Thursday, March 20, 2008




Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What the Stones Remember

"It takes time to know what beauty is. It is not given us and must be worked for...To find beauty I must first find it in myself." ---Patrick Lane, What the Stones Remember

What the Stones Remember is a memoir I am currently reading. I was attracted to it because I read that the author was a man in the process of getting sober. We alcoholics find booze, and our addiction to it, "cunning, baffling and powerful" (from AA's Big Book), and endlessly fascinating. I can't get enough of books by alkies.

I have found reading this book to be frustrating. First of all, the writer is (understandably) doing everything he can to avoid dealing with the real issues. He pens paragraph after paragraph of purple prose, most of it descriptions of his garden, which, as it turns out, is on a piddling half acre of land surrounded by neighbors. He makes it sound like a huge, or at least solitary, place. Perhaps, in his defense, it is in some way.

I have seen many alkies, including myself, of course, struggling to get sober. One of the things we all do in that process is to tell bald-faced lies, most of which we earnestly believe. Patrick Lane is no exception, but I find his substituting his pretty poetic prose as a way to get enough words on the page particularly and irritatingly dishonest.

Even the places where he seems to be trying to tell his real story often don't ring true. A quote like the above has several sentiments that are appealing on the surface. But are they true?

I'm not sure that it takes any time at all to know what beauty is. If that is so, then why would a young child go out of her way to ride along very early with her mother as her father drives her to work? Only because she knew that in the summer, nine times out of ten, we would gain Town Hill to look down and see New London covered with a sea-borne fog, creeping slowly from the harbor to cover the old and dirty buildings. Why, beyond the need for solitude and escape from the tensions of her home, would she spend so many of her waking hours in the woods behind her house? She would stare at trees, tasting their bark and trying to fathom the differences between the myriad plants. The memory of coming upon a Lady's Slipper was a miracle, to be treasured alone, at night, as she lay sleepless in her bed, wondering: how and why had this miracle come to be?

Beauty is a gift from that God that doesn't exist. I have never worked for it, except to pay attention, and to open my mind.

The fact that it existed outside of me gave me hope that someday, somehow, I would also find it within.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Check out my Slide Show!

Thought I'd show you the new widget gadget that I found to put on my site. It's also added permanently below, so it'll be there after this post is history. I can also add to it when I want.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Not an outrage

Grey day. Gray day. I think they're different. Today was grey.

I received a gift today from my friend of fifty-odd years, Pat (Beal) Jacques. It's a beautiful hand-made fluffy boa-type scarf in a gorgeous aqua color with beads at the ends. I'm going to send her something as soon as I get around to it. (Have you seen those in the kitsch catalogues, the potholders with the words "Round Tuit" on them? Great gift for procrastinators...I...know a few :-) )

A new person has joined the main breast cancer list I belong to, I call it the main list because it's for anyone who has or has had breast cancer, at any stage, and their families and friends. The new list member is an M.D. named Wendy Harpham, who is the author of several books about cancer. She's a 17.5 year survivor of lymphoma, and has a sister who is a breast cancer survivor (survivor is her word of choice).

I find that I get very sensitive when I hear anything that faintly rings of "positive attitude" stuff. By implication, those who don't survive must have a pretty lousy attitude. The preponderance of scientific evidence is that, while it might make it easier to live on a day-to-day basis, a positive attitude does not affect the outcome of cancer. Nor, despite what you may have heard, does prayer.

Anyway, I've been hard-pressed to express what's been eating at me this winter (besides winter itself!), and I let myself tactfully respond to Wendy's initial postings. Now, before I go any further, let me say it turns out that Wendy's a pretty good egg (where the hell did that phrase come from? Some rabbit, I guess). And a pretty wise person as well. She does use the word survivor, which I don't like. I guess I'd have to call myself a soon-to-be-ex-survivor. And, despite coming back from the grim edge more than once, when Wendy's in remission, she says she "had" cancer. My response follows.

Wendy: "As soon as I am in remission, I prefer using past tense. Until my scans say I have cancer, as far as I'm concerned, I don't have cancer. That's what works for me."

May: "I think you're right that it's best that we use terms that work for us as individuals.

"However, the differences among different types of cancer (and the limitations of testing) also affect how we refer to where we're at, I think.

"For example, as a bc [breast cancer] mets [metastatic] patient, given what I know about my cancer, I now call myself NED [no evidence of disease]. What that means is that a PET/CT and a brain MRI given recently identify what, in the radiologist's and oncologist's best judgment, appear to be healing tissue or complete absence/disappearance of tumors. No cancer was seen.

"That happened once before, when both doctors felt that the tumor in my sternum had been eradicated and only recalcifying bone remained (which lights up on a PET/CT, in case I've thoroughly confused anyone). Later it became clear that the remaining cancer cells were growing again, and I had IMRT [Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy], which the rad onc thought was at least 80% likely to destroy the tumor. When I was tested, it was uncertain whether the tumor was completely destroyed or not. However, there was a liver tumor, so Navelbine was added to my Herceptin and Zometa, and about four months later, PET/CT showed that that was gone, and the docs were now virtually sure the tumor in my sternum was gone.

"Do I say I 'had' cancer? Never. I believe I have circulating cancer cells, and probably tiny colonies have gained a footing at various places in my body. I'm three years past the mets diagnosis, and would be happy to know I had another three years.

"But that's reality with bc. These diseases are all different critters.

"By the way, unlike some people, I don't 'hate' my cancer, or cancer itself. I accept the reality that for various reasons, including aging, cells tend to do things that aren't necessarily in the best interest of the whole organism. That's just life."

My friend Marcy wrote to me: "
I think people are lost in knowing what to say, so they whistle in the dark. They imagine they'll cheer others (and themselves) up if they point out this stuff with great sunniness. Instead, it feels alienating to have others trivialize the real odds."

I think what she said is exactly right.

And so, those were my two cents. For some reason I have to keep repeating this stuff, not just to others, but to myself. The danger of too much hope is a devastating bitterness, a bitterness that will suck all the tenderness and healing out of the last weeks and days of my life. And, as Ram Dass has said, "Death is not an outrage". As we live this beautiful life, we are all one day closer to its end, every day. I hope to enter into eternity with as much grace as I can, "to grow from the grass I love. If you want me again, look for me under your bootsoles".

With metta,

Sunday, March 9, 2008

One more piece...

House of God
Hi folks. Just had to show you this pic of Zen. He's a real looker, ain't he?

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I don't know if any of you noticed the little symbol on the upper right of this page (it may be gone by the time you read this). I was nominated for Best Digital Art and Best Digital Image Manipulation for the 2007 EBay Artists' Choice Awards--and I placed in both! It's not official yet--when it is I'll put the award logos up--but I received an Honorable Mention in Best Digital Art and Third Place in Image Manipulation! That's what all those pictures in February were about. You got to post a page for artists to see your images (in addition to a photo album on the site). I'm pleased, although sales on eBay suck. At least I know someone likes my digital work!

Here's a digital piece I just finished. It's from a picture I took last summer at a vegetable stand.

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I love the way this type of photo looks after playing with it in Photoshop for a while. It has a sort of painterly effect. A few clouds would have improved it, but I don't seem to be able to control the weather :-)

Connecticut is soaked. Fortunately (I guess), most of it's been rain rather than snow, but the ground is saturated, so there's been a fair amount of flooding. Our little brook in the ravine is a raging torrent.

I still feel the glumness of February hanging on, though I know it's just 11 days until Spring officially comes. I'm due for a PET/CT scan next month to check for progression of my metastatic breast cancer. I started Navelbine last April, and my oncologist says it usually works for about a year. So we'll just have to see. Chances are my next treatment would be Xeloda, which is in pill form. I'd still have to go in to the Cancer Center every three weeks for my Herceptin, though.

Sometime soon I hope my brain fog will disappear, and I'll stop writing these colorless blogs. Spring can't come too soon for me!


Monday, March 3, 2008

The Hebron house, where we lived for three years before we moved to Portland, was not the right place for us. We were on a corner with three stop signs, and the car noise was incessant in the warmer seasons. But there are a few things I miss about it.

One is a small bleeding heart that grew on the bank behind the house. For some reason, I can't remember whether we planted it there, or it was there when we moved in, but its old-fashioned pendant flowers were a delight to watch in the spring.

Another thing I miss is my little herb garden. I think I'll try to plant a similar garden here. We brought some of the plants when we moved, but unfortunately they were over the septic tank, which had to be dug up for repairs last autumn. The company that did the work tried to move and save them, so we'll see what comes up.

I also miss my cairn. I built it right after I went on Social Security Disability. Though I was fatigued from my cancer and chemo and ready to rest when I retired, I guess I had to prove to myself that I was still alive. I wanted to create something that would be there when I was gone.

Now it's in others' hands. Perhaps I'll build another here.

One thing that I'll miss a great deal is something I can't show you a picture of. But you can try to picture it yourself: the full moon rising over my bedroom window, John trying to shut out the light because it disturbed his sleep, but I, delighting in it, taking off my nightgown and letting it fall on my poor, diseased breast and bones.

I have said thank you to the moon, and tonight I'd like to say it again. Moon, you who bring the tides in the seas and the bodies of women, thank you, again and again.

In love,