Monday, March 29, 2010


Old man Epicuris told us that pleasure is the absence of pain, and any woman who has ever been in labor will give me a big amen on that. Those blessed moments when the contractions stopped to let me breathe, those were some of the most intensely pleasurable moments of my life. Nothing has ever felt quite as good as when that pain stopped. Well, almost nothing…

I've been trying to figure out how to once again access that remarkable pleasure that is the absence of pain. Granted, I'm not talking childbirth pain or anything in that remote vicinity, but it’s rare and wonderful when I experience a complete cessation.

Look, I get it. It’s the human condition: we get old and our bodies betray us. I know I need to get over it, get on with it. That’s the question – how does on get over it and get on with it? Nothing distracts attention or interferes with the will quite like pain.

I went for a run in the pouring rain tonight. At my age and fitness level, it's more of a walk/run, but lately I’ve been taking walks with no /run attached. Tonight I finally got out there and pounded some pavement. As each foot fall traveled up my spine the phrase “mortification of the flesh” kept repeating in my head. Not some sick, sadomasochistic Opus Dei kind of shit, I’m thinking more about mind over matter, about subjecting the body to the will. Rather than fearing pain, doing everything to protect myself from pain, what if I sought it out instead? Desensitize myself by constant exposure. Certainly, I'm sore tonight after cleaning the freaking carpets all weekend and jogging on ashpalt tonight. I don't feel much better, but I don't feel worse.

Mortification of the flesh; food for thought.

Ultimately, who the fuck cares? As my beloved husband is fond of saying, it's just pain.

Spring Clean

It’s spring cleaning time in the Colestin, campers. A renewed sense of ambition is upon me. Last week, we defrosted and cleaned out the fridge and then washed the ceiling fan in the living room and the light fixture over the table. They were both caked with a decade’s accumulation of wood smoke, ash and cooking grease; nasty doesn’t begin to cover it.

I was waiting for Jake to pass away before cleaning the carpets. Sequoia and I track in plenty of crap, but there’s nothing like long haired dog who spends his days laying in dust and mud for generating real filth. Trust me, I’d much rather have Jake than a clean carpet, but since that’s not an option, it was time to get cracking. I fantasized about installing new flooring throughout the ground floor, but that’s not in our budget this year. Instead, Sequoia and I bought a cheap, lightly used carpet remnant, about 12’ x 20’. It covers the floor from the kitchen to the spiral staircase, the sliding door to the bathroom hall. It was very lightly used, but still it was used, which is a little icky. So, of course I had to clean the thing before deeming it fit for habitation. Since we were already renting a carpet cleaner, we figured we might as well clean the rest of the carpets. This is our idea of a fun weekend, campers. It’s kind of sad, really.

I’m sore as hell today, but it was worth it. Instead of a funky pastiche of area rugs and carpet remnants that make my floor look like a low-rent patchwork quilt, I now have a solid colored floor. One half is beige, the other is the salmony color that I’ve had forever, but they go together nicely and they are squeeky freaking clean. The effect is calming; there’s less visual noise in my environment. I find that I’m deeply affected by my physical surroundings, so I hope that cleaning my house helps me to clean out my head a bit.

Now I just have to reassemble the TV room (which is still in boxes from when we painted months ago), wash the floors upstairs, dust the bookshelves on the balcony, clean all the old clothes and crap out of Arly and Kiva’s old rooms, paint, etc, etc, etc…. It never ends.

Sequoia finally figured out what was wrong with the power system. Two of the batteries that had been checked out and OK’d by Medford Battery were definitely not OK. Sequoia took them out of the array, the power shot up immediately and has held ever since. It’s a huge relief. His other project has been to finish off the tool shed next to the driveway. It’s now drywalled, wired for power and even has a little window. The batteries and the inverter are going to move into this new room, which will open up some space in the mud room.

All in all, a productive weekend. It feels good to clean house campers, physically and metaphorically.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Fool And Death

The signficator, the card representing me, came up as The Fool. The card that came up as the outcome was Death. Can't get much more direct than that, can you?

The optimism of youth runs smack into inevitable and cataclysmic change. Check.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

RIP Jim Marshall

Here is one of his many amazing photographs of musicians, this one of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Beware of Darkness

Hiking up the hill to the Shasta view tonight, George Harrison came on the music player. I climbed in time to a dead man admonishing me to beware of darkness. Seemed fated somehow.

"Watch out now, take care
Beware of falling swingers
Dropping all around you
The pain that often mingles
In your fingertips
Beware of darkness

Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night

Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for..."

That is not what we are here for, indeed. The air was rising as I hiked, a storm blowing in the distance that had not quite arrived. A slice of Shasta was still visible though the gathering dark, white and remote. Sometimes she's the palest shade of cerullian blue, sometimes gold, sometimes rosy. Tonight she was veiled and opaque, peeking out from the massing clouds

Within an hour - sweet rain. There was no snow season this year, no mud. Ice gave way to dust as we waited for the healing rain to slake the thirsty earth. Is this a harbinger at last of a wet spring? Will it be enough? I guess it has to be, for who can command more? Not I, surely. I'm still trying to learn how to command myself.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Aristotle by Billy Collins

This one is for Peter - ssp

This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.

This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes—
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward's child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle—
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—
too much to name, too much to think about.

And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one...
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

Wallace Stevens

...and more pain

Sorry faithful readers, but this is what is in my head tonight and it needs to come out. I need to write this stuff down, but there's really no need for you to read it, is there?

Five years ago (almost to the hour) I was in the Portland Airport waiting to catch the red eye to Chicago. I didn't have a cell phone, so I used an airport pay phone to call the hospital where my mother lay dying. She had suffered a massive embolism a few hours earlier and I didn't know if she would make it through the night. I was flying across the country in hopes of making it to her bedside before the end. As I waited for my connecting flight, I called the hospital from a pay phone in the middle of a vast, echoing airport lounge. The nurse at the front desk was kind enough to transfer the call to my mother's room where another nurse picked up the receiver and held it to my unconscious mother's ear. I could hear her breathing, heavy and slow, over the wire as I wept uncontrollably. People walking by shot glances at me then looked away.

What does one say in such a situation? One lies. I told her that everything would be OK. I told her that she didn't have to wait for me or my brothers or anyone else, when she was ready, she should just let go. I promised to take care of everything and everybody and told her not to worry about a single thing. She didn't hear or comprehend me; I know that. We like to tell ourselves more lies about "something deep inside her soul comprehending" but it's bullshit. It didn't matter; I said the words anyway. I don't know why; I knew I couldn't help her any more. Maybe I thought the words could somehow help me, protect me. I was wrong.

She made it through the night. I did everything I could to reach her, but despite my best efforts, she breathed her last literally moments before I made it to her bedside. When I entered the room, she was still registering a few stray, erratic heart beats, but she had released her final breath. She was still warm.

What would it have mattered if I'd gotten there 15 minutes earlier? What would it have mattered if I hadn't come at all? Nothing would be different now, nothing would have been different then. She would still be gone and I would still be in this deep, unassailable pain. Her life would still be a monument to unconquerable goodness in the face of constant assaults by a capricious god. Job's suffering was nothing compared to hers, but like him, she would not curse god. She had faith, despite what she suffered at this so-called loving god's hands. A victim of great evil, she was always a force for good.

I want to take comfort from that, but I don't. How could someone who did so much good for so many people never catch one single break for herself? Just unlucky, I guess. The example of her life makes it difficult to believe in a just and loving deity. I guess he was too busy smiting infidels to hear this particular sparrow fall.

She would be appalled to hear me say that, but that's the thing - she's can't hear me any more. She has gone beyond the sound of my voice. Whatever power my paltry words may have held for her is broken.

I know, I know, five years, get over it already, but I can't. I can't.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I've been thinking about pain as a lifestyle while I try to navigate the murky waters of the industrial-medical complex. When I try to talk to an M.D. about my chronic pain, the doc assumes that I'm seeking prescription painkillers. Mind you I don't ASK for drugs; I don't WANT their freaking drugs, I want to find out WHY I'm in pain. But, the minute I bring it up, docs tend to jump to the conclusion that I'm a drug-seeking junkie. It's great for the self-esteem.

The other thing they assume is that, since I have pain, fatigue, chills, insomnia, I must be depressed. This latest bitch - uh, I mean doctor - offered me a 'script for trazadone 10 minutes into my very first visit. I know what depression is, I know what insomnia is and, whatever this is, it is not depression or insomnia. There is some kind of physical disease process taking place in my body, but when I consult a medical doctor to find out what it is, she offers me happy pills. I took offense at her condescensing attitude, she got huffy, and right about then I realized(in the immortal words of Strother Martin) that what we have here is a failure to communicate. I've decided to cancel my follow up visit with this particular doctor; I have enough pain in my life, I don't need the added burden of feeling frustrated and marginalized by the medical establishment.

Obama is staking his presidency on expanding access to this circus. Be careful what you wish for, Barry.

Here's what I have learned: there's no help for me from traditional medicine; all it offers are toxic chemicals, placebos and empty assurances. I have to learn how to accept my disease, whatever the hell it is, how to live with these symptoms day to day. I've got to stop thinking that I can be "cured." I have accept the fact that this is who I am now, a person who feels like crap. Best if I don't think about it or talk about it, better to grit my teeth and learn to bear it. I'll keep taking my vitamins, I'll keep working on my nutrition and exercise, I'll go to the hot springs and soak my bones more often, but I'm not going to find a "cure" for whatever the fuck is ailing me. Pain is my shadow now, my double, my homonuculus. I have to learn to live with it as gracefully as possible.

I may be stating the obvious here, but grace is not my strong suit.