Month: October 2008

10.31.08 elective


10.29.08 reform

I tried to watch the thirty minute political advertisement but only lasted ten minutes or so before I started to exclaim things like which motherfucking assholes thought NAFTA was a good plan, huh? HUH?

Byron said Walk away from the tv, Bee! Just walk away!

I replied It isn’t tv, it is youtube!

The Democratic candidate certainly gets credit for, well, not being in office back then. But I find it infuriating that the Democrats are using anti-globalization rhetoric to win the race. Just sayin’.

Of course I am also such a wingnut I haven’t been able to watch any appreciable amount of television since the Oklahoma City bombing, so I took the advice and stomped off, still muttering.

I voted weeks ago so there is not much reason for me to pay attention until election night, but my take on what I watched is summed up with Well, duh.

Reform is around the corner, but it will be a tepid centrist variety. This is nice (I’m a bureaucrat by temperament and training) but hardly revolutionary or even surprising. My only real hope is for core changes in the health care industry (like, for instance, disconnecting it from the concept of profit), but those childish dreams died long ago.

I’m actually much more thrilled by super tasty Washington ballot items like assisted suicide, extending the lightrail, earthquake-proofing the Pike Place Market, and a furiously tight gubernatorial race.


10.28.08 birthday

October of 1996 found me languishing on my side in a hospital bed that had been my home for five weeks, following five whole months on medically mandated home bedrest.

That particular afternoon featured a massive hemorrhage, then an emergency abdominal surgery performed without sufficient anesthesia. The objective was to save my life, and maybe another.

I passed out but eyewitness accounts attest to the lavish loss of blood, splattered across all attending medical staff, bystanders, the floor.

When I woke up I was surprised to find the infant snatched from my belly had also survived – gasping for breath, born too soon, encumbered with too many names because it was all way too much to cope with – but still, alive.

When I took him home from the hospital he was twenty-two inches long and weighed five pounds.

Now that sad little waif of a baby is nearly my height, an autonomous brilliant person just as likely to put on a puppet show as launch conversations about Descartes.

The last week has been a nonstop celebration in honor of the boy, including sushi dinners, tickets for plays and a circus, a trip to London to see the King’s Privy Wardrobe, with random detours for The 39 Steps and Ripley’s, cake, laughter, love.

I’m not allowed to post current photographs but here he is in a younger incarnation – Barcelona 2006:



10.22.08 decadent

The news from the states has been remarkably dismal, and as a consequence I’ve lately been afflicted with Appropriate Timely Emotions.

To the extent that if you were at the Arts Picturehouse last night you could have spied me sitting in the middle of a crowd of strangers crying.

That kind of thing never happens.

Back to regular programming: tomorrow I’m off to London to wallow in decadent debauchery, and really, that is the best possible option for distraction, no matter how backwards the solution sounds.

Even reclusive, suspicious, obsessive people like me need a break sometimes.

Plus, my idea of decadence often involves, aside from the mandatory drunken literary salon thing, wholesome excursions to English Heritage monuments.


10.21.08 faith

I’ve pretty much forgotten not only the experiences described but also the text of Lessons in Taxidermy. One of the only bits I remember clearly is the fact that, in real life and the book, nearly all of our vast network of friends and family abandoned us in the midst of my medical problems.

People are prone to grief fatigue; it happens. Particularly when you are confronted with someone like me, who remains dismally sick for years and decades, the attrition rate of support is predictable.

Last month I heard that someone back home had entered hospice, and I sat in the market square crying as I wrote a letter thanking her for being a nice person and good friend.

This woman was singular in remaining a stalwart friend through the crisis, to the extent that she donated her annual leave so my mother could spend at least a few precious days in the hospital with me. She conscientiously, persistently showed up, sent flowers, invited us for dinner, took my mother to lunch and tried to make her laugh. She even responded to my teen pregnancy with a gentle, sweet benevolence and interest rather than the much more common horror and scorn.

This was a byproduct of her religious faith but she did not proselytize – she just acted in a decent, plain way to take care of people who needed tending.

Yesterday I received a reply to my letter in her careful penmanship, and could not bring myself to open the envelope. Hours later my mother sent email reporting that our old friend passed away.

I’m thinking about her husband and son, and wish that I could somehow do more.


10.16.08 displacement

Today Dani called to say that she is visiting Exeter, which reminds her of Evergreen except populated entirely by Paris Hilton clones.

Now that is a mental image!

She will be in the UK long enough I can almost certainly arrange a visit, even if I have to take trains to exotic destinations like Brighton. Hurray!

The phone call kicked off an afternoon remembering things like the night lots of Chorus members congregated at the Jockey Club (grubby dive bar in North Portland later demolished) to play Truth or Dare, and Byron made out with a taxidermied moose, someone stripped, and the smoking hot ambiguously gendered bartender kept throwing down shots, then danced on our table.

When the bar closed we staggered a few blocks to the house where Ana Helena lived and she cooked a feast of corn tortillas with cheese and salsa verde over an open flame.

I don’t think Dani was around that particular night, but now she lives in Italy – the closest person in geographic terms offering a connection with those times, except when Ana Helena intermittently shows up in Barcelona.

There are dozens of additional NW friends I would dearly love to spend more time with, but only a small number have remained in the old haunts. I was not the first to hit the road. One of the significant features of my homesickness is the knowledge that even if I went back to the same exact place, it would not be the same experience.

My kid laments his displacement in extravagant, exquisite language. I listen and offer comfort but it always seems that, while he truly misses the place, what he is grieving is not the loss of a community or homeland but rather, the end of his infancy.

I completely agree.

Portland, 2000:



10.13.08 landscapes

The family member recovering from heart surgery has made huge progress, though he is now dealing with the complications of a blood clot.

I’ve been sad for him and fretful because I am too far away to be of any practical assistance.

This morning somewhere before dawn my internal alarm bells started up a mighty clanging and I was worried that there might have been a change for the worse, so I hustled to check email, only to find that a different faraway family member is in the hospital with chest pain.

Marisa’s Holiday Motel album, and the pain intensifies to a nearly intolerable level. The songs evoke recognizable landscapes – Portland, Swan Island, crowded bars and romantic drama, the stages we’ve shared, the long empty roads of the west, an ICU waiting room where we sat together waiting to hear if Stevie would survive.

Marisa is one of the rare people I can turn to for comfort, but with an ocean and two continents separating us I’m left listening to a recording of her voice singing I won’t follow any road signs, won’t look at any maps.

It is impossible to go back, or forward; life has to be lived in the present. The medical misadventures of my stateside relatives, my own experiences here with the NHS, and the worldwide banking crisis underscore the reasons why I moved away.

The principle that time heals all pain is valid, and I have recovered from every messy wound regardless of circumstance. The good things – the ability to take risks, wander, love, leave – have proved much more difficult.

I miss my friends and family more as the years pass – a hopeless, dreadful heartache that never mends.


10.10.08 elective

As a general rule I forget to eat while working, subsisting on cinnamon jelly beans and pistachio nuts with the occasional can of soup. But sometimes those provisions run out and I have to brave the mid-day tourist-infested city to buy food.

Today was that kind of day, and I reluctantly put down my pen to venture forth to the M&S at the Grafton Centre, on the principle that it would be less crowded than other options while offering all the items I desired.

While shopping I was mostly distracted by irritations like the fact that packages of raspberries of the same size and price were from either England or the United States.

This would be exactly why I normally shop at the farm store, relying on them to sort out what is local and fresh. I’m not any adequate kind of environmentalist, but come on – you do have to have some standards in this life.

Today speed was necessary so I picked up a simple medium sized salad, two small packets of localish (I’ve at least been to Kent) berries, two bottles of water, and a newspaper.

When the clerk rang up these selections my mouth literally dropped open with shock over the total: eleven pounds.

This is fully one third more than I would have been charged a few months ago for the identical items.

My idiosyncratic habits mean that I have mostly been isolated from price fluctuations in food since the economic meltdown started, though I have read about it. Yes, bread costs more, but I make most of my food from scratch, and stick to simple menus. Or I eat out. Significantly, what I paid for my spartan (albeit pre-packaged) lunch was more than I would pay for a noon meal at a chain like Wagamama. Even with a glass of wine.

I have noticed the increase in heating costs, and that it is simply more difficult to get fuel, though I do not drive so that has been a minor concern. Rising airline costs might have worried me, if I could travel. I had trouble rounding up money to deal with necessary repairs on the house Gabriel rents from me in the states and had to sell stuff to raise the cash, but that can be attributed to my own paralytic fear of debt.

Other than that, the spiraling economic crisis has had no direct impact on my life, because I predicted it would happen and have strategically divested myself of everything, before anyone could snatch it away.

Beyond that I do not expect to live long enough to retire, so I don’t need pension accounts. I’m not willing to put money in education accounts since I paid my own way through school and feel my offspring should also have a work ethic.

I sold the last of my high tech stocks about ten seconds before the market dropped. Not for a huge profit, just for enough money to fix a perilous staircase and paint the bathroom of a house I haven’t lived in for over six years that might be considered an investment of sorts if I charged market rent. But I’m not that person – I subsidize the people who live there because they are friends.

Canny? No. Paranoid is more like it – though I can’t really help it since the grandparents who helped raise me lived through the deprivations of the Great Depression and inculcated their values. I was taught to work hard and take care of the people I love, but there was never any aspiration for more than basic subsistence.

I also studied economics as a mandatory subject in a public administration program, and came of age during such a grim time the speaker at my graduation ceremony warned us we would never get jobs. The (student selected!) theme when I finished grad school was You want flies with that? – a jest on the concept that we wold all end up working the counter at a burger joint.

Despite my avowed adult commitment to ascetic poverty I have always had a natural sense for money, buying and selling cars and houses and ephemera at huge profits, jumping in and out of jobs or homelands or marriages with some kind of strange instinct for survival.

I have a rare genetic disorder and corresponding need to be fiscally stable to stay alive, more than many of my peers, and it takes real effort to piece together all of the subtle clues to know exactly how to achieve that state.

My obsessive newspaper reading habit has not been this bad since the early eighties, when I was a notorious and frequent contributor to the letters to the editor section of my hometown newspaper. (Back then I was probably most worried about the fact that I was, oh, dying and all, but I sublimated my fears with a campaign of criticism that saw me published, and the subject of two feature stories, before age thirteen.)

The news this week from the financial sector has been so hugely historic I can’t even begin to address it – nor can most of the press, reeling along with our assorted politicians. The fact that the crisis will have a decisive impact on the U.S. election is of course rather thrilling: I pessimistically predicted the Democrats would not secure an electoral college majority, but now I think it will be a victory in their favor and a true mandate for change.

Otherwise, the news has been horribly frightening.

Many issues that would normally be front page are being shuffled to auxiliary sections of the papers, and this is dangerous. I never read the sports pages until I use them to light a fire but I could not ignore the headline Olympic village in line for 1 billion pound taxpayer bail-out.

Apparently they were relying on private banks and developers to ante up, then make a profit later to justify the expense. As one did, before the autumn of 2008.

This is the reality of supply side trickle-down economics – all of those public private partnerships so favored under not just Tory or Republican but also New Labour and New Democrat administrations?

Watch em crash and burn. If payment is not compulsory, it will not be made.

There was a point in nationalizing industries and investing public funds in public infrastructure, not least normalizing and forcing minimum standards of service.┬áToday we have news that numerous UK agencies, from children’s hospices to regional governments to universities to fire fighter retirement funds, put their money in accounts held by banks that just failed in Iceland. In other words, we have a big fucking mess to sort out.

The prime minister responded that he is willing to use anti-terrorism legislation to address this appalling yet, let us be clear, elective disaster.

Really? Is that why the laws were devised? Even my cynical sad little brain had hoped for better, on so many levels.

I’ve managed through excessive and semi-obscene effort to protect myself, at least for a little while. Lots of my friends and family have not, regardless of class, culture, country, education, inclination, intelligence. Most people I know work hard for admirable, basic, and rational reasons – to raise or care for family members, live decently, have a little fun.

None of us deserve the consequences of a systemic and predictable economic failure, though we will be the ones to pay.


10.06.08 invisible

I have zero interest in the academic schedule but I know the students are back because, once again, there is no bread anywhere in the city.

During my search I stopped at the farm store and was completely delighted to find that after a recent chat they are now stocking not only kale but also fresh ginger and coconut milk. If they get bread back in I’ll never have to go anywhere else for food!

Though when I trundled over to Bacchanalia for water I mentioned this and the fellow at the counter said he already knew because I came up in conversation the last time he was over there.

Oh no!

Remember, I’m used to being invisible.

I do not like the new phenomenon of people talking to me, let alone talking about me.

Whatever now? I already had to bribe someone to go to the dry cleaner this week. I can’t outsource vegetable shopping!

10.05.08 chic

For the most part I ignore my own dreary medical drama. There isn’t enough time in life to accommodate all the good stuff: adventure, travel, friends, love, lunacy.

This does not mean that I am exempt from fear and grief. I just save it up until the crisis has passed.

Riding the bus back to the city centre after my appointment, I could feel my heart racing, see my hands shaking.

Since I didn’t have my bicycle I could not literally ride away on a wave of anxiety, so I did the next best thing – talked to a friend who mocked me into a reasonably calm state.

Then I went searching for gifts for new babies, sweet boys, sick relatives.

At the toy store I queued up clutching a Playmobil figure without paying too much attention to my surroundings.

Apparently I had accidentally dropped in on a fashion conversation because the woman at the counter gestured and said Now this lady is chic.

I stared about in amazement since you would never normally see such a creature in this town but she was pointing at me.

Huh? What? I’m no lady (fill in your own vaudeville joke here) and my tattered sartorial state does not equate with ‘chic’ even on a good day.

I was not having a good day.

Though I have a special leftover childhood reserve of anxiety over what to wear to visit the doctor, this has in the last few years mainly translated to concepts like wear clean clothes that cover the tattoo.

And that was the extent of my effort to prepare for the cursed cancer tests. Head to toe description: tangled unkempt hair, dark sunglasses, black wool scarf, demented and very wrong green plaid blazer over black jumper, black skirt, threadbare and slightly torn black tights, ugly black orthopedic shoes. Covering a body ravaged by disease and figure not even remotely popular in this century or my lifetime.

The only possible explanation for why this reads as stylish is the way I hold myself, and I will admit that I am bold and dismissive. I don’t know or care what anyone thinks of the way I look even if they shout it in my face – whether a criticism or compliment, I am immune. The only reason I noticed this particular exchange? I was in a toy store in Cambridge England.

These things do not happen here.


10.03.08 sorted

If I had been truly worried about breast cancer I would have raised all holy hell to get an earlier appointment, but my hunch (despite significant symptoms and family history) was that it would simply be too absurd to have yet another diagnosis.

This belief carried me across town and into an examination room where a very kind woman poked and prodded at the suspect tissue.

I was expecting her to take a look and send me home. Instead, she pulled out a pen and drew a big red circle on my body, telling me that a mammogram would be “offered.” Immediately.

We had a short and concise discussion about the radiation risks, during which she informed me that there is no funding for MRI testing for breast cancer screening in this NHS trust no matter what my geneticist recommends.

Opting out of testing altogether was not on offer.

I walked out to the lobby in a haze of confusion – before that moment I had been intermittently dismayed, concerned, and angry, but I had not experienced fear.

There was no time to indulge in terror because I was called to the xray suite almost immediately.

Having a stranger wrangle your breasts into position to be squeezed by a machine is certainly not the most pleasant experience but halfway through I said in amazement This is easy! I have way worse tests all the time!

The technician replied You are the first person who has ever said that.

Then she told me that I needed an ultrasound.

Here is a significant difference between the states and the UK – each of these component tests back home would be scheduled with days or even weeks between, and cost an enormous amount of money.

This morning I trundled from room to room with the big red circle defining danger as the experts sorted it out – for free.

Reclining half naked waiting for the sonogram to commence I told the story of how, freshly diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I was totally psyched to hear that my first ever ultrasound proved I could not have needle aspiration. Why? Because I had a paranoid fear of needles.

I was eleven years old and had no relative clue that surgery was in fact much more painful and scary. Let alone that the diagnosis they were developing included the word terminal..

Life, death, whatever – I was just a little kid, even if I didn’t know it at the time.

Many people have fond recollections related to ultrasound, because that is often their first glimpse of a beloved baby. Me? It is all about tracking diseased ovaries, failing kidneys, scar tissue strangling organs, decay, rot. Even the tests performed during my confinements (and I use the term deliberately since both pregnancies were conducted almost entirely on medically ordered bedrest) were mostly about answering questions like – is the spine growing inside or outside?

This morning, one arm behind my head, I watched the screen as the technician dragged the magic wand back and forth to evaluate irregularity and viscosity.

We stared silently and shared the knowledge – all clear.

It is official. I do not have breast cancer – or rather, I do not have breast cancer today.


10.02.08 pragmatic

Last night I had dinner with two fellow cancer kids and one person who has a chronic life-threatening illness.

The relief I feel in these situations is enormous – I never censor my conversation, but it can be tiresome to deal with the emotional reactions of healthy people when the macabre and hilarious anecdotes slip out.

Tomorrow is the big appointment with the Breast Clinic and I am reacting in a predictable way: bickering with a friend over whether or not I need an escort. I say no but the consensus amongst those who know me in real life is that I may well bolt rather than attend.


On a related topic, I’ve been obsessively watching the economic news and have developed an urgent desire to move to Ireland or Luxembourg or one of the countries making sensible efforts to guarantee financial institutions.

This follows my instinct over the last few years to cancel all of my credit cards, pay off the student loans, close my bank accounts, and take up residence in a country with socialized medicine.

I spend every cent I earn immediately, or give it away.

I have no assets, no pension, I own precisely nothing of value – for purely pragmatic reasons.

I remember the brutal experience of selling off the family homestead to pay for grandpa to enter a nursing home. I remember my great-grandma living in a shoddy metal trailer at age 99 because anything nicer would mean losing her government aid, after a lifetime of hard work and decency.

I know exactly what my childhood illness cost, even with insurance, and I was mortified to watch my parents lose everything as they worked double and triple time to pay my medical bills.

If I get sick again (and the news might arrive as early as 10am tomorrow) I would rather be proactively indigent than watch my family spiral into bankruptcy to care for me as I die.

Eminently sensible, yes, but also tremendously frightening. What a waste of resources – I would be a diligent earner and saver if only I felt safe.