January 13: Context
Once there was a time when Friday the Thirteen was major news. Bad things might happen. Beware. Black cats. Ladders. Stock market jitters. All because of the frivolous association of a number and a day of the week.
This past week as I took my noontime walk, I found myself head-singing that Country Joe MacDonald song from the sixties: “And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don't tell me, I don't give a damn. Next stop, Vietnam.”
Why? What was the context? Lost youth? Catchy tune? Flippant reaction to the current war quagmire? Self-convincing reinforcement for not giving a damn? Should I call a friend? Ask a blogger?
I've noticed that most blogs are long on events and short on analysis. We know what lots of people do and think, the data of lives, but we rarely know why. For most, reflection has been left to the full moon.
One GOOD thing about the Vietnam war: I increased my vocabulary with the word “quagmire.” Indeed, it's been a useful word all these years. Oh! “BLOG” is just one letter away from “BOG.” What the L....
January 19: When was 9/11?
NEW ORLEANS (Jan. 19) - More than 3,200 people are officially still unaccounted for nearly five months after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast...
Fewer than 3,000 people died in the Twin Towers in NYC.
February 4: The New Memoir
I hear James Frey went to Nan Talese with A Million Little Pieces. Talese says, "It's good, Mr. Frey, but it won't sell as fiction. Let's publish this as a memoir. It can sell if people think it's real. And besides, that's what I do." "But it's fiction," says Frey. "It's not true." "Everything's fiction," says Talese. "What's truth? You want to get published, don't you?"
What would Oprah do?
Nan Talese is a Senior Vice President of Doubleday and the Publisher and Editorial Director of her own imprint: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. Mrs. Talese is married to author Gay Talese, who is said to have created an inventive form of nonfiction writing called "The New Journalism."
In a Hewlett-Packard print ad I saw in The New Yorker, Richard Avedon's self-portrait is titled THIS PHOTOGRAPH IS NOT TRUE. "A portrait is not a likeness," says Avedon. "The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth."
The writer wants to be read. The publisher wants to make a profit. The television host believes in capitalism, but also the resultant freedom truth brings. Such a complicated tv host, Oprah is.
Oh, I just made up that bit between Talese and Frey. It could have happened, though. Makes for a good story. Like a memoir. The memoir as photograph. Accurate for the purposes of publication, but not true.
February 17: Fact or Fiction?
"...although I could see the upper part of his body when -- I didn't see it at the time I shot, until after I'd fired. And the sun was directly behind him -- that affected the vision, too, I'm sure."1
"...I could feel my temples swelling under the impact of the light. It pressed itself on me, trying to check my progress, I gritted my teeth, I clenched my fists in my trouser pockets and keyed up every nerve to fend off the sun and the dark befuddlement it was pouring into me....The trigger gave, and the smooth underbelly of the butt jogged my palm. And so, with that crisp, whipcrack sound, it all began....Did I regret what I had done? After thinking a bit, I said that what I felt was less regret than a kind of vexation....I tried to explain that it was because of the sun, but I spoke too quickly and ran my words into each other. I was only too conscious that it sounded nonsensical, and, in fact, I heard people tittering."2
1 Richard B. Cheney, Vice President of the United States of America, February 15, 2006 (Interview by Brit Hume, FOX News)
2Meursault, The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942), translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert (1946)
March 1: Conditional Florida
St. Augustine, Florida. The nation's oldest city. Spaniards with metal hats are sketched in my memory as they were in my elementary school textbook. The Fountain of Youth had no interest to me at 10. Yesterday I sought it out.
When you visit the González-Alvarez House, called the “oldest house,” the guide tells you that the structure dates to the early 1700s, which to a Yankee is considered modern. Because of the mild climate, Florida's early houses were not as heartily constructed as dwellings in New England. One would think that America's oldest city would have America's oldest house, but the González-Alvarez House is the oldest surviving Spanish Colonial dwelling in Florida -- not really the oldest house, but the site has been occupied since the 1600s.
Historic Bok Sanctuary, another National Historic Landmark, claims to be Florida's highest point -- well, not really all of Florida, but the highest point on peninsular Florida. The highest point in Florida is actually Britton Hill, Lakewood Park in Walton County (only 345 feet above sea level). Britton Hill is named for the retired postmistress of the Lakewood.
This conditional thinking was unexpected and permeated the entire trip to Florida. Was this really the last exit before toll? Was the time share really property or time shared? Was the chad really hanging?
A state where conditional thinking is the norm -- where everything has its own reality -- may have a slight problem dealing with reality.
April 10: Louise Hourrigan, 81, a painter and garden designer
Last Friday we left at 5am to drive to Bethesda Naval Hospital. Louise Hourrigan, 81, a painter and garden designer, had requested to see me, had requested that I shop at the new Wegman's supermarket, had requested that I cook her dinner on Saturday night. She told the whole hospital. We released her from the hospital, promising the social workers that we would meet with hospice when we got her home.
She was happy to be home. We talked about our trip to Florida and that we thought of her when we went to Historic Bok Sanctuary. “Highest point in Florida,” Jim said. In peninsular Florida we reminded him.
I did all those simple things she requested, and we cooked her a simple dinner of baked salmon, asparagus spears, roasted red potatoes, snow peas, chopped tomato and garlic, and broiled portabello mushrooms. It was a nicely arranged plate, but it was put together by request. I felt there would be more poignant times to delight the artist with luscious food. My head was not on the day, but the trials yet to come.
She, much better than I, could see a bird continuing to land on a branch outside the window to her garden. She more than I had the vision.
On Sunday, the hospice nurse went through her drill. Questions about an oxygen machine put off the signing of the papers until the next day. I flew back home Sunday evening. Early Monday morning, Louise Hourrigan, 81, a painter and garden designer, died, fully aware, not peacefully, but resolutely.
That morning, Garrison Keillor recited this poem, "The Silver Swan" by Anonymous:
The silver swan, who living had no note, When death approached unlocked her silent throat, Leaning her breast against the reedy shore, Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more: Farewell all joys, O death come close mine eyes, More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.
May 1: What do you know?
Today is the birthday of Dr. Benjamin Spock. His child care book was a best-seller during the period after World War II, when parents across America were raising my generation. The first sentence of his book was, “You know more than you think you do.” We were raised on these words.
A very unfortunate start. How do you now tell a deaf generation that they don't know as much as they think they do?
May 2: Horton Foote at 90
You shuffle onto stage Carrying a sense of comfort, ownership, A small book and a grin You begin, reading the one act Intensely, mouthing words from Characters you'd created, while your own Spectacles slip lower and Lower toward the end of your nose. I thought they would fall into your Book as you were so totally involved With the words, with your life's work. In my own world, I saw only your glasses Inching toward the end. I recall All this as I walk into the office Next to mine. Looking up, I don't know Where I Am.
May 8: Mozart, the Master Builder
Everybody's doing Mozart this year, his 250th birthday, and pianist Mitsuko Uchida is no exception. But the pieces she chose for her Union College concert were exceptional.
Mozart wrote Fantasia in C minor and Sonata in C minor separately between 1784-1785. Then he decided they worked together, and that's how they were published in 1785 and how Uchida performed them in 2006.
Mozart noted the completion of an Allegro and Andante movement in 1788, but he was at a total loss for completing the work. He had no final movement. So, what did he do? He punched up an old Rondo he composed in 1786 and tacked it on for the 1790 publication of Piano Sonata in F Major.
Mitsuko Uchida's program has reminded us that perhaps we're too hard on ourselves to conceptualize and carry out any huge project. Life is filled with bits of stuff. Don't be afraid to glue them together.
May 20: On this day in history...
1999: First laser surgery to stop neovascularization in my sinister eye, blinding central vision.
2003: First crown implanted in my lower left jaw, new metal for old.
2006: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the Albany Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky in D major, priceless.
June 6: Vitreous Gel
Vitreous detachment, vitreous floater, sparkles, pulling, moving, breaking up, sticky on my retina, attached, pulling, breaking surface blood vessels (one vessel?) on my one good retina.
Fluorescein angiography, fundus photos, headache, yellow pee, dark images of the eye, no leaking, subretinal safety.
Six years, and there is nothing I can do about it. So many people can make lifestyle changes that will affect their health. I cannot.
I had a $13 credit from last August, so today's visit was only $2.
June 26: Vitreous Gel Redux
A new wavy spot in my good eye. On an Amsler Grid, it's one wavy square, NW of the center dot. So, is the cause subretinal or not? If it's subretinal and neovascularization, then the jig is up. If it's more pulling of the vitreous gel, the surface of the retina is just being torn up again.
My doctor is a character from a Kerouac novel: Dr. Sax. He says that this spot will either get better, get worse, or stay the same. Just like everything else in Life.
June 28: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Today when I got home from work, I tripped over a UPS package from Barnes and Noble. Yay! It was not for me. Boo! I'm 4443 and this package was for 4243. Oh, how far away could that be? One number off.
I changed my clothes, and, with package in hand, began my trek to seek the rightful owner.
One mile later, on the other side of my little town, I found 4243. I rang the doorbell. I rang the bell again. I knocked on the door. A Harry Potter type answered. Does so-in-so live here? Yeah. This package was delivered to 4443. Yeah. So I'm re-delivering it here, okay? Yeah.
Parents: could you please teach your children THANK YOU?
The package had come in a plastic UPS bag, which I kept. I adopted the highway on the way home, FILLING the bag with trash: cigarette packs, soda cans, plastic water bottles, a car floor mat, a sock, a washcloth, cups, plastic bags. I got permission to toss the garbage in the dumpster at the Mobile station.
No doubt that was three-leafed poison ivy on the side of the road. Tonight: scrub down.
June 30: Roses
Usually today is the day I look out my window and delight at viewing the small, pink roses outside my porch. This year, I seen none. We have had tropical rains for a week and hardly any sunshine. Does a rose reflect the atmosphere in which it lives? Can the bloom not face another bleak day?
What makes a rose bloom?
This spring I transplanted some ferns, lilacs, and lillies-of-the-valley from against the house's foundation to in front of the fence where the rosebush is. I've lived in this house for over 20 years and never has the rosebush had neighbors. Company. Competition.
Perhaps my rosebush refuses to compete, that it does not require casting its pretty ego next to simple greenery. Perhaps it is satisfied in the knowledge of its own potential. I love my rosebush.
July 20: Modern Medicine
The hole in my vision is bigger and more gray (see June 26). Instead of waiting until my next appointment on August 1, I thought I'd check in and get another perspective—from the outside in.
The prognosis? "Let's wait two weeks and hope like hell!"
August 1: Two Weeks Later
To see where things are (i.e., blood vessels), I had a fluorescein angiography test at the eye doctor today. That's where they shoot yellow dye into the back of your hand while taking digital photos of the retina. The dye appears in the eye in only 10 seconds. Everything's connected. By observing the pooling of the dye, they can ensure that the blood vessels are or are not leaking through the retina, which is a bad thing.
The prognosis? "So far, so good." See you next month. Copay, please.
September 14: The Next Month
My life is scheduled around doctor appointments, and I'm not near retirement age. Today was routine. The back of the eye seems to be holding its own.
The prognosis? "See you before Thanksgiving." I bargain to make it before Christmas. Copay, please.
September 18: New Paint
Today I gave my handyman a down payment to paint my house. He's got a kid, Aaron, that can do it, but he doesn't know how fast he is. We'll soon find out.
Benjamin Moore Stonecutter with bright white trim.
September 28: New Roof
Today I gave a roofer a cash down payment for new roofing: over the 1851 part of the house, the screened porch, the closed-in front porch, the leaking kitchen and bathroom, and over the back entrance. Granite gray architectural shingles. CertainTeed Landmark Series. Oh, they're PREMIUM shingles. Isn't everything?
October 20: New Roof on Old Shingles
The roof is done, but the painted asbestos shingles are half painted. Some are primed, some are painted, some haven't been touched. Apparently Aaron is a slow worker, but he's thorough. Lots of caulking. Fortunately the weather is still warm. I gave my handyman the second payment for the paint job, although he never asked for it. He gladly took it.
October 23: A Day Off
My employer has told me that I must take off two weeks (10 vacation days) before the end of the year, or I'll lose those days. I've just been given a new project that needs to be done by the end of March, with two of those months (November and December) being holiday months of frivolity and forced social gatherings. I've decided to take a day off here and there, when time allows. I will not plan ahead and take days off that will not hamper my work flow. My project is more important than continued vacation time. No doubt I will be reprimanded for not planning ahead.
My life is a cartoon strip, and I'm Tina, the technical writer. Going down?
November 6: Birthday
Today's my birthday, and, again, I was not on the Writer's Almanac.
November 11: Driving
Today I drove to northern Virginia. The only detour I took was through Baltimore; I didn't take the tunnel because my eyes have trouble adjusting from light to dark. It was a pleasant day. Hot, actually. And I happened to drive past Camden Yards. Nothing like proximity to a ballpark to boost the spirits.
November 14: Edward Tufte
I took Edward Tufte's one-day course in Arlington, Virginia. I got there fine, but got way lost coming home in the dark. I can't drive in the dark.
The seminar was filled. Interesting guy, Tufte is. I can say the same things and nobody listens to me. I've got to get more new age. I need to work on my guru, rock star image.
November 18: Bruce Hornsby
Rock star with MY image: jeans, shirt, and a smile on your face. Solo, sell-out, striking every chord he knows. And then some. Comes with the Intersections boxed set. A Night on the Town.
November 27: Call for an Appointment
Thanksgiving went well. Put up the porch storm windows the day after. Did some yard work at my house and Jackie's. Then, on Sunday, I realized that everyone on TV had an Afro. That two weeks ago I was driving around with a roofing nail in my front tire because I couldn't see it was flat. That I can't see my speedometer or gas gauge. And today, I can't see people's faces. I should not wait until my Dec. 14 eye appointment, so I called today.
My doctor is double-booked this week because he's going out of town at the end of the week. First chance is Wednesday.
November 29: The Worst Has Happened
My doctor sees my hurting eye is swollen with blood. Tomorrow morning we'll do an angiogram.
November 30: Confirmation
The FA showed leaking through the cracks. Unlike my left eye in 1999, however, we now have options. A colon cancer drug derivative was FDA approved last June -- but Lucentis is approved only for age-related macular degeneration. Genentech has provided no clinical trials with high myopia patients, and they don't intend to. Lucentis costs about $3,000 a shot.
Ophthalmologists are using the original colon cancer drug, however, for people whose health insurance is not covering the Lucentis (and before Lucentis was market ready). The off-label use of Avastin is about $300 a shot.
I'm set up tomorrow for a second opinion with another doctor.
December 1: Dr. M**ron
Picture Jack Black as an ophthalmologist. Would you want him poking a needle in your eye? But he's recommended, so I set up the injection appointment for next Monday. I begin to take antibiotic eye drops as a precaution.
December 4: Questions
Trying to stay calm, I call my doctor with questions. He doesn't call back. I go to the new doctor, who asks me to sign papers saying everything has been explained. I sign papers and am told that everything will be explained. They put a Novocain sponge under my lower eyelid to numb my eyeball, and I wait in the waiting room.
After calling me into the "injection room," the techie brings me more release forms to sign. She is stunned that I would like to read them first; I struggle to read although I am blind in one eye and my other eye is numb. I ask questions about the procedure, about insurance, about if this is the best thing to do. The doctor gets annoyed, calls my doctor, and sends me back to him. I should drive to his office and be there in 15 minutes. He pulls out the Novocain sponge.
I get to my doctor's office and he hasn't been able to talk to the other doctor because his phone calls are not being returned. He wonders why I'm in his office, and I don't know why. He wonders why I'm crying, and I give up.
My doctor doesn't have the drug, but he'll try to get some and inject me himself. He'll call me.
Today it's been a week since I called with the problem. Had I gone to an Emergency Room, by now I'd be dead in the hallway.
December 7: Injection One
A supply of Avastin, a thorough explanation of what will happen, precautions to avoid infection, and the whole thing is over by lunchtime. (I can see it. What's it look like? Like a filmstrip melting on a hot lense.)
I hang around the waiting room and eat a banana and a breakfast bar. I drink a cup of water. He eats his lunch, presumably, and then checks me again.
December 8: 24-Hours Later
I check the spot on the Amsler Grid this morning. I'm depressed to see it larger. But going to work in the morning sun, I notice that I can see the cars better as I drive. Although the spot is larger, it seems to be thinning.
I tell my doctor this in the afternoon checkup, but he doesn't believe me, really. I said, "Let's have some fun with this."
December 12: House Painted
Or at least done enough. It's stayed warm, but it's been humid so the paint hasn't dried well in places. But it's good enough for this year. Last payment.
December 14: One Week Later
After five days I could see my speedometer and gas gauge again. At today's appointment, he said he could see some thinning, too, although the spot is the same size (isn't that what I told him last week???). He said he's not excited or hopeful, but his leg was jiggling excitedly.
Now I need to get back to my project at work, and, oh yeah, isn't there a holiday soon?