Friday, February 27, 2009

Having Faith in Faith

My friends provided me with this week's Time magazine. The cover story is Science and Faith: The Biology of Belief (links below). The teaser states:

Science and religion argue all the time, but they increasingly agree on one thing: a little spirituality may be very good for your health.
I was pleased to see that their concept of spirituality is a little more inclusive and encompassing than just the "major" religions. It's true that we Confused Pantheistic Agnostics have a lot harder time finding a congregation that fits, and so we miss out on some of the communal benefits, but that doesn't make our spirituality any less relevant, or less effective.

There's lots of interesting information. This, in particular, jolted me: a longitudinal study of 1,500 people... he has found that parishioners benefit when they receive social support from their church. But he has also found that those people who give help fare even better than those who receive it — a pillar of religious belief if ever there was one. He has also found that people who maintain a sense of gratitude for what's going right in their lives have a reduced incidence of depression, which is itself a predictor of health.
Well, that explains why, before my illness, I was sort of addicted to volunteer work.

I'm not a particularly spiritual person: I'm about as deep as a fine layer of pond scum. But there is still a need for an understanding, an acceptable concept, of my place in the universe, of things I feel but do not see. I knew for a long time that Judaism was my culture and my heritage, but not my belief system. There are too many concerns with the "Western" god that trouble me, starting with Abraham and Isaac. I've struggled with issues of faith, and feel some envy for those who believe absolutely, unquestioningly. That's not in my character.

Many years ago, I read a book called "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner. I was lost, spiritually devastated by the death of my treasured Auntie. (Coincidentally, she was my age when she died.) Most people read this book when they are confronted with a devastating loss, but I recommend it to everyone. I'm quite sure I never would have figured out on my own what the book taught me -- it led me back to a comforting faith and a concept of a Supreme Being that made sense to me. I could not accept a god who wields tragedy like a weapon; who has the power to cure sick children, and chooses not to.

So even now, I can't bring myself to pray for healing, because I can't believe in that kind of god: a god who might say "no" to that request. Instead, I believe in a god who has given us the tools to live in an unpredictable and often unfair world. A god who grieves with us when tragedy strikes. A god who is a source of strength and comfort, not a fairy godfather with a magic wand. (And by the way s/he doesn't give a hoot whether or not I capitalize god. S/he's got bigger fish to fry.)

I can, and do, pray for courage, grace, strength, understanding and patience. Lots of patience.

The Biology of Belief
Faith and Healing: A Forum

Bedtime Rituals

Heavenly Father, hear my prayer
Keep me in your loving care

Guard me through the starry night

And wake me up when the sun shines bright

That was our ritual bedtime prayer, along with the Shema, a very brief Hebrew prayer that is the basis for Jewish belief. Aside from the blatant patriarchal slant, it's not a bad prayer. (Certainly better than that scary one, "Now I lay me down to sleep.") I moved past being tucked in pretty quickly; probably by the time I was 7 or 8. Well, there were two younger ones by then.

If I were to write myself a new bedtime prayer, one that fits my current beliefs (loosey-goosey as they are), it would be something like this:

Gods and Goddesses, Sprites, Fairies and Spirits
Bring me joyous dreams of adventure and discovery

Bring me peaceful dreams of comfort and serenity
Bring me hopeful dreams of strength and opportunity

Let me wake at dawn,

with a heart so full of gratitude and forgiveness,

that there is no room for anything else.

And help me to be less cranky.

Photos: Cousins 1 & 2, smiling Sis, The Coot with Shirley Temple and...Chuckie?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

But is it Art?

Temporary, Large Scale Environmental Installations
I’ve heard Christo’s artwork described disparagingly and I just want to go on record: I’m a HUGE fan of their work. "They" decided to use just the name “Christo” for simplicity’s sake, but the truth is that Christo and Jean-Claude have had a collaborative partnership throughout their careers, which has lasted 50+ years.

From the beginning, C/JC had a novel, dramatic idea, something that had never been seen, done, or even imagined before: using the earth itself as a canvas for a piece of art. Just as avant-garde was their intention that their “monumental” installations would be temporary. Part of the artwork, and the experience of viewing the artwork, is the knowledge that it exists for a limited time.

In fact, they have been vigilant about restoring the landscape to what it was prior to their installation. There are two exceptions: For the Valley Curtain installed in 1972, the owner of the east and west slopes asked to leave the foundation there as a memento. The contract stated that if, within 20 years, the landowners wanted the curtains removed, Christo and Jean-Claude would do so. More than 20 years have gone by and the curtains are still up. The other exception was the Surrounded Islands. Before their fabric installation, workers removed 42 tons of garbage off the beaches. They never brought the garbage back.

Art isn’t just the thing you hear or see or touch; it is also your response, your reaction. I find it hard to understand how someone could not appreciate the beauty, the drama of Surrounded Islands or Pont Neuf Wrapped, Valley Curtain or The Gates in Central Park. They are the very definition of “spectacular.”

Spencer Tunick
“His medium is people, ordinary people.”
Spencer Tunick has made naked people part of his artistic statements. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of naked people. I’ve only seen one “natural” installation, on a glacier in the Swiss Alps (brrr). The rest of them are in urban environments, and his humans might be standing, sitting, or looking as if they had tumbled from the sky. The juxtaposition of naked humans against some phenomenal backdrops – a stadium in Vienna, a public square in Mexico City – makes for a jarring, dramatic visual statement: these fragile, somewhat funny- looking creatures have tamed and conquered and then re-created their environment.

I am in awe, not just of the concept, but of the execution: getting thousands of volunteers to show up, cooperate, and drop trou!
The Spencer Tunick Experience
Blog - “Obvious” with some great photos

Jason de Caires Taylor
Underwater Canvas
Jason Taylor has created the world's first underwater sculpture park on Moilinere Bay on the west coast of Grenada, an island in the Lesser Antilles. The 65 sculptures are installed across an area of 800 square meters. Visitors need to dive to be able to view the works.

Art will become nature, and nature will become art. The sculptures are a permanent installation, and they will become artificial reefs for corals, algae and sponges, eventually creating environments for fish, turtles, etc. The Grenadian Ministry of Tourism and Culture supported Taylor’s project, and the mysterious and beautiful figures celebrate Caribbean culture and history.
Underwater Sculpture
More pics and review at art.commongate

Using the earth and the ocean as a canvas, using humans as the medium. Is it art? I say yes, yes, and yes.

CLARIFICATION – Hoodie KB wisely pointed out that one of my “Don’ts” was a little too broad. So to clarify...Compliments aren’t off the table completely, but please keep it sincere, since we have an extremely sensitive bullshit-o-meter. I’m happy to hear, “That's a pretty sweater,” or “You look nice today,” if it's true, or even partly true. I was referring to the phony gushing that some people feel compelled to do: “You look FANTASTIC!” or, “You look INCREDIBLE!” when I know for a fact that I look more like THE DOG'S BREAKFAST!

Saved (from myself)

I recently watched what I thought was a howlingly funny movie, called "Saved!" This is how Netflix described it:

When Mary (Jena Malone), a devout senior at a Christian high school, accidentally gets pregnant, she starts to see her peers and her faith in a whole new way. This dark comedy/coming-of-age story premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and was produced by R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe. Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Martin Donovan and Mary-Louise Parker co-star.
The themes pertain to all religions; I was reminded of several incidents during my very brief association with a Jewish religious youth group. There were often competitions to out-holy each other, which is kind of the antithesis of religion (or should be).

One of the messages is that the holier you profess to be, the further you'll fall when your humanity finally breaks through. There's a scene where one girl, in frustration, hurls her bible at Mary and bonks her with it. Mary picks up the bible and says, "This is not a weapon!" I was thinking about that scene this morning. Someone said something stupid and hurtful to me yesterday, and my first impulse was to just climb in the front seat of the blogmobile and run him down. But this is not a weapon -- or at least, it shouldn't be.*

Well, lookit me, wearing big girl underpants and learning to use my power for good and not for evil.

*I will continue to make exceptions for heartless, thoughtless members of the medical community. I still haven't mentioned anyone by name, and I probably never will, but they are fair game for blog fodder.

Blog, Schmog? Book, Schmook?

A day late yet again!

Several folks have suggested I might compile some or all of this blog into a book. I don't know if it's publish-worthy, but I had a title picked out: Cancer, Schmancer! Yeah, clever me, not only is there already a book by that title, but it's by Fran Drescher, possibly the most annoying actress of all time. It's not just a book, it's a movement: about awareness, early detection, prevention, lobbying for legislation, etc. I haven't read the book, but I have checked out the website and I have to concede: there's some good stuff.

Well, I'm just going to have to work on a new title. Title, Schmitle?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Judge a Kindle by its cover?

I've come to accept that no one writes letters anymore. Instead, we send email. There are advantages: it's faster, we are more likely to communicate more often. But there are disadvantages, too. I doubt you'll show your grandchildren love letters that you exchanged via email. Then there's the whole physical experience of getting a letter: seeing your name hand-written on the envelope; looking at the stamp; opening and holding the letter in your hands; reading it, imagining the sender's hand putting those thoughts down, maybe even smelling a scent. All of this evokes thoughts of the writer, something that I don't think an email can replicate.

It doesn't matter: letter-writing is, as they say, so over. Now they're coming after our books.

I've not been impressed with this Kindle gizmo. Ironically, the online bookseller, Amazon, is trying to get us to stop reading books - the physical, tactile, "IRL" kind - and start reading them on Kindle instead. How can staring at this little screen compare to the experience of reading a book? It can't, of course. And there would be no such thing as first editions, or autographed copies. I just didn't see myself ever using one...until I read that it has a "read to me" feature:

Now Kindle can read to you. With the new Text-to-Speech feature, Kindle can read every book, blog, magazine, and newspaper out loud to you. You can switch back and forth between reading and listening, and your spot is automatically saved. Pages automatically turn while the content is being read, so you can listen hands-free. You can choose from both male and female voices which can be sped up or slowed down to suit your preference. Anything you can read on Kindle, Kindle can read to you, including books, newspapers, magazines, blogs and even personal documents. In the middle of a great book or article but have to jump in the car? Simply turn on Text-to-Speech and listen on the go.
I love having books read to me... but my library still offers books on tape & CD for free, I don't see myself ever buying a $360 Kindle. Still, reading to me is at least one reason I can understand, especially since the book I want to hear might not be available at the library. Maybe I'm just being a Luddite, and Kindles will someday become as ubiquitous as cell phones.

I was at my favorite thrift shop today, my first trip in months. (Scored a pair of Clark shoes for $5!) And I swear, 4 out of 5 customers at the thrift shop were yakking on cell phones! They were the typical brilliant, insightful, charming conversations I'm always so delighted to overhear: "Not much. Whuchoo doin?" Why on earth are people calling each other practically every waking moment, when they seem to have absolutely nothing to say? This whole cell phone culture has gotten so idiotic, I have to do a lot of deep breathing to avoid setting off the crank-o-meter.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oh, Yeah? Just Watch Me...

Cancer will make you crazy. That's a fact. When you don't have a partner to share the stress, you'll get there in half the time. Menopause will make you crazy; crazy times loony plus nutty, a side of frantic, some whipped rage, and a cup of cuckoo. Put cancer and menopause in the same bucket and's like handing a loaded gun to a one-eyed drunk.

It's been a difficult few weeks here. After several months' respite with over-the- counter remedies, my hot flashes have returned, providing more off-the-charts misery than I can bear. Some girls are going to glide gently into menopause, with no more trouble than say, growing out an annoying haircut. Some girls are going to leap off a cliff into menopause, and carom and cartwheel off every friggin' boulder and pebble. Guess which group is mine?

So I called my girly doc yesterday. I know, I shouldn't have waited until I was foaming at the mouth, but that's my medical M.O. I have to be near death – my own or the closest bystander – before I will seek help. After being told the earliest appointment was in 2 weeks, I left a message for Rhoda, the nurse, begging her to look at the schedule again and find some way to squeeze me in sooner.

And she never called me back. Never. Called. Me. Back.

I slept less than 3 hours, and was awoken twice with drenching sweats. I finally hurled myself in the shower, dressed, and headed for girly doc's office. Yes, this is exactly why I don't own a shotgun. It was time for Plan B.

You can catch more flies with honey, blah blah blah, and I walked in playin' that cancer card like a cheap harmonica. I'm so sorry, blah blah, but I just don't think I can wait that long, gulp, sob. In other words, either find five minutes of the doc's time, or I'll just sit out here in your waiting room with my pitiful bald head, quietly weeping and sweating, while flames shoot out of my head and catch your wallpaper on fire.

My doc has changed groups, so I fill out a boatload of repetitious paperwork. I've learned to fill out what I want, and leave the rest blank. This time, they stuck in a form saying their "new policy" was to get a patient's credit card, and automatically bill the patient for the balance after filing insurance. I'm tempted to pull down my pants and editorialize on their new policy, but instead, I leave the form blank and dare them to challenge me on it. (They don't.) They wisely got me in to see the doc in less than half an hour. Rhoda claimed she'd just left me a message! Yeah, I thought, was that before or after you learned I was in the waiting room?

I have a brief chat with girly doc, who is duly impressed with my tale of woe. As far as the hormones go, one of the great things about having cancer is you don't have to worry about getting cancer. I leave with a fistful of samples and a prescription, and no one gets hurt.

I was very relieved; I'm not sure exactly what Plan C was, but it probably involved fava beans and a nice Chianti.


Idiot that I am, I have always paid my bills and lived at or below my income level. Craphole moneypit that it is, I got in to the Villa* by the skin of my teeth, and there were some mighty lean years, but I was never late with a mortgage payment. My income level was pretty damn modest, ipso fatso, so is my "lifestyle." But I paid off my credit cards every month, drove used cars, and didn't buy things I couldn't afford. I don't have any financial skills, I just don't like debt. I don't even like the idea of debt.

I wish there was some kind of conscience test for people who are going to benefit from a mortgage bailout. Are you in over your head because you lost your job, or because you tried to buy way, way more house than you could really afford? Are you upside-down because you put zero down? I think there are some first-time home buyers who really were suckered in by predatory lending. Maybe they didn't have a parent or someone to advise them. But I think a lot of people were just greedy. They bought $400,000 homes with ridiculous jumbo ARMs, and they couldn't put down a downpayment because they'd already maxed their credit cards. They should have been buying a $225,000 home with a 30-year fixed, and worked for a decade to pay off their credit cards.

Those are the bastards I don't want to help. I think they should lose their McMansion, and maybe declare bankruptcy, and dine on humble pie while they learn to pay their own way and spend less than they earn. Because you know who's paying to bail them out? Yes, bill-paying, tax-paying idiots (like me) and their children, and their grandchildren.

And the Wall Street whiners who "depend" on their annual bonus? Yeah, they should go down in flames; I'd pay to watch.
*Villa DeCay is my 97-year old bungalow; it cost $62,000 in 1988. And I put 5% down.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Go See...

In places where 90% of the population doesn't have electricity, how clever is a non-electric refrigerator? Clever enough to win a $100,000 prize.

I'm very much anti-graffiti, even more than I am anti-tattoo. Graffiti is an invasion. an eyesore, a trespass, and a pathetic cry for attention. I didn't think there was such a thing as "good" graffiti, but I stand corrected, only if permission is granted by the owners when the project involves private property.
Dan Witz

I haven't lost my anarchistic leanings altogether. In fact, I'm quite in favor of Guerilla Gardening, taking a neglected public space and turning it into a garden. Organic Anarchy? (The pro-graffiti element will claim it's an "eye of the beholder" issue, but simply put: they're wrong, I'm right.)

The SmartCar is not wildly popular in the USA, because in the case of an accident, it looks more like a deathtrap. We don't want to be driving a gumball machine when all the other boys and girls have big, steel SUVs. So I can appreciate the appeal of the Loremo, a steel-framed car that claims to get 50+mpg. The catch? Not in production until 2010. Still, I'd line up & wait for this sexy machine.

Things I Found #1

I introduce a new category today: things I found while looking for other things. As I step up my efforts to scale down, and declutter, I find stuff (poems, essays, etc.) that I scribbled, tucked someplace brilliant, and never saw again...until today.

A friend in his 60s was thrilled to find a sparking romance with a wonderful woman who happened to be quite a bit younger. This was pre-Viagra; my friend lamented that, although he wished to woo her all night long, his aging body could not keep up with his youthful mind. What he actually said was, “Well, what are you gonna do? You can’t push a rope...” So I was inspired to write "You Can't Push A Rope," (© LaCootina) a poem that turned into a bluesy song, thanks to a musical friend. It was performed exactly once, at my friend's 63rd birthday party. I wish I’d taped it; a scrap of the melody exists only in a dusty corner of my brain. Circa 1984 or so, I offer...

You Can’t Push A Rope

We hugged some and we kissed some; played around a bit
Now I hope you’re sleepy cause that’s all you’re gonna git
Necking on the sofa is now my idea of fun
Cause you can’t push a rope; nope – it just can’t be done

You can fight city hall, you can swim upstream
You can fool all the people, you can live in a dream
You can walk on water, and my heart is yours to keep
But you can’t push a rope, so let’s just get some sleep

I am still a dashing figure in a cutaway tuxedo
Who would guess I suffer from a cutaway libido?
I hope you love me truly, not just cause I’m a sport,
Cause there’s still lead in the pencil but the pencil’s gettin’ short

You can count your chickens while they’re still in the hen
You can even tell me, “never, never again”
You can have your cake and eat it, and my heart is yours to keep
But you can’t push a rope, so let’s just get some sleep

You’ll have to take a raincheck if you’d like to try for two
Cause once a night is all that I can do – even for you
I would love to love you all night, but in reality,
I am just another victim of reduced virility

You can be in two places; you can get there from here
You can make a silk purse from an old sow’s ear
You can take that to the bank, dear, and my heart is yours to keep
But you can’t push a rope, so let’s just get some sleep

Git some sleep.... git some sleep...
git some...zzzzzz

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Groovy House Stuff

Forgive me, Carrie Bradshaw, but I'm pretty much over the whole Shoe Thing. If I weren't, however, I would have ordered this shoe rack immediately. In fact, I may order it anyways and just find another use for it - that's how brilliant it is! On my way to finding it, I also discovered...
Who needs picture frames? Cover one wall with this paper, and post your family pics with double-sticky. I love home decor with a sense of humor.

I'm in love with this lovebird pillow.

And isn't it groovy when you find a retailer with good products, who also seems committed to doing good works? These products come from Le Souk:

Le Souk donates at least 5% of its profits to Women for Women. This nongovernmental organisation helps women in war-torn regions rebuild their lives by providing them with job skills training, rights education, access to capital, assistance in small business development and financial and emotional support.
I'm also in love with the idea, at least, of trying to buy American-made products. In fact, I'd rather spend a couple bucks more for a product and try to keep my neighbors employed, than save a few bucks buying crap at Wall(OChina)-Mart. At www.RoomandBoard.Com, I love most of the furniture, and 85% of their 2009 collection is made in the USA, supporting family-owned companies. Even their clearance items are out of my price range right now, but if I hit the lottery, I'll have a little spree here and feel good about it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What to Say, Part Deux

Now that I've got a bit more experience, I wanted to elaborate on what I wrote in Part One of what to say/not to say to someone who has cancer.
DON'T say things like, "I'm sure you'll be fine." or "I just know everything will be all right." I know it sounds upbeat, but from here, it sounds like a lot of pressure. Change it to hope: "I really hope you'll feel better soon."
DON'T blurt out your horror stories. I know it's hard not to, especially when you don't know what to say and you want to fill the silence. But put yourself in our place: do you really want to hear about someone's cousin who died of cancer, when you're facing treatment and trying to feel positive? (See also Joys of Cancer #1) Change it to empathy: "I'm so sorry you have to go through this."
DON'T keep telling me I look great. First, it sounds false to me. Second, it's usually the cure that makes us look and feel sicker than the disease, so our appearance is kind of irrelevant. Maybe change it to a question: "Are you feeling as good as you look?"
DON'T avoid me. I'm fortunate that only two "friends" completely disappeared. I know it's scary, but I promise, you're not going to catch cancer from me. Just tell the truth: "I feel really awkward and I don't know what to say, but I want you to know that I'm thinking about you."
DON'T use war metaphors. This may be the hardest one, and I sometimes forget, myself! Using words like battle, win, fight, makes many cancer patients uneasy. And if the cancer returns, as it often it because I didn't fight hard enough?

DO take your cues from the patient. Some need desperately to act as if "normal life" is still going on, some need to confront and accept their sickness and limitations.
DO offer tangible help. We often don't know how to answer, "What can I do?" but we can answer questions like, "What do you need from the drug store?" or "Can I take the kids for the afternoon?" or "Would you prefer a tuna or chicken casserole?"
DO let me sulk and be miserable when I need to. Keeping a positive, cheery outlook through exhausting treatment is sometimes more than we can manage. A little sympathy, instead of insisting things will get better, can be much more comforting.
DO try and hang in there for the long haul. It's tedious to sympathize for months and months...but I assure you, it's more tedious to be sick for that long. Just a simple "thinking of you" phone call or email means more than you can imagine.
DO be willing to laugh! Be silly, share funny books and movies, try to find the comic relief in anything and everything. Laughter is the best medicine, and a tremendous physical and emotional release.
and finally...
DO celebrate milestones. Again, avoid the "hooray, you're cured!" thing, but it's wonderful to celebrate the last chemo or radiation treatment, the first post-bald haircut, etc.

These are just my suggestions. One cancer patient's perspective. Please let me know if I should add anything.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Talent Optional

During that brief college career o’ mine, in my second drawing class, there came a late-starting student, an ephemeral fairy princess-like creature named Nora Sue. She was almost painfully beautiful: big blue eyes, a China doll face, long blond curls cascading to her tiny waist.

Nora Sue was a real live Former Bunny: she'd worked at the Playboy Club in Chicago. (I imagined men hurling themselves off the top of the building when they learned Nora Sue had moved.) To this day, she’s the only woman I’ve known who crippled men by her presence. Young or old, married or single, she just turned them into mush. She was married, but that didn’t stop anyone from fantasizing and/or making complete blabbering, blubbering idiots of themselves.

I wanted so much to hate her, I think all the girl people wanted to, but she made it impossible. She was genuinely nice, and she acted as if those boys were just silly! As if they were crippled and turned to mush by all of us, instead of just her. How endearing is that?? Plus, on top of all her hotness, her coolness and her gorgeousness, she rode a full-size Harley. I know, sometimes I wonder if we all imagined her.

I can’t remember where she was from, but she had just a little Southern lilt, and her favorite expression, her reaction to just about everything that happened around her, was “Oh, mah word!”

On top of everything else, Miss Magic Angel Goddess actually had decent drawing skills. Everyone did but me, it seemed. Oh, I could eke out a line drawing or two, as demonstrated here, but shading, perspective, depth, reflection... all beyond me. Unlike my first drawing class, this teacher* was a very unhelpful, self-involved blowhard. His two critiques of my work were cruel and vicious. That alone wouldn't have deterred me, but all I had to do was look around at the other students' work. I was so outclassed in those few classes, I pretty much abandoned the idea of making a living creating art.

It would be many years before I realized (through a friend of Sis, actually) that a smidgen of talent and a boatload of self-promotion and marketing skills will get you further than a boatload of talent without the P.R.

If only I’d known...Oh, mah word.

*Later that year, he shaved off his beard and it turns out: he had no chin. His face just ended at his lower lip. It was some comfort that his cruelty to me probably wasn't personal; he just had a mean streak from being born chinless.

Top to bottom: my Frye boots that I toted around for decades and threw away twelve minutes before they came back in style, the Art Department's hallway sofa, and Crazy Linda in her cowboy boots.

More Nostalgia

Bro 1 with his harem: me, and Cousins 1 and 2. There is a first cousin "between" each kid in my family. I think Cousin 2 and I are the closest in age, just 6 months apart. We were in the same Sunday school classes, but a year apart in public school. We took ballet lessons together & sometimes dressed alike, so people often thought we were twins. I thought that was crazy, that we didn't look anything alike, but I guess we did - at least at this age! Look at my little hand: I'm already a ridiculously dainty girly-girl, why gild the lily with ballet lessons?
I'm almost sure the car in these two photos is The Plymouth, famous as the site of The Cherry (Phthththth!) Pie Incident.
This picture was labeled "Post-Recital Ice Cream." I vaguely remember that as a reward for having survived a piano recital, we went for ice cream, not at the neighborhood Dairy Queen, but all the way across town for "fancy" ice cream at Howard Johnson's. I was SCARRED FOR LIFE by a creepy little piano teacher, but the trauma did not cross over into the ice cream experience. I am still quite brave when it comes to both ice cream and Howard Johnson's.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crazy Cranky Cancer Tarts

"Cancer needed a makeover and I was just the gal to do it!" Kris Carr, author of Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips, and I have this in common: single, female, cancer. Not much else. She is a decade or two younger, she has a different cancer, she is beautiful, and works in the "entertainment industry." While I appreciated the humorous, irreverent style, much of the book troubled me. She often seems more concerned with her appearance than her health. A reviewer at Amazon -- who is Ms. Carr's age -- said it quite well:

When I had cancer, I too, was 31. I didn't go through a decision-making process about whether to tell my esthetician about my illness. I didn't go on a "cancervation" with my "posse," because I was working to pay my bills and keep my health insurance. I didn't attend retreats and trainings and buy hundreds of dollars of goods from Whole Foods on shopping trips and make a documentary about myself. People deal with trauma and heal in different ways, and spending freely seems to have been beneficial to Kriss Carr's personal journey.
And another young women commented:
Page after glossy page, it makes cancer seem like more fun than it really is. Crazy sexy beautiful cancer babes? I'm all for empowerment, but cancer treatment makes you feel like utter garbage. I can imagine coming home from a chemo-vomit-fest at the hospital to open up a book filled with beautiful, thin, made-up, well-coiffed women (who, of course, have dashing, heroic boyfriends and husbands who always make them feel better) -- only to feel that I don't measure up. What, now I have to feel sassy and sexy when I'm being poisoned by intravenous drugs? How about a book for the rest of us, with our imperfect bodies and hairdos and our romantic partnerships with fallible human beings who don't always save the day?
Maybe some of my discomfort is simply the California obsession with image vs. Midwestern sensibilities. There are plenty of reviews that rave about this book, and even those of us with lots of qualms and misgivings will concede that there are lots of good ideas and resources. But the last thing we need is to feel we don't even measure up as cancer patients.

Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto is a graphic novel, formerly known as a comic book. Another cancer over-achiever, but one who seems a little more human. From Publisher's Weekly:
She was engaged to a fabulous guy, perennially cool restaurateur Silvano Marchetto, whose personal style perfectly matched her Manhattan-centric life. If this were fiction, this is exactly when she'd stumble; unfortunately for her, life imitated art, and sure enough, she found a lump in her breast shortly before her wedding. Just as bad, she didn't have health insurance: her policy had lapsed shortly before the fateful mammogram. Cancer Vixen tells the story of what happens next, and how her inner circle ...rallies round to help her beat the disease and get married on time and in high style. The fashion details are great fun, drawn in a spare loose style, but it's the heart of her story, the support and love she gets from her family and friends, that make Cancer Vixen a universal story that's hard to put down.
She also has a staunch advocate in her mother, who can take on anyone and anything to help and protect her daughter. Both of these books are worth a look, they are both rather avant-garde, offering fresh perspectives on cancer's intrusion.

Just know that it's also okay to be a Crazy, Cranky Cancer Bitch. I give you permission.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Painting Elephant Update

Someone questioned whether the elephant video was legit. (Someone more jaded, more skeptical than I? {{{shudder}}}) Get thee to Snopes, and ye will becometh a believer, I believe.

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has been coming in loud and clear for the last week. I'm completely hooked. I will watch almost any movie from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. This morning, Kirk Douglas was in The Story of Three Loves. I tuned in late and only caught the last Story: Kirk is a trapeze artist in Paris. From IMDB:

Pierre Narval is trapeze artist who gave it up when his partner died doing a dangerous stunt at his bidding. He rescues Nina, a beautiful young woman, after she throws herself into the Seine, and convinces her to become his new aerial partner. Her husband had been killed by the Nazis during the war, and she blames herself. They fall in love, which is tested when Nina must perform the stunt which killed Pierre's former partner.
I have always had a little thing for Kirk Douglas. I'm pretty sure it's the dimples. He started out as much of a scenery-chewing hambone as most of his peers, although he looks better in tights. I think he grew/matured into a really outstanding actor, and a reasonably good writer. (I know, I know, his books are probably 90% ghost-written.)
I've always had a little un-thing for his son, Michael. I don't get it. He's nowhere near as handsome, and radiates arrogance rather than confidence. And sex appeal? Well, he sure doesn't do it for me. It's some intergalactic coincidence, some cosmic karmic hiccup, that he's married to Catherine ZJ, who is one of the sexiest, most beautiful actresses ever.

Likewise Martin Sheen (hot) and Charlie Sheen (not). Maybe...I'm just into Old Guys. That's probably a good thing: if I ever decide to strap on my dating spurs again, I'm going to have to go for 70-year olds in order to be a hot young chick. Yikes. That's enough to make me want to pull the covers up over my head.

And now back to TCM: Carefree, a frothy Astaire-Rogers 1938 number with just enough silly plot to patch several musical numbers together.

One more thing...

I'm all for rebellious behavior! I will lead that parade, my friends. And if you want to "make a statement" with your hair, make-up, clothes, etc., I will champion your first amendment rights to do so. My issue with tattoos is their permanence: you can't grow it out when you change your mind.

Stupid 4-Evarrr

I started looking for more funny tattoo sites. Just google “bad tattoos,” “awful tattoos,” “misspelled tattoos” and there are thousands of sites. Sub-genres such as “Worst Celebrity Tattoos” and “Bad Animal Tattoos.” Many, many thousands. And at this point, probably millions of bad tattoos.

Bad Tattoos
Horrible Tattoos
Awful Tattoos - oh, yes they are
My Tattoo Sucks - borderline illiterate site; some porn-ish, scary, awful tatts
Ugly Freaking Tattoo Gallery
No Regrets - Worst Tattoos

It began to seem more tragic than funny. Some of it my aversion be generational: “In my day” only carnie rats had tattoos. To me, they symbolize a lack of class, and I still find it strange anyone would want to broadcast their tackiness and bad taste. Some of my aversion to tattoos may be cultural: you won’t find many Jews who have a positive association with them.

I also believe that tattoos indicate poor decision-making and a lack of impulse control. Remember what you thought was really cool at age 13? Was the same thing cool at 15? No, chances are you were mortified that you ever liked that band, wore that outfit, sported that hairstyle. So why would you believe that a massively cool tattoo you get at age 18 or 19 is still going to seem like a good idea five or ten years later?

There are medical issues, too. Aside from the risks of infection and liver disease, tattoos an make it difficult (or even impossible) to read certain kinds of scans like MRIs because the inks have microscopic metals in them.

Finally, skin is sexy. Why would you want to cover that up? I’m particularly horrified at young women getting tattoos across their necks, chests, upper arms and backs. If you want a small tattoo, maybe to commemmorate a landmark event, it’s so much more chic and sexy to get something that doesn’t show in “everyday” clothes. And if you ever change your mind about its fabulousness, you won’t be displaying it 24/7. You should also be stone-cold sober, go to a licensed parlor, and ask the artist if s/he has ever been sued. You could still end up with hepatitis and a pitiful reminder of your poor impulse control.

I apologize for losing the link, but found this succinct comment at one of the bad tatt sites:

Someone who develops a reasonably effective way to remove tattoos is going to make a lot of money. I'm stunned by the number of young people who are basically turning themselves into circus freaks with large, vulgar, and extremely ugly tattoos. Here in Portland Oregon, it's a plague. Tattoos are being treated as a fashion fad, but after the fad fades, the tattoos will remain.
I've gotten a lot of flack in the local alt media by suggesting that people who want to have their faces tattooed be told that they must have a waiting period of 72 hours -AND- put funds into a escrow account for three years that will cover the cost of a professional tattoo-removal procedure. A few years ago I saw a young man (white, of course, minorities are rarely this crazy) who had a bloody dagger tattooed to the side of his face. Sure it's 'cool' for a few weeks when you're 20 and hanging out in a 'punk' crowd. But what about when you're 30, 40, or 50? You aren't going to be able to get any kind of a real job, ever. You might at best be a roadie or warehouse loader. Forget about ever having a life.
Nearly all tattoos are ugly and stupid. They destroy the natural beauty and symmetry of skin tone. The fact that they have become temporarily popular is simply a nightmare.
Finally, one last consideration if nothing else has dissuaded you. At the very least, gravity will get you, too, my pretty. Your little rosebud will become a wilted long-stem.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Shower Addendum: Another urgent reason (as if I needed another reason) for the shower was that the surgery team had forgotten to remove what I guess was an EKG connection: a little metal button on a 2" square sticky pad. It was just below my armpit. I'd tried washing several times with soap & water with little effect. Whatever that sticky stuff is, NASA ought to use it to keep the shuttle tiles on. I finally scrubbed the area with acetone, then more soap & water. That did the trick.

I know medical people are people, too, and imperfect, and just as likely to make mistakes as the rest of us. I've been a bit horrified at how often mistakes are made, and how elementary those mistakes can be. I don't know what the solution is, if one even exists, but again, having a partner to help keep track, ask questions, monitor results, etc., must make a huge difference in one's stress level. I found the EKG button on Tuesday evening, the same day as the surgery. Ever since then, I've been wondering... does the surgery team actually count the sponges?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Two Firsts

Today was my first shower since the surgery! Yes, I was a little concerned that someone might hang a "Bait Shop" sign on my front porch. I'd been putting it off because (creepy alert) although I have several incisions, I don't have any stitches! Everything is held in place by paper tape, and I was assured that by the time the tape falls off, everything should be all healed up underneath. Yeah, keyword: should. It's also a little creepy that I can't see the incisions or the tape. Well, I can sort of see them, with several mirrors and some painful contorting. But I went ahead and showered this morning, and as far as I know, everything is still in place.

I also had my first shampoo in 6+ months! I'm not sure I needed it, but I felt it was a nice gesture to acknowledge and encourage my peachfuzz.

Speaking of firsts, a friend told me she's signed up for a ballet class, something she's never done before. Our urban university offers some very cool adult ed classes like this one, at satellite locations around the city. I used to take 1-2 classes a year in something "new" just to challenge myself. They were mostly some version of creative writing or some version of fitness/exercise -- Pilates, yoga, Tai Chi. I had to stop taking the writing classes; there were too many stupid and/or illiterate students; not good for someone who's trying to be less critical and judgmental. These adult ed classes are like the "new" little league: everyone gets to play whether they're any good or not. It was often very difficult to come up with a constructive critique. Stupid and/or illiterate students should be encouraged to read more. I'm not sure they should be encouraged to write more, especially when I have to listen to them read their work.

You were beginning to wonder if that train of thought had a caboose, weren't you? Well, here it comes. After a year of near-inertia, I'm thinking I should sign up for something this spring. Unfortunately, I just checked the course catalog and the only one that really interests me right now -- Mindfulness Meditation -- already has a waiting list. But I'll be keeping an eye out for something interesting. My brain would really like to come out and play.


Here's a whole page of links/stories about Littermama Nadya Suleman. And here's a single article that highlights the most recent craziness. Boy, there's a lot of it!

You know, the kids are here. Our outrage over how they got here is not going to change the fact that there are 14 children under the age of 6 living with a woman who has serious mental health problems. And these nutjobs who are issuing her and her "publicist" death threats are even crazier than Littermama, who is Mayor of Crazytown.

I was fortunate enough to be born to people who believe their first obligation as parents is to put their childrens' needs ahead of their own. That's Parenting 101, and yet it seems to be the opposite of Littermama's philosophy. For that reason alone, our concerns are justified. I'm ready to hear about how the professionals are ensuring that all the children are clean, safe, fed and nurtured by non-crazy, responsible adult(s). Social services should be watching every breath she takes for the next 18 years, and be prepared to swoop in and save 14 children from Looney Tunes at a moment's notice.

The Big Fat Hairy Bailout Bill

Oh, Baracky, I have some problems with this bill, as do most Americans. First, don't shove 1,000+ pages and expect a vote in a day or two. Not cricket.

Second... I'm going by what's been reported, since I haven't actually seen the text, but there's no reason to "save" failing banks and financial institutions. A free market economy should include the freedom to fail; otherwise it's no longer a free market. Forgive us if we're a bit suspicious. These same institutions poured slop in the trough in the form of $300+ million in campaign contributions.

Third... (related to #1) please give us a chance to make sure that this bill does have requirements, conditions, stipulations. I don't care if corporate jets and golden parachutes are red herrings; they are hot-buttons with the tax-paying public -- the rapidly-shrinking tax-paying public -- and warrant attention.

I hate to see us rush into some bad decisions; postponing action just long enough for reasonable debate and exploration is smarter than ratcheting up the hysteria by shoving this bill through without it.

Why is Obama Reluctant to Kill the Zombie Banks?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Little Peppy the Twoth

This '69 AMC Rambler was my cross-country adventure car. With a little bitty pup tent and a cooler in the back seat, I drove it many thousands of miles in the late 70s.

The horn, heater and speedometer didn't work. You don't really need a heater. You can learn to drive without a speedometer. And driving without a horn greatly enhances one's defensive driving skills. Still, for safety's sake, I devised what I called a manual horn: I'd lean out the window and scream, "HONNNNK!"

It also had funny windshield wipers. They worked off of a vacuum in the manifold (at least, I think that's what I was told)...which meant that the wipers only worked when you took your foot OFF the gas pedal. Made driving in the rain very exciting.

Little Peppy had a simple six-banger, and even a girl person like me could change the oil or replace the starter. And notice the vent windows? Back before air conditioning, they were very efficient cooling systems. It was a low-end, generic sort of car and yet, with that rebuilt starter, it was as reliable as Old Faithful and never left me stranded.

It's been 4-5 years since I've experienced general anesthesia. I don't remember being foggy and sleepy for this long. But now that I think of it, that was inpatient surgery, and I was hooked up for several days to my best friend, Mr. Morphine Pump. So I was probably even foggier, I just don't remember it.

An OR nurse told my friend that "you'd be horrified if you saw how they manhandle patients once they're under anesthesia. They toss 'em around like dead carp." I hope that back surgery patients are handled a bit more gently. The soreness is fading very slowly but I think I can already feel some improvement at T-4; not sure yet about T-7. It's likely that I will still have some back issues; I've said all along that my goal was to be able to cut my pain medication, maybe by half, and that seems a reasonable goal.

For more than a year, I've listened to promises and been disappointed every time.

"You'll feel worse during/after the radiation/chemo/transplant/kyphoplasty, but then you'll feel better."
Now, there really is a chance for me to feel better (okay, "less bad," but I'll take it!). I want to be excited about the prospect of spring, about diminished pain and improved mobility. I want to make a plan to start walking again, and maybe do some strengthening exercise. Instead, in 2 weeks, I have to have a conversation with Dr. A about more chemo. But -- as per Chris' suggestion -- I'm going to celebrate my little victory, even though it may be short-term.

Several folks have shared stories about successful post-transplant chemo, and I am truly grateful for that news, and for the encouragement.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Winners Announced

I only had two entries in my Valentine's contest. They were both excellent, so I'm declaring a two-way tie. Tim's Wife and Kathy from NJ, please send your snail-mail address to LaCootina (at) gmail (dot) com and I will send your Valentine prize.

I'm trying to be all about forgiveness and tolerance; these are my ongoing life lessons. So my own entry would be something like

LOVE MEANS... honesty with tact, gratitude with sincerity, and the willingness to forgive unconditionally.

That's the romanticized concept of a girl who's never been married. I'm sure a more realistic version would be more like
LOVE MEANS... putting his dirty socks in the hamper instead of under his pillow.
Okay, if you're lucky enough to have a keeper, write yourself a reminder: buy/send Valentine today.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Big K Update

Right now I feel like I've been beaten with a Louisville slugger, but the surgeon assured me that everything went well. My compression fracture created some extra challenges, but he feels that he was still able to achieve a very good result, with that vertebrae and one other. It may take 2-3 days to get over the "beaten to a pulp" feeling, but then I hope to gradually feel a little better every day.

I've been so focused on pain relief, I forgot to even ask if I got my inch back. Just think -- I could be back to my original, lofty height of 5'!

P.S. Last night at dinner, Sis brilliantly noted that on Planet Starbucks, we are "tall."

Obama's first press conference

Wow - wasn't that just thrilling? To watch a President speak so intelligently, to take questions from the press-corps that were not pre-screened and answer them all, even the tough ones? And I'm honked off enough for all of us, but I I was glad to see him get just a little peeved with the Republicans. Not enough tax cuts? Doesn't create enough jobs? Do they think we've been in a coma the last 8 years, and have no idea how we got to this point? Not to mention the $350 billion-with-a-b that they gave, sans conditions, to their banking buddies as a little farewell kiss-off.

Whatever happens with this "bailout"bill, the press conference was a rousing success, and I think we have a president who can begin to restore our image to the rest of the world. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and speak in whole sentences!

K is for kyphoplasty (and krrrrazy)

Nothing could possibly convince me to put myself back in the same hospital as the IR bastids...nothing except the chance of relief from constant, unrelenting back pain.

I haven't allowed myself to think about the risks of this surgery; I'm counting on the surgeon who said several times that kyphoplasty is a very low-risk procedure. Otherwise, how could I let someone stick needles and balloons in my spine? To paraphrase Woody Allen, it's one of my two favorite body parts.

So off we go. Assuming the surgery is a brilliant success, and that Mom & Dad don't get lost in the labrynthian halls of this huge teaching hospital, I hope to report back with good news tonight or tomorrow.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Address to My Beloved

by Piet Hein

Some girls I worship from afar
to passionate excess
But when I meet them face to face
I love them rather less.

Some other girls I love afresh
each time I meet again.
It's not until they're out of sight
that love begins to wane

But you alone, my love, I love
wherever you may be.
So you can stay, or go away –
it's all the same to me.

Piet Hein is a Danish mathematician, physicist, writer, designer, and pithy, wry, funny poet. Several of his collections, called Grooks, have recenty been reprinted.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Go See...

Yet another brilliant art book.
Exquisite impressionist paintings by Leonid Afremov, a Belarus-born, Israeli modern artist.
Nine fashions no (hetero) man should ever wear. I disagree with the hats...but the spray tans are definitely for wiggaz!
What Europeans think of each other...followed by vigorous debate.

Cakewrecks - when good cakes go bad. Be sure to hit the "older posts"at the bottom; they get betterer and betterer.
Misspelled tattoos and a few more here and the definitive horrible tattoos. Again, older posts and many links are worthwhile.

And let me just vent a bit about "tribal" icons and Asian tattoos. Do you really want to take a chance that your tatt doesn't say "Maori Warrior" or "Courage and Justice," but instead says "I'm Wearing Mommy's Underpants" or "Yet Another Asshole Who Can't Read Chinese?" Really, it would serve you right...

Another charming piece of work I "stumbled upon" and can't give due credit. But isn't it wonderful? I just scanned some line drawings to go with a post I've yet to write about that college drawing class. And I think this brilliantly illustrates why I have always stayed far away from self-portraits.

I received a series of three of these "decision trees." At the bottom, it says "Thank God you're a man." Yes, they are hilarious! We get it: life's tougher for girl people, lots more decisions, etc. And that is why we are forgiven for milking the few advantages that exist.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Lunatic littermom full of excuses

Oh, yes, I did see Whickity-Whack Crazy Lady on The Today Show. Ann Curry did a fine job of grilling Nadya Suleman until she was extra crispy. Frankly, I think WWCL is just pretending that she doesn't get it. If she's not pretending, she's definitely eligible to be president of the Rod Blagojevich Delusional Cuckoo Club.

Whickity-Whack said she has "chosen an unconventional life" -- gag me with euphemisms! -- and that she will "never apply for public assistance." Yeah, I'd like a peek at her crystal ball. "I'm going to stop my life and just be present with them." Her theory is that she'll be able to care for her horde after she gets her advanced degree. And who's going to "put food on her family" until then? And who's going to care for your other 6 toddlers while you take care of eight infants? If you were going to write a scenario for neglect, this would be it.

Well, clearly math is not one of her strengths. Neither is logic. "I had a dysfunctional family so I was lonely as a child." doesn't jibe with "my family will help me raise 14 kids." And is anyone else horrified that Litter Mama is a "mental health professional?" Jeez!

Best comment: Call her "Lara Croft, Womb Trader."
Today Show psychiatric and medical consultants, Dr. Gail Saltz and Dr. Nancy Snyderman, were united in their opinions: the words denial, delusion and defensive were offered. They theorized that Suleman may have lied to her doctors; frankly, I'm hoping she did, but she claims to have had all her fertility treatments at the same clinic, so they must have been aware...? They also estimated her hospital bill, just for the birth and post-natal care, to be $1.5-$3 million.

I've already seen some boards discussing one issue I also wondered about: she certainly appears to have a big ol' mouth full of collagen. How does she afford that?

(Something else driving me crazy: I know I have seen this nutbag before. I'm sure of it. Can't think of where, I'm blaming chemo-brain, but I'm sure of it.)

Meditation: A Shortcut that Works

I've found that practicing meditation or "guided imagery" has been very helpful in reducing stress and coping withthe whole pesky cancer situation. Because I'm still fairly new to the practice, it can take me a long time. I was delighted to receive this in my email yesterday: a shortened version! I've tried it, and it really works. The key is to take it one step at a time, and don't skip anything.

Stress Relief

If you are having a rough day, here is a stress management technique recommended in all the latest psychological tests. Go through each step; it should provide significant stress relief.

1. Picture yourself near a stream in the mountains.

2. Birds are softly chirping in the cool mountain air.

3. No one knows your secret place.

4. You are in total seclusion from the hectic place called the world.

5. The soothing sound of a gentle waterfall fills the air with a cascade of serenity.

6. You feel a gentle breeze. The water is crystal clear.

7. You can easily make out the face of the person you are holding under the water.
See? You're smiling already.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

How Do I Love Thee?

How Do I Love Valentine's Day? Lots and Lots. Isn't it just shmoopy that we have a holiday to celebrate love? And those of you who have trouble saying "I Love You" now have a convenient stepping stone? It's love-ly!

The best Valentines are home-made. Write a poem or a song. Make a cake or a piece of furniture. And don't forget the hand-made card, because actions speak louder than words, but on Valentine's Day, we want 'em both. Get out your ribbons, doilies, rubber stamps, etc. Include a very personal message: "I love your smarts, I love your spunk, especially when you're cross-eyed drunk!" Or maybe "No one else in the world can burn egg salad. Only you."

You have more than a week, so get started:
Heart-shaped toast (we used to call it a bulls-eye)
Eat Your Heart Out - more wonderful Valentine food ideas
Free Valentines to download and print. Me loves a lovebird.
Wood You Be Mine? The perfect card if your love is a bit squirrely.
Etsy's "My Funny Valentine" Gift Guide. Buying something handmade is the next best thing.

If someone's in the doghouse, you may need an Anti-Valentine, it may be time for a message like, "Success isn't for everyone." Or how about, "You Go, Girl. No, Really. Go." You're really going to love me for sending you to Carol Lee's Hate Mail.

Above Right: "I Heart Your Sparkle." Beaded felt heart pin. Below: "You Are My Sunshine." Hand-crocheted cotton sunflower pins. Also daisies, asters, daffodil. All to appear in our Etsy shop soon.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Big C Update

A man who had taken some medical tests got a call from the doctor two days later.
The doctor said, “I have good news and bad news for you. Which do you want first?”
The man asked to hear the good news first. The doctor said, “The good news is that the tests show you only have two days to live.”
“You call that good news?” the man spluttered. “If that is good news, what’s the bad news?”
“Well,” the doctor said, “the bad news is that I’ve been trying to call you since yesterday morning.”

A man visits his doctor, and after thorough examination, the doctor tells him, "I have good news and bad news, what would you like to hear first?"
The man says, "Well, let me have the bad news first."
The doctor says, "You have cancer, I estimate that you have about two years left."
"Oh no!” the patient cries. “That's just awful! In two years my life will be over! What kind of good news could you tell me, after this?"
The doctor says, "You also have Alzheimer's. In a few months you’ll forget all about the cancer."

Okay, now that we have some perspective...the bad news is, I seem to have a particularly stubborn, naughty, aggressive cancer. Two weeks ago, Dr. A confirmed what I have suspected: it's been four months since my stem cell transplant, and it is now clear that all of my lab results are moving in the wrong direction. He thinks it's time to do more chemo, this time with an older, stronger drug.

I am not the least bit interested in prolonging my life as I currently live it: more and more narcotics without any real pain relief. After months of complaining about increasing back pain, an MRI revealed that in addition to my compression fracture (now estimated to be 90% compressed), there are three additional vertebrae with significant damage.

Which brings me to the good news. I saw a neurosurgeon last week who looked over my MRI and said that kyphoplasty can be performed on my two worst vertebrae, and that there is a very good chance I can get some relief. After some imaginary cartwheels, I asked how soon I could have the surgery. It is scheduled for next Tuesday. It will take 2 hours or less and be performed under general anesthesia. The doc has performed this surgery 100+ times, and has only hospitalized one patient. I think I'm in pretty good hands - especially since I don't have to get anywhere near the IR pricks!

So I will at least have a discussion with Dr. A about the chemo; if one other condition can be met, I will at least consider it.

For the last 14 months, I really have not been angry about the cancer. I've never said "Why me?" because frankly, why not me? If there's "X" amount of cancer on the planet (algebra alert!), why should I escape unscathed? Frankly, I'd rather take the hit than a little kid, or someone with kids. But after all I've been through -- the fracture, radiation, chemo, stem cell transplant -- yeah, I'm getting a little pissed. A LITTLE CRANKY.
Two guys walk into a bar. You'd think the second guy would have ducked.

Valentine Contest: Love Means...

I used to collect heart pins. I got four of these (top three and bottom right) from the local blood bank. I was a 3+ gallon donor, just a pint or two away from my four gallon pin, when I stopped donating. That was five years ago. I've also been an organ donor for 20+ years, and was tissue-typed about three years ago for bone marrow donation. It's kind of ironic (if that's the right word?) that from hereon, no one wants anything from me: no blood, bone marrow, or organs. Not even my corneas! I'm tainted.

Where was I? Oh, heart pins. So I guess I've only collected two: the groovy plastic one on the left, and the silver heart pin with the birdie. Every Valentine's Day, I'd wear them down my sleeve, because I am so subtle and discreet. (Actually, I say and do a lot of things just for my own amusement. I am my own little rolling punchline.)

I'm downsizing the collection. The bloodbank pins will go in the recycling (or wherever Chris tells me they should go). I'll hang on to the birdie pin, but I'm going to part with my adorable plastic heart pin with plastic lace edging. Which really is cute - cuter than this picture, for sure.

It will be the Grand Prize in my Valentine's Day Contest.
Complete this sentence in 20 words or less: "Love means..."
Add it to the comments here; I will determine the winner.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lunatic gives birth to litter of humans

Apparently the woman who birthed a litter of 8 humans last week is a bona fide Whickity-Whack Crazy Lady. She already has SIX CHILDREN ...under the age of seven! The fact that she didn't have a husband didn't stop her. The fact that she was reproductively challenged didn't stop her. All six kids, as well as the octuplets, were created through in vitro fertilizations.

WWCL's parents have probably paid for all the fertility treatments, and share the blame for this fiasco. Well, even they have reached their limits (and declared bankruptcy recently), a little too late:

She (the grandmother) said she warned her daughter that when she gets home from the hospital, "I'm going to be gone."
Oh, and just for extra giggles: at least one of her children is autistic. I have an acquaintance with an autistic son. Fortunately (?), he is considered mildly autistic. Still, his mother says that the care and attention he requires is like that of three or four regular kids.

The Whickity-Whack Crazy Fertility Clinic responsible for this fiasco has not yet been identified. Experts around the country are calling this impregnation everything from "irresponsible" to "unconscionable." I hope they are identified, and some governing body takes a long, hard look at their practice. Are there absolutely NO ethical guidelines? No circumstance under which they'd refuse to impregnate someone? How about a 90-year old or a 9-year old?

So, why are my knickers in a twist over this? It's not as if I'm affected directly. But I think I'm affected indirectly - we all are. If someone can birth a flock of babies ...only with a tremendous amount of medical assistance ...into an already-challenged single-parent household, I think there are ramifications for all of us. I'd even venture a guess that this woman is mentally ill. Not just quirky, or cuckoo for poopy diapers, but actually sick. She's clearly obsessed with babies, to the detriment of the children she's already created. Does anyone doubt that Mommy Dearest will be applying for public assistance -- if she hasn't already? According to an ABC news story, the birth of the octuplets is estimated to be around $200,000. Just the birth. Not any subsequent care.

Yeah, Crazy Lady is OUR problem, all right, and thanks to some greedy doctor, so are her 14 children. I think it was Erma Bombeck who, years ago, proposed the idea of a Parenting License. You need a license to fish, to own a dog, to drive a car. It really seems an accident of evolution that, whether or not one is financially, physically or mentally prepared for all that is involved, anyone with the right plumbing can create life.

And now, you don't even have to have the right plumbing.

Photo copyright Geoff Robinson Photography

Love Means...

Letting go of something safe but false, in return for just the chance of something true. That's one of the many themes of "Lars and the Real Girl," a movie I didn't expect to like, but fell completely in love with. I'd heard snippets in reviews: "Guy falls in love with life-sized sex doll ordered from the internet." Well, that's not really what the movie is about, and I'm glad I took a chance on it. There are lots of messages, but they're offered quietly, as suggestions, instead of ham-fisted moralizing. Lars is a thoughtful, charming, low-key comedy that doesn't go for the cheap laugh. Ryan Gosling's performance as Lars is touching and endearing. Emily Mortimer as his sister-in-law drives the film, and her desperation to reach Lars becomes literal when she tackles him in the snow, just to invite him for dinner. My favorite overlooked actress, Patricia Clarkson, is brilliant as the doctor who "treats" Lars' girlfriend.

You have to suspend belief and accept that Lars' love is absolutely real, and that people who care about him see a man clearly teetering on the brink of insanity and want to help him back from the edge. The movie illustrates not just the lengths we go to when we're hurting, but also what a family, a church, and a community will do for someone who needs help. I'm not going to say anything more specific about the movie except if you haven't seen it, you should. Be sure to watch the extra features, "The Real Story of Lars and the Real Girl" and "A Real Leading Lady."

I kept thinking of my painfully shy neighbor, Susie. I would invite her over 20 times and be turned down each time. But then she'd suddenly accept the 21st or 25th invitation. She'd come and have a great time, and I'd feel so relieved that I hadn't given up, that I asked her one more time.

There's a world full of lonely people out there, and I know they are not lonely by choice. They are just scared, and they don't know how to change their lives. I'm convinced that even people who push you away secretly want you to keep reaching out to them. Don't give up. Don't stop trying.

Banking Crisis Explained

Young Chuck moved to Texas and bought a donkey from a farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day. But the next day, he drove up and said, "Sorry son, but I have some bad news. Last night, the donkey died."
Chuck replied, "Well, then just give me my money back."
The farmer said, "Can't do that. I went and spent it already."
Chuck thought a moment and said, "OK, then just bring me the dead donkey."
The farmer asked, "What ya gonna do with him?"
Chuck said, "I'm going to raffle him off."
"You can't raffle off a dead donkey!" the farmer said.
Chuck said, "Sure I can. Watch me. I just won't tell anybody he's dead."
A month later, the farmer met Chuck on the street and asked, "What ever happened with that dead donkey?"
"I raffled him off." Chuck said. "I sold 500 tickets at two dollars apiece and made a profit of $898."
Stunned, the farmer asked, "Didn't anyone complain?"
Chuck grinned. "Just the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back."
Chuck now works for Goldman Sachs.