FREE tickets to see, Duncan Sheik. Do you all remember him? Sudden unexpected pop heartthrob who put out “Barely Breathing” then apparently went on to compose, quite successfully, for film & Broadway musicals. Somewhere in that road he found Buddhism, explored his pop-roots and electronica and went from blue-eyed crybaby crooner to what appeared on stage to be softshoe hobo, railroad vagabond. Complete with floppy hat. No offense, but i like my pop-candy to be a little more polished. Even so, he was soothing enough and perfectly entertaining, particularly when joined onstage and accompanied in harmony by pianist/vocalist Holly Brook, a spritely, red-headed songstress with an easy voice who perked my ears with “Mama Who Bore Me.” i thought she sounded like those pitch-perfect singers on Broadway and indeed, the song is from Sheik’s Spring Awakening and was sonically delivered as such.
He seemed humourously self-aware onstage, in that sort of clumsy, rushed and fearful of rejection way that makes you check your fly and crumple your hat or roll a piece of paper into a straw. He began every introduction with, “Ok, so . . .” then while fiddling with one of 5 guitars, explained the song’s meaning and context as it applied to storylines in one of two Broadway plays he wrote music for. Then he’d crack a small joke or two, launch in, finish and begin again, “Ok, so . . .” Here and there he sprinkled in familiar pop tracks and love songs.
It struck me while i was awash in the soft repeating flow, that certain artists have a “sound” and so, i found myself trying to figure out the landscape of his music, the places i went to, the things i imagined. That sound for any given artist can be mathematically complex, assaulting, heart-beating, ass-wiggling, spirit soaring, a warm bath or just plain vanilla. Music to vacuum by. But it occurred to me that Duncan Shiek’s music, nearly the whole of it, sounds like a day at the beach, and not all the sunny, splashy, sandcastles & coconut lotion bit. But the white noise of the ocean, the call of circling birds, the cool that moves in around 6pm after a long day of swimming and sunbathing, the blue sky gone grey and overcast, the part of the day where you are tired and melancholy and have to pack up the blankets, shake out towels, rinse your flip-flops in the surf and walk back half a mile to the car with sand on and in unpleasant crevices. And you didn’t even get to stay and watch the sunset with a good bottle of wine, because the kids were whining, because the wind kicked up, because a storm moved in, because your lover/wife/husband is not who you think they are / hope they’d be. That’s what it sounds like.
But boy, the people were into it. And probably vacuumed up sand to it regularly or settled in with a pint of Vanilla. You know, after the beach.
To his credit, Duncan Shiek is a fine & thoughtful songwriter, he’s just not as deeply provoking as some. Gold star finish though – he ended his encore set with a most righteous cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” Finally, something real.
Welcome to the world of big monsters in pants and big possibilities!
If my SPAM is any indication of my shortcomings then i definitely have a small penis and should do something about that if i ever intend to satisfy ANY woman. i should also invest in discount Viagra & Cialis to keep my new size erect and in check. And if i really want to impress, i need “a status symbol of today” because “an expensive watch makes a huge difference socially and at the office.” Because, people look upon an expensive watch with “feelings of envy, wealth, and wanting.” But why would i want to spend all that money i don’t have? i should invest in a replica watch. Big and expensive to match my new “enormous manfullness in my pants.”
Even my SPAM is trying to tell me i’m an inadequate man in the working and dating world, which i guess is fine, seeing as how i’m an unemployed, married woman. They’ve got me all wrong. But i save the real gems for a laugh:
“You’ll be able to invade so deep into woman, she’ll scream and shout like crazy.”
“She will stay by your side as you have that bulgy pride.”
“No matter how you are dressed everybody will see that you are blessed.”
From Writing Under The Influence to Creatively Sober
i encourage anyone who fancies a good scribble, wants to write, practices writing or contemplates the writing / creative life seriously to watch it. It actually made me cry.
As a background, Joe & i listened to Eat, Love, Pray while we trekked across the country to from Springfield, VA to Portland, OR and though i found most of it moving but some of it rife with her own personal drama and insecurities, this speech of hers was much more coherent and truly inspiring. i liked the idea of something passing through you, urging to be captured and caught by the tail, then wrestled to the paper, else it chooses to move on and select someone else to come through.
And well . . . i have to agree with her and her stories of other creative types. i have muses, sure enough. Guides. Voices. Faeries. Things that keep me up at nite or prod me on in the middle of the day, with something loud and clear to say. Often in the shower, sometimes i hear it right in my head or chest, a booming, filling voice. Sometimes it is in my own voice. Sometimes, it’s not. It’s ok – i’m no stranger to odd voices and old muses. it is my Greek Chorus, my accompanying soundtrack, the movie voice over. The Blathering Other.
Then, when the voice(s) go dead on the line, i write stuff like THIS too, just to address the situation . . . So even when i’m not wrtiting, i’m writing about it. very reflexive if for nothing else but the mere exercise.
What i’ve learned is that, for me, it IS an exercise, it’s a voice (or several) that like any good relationship, need cultivation and conversation to keep them active and accessible and “flowing.” As in “real life,” there are some friends for whom, if you don’t call for awhile, get offended.
But the bigger question about torturing oneself with the expectation of follow-up, or creative force, or the fears of “can i produce if i am NOT miserable?” And “do i have anything to say if i am not suffering?” Or “do i have to descend into madness in order to arrive at genius?”
Recently i was asked this:
Is it true, that hard times make you even more creative, allowing you to produce great art?
Perhaps there was a time in my life when it was somewhat true, but now it’s more about transcendence. that’s where our ‘art’ or trade or practice of the thing we do best comes in . . . and i’ve talked about this at great length before.
In essence i have learned not to abuse my “art,” not to squander talent into personal transformation through miserable expression. Suffering is apparent, pain is necessary, yes – but it is NOT the desired or correct state, purpose or constant in this life. And if it is – you’re doing it ALL WRONG.
i think getting to the other side of bad times bravely, however you document it in your art, is the goal. But making sure you have something to say or paint or photograph or film when life is blissful, is just as important.
i can remember a time where i’d plunk down in front of the computer, get to writing or editing photos (or Christ almighty, compose email) and kill a bottle of wine by myself, no problem and with little effect. i did this mostly because it was there, partly because it was business (i sampled wine from distributors for restaurant purchase) and lastly because it was wet and slightly more interesting than water (which i kept stacked in bottles within crates. Hydrate while you drink, people.)
Now, lately when i bring a drink to my face, i can almost feel my liver raise up and bitch slap it out of my hand. The smell of beer, fresh or stale in a room, on the breath in my face, or on clothing makes me sick. Apparently, my liquor license went out the door in my bellybutton along with my gallbladder. This is coming to you from a woman who in most pictures i am smiling, with a wine glass thrust forward in the frame as if to toast to anyone looking on and willing to share. These days, i’m afraid wine will turn my guts into a pit of roiling acid and deliver a mean hangover. So i guess i just wait, until things calm down and my liver and i come to an understanding.
And when it comes to sharing & understanding, for me, it’s often those random letters and email messages from old friends, new friends and complete strangers that i find myself sitting down to flex and exercise my writing muscles. Often, i cut and paste bits from email correspondences into the blog and vice versa, so don’t be upset if something we might’ve shared in supposed privacy ends up in some public form. i hope that doesn’t cheapen the exchange. i like to remember people and things they’ve made me consider and think deeply about. Sometimes it happens when i write them.
In some ways, i suppose i repeat myself, but i do this because, i “said” it once already, just the way i wanted to, and i don’t want to repeat myself. Redundantly unclever, i know. Didn’t you get the memo? It’s the primary reason for having a blog, it’s better than having you dig into my email, my word documents, my sketch pads in my car door and desk drawer or rifle through the stacks of dream journals at my nitestand. i mean, that’s where i go to collect my thoughts and try to reassemble them later.
Stories For Boys . . .
So, on the topic of later assembly, i dug up an old document from an upper-level creative writing course i took years ago. It’s about 70 pages loosely forming some sort of memoir. It’s not strictly linear, like you’d imagine, “i was born, this stuff happened, my mama, my pop, my sister and the hamster and the dog and the cat and the cute boy and the asshole best friend.” There are some elements of that, to be sure, but mostly i seem to mention the various people, mostly men whose friendships and entanglements pushed my personality forward and helped define me and what i do or do not want out of any configuration of friendship or relationship.
Now, that said, this is not a Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias joint, a wide-sweeping “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” type proclamation, nor is it a tell-all rockstar biography. More like, what it was to grow up and make sense of the self. i’ll admit, probably owing to the time in my education and life, it smacks a of little feminism, trying on clothes, trying on lovers, divorce, mommy & daddy issues. But i think it’s a pretty fun & revealing romp, things even i’d forgotten about, so i’ll probably just intersperse them like chapters in between actual, current blogs at random, as i re-work them and under the title “Stories for Boys: (#).” They’ll be easier to tag, bag and search for.
As you might’ve guessed, i don’t change the names to protect the innocent, either. After all, we were just children then, honey. Trying to figure it all out.
This morning a text message came in from the East Coast at 5:45am, PST. It was Meg and i was glad to hear from her, but i was also incoherent and back to sleep in moments. Then Joe kissed me goodbye as he does every morning just before 8am and i look for this happily, then listen to his shoes, the cupboard opening, the retrieval of a travel coffee mug, the door locking behind him marking that i’m safe again and i drift off once more. Then my Google Calender texted me remotely at 9am to remind me to pay Geico car insurance. Greedy lizard bastard. And just when i was drifting off for what i had hoped was the third and final time, a symphony of slamming ensues, the garbage truck begins its Thursday morning rumble through the neighborhood and i am officially awake and staring out the window at a misty fog and as i am surfacing from a sleepy fog of my own, i realize – today marks one month since my surgery . . .
As far as my health goes, forgive my over-explanation, reiteration and just plain TMI-fication if you find it tiresome – but i need to do this, to document it so i can look back on it someday down the line and say to myself, “see, you were going to be fine all along.” Several months from now, i’ll be looking forward to NOT overly concerning myself with all transportation of items in and out of me.
Overall, i AM feeling much better, there are some days i feel awesome and a few days last week where i felt, not so awesome. A couple bouts of the loosey gooseys and a bit of late nite nausea plus vomiting once. Today i feel fine, and it’s mostly because i’ve been able to sleep and eat MORE for several days; both of those things are hard to do when you are anxious and nauseous. Rice and stirfry type food arrangements seem to make me most happy, so i guess i’ll just become Chinese.
i realize that i must give my body time to adjust. Since i no longer contain an organ receptacle for the biliary system, my liver’s all, “WTF mate?” and it just tosses bile down there willy-nilly. This sends acid production into overdrive and makes my stomach go wild, which is the cause of the queasies & uneasies. It’s hard enough out there with the peanut butter salmonella scare or my grocery cashier coughing, blowing her nose and touching all of my food as she scans it, or my friends & family assuming that a female my age just might be pregnant . . . so i tried to separate all that out and got some advice from my doctor as well as friends who’ve gone through this, even if it was anecdotal.
p.s. the next person to attribute my nausea and poo spells to pregnancy gets their gallbladder removed by me. with a spork.
i am also aware that this adjustment is different in different bodies and can be 3-6 months or even a year before things settle down in there, and sadly, some of the symptoms end up being recurrent or chronic in a handful of people. in most other cases, it’s just learning the triggers during the culinary adventure and hoping i don’t have to deal with anything that affects my eating. most food is cool and i’m taking it in smaller meals more often (as i did before, really) it’s obvious and pretty much immediate when food is NOT cool – it’s a straight lever pull to the luge. Amazing really . . . i know potato chips are OUT, perhaps unless they’re baked and Progresso soup proved to be an inexplicably bad experiment. And yeah, i know, i’m a real lady and all, but it’s the humbling stupid human tricks that make us all equals . . . Nothing like being a grown woman and filling your pants. uggghhh, fantastic!
i have added a B-complex with Folic Acid, and have chewed 1-2 Citrucel chocolate/caramel fiber chews (what am i, 60?) this seems to help some with energy and digestion. And the caramel ones aren’t bad, though the chocolate ones taste like a lame-ass diet Tootsie Roll. i don’t want to do the carb/fiber overload and i’ll be damned if i have to mix up some orange bum Tang cocktail in the morning everyday and fuck with my tea ritual, you know? My digestive system is rewiring for sure in there, but seriously, to go from a wealth of crazy delicious cuisine & wine to the BRAT diet and water, tea & juice well . . . did i mention even a leeetle bit of alcohol tends to make me really drunk and also, suddenly nauseous. i have to wait on that a bit too . . . oh, how the mighty have fallen, huh?
My doctor sent me in for more bloodwork to check my liver and pancreatic functions. They got me in both arms, the vampires. It all came back normal, thank goodness. She put me on famotidine. Yup, Pepcid. A histamine H2-receptor antagonist that inhibits stomach acid production. The amber bottles with my name on them just keep lining up in the cabinet like matryoshkas, little nested Russian dolls. i am hoping to pull them and my ailments out from inside each other till i am left with the tiniest one and i can get all the way healthy without them. But i am happy to report, eating has been much more pleasurable since Pepcid, as well as the necessary by-product of eating. It’s calmed me down considerably.
i’ve been mostly convalescing with a smattering of social outings and i think that has been making me a bit batty. Now that the scar tissue isn’t feeling so taut, i am starting back into the swing of things exercise wise, and that includes some yoga. i am also looking into Mayan abdominal and Craniosacral massage to get things moving, to realign and to push the reset button on my nervous system, to let it know it’s all over now and it’s time to busy myself with feeling better. Primarily i need to de-stress and remove the toxins and pain my body has been holding & clenching to itself.
i did find a really nice local yoga studio that i’m gearing up to join full-time. it’s called OmBase Yoga. i’ve been to 4 classes so far this week and have enjoyed the instructors & release in all of them. My legs tremble as they try to support me, my arms quiver under my weight, i can feel the tightness in my hamstrings, shoulders and back moan a little when i call on them to move this way, then push them just a little further, but i am grateful to breathe, to get out of my head-chatter and break existence down to nothing but me and the space on my mat.
The studio is a warm, tall, open space with burnt caramel colored wooden floors and beams, a few orange and magenta colored arches, and a little womb-like fireplace with a fan on top, drawing the heat up out its potbelly to move about. It’s more well-manicured barn than dance studio, crystal singing bowls, lots of Zen-like décor, subtle incense no full-length wall mirrors.
the left side of the studio . . .
i am STILL unemployed and a bit discouraged, which doesn’t lend to the mood of productivity or getting out of my house mouse routine. But, i have a funny little gig lined up for freelance photo work, which is a minor story too. So – firstly, you know, i’m a big fan of socks. Knee-highs & up to be exact. and the more colorful, interesting, sexy, star-spangled, stripey, spidery and silly, the better. There’s this place i used to mail-order from called Sock Dreams when i lived on the east coast (free shipping!) and it turns out it’s located here in Portland. Less that 2 miles from me.
So a few months back i wrote the website, offering my services of ANY type: shipping, storefront, website maintenance, photography, leg model, guinea pig, coffee, tea & bagel donkey . . . you get the idea. i was invited to take a tour of the place where i was introduced to the staff, the 3 resident dogs and her husband/muse who said he’d recognized me through pictures. She’d expressed that she’d love to hire me, but the crush of the Holiday Season, the current economy, possible downsizing already in January, etc. i left with the gentle offer to be kept in mind in the future, perhaps finding some way to edge me in.
This week they got a shipment of baby socks so i took several pairs to photograph on some friends’ one & two year old son and daughter as they “modeled” them. i will be paid in part cash and part socks, per our agreement. The bebe’s get to keep the socks and i may keep a few pairs to send to my friends on the East Coast as gifts, since everyone is busy having babies over there. Barter just works better for me these days than real livelihood. Aside from actual feet in socks, i did get a cute portrait of one of the models . . .
Speaking of lively . . .
As for the Obamamania – i took Joe to work that morning on Inauguration Day, we tuned into NPR, listened to Obama fumble the oath, the quartet bit from John Williams (i joked that the Star Wars Theme would erupt and actually broke into humming the opening strains, which got us both laughing) then i was annoyed that the NPR commentator was golf hush talking over the performance like it was background music. i drove home and listened to the poet in my driveway, then watched the rest through the Luncheon on CNN until i decided that i also, needed some lunch.
Later i went online and caught the highlights of the ball, particularly the Beyonce rendition of “At Last” since i love Etta James. We went to our friend Adam’s house for a party where the guests were encouraged to write all over a 4-foot sketch of Bush taped to wall, including all the things about him we were glad to see GO (we did NOT however spare him the requisite Hitler stache or Devil horns or speech bubbles with Bushisms and his trademark snide, stuttering laugh). This poster was burned in a bonfire in the backyard later. On another wall, a sketch of the American flag hung with empty lines and a star field. With red marker, we filled in all the positive changes we anticipate by having a new administration.
And speaking of REAL change . . . how about the stem cell research approval for spinal injury, and the removal of the Mexico City Policy?!?! Not to stir the shit-pot or anything, but boy howdy, the Pro-Lifers got some tough bits stuck in their craws with those rulings. i don’t know – i just can’t see how you can argue with improved quality of life, healthcare and women’s education and options.
Which really seems to be my trifecta theme lately: healthcare, education and options . . .
Having gone through this has affected more than my body and eating, it has caused me to rethink many things, mainly – what it is i want to DO for work since my previous ventures have always involved the food and wine industries. i know i can’t eat as richly or drink as i once did, mostly because it’s against my constitution but also, i simply don’t want to and i want to simplify my eating. i want to attempt to eat even MORE healthy than before, if that’s possible.
Besides the change-up in my intake, i don’t want to work those late service industry hours anymore. i enjoy time with my husband in the evenings too much. This is a chance to reset everything, really. To see if i might want to go back to school in the Autumn if for nothing else but to finish a few undone things, to re-engage myself in the discipline, to meet people & make connections. To see if something else inspires me. To do something that helps people live better. To not be a server but to truly SERVE.
What will i miss about convalescing besides the sleep, and the forced respite & stillness? i did enjoy some parts of the step back, even if it was for the unfortunate cause of major abdominal surgery. For one, not having to put on a bra or clothes for that matter. Not that my routine was heavy or high-maintenance, but i will miss all the money and time i’ve saved on applying cosmetics and perfume. my skin never looked better! i liked not having to deal with the trappings of going out and presenting myself to the public.
But i will have to do all of that soon enough . . .
Last nite i could not get the idea of a sub sandwich out of my head, it was one of the last things i ate before i went in for surgery and i barely enjoyed it, i had been feeling so poorly. So Joe & i rolled into the local Subway where some quiet, older gentleman, excuse me – “sandwich artist” stood pawing at a box of plastic food-handlers gloves, clearly biding time and waiting for someone to come in.
After some pleasantries and questions initiated by me he reported, “we had a busy lunch but it’s been over an hour since someone came in.”
“My god, this poor man has been making sandwiches for over 9 hours on and off,” i imagined. And probably by himself.
i usually get the BMT but something told me to steer clear of salami and pepperoni, so i had him load up a 6″ wheat with turkey and ham, spinach instead of flavorless, nutritionless iceberg, tomato, extra cucumbers, green peppers, mayo, mustard, oil & vinegar, salt & pepper.
i took this home, unwrapped it at my desk and ate greedily. It was a simple thing, but i felt that sandwich move through and nourish me, diffusing and filling in empty places. It was almost as if i’d been a hollow shell and someone propped me up and filled me with warm foam that hit all the places, even my fingertips and toes. It was the first time i felt full, satisfied and comfortable since, well – awhile.
Of course, this was a relatively “healthy” version of what goes for “fast food” these days, but it was needed protein, needed fiber, needed greens and it was precisely what i was craving.
My body is just starting to talk to me again, and trust me, i’m listening.
So let me just jump right in here and catch you up on the post-Holiday bliss . . . .
December was a CRAZY month. A car accident followed by a week-long visit from my sister & brother-in-law that involved beer tastings, strippers, lost IDs, credit cards, medication, a “Getting To Know You” session with the TSA, a flurry of found & lost employment, a crippling snow storm and a major abdominal surgery . . .
Not much of a Christmas & New Year’s, but – what can you do? Life intervenes sometimes and puts the smack down on all your sparkly plans.
So yeah, from car to job and health matters – it’s been buckets of suck lately, but thank goodness i have my Joe, for better or worse and all.
The Bunny Goes Bang . . .
Joe and i were in a car accident early in December (my poor VW Rabbit). We were simply dropping off a friend so she could avoid taking the bus. Luckily, it was a slo-mo, non-jarring crash that no one was hurt in. In short, some jackoff signaled to go right, then changed his mind and veered into us, even though his lane had ended. This sent us banging into the large SUV to our left, effectively smashing my left quarter panel, taking out the left headlight cluster and ripping my bumper off in one arc over my hood and into the street behind us.
i was all in my Zen-state, post-yoga and coolly remarked from the passenger seat, “well, there goes the bumper,” as it sailed overhead. I was not pleased to discover the no-fault law here in Oregon. The police didn’t even take a report?!?! But we did have two witnesses who volunteered information without even being asked, so it was clearly NOT our fault. i rode home with the bumper in the backseat curled up on the ends like a big, red-lipped smile while the broken eye of the headlamp cluster sat dark and blinded in the trunk.
Surprisingly, all told, it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. Even though it was several days before my sister & brother-in-law was scheduled to visit us from Indianapolis and i thought, “great, now what?” The body shop took us VERY early the next morning and gave us a free loaner car, a pimp-ass white ’00 Ford Taurus with the body shop name emblazoned on the doors. The smell of faux strawberry walloped you in the face when you got in, which was better than say, cigarette smoke, though the history of burn marks dotted the seats exposing the fleshy, pale foam below. Then i discovered the source of the scent.
There was a Little Trees air freshener hanging from the steering wheel. This reminded me of an old friend Dave, who became a police officer and used a special sort of profiling. He noticed that a high proportion of criminals in an effort to mask the smell of open intoxicants and / or drugs have an awful lot of the Little Trees air fresheners hanging from air vents and from their rearview mirrors. He referred to these collections as a “felony forest” and a sure sign of unlawful nonsense being perpetrated. So, in all of its red and white, cloyingly fruit-scented glory, i thereby dubbed the pimp car “Strawberry Shortcake Mobile.”
We had the estimate the next day – $5,081.00 worth of damage (we merely paid the $200 deductible). All of this was completed within a week and my car looked factory show room new. Plus – anyone getting $2,000 worth of work done qualifies for their “Detail For Life” plan, which entitles me to come in four times a year and they will clean the inside and polish up the outside of the car for FREE. Even if i sell the car, for the life of the car. The body work also took care of all minor road, gravel, dings scrapes and insults on the first half of the car since i owned it, so THAT was great too!
Jobless but not Hopeless . . .
Joe is happy & successful with his job at PSU and thank goodness he has a good salary and has made good friends & contacts with his workmates. My job search, not so much. Not since October. i started one, then had my driver’s window smashed & my car broken into while working. i could see someone else nearby had the ol’ window trick pulled on them as well. It was next to a dimly lit playground, plenty of places for crazies to crouch. No way i was hanging out there. i drove home sitting on a grocery bag that nite and had the police come to my house to take the report.
To work there, i was spending more money on transportation and parking (unsafely) than i was making and was generally miserable serving happy hour food to VIPs (Visibly Intoxicated Pricks), hotel and rich asshole marina guests. Nice enough people to work for & with, but i am accustomed to a much faster pace and different atmosphere. i quit that job.
i was also interviewed by a winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle (Erath) one of the oldest in Oregon wine country, until Cigarette giant Altria Group, which owns Marlboro, announced an agreement on Sept. 8 to buy smokeless tobacco firm UST for $10.4 billion. As part of the deal, Altria acquired UST’s Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. In all that, the position fell through or more or less, evaporated when they began reorganizing.
i also interviewed with a woman who was opening a new wine shop. i suspect her bank backing bottomed out or perhaps she chose someone else, either way – i haven’t heard from her again. i worked one day at another wine shop. a week later, he reneged his offer and sent me a check for my time. no loss, i’m afraid i was a bad fit and didn’t make the cheerleading cuts anyway.
i’m sure everyone’s been saturating themselves in the depressing news about the shitty US economy, banks, mortgage crisis, unemployment rates & the systems supporting it crashing & drained. All bad news about how it affects things both locally and globally and i am here to tell you, it’s no bullshit. Being in the service industry, i am also keenly aware that dining out is one of the first things to be culled, the first belt hole to cinch up from the family budget, making my employment search options even more grim.
Then i read this article: Portland’s restaurant scene in trouble. And thought – well hell . . . no wonder i can’t find fuck-all for work! so, i may want to reconsider my line of inquiry and use some of my other “job skills.” this of course being freelance photography or administrative desk slave. i may just start writing that novel i’ve been threatening for years. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Hope & Change guy has in mind and more, what he puts into action.
Briefly, the beer & the boobs . . .
my sister’s visit was mostly, fun. and there are stories i could tell which were hinted at in the opening paragraph, but i will protect the innocent and spare my sister and her husband the embarrassment of me airing a couple kooky escapades that ended in ill consequences . . .
It was during the week of my sister’s visit that i had the surgery consult after an ultrasound revealed several 2mm stones in that useless little bile storing organ, so it slowed things down considerably for us, in a city known for, in addition to its natural beauty, quirky places and fresh local food, its prevalence of brew pubs and strip clubs.
Now – before i get into this last bit, make no mistake, we are eating, and living and loving and surviving just fine. Oregon is wonderful; Portland was not a bad move and my Joe and i are as happy & close as ever, Just little irritating life issues have been getting in the way, like, my gallbladder, for instance.
but let me back up . . .
You Don’t Have The Gall . . .
i had an episode several weeks back where i was waiting to see Quantum Of Solace on Sunday’s opening weekend when, apropos of nothing, i had extreme abdominal pain and pressure – it was so bad and intense i thought it was a heart attack. or a really bad taco. Joe refunded our tickets and drove me home immediately. I thought for sure i would have to go to the emergency room! Turns out that time and the 5 repeat performances afterward were gallbladder attacks. I had a mean, miserable headache for three days after the first one!
and let me tell you – i don’t wish that pain on anyone!
It was as if my body were hi-jacked, my heart pounded, i would sweat and waves of nausea built up into a high pressure weather system that radiated pain concentrated in the center of my chest, lateral right, and shoulder. then i’d wretch and writhe for anywhere from 30 mins to more than an hour until it passed. no position, being still, Maalox or movement eased the pain. the only thing that seemed to mitigate it somewhat was glugging down a big glass of water as the attack symptoms began and i began to ride it out.
Generally, i just felt sorta weak, dizzy & fatigued and simply tried to make myself comfortable, warm, sleep a lot and took it really easy. i’d have several hours a day where i felt good and tried to do some writing and editing photos or read or catch a flick, just to keep myself occupied.
i had another bout of a lesser attacks on and off over several nites following the first major attack, these while my sister was in town. It was all i could do to try to be remotely fun, a decent host, and not a total drag. Those tail end attacks were mostly just overwhelming nausea, pressure, heart pounding, then sudden drop in blood pressure and dizziness (like fainting), the sudden multiple bowel movements/diarrhea (sorry, TMI all indications of a sick gallbladder), but at least it didn’t include any monstrous pain or vomiting. i had some anti-nausea medication (Phenegran), and i took only 1/2 a Vicodin a few times to stave off any pain.
Eating was scary as you can imagine. everything i put into my mouth i worried about, “what will trigger an attack, this time?” i felt WAY too full after even a small meal (which was mostly, lite protein, soups, the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast), juices, mint tea, gingerale, etc.) Despite all that, i sometimes felt like there was a lump in my throat, as if it were food that hadn’t gone down. a sort of creepy indigestion. This really pissed me off, and since i love food, i grew quickly fed up with the baby diet!
i was of course, drinking lots of water & tried to avoid any fatty foods or anything that might trigger an attack & send the gallbladder into secretion or action or whatever it is that it does to try to clear out the multiple stones that are in there. Thus, the suggestion that i hydrate more than usual and at the onset of attack, drink down a big glass to try to i guess, move the bile along.
None of this is fun to read, i imagine, but i suppose it helps me to assess what i experienced and to tune in with my body, recounting what i had to do to nurse myself along until i had that evil little sack of pearls out of there! So – thank you for taking the time . . .
“Oh The Weather Outside is Frightful” – But The Fire Inside My Gut Isn’t So Great Either . . .
i was supposed to have my surgery on December 22nd, except, my surgery was canceled due to SNOWPOCALYPSE 2008. ( SEE my photographic evidence). Or as the local news kept referring to it “Arctic Blast.” It was reported as the most snow they’ve seen in Portland in 40 years, and in its soft, white fluffy beauty, it went about crippling the city, crushing public transportation, grinding everything to a halt. The more the snow fell, the more my anxiety mounted. i worried that in the case of an extreme emergency, we were clearly going to have a difficult to impossible time even getting out.
We were lucky enough to have already purchased snow chains from a quick jaunt Joe and my brother-in-law, Flounder took out to Bagby Hot Springs the week before the real snow hit. As the mayor, Sam Adams (yeah, like the beer guy with the funny bowl cut) reported on the news, snow chains were required to travel on Portland roads, but were also SOLD OUT locally. How helpful. We got to try them out a few days before and survived our maiden voyage out to get cat food and return & rent new DVDs for the Holiday pre-surgery stretch.
The only trouble we had was getting back into the garage, if you can believe it. It was messiest in our back alley, kind of a dirty slushie. One of the chains twisted up & fell off, we retrieved it, got a little mired on an ice patch, and i pushed Joe into the driveway, but then the garage door opener and track decided NOT to work. It’s probably an easy fix, but nothing wrong with using our hands to pull the door open in the meantime of investigation. Luckily, it warmed up and some of the snow turned to rain and the roads became only slightly less sloppy the following week.
While the white shit was busy falling in heaps and mounds from the sky, it was three days before someone even answered the god damned phone at the surgery center’s office! This did not contribute to my sense of well-being. When i finally did get a human, Rose, the frazzled sistah on the other end, was mumbling some nonsense about the schedule being pushed into February, to which i declared shenanigans, “i am not waiting and feeling like this with pain, nausea and strict diet management,” i calmly explained to her. i knew it was “elective” surgery, but i was voting to have it out ASAP. So she “caught up” with the doctor and i was rescheduled for the following Monday the 29th. Sad that i have to raise hell to advocate for my own health care. but it was my first major abdominal surgery and i wanted it over with!
The F criteria . . . family, flights, fairness – does FUCK this count?
It’s been a frustrating, confusing health journey, seeing as how i am otherwise, the picture of supposed health – good diet, whole, organic foods when possible, yoga & exercise, 119 lbs, low LDL, normal EKG, healthy heart & lungs, liver function healthy and all other bloodwork levels completely within normal ranges, including thyroid. Even my surgeon said i don’t really fit most of the F criteria (Female, 40, Fat, Fertile & Fair) and remarked questioningly “doesn’t seem fair does it?” In my case, estrogen in my oral contraceptives & the environment, and family history (my aunt) might be the only risk indicators.
My mother’s initial flight had also been canceled, not enough snow plows in the city or de-icers for the planes. But she was able to rebook, came out Sunday and stayed for a week while i recovered at home. Sure, the main calming factor is, my mother is a nurse and she was able to help Joe administer my post-surgery care, but really, when i get down to the basic emotional component of what was happening to my body, i wanted my mommy!
Ladies & Gentlemen, Nurses, Anesthesiologists and a Surgeon! The Main Event . . .
The laparoscopic surgery (cholecystectomy) involved four small incisions for light, scope, suction and instruments, and they pulled that sucker out through an incision above my belly button. Weee! It’s same day outpatient (unless they have to convert to an open cholecystectomy), routinely safe, well-practiced and the most commonly performed surgery. So, you know, i made sure i tortured myself on the internet, reading up on all the truly rare complications incurred during or after, until i whipped myself up into hypochondriac frenzy. i don’t recommend this method of education, but i was prepared for the worst, so i came out with just about the best, of course.
i scrubbed up the nite before with special special surgery soap called CHG (Chlorhexidine Gluconate). It was all wrapped in foil and had a spongy side to wet and release soap and scrubby side to get under nailbeds. It was quite a humbling ritual to remove my wedding bands, my moonstone rings, the small drop earrings i haven’t taken out in more than 6 years, my moonstone necklace & toe rings. And then, the morning of my surgery, absent of all body decoration, i used the second CHG provided me and was instructed – “no shaving, no deodorant, no lotion, no perfume.” No germs. No scent. No signature.
i showed up in comfy clothes, at the Sunnyside Medical Center, had 2-hour prep which included consent forms, a nurse to take my information, a nurse to start my IV, plus an anesthesiologist and his nurse with another battery of questions.
“Do you have anything of value, any jewelry, electronics, medications . . .” the nurse rattled off a big list in rapid fire succession.
“No. No. No No, nope. Nothing. i come to you naked and without frills.” i answered lightheartedly.
She laughed and gave me a big plastic snap bag with the words PATIENT BELONGINGS and a name & info sticker on the front, then told me to take everything off and put on the lavender colored hospital gown that had the words “Bair Paws” and a little foot print of a bear track scrawled across my heart. Now let me “paws” a moment. Go ahead. Groan. i don’t care. This was one of the best things i’ve ever experienced in medical care. It was a soft, longer, thick gown with the usual bum-showing slit down the back, except that it had a sideways wrap around tie so you could make yourself decent. But the best feature is what the thing actually DID.
Pre-op, surgery and recovery areas are usually kept a little chilly to discourage bacteria growth, so you end up with minor hypothermia, and they merely toss an extra blanket on you to stave off the cold. Not with this thing though . . . the Bair Paws had a port in the side where a warming unit hose attached and a temperature control box with a dial was placed beside me. i suppose if you’re the hot-blooded type, you could choose cool air, but not me . . . crank that sucker up! In moments, it filled with warm air that puffed the gown up a little and filled the little channels inside, flooding warm air over my whole body as i lay there waiting for surgery. Awesome! i wanted to take it home with me when i left!
Speaking of comfort, while i lay there the nurse asked me things beyond the normal health battery that crossed over into personal wellness. “Are you employed?” “How would you say your stress levels are?” “On a scale of 0-10, how much pain are you in right now?” And one of the strangest things the nurse asked me was: “Do you feel safe where you live?” Which one could interpret as, “Is your neighborhood kinda sketchy and do you think you can be a bit incapacitated for a week without the worry of having to fend off an attacker or break-in?” Or perhaps an equally unpleasant implication “Is your spouse / partner / parent / roommate abusive or uncooperative?” But maybe this was just a general assessment of “Do you fear having no help or support during your recovery at home or are you safe in the knowledge that you have a loved one or family & friends to help you recuperate?”
The anesthesiologist asked if i’d like a mild sedative but i felt pretty calm and warm and content. Everyone was so pleasant, calm, kind and assuring. The woman who put in my IV was a pro, it didn’t hurt at all.
“Would you like to see your family now before we take you back? It’s almost time,” the nurse said, her eyes motioning to the clock that was 7 minutes from 8am.
“That would be nice,” i said softly and as she walked away i looked beyond her to see that one of the surgery swing doors had a feminine scrolled, handwritten sign taped to it that read “Door To Narnia.” And this made me laugh.
My mother & Joe came back to pat my hand, rub my feet, kiss my forehead and cheeks and assure me before my passage into the back of the wardrobe and on into snow-laden Narnia.
i was wheeled back past a few operating room doors all looking set for procedures, heads wrapped in institution green caps bobbing in and out of the square fields of glass in the doors and finally, there i was, last door on the right. They bumped my hospital bed / gurney against another set below operating lamps and a nice young man with his mask pulled up halfway told me his name, then a nice woman across the way named Tammy said hello, then from my left the surgeon and another nurse came in.
i mentioned i’d like pictures of my gallbladder, which drew a couple strange looks to which i explained, “Hey, i want to see the thing that’s been causing me so much pain. Can i have some of the stones too?”
“We don’t give them out like candy honey,” the nurse to my left quipped, “they usually get sent off to the lab.”
“Well, it’s just that i spent some time making them, so i want to see them too.”
“i hear some people make bracelets and jewelry out of them,” remarked Right Nurse.” i had already thought of this and in fact had joked about it just days before.
Then the male nurse to my right said, “Ok, scoot over to this bed,” while Left Nurse gently instructed, “Move up just a little so your head is on the pillow, your bed is a little lower.”
While i did this, Left Nurse injected something magical into the midsection of my IV and Right Male Nurse put a mask lightly to my nose and mouth with, “Some oxygen?” which seemed mostly a statement but went up a little at the end to form a question.
“Yes, please,” i half-thought and thought nothing else.
There was no counting back from 10 or 100, there was only sleep, then surgery for 45 minutes to an hour, and then i was suddenly awake. None of this drifting back or blurred cinematic visions of white coats flurrying about or a nimbus of faces hovering near me while lights flashed in my eyes checking for response. It was, “Some oxygen?” then, i was wide awake in a bed somewhere in recovery, back in my Bair Paws and feeling amazing. i don’t know what drugs they gave me, but it was more than relief, more than feeling that some offending organ making me sick had been removed. i felt at peace, warm, well-rested, comfortable, not cloudy, no pain, and an oddly light sense of elation. Truly happy.
A nurse picked up the phone at a desk directly across from me. i smiled at her over the tops of my feet. “Yes, she’s very alert,” she reported to someone on the other end.
i was wheeled back to the room in a line of beds where i was first admitted and my mom & Joe came in to see me. it was less than an hour of recovery where i chewed two cups of shaved ice, gulped down 3 apple juices, had two glasses of water and some graham crackers, proved that i could walk across the hall & urinate and i was free to go. A funny little old man cracked corny jokes and wheeled me down to the car where Joe helped me into the passenger seat, we were home before noon, and i rested for a week.
REAL food . . .
My mother & Joe ordered Hawaiian pizza and hot wings that first nite, and sure, i had my juice and water and all that nonsense, but for weeks, i had been craving fried chicken, so i am happy to report i had a slice of pizza with cheese stuffed crust and three little nubby chicken wings just hours after surgery and was SO happy. Nothing like jumpstarting your system by challenging it. Shortly after that i mostly behaved and ate more mild foods: brothy soups, applesauce, cottage cheese, peaches, saltines, tea, gingerale, and managed to destroy a box of graham crackers.
Then my mom would get to cooking and i found myself eating spaghetti and meat sauce, crock-pot slow-cooked pot roast with carrots, potatoes and buttered biscuits, happy, fluffy clouds of 2 scrambled eggs nestled into Franz white bread with a light spread of mayo and cut into little triangles. She made sure i got my protein and ate “real food” as she called it. None of this “organic” shit we usually eat which as everyone knows, is made of ground-up hippies and probably caused my gallbladder to go rogue in the first place. There may be such a thing as eating TOO healthy and not eating some evil stuff once in awhile.
But man, my mother packed this house with 12-packs of three different sodas: Vernors, a Michigan hometown gingerale favorite, Dr. Pepper and Fresca. Then there was a deluge of junk food snacks: three different types of chips, 2 dips, ranch dressing, a box of See’s chocolates, a canister of See’s nuts, a HUGE canister of three flavored popcorns (cheese, butter and caramel), a pound of Twizzler’s red licorice, Raisinettes and Resse’s peanut butter cups that were Christmas Tree shaped. That was just what i took immediate stock of, there was plenty more. i have considered hosting a movie nite or a party just to get RID of some of this!
I’d Like to Introduce You To My Girls, Vicki and Pam . . .
Diet was one concern which seemed to go fine but pain management was a deep worry. i thought for sure that i wouldn’t be able to tolerate the Vicodin, but a few experiments of breaking them in half in the weeks before the surgery proved to be promising and when i came home i simply tapered as the days went and remained a little sore sometimes, but pain free. First two days were every 4-5 hours, days three and four every 6-8, by days 5 & 6 i was taking one at noon and one at midnite, plus a little Motrin for the pain and swelling and by the end of the week and the beginning of next, i was taking ½ a Vicodin at nite to sleep through the nite peacefully.
Though infrequent, my usual fall back sleep aid is Tylenol PM, who i call “Pam,” and just one, because the suggested dosage of two guarantees i won’t be attending anything the next day until after, oh, say 3pm. i also nicknamed my Vicodin, “Vicki.” i only need ½ of her. And the girls now, well, i just keep ’em around for laughs and a good time if i need to just knock myself the fuck out of consciousness for the nite.
Here Kitty, Kitty Or, Taming The Beast . . .
i’ve been introducing food slowly and lightly as a one at a time lineup to my digestion, sort of like tossing bananas and tennis balls and roller skates and live goats into a lion’s den with “here you go – what do you think of THIS?” Experimental interaction. And because what i know of food is occupational, i think of my gallbladder in food & restaurant terms as having been “86ed” or as i said to Joe while pawing through the random generators for the words and distractedly typing on the computer the other day, “my gallbladder’s been deleted.”
To follow that theme – i’m sure it will be awhile before my digestive system reboots & comes back online. And i’m certain that i won’t be able to hork down a bacon cheeseburger and waffle fries without incident anytime soon. i don’t want to piss anything off in there . . . i know very well it’s a first class luge ticket for any food that offends my system currently rewiring itself and trying to figure out why the bile salts storage facility closed down. Sorry, love – it’s the economy. Things are tough all over. Soldier on. Now here’s some Indian Food, some wine, some corn chowder, a fried egg sandwich, some potato chips – oh, no sorry, i take that back. Baked potato chips from now on.
All told, if you find out your gallbladder is angry and you are considering just leaving it in and dealing with it, DON’T! You have to EAT to LIVE, and there was no way i was going to compromise my lifestyle & diet in fear of food and future attacks. i already had the basics and took care of my body, now i just have to bounce all the way back. The incisions are barely anything, one inside my belly-button that you can’t see, one barely the length and width of the edge of my pinkie fingernail, one smaller than the circumference of a pencil top eraser, and the largest one is about a centimeter. That one has character too . . . a little red edge, like its smirking at me which will fade and flatten over time, plus a little kitten whisker edge of a clear, dissolving suture, which i may snip if it doesn’t go away soon.
The cost of this whole adventure via the care of Kaiser Permanente? $14. Two office visits at $5 apiece, $4 for four presecriptions. No cost for the EKG, bloodwork or ultrasound. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Joe. Thank you PSU. Thank you State Of Oregon.
Well, that’s enough for now. i’m sure i have left anyone who made it this far with plenty to digest . . . sorry about that – you can see what occupies my mind these days.
And you’ll just have to forgive me, you see – i’m not all there . . .
It’s not like you haven’t heard from me . . . but i suppose you haven’t heard all the tales and tidbits. i DID just make a cross-country move with my darling husband. So let’s see what i can tell you about what it is to move from Virginia to Oregon with everything you own, a car dragging behind you, plus a landlubbing Bengal Cat to which any confinement in a moving vehicle is a personal affront to be met with vociferous fury . . .
We’ll begin with the end of days: the weekend of Saturday August 23rd was my last day of work, i waited on Joe’s family, we said goodbyes and he sold them his car. Sunday afternoon we were off to a baby shower for my dear friend Megan in Annapolis and a late-night fevered packing session on Sunday which brings us early into Monday . . .
Monday morning we were supposed to pick up our Budget Rental truck. Penske doesn’t do it that far and U-Haul was NOT an option by poor reputation and my friends’ numerous horror stories and breakdown variations on a theme so Budget had our business, begrudgingly we were to find out. Due to some unknown fuckery at the rental shop, we received a phonecall in the morning, informing us that our honkin’ monster truck (24 ft) would be available closer to noon as the current drop-off hadn’t arrived, but that they would call when it was ready. It was verging .. 2pm by the time Joe actually went there in person to experience – more fuckery. Apparently, Larry, Curly, Moe (and possibly Shemp) were not capable of doing anything by hand (filling out forms, figuring out taxes) and the whole Eastern seaboard Budget computer system was apparently mysteriously “broken.” Once it came back online, (and partway through the manual entry) they insisted Joe stay to put it all in the computer. My poor husband, fuming, but controlled did not arrive until 3:30. Luckily we had angels waiting for us.
i don’t know what we would’ve done without Jared and Patrick helping us haul things down and load the truck. i don’t know why we thought we could’ve done it by ourselves; we would’ve had to add another whole day to our trip exhausting ourselves getting everything loaded! Of course, the late truck meant later packing, meant later loading meant later cleaning of the apartment, and we really wanted to be out early evening, get somewhere outside of the DC Beltway morning rush hour, hole up in a little motel and rest, and to then start the trek first thing in the am. Well, it wasn’t until after midnight, when we finally packed the vacuum and cleaning supplies. i gave Odin some PetCalm to ease his nerves (but it didn’t, much) while we drove over an hour (an eternity with howling feline) to Hagerstown, Maryland.
A word about the Motel 6 . . . sketch. Okay, lots of snaky S words. Like, skeevy, scary, bars on the window where the night clerk sits, sketchity spookville. We were only here because they had a pet friendly policy, not to save on any moving expenses as they were covered by Joe’s university job. A quick survey of the area (and the big sign about NO TRUCKS) and it was clear we had to park the moving truck (24 ft + now the extra 10ft or more with my car in a flatbed tow) at the shopping mall lot across the way. We figured it was ok to do since other trucks were parked similarly.
But just to be sure, Joe asked the clerk, “Is it ok to park over there?” motioning to the direction of the trucks.
The clerk offered a nervous, and falsely reassuring answer, “yeah – a security guard patrols there every hour or so. Any room preference?”
“Where we can see the truck,” Joe said plainly.
So, Odin got settled quickly (he can bed down anywhere, he just hates MOVING in a vehicle), chowed down, did some encouraging kitty business in the newly re-located litterbox and perched himself at the highest point in the room, the tv, to survey his new domain. We pulled the scratchy, toilet paper thin bedsheets over us and commenced sleeping into morning one of our cross-country adventure.
The next morning, it was the breakfast buffet at Shoney’s which smelled like greasy, eggy-bacon heaven floating atop pancake clouds; evil and delicious but the type of meal one could not hork down shamelessly every morning without regret or consequence. Our waitress was pleasant, quick and dirty with the coffee cups and water and plodded through the standard “Hello, my name is ______, and i’ll be your server today.” There wasn’t any fresh fruit, unless you counted all the sugary canned ones for pancake toppings, but there were three types of gravy to include chipped beef and four types of potatoes – all fried.
And boy howdy it hurt my soul; there were some very unhealthy, ungainly, unhappy people milling around the breakfast bar. People shuffled up with oxygen tanks and walkers, sort of a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest revisited meets Dawn Of The Dead, and honestly, forgive me for this description, but between all the medical equipment, the staggering display of obesity, and the general slow-moving malaise owing to an early morning it was not an easy square to maneuver. Conversely, the buffet was patrolled and replenished by a pasty, skinny, pock-marked, shifty-eyed, surlier than Satan, quick-handed, would be mass-murderer type, luckily armed only with a few spatulas. i hesitated to ask for anything that might come off sounding like a snooty, pain in the ass dietary concern, should Jethro James Manson, Jr. decide this was his morning to “waste ’em all.”
The bill didn’t amount to much, as we had a per diem for food in our moving expenses, so Joe left the waitress a $10 tip.
“Whoa, what’s that say?” the cash register jockey drawled, incredulously.
Joe is lovely, but his hand-writing is difficult and deeply codified, plus the pen was a little dry, so i assumed the numbers were hard to make out.
“Joe went back over the numbers in pen and told him “Ten dollars.”
“Wow! That’s a great tip.” This was the lottery to this guy.
As a waitress in fine dining where the average low end tip is a straight $20, this statement made me terribly sad, but i could see the grubby, wrinkled, single bills and piles of change emptied from pockets and cup holders, piled on dirty tables under brown coffee mugs as we walked by, looking more like several police searches than gratuities. We must’ve made, “Hello, my name is ______, and i’ll be your server today”‘s day.
We wound our way through Appalachia through the first of many many miles of corn on our way to Indianapolis.
What should’ve been an 8-hour drive grew into a 12-hour nitemare of three terrible realizations. One – we had one angry, frightened, inconsolable cat (no matter how much herbal tranquilizer administered) who slept for 20 minutes and howled and climbed windows, dashboard and floorboard the other 40. Two – a mysterious idiot light came on depicting a wrench and an oilcan. This to me meant “You’re fucked, Tin Man.” After one of the first tiffs my sweet husband and i ever had about how to handle this second crap-laden fact, we decided the best course was to pull over and call the Budget help line. After being jockeyed through the phone system of choices, we finally pushed enough numbers and spoke to an informed human service agent who wasn’t reading verbatim from the “How-To Talk To The Pissed And Stranded” manual. She spoke to an actual mechanic who assured us it was simply an early warning oil change interval and that we could tell the delivery place on the other end that it came on and needs the service. They even told us how to disable it, but we never did. And finally, Three – with footnotes a) & b) were realizations we made about the truck. a) it laughed at and evaporated fuel – 5 miles to the gallon. b) uphill grades any steeper than say 4%, with the pedal to the metal resulted in the hazard lights being flicked on and a maximum speed of 35mph.
After we finally arrived in Indianapolis to my sister’s place, hair matted, mood dampened, cat howling, with furrowed brow, exhausted and hungry as hostages, we came around to the idea that we had to add a day to our ambitious arrival time. This was decided over a fabulous pork dinner and several ears of corn on the cob plus two bottles of wine. We also decided (and thankfully, my sister and her husband agreed) to leave Odin to stay with them for a week for a later flight retrieval operation that my poor Joe volunteered for. It was clear that completing the rest of the trip with kitty in the cab would make for a longer, more difficult, harrowing and stressful journey – for all of us. Let’s just say that Odin is not easily calmed or sedated, by natural, herbal, homeopathic, psychological, or pharmacological means. On the two-leg (no direct flights from Indy) trip home, he even managed to surf above the double dose of chicken flavored kitty Valium and maintained a constant meow from under the seat, save for the last hour. Joe reports that he made lots of friends on the planes. When Odin did finally arrive, he was all hyped up. Apparently, diazepam, instead of having the nice calming effect, can cause a paradoxical reaction and instead make a human (or bad kitty) wildly alert and excitable. So Odin, above the normal exploratory passes that go along with an animal in new surroundings, paced, mewed, jumped from window to window and trotted from room to room with a lack of coordination and on wobbly legs until pretty much the next morning when he was able to settle in and have a good long sleep. And he’s doing fine now . . .
But back to the adventures of the Janda’s cross-country excursion . . .
Getting fuel was always exciting. Finding diesel in Hellhole, Nebraska often required the help of my fancy new Instinct phone’s GPS Navigation, then it was determining whether we could get the moving truck under, around and out of places without jackknifing, tearing off the trailer or bringing down awnings and taking out gas pumps. EVERY stop, which was more frequent with the awesome fuel consumption, required this exercise in mathematical probability and turning radius.
The cities moved on as I downloaded the local weather. Amazing to me that i could find where we were and what was close by to eat or refuel by the help of Jenny (the name i have dubbed my cell phone’s navigational voice, as in: “Jenny Jenny, where do i turn now? 867-530 ni-eeee-ine.” and yes, Iain . . . a tip o’ the hat to you as well on the name.) Lore City, OH – Grass Lake, MI – Normal, IL – Exira, IA, Waverly, NE – Grand Island, NE. Oh, which by the way, appears to be in the center, like a bullseye dart throw at the US map. However, Grand Island is, as far as i can tell, neither “grand” nor an “island” and is not even remotely near water. Or culture. Or . . .
The waitstaff at the local Perkins gave me very confused looks when, upon having my own oolong tea, i simply requested a pot of hot water, a pitcher of milk and a cup.
“So, you want a glass of milk, like orange juice?” Lloyd asked.
“No, i want a small container, for milk instead of cream, like for coffee,” i tried to explain. He brought me a pitcher of milk normally reserved for syrup and a plastic carafe big enough for 8 cups of coffee but filled with hot water and still, sadly, no vessel to put any of my tea in. 2 out of 3 wasn’t bad i supposed. i was finally able to flag down another waitress to ask for a coffee mug since i was certain tea cups were not to be had. forget about latte mugs too in case i wanted to make a BIG cup of tea . . .
Douglas, WY – Laramie, WY . . .
In Rock Springs, Wyoming we stayed on Elk Street at the “Outlaw Inn” Best Western, ordered my first breakfast in bed and watched my first episode of “It’s Me Or The Dog.” We had traveled all nite through so much flatland (called the Great Plains for a reason, clearly – they go on plainly forever) and when we woke up, we were surprised that we found ourselves in the desert. Rocky, golden stoned climbs and scrubby green & brown foliage dotted the hillsides and ground like so many funny little clown wigs left out in the sun after the carnival left town and never came back. But here’s what surprised me. Sure, we laughed at first, because the winds picked up and there were some honest to goodness TUMBLEWEEDS moving across the road which to me, signals true desolation and nowhereness. Then the sky grew ominous, black and bruised and instead of being hot and blazing, it rained through most of our trip through the desert and on our way as we dipped barely into Utah north of Salt Lake and on into Idaho.
Hefener, UT – Caldwell, ID . . .
And can i just say here, forgive me if you grew up in, lived or currently live in Idaho, because, i know the northern part is beautiful, but damn. Boise proper, from the road and some of the rare farms and outlying suburbs hurt a little to look at. It was hard for me to imagine where you would live, where you would work, how far you had to drive, the manner and means by which you’d survive. Strange domiciles huddled like hungry masses, bumped up against and thrown together in a manner almost suburban, but more like third world dilapidated houses of clap-trap metal sheds and sheets, some barely wooden, functional farmlike lean-tos. Meant for animals. Weathervanes on top seemed an unnecessary after thought. A spritely windchime tinkling and floating off a broken fence made me sad. i hesitate to say soul-crushing, but it did approach that. Once, after a batch of mean road food, we rolled down the windows to umm . . . get some fresh air, and were assaulted by an even worse smell. and here’s where tasting food and wine and trying to disseminate spices, essences, flavors and smells comes in, though i hope to never come across any food or beverage of the sort. i can only describe the smell in Idaho as a dead squirrel/rodent rolled in mocha and put on a pyre of leaves. It had a pungent, smoky, mocha, sweet, rotting meat, dead, acrid, burnt, dry smell that was enough to make us prefer our own flatulence. damn.
Crossing over into Oregon, we stayed in Baker City at the Oregon Trail Motel & Restaurant to prepare for the last leg of our journey into Portland. What a funny, little old, almost stagecoach town. The room was cheap, and included free breakfast the next morning, which was delightful and a good thing, because our first dinner in Oregon, was when we arrived there near closing time to have a most disappointing steak dinner. flavorless, tough, square shaped strip steak (definitely frozen and hauled in), grey-tinged green beans, sad and soggy (definitely canned and not sautéed), and a dusty baked potato (the best part, sadly) which could’ve benefitted from a good wash and less time in foil, so it was easier to strip it out to eat. we probably should’ve had to the fried chicken dinner special that the kooky local ordered when he bellied up to the counter, because he ordered a second plate. but then again, “special” to me in the far restaurant outreaches does not mean “fresh today, on the mind of the chef,” it means, “get this scary shit out of the kitchen before it violates health code.”
Speaking of health code . . . the not so sanitary, no sneeze-guard, precursory salad bar on a small wheeled cart had a threatening sign tacked to it about allowing only one visit with no sharing and one plate per person limit. This plate, by the way, had a 4in diameter, enough to hold a slice of bread with some overhang. and the usual sad green fare of anemic looking iceberg lettuce, limp, shredded carrots, sulfurous purple cabbage, some unidentifiable, unnaturally colored, jiggling gelatinous something, creamy thick dressings, crushed into sawdust croutons, and luckily for me, some watermelon. a rare one-off fruit treat with more crunch, water, and possibly more nutrients than the iceberg lettuce.
i know – i am spoiled. of course, i did not expect to pass through the middle of the heartland, the dairyland, the plains, the land of plenty and to have a diverse and delicate gourmet experience, but being that close to corn, vegetables, grains and cows, i had my standards set high enough that i might actually receive something on a plate that tasted farm raised and had enough color to shine through the blue pallored spectrum of fluorescent lighting that haunts every diner. i realize, i may come off as a food snob, but more i find myself grateful. it occurs to me how fortunate i am to work in an industry and now live in a city and state where culinary excellence, even in the simplest of places, hinges on fresh, whole, organic, local, seasonal, and sustainable food sources. you can taste the difference, people. tomatoes that aren’t pale pink, mealy and flavorless. Strawberries that although smaller than the grocery bought flats, stain the fingers and taste sweet and heavenly. i made a soup last week with these huge gnarly carrots, just pulled from the ground, bundled with the tops on and even after boiling were the most amazing flavorful carrots i’ve ever eaten.
So on the tip of food et al, we’ve been hitting the wine bars, the sake bars, the breweries, the Saturday Farmer’s Market, dinner here and there and lots cooking at home. a few weeks back, my friend Tiffany and i went to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden where we had a traditional tea and ate a red bean mooncake to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Joe and i have already met new people and are definitely getting some socializing done. on one such event, i even canned peaches and tomatoes w/ garlic and green peppers for sauces. first months out here out here and were discovering how to compost, rethinking everything i throw away, recycling the hell out of EVERYTHING i touch, and putting food into Ball jars for the winter! holy granola! stop me if i cease wearing deodorant, let my hair dread, get a nose or lip piercing, go on road trips to support jam bands and start practicing hacky sack in my backyard, k?
One of the prettiest parts of the trip – The Columbia Gorge . . .
i’m the impatient type. i’m the girl who wants to feel established and settled the minute i set foot in a new situation. i crave quick learning and acclimation and seem to give myself a bit of hell if i don’t have all my systems, rituals and routines in place. Joe’s sister, Laura reminded us (me, really, who needs the patience and the temperance) that we are setting up a HOME, not just a house or living space, so i should just ease into it without spazzing out too much. but yes, the “house” is mostly setup and the “home” bit is starting to warm in me. we have been sleeping fitfully in a new king-sized bed, (Odin’s all about it too!) the weather has been stellar to mild, with yes, some rain here and there though we’ve apparently entered the rainy season. But Indian Summer came and went in full-swing (it was in the 90’s a few days in the first weeks of arrival and not a drop of rain) and i am certainly enjoying my little garden, deck space, cool mornings, quiet breakfasts and tea in a sunny kitchen, dinners & wine with my Joe and friends. it’s all been quite good. And i know it’s going to be at least a year until all things truly settle, i have a solid base of friends, a job i enjoy and can get all the way around socially and physically without getting lost.
As for our immediate locale – there’s a little coffee house nearby and as we walk down to it, we get a clear view of Mt. Hood, and off to the left, Mt. St. Helens (which i read are two “active” stratovolcanos, kind of “exciting”). there are pear trees along the walk, overflowing and dropping in the grass – ah, the spoils. In our yard, we have roses lining the wooden fence, blueberries, raspberries, tomatoes, fennel, ferns, lavender, rosemary, sage, hydrangea and little bursts of wild flowers. In fact, this year i am putting in Spring bulbs and next year, i think i will revive the tomatoes, put in cucumbers and plant squash.
i put out hummingbird feeders and they’ve come and i put out a regular seed feeder and the loudass squawking Scrub and Stellar Jays (plus some sweet Chickadees) have depleted it twice. the squirrels are plentiful – one (or a party of several) gnawed through our Comcast dropline to the house, so we had to have our internets fixed the first few days here. they also chase and skitter across the length of our roof top and you can hear the entire scrabbling pursuit from room to room. This drives Odin wild! Bad little tree rats!
Joe got his haircut at this little local barbershop on the corner by this big brawny tough dude named Justice who had two teensy-weensy grey kittens scurrying about that his friend dumped on him and now he has seemingly been forced to adopt. Their names are Guns & Roses. seriously. And, as recent pictures depict, i also whacked my hair off. it’s a bit curly and untame unless i brush it down some and straighten it, but i like the shortness. Hair clips are my friends.
The fine people i worked with in Virginia bought Joe and i a most original going away gift. A hot air balloon ride over Yamhill wine country which ends in a catered hot, champagne/mimosa brunch! We’re going to try to fit that in while the weather holds . . . but, there is always Spring and Summer next year.
Joe started work on September 15th, and me, after hitting craigslist like a whore, i’ve had a few bites and started a job that’s going to require endurance of some growing pains, but i won’t bore you with those details here. i’m not one to talk shop and air dirty laundry of how i trade time for money; it’s one of those questions i’ve always hated and dislike answering. “So – what do you do?” Of course, i grew a bit bored being a lady of leisure but there are some things i loved about it, like seeing my husband during normal evening hours for dinner in or out and watching or reading things together. Life moves slower here, hours go slower. Life is more leisurely it seems, and it’s not just lack of full-on social or work obligations either, it seems to be an engrained mindset.
On September 23rd, Joe and i celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary. We had a low key day of salad, pizza and beer, some board games with some rosé champagne, some tv time, some private time, and some blissful sleep. The beer and first bottle of bubbly did us in, so we didn’t get to some really nice champagne gifted to us last year, but there was always lunch the next day . . . and me, i never need a celebratory excuse to crack the bubbly.
Well, two things i am looking forward to out here – Halloween and voting. Both bring a certain level of ghoulish fright and giddy excitement. It’s safe to say that by lawn and houses alone, it appears that Oregon is largely an Obamanation. (heh!) Voter registration was made pretty easy for us: they got me in front of an organic market out here, and Joe at the Saturday Farmer’s market. It was convenient and fast, done by the last four of my SS (since i don’t have an OR license yet) and the voter’s card arrived days later. Apparently, we send all of our ballots in by mail here, which surprised me. i was really hoping to go into a secret squirrel booth for my first voting experience. But hey – no nervousness about machines to manipulate and no hanging chads. i wonder if it’s a scantron?
And if you need to go back a few lines, yes . . . that’s right. MY FIRST. in all my 36 years i have never been registered to vote. Never cared for the process, and living near DC never endeared me to the constant conversation, the dogged preoccupation nor the convocation. (Apologies to my friends for whom it is an occupation.) But i am doing it this year. i am fortunate to survive and do well in as they say, “times like these,” and it occurs to me that being politically active when it counts is by extension, a survival tactic to hold onto all the ideals in life that brought Joe and i out here in the first place.
Oregon is already proving itself as some manner of heaven and a lifestyle i can love.
So come visit us! We have a nice guest room in the basement, right next to the wine cellar.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer wrote the prose poem The Invitation after returning one night from a party where she had found herself frustrated by the level of superficiality that these events often function at: ‘I just sat down and wrote my responses to all the usual questions that people ask – Where do you live? Who do you know? What do you do for a living? And I wrote what I really wanted to know, not just from others, but also from myself in a sense.’
Every so often i revisit this poem to remind myself the qualities i value in a mate and the ways in which love and companionship can be measured and cherished.
This – especially, on Valentine’s Day . . .
::: ::: ::: :::
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
The single life. one, long, nocturnal highway punctuated by a series of sort of happy zen moments, mostly spent, understood and eventually, at the end of the day, savoured alone. a long rebuilding and recollecting of the self-same parts gone missing, redistributed amongst friends and the short-lived lovers who would not, could not pass muster. being single is like constantly advertising the “me” product when it’s still in upgrades while also having to sell insurance on it. “Hey – look, if you don’t buy this ever-developing thing and protect your investment, it could end up broken/ruined/dead. and no one wants that to happen.”
Some people are never better, never more attractive, self-contained and complete than when they are single. still others are needy, greedy vacuous, emotional suckholes of doom, spinning out like a constant slow-motion car wreck that you can’t help but turn away from. or watch intently. They hang on the next lover or emotional contact like their last meal – slathering on the butter and scraping up the crumbs even after the bread and the baker has up and fled. lust-dealers. killers. short-term serial monogamists who poach at any small game instead of waiting for great hunt and the big (right) catch.
Still, for me, the single life was a strange and glorious one marked with self-discovery and self-satisfaction and the time to write it all down and reflect. and i write this now, not to scare anyone into thinking i miss being single because, in oh-so-many-ways, i don’t. also, i do not intend to make mean or light of what single people, especially women endure to find a suitable lifelong love and all the tiresome expectations and pressures that go along with it. i write it now more as an epitaph to the life I led before and left life, singular, for life, coupled.
The coupled life finds its satisfying breath, its reflective homage basking in the light of the other person, and thus, like a mirror, in the best reflection of the self. “hey baby, you make me not only feel good, but look good too. in fact – i like the way i love because i love you and i love me too.”
Both exercises in singularity and coupledom allow for the same Narcissus to bloom, and the Echo of the self to end. There is within all of us, simultaneous urges: we want desperately to be noticed and needed and also, not be too conspicuous and to be left the hell alone. As one, you can find peace and stillness but, i’ve discovered, you can find it also as two and it’s a lot more meaningful and fun when you can turn to the other person and exclaim, “wow, did you SEE that shit?” suddenly, all those universal signs you look for, all the hidden text and life’s directional maps are no longer for one to decode. the synchronous workings of a gorgeous love affair and the cosmic stamps of approval come trickling at first. they begin in days long conversation where you discover all the uncanny similarities in taste and preoccupations and decide you’ve been separated for too long and are just now making up for lost time. then the fullness of it comes flooding in under the guise of divine and perfect love making and you find yourself practicing and partaking of each other until you fuse together. it’s a blissful time of unraveling.
When you’re wrapped up in your oneness, it seems like everyone knows your business, while in duplicity, like a twin-secret, only the other knows. or whomever you tell. having everyone know your business makes for good storytelling, though. every nite of your life is being courted at a costume ball of strangers on Halloween. which makes dating rather like trick-or-treating. and you think you’ve arrived because the band knows your name and they play your song when you make an appearance and the bartender knows your drink and you find yourself eating candy necklaces off the roving necks of a gaggle of girls in a bachelorette party, hoisting blow up dolls named Ramone over your head, drinking free champagne and sent drinks, guessing the weight of a lobster and winning dinner, ghost-chasing, line-dancing, boardwalking, tripping over the sidewalk and losing your glass flip-flop and the Prince Charming purported to return that missing shoe turns out instead to be your slightly annoyed neighbor who heard your giggly drunk ass cry wee wee wee all the way home and now stands on your doorstep, waking you from your mean hangover if only to be satisfied to see your face, swollen with sleep now just as disturbed as his was. and that’s just one Saturday nite at the bar. oh dear. how very common.
All wild nites not-withstanding, i worried for a time that i was, as i am fond of saying, slowly “cultivating my crazy cat-lady mystique.” luckily one of the qualifiers is four or more cats, so having only one, i was down a few felines. i never feared i might not be taking myself seriously and having too much fun – i feared that i would take myself TOO seriously, and dive headlong into a career of sorts and dry up inside, reverting instead to buying my own chunk of real estate and feathering my nest, collecting things and blocking out every chance a man would walk willingly into my life or personal lair of accomplishment and acquisitions. i kept my life wide open in hopes that i would be more malleable and mutable when i did find love.
This philosphy of life and my adherence to it developed partially after visiting the home of Madison. My friend Marcy was house sitting for “Madison,” who lives in this sort of, as best as i can describe, Victorian home in Annapolis just a few blocks from where i used to live. Here’s the picture: a fine array of authentic, extremely antiquated French Provinical furniture including wing back chairs, burgundy crush velvet couches and throw pillows that have undoubtedly housed and fed generations of dust mites since 1865 which now sit cool and still like taxidermied trophies. i kept imaging all the smallish bodies that have swooned at their bindings and draped themselves across the chairs and sofas and wondered if it’s me, despite my narrow frame, that would make the legs finally give and render one of them no longer sitworthy.
The bathroom boasted plates from old nature books of flowers, the walls and tables displayed photos of ancestors that may or may not have been hers. vellum lamps with scenes of indeterminable French countrysides and waltzing partners lit the rooms with the dim yellow of sallow skin. vanity tables with wash basins & pitchers sat dusty, unused and waiting, as did perfectly displayed bone china tea sets and house plants that looked like they’ve spent some time traveling and growing in many many windows. even the dishes that sat behind the glass cabinets like ladies in waiting in the only modern room, the newly remodeled kitchen, were in contrast, quite old.
Although warm looking in texture and color, the house was more at museum and mausoleum than a collection of sitting rooms. at any time, i expected Abraham Lincoln or Elizabeth Barrett Browning or some long dead ghost to traipse through the room, straighten their suit jacket or skirt, sit down with a swan-like flourish and engage me in parlour talk. After all, mourning and preparation for burial of the deceased were occasions for such a place, the parlour which we now call the “living” room. Being there amongst all the antiquities was a transporting feeling, time out of mind, but NOT in that way that a room textured in burlap and velvet and heavy silk and gold framed photos and plants should. it’s more like you have just crossed the forbidden velvet rope in a historical period museum display and sat down in your dusty blue jeans and wiped your funnel cake and ice cream coated hands on the drapes and marveled at how dainty and formal everything was.
It felt sacrilege to have the tiny tv on in the room, which i think might’ve been black and white, but perhaps i am embellishing here. It was tuned (poorly and perhaps not by cable) to CSI, but Marcy insisted on finishing the episode about the triple homicide, which also made my mind wander to who may have been killed around this furniture and if black lights would reveal blood or cat piss or bone fragments or . . . so i suggested we turn off the tv after and listen to the new Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine which worked well for atmosphere what with its galloping calliope sounds and carnivalesque piano and spare strings and bell-like instrumentations.
Lyrics came pointedly,
“If you don’t have a date,
Go out and sit on the lawn
And do nothing.
‘Cause it’s just what you must do
And nobody does it anymore . . .”
While the music played, i made do with the tea to enhance the mood and we thumbed through magazines and books and sat quietly listening.
Madison has two cats – Lili, a squat, rotund, grey, black and white tabby with bright, gold eyes like doubloons and a very timid voice. Meow comes out a squeaky, whispered “meert.” Then there’s Henry. A lion lord, red, furry fuck of a cat. Henry decided we were great friends and so Marcy observed and laughed (thankful it was not her this time) as he climbed the back of the couch, sat behind my head, purred directly in my ear, then began to “groom” me. He would grab a mouthful of my hair and bite at it, like a little monkey, then pull it through his teeth and gnash a bit. And he’s strong – so my head went back some with his tugs. Really amusing, a little unsettling, and oddly relaxing too.
i hope Marcy is not offended that i should offer up her long-single and very successful, well-educated, well-read and well-traveled friend to the chopping block as an example of the woman i was most afraid of becoming. Because re-reading the above sentence, most of the qualifiers seem pretty desirable and difficult to attain ideals, but concentrate on the introductory statement – “long-single.” something went just a little horribly wrong there. Madison, upon meeting was not so much the graceful, distinguished lady at court in her home as she was the shrewd and tense rabbit, quick on her heels and ready to bite, with little provocation. i wondered had she been married? had she any children? i mean, she didn’t need to have any historical evidence of men in her life, was she instead just a closeted or outed lesbian? was she just unhappy or happy being alone? how did she afford all this strangely lavish but lovely nonsense that padded her home? did she actually sit at that vanity table and comb her hair 300 strokes until it was a groomed horse tail or 500 strokes later, a fine, fox pelt ?
i padded out the door that nite into a light and thought-provoking drizzle and thought about old things, like writing letters to send to friends the old-fashioned way. i even purchased a wax seal with a golden bumblebee and some silver sealing wax.
i actually like sending letters and cards covered in stickers and random doodles or decorations. sometimes it is artwork or pasted text of my own or words cut out from places. the recipients always enjoy it and it’s a nice labor of love to send something homemade to friends. the art of letter writing is not dead, it is just somewhat supplanted by email and phonecalls, so i like the exercise of making a compact hello and keeping it light and cheery with a little bit of news, anecdote, story, mention of old, good times and promise of new ones. and always . . . always love at the end.
i have these friends who we tell each other that we love one another at the closing of letters and phonecalls, not just when we do something nice that pleases us. i’m always so happy when i reach the point where we can express that with people we aren’t actually tethered to sexually and mean love not as salve and bandage or frosting and fluff or wax seal of official business and stature of the relationship that when forgotten to be said or non-exchangeable or refundable becomes grounds for hurt feelings. there is proper etiquette for courting, but it’s all long since vanished so we should all just shrug and give into loving with abandon.
it’s easy to stay frozen in time, to accumulate goodness and sameness, to work on a theme, to breed familiarity and then forget to stay in touch with the current. it’s much harder to start over and reinvent and reinterpret and rework and redecorate. well, unless you consider Madison’s house, then yes – that place could use some new, infused love. unconditional, wildly colorful, moist, biker leathered and Victorian laced, ginger-flavored, spicy, whip-cream, lathered love.
Because damn, if you don’t use it, the source of the well runs dry, sister. and people start dredging up the old names, and tossing them out of the bucket, even for a modern single woman: Spinster, Old Maid, Crazy Cat Lady, Witch. i certainly didn’t want to find myself walking along and suddenly hear a tinkling, clattering sound as my shriveled up cooter dropped out and skittered along the pavement like a wheat penny. “This belong, to you madam?” “Why yes, it did, but i’ve forgotten all about it dear sir! thank you ever so much for reminding me.”
And if you get to that point, honey, close enough to need whetting, they’ll be no more fucking around – it’s time that you had a ravishing laid upon in the manner of a mongol horde. And if you’re wondering how the mongolians do it, they don’t barbeque you before they screw you, it’s done in big groups, with horses. just like some of the freakier Victorians did as a backlash to all that propriety.
But it’s ok – i’m no stranger to odd voices and old muses. i should explain sometime about how i see (channel) writing and how i have a few special guest stars who visit and stand in and they have very distinct voices. one muse who occasionally enters the vessel is a familiar – she’s that sloppy, silly little tart who has no regard for punctuation and lays in bed and eats chocolate covered shortbread cookies and gives me pimples from all the sugar and likes the smell of lavender and of rose water because it reminds her of Victorian times and flush, pinched cheeks and corsets and outrageous shoes defying height and comfort and daisies and lace doilies and hard candy in crystal dishes and salt water taffy from trips to the boardwalk and somehow, she does always come back around to sugar and scent and will stay up to watch the sunrise to prove a point. once she told me to write:
“i like watching a sunrise as it goes from a bruised black-blue purple, to cranberry red, to a smoky salmon color, and then onto a misty yellow, like the inside of a lemon rind with patches of high white, then transitioning back to pale blue. It’s like peeling back the layers of a foreign fruit or pushing something inside out until it yields the thing you know it has tucked away and want to see. Sky surgery. Post-mortem of a long, dark, tangled enchanted night.”
And since i met Joe, he’s been my twin half sharing many long, enchanted evenings. some to include firesides and brandy and all the finery and a spot of world travel and a good amount of wine and a multiple spots of tea. i haven’t written in so long, yet – so much life has happened. and over the series of a few installments, so your eyes don’t hurt and my topic doesn’t wander off course, i’m about to tell you . . . as a newly reformed single-minded but deliciously happy Spindle Maid at the loom.
i am not politically inclined to comment.
i am not so easily terrified by ‘terror.’
i avoid most news to maximize joy.
but i have some thoughts on these things,
in grand universal brush strokes . . .
::: ::: ::: :::
Exquisite Cognomen or “How to Name Our Pain”
In the world, there is forever fever:
We read the signs,
blazing in historic orange.
We straddle our majestic fates,
ride our caution horses up to the edge,
and prepare ourselves to be known,
We drop our weapons in the dust,
and unveil with the other prairie dogs—a global disrobal.
We read too much tar for no pleasure,
while we patch ourselves up with nicotine band-aids.
We let the talking heads scare us into the show,
We become cancerous clowns in the tumor circus.
We cannot duck and cover in the Alcoholocaust.
We cannot stay dry in the headswim of worry
and forward motion.
Compartmentalization leads to:
and Tupperware death,
All the ever meanwhile,
Howling sweet exultations
and consuming quietly our consummations
so that we may die pure
and be saved by our cleverly patented,
one-hundred thousand mile drive chain
When we hunker down
And cast our last breath under the elective curtain,
when they unearth our sterile bones,
will they say they truly understood what fine
encyclopedic creatures we were ?
Will we leave bones?
Bones for wolves to make soup,
for women to make breastplates,
and for men to make cages to keep their wolves
and women warriors in.
They may see the hinted drop stitchwork,
the soft, green loop to crochet the new world from,
but will they want such a pattern to follow?
We who all succumbed to communal self-butchery and burnings.
With the burden of our knowledge,
clinging to our near-death faces
though we wake in the night,
bloated and blue,
—information gorge syndrome—
well coax the current thickening lump and swallow,
and fall back against another chainlink, razorwire
Well, for now, caustic dreamers
of blameless, paranoid, age-defying landscapes,
let us multi-task our spiritual trash,
complicate the workable and fertile into fiscal orgasms,
and reduce our grand and beautiful ideas to slogans and acronyms
that suggest other equally unplugged words.
Let us muck around in newfound dark,
continue our acid intercourse,
bring our weary and our winded before our glittering
But we ask that you ask your loved ones to cover their nettles,
so we cannot trace the frightening highway back to the ocean,
or the forest,
or the desert,
so we do not name the extraneous scar across the trellis of a thousand nations,
so we will not offend our impressionable guests
at dinner date death,
so we cannot recognize our very same,
How do we not weep when we know our name is like a dirge,
strangled from threadbare angels.
The earth groans under our weight,
impregnated again and again with a stifling humanity,
eggs rolling off the edge of the earthen table
set by Columbus—
tiny, hopeful, rudiment vessels,
unpacking the cargo of the daunting future
while crushing the orange partitions of the past.