Archive for July 2010

Blog Birthday

July 25, 2010

From "Thin Birthday"

Today is the one year anniversary (ironically, the “paper” anniversary) of this blog.

I have made 473 posts and gotten over 10,000 views.  (A small number for a blog, but amazing to me.)  Writing the posts, drawing the pictures, and putting them out into the world with a click of a button has been fascinating; doing this on a daily basis has been both stressful and freeing–yes, it’s been a lot of work, but because of the pace, I have been continually forced to move on from whatever I just did to embarrass myself.

I first want to thank all of you who have followed the blog, or even just occasionally checked in.  If you are a regular viewer, you must know that I have an (a) obsessive and (b) moody temperament; this combination has occasionally translated into repetitive and tormented checking of “stats”, a whole new form of masochistic escapism.   However, you regular viewers have really done a lot to buoy me up over the last year, you irregular viewers to thrust me into momentary despair. (Ha!)

I especially appreciate your time and interest since, as some of you may have already realized, I am not a natural blogger.   Yes, I write and draw fairly quickly, but I don’t really know anything.  (Oops!  Important caveat – I do know quite a few things in the area of my non-blogged profession.)

But I can’t give advice on household management, money-saving, science or health. I’m not even particularly political, though because a daily blog works a bit like a newspaper column, I tend to sound off in that area.

I’ve said before that my subject is “some overlap of stress and creativity”.  (This may be a cipher for “whatever stressed me feels like creating that day”.)  But as the year mark passes, I really would like to move more into the area of creativity and a bit further from the area of stress.

This, of course, is easier said than done.  And I’m not quite sure what I even mean by it—I hesitate to spell it out yet in the light of that uncertainty.

Any ideas?  Suggestions?

Thanks again.

(And as always, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson – publicizing that book was the real reason I started the blog, but I’m afraid I haven’t done a very good job of it.  It really is a cute book–discounts are readily available if you write me.)

No A/C (With Anteater)

July 24, 2010

Anteater with Brain Freeze

My sweaty brow turns now to Stan Cox, an agricultural scientist and author of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer), a book which argues against the excessive use of air conditioning in the modern world because of its negative environmental and societal effects and its effects on overall health.   Cox, who lives surrounded by cotton (barely) and fans (liberally) in Salina, Kansas, had the nerve to write an opinion piece in the Washington Post in the midst of this record hot summer, explaining the downside of air conditioning.  He received 67 pages of negative emails, which included death threats, and the epithet “Idiot!”  And these weren’t even from his family!

I know it’s hard to make a choice against A/C.   A New York apartment without it feels not only muggily hot but horribly grimy.

And yet, and yet… if you just stay still enough (so that the sweat congeals to a 98.6 degree layer between your skin and the 102 degree world), and keep your rooms dark enough (so that you can’t quite see the grime), it really is quite liveable.

I can hear some of you thinking—”you call that a life?”  or, “but why?”

All I can say there’s something kind of lovely about heat-enforced laziness; and the relief that comes as evening falls, as cold baths are slithered into, as icy smoothies are sipped (despite the brain freeze), is really pretty cool.

(PS – I’m trying to branch out from elephants, but if you like elephants, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson on Amazon.)

Cancer – Fight For the Miraculous – Hard with Cannons

July 24, 2010

Trying to regroup a bit today, not to think too much about sad things, after the death of a dear friend.  Cancer does keep popping to the brain, though in a curiously disengaged way.  Not so much why people get it – that one’s a bit too scary.  As an inhabitant of New York City who’s ingested all kinds of particulate matter, and still makes decisions that are not proactively anti-carcinogenic, I prefer not to think of it.

What comes to mind more easily is how people fight cancer, and why?

I, thankfully, have not had a personal reason to study these issues minutely, but I have to confess to some general bias against Western medicine.  It’s always seemed to me to specialize in cannons;  approaches to illness that involve heavy artillery used on a landscape (the body) which is nuanced and delicate (despite all those limbs and outgrowths), a landscape which one would just as soon save more rather than less of.   I am skeptical enough that the concept of a “surgical strike” seems hardly more precise to me when conducted by people in masks around an operating table than by pilots over a tableau of largely civilian dwellings.

I don’t mean to say that modern surgeons aren’t capable of precision (the whole skill seems to me to be absolutely amazing).  But I do think that the medical profession sometimes underrates the complications attending the procedures, the truly difficult healing processes and side effects.  The body is so complex and self-regulating;  it doesn’t particularly like to be messed with (even when its systems are out of whack.)

Pharmaceutical applications seem even less precise.  Dealing with my father’s diabetes has been an interesting lesson in this, his blood-sugar-lowing medication having been the prime cause of every emergency room visit and hospitalization over the last few years.

So complicated.  Does early detection of cancers save lives, or does it just extend the counting period?  How much good do chemotherapy and radiation do against aggressive cancers?  Does this good outweigh their stress on the healthy parts of the body, the body’s own defense mechanisms?  Or would the healthy parts of the body be weakened even faster by the cancer itself? Does the fight for extra time actually give extra time or just wear the patient out?

Of course, each case is different;  results are not fully knowable in advance.  And though experts seem to be getting better at identifying really aggressive cancers, those marked by a terrible predictability,  they have to allow for the slim chance; some possibility of unpredictability, some miraculous outcome.   Of course, it’s difficult to force the miraculous, but, as modern Americans – proud fighters, believers in belief itself, and above all, dutiful family members  – we cling to these slim chances, feel bound to try for them.

A difficult arena.

Lost Friend

July 23, 2010

A dear friend died today.  She was 58.  Like me, she was a Gemini, however, she was not “manicddaily”, but “steady-steady-daily”.  She was a wonderful person, invariably, profoundly, kind, while also persistently dogged, someone who saw things through; who sustained others through setbacks, who nurtured family and friends with a sweetness, and a sense of calm and security, even through terrible crises.

One of these was 9/11.  She lived right across the street from the World Trade Towers; she kept her family life and hopeful life and just plain daily life going through the torturous months of smoke and crowds and police lines, fear and sadness.

She was certainly her own person—her brand of kindness made many lifelong friends, maintained a devoted marriage—but she was also very strongly, markedly, a mother.  This made her youthful death especially difficult—it was terrible for her to leave her children;  terrible to cause them the pain of losing a mother.

But what could she do?  There are some things that mothers who could lift a car off their child’s legs simply aren’t strong enough to fight.   Still, I feel sure, I have to feel sure, that that strength and sweetness is still there somehow, somewhere close to home.

More Giotto – Fear of Mortality, Fear of Fear

July 22, 2010

More Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Detail of Lamentation

It’s hard to visit someone who is very ill.  An instinctive fear arises.  You know that the visit will engender pain–pain for the current loss, pain for past losses, pain for future losses.   The thought of pain alone brings fear; the confrontation of mortality holds additional terror.

There’s almost an animalistic fear that arises–a fear of participating in the pain that the ill person is suffering, a fear (almost) of empathy.

Then too, there are the unanimalistic, highly socialized, almost opposite, fears – a fear that you won’t feel pain, or enough pain; that you won’t react properly; that you are not close enough, that you just don’t belong.

I visited a very sick friend this evening and was a little shocked at the level of fear that overtook me on my way.  Part of what steeled me to go on was simply duty –  past promises to be supportive.  But what finally pushed me into the building was the understanding of how trivial my fears were compared to what my friend was going through; the understanding that I could only help her get through her illness and the fear of what seems sure to come next by rising above my own fear of those things.  Of course, my help would be minor in the greater context, but surely I could do that much.

All this was on the way.  When you are actually in the presence of a very sick friend or family member, the fear part of the equation largely subsides, at least the self-centered parts of those  fears.  That’s your friend there, still there, still your friend.  You are fearful then for their pain, not your own; and while it may be difficult to say things to them, their hearing uncertain, you feel as if you can think things; at least you do think things, your mind suddenly like a calming palm.  It doesn’t make sense, but still brings a kind of relief, even in sorrow.

Early Morning in Orlando Airport – Oh, the Glory of Modern Air Travel

July 21, 2010

Hang on Tight! (Fasten your Seatbelt?)

Oh, the glory of modern air travel.  I got up at 3:45 this morning (it looked like night) to make an early flight.  I always imagine an early flight to somehow be advantageous; I imagine that it will not be delayed because of problems somewhere else down the line; that I will theoretically be first.  Unfortunately, some airlines seem to do their maintenance in the early morning.  Or schedule crews that get in very late the night before.  (Airline regulations require crews to have a minimal sleep time.  This is not a regulation that I am complaining about –I just wish it applied to passengers.)

So now I am sitting here, hopeful of being bumped to an earlier later flight.

Bumped?  Hoping to jump onto, slip onto, hang onto, an earlier later flight.

No such luck.

One Reason I like Yoga Better Than Benchpressing

July 20, 2010

Trying Handstand in Middle of Floor

I have a hard time standing up straight.  This is not totally a function of age.  I remember the father of a good friend coming up behind me as a teenager and jabbing a knuckle into the middle of my spine.  I’m not sure if this was a sign of my closeness to this particular family, or his abhorrence of slouching. All I can say is that his own kids had excellent posture.

My current style of yoga, which manages to be both speedy and desultory at once, does not do that much to relieve the natural compression of my spine.    (Part of the problem is that standing up straight takes not just flexibility but strength and attention and speed yoga tends to sidestep these.)  That said, the one yoga posture that I find almost instantly makes me straighter, taller, perkier, is a handstand.  They are just wonderful – for the inside of the solar plexus as well as the out;  they seem to literally take a weight off of your chest; they illuminate the momentary lightness of being.

Unfortunately, I don’t do enough of them.  In my home yoga practice, they rely upon the shutting of a particular door—this requires moving my voluminous yoga mats, taking down the Robert Pattinson calendar which hangs about the place my feet reach, and then too, the Tibetan Thangka which some embarrassed family member has hung over the Robert Pattinson calendar.   This is a laborious operation, which does not fit into my daily speed yoga routine.

I could try some handstands in the middle of the floor or on another wall, but you’d be surprised (i) how intimidating it can be do to a handstand in the middle of the floor—when you are afraid of falling, it’s very hard to kick up; and (ii) how hard it is to find good wall and kicking space in the average New York City apartment.

So right now I’m in Florida.  By the beach.  At my parents’ house.  I tend to take a break from yoga practice at my parents’ – partly because I am pre-occupied and partly because I don’t like doing yoga indoors in airconditioning, or outside on a concrete patio.  The beach is also not great –too sunny, too uneven.

But today, my spine just couldn’t take it anymore.   I cartwheeled in the surf.  Then, despite the lack of wall, I kicked up into numerous sort-of handstands.  (A manic nature and extreme short-sightedness are very useful in these endeavors.  It ‘s kind of a variation on the possible silence of a tree falling in the deserted forest—if you can’t see the people looking at you, is that truly the sound of snickering? )

For a few brief moments, I could feel my solar plexus bloom like a flower on high-speed film, my spine correspondingly straighten.

I’m sure there are gym exercises that give this same feeling of upper back strength.  Push-ups?  Bench-presses?  But I am afraid that all I could bench press would be an empty iron pole, which would be kind of, you know, ignominious, while a handstand—a handstand—has a both inner and outer glory.  With or without a wall.   Or watchers.