Thursday, October 25, 2007

Off Dancing With The Dead Folks

Adiós, amigos míos! Me voy a México a la danza con La Muerte. Comportarse hasta que regreso. Si veo un cybercafé en las montañas remotas, voy a decir hola. Voy a volver a mi pequeña choza con muchas historias y fotos. Hasta ese día, danza con la vida!

Hasta la vista, baby!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

While Greasy Lymphopo Doth Keel the Pot

Gumbo weather has finally arrived in south Louisiana! This means the night temperatures are starting to drop below 50 degrees, and daytime highs are not going much above 70, for a few days this week anyway, and genuine winter is not far behind. It also means means you can't get within a hundred feet of a damn grocery store around here because tout le monde is out jamming the aisles, stocking up on gumbo essentials like andouille, okra, and roux. I, of course, am NOT making a gumbo because as you'll recall one of the dubious perks of my charming little shack is that it has no stove. And what the hell kind of a gumbo could you make in a microwave?

Anyway, while you're pondering my shocking deprivation of modern appliances, you may also recall that there is no heat here at Chez Le Chaque. No wall furnace, no floor furnace, no radiant heat, no oven, no fireplace, nada. No heat. And yea verily, winter is nigh upon us, so me I am getting my glacier-white ass ready for the inevitable doom. Just as I've managed to beat the odds and survive lo these many moons without a stove or laundry facilities, I'm also determined to survive this long frigid winter without a furnace. Just watch me.

In fact, the whole hideous challenge has become something of a fascinating new hobby for me. For one thing, I have developed a consuming obsession with snow camping. I spend my free hours perusing web sites and blogs about arctic expeditions. I am particularly intrigued by the haute couture of the subzero outdoor set, at least those idiots who survived their elective polar ordeals.

Polar bear with bad aim girds his loins for winter.

The number one secret to comfortable survival, I have learned, is the high-tech super-light insulating base layer. So I have suddenly become the world's leading expert on such miracle textiles as ThermaSilk, Arctex, SmartWool, LIFA, Capilene, ChillTech, Synchilla, and Polar-Therm. I know all about interlocking polypropylenes, moisture-wicking fabrics, compressibility, high-pile insulation, and welded-seam technology. I am learning how to stay warm without looking like the Michelin Man.

Slender model basks in the warmth of a flattering orange base layer.

Now my next project, when I come home from Mexico, will be weather-stripping, caulking, and patching the all the charming rustic cracks in the shack, in an effort to keep the cold air outside where it belongs. I've already devised a nifty, cheap method of insulating the small kitchen windows with bubble wrap. But this will make the tiny rooms darker than they already are, so I'll be looking into light boxes and dawn simulators. I'll also be researching the most efficient and safe brands of electric space heaters.

This super-efficient little Vornado space heater turns one tiny corner of Le Chaque Miniscule into a tropical cabana.

Wish us luck! And if you yourself have ever survived a cold dark damp glacial winter in a shack without heat, I'd appreciate any survival advice you'd like to pass on.


BBC: Optimism 'no bearing on cancer'

The three most consistently popular search strings that bring random visitors to this blog are, in ascending order: healthy muffin recipe, pictures of dogs with tumors, and (drum roll! are you ready for this?) naked boyfriend on the bed. Heh heh heh. These unfortunately misleading phrases manage to deliver dozens of no doubt sorely disappointed visitors to my humble blog every day.

But my very favorite misguided search, which only shows up maybe once or twice a month and just happened to appear again today, is: tumor turns out to be spiders. I mean, whoa! How cool is it, that my blog turns out to be number one on Google for this particular unlikely search?

But yeah! Welcome to the zany spider tumor people!

Now what I can't quite figure out is this: are these people being optimistic? Or not.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

In Which Our Heroine Blows Her Nose On the Rich

Hoo boy, I really lost it today. Total meltdown. But not the weeping wailing sobbing kind of meltdown. No, this time it was the trying so hard not to laugh out loud in a totally inappropriate situation that my septum nearly exploded kind of meltdown. I stifled my inappropriate laughter so hard, I actually gave myself a nose bleed.

Here's what happened: I went for a routine yearly mammogram this morning. They had scheduled me for one at Our Lady of the Damned next week, but since I'll be leaving on my trip to Mexico and they couldn't possibly reschedule it for another 843 years, I decided to hell with that, I'll just pay the damn $50 cash and go to a private hospital instead. So I went over to the new imaging facility associated with Deep Inferno General Hospital. It's nearby and that's the hospital that has my previous mammography records on file anyway.

I had been to this new facility before, just over a year ago. I think they'd been open maybe about a week when I went in for my first chest x-ray last summer. I had more x-rays and my first CT scan there too, before it became painfully obvious that my situation was going to be an unaffordable nightmare and I was quickly shunted over to the public charity system.

So I'd been to this place before, and I vaguely remembered it as just another shiny new medical building, nice enough but bland and boring and really no big deal. But that was before I'd spent half my life struggling to stay sane and alive in the dingy grim airless noisy smelly teeming infectious waiting rooms at Our Lady of the Damned. It might be the understatement of the millennium to say that my perspective has changed since then. Today I saw the private facility through entirely new eyes. And the culture shock was just about too much for my poor septum.

First of all, instead of circling around for 45 frantic minutes and finally parking illegally in some muddy field 2 miles away, you just pull right up and park directly in front of the architecturally attractive building. Yes, park anywhere! There are dozens of nice shady spaces from which to choose. The sidewalk out front, instead of being littered with huddled mobs of hacking, dying patients wearing flimsy hospital gowns and hooked up to IV poles, desperately sucking on their last cigarettes, is lined with tidy colorful flower beds. There are songbirds singing in the shade trees! Songbirds!

When you can finally tear yourself away from this little mini-Eden in the parking lot you walk in the front door and suddenly you're standing in a fucking solarium. A solarium! With skylights! and palm trees! and a giant aquarium filled with flashy exotic fish! Instead of Bob Barker screaming from an overhead tv, classical music is playing over the speakers. There are no surly armed law enforcement officers guarding the front desk. No humiliating public triage, no interminable lines where you take a number and wait an hour just so you can get your stupid labels and take them to another line to wait two hours just to hand them to the person who may or may not be sitting at the window. No, here you just walk in the door, glance around at the fucking solarium, and immediately a pleasantly smiling person greets you with, "Good morning! How may I help you today?"

You don't need a card or a number, you just tell this pleasantly smiling person your name, and she beams at you like you're her long lost best friend. She enthusiastically shows you to the waiting area, and Oh. My. Dog. The waiting area! It's so damn immaculate, they could perform brain surgery in there, and you could eat off the floor while they did it. Not a drop of blood or snot or vomit anywhere. It's absolutely beautiful: sunny and airy and spotless and did I mention clean? It has clean comfortable chairs, 99% of which are actually empty. It has large clean windows that look out over a landscape of gracious old oak trees. It has art on the walls, little pots of fresh live mums on every table, and brand new up-to-date magazines. Not to mention that giant aquarium with the flashy exotic fish. Plus, it's clean.

I'm not exactly sure why it has all these upscale amenities though, because there wasn't a long enough wait to enjoy them. About 30 seconds after my butt hit the clean comfortable cushion, before I could even pick up the latest clean issue of Atlantic Monthly, it was my turn to go in. I swear, they move you through there so fast you practically get the bends. But listen to this: they didn't screech my (badly mispronounced) name over a loud staticky PA system that you could hear (but never quite understand) five parishes away. Instead, a happy smiling woman came to the door and gently spoke my first name, kindly beckoning me to follow her to the back.

Has anybody else died of shock yet?

No, but wait: hold on, it gets better. The solarium/waiting area business was nothing compared to the mammogram wing of the building. Dear Dog in heaven, it was a fucking spa in there!

The kind happy smiling woman led me to a posh private dressing room, and instead of handing me the traditional flappy flimsy mortifying open institutional gown thing, she gave me a soft thick plush clean white terrycloth bathrobe. I mean a real genuine 100% cotton bathrobe, with the Deep Inferno General logo monogrammed on the front. It was very stylish and flattering, and it had a tie that actually worked.

Once I was tastefully and modestly robed, she led me to a large private waiting room, this one even more luxurious than the last one. There was a skylight in here too, and interesting original art on the walls. Little desk fountains with waterfalls bubbled peacefully around the room. There were rare elegant real orchids on each of the tables, and soothing orchestral music played in the background. I sank into a large plush sofa that was so soft and deep you could barely see the top of my head. The kind woman offered me a fancy bottle of cold spring water, and apologized profusely because I might have to wait two whole minutes before I was called.

And that's when I lost it. I mean, totally lost it. I started laughing so hard my shoulders were shaking and I had hot bloody tears streaming out of my nose. The poor kind concerned woman thought I must be nervous about getting a mammogram, so she sat down beside me and patiently patted my arm, assuring me that it would all be very quick and painless. This made me laugh even harder so of course she thought I was crying, and rushed to fetch me another complimentary bottle of expensive imported spring water and a box of tissues. But it was no good, by now I couldn't stop. I simply could not stop. I was out of control. It was too much for me.

Is there a word for this, a clinical term, for a semi-hysterical reaction to the culture shock of being swung like Tarzan on a vine across the nation's great yawning medical gap, flying through the air and landing with a thud on its radically, irreconcilably opposite shore?

Is it possible to go back and forth between these two sides of the gap, brutally aware of its size, without going insane?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Monkeybutt Update

Everyone: Would you all please tell my beautiful daughter-in-law how gorgeous she looks? If she could bottle that exquisite glow and sell it, they'd be gazillionaires.

The proud parents tell me Monkeybutt is kicking up a storm now. Not quite to the point where the gorgeous mom waddles around all day feeling like a clothes dryer full of wet sneakers (hoo boy, do I remember that stage!), but enough that the bedazzled dad can definitely detect the action.

And me? I walk around all day having imaginary conversations with the little guy. "What would you rather be, a wizard or a pirate?" I ask him. And he inevitably says a pirate. Then I say, "Well ok, but what would you rather be, a pirate or an astronaut?" And this time he's not sure. He hems and haws until I suggest maybe he can be all three at the same time. He eyes me skeptically, but soon we're busy designing the proper multitasking headgear for a wizard-pirate-astronaut to wear to work. And after that we might run down a hill with our arms out straight, being really fast loud airplanes, until we fall down in the grass and eat cupcakes.

So how many minutes until February? Are we there yet??

Monday, October 15, 2007

Out Of the Tree of Life I Picked Me a Plum

I apologize for not posting the Friday muscle updates lately, and I especially apologize to any of you who may have been holding your breath in anticipation for the past three weeks and are currently holed up in the ICU as a result. Oops, sorry about that. But the thing is, I just haven't been changing much musclewise, mostly because I've been slowed down by bad back pain from the scoliosis.

I'm having to concentrate on totally unglamorous boring back rehab stuff these days, stupid sissy things like planks, side planks, planks, planks, and more side planks. (Planks are actually not sissy at all: a two minute plank totally kicks my butt into the gutter and leaves me weeping and begging for mercy.) The only hypertrophy lifts I'm doing are flat bench press, inverted bodyweight rows, bodyweight dips, and assisted pullups, varying the grips and number of arms used. What these all have in common is: they don't put any load on the spine or compress the discs. But I'm going to the gym four or five days a week, and loving every minute of it. Especially since my old bodybuilder buddy Darwin is now the manager.

I'm also running 3 miles a day, trying to get my pathetic unacclimated sea-levelized lungs in shape for the high altitudes I'll experience during my trek to Mexico. I'll be exploring volcanos and villages upwards of 8,000 feet which is, like, oh shit when you consider that the highest point in Louisiana is probably the fire ant mound in my back yard.

But even though there's not much visible change in my muscles day to day or even week to week now, I am continuing to whup my ass back into shape slowly but surely. And what I think you can see now is a steady visible increase in robust good health and glowing joie de vivre. I look in the mirror now and I just see Life gushing out of every pore. Behold:

Exhibit A: This picture was taken exactly one year ago, about a week after my first chemotherapy treatment. I was sick as hell.

Exhibit B: Another photo from that same week. My hair had just started to fall out, and I was down to a scary 92 pounds.

And Exhibit C: This is me five minutes ago, a healthy robust 112 pounds, just home from the gym, still high on endorphins after an exhilarating workout and run.

Isn't that amazing? It's good to remind myself (and other cancer patients who may stumble on this blog) of this miraculous transformation from time to time. And you know what I think? I think it's going to keep getting better. I'm really starting to believe that in spite of everything, maybe the best is yet to come.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I Read the News Today Oh Boy

One of the joys of living in a small town is that every time you sneeze it makes headlines in the little local rag. And in the past few weeks, I swear you can't pick up the morning paper without seeing Mr. Bigshot celebrity Superman looming in your face. I'm afraid he's going to replace me with an agent any minute now. These are all photos that appeared recently in the Deep Inferno newspaper, affectionately known around here as The Daily [Sic]:

At the farmers market two weeks ago.

Farmers market three weeks ago.

At a zydeco dance Friday night. You can just barely see us hanging out schmoozing in the background here, but in the print photo our white hair leaps out at you like Johnny and Edgar Winter.

Yesterday there was a zydeco band playing in the park near our house for the anti-drug propaganda Red Ribbon Week Kickoff event, so we walked over to check it out. Superstar is a major kid magnet everywhere we go.

Of course all the girls wanted to pose with him.

At one point there were about 20 kids crowded around him, patting him, hugging him, laughing at his sunglasses, tugging his ears and shaking his paws. He was heroically sweet and tolerant, as gentle and patient as a Saint Bernard. I almost can't believe this is the same snarly aggressive fearful dog I adopted four months ago. I had him run through his repertoire of tricks for the kids: waving his paw, spinning in circles, taking a bow, etc., and the crowd just went wild. Some of the braver kids took his leash and walked him around using the "heel" command. And even the shyest kids opened up to tell me stories about their own dogs at home.

I love seeing how much joy this wonderful dog brings to people. I'm wondering if there's a therapy dog program around here where he can become certified. I'd love to be able to take him to schools and nursing homes and stuff. I think I'll look into it. Something like this, maybe.

Oh, and guess who else showed up at the anti-drug propaganda festival yesterday: Supe's old girlfriend Stella, the killer K-9 unit police dog. They had her doing demonstrations where cops dressed up in huge padded suits and she attacked them and ripped their throats out. Poor Superman peed his feet at the mere sight of her. That girl really puts the fear of god into him. If he had a stash hidden under the cushion of his loveseat, I guarantee you he flushed it the minute we got home.

K-9 killer dog at work detecting drugs in the park.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More Dogs In My Life

I really love being around dogs, and dog people.

This is our clicker training class last night. We're using clickers to learn tricks which so far include: shake hands, high five, wave, spin in a circle, walk around a chair, give a bow, and crawl like a snake.

Not all the dogs in the class are big galoompfs.

Here's a Great Dane puppy walking in a circle around a chair on command. Superman can do this too!

But he'd rather sit and stare at the damn birds.

Here's another Great Dane puppy working on "high five," with a huge Newfie pup looking on.

Here's a standard poodle shaking hands. Superman can do all these tricks.

But here he is again, still fixating on the damn birds.

Finally it's time for Superman's big trick of the night, his masterpiece, his grand finale. Which was: "Ignore the damn birds!" When I give him that command, he turns around and sits with his back to the bird cage. Good boy, excellent boy!

Everybody cracked up. I love this class.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Book A Day Keeps The Blues Away

My mother used to warn me that always burying my nose in a book was not only going to ruin my eyes and force me to wear thick unattractive coke-bottle lenses, it was also going to turn me into a deranged antisocial unattractive misfit. She was right on both counts, but I didn't care. I'm so myopic by now that my poor wigged-out retinas are plastered flat up against the back of my skull, and to this day I'd rather stay home and read incendiary subversive literature than just about any other option that ever seems to appear on the menu. Of course that may change once I figure out how to incorporate more monkeys into my life, but we'll get to that challenge on the list later. Today I want to talk about books.

I've been a voracious, escapist, compulsive binge reader since I was four years old. I love words and I love ideas, and when they elegantly converge to form an original view of Astonishing Truth, I'm in heaven. Given a choice between oxygen and reading about a radical new way to make sense of the world, I would probably asphyxiate myself.

I may have let the pressures of the world lure me away from building elaborate sand castles and belting out bawdy drinking songs at the top of my lungs, but I never ever gave up reading. No matter what was happening, I've always made time and space in my life to read. So there's really not too much that needs to be said or done about this item on the happy-making list: it's already there. But just for the hell of it, in case you may be hankering for some good reads in your life, here's a list of the most excellent books that I've read in the past 30 days. I heartily recommend every single one of these, they've all brought me obscene amounts of pleasure and satisfaction.

  • The End of Manhood: A Book For Men of Conscience by John Stoltenberg

    Review excerpt from Harvard Educational Review:
    Stoltenberg presents a radical critique of the very concept "manhood," arguing that it serves no socially desirable function — only hurtful functions that can and should be eliminated from men's personal identities and social interactions. He presents a provocative alternative to most thinking about men and the problematic aspects of our behavior and identity. He bases his critiques on the claim that "manhood," in all of its various masculine incarnations, is at odds with, and in fact mutually exclusive of, an authentic sense of "selfhood" — a selfhood necessary for relating to others in just, moral, and non-violating ways...[A]uthor and lecturer John Stoltenberg addresses this question and a host of others with a bold passion, sense of humor, gift for story telling, and a deep commitment to what he calls "loving justice."

  • The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

    Review excerpt from Publishers Weekly:
    The neo-liberal economic policies—privatization, free trade, slashed social spending—that the Chicago School and the economist Milton Friedman have foisted on the world are catastrophic in two senses, argues this vigorous polemic. Because their results are disastrous—depressions, mass poverty, private corporations looting public wealth, by the author's accounting—their means must be cataclysmic, dependent on political upheavals and natural disasters as coercive pretexts for free-market reforms the public would normally reject. Journalist Klein (No Logo) chronicles decades of such disasters, including the Chicago School makeovers launched by South American coups; the corrupt sale of Russia's state economy to oligarchs following the collapse of the Soviet Union; the privatization of New Orleans's public schools after Katrina; and the seizure of wrecked fishing villages by resort developers after the Asian tsunami....[H]er critique hits home, as she demonstrates how free-market ideologues welcome, and provoke, the collapse of other people's economies. The result is a powerful populist indictment of economic orthodoxy.

  • Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland

    Book Description:
    "This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people; essentially-statistically speaking-there aren't any people like that. Geniuses get made once-a-century or so, yet good art gets made all the time, so to equate the making of art with the workings of genius removes this intimately human activity to a strangely unreachable and unknowable place. For all practical purposes making art can be examined in great detail without ever getting entangled in the very remote problems of genius."
    --from the Introduction

  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson

    Review from School Library Journal:
    In this fascinating and eye-opening Revolution-era novel, Octavian, a black youth raised in a Boston household of radical philosophers, is given an excellent classical education. He and his mother, an African princess, are kept isolated on the estate, and only as he grows older does he realize that while he is well dressed and well fed, he is indeed a captive being used by his guardians as part of an experiment to determine the intellectual acuity of Africans. As the fortunes of the Novanglian College of Lucidity change, so do the nature and conduct of their experiments...The issues of slavery and human rights, racism, free will, the causes of war, and one person's struggle to define himself are just as relevant today.

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

    Review from Publishers Weekly:
    Afghan-American novelist Hosseini follows up his bestselling The Kite Runner with another searing epic of Afghanistan in turmoil. The story covers three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and Taliban tyranny through the lives of two women. Mariam is the scorned illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, forced at age 15 into marrying the 40-year-old Rasheed, who grows increasingly brutal as she fails to produce a child. Eighteen later, Rasheed takes another wife, 14-year-old Laila, a smart and spirited girl whose only other options, after her parents are killed by rocket fire, are prostitution or starvation. Against a backdrop of unending war, Mariam and Laila become allies in an asymmetrical battle with Rasheed, whose violent misogyny—"There was no cursing, no screaming, no pleading, no surprised yelps, only the systematic business of beating and being beaten"—is endorsed by custom and law. Hosseini gives a forceful but nuanced portrait of a patriarchal despotism where women are agonizingly dependent on fathers, husbands and especially sons, the bearing of male children being their sole path to social status. His tale is a powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan, but also a lyrical evocation of the lives and enduring hopes of its resilient characters.

  • The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz

    Review from
    First published in 1950, The Labyrinth of Solitude addresses issues that are both seemingly eternal and resoundingly contemporary: the nature of political power in post-conquest Mexico, the relation of Native Americans to Europeans, the ubiquity of official corruption. Noting these matters earned Paz no small amount of trouble from the Mexican leadership, but it also brought him renown as a social critic. Paz, who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, later voiced his disillusionment with all political systems--as the Mexican proverb has it, "all revolutions degenerate into governments"--but his call for democracy in this book has lately been reverberating throughout Mexico, making it timely once again.

  • Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity by Marie-France Hirigoyen

    Excerpt of review from Publishers Weekly:
    Often, emotional abuse builds over a long period of time until it becomes so unbearable that victims lash out in frustration and anger, only to appear unstable and aggressive themselves. This, according to Hirigoyen, is the intent of many abusers: to systematically "destabilize" and confuse their victims (with irrational, threatening behavior that preys on the victim's fears and self-doubts), to isolate and control them and ultimately to destroy their identity. These relentless "predators" are also incapable of compassion or empathy, always blame the victim and never see their actions as wrong.

  • The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper

    Excerpt of review from Publishers Weekly:
    Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.

  • Sacred World: The Shambhala Way to Gentleness, Bravery, and Power by Jeremy and Karen Hayward

    Excerpt from the book:
    "Being a warrior has nothing to do with waging war. Being a warrior means you have the courage to know who you are. Warriors never give up on anyone, including themselves."-from Sacred World

  • Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros by Desmond Rochfort

    Excerpt of review from
    The muralists' work took up the themes of society and revolution. Often the paintings depicted historical vignettes like the story of Cuernavaca and Morelos crossing the barranca, or Mexico's ancient Indians. They satirized contemporary society, created ideal visions of peaceful families, and built up dark, imposing industrial cityscapes then leveled them by depicting the debauchery and death of the capitalist industrialists. The paintings themselves reflect diverse artistic influences--surrealism, cubism, and illustration, most notable among them. Their bold colors and strong imagery practically bound out of the 150 color plates in this book.

Anybody else read any of these? What did you think?

Back To The Future

"When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college--that my job was to teach people how to draw.

She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, 'You mean they forget?'" --Howard Ikemoto,

from Art & Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland

Lately, as part of rebuilding my newer better life, I've been trying to remember what made me happy when I was nine or ten years old. Back before all my energy was sapped by worrying about non-happy-making things like dieting, and makeup, and clothes. Before I gave a damn whether boys liked me, or if I was skinny enough, or what the hell my stupid hair looked like. What things brought me joy before pressure to seek approval from the big Ps--Peers, Parents, Professors, and the Patriarchy-- consumed my real self? And how can I bring some of those things back into my life today?

Here's my top ten list of things I loved most when I was a kid:

  1. Reading
  2. Drawing
  3. Dogs
  4. Monkeys
  5. Canoeing
  6. Making up stories
  7. Building sand castles
  8. Making tree forts
  9. Watching hilarious programs on tv
  10. Singing at the top of my lungs

In upcoming posts, I want to take a closer look at some of the ways I'm finding to return to the happy-making things that I somehow "forgot" when my life was so rudely interrupted by puberty. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 05, 2007

More Thoughts On Failure

So listen. My therapist is still out of town. She's gone elk hunting, somewhere out west. Yes! I was thinking the exact same thing: this may be yet another clue that we're not in Berkeley any more, Toto.

Anyway, the thing is, I'm still feeling the need to talk some more about my pervasive sense of failure. And she's not here, but y'all are, so hahaha: guess who's going to have to sit and listen while I rattle on.

Seriously, do you mind? You don't have to say anything. Just sit there and nod occasionally, mutter "Mmmm?," pass the kleenex, and try to refrain from yawning or looking at your watch. Ok?

Ok. So here's where we were before Annie Oakley grabbed her damn gun and headed off to Colorado or Wyoming or whatever the hell mountainous state has a surplus of rabid elk stampeding around terrorizing its innocent populace.

We were concluding that failure itself is pretty much irrelevant. It doesn't really matter if it was my fault that I failed, or even if I actually failed, because "failure" isn't real. It's nothing more than a made-up concept, a subjective judgment call, and anyway it can only exist in the past, which means it wouldn't exist any more even if it had been real. It's over and done. So forget about failure, it's not important in and of itself. And the fact is, rational or not, I do feel like a failure, so there's no point in arguing about whether or not I should feel guilty, ashamed, hopeless, whatever. I just do.

What really matters is how I cope with that feeling, what I do when I feel it, and what steps I take to move beyond it. And that's what I want to talk about today. (Brief aside: You know who totally cracks me up? Charles Kroger. Do y'all think you could maybe cross your loafers the way he does, or bug your eyes out, or something?)

Ahem. So. One common way that people react to feelings of failure is to try to pump themselves up by putting somebody else down. They attempt to reinflate their own egos by denigrating others, perhaps members of a different race, or religion, or nationality. Or maybe they pour their energy into booing a rival sports team, or railing against an opposing political party. Perhaps they ridicule female drivers, or fat people, or gay people, or kids with tattoos. They kick the dog, yell at the sales clerk, sneer at people they deem less intelligent or talented than themselves. They become addicted to the momentary high of feeling superior to somebody else.

I think I'd like to try to avoid this particular coping mechanism. I don't think I'd like myself very much if I went around acting like that all the time. Besides, it doesn't really work. So I have to pay attention and catch myself if I ever start slipping into it.

Another common response to feeling like a failure is to turn the anger and aggression inward and attack the self. Women in our society are particularly socialized to resort to this tactic, though men are not immune to it. When people use this coping mechanism they hate themselves and get depressed. They may injure themselves, or develop an eating disorder, or channel their energies into "fixing" what they perceive to be their most visible flaws. They go on diets, get a new hairdo, buy news clothes, shop around for cosmetic surgery.

Even if I believed this technique was efficacious, I couldn't afford it. Anyway, I don't want to go there either. So once again, I have to pay attention and catch myself if I ever start slipping into it. For instance, whenever I pick up those pruning shears and start in on the ol' radical home haircut. (Another not so brief aside--hey, I'm PAYING you exactly what you're worth to listen to this crap, people: I'm feeling especially touchy about my hair this week, since Rumer Willis just got fugged for copying my exact look. But you know what? I had a gift certificate for a massage at a chichi upscale day spa, and when I cashed it in last Tuesday the receptionist raved about my damn hair. "Crappy yellow wig" indeed.) (Ok, wait. Did I just do something there?)

So those are ways I don't want to react. What are some healthy ways of coping with feelings of failure? Well, let's see...

Oh but never mind, ding ding ding! As usual, just when we get to the good part, our time seems to be up.

Thank you all very much for listening so patiently. If you don't mind, we'll take up where we left off again next week. Because even though my therapist is coming back from her wild western vacation (oh god, what if she has Bullwinkle hanging on her damn wall or something?), tomorrow is opening day of squirrel hunting season around here (run, Rocky, run!), so all schools and businesses will be closed for the entire week. Perhaps next week we can also touch a bit on why I never seem to feel like I fit in.

Meanwhile, I leave you with a couple of last night's drawings. A little bit better, but still not quite where I want to be. Onward!

2 minute gesture drawings

20 minute pose

Where I'd really like to be. (painting by Guillermo Meza)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More On Perfectionism and Perseverance

Here's another timely quote from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland:

"Ansel Adams, never one to mistake precision for perfection, often recalled the old adage that 'the perfect is the enemy of the good', his point being that if he waited for everything in the scene to be exactly right, he'd probably never make a photograph.

Adams was right: to require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do--away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes. Believing that artwork should be perfect, you gradually become convinced that you cannot make such work. (You are correct.) Sooner or later, since you cannot do what you are trying to do, you quit. And in one of those perverse little ironies of life, only the pattern itself achieves perfection--a perfect death spiral: you misdirect your work; you stall; you quit."

Ok. This is good stuff, but I'll tell you the real reason I'm so frantically inhaling this book, maniacally underlining every other paragraph like a madwoman on an out of control highlighter binge. It's because I'm taking this drawing class on Thursday nights, and it's not going well. I have been sorely tempted to quit.

I don't know what the hell was wrong with me last week, but my drawings just wouldn't come together. I couldn't relax into the proper mind zone to draw, and I felt like something was somehow off with my vision. My depth perception was distorted, and my proportions were absurdly out of whack. I just couldn't seem to do anything right.

It's a really nice little class, down at the nearby college. The people are friendly, I like the teacher (except when he stands directly behind me and watches me draw, which causes me to go straight into freeze mode). The model was wonderful: a graceful, voluptuous young art student who actually took off her clothes, and who knew how to pose. Everything was great, except for me: I totally sucked.

And yeah, I got discouraged. I got depressed. I wanted to quit. But don't worry, I'm not going to quit. I really want to take this class, and I want to enjoy myself. And thanks to this encouraging little book, I'm going back tomorrow night and try again.

The truth is, though, it's not really just about this drawing class. I've been feeling like such a failure in about nine million ways lately. I mean, I failed to be a healthy person; I failed to be a prosperous or even solvent person; I failed to be a person in love. Understandably, my sense of self-worth has kind of taken a hit. Come on: wouldn't yours? As a result, every new little failure seems to take a bigger bite out of me than it normally would have, know, before. I've been feeling so weary and discouraged, and since quitting the Big Things isn't really an option, I sort of feel like quitting the things I can quit, right and left. Like, just fuck it all! Hell yeah, I have days like that. Wouldn't you?

I feel like what I really really need right now is to be spectacularly and indisputably good at something. And silly me, I thought maybe a little figure drawing class down at the local college might be a safe bet. But as usual, the frickin Universe doesn't see things my way. The frickin Universe has decided that what I really need right now is to fail and fuck up even more! Perhaps this is the frickin Universe's idea of a lesson in humility, or a test of perseverance, or a hilarious joke. Who the hell knows. Whatever, I'm telling you: it's a frickin pain in the ass.

Take tonight in dog training class, for example. The standard poodles pranced around doing perfect tricks like professional acrobats. The Labs followed commands with goofy enthusiasm. And the damn border collie (there's always one in every class) sat on the front row with its calculator doing everybody's taxes. But my dog? My big dunce wouldn't do a single goddamn thing we'd worked on all week. Instead, he barked nonstop at the gerbils; he charged at the parakeet cage, knocking over three chairs and a table in the process; he picked a fight with a Newfie puppy that's already bigger than my car; he chased a Weimaraner up and down the cat food aisle; and as if all that wasn't enough, he had diarrhea right in the middle of the ring. I mean, sheesh. Can't I ever get a break?

Ah well. I'm hoping that tomorrow's drawing class won't be quite as humiliating as last week's. And that if I can't be good at anything else, at least maybe I can be good at steadily plodding ever onward, without quitting, without giving up.

7 minute pose

10 minute pose

"The seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece." --Bayles & Orland

Thought For The Day

"The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pounds of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot--albeit a perfect one--to get an "A".

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work--and learning from their mistakes--the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

-from Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (And Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles & Ted Orland

Whew. Reading that makes me feel not so bad about the mountain of lopsided, ugly, fierce, flamboyant, and dysfunctional pots that is the sum of my life experiences so far.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Oh Please Forgive Me

Yes, I know. I'm a horrible person.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ode To Happier Things

Exciting news on the tiny grandperson front! Friday's ultrasound reveals that the tiny new person is a BOY. A perfect, tiny, brand new boy!

The proud parents don't have a name picked out yet. So in the absence of an official name, I've been calling the baby "Monkeybutt McCupcake" and sending presents every week with a monkey theme. Monkey overalls, monkey onesies, monkey quilts, monkey socks, sock monkeys. Plus the occasional hand-knitted hat from Etsy that looks like a cupcake. Personally, I would be happy to keep calling the kid Monkeybutt for the rest of his life. But the proud parents have tactfully suggested otherwise.

So, in an effort to be helpful, I've been sending them name suggestions. Here's where we are so far:

To: Parents of Monkeybutt
From: Granny of the Apes

Ok, here's my first list of potential boy names:


What do these all have in common, you ask? Why, they're all names of FAMOUS MONKEYS, of course!

My first vote is for Zephyr, but I also really love Finster and Thelonius (especially if his nickname becomes "Monk").

Mucho de loove,
-Granny of the Apes

From: Father of Monkeybutt
To: Granny of the Apes
Attachments: Scans of Ultrasounds

Medical angst be damned... may I introduce MISTER Monkeybutt!

Sorry if the resolution isn't great, the originals aren't super clear and they lose a little something in the scanning process. Let me know if you can't find his foot or hand or whatever.

Much love,
Father of Monkeybutt

Image of Boyness

Monkeybutt with weird superfluous little image drifting on the right that they think looks like a goblin.

From: Granny of the Apes
To: Parents of Monkeybutt

ZOMG!!1! Monkeybutt is so BEAUTIFUL! I have never seen such a beautiful fetus, ever. He is simply perfect. It's too bad they can't do color ultrasounds yet, I want to see what color his fuzz is. Lanugo, is that what it's called? It's been such a long long time since I thought about prenatal stuff.

Oh I think that goblin thingie looks exactly like a Calavera de Azucar. Or no, wait, maybe it's a Grateful Deadhead decal. Oooo, maybe
you're going to have a baby hippie!! :-|

Tons of love!
-Granny of the Apes

To: Granny of the Apes
From: Mother of Monkeybutt

Now we have the fear of hippies deep in us. While we were looking at the ultrasound yesterday, we swear that we saw a peace sign. We started freaking out that it was going to come out smelling like patchouli with dreds or something. So now that you think it's going to be a hippie, we're really scared! And yes it does look like a calavera de azucar. Seriously.

Mother of Monkeybutt

To: Parents of Monkeybutt
From: Granny of the Apes

Oh boy! Don't get me started on hippie names

Doobie! Fillmore! Moonjava! Snowphish! Stoner!

No, wait, I've got it: REVOLUTION!!!! We can call him Revvie.

But, um, Dude??? No. As much as I love The Big Lebowski, NOT Dude. And why the hell isn't Che on there? Or Fidel? Seriously, I vote for Revolution
Garcia Boomer.

Damn, this makes ME want to go out and start having many new babies, just so I can give them all fabulous hippie names. Be VERY afraid.


Granny of the Apes

So while the proud parents are off in their little anti-hippie world pondering boy names, dear readers, I am down here in Deep Inferno pondering grandmother names. If he can't really be Monkeybutt, then I can't really be Granny of the Apes. So I'm putting it to you all: post your suggestions for the perfect grandmother name for me. What should baby Monkeybutt call me? So far I've considered Grannyvibe, Maw Maw, Lala, Einstein, and Sophia Loren. What do y'all suggest?