I am sitting at the dining room table in the house of strangers who are vacationing in Oregon. I have never met them, but they left their key for me in the shed and have encouraged me to eat the perishables in the refrigerator. They took their computers with them but they've left two TVs and a stereo and just a few earrings on the earring holder in the bathroom. (Did they hide the valuable ones?) I am in Madison, Wisconsin, and this was supposed to be a getaway weekend with L. We'd planned it around a reading and workshop I did today at Gilda's Club in Madison which is really in another nearby town. Then L's mother was diagnosed with a melanoma on her leg and he went Downstate last week to accompany her to her appointment with the surgeon. He's going back on Monday so he can go with her on Tuesday to the surgery. He had too many vacation days and now he's worrying that he won't have enough. So I am on the getaway alone. I put an ad on Craig's List looking for a Madison-Chicago house swap, and was contacted by the owner of this house, who asked if I wanted to stay there, swapping cash for her house. I said yes (still thinking it was for both of us) and now I'm get-awaying by myself.
At Gilda's Club my audience was small and I wasn't sure who they were, what their backgrounds were, so when I told about having my scalp decorated, I didn't tell them that I'd had US OUT OF IRAQ painted in the middle. I was afraid of losing them. I talked about this with J this afternoon. She does programs for corporations and non-profits and says she can't be her whole complete self in these circumstances. She's right. In nonfiction workshops I talk to the students about different levels of formality and disclosure: You're more casual and intimate with your ... intimates than with your boss or with people interviewing you for a job.
I used a page from Joe Brainard's I Remember as a template. (See Brainard's photo, above.) For some reason it is so much easier to list aspects of an experience if you begin each sentence with I remember. Or, as Georges Perec did, with Je me souviens. in his book W (dedicated to Brainard). We went around the room and read from a page in Brainard's memoir, nearly every sentence beginning with I remember. When I was in Oakland I was pretty sure that my audience was the standard-issue East Bay Feminist, so that I could use words like patriarchy without explanation. Here I didn't know where we could and couldn't connect and I was surprised at myself for not knowing. I don't want to categorize people but that is what I do.Sometimes people laugh when I read from the book about it being axiomatic for liberal Jews to be Buddhist. Either they think it's so odd they laugh or else they laugh in recognition because it's so true. I've had both responses. Sometimes people laugh when I read the part about Amelia, my ex-best friend, and our rivalry and how I wanted every book in the world to be written by me alone. Sometimes they don't. Today they didn't. I am being so self-concerned here instead of quoting the moments of revelation when they read their own sentences aloud.
Before I leave Wisconsin, I hope to effect the Great Midwestern Pill Bottle Exchange. I have some empty pill bottles and I thought it would be a waste to throw them away so I advertised on Craig's List in the Free section. An artist wrote that she was interested in them, but in quantity. I put the same ad on Craig's List in Madison, because I could easily bring my empty bottles with me in the car. I heard from one Madisonian who's been saving hundreds of bottles. I hope I hear back from her tomorrow so that I can pile the pill bottles in my car and take them across state lines, where they will be welcomed.
We don't know what stage my mother-in-law's melanoma is in. The surgeon will cut down two centimeters and will test her lymph nodes. Hers is a relatively rare form, nodular, which is fast-growing. She happened to mention that a growth on her leg was bothering her when she was last at her internist's. It seemed to come from no where and we hope it will go back there soon.
Melanomas develop most often in people with fair skin, light eyes, and a history (however short) of sunburn.