The Eyebrows/The Other Facebook

Me, a high school summer when I worked at Astroworld; I wish I still had that blouse.
There was a booklet that I think was sent out to incoming freshman (as we were called) in Ye Olden Days. Or maybe we got it in our Orientation packets. Maybe it was called Facebook. It consisted of photos of the 1800 or so of us in the class, with home street addresses and names of high schools. I'd wondered briefly from time to time where it was. When I was home this week I came across it. I found that my first oncologist at Fancy Hospital was in my class, and I wondered what happened to the guy I had a crush on that first year in the dorm. We were friends. We ate breakfast together often, and I remember being disappointed when his parents came to visit and he didn't make sure that we met. I don't think I embarrassed myself with any overt overtures. Thank God. I'd thought about him from time to time but could never remember his last name. I remembered he was from a suburb of a big city, a suburb with a magical name I'd never heard before. It sounded like the name of a fairy tale.


Well, there he was in the Facebook booklet. I knew he'd been pre-med. He is an oncologist and surgeon in the suburbs of another large Eastern city. Patients have reviewed him favorably.. He saved the life of someone's father. One grumbly patient said he was ignored for hours and then the doc asked him what he was doing there, said there was no time for him, that he had been squeezed into the appointment book that day. We don't know, of course, if this patient was screaming at the time/totally off his rocker. That is the value of online, anonymous comments.

This doc was in a video advertising the hospital he's with. He says he enjoys getting to know patients in this small hospital, getting to know their families, about their travels, etc. He seems sincere. He had an thin though owly face in college; here his face is filled out. What I can't get over are his eyebrows. In the Facebook photo, they're pretty flat with just a slight curve. In the video they're almost a semi-circle.

Can eyebrows change that much? Has anyone studied this? Perhaps detectives who deal with missing persons have. I'm not going to look it up.
Oops! Surely I didn't miss the deadline for sending in pics!
My eyebrows are pretty much the same as they were in high school.


Because they are fake. I lost much of my eyebrows during chemo and they didn't come all the way back. Plus we lose our eyebrows with time. They migrate to our chins. Anyway, I use a mascara-type makeup to fill in my eyebrows. Sometimes they're too thick and I find out, in the middle of the day when I'm looking in a mirror, that I've been Groucho-like all day.

I nosed around for the doc's CV, family, publications, etc. It seems that he's guarding his privacy. Afraid of being found by old wanna-be girlfriends? Or--maybe he's gay and wants to keep it close to his vest. That would explain how he could resist my charms at 18, when my face was still oval and my eyebrows thick enough to pluck.

When I worked at Astroworld we had a yearbook. I remember dressing as Groucho for a picture and I was so convincing that girls did a double-take when I went into the locker room to change back. I can't find that picture but here I am the summer before senior year of high school, in the 1890s store, where I worked with the silhouette artists.

Distracting a silhouette subject

Leaving Facebook/the Person from Porlock


Saint Michael and the dragon, Valencia, c. 1405; I don't know why I'm always drawn to images of him and the dragon; I have one in my office. I like the fact that in any depiction of him there's always the dragon, even if at the very very bottom of the picture. Here, of course, the dragon is shown larger than the would-be saint.
1. The Person from Porlock was Coleridge's excuse for not finishing "Kubla Khan." The Person interrupted Coleridge from his poem and so it was published unfinished. How lovely it would be to publish all our work unfinished. The Person from Porlock is Oscar Wilde's Bunbury--being one character's excuse (Ernest or the other one?) for having to travel to the country. Bunbury was always sick, and the character's aunt (sometimes played campily by a man in the play "The Importance of Being Earnest"), who makes unintentionally funny pronouncements, criticized Bunbury for not making up his mind whether he was going to die. He was less real than Cory Booker's T-Bone, who turned out, it seems, to be a composite. Commentators have made much of the name Bunbury, pointing to its gay associations. They've made much of the name Ernest, too, as having the same associations. Alas, in Stoppard's play about E.A. Housman, he asks the question whether Housman was the one more punished than Oscar, because Housman was thwarted in his romance with a straight college friend, and had no others, and Oscar lived and loved. He became himself. He was himself. If the flamboyance was himself. Or were the velvet and lilies and pronouncements, an act to cover up--what? Insecurity? A sense of inferiority from being Irish and gay? From being different? If I throw it in your face that I'm different that you can't throw it in mine. The pre-emptive strike. Which is all the rage these days. Ask North Korea.*

2. The Person from Porlock is the man's Angel In the House, as written by Virginia Woolf. The perfect woman, the Angel, takes care of the house and everyone in it and so does not protect her own art. Does not value herself. Does not put herself first. Or second. There is the husband, the children, the house. Not sure of the order. In (Jewish) summer camp there was a sign in or outside the mess hall: 1. God 2. You 3. Me.
That is not the priority of the artist. Unless God=the muse. Then all is in its place. L accuses me of protecting my time but not valuing his. Which is probably true.
Woolf tells us that she had to kill the Angel. Which reminds me of the wrestling of Jacob and his Angel. He had to kill that Angel, too. It would be interesting to see a depiction of Woolf wrestling and killing her Angel.


Jacob wrestling his Angel, Giulio Benso, 17th century
3. I wanted to get off Facebook because I was thinking about it too much. It was my billboard, ready to take my least thought. And I mean least. And that is the problem. We think that each small notion must be trumpeted. I have been in Texas. I took a picture today at lunch of a wall of Local Option (restaurant owned by B, whose sister was my high school best friend), which showed the plat of the local area. There was Confederate House. That's what I took a picture of. My mother remembered it. It was a restaurant, she said, with a big sign when you walked in that said they reserved the right to refuse service to anyone. The servers, she said, were black. The restaurant served Southern food.I wanted to put the picture on Facebook. So I sent it to my husband instead.


4. Exhibit B. Front page of the Houston Chronicle. The above-the-fold story was about taking "heroic" from the phrase "heroic defenders" of the Alamo in state textbooks. Below was a photo of two black men--and they were not criminals! One was a true hero--a firefighter who died in 9/11 and the other was a man who was holding the picture of the dead hero. I wanted to put that on Facebook but instead texted it to my husband.

5. Exhibit C. At services yesterday the family choir (mostly children) sang Adon Olam, one of the most-anticipated songs always because it is the last (my mother's most anticipated line is, You may be seated.), to a familiar tune. It was from "Hamilton" but I couldn't place it, couldn't place it, then did--Here's probably the originator of the juxto. I wanted to post that on Facebook. But instead sent a link to L and some others.

6. The urge to communicate. The urge to communicate small bits. I was writing in fragments in grad school, 1981-83. My natural pace. I was rarely conventionally linear.

7. The confession: I was reading the famous anonymous op-ed and interrupted myself to go into the other room. How long is it? Maybe 900 words. How could I be so distractable?

8. Coffee can make you concentrate and it can also make you more distractable. By you I mean me. Of course.

9. Still bitter that an editor told me to write something any way I wanted so I wrote it in numbered segments (as I had for a predecessor of his) and he took them out, then complained because I didn't have transitions.

10. Do I read books? I read whole plays. There are people, authors, who, as service to other authors, list the books they're reading in the signature lines of their emails. People ask me what I'm reading and are always disappointed because it's not the literary fictions that are just out. What I've been reading: the Stoppard plays "Arcadia" and "The Invention of Love" (about Housman) and "Indian Ink." I am slowly reading and savoring "The Torch in My Ear," the middle of a three-volume autobiography by Elias Canetti, winner of the Nobel Prize for "Crowds and Power," which I haven't read. I bought the book at the Neue Museum in New York because much of it is about Vienna. I'm toward the end now, about 1929, when he's working temporarily in Berlin and provides little word portraits of John Heartfield (see below) and his brother.




Heartfield (ne Herzfeld) anglicized his name during the Great War to protest German nationalism and anti-British sentiment. George Grosz, we read, introduced him to Dada. Canetti went to Berlin in order to meet Grosz, as I have yet to do; it will take place in the next few pages I read, I think.

I don't know why Heartfield's work is considered montage rather collage. It may have to do with the arrangement of images of whole objects instead of pieces or to do with photography. I will look it up. No, I will leave it to you to look up. Stopping to look things up (which is what I did when I was writing this blog daily) is the Person from Porlock. The Person from Porlock, instead of knocking on the writer's door, instead moves her hand to Google, like the spirit that moves the heart-shaped device of a Ouija Board.

11. But I am still going to post on Facebook as Red Fish Studio. It is my marketing activity for my editing and coaching services. You should follow it. Really.

*When I was an undergraduate, I wanted to ask my history professor about the practice of personifying countries: What did it mean when we said, "England didn't want to do ...." or "Germany declared war"? but I didn't know it was a smart question. Here I used "North Korea" so I wouldn't have to look up the spelling of the Great Leader's name.



















Once more to the River

I can't tell you how anxious I was yesterday all day, and the night before, about the prospect of getting back on the water--starting rowing season. Was I afraid I would fall in? No. Was I afraid I would catch a crab, which is the term for getting your oar "stuck"? No. Was I afraid of causing the boat to turn over? No. I had walked off the dock a few years ago, backward, and fallen into the non-salt water equivalent of Davy Jones' locker. Truly, the Chicago River is as dirty and grimy as a seaman's locker could get. Toxic. A guy from the park district told me a couple of years ago they'd found a horse in the water. Which wouldn't be too bad. One horse in all that H2O--no big deal. It's the nastiness from the tanning industry and so many other industries that have dirtied water that was perfectly clear, we imagine, beforehand. Cow parts, pig parts, offal. ("Offal" conjures up puns that are too easy here.) No, it wasn't the water. It wasn't that I wouldn't have the strength to row. Especially because I expected we would do mostly drills and not heavy rowing.


This is the general idea--though these oars look très très long.

 It's a general sense that I don't belong. Belong to what? I'm not sure. Belong to our rowing group? (I know we're a team but it doesn't feel like a team. I've only competed in one regatta.)  It's because I doubt my rowing. When I took piano so many years ago I never memorized the notes. I used the numbers on the staff, which referred to the fingers you would use to play the notes. I keep feeling, after almost nine years, that there's something deep and essential yet ordinary and fundamental that I've missed in rowing instruction. I feel it more with the indoor machines, which we call ergs. I know what it is, in fact. We're supposed to "connect" with our cores. I haven't quite figured out how to visualize that and how to do it and wonder how I've gotten this far (which apparently isn't very) without doing it. In the old days, the first two coaches called me "uncoachable" when they were talking between themselves. The other thing we're supposed to do is push with our feet. I swore, after about five years, that I'd never heard any mention of that. This was at our rowing camp intensive weekend about four years ago in Michigan. OK, so now that I was hearing about the feet for the first time, how did I do it? I couldn't coordinate myself to do it. It may have been because I hadn't discovered the optimal way to adjust the attached boat shoes in the scull (the boats we use). You can move the shoes along a slide to make them closer or further from the seat, which itself rolls back and forth. Moving of the shoes involves unscrewing wingnuts first of all. And it's hard to keep them from hiding after you've unscrewed them. The best thing is to keep them loose and not take them all the way off. Anyway, my arms are long in proportion to my legs and I assumed that was why I didn't know where to set the shoes. Or why when I set the shoes where I thought they should be (and there's a way to measure, depending on what angle you hold the oar, but there's never any time to figure that because you don't pick up the oar until you have your shoes set and anyway, I've forgotten what the angle is) I still couldn't gain enough control of my feet to push down on them against the hull of the boat. It is such a difficult thing. By "it" I mean everything connected to rowing. There are terms like "to be at the catch," which means to be sitting forward as in the photo above, with your knees up and the blade of the oar in the water, ready to sweep through it, and the opposite, "at the finish," when you're laying back with the oar against you. I've been doing this almost a decade and the only way I remember which is which is that the "I" in "finish" is a short "I," as in "rib"; seriously, that's how I remember that "finish" means the oar next to my ribs. When it takes you almost a decade to come up with that mnemonic, and what's more to need that mnemonic, it would be a wonder if I weren't anxious at the notion of getting back in a boat.

Enough about me

What do y'all think of this fierce post by Elizabeth Wurtzel?

EXCERPT:
I have always been the most impossible person ever.
I am the woman who made you scream that it’s a good thing New York City has gun control. I’m the one who made you yell that there oughtta be a law – a law to stop me from being my wretched self. 
I am that person.
And now I have advanced breast cancer. Cue the sorries. 
Seriously?
Sorry for what? 
I’m not sorry about anything. I was never sorry when I said I was. Apologies are a courtesy.
I love to argue. I am in it for the headache.
I don’t need you to be on my side – I’m on my side.












Waiting, Testing & Waiting: a new law firm

Death of Marat by Munch
Waiting. So much of life is waiting. Unless you refuse to think or acknowledge that you are waiting, and instead you do something else to fill the time, to distract yourself, or something important in its own right. We are all waiting, right? Death's door and all that. I dreamed I was staying over at C's house and I had brought my own duvet and it was sprouting little plants. I didn't think it was a big deal, but she did. I mean, they weren't that tall. I also splashed too much water around in her bathroom.

But the waiting. Waiting for the doctor, waiting for the test, for the results. At the Famous Clinic Thursday the hematologist flung the results of years ago at me:  How do I know I have polycythemia vera? From a routine CBC test in about 2006. High red blood cell counts. Was I still getting my periods then?  he asked. Yes, I said, and I know that's relevant, it can play with the blood-count results. It's why I was diagnosed first with essential thrombocythemia, and then menopause ushered in polycythemia, or rather, unveiled pv. The hematologist went to school in Ethiopia and had an Italian last name. It dawned on me--the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, in 1935. Mussolini reaching out to kill and control more.


So I am waiting for the results of the bone-marrow biopsy. Supposed to be on my online chart today or tomorrow.

In Chicago my hematologist is at Fancy Hospital. She is Serbian-American, and she was young and single at our first appointment. Now she has two little daughters, one of whom said to her, You've ruined my life. I was chagrined because I had been so precocious to have said that to someone when I was seven, and her daughter is four or five. In 2006 or so the single hematologist had asked  if I felt itchy after a shower, and the light had dawned: I had wondered if I was allergic to my soap or shampoo, and then when I didn't use any, just to test, I still had been itchy. Confounding until then.
Warmth. Heat. That breeds the itchiness.

In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past. The Romans dedicated the month of January to Janus.But last week the Ethiopian-American specialist at Famous Clinic had taken my account of her question as a sign that she had planted the idea of itchiness in my head. I tried to describe to him all the years of terrible itchiness and pin-prick feeling, but both L and I could tell he wasn't taking the itching seriously. In the car on the way home through pouring rain L said that the itching had been the center of my emotional life, that I was always upset about the itching, or fearfully anticipating it, all before I got on Jakafi.

I remember walking in and out of restaurants because the air was too warm and I was starting to itch.

The drug Jakafi, said the male hematologist, is a bad drug.
I didn't have a copy of my JAK2 mutation test, which points to polycythemia vera, so he repeated it. Then he called for a bone-marrow biopsy, which I had Friday and then we left Famous Clinic and drove home in the pouring rain.

JAK2, said my Colombian-born dermatologist at Fancy Hospital, is named for the god Janus, who looks both to the future and past. I haven't looked into this in detail, to see if that relates to the shape or formation of the mutation. Does it look like two profiles, back to back?

At the Intellectual University Hospital many years ago the hematologist had been the same as Famous Clinic's, challenging the diagnosis, also. I had chalked up to his university affiliation, the place of deep thinkers and Nobel economists. I wouldn't have been surprised if he had asked, How do you know that we are here? How can you be sure that we're alive, that blood is red?

(My friend P, who has the same rare disease, that is, if I do indeed have polycythemia, was told at Intellectual U Hospital that it might not be pv. Then she went to Famous Clinic, where the hematologist strode in, took a look at her and told her unequivocably that she had it.)

I think my Famous Clinician was being dramatic. I am so attached to my diagnosis of polycythemia vera because, simply, it fits. It fits the symptoms. What else could fit?

The Famous Clinic's CBC showed that I have a high erythropoetin level, and pv is characterized by a low level. It could mean a secondary polycythemia. Or a tumor. Or that my asthma was somehow affecting the level. The Clinic says: Polycythemia vera is unlikely when erythropoietin (EPO) levels are elevated and polycythemia vera is likely when EPO levels are suppressed....EPO levels are also increased in patients with anemia of bone marrow failure, iron deficiency, or thalassemia.

I've been anemic for more than a year, despite taking iron tablets.  My hometown hematologist opined that anemia was the reason my lips turned blue and I was short of breath last year at the end of a fast rowing practice.

 Anemia can be a side effect of Jakafi. 



So the abnormalities can be from the medicine. But I admit there is a drama-attraction gene in me: How exciting that my disease is getting worse, my disease that is already a cancer. I think this is why some teens kill themselves. The drama attracts. They want to be in the whirlwind. Of course this is irrational, this is the id talking. The rational part of the brain is remonstrating: If you kill yourself, it's dramatic in the planning of it, it's dramatic in the doing of it, which lasts only minutes, but the rest of your life, you're dead. And: If your disease is worse, everything will be worse. You will feel worse, your time will be filled with treatments, you will be closer to death. Which is dramatic only in the end and mostly just to the observers. You won't be alive enough to appreciate the chiaroscuro of it.

(painting: Death of Marat, Jacques-Louis David; Marat was stabbed in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday. Marat had a terrible skin disease, perhaps eczema, and soaked to get comfort. His was a dramatic death.)


Example of chiaroscuro:
The Deposition of Christ, Caravaggio

Weepily we roll along

Ach, how embarrassing. We didn't row outside tonight because the gasoline that fuels the coach's boats floated away in the rain and wind over the weekend. I had not been on an erg (rowing machine) since April, I think. I am getting over a cold, reacting to the high mold count in the world nearby, have been anemic for at least a year--pile on, pile on, the excuses, Sando. I'm being tested for a second blood cancer. What else? I am a wimp. In the past I thought that when I was itching a lot from exercising, and I felt weepy, that that was a signal to stop. But I don't know now. It was so very very hard to row hard and quick. Coach B came by a few times to see how I was doing--if I was overheating, getting itchy. I got up at one point and bit a hydroxyzine tablet in half, and swallowed the half. It was just so hard hard to pull and push with my legs, knowing always that I am the slowest person, the weakest person, in the whole group. I swear, once this large, out-of-shape-looking woman came to see what our team was, and she got on the ergs and rowed much faster and harder than I. Tonight it was so tiring so very tiring, it shouldn't be that tiring, should it? And yet how could I complain, when Coach J just did the marathon? Wasn't that hard? The thing is they do these hard things and I don't like to do them. Coach S used to push me push me to keep going and then I would have asthma for three days. But I survived. The whole problem with doing your all is that next time you'll have to do your all again and then some. Better numbers.  At least when we're keeping score. Coach B said to stop if I needed to and I wanted to tell her about the anemia and bone-marrow biopsy but I didn't because what would that fix? They are excuses, perhaps reasons. But I know tonight I wasn't crying because I was overheated or itching. I was crying because it was so difficult, so unpleasant, and so tiring, and I felt so sorry for myself. When I finished Coach J said something encouraging. I feel I am the team's goat. Just the goat. I am the goat.



The boat goat.

S hadn't been able to row for a year and when she came back the other week, she said after practice: You must be getting better because the coaches didn't tell you to slow down your stroke. Personally, I think this is a left-handed compliment. But I am not the worst rower on the team. But close. I have rowed with the novices a couple of times, because I missed a rowing practice with my peers, the masters. We are the masters because of time. I think after a season on the water, one is a master, automatically. So Woody Allen's quip about most of all you need to show up, that's accurate here. You are rewarded for your longevity. For making it through a season. When I was rowing with the novices, I was amazed that so many of them were proficient--much more proficient than I was my first five years. And as proficient as I am now. How could that be? Perhaps they are coordinated. That is a possibility. The mystery, and I can't figure it out, is why I continued to come to practice for eight years, when it wasn't fun for most of that time. At Passover last year S and J asked me about rowing and I told them that I didn't do it to be with the other members of ROW (I like them but have a tendency to feel alienated in general, and I don't do much outside of practice with the team, like go to regattas and such), that I didn't particularly like rowing, and they laughed and asked me why I did it. Like that Jewish joke with this punchline:  It's only a hobby. 
Posture is important while rowing.