Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Doctor's waiting rooms pt 2.

As some of you know, for about a month my husband, Skip, has been suffering from what we thought was extreme sciatica. Terrible pain. And weird cramps, tingling, numbness. He was unable to sit or lay down, so no rest—and nothing seemed to help the pain. So, we made the round of docs- -and had lots of tests. An MRI and dexascan showed a mass located at the sacrum (right above the tailbone) and another hot spot at the base of Skip’s skull. So last week the back surgeon referred Skip to the Simon Cancer Center to see an oncologist.

Horrible week waiting for the oncology consultation. We went yesterday- and the news is good, compared to the worst we feared-- but also not so good. The doc thinks Skip has a “giant cell tumor” in the bone at his sacrum. This is a Nazi tumor—it has already eaten away a good section of bone and is beginning to encroach on the nerve canal (hence the pain, tingling etc).So it’s a good thing we caught it before there was any permanent nerve damage. As for the skull "hot spot," an anomaly, the doc says.

There will be a biopsy this week, just to confirm that it’s little “c” cancer (the kind that doesn’t spread to other parts of your body and metastasize). At the same time, they'll do another CT-scan to get a better pic of that skull "hot spot." Once we’re positive what we’re dealing with, there will be major surgery to remove the tumor and scrape out the inside of the bone— recovery won’t be fun, but no chemo, no radiation, and no sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. And new pain meds! Percoset, which seems to be helping with the worst of Skip's pain.

In the meantime, I went to the doc this morning. I have a rash which is either shingles or poison ivy. I haven't been out in the yard for ages, and the garden looks like a Rousseau painting-- all jungle lush and full of neighborhood cats. The cats and I are great friends, so I may indeed have gotten poison ivy from my favorite felines.

So two long doctor waiting room stretches and I finished Eileen Myles's Inferno. Two particularly gorgeous passages right at the end. "The place I found was carved out of sadness and sex and to write a poem there you merely needed to gather." And a little later, "In that place (and poetry is most of all a mastery of places, not the world but the weather of the states that form your life and what you read and how things were taken and what came back) each of these series of occurrences creates a season" (p. 261).

Harvey Pekar and wife Joyce did that marvelous book, Our Cancer Year. For Skip and I, it's the season of little c.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

waiting for the consultation (Sunday)

We have an appointment Tuesday for a consultation at the Simon Cancer Center.
So, this is a long weekend. Skip's pain is worst at night, making it hard for him to sleep, so he's keeping vampire hours. Napping during the day. I've been working on a tenure report and still reading Eileen Myles. I've gotten to the Heaven part of the Inferno-- where the poet comes out. I love the idea of sexuality linked to paradise and enlightenment-- but it's a hard section to read right now.

Talked to Ellie for the first time since her own husband had a health crisis, about this time last year. I remember finding a book of poems in Seattle-- Angina-- written by a German poet with Michael's name, and sending it to her along with chocolate. Many phone calls; then just e-mail, postcards, funny notes, brief touch-ins until today. Michael is fine now and it was good to laugh with her. Gallows humor shared with an ardent Buddhist.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

waiting for the oncologist to call

I've reached the "Heaven" part of Eileen Myles' Inferno. God, the book's good. Wonderful in its own right, and then peppered with these bits and pieces that fill in half-finished stories I remember from other work-- Chris Kraus's trilogy, for example. The prose is a great rough tear of a thing, and then every so often there's a whole poem.

Skip's back surgeon said the oncologist would call, but he never did. So I called that office
to get the appointment information. Not a biopsy, the receptionist said. A consultation. The biopsy would come later. After I hung up, I phoned John to get a sense of the timeline-- A recent cancer survivor himself, he gave me lots of good information. A few minutes after I hung up, John wife, painter Amie Campbell arrived, bearing literature. A book, a magazine from the American Cancer Society. Things I can read in small installments. We sat over muffins and cappuccinos in my kitchen, complaining and laughing about the state of affairs in MEDICINE these days--and then suddenly she looked at me, "have you noticed the light?" It's the liminal space between summer and fall, and the morning light has taken on that oblique, slanted, golden-hour look. "Yeah," I said. "I have."

She's gone back to a painting she started last year at this time. She didn't have to say it. I knew she was telling me there's a life after this, a way to reconnect the thread.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Books for waiting rooms

Life has taken one of those turns... Skip has been suffering from what we thought was chronic and extremely painful sciatica. So we've been making the rounds to deal with pain-- lots of docs, lots of tests. Unfortunately, one test-- the dexascan-- showed two "hot spots" on Skip's spine-- one in the lumbar area where the pain is and one near the base of the skull. Yesterday we went for a cat scan of Skip's skull and now we're waiting to hear about a biopsy appointment for the fluid filled mass nestled in one of the vertebrae at the base of Skip's spine.

Reading during all this has been difficult for me-- I have classes to prep and it's very hard to concentrate. So mainly books that can be easily read in short, interrupted bouts-- and for obvious reasons I suppose I've been drawn to smart, incisive, tough-girl prose. Ellen Willis's Out of the Vinyl Deeps last week. This week it's Eileen Myles' amazing Inferno. Billed as a poet's novel, the book maps onto Dante The first part deals with the "descent" into the fiery pit of poet-dom and the second coincides roughly with the Purgatorio--where the poet pays her dues. It deals with her career. All of which makes it sound like this book is lugubrious as hell, but it's not. Very funny, very witty-- with bursts of gorgeous language (It's no accident that it's blurbed by both John Ashberry and John Waters). Along with poetry, the novel treats coming out as a lesbian and the intimate connection between sexual experience and the self. In an age where adolescent and young adult sexuality is so often seen as a problem-- pathologized or censored-- it's refreshing to read something that hearkens back to something I remember so well. The way we find ourselves through sex-- relationships and romance, too-- but largely through sex, I think. I also love the way she writes about writing-- also something I remember as an aspiring writer: "We who write poetry and think about it all the time-- who walk the streets that other humans walk, past pizza stands and trees, are citizens meanwhile of a secret country with its own currency that gets exchanged anecdotally, even whispered in the loud thrumming silence of the day, in the galleries the Marxist auditoriums jammed bookstores...the stinking bars where poets meet and read in." And later: "the poet's life is just so much crenellated waste, nights and days whipping swiftly or laboriously past the cinematic window" (66). Talking about coffee, drugs, cigarettes, drinks-- the table she works on, her little portable typewriter-- a life many of us (whether we wrote poetry or wanted to or not) will recognize from our undergrad days. "There's no mystery," she writes, "why poetry is so elaborately practiced by the young. The material of poems is energy itself, not even language. Words come later."
Published by OR Books, an alternative print-on-demand press-- ( specializing in books with a political edge, Inferno is a great read.
Capable of drowning out the inevitable blaring tv set, now ubiquitous in doctor's waiting rooms. And most importantly for my purposes, capable of distracting the worried waiting spouse from her own anxiety for a few precious moments.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Out of the Vinyl Deeps

Just finished this terrific collection of Ellen Willis's writings on rock and pop music, the sixties, feminism, and sexual politics. The famous essays-- on Dylan and Janis Joplin have aged well--
and throughout the book I was impressed by how far ahead of her time (or maybe just ahead of me) Willis was. Her analysis of both the performers and the times are things I certainly agree with now, but it took me years to come to this level of insight. While she was always smart and always a little wary, even while fully engaging with the moment. I especially appreciate her honesty-- when she writes, for example, that it took her a long time to come back to the African-American roots of R&B. I think that was true for most of us white kids, but we don't like to admit it-- even now.

What I especially appreciate as a writer and critic, though, is the way she talks about process. Frequently she mentions that she has had to feel her way into an album one track at a time. Or describes playing discs over and over until they reveal themselves as either subtly nuanced works of interest and energy or as truly uninspired. In that sense, this is truly criticism from another era and place. One that allows the luxury of time for reflection, far removed from the instant analysis imperative of the twitter feed.

These are short pieces-- so they're easy to read on the metro or in doctors' waiting rooms,
to dip into if you're on the go a lot. The website gives reviews as well as background

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Two in the Wave

Two in the Wave

I don’t know why Two in the Wave bothered me, but it did. Perhaps I’ve just seen too many masculinist-oriented films lately. Howl, whose animation sequences drove me crazy. Tree of Life, Terence Malick’s religious epic, whose politics I found deeply suspect. And now Two in the Wave, which drove me to make a big bowl of popcorn, drink a rum screwdriver and sit up late to watch Saturday Night Live.

Perhaps it’s because the film didn’t seem to know what it wanted to do. Ostensibly about the friendship-turned-rivalry between Jean Luc Godard and François Truffaut, the film seemed scattered—part of it about the New Wave itself, and part of it about Cahiers du cinéema. And while it did cover the friendship between the two men, the rivalry and resulting rift got short shrift, it seemed to me. Anyone truly interested in that promised aspect of Two in the Wave would do well to read Richard Brody’s 2008 New Yorker essay, “Auteur Wars,” an essay I found to be both more informative and enjoyable than this film.

The part of Two in the Wave that did move me was the section devoted to Jean-Pierre Léaud who moved back and forth between Truffaut and Godard’s films and, in a sense, between the directors themselves. It was Godard’s letter to Léaud which finally drove Truffaut to write his final break-up letter to JLG. And Léaud who truly did grow up in “the wave” seems to me to be the victim of the piece. The sequences of the film that quote him directly are truly poignant, as he talks about trying to figure out who he himself was while playing Truffaut’s alter-ego. And as he discusses the difficulty he faced as an actor (one who in a sense embodied new wave-ness) shuttling back and forth between the professional and artistic expectations of two distinctly different founding fathers of the vague. I kept wanting more of the child-caught-between-warring-parents story, and perhaps more also or more explicitly about the homosocial triangle that formed. This is Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s argument (the one she makes in Between Men) with a new twist—this time instead of two straight men homoerotically bonding through and over the body of a woman, they bond (and quarrel and break up) over and through the body of the New Wave’s most famous teen-man boy-star.

As always with these kinds of bio-doc films, the clips are great. But if you watch and if you’re like me, keep that bottle of rum handy.