Thursday, October 11, 2007

Horace Phair


To everyone concerned - we are running anywhere from 2 hours to 6 days late, as usual.

Ashland, thank you for the slightly scary motel and the fantastic heart attack breakfast. Also tea. Also snow on ridges. In October.


The way to go from the tea house to the saluthaus is - turn left out of driveway. Go 9 miles east on route 113. turn left onto I-5. Drive 700 miles north. (Do not stop for the boatgirls.) Turn right. Go in a spiral towards the saluthaus until you are there, and park.

Tracy and Peter, you rock my socks off, as always. I get to your house, and I simultaneously want to talk, drink tea, juggle, and fall asleep on the couch. This is a good thing. One of these days we are actually going to arrive, and NOT leave again for weeks, like we always threaten to. We will, however, arrive with boxes of food. This is also a good thing.

Crowd in General - sorry for running away when we first arrived, we had Crowdy Shyness, which we soon overcame.

Oak trees in the park - thanks for the acorns. I don't know what's happening with you, but I'm guessing it's going to be a hard winter. We appreciate your letting us know.

Horse chestnuts - thank you also, for being cool in pockets and not sneaky being thrown at people. Mostly. I was never there.

Walter and QXZ, Great to see you again, Valtah. Yes, you can interview us anytime, and we both promise that we won't be drunk the entire time. Only part. Also, we might get a visit from the saluthaus contingent in February, so if you need sunshine, that might be the time to do it. QXZ, you are a peach. It's wierd and cool to "meet" someone I feel like I've known for at least five years. We have a place saved for you in the Everything, Kansas Mansion of Doom. Or a yurt, if you are an antisocial type, take your pick.

panamaus, You're my wife now, Dave. Although that was quite the smooch you laid on me when we first arrived - are you sure there's something you're not telling me? We love you. You is good people, and we will keep you.


ideath, cooking in your kitchen with you is truly great, and I didn't break any knives and/or cast iron pans - and even when my feet stick to the floor. I haven't faced my stripey socks yet. Also I learned some new recipes, and that's the biggest Pot O' Tofu I've ever seen.

I learned some useful things from you -
Making food on Sunday afternoon for lunch for hungry, vaguely hung over noders was a brilliant idea. However, making food on Sunday afternoon that was meant for about six people, and trying to stretch it to feed 18 was not entirely a success. Next time, plan ahead that We Will Be Providing Lunch for all and sundry two hours before the pie party, and cook for a mob. Also, remind me to feed myself, otherwise beer go to head and grundoon get stupid. I highly recommend sign up sheets.

Cronfrom, why has it taken us five frickin' years to play some music together? We, jointly, suck. When you come down in February, we will invite all the local plunkers to horrify you with our caconophy.

Ouroboros, despite your being descended from the Borgias, this time you FAILED to poison me, although you might have succeeded without the incredibly effective chaperonage of a nine-year-old. She was going to keep me in line, Vesper Martinis notwithstanding. Also, Gin Fizzes rock, more please.

Mitzi, huge apologies, I did not read your letter aloud. I have forwarded on to the people you mentioned, and will be happy to give it to anyone else. It was a HUGE party...we arrived late on Saturday, and had to leave early because Tess was scared of the loud drunk guys on the porch...and there was no great time for reading aloud. The dog ate my homework. Forgive. I will do better next time.

Musicians of the Creaking Planks, blessings on your firstborn(s). It was great to jam with all of you, and John, you are the first person ever to have guitar envy over my guitar. Send me your email address, and I'll tell you the story and where you can get one. Rowan, I wish I knew an accordion player locally, and next time I come to Vancouver I will come and bug you to play more music with me. The whole concept of seven instruments that were never meant to be played together is most excellent. Some afro-celtic-klezmer-zappa fusion, anyone?

Pornwatchers on the living room futon - You suck. Seriously. Next time, please think about your unintended, unwilling, uninterested, and/or underage audience. I'm all for sex positive, and all that, but I also REALLY don't want to explain a blue video to a nine year old. At least have enough sense to go into another room, where I, for one, do not have to walk past your screen to get to another room. Really, people, show some sense. If any of you ever have kids, I will seriously send them creepy shit anonymously in the mail.

You really pissed me off. Huge, groveling apologies will only be accepted if accompanied by boxes of chocolate, roses, and booze.

Notes to self -

Noders listen more carefully to announcements made when I am wielding a large, sharp kitchen knife. They also listen more carefully when I am making an announcement about food or booze. Remember this for future gatherings.

Also, people seem more willing to volunteer for dish-doing when I am knife-wielding. I have no idea why this is so, but those of you who washed up, many times, you are the glorious grease of all well-oiled party machines, and I will save multiple blessings for your numerous offspring. I will also continue to cook for you, as long as you do the washing up.


Tracyfab and Peter, you were the antidote to Icky Hotel Syndrome, and made us all human again. Paladin is definitely gay, sorry, Peter. Is it always this dangerous? We love you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The bed is in the ocean

I have a child, a girlchild, who is somewhat highly strung. (I hear my own mother's voice in the background, saying, wryly, like her mother. )

Granted, I think Tess has been through a lot of life experience that most nine-year-olds probably can't lay claim to, both positive and negative.

I was 16 the first time I ever rode in an airplane; Tess was 9 - as in 9 days. Like pease porridge hot. She was still a tootsie roll, wrapped in a blanket, when we all took a little Cessna on a short hop from Port Townsend, Washington, to Roche Harbor on Suan Juan Island. She has since flown constantly, shuttling around amongst her large extended family.

Tess has all the advantages and disadvantages of a modern American child, born to older parents. She has a ridiculous amount of stuff, being the only grandchild of a large doting Chinese American family on one side, and a large doting Yankee family on the other. She doesn't have to suffer a lot of frustration - she often has more than enough people around to solve most difficulties for her. But I have to say most, not all.

Tess has also been through more life-changing events than many adults I know. She lost her maternal grandmother to ovarian cancer before she was two. She doesn't remember Helen. She lost one of her favorite aunties, my darling sister-out-law, when she was six. To ovarian cancer. That, she was old enough to remember.

Most recently, she lost her other grandmother. To leukemia. You are starting to see the pattern, here, I think. And has suffered through seeing her mother getting treatment for breast cancer.

Keep in mind that everyone Tess had ever seen "get" cancer, before me, had croaked. She has always been an only child - I'm it, as far as she's concerned. There was a long time when "family" meant she and I. Team grundoon, the buck stops here.

She is close to her birth dad, emotionally, but he lives several states away. She also is very close, now, to her stepfather, but initially, we were all making it up as we went along. Kevin leapt into the fray at the beginning of my cancer treatment, and never looked back. We all got through it as best we could, but they truly forged a relationship during a state of emergency.

Additionally, over the course of my cancer treatment, in addition to the new stepfather, we moved, changed schools, dealt with immigration, etc. etc. ad nauseum. This is a ridiculously high level of disruption, and stress for anyone, much less a seven year old.

And the most amazing thing was to see how resilient she was. She surfed stressland like an old hand. No problems in school, tight with a number of close friends, no real visible signs of stress -except one.

Sleep. Or lack thereof.

There was a period of about three months where she almost never slept through the night. She would come in, often sobbing, at any hour, unable to go back to sleep by herself.

It took us several months to parse the problem. She presented it as nightmares - she was scared of something awful happening, and this morphed over time. Fires, monsters, someone coming in to kill her, you name it. But after much discussion, we realized that she was asctually coming in the check on me - the inverted equivalent of a parent worrying about SIDS.

During Sue's treatment for ovarian cancer, no one in Bob's extended family ever discussed that Sue might not get well. Bob's family is very prone to putting the best face on things, and in many cases I have no objection to this.

But look at if from a 6 year old's point of view. She saw her aunt on Sunday, and she was still in treatment. I spoke to Bob on Monday about hospice care, and this was the first time anyone on his side of the family admitted that she was not going to get better. I didn't manage to explain any of this to Tess.

Susan died on Thursday. Tessie's experience? People with cancer can be just fine on Sunday, and then be dead by Friday.

No wonder the poor lamb was coming in to check on me.

Since then, we have talked a GREAT deal about cancer, and death, and what it would mean if I got cancer again. Aaaand, she still has trouble falling asleep at night.

I took a page from Jessica Pierce's book, and she and I have jointly designed a garden, that is the safe place she can go to in her imagination when she starts to think scary thoughts. It has a round house in the center. It has a tree house. It has an elephant with a palanquin that she "designed" for me, and horses, monkeys, actually quite a large menagerie.

And her bed is in the ocean.

I've attempted to teach her any number of relaxation techniques - but falling asleep has that wierd zen effortless effort quality, where you have to focus your thoughts enough to avoid the scary stuff, but no so much that you can't fall asleep. By far the most successful one has been to get her to breathe with the waves.

I tell her to breathe in slowly, and then as she breathes out, to make the shhhhh sound that waves make when they back down the sand. The sound helps, imaging a rocking boat helps, focussing on her breathing helps.

And the bed is in the ocean.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dear Title 9 Sports,

I am a 43 year old woman/triathlete/writer and I'm just coming back to training after breast cancer treatment. I'm re-starting my training for the Wildflower triathlon and possibly the Mt. Shasta climb for the cure...and I NEED HELP. I need a jogbra that will hold a prosthetic comfortably (emphasis on comfortably), and a swimsuit that I can actually SWIM in. (Please do not tell me about Land's End. Yes, they make the only reasonably priced mastectomy suits in the US, but I do not want a granny suit for a triathlon, thank you very much anyhow.)

The modifications for a mastectomy suit top and bra are relatively simple and cheap, and I'm desperate. If you don't have one, will you please make them? I will glady volunteer to be your guinea pig/poster girl/bikini model/janitor for post-breast cancer female athletes. I swear if you do it there will be an audience for the products. One in seven women. One in four new cases of breast cancer are women 30-40 years old. We are everywhere, more than you know. Even one swimsuit top and one jogbra, I promise.

Thank you so much. Eagerly awaiting your response,


Thursday, August 16, 2007

An early promotion to crone

Dear you,

Why is it so difficult to pick up writing when we've been away from it for a while? There are times that words seem to flow out endlessly, that I can't find enough hours in the day to put pen to paper (or less romantically, fingers to keyboard). And then there are days, weeks, months, when the spring dries up, and when confronted with that endless blank white paper, I run screaming. I knit, I draw, I cook, I arrange the sliced tomatoes beautifully on the plate, fresh basil, green olive oil and brown vinegar, but I have no words.

In Something in Season, Brendon talks about the fallow time for writing - perhaps we all need a winter, for the overtaxed soil of our wordminds to just absorb the world around us, but not attempt to put anything out. People ask me why Jim's salad is so good - my answer is often that his farm has been organic for over 30 years. The soil is happy, which I realize is ridiculous anthropomorphism. But places always have a tangible feeling to me - happy, dry, ancient, fierce. One of the reasons I love walking around on the Laurentian shield - this ancient piece of rock, even the trees seem young when compared to the bare rock bones of the earth where they emerge.

I know, I know, I'm hopping all over the place. One of the hazards of not writing for a while, I have too many loose and feathery ideas floating around in my head, and they are all interconnected, but I have trouble sticking with one theme.

Have you noticed that even though it's still summer, it's a new season? Remember, my year has five - summer is ending, harvest season has begun. That sneaky tang in the air, the promise of crisp apples and cooler nights.

So how am I going to connect a fallow wordmind, overtaxed soil, and the granite underneath the great lakes? I'm probably not - I know you will fill in the interstices.

It's odd being a cancer survivor. There was a time that I literally felt as though I was most of the way on the other side of the veil. I know it sounds odd, but there were times that I felt closer to dead than alive.

There was a day I remember, in the middle of chemotherapy. We were visiting friends up in the Capay Valley, enjoying their new pool. Wertperch and the imp were cavorting in the pool... I was looking out from the porch. I couldn't have been more than 100 feet away. But it was as though there was a scrim in between us. I stood there, unable to walk the distance to the pool, and I wondered to myself if I would ever get to be alive again, like they were.

This is the walking death of cancer treatment. The euphemism is "quality of life", but you know what I mean. The treatment kills you part of the way, just hopefully not all of the way.

It's only within the last few months that I realize that I have come back to the living. I was down visiting a very old friend, Therese. (Our Tess is named for her.) Well, visiting might not be the right word. She was at the beginning of an extremely hard labor, which eventually produced the fabulous Eigel Marcus, but that's another story.

Her house is perched on a steep hillside in Berkeley, and cell phones don't like it. I had walked upstairs and outside to give wertperch an update, and it was a gorgeous Berkeley day - it had been kiln hot in Davis, but Berkeley has perfect summers - seventy, clear, breezy. I leaned back and closed my eyes, soaking in the sun and the wind fingers caressing my face and arms. After I was done on the phone, I just sat there, pure lizard on a rock pleasure. And I realized, my friend, that this was the first time I had just felt good to be in my body in as long as I can remember.

This might sound small or trivial - it is not. Cancer is a breeze - it's the treatment that feels like hell. I had staggered along for long with side effects, and side effects of the side effects, that it was a real revelation to just feel…normal. I had gotten used to things like, oh, yes, you have fibrosis in your shoulder from the radiation, and did you know that you are going to be more prone to carpal tunnel in your right wrist, because of lymphedema? No, and I wish someone had told me this before I began a marathon drafting session that made my hand swell up like a balloon.

The difference between health and not-health ...'ease and dis-ease', if you will... is fairly subjective. I'm starting to whomp this excuse for a body back into shape - swimming and tromping around barefoot in the woods helps.

But I also understand the urge to leave the body behind that must come to everyone at a certain point during this sort of treatment. Robertson Davies refers to the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. At some point it's not only that, but the foul rag and bone shop that makes up a body, that is this organic miasma that still takes breath and weeps and loves, and that I longed to leave behind. It's burned and scarred and sliced to pieces, yes, I'll confess, I am a witch, please drown me!

On the other hand, and this is where I was convolutedly leading to, I've had this early promotion to crone. Chemotherapy mostly put paid to menses, and tamoxifen has shorted it out the rest of the way. So I get to be a crone, at 43.

Granted, you know that any woman worth her salt is all three: mother, maiden and crone, but there are certain benefits to cronedom that mothers don't seem to get to share. Name me a female archetype that gets to have a trickster side. Crones are much more likely to have a Coyote aspect than moms. Young girls can have a trickster element (Pippi Longstocking, say), but not "matrons" (and isn't THAT an awful word?). I get to be wise and scary and eccentric and fierce and witchy instead of only nurturing and charming and mothery. Kevin has always been perfectly aware of my witchy side, but it seems to be becoming more visible. I don't remember 10 years ago wanting to be slightly scary - now I understand where that scary old lady thing comes from. It's FUN to be the witch next door.