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I've been reading my friend Laurie Stone's latest work-- still an unpublished ms--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.