Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday Catch-up

Ludicrous. Skip gave me an iPad for Christmas and I’m reading a terrific book and I managed to leave both of them at home. So I spent an hour at the Southern Indiana Radiation Center (SIRA) with nothing but a bunch of Tennis magazines and Web MD issues to read. I was there to get my annual mammogram and also-- because Skip’s cancer caught us so off-guard-- a chest and lung X-ray (I’m an ex-smoker, too and suffer now from mild asthma). It all went well—or at least as well as they’d tell me at the time; and now I’m back home. I have work to do, but I’m restless so thought I catch up on the blog posts.

Skip continues to do pretty well. He had his 4th aggressive chemo treatment, which hit him pretty hard: fatigue, blues and joint pain lasting longer than usual. Then on Dec 21, he began what they called “maintenance” treatments—just one drug (alimta) along with an anti-nausea drip. The after effects played out much the same way they always have. Weds, the day of the chemo treatment, and the following day, Thursday, he felt fine. Then Friday, he was a little tired. Then Saturday, Christmas Eve, he felt pretty worn. We spent a quiet evening –read, ate cookies and fudge, made a fire, watched the Tom Waits special on Austin City Limits and opened our remaining presents. But then Christmas Day, Skip rallied (said he felt as though something had actually shifted inside), so we went to our friends’ Christmas party. Wonderful food—ham and a roast, two kinds of ceviche, bean salad, hummus, lots of champagne and sweets galore. And wonderful talk. Our friend L. showed up—a big surprise since she was supposed to be on a great adventurous trip to see Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti project in Arizona with her new girlfriend. But things turned out badly for her—the new flame abandoned her in the middle of New Mexico, taking the rental car and L’s house key with her. L. managed somehow to get back to the hotel, where the inn keeper helped her to get a flight reservation home. “I didn’t bring anything,” she apologetically told our hostess, Tamar; T. quite appropriately hushed her, gave her a glass of champagne, and sat her near me (knowing I’d be a sympathetic ear; actually I was outraged at the girlfriend’s behavior and was so incensed on L’s behalf that she sent me a sweet thank you note the next day). For my part, it was a kind of gentle kick-reminder that as bad as things seem right now, I’m not feeling rejected or unwanted or unloved. Quite the opposite, since Skip is very loving and tender.

The winter continues to be mild. We did have one snow two days ago—bitter cold and icy. Friends came to shovel our driveway- and it was so slippery I couldn’t even walk down the driveway to say a proper thank you. Just blew kisses from the top of the drive and then went to find salt. But by yesterday, things were already beginning to thaw, and today we managed a walk in the park. Skip suffers from chemo chill, so he was bundled up with scarf, hat, and ear muffs. But I thought it was positively balmy and walked bareheaded, with my leather jacket unzipped, gloveless hands shoved in my pockets. Tonight I’m making tostadas and margaritas and we have plans to watch an Australian neo noir, The Square. If I don’t post again before New Year, I wish you all a jolly and safe holiday; and I wish us all some better times in 2012.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens

RIP the erascible, frequently maddening but always interesting Christopher Hitchens. God knows I often disagreed with him but I was truly sorry to hear this news yesterday morning Nobody but nobody wrote about cancer with the same esprit and verve. I will miss his blog posts, his smarts, his will to survive, his 'je ne regrette rien" attitude and his gallows wit.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Good news

Dec 3, 2011

Today is Jean- Luc Godard’s 81st birthday. Six years ago we did a weekend symposium here at IU, to celebrate his 75th birthday. Jonathan Rosenbaum came down from Chicago with a copy of JLG’s as yet unreleased Histoires du cinema; Jim, I, Nathan Carroll, and Jonathan gave talks; we showed a smattering of both old favorites and more recent films- -and at least one rare film from the Dziga Vertov period. I remember Skip lugging a case of wine we got from the Swiss Embassy to the reception and the great Champagne and Baklava bash we had to celebrate the end of the festivities and to fête the great man himself. This year I’ve been so distracted I would have missed Godard’s birthday entirely if not for Facebook postings from other cinephiles. But I did rally sufficiently to order Histoires, which is finally commercially available here, from Amazon. And I spent a wonderful hour last night trolling You Tube for my own FB Godard nuggets to post.

On the cancer front, the news is good. Last Weds (Nov 23) Skip had a CT Scan to see how the cancer was progressing--or not-- and the results are terrific. The carcinoma (cancer cell growth) in his spine is reduced and the soft tissue in the bone is starting to heal. The lymph nodes in his chest are smaller. The spot on his lung and the one on his liver are unchanged, but no larger. And there are no new spots or lesions. So for now at least, the cancer's progress has been substantially slowed.

He had new labs this past Weds (Nov 30)-- also good. White blood cell count and immature white blood cell count are still fabulous (he could share with the entire family). His platelet count is high. The hemoglobin count is still 9.8-despite the valiant attempts of a dedicated acupuncturist and her arsenal of chinese herbs (thanks, Eliie!) and the sacrifices of several local grass-fed cows. So, the hemoglobin count is not quite the perfect 10 that continues to elude us, but it’s no worse than 3 weeks ago.

Skip had his 4th chemo treatment Weds-- still using two drugs: alimta and carboplatin. When he returns to the center in 3 weeks, he'll be starting a milder "maintenance" chemo therapy, just using alimta —and spending only about 45 minutes in the still pretty depressing infusion center. Dr. Dayton was obviously pleased with himself and twirled his mustache with even more élan than usual.

Asked about travel, Doc D said that if Skip feels well enough to travel in April, we can work his chemo treatment around a plane trip. So--as of now at least, we plan to fly to Stayton for Edith (Skip’s mom)’s 100th birthday in April. The invisible band around my chest has loosened. I feel as though I can breathe again and for the first time in months I feel as though we can make plans.

Back to Godard-- Stayed up late watching Olivier Assayas’s Demonlover, just one of the films that would have not been possible without him.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday Plus One

11 A.M. The carcinoma in Skip's spine has been reduced by the radiation therapy and he's almost off narcotics completely now. And so we've figured out ways to begin making love again. Twice now in three days. So nice to feel that connection again and to feel that even if I lose him, I'll know who it is I've lost.

He's sleeping now. A pattern is developing. He wakes up early, unable to sleep. Gets up for awhile, and then goes back to his chair for a long morning nap. My son and his family are visiting--they keep very different hours from us. Rise much later-- so the house is quiet. I made pancake batter for a late breakfast, which will probably be more like brunch-- and then maybe we can take a walk in the woods before the storm comes.

I've been reading my friend Laurie Stone's latest work-- still an unpublished ms--
My Life as an Animal: A Memoir in Stories and so far love it. I recognize a way of thinking-- a tone-- at times I hear her voice while reading, see her smile and her triangular open face, fall in step with her quick gait. There's a different kind of logic to the way women tell stories I think-- at least some women (the ones I like to read). This way of looping back-- a circular detour for every plot step forward-- that pleases me, that makes a kind of fundamental sense. Maybe it's there in men's writing too and I just haven't found it. At any rate, Laurie writes that way-- so that a piece about buying at rummage sales opens up to include not only the relationship she is furnishing and domesticating, but remembrances about her mother and death and loss, the newly discovered stories of the people whose things she buys, meditations on liminal spaces and transitions. Very evocative and beautifully written. Nobody but nobody can find the right metaphor, simile, comparison, descriptor like Laurie can. "That's how Richard always looks in pictures, like he's been seized by the authorities and is awaiting deportation."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Third chemo

It's 6 a.m. Skip is snoring not so peacefully in the bedroom. He had a restless night.
I was at a dinner for a visiting scholar last night, ate and drank a lot of wonderful food and wine, and so spent my own toss- and- turn night, overheated and subliminally aware of all the activity next to me.

Skip tolerated the third chemo treatment pretty well. A little extra fatigue, but not much more than that. He's still eating well. Off oxycontin and now starting to come off of the neurontin he's been taking for nerve pain. He had some discomfort yesterday, and it might be too soon for this new withdraw and detox. At least I'm imagining that might be part of his restlessness. That and dreams.

I spent the day of his third chemo treatment, Wednesday, reading and re-reading Joan Didion. Her new book about death and loss, Blue Nights, is as heartbreaking as you might imagine such a book to be. Detailing the death of her daughter, which occurred so soon after the death of her husband, the book shows a woman who is just reeling. Her sandal strap catches on a street grating one day, and she immediately goes out to buy 2 pairs of sneakers--afraid to wear heels anymore, vulnerable and frail-feeling, afraid of losing her balance. That's as good an analogy as any for the larger emotional state she's in.

The heartbreak surrounding death and loss I had anticipated. What I didn't expect was that the book would be such an unflinching and heart wrenching book about motherhood and adoption. When I first read reviews, I didn't understand why Quintana's status as an adopted child was so continually highlighted. It actually pissed me off, since I thought the reviewers were drawing some kind of distinction between the kind of love you'd feel for an adopted child vs. the kind you'd feel for a child you'd actually carried. But now that I've read the book I understand. So much of it is about the particularities of adoption-- the special fear of loss that both adoptive parents and adopted children live with, the way lives can suddenly upend when birth parents and siblings resurface. The heartbreak of not knowing what kinds of genetic predispositions your child might be carrying (when Quintana falls ill there's no family story for Didion to turn to for information or comfort. No " I remember when Aunt Elizabeth had that and survived" to carry her through. And, of course, Quintana does not survive-- which makes everything all the more heart wrenching).

The book is written in Didion's signature style and prose. I've been something of a Didionista since Play It as It Lays-- and in the 1970s Book of Common Prayer was one of those books that I kept revisiting almost obsessively. Beautiful-- the way she interweaves time frames and I love the almost surgical precision with which she shows you what various emotions look like, sound like. Very cinematic in a way. But if you don't like her style, this book will probably annoy you.

And it does lend itself-- even for me-- to that wrinkling of the class nose. Didion and her family are well to do by most standards. And there's a way in which reading about the trips and teaching Quintana to eat caviar can be wearing (in the same way that class in Woody Allen movies can just distract-- who in the hell has such a huge apartment in Manhattan? Who can afford such a place when half the city is in squats?). But for me it was one of those essential books to read-- particularly now.

My one caveat-- I re-read The Year of Magical Thinking before starting this one. I thought it would be good to have the story she tells there fresh in my mind and also I needed to revisit that earlier, exquisite meditation on marriage. What it means to love someone and live with him for a long time, and then suddenly to lose him. Irrevocably. No fantasy of getting him back or sending the other woman a poisoned box of Godiva chocolates. As you can imagine, there are times now when I look at Skip and feel that my heart is breaking. When I told my friend Tamar recently that I didn't understand my mood swings, she said, "I do. You're losing your husband." And there it was-- the very blunt fact of it. So, I thought it would help in some sort of cathartic way to revisit Didion's memoir of losing her husband.

But there was too much carryover from one book to the next for me. Not just events repeated and retold, but retold in exactly the same way-- often in exactly the same language. As a writer I know the impulse-- once you've found the right metaphor, the right image, that single evocative verb, you don't want to give it up for subsequent retellings. But it can be unsettling if you read the books back to back. As though she were self-plagiarizing in a way.

6:30 a.m now and still dark. I have two black, black bananas to use for muffins this morning and strong French roast to brew. I miss the ocean during this time of year almost more than I do during summer. Miss the long walks along San Francisco's Ocean Beach-- grey sky and seeping fog -cold cutting through even my leather jacket. Fires on the beach at night followed by cold Tequila in the Cliff House bar. Play it as it lays.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Standard Time

Skip's gone into the studio two days in a row now to work. He complains about the fatigue and about how long it takes to do things-- to wedge clay for example. Says he can work for about 15 minutes and then he has to rest. But the good news is that he's working. Yesterday when Kasia (one of my grad students) came by with an anti-oxidant rich, muffin basket for us, Skip was in his studio-- Leo Delibes' Lakme-- the choral refrain from The Hunger-- blasting from his little portable radio. He's begun a statue that will eventually be Theda Bara, in one of her more pensive moods.

Later that evening some friends brought us dinner-- a moveable feast, they called it. Fabulous food that they stayed to share with us. Lovely talk and then Kathy scooped up all the dirty dishes and took them away in her Mary Poppins-like bag. So now we have leftovers for dinner tomorrow, plus an extra helping of stuffed pork roast to freeze. Delicious homemade bread, peppers and a beautiful ricotta fruit torte also leftover. Drank some wine. Laughed a lot and watched an old David Suchet Poirot mystery on PBS.

Next chemo is Weds and Skip's hemoglobin count is still a bit on the low side- so I need to get a few more good blood- building meals and glasses of red wine in him before he takes the next treatment.
Gorgeous autumn day today-- perfect for a long walk.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Big Sex Little Death

One of the odd things about caretaker literature is the way it treats all people requiring care as interchangeable or the same. So it doesn't matter if you're taking care of a husband or a mother or a child or a brother; there's no real sense of the attachment--particularly the erotic attachment-- you might have to an ill person's body. A whole physical history of intimacy and tangled sheets and smells--and the way it can hurt to see someone's body change so much. Different smells. Strange indentations where muscle used to be.

I finished reading Susie Bright's Big Sex, Little Death-- a wonderful memoir and a wonderful, informal reminder about the porn and sex debates that seemed to tear the feminist movement apart in the late 70s/early 80s. Susie Bright grew up in SF and spent a great deal of time in Santa Cruz, so I'm surprised that I never met her. She knew so many of the same people and moved in similar circles; I was the general book buyer at the UC Santa Cruz Bookstore when she taught for UCSC. It seems impossible that our paths never crossed, but I pored over the photos in the book and do not recognize the young Susie at all.

Except in life experience. Her mom had a mean crazy streak that mine, thank God, did not have. But SB's relationship with her mother was complicated in the same way that my relationship with my own mother was complicated; and she had the same close relationship with her father that I had with mine. But it was the parts about being a baby socialist and about the AIDS crisis that really got me. Not so much the writing-- although she does have a gift for leading you into little terror corners that you don't see coming. No, what got me was just the history she writes about. "Susie Bright's life is just as compelling--more compelling-- than her sex life. And that's saying something," Dan savage writes in his all too true blurb for the book. And Alison Bechdel notes that it's scary to think Bright's not making anything up, that this is all true. "Guns, drugs, threesomes, socialist factionalism, a stabbing...all before she got her GED?" Well, yeah-- but it was the 60s/70s after all.

Moved from Big Sex to another memoir, Catherine Texier's Breakup. About the end of her marriage to write Joel Rose. This is a re-read. I first read the book-- obsessively
read and re-read the book-- a couple of summers ago when I was also obsessively reading and re-reading Katha Pollitt's Learning to Drive. This one is beautifully written-- little snapshots of a breakup in progress that just take my breath away. Every time I read this book, the food invades my life. Last night I made sauteed potatoes and grilled some burgers. Tonight I made a large pot of Cuban rice and beans. Could almost see the colors in her kitchen and hear her daughters playing as I cooked. Texier is one of the writers from the Downtown group I'm currently working on, so perhaps this memoir will help me to get back to my own book.

Finished revising an article I've been working on since summer and heard that it's been accepted by CTheory. Once I get the proofs, I can take books back to the library and clean my study. Get ready for the next essay.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints'/ med withdrawal

Skip's been doing well-- The radiation treatments have worked to minimize the pain in his back so he's withdrawing from Oxycontin. He's been on a half-dose the past 5 days and the doc says it's safe now to stop taking it entirely. He's still doing neurontin (another narcotic), but the effects of that are pretty mild compared to the Oxycontin (which, among other things, has made it uncomfortable to drink even 1 glass of wine).

I finally finished revising an article that I worked on and worried over all summer; just got the e-mail tonight saying it has been accepted. Such a strange feeling-- exhilarated and let down all at once. My friend, Jim, says he feels something like postpartum depression every time he finishes a project-- and I guess it is a little like that. Finally finished reading Susie Bright's Big Sex, Little Death-- such a wonderful memoir, and a wonderful--if eliptical-- history of the sex and porn debates that split the feminist community. Bright grew up in San Francisco and spent a lot of time in Santa Cruz (California) at the same time I did-- knew many of the same people, so I found myself poring over the photos in the book. Seemed inconceivable that our paths didn't cross, but apparently they didn't. At least I didn't recognize the young Susie.

My friend Claire sent me the link to an article on medscape--a phase 2B study shows that a new vaccine (TG4010), used in combination with chemotherapy, slows the progression of nonsmall-cell- lung cancer in patients with profiles much like Skip's. Preliminary trials show a survival rate increase of about 6 months. So I've printed out the info and plan to ask the doc (thank you, Claire). In the meantime, I'm still trying to build up his hemoglobin and platelet counts before the next chemo treatment on Nov 9.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Joan at her desk

In March we went to New Orleans—I was there for the Society of Cinema Studies Conference, and Skip wanted to see New Orleans again, post Katrina, and to see friends. Large, rambling hotel largely organized around the bar. Easy to find people from the conference, but also easy to eat and drink far too much. The first night there, we put off trying to find conference friends and instead went to Magazine Street, and had dinner at the Bon Ton Restaurant. With our bill, we received a recipe card—the restaurant’s signature vinaigrette recipe on one side, bread pudding with whiskey sauce on the other.

The card ended up on the sink in my bathroom—and I see it every morning. Bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Before Skip was diagnosed, it was friendly and amusing. Now I keep it there, hoping there will be a time when he can eat such things again—when we can go to New Orleans together, eat oyster sandwiches and walk down the street sipping drinks. Strange the things that take on importance. A trip to New Orleans, a place we rarely visited. Bread pudding with whiskey sauce—something I’ve eaten maybe 5 times in my entire life.

Laurie Stone sent me the ms for her new book today—My Life as an Animal. Started reading as I downloaded it to my desktop and was captured immediately. Her prose always hits me like that—just reaches out and grabs me right away. Smart, provocative, honest. Talked to her Sunday—long, funny conversation, and a good one to have. Afterwards I mentioned to Skip that Laurie asks me questions like nobody else in my life does. He just smiled.

“She offered to come when I start teaching again,” I told him. “To help.”

“That would be a good thing, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” I said—getting that catch in my voice as I wondered what shape he’ll be in come January. Right now he fatigues quickly and is prone to stomach upset--but basically he is doing well. My friend Tamar tells me she admires the way I take things one day at a time. She doesn’t know how my mind races ahead into the future during these long white nights.

It’s late—early in the morning, really—Picasso’s birthday. I’m looking at a very bad painting I did when I was 20 years old and living in Sweden. A Picasso-esque woman with her eyes closed. It’s propped on my desk, underneath the very good graphite sketch that Skip did shortly after we started living together—a large picture of Virginia Woolf that still hangs on my study wall. I hear Skip getting up to go to the bathroom again. Time for bed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Radiation end

The first weekday morning in almost three weeks that's totally our own. Skip had his final radiation treatment on Friday. So today we were able to get up, make some espresso, watch Democracy Now, and then immerse ourselves in our respective tasks. Gorgeous fall day here,
so I plan to walk and weed my herb garden. After writing a student letter of recommendation of course.

I'm reading Susie Bright's Big Sex, Little Death and missing San Francisco.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

2nd chemo

Skip had his second treatment yesterday and everything went pretty well-- no freaky hiccups last night; no nausea. Still I was up at 5, the hour-- or so my acupuncturist tells me-- that corresponds to mourning and grief in the Chinese Medical Scheme of Things. The hour that is ruled by the lungs.

We have 2 more radiation treatments to go in the series of 14 that specifically target the carcinoma in Skip's spine. Yesterday, he woke up pain-free for the first time in months. Even sitting in the chemo infusion center for 2 hours didn't seem to cause undue distress-- so something is helping with the bad back attack that was our first notice that something was wrong. The cancer "presenting" itself, as the doc says--as though it were a Diva waiting for the properly dramatic moment in which to make an entrance.

Two to 4 more chemo treatments using both drugs-- alimta and carboplatin. Then he'll go on a "maintenance" regime, using one drug only. Chronic cancer. Chronic chemo.

It's 7:15 a.m. and still dark; and I hear the wind whistling in the trees outside. Grey, drizzly day all yesterday. The wind I'm hearing makes me think that today we're in for something a little more dramatic.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday- 2nd week radiation

There's an unpleasant tone that creeps into many of Anne Sexton's poems-- Plath can certainly be darkly, sharply ironic, but there's an underlying decency there. So I always trust her. Not so with Sexton. Which is why, I think, that Transformations is about the only collection of hers that I do like. The nasty tone perfectly fits the Grimm tales, full of treachery and institutional malevolence (it's a moral universe with rules, but the rules aren't constant. You meet a dwarf in a wood. He begs a favor. In some tales, the good simpleton who helps him is rewarded. In others, it's the evil twin who selfishly hoards all his bread and beats the hapless gnome with a stick who gets the magic wishes and marries the princess). At any rate, it has been wonderful to reread these poems-- with their surprising images and turns of phrase. "And then I knew that the voice/of the spirits had been let in--/as intense as an epileptic aura--/and that no longer would I sing/alone."

We're almost done with the second week of radiation and Skip continues to fare fairly well. We saw the doc yesterday and I got the feeling she was displeased with us. She told Skip to avoid working in the yard. He told her he couldn't do that unless it was actually harming him in some way. "I want to be able to do what I can as long as possible." She set her mouth in a hard line. When he asked me about the visit today I told him, "I got the feeling she disapproves of us--." "Yeah, I got that feeling, too. Just because I was a little feisty."

Today I had to use the bathroom at the radiation clinic. Over the toilet a poisonous sign--
"If you are getting chemotherapy, flush twice."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Second week continued

At my therapist's today, I started out talking about Skip and cancer, and ended up
talking about the many, many friends I lost to AIDS. Great choking sobs as I tried to give some cohesion to an essentially disjointed story--scraps of memories: too many funerals, too many pets we had to find new homes for. My mother giving me money to go buy another "good" black dress from the thrift store, so that I could take the funereal one I had been wearing to the cleaners. The silence that would descend at dinner parties when certain names came up in the conversation. "Anybody seen Steve L. lately?" And then that chilling quiet. Eric, my shrink, is a poet--so he stayed with me. "I don't know where this is leading," I told him at one point. "It doesn't have to lead anywhere, just let it out," he said. "Let it out." Afterwards I was exhausted. Stopped in the bakery/cafe downstairs to get coffee, but they were having some kind of half-price burger day and the place was packed. I ended up fleeing. Bought a small French press coffee pot in the kitchen store instead. Took the bus and made coffee at home. Raked leaves. Called one of my former students to talk about Zizek.

Now it's time for bed. I've been reading Skip to sleep at night. Right now, we're reading Anne Sexton's fairytale poems Transformations.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Second week of radiation

Skip began his second week of radiation today. While he's still doing very well, some small symptoms are beginning to emerge-- fatigue, skin sensitivity. Reading an article by Christopher Hitchens about his (Hitch's) esophogeal cancer, I realize that I'm afraid that critical parts of Skip's "self"-- those things I'm used to thinking of as integral, core components-- will unravel all at once. In much the same way that Christopher Hitchens lost his voice. In a Vanity Fair article, Hitchens describes trying to hail a taxi in New York; opening his mouth to bellow in his usual way, he found he could only make a tiny meowing sort of noise. Taxi whizzed right past. (

Trying to catch up on work and starting to read Miéville's The City and The City.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

First week of radiation

We made it through the first 4 treatments, with few noticeable effects. After last weekend and the extreme fatigue that Skip experienced after chemo, I was very nervous about how he’d react. But his energy is good and, thanks to herbs and acupuncture, he’s eating well.

The treatment itself only takes about 10 minutes each session. Skip lays on his stomach on a table, the kind you lay on when you’ve broken your leg and need to have an X-ray. A little radiation device is mounted from the ceiling, and once Skip is in place, it comes down and gives him a zap. Actually about 3 different zaps, all from different angles. There’s no pain involved and it’s easy to forget that we’re dealing with measured toxicity.

While he is “inside” having treatment, I sit in the large carpeted waiting room and read. There’s a large picture window at one end of an otherwise upscale, institutional waiting area. (The faux living room style reminds me of what I imagine Harley St. offices to be like). The window looks out on a small sculpture garden, and the three chairs that are thoughtfully arranged there give people like me a quiet, pleasanter place to sit . As Skip acerbically remarked one morning, the greenery and sculptures are all behind glass, “just like another aquarium,” he quipped. But it’s so much better than facing the full-scale large room that I’m grateful for it, glass or no glass.

What I’m reading these days is Balzac—re-reading Père Goriot whose 19th c. Parisian emphasis on class, money and the way these things are inscribed on and in the body seems a perfect corollary to cancer care. Skip’s reading China Miéville’s The City and The City, a sci-fi noir about 2 cities which co-exist in exactly the same physical space. Each city has its own language and customs, and inhabitants of either one have to learn to actively “un-see” the other. It’s been read as an allegory for class relations in contemporary London—but also seems to me to be a good analogue for Skip’s own body. So easy not to see the cancered Skip that occupies the same physical zone as “healthy” Skip; I have to force myself to look for symptoms and signs—to read his body “other-wise.” So, we’re having interesting conversations at dinner time.

Our dear friend, Chris, came over this past week to help us modify the bathroom (taller toilet and support bar) in case Skip has any more intense intestinal episodes; and he helped me to move things around in the den so that it’s more comfortable to sit and watch television/ movies when Skip is sleeping in the living room. The weather has been beautiful here, and the day Chris came over to work, he took a lunch break to sit on the deck with us. Fresh tamales and spinach salad, glorious fall color, pleasant conversation.A “normal” day for us—with the added bonus (for me, anyway) of fewer work pressures.

Emphasis on fewer. Since I’m on family leave, I don’t have any coursework or teaching pressures —but there are still letters of recommendation to write for graduate students (so dispiriting in this job market) and I have administrative duties I’m trying to discharge via laptop from home. Hard to make myself care about the various vagaries that plague the program or department or journal. Every time I get an e-mail, I want to write back—“are you kidding? At least we’re all alive.”