Sunday, March 30, 2014

fork tender feelings

Tender Assertions, Archetypal Intimations

3/ 4/ 14

There’s a tasty little “southern experience” in the Birmingham area-- Dale’s Southern Grill.  Having worked at Cracker Barrel for five years, I was not particularly impressed at first; but it was very near home when home was very near my parents, two miles and upstairs respectively, and it had become my mother’s go-to joint. She only eats veggies and fish (cause they don’t have any feelings, I think it’s something in the way.  .  .), she went for the cabbage, stayed for the salmon, and went back for the carrot soufflé. I went to be polite, stayed for the pork chops (cause I don’t have any feelings), and went back for the bran muffins. And back for the free meal . . . and quality time with mom.

And I went back to Dale’s last week, my wife subbing nicely as supper companion she too for the veggies but not for the fish (cause, with no further sentiment necessary, fish grosses her out). I was determined to try something new, protein-wise. I wandered off the grill menu and strayed to comfort foods. I decided to try the meatloaf and so naturally I ordered the pot roast when our server re-arrived to re-inquire— me, the very picture of resolve. I think what clinched the flip-flop at the moment of crisis was the “fork-tender” claim. A juicy portion of meatloaf stands a good chance of leaving the kitchen as a crusty brick divvied from a mortar of ketchup.  Age crusts all eventually. But fork-tender withstands the hardenings of time, becomes more tender in spite of it. Age will sponge all in due course but in such cases it will have to dole and dole and dole from deep-welled crockery of irreducible gravy.

It is one thing to belabor a metaphor and quite another to double back and highlight the fact. Beat the horse then confess to PETA (cause they have all the feelings).

Anyway, it's like I've been saying . . . Ouroboros. The serpent eating its own tail. A ubiquitous yet diversely depicted image seen across cultures and through millenniums symbolizing eternal recursion. The snake swallows itself for all time. This could represent infinite surety, safety and/ or protection, and just as easily infinite jeopardy, peril, and/ or vulnerability--thus ubiquitous yet diversely depicted.

So . . . Ouroboros. I opened my mouth to order my food in the moment of crisis, the impromptu entree flip-flop affecting my nerves, my nerves affecting my recently much-improved ability to speak. I faltered, lost confidence and voice. Our server leaned-in, offering her ear. "What's that, hon?"

In turn, I leaned-in, widening my mouth with "pot roast" defying utterance somewhere in the back.

One more cock of the neck nearer and she said, "I'm sorry, I'm hard of hearing anymore." A polite, professional save but ringing true as well.

Another slight lean into her then I unhinged my jaws and swallowed her head (voice muting ear), head which I have been choking down my gullet ever since and ever will--an un-gravied brick. If only I had stuck with meatloaf, I would never have been compelled to say, "That's OK, I'm hard of speaking anymore."

But neigh, neigh, neigh . . . Ouroboros.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

intergalactic stereotactic

Life’s Malarkey

2/ 25/ 14

Rocket science and brain surgery remain the standard up to which the luminosity of the rest of our wittedness is to be held.  As in, “You dolt, it’s a grilled cheese sandwich, it’s not . . . exactly rocket science;” they remain the earmark by which the knuckled-protrusivity of the rest of our headedness is to be compared. As in, “You inveterate mome, it’s cheese toast, it’s not exactly . . . brain surgery. Brain tumor biopsies are both.

I’m not saying the rest of us are moronic (though a few of us do seem to be aggressively so) just that most of us undoubtedly apply our unique geniuses to other boggling pursuits. It’s like a great poster once said: “Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater than yours. Albert Einstein.” Or, put less myopically-- forthcoming physics-wise--by a nearby nail-clinging kitten: “Hang in there, kid, you and I are going places.”

I'm saying that the science and the surgery combined astound me.

My first biopsy opened this wonderment when it opened my skull. I was apprised of this surgical necessity but not as prepared for its aftermath as I would have liked. Or so I though at the time. In retrospect, who knows how petrified I'd have been if more prepared, how much more resolutely resisting the fog settling in my cranium when the time came for alphabet recital?

"OK, wise-guy, now backward," this up from a rabbit hole, echo-ey.

"Backways around?"

"Right. Starting with Z,Y,X . . ." from a teapot, itty-bitty-ily.

"Got ya. Z,Y,X, four, three, turquoise . . ."

It's called craniotomy. It requires scalp-slitting, skull-splitting, and staple-fitting. And trauma. First came the typical post-op misery. A monumental thirst made more miserable for the  assurance there was no quench in the offing— in case they needed to go back in. Shoot, for some ice chips you can go back in now. Next, an epic journey into delirium through nausea down into the abyss of head-lessness, and back up into redoubled thirst.

"Now ice chips?" from a desolate soul.

"Not yet," from a soulless soul. "How bout these little minty thingies you can chew on that they say works pretty good."

"They say it, do they? Well, if they say it . . . stock me up!" from a realm nearly black beneath an undulating awning of bat wings, filled with the anguished moans of tortured janjiis.

Then, the first of four ICU seizures. It seemed to immediately follow a series of beeps from my monitor. Nurses arrived with fitting concern. Kept me safe from myself, made some notes, went wherever it is they go. The second verse, same as the first, the beeps a little bit louder and the convulsions little bit worse.  The nurses arrived from wherever it was they went.

My mother arrived from thin air. Already praying and massaging my racked left-side. As the episode abated, not when it ceased (be it known), mom had questions for the nurses. My mother gathers no moss down the path of getting to bottom of things.When the third seizure struck, my sundry team of medical professionals did not panic, but did allow that they maybe should get more meds and a longer white coat involved.

Two of the nurses left my bedside, my mother presuming, I presumed, en route to two red phones--one labeled "meds", one labeled "longer coat"; for her part, she picked up her ever-blinking gold phone and resumed her prayers. The third nurse jotted on my chart in a calm, conceivably pantomimed manner.

My body settled by slow degrees. Mind and muscles were exhausted.  The room narrowed and dimmed to yellow gray as my eyelids fell, unresisting. Time passed. I'm sure of it. I felt it moving from all sides, from all times--a post-seismic miracle with which I’m familiar though of which I’m not the least comprehending. Time passed soothingly forward, smoothly back like a farmhouse porch-swing; it levitated like a leaf in a gentle updraft and descended on its crackly umbrella of dead veins. Time passed when it passes, or passes when it passed. I'm sure of it.

But when the beeps beep, first in a frenzy from the grog, then in piercing, staccato ricochet off the walls . . . rude.

I think I had decided back then, but right now I cannot remember [how to spell remember] if I appreciated the warning beeps or if I’d have rather taken my shocks in the customary way—in the natural course of life’s malarkey. I've never had the “aura” or the metallic tastes which many epileptics talk about preceding an episode—their beeps, so to speak—so I still can’t say for sure; though I suspect an occasional heads-up would be nice. Especially while eating good BBQ or about to be discommoded while en-commode, so to speak.

Comparatively, my second biopsy was a delight. For starters, it sounds cooler: stereo-tactic needle biopsy as opposed to craniotomy; it evokes a pretty nifty Star Trek vibe whereas craniotomy smacks of Hannibal.

Of course the “needle” prospect is off-putting. Gums and needles. Veins and needles. Brains and needles. Pines and needles, now that's the stuff you're looking for. Pins and needles, worst case scenario.

As it turned out, the prep for the operation was the most “painful” part of the ordeal. I use the quotation marks because I've had knee surgery, appendix surgery, epididymus (I'll let Google do the heavy lifting on that) surgery, and the cranium one. Call it uncomfortable. Because in order to perform stereo-tactic biopsy the surgical team needs precise coordinates to access the target tumor and in order to do that they need real time images of the target brain and in order to do that they need the target human to keep his head still and (last one, I promise) in order to do that the surgical prep team must bolt a metal cage to the target head. I have pictures somewhere. Neo-Frankensteinian, classically ridiculous.

Next, after the AMA mandated hour minimum between set and go, I was on my way to the operating room, rehearsing my ZYXs, lightly sedated and only locally anesthetized. I knew I was not to be fully knocked but had forgotten the implications--drill, needle, bore, resect, retract. Awake with the option to banter. A miracle with which I was utterly unfamiliar.

But it's just like an erudite T-shirt of mine once told me: “One may say that the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility. Albert Einstein.”

P. S.

Yes, rocket scientists and brain surgeons possess lofty minds, but never underestimate the unique genius of a perfect-cheese-sandwich maker. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

on the wong-baker scale...a grr

Pros, Cons, and Predictive Product Names

2/ 13/ 14

For the 2012 regular season/ 2013 push for the Chemo Cup, I was on a relatively new drug called Temodar specifically designed to target brain tumors. I finished well but not in first. I got a trophy but who doesn't anymore?

This year, as documented I've been receiving bi-weekly (bi-monthly? every other week? approximately twice a menstrual cycle?) Avastin infusions. Also a relatively new drug designed to target tumor cells in general.

In addition to Avastin, I have been put on CCNU, a relatively old drug, designed for a hodgepodge of cancers. I've only just started CCNU so my experience is limited, but I would still like to give an evaluation based on product pros/ con and a examination of product names.

Temodar > name suggests possession of or at least access to the power of Grayskull > turned out to be pretty rough in terms of nausea, fatigue, and general malaise. Major con: 3 pills (one horse, two pony), 5 days in a row (5 horse, 10 pony, total) once a month. By the end of the year, the psychological association with self-inflicted poisoning almost became too much too bear. Significant pro: tumor stabilized.

Avastin > name suggests command of an important situation: "Avast, you scurvy dog! Stop all this vitamin deficiency. Yargh!" > Minor cons: requires commutes to the clinic, toting my own urine sample from home in a transparent biohazard bag because on-site pressure precludes on-site production, and repeated injections of sizable needles. Decent pros: poison administered by someone else's hand/  IV drip seated on a fairly comfortable reclining chair enjoying complimentary snacks and sodas plus it seems to be helping to stabilize the new tumors.                                        

CCNU > name suggests these just might be the droids you’re looking for and as such might not be capable of stabilizing much more than a stable in need of mucking. Too soon for pros/ cons: TBD then TBA.

Splitting Braids

2/18/ 14

It might not go without saying so, knowing me, I 'd better say it for the record. I think friendly is better than unfriendly most of the time. If you have to have a neighbor you might as well be neighborly about it. Even when the hot apple pies to your door switch to warm piles of Marma-dook on your lawn, it's probably better to smile when you meet at mailboxes than to threaten legal action. Until you should, of course. You’ll know when the time is ripe.

I think kindness is better than unkindness even more so than I think friendly is better than unfriendly. I always suspect the kind to be behaving more sincerely than I grant the friendly to be. And I don't think difference is all that subtle. Amicability can be conjured from a stew of a lifetime's results of trial and error (be it a month's worth or an octogenarian's sampling) – was that hug endearing or just pervy? were my compliments so poignant as to make someone's day or so ceaseless and cloying as to ruin their weekend? On the other hand, kindness is said to be wrought of such stuff as to have killing capabilities--pretty profound by comparison.

So who knows in how many instances it actually does go without saying? And here might be a pitiful effort: which trumped the other or which was more or less fruitless, the kindness or the friendliness, during hale days is a weightier proposition during the withering days.
I see the girl in the clinic-- bald and gaunt and sallow . . . and smiling. A nurse has just wrangled an anemic balloon to the girl's ID band, tying, tangling, untying. It was that nurse's day off. Was. Another holds a cupcake with a candle the girl cannot blow out. That nurse waits patiently, needing to pee, but not so bad; it’s her double day on. The scene is about as sad as one comes, but it seems safe to say the girl will never be this happy again. Such is the shine of that smile. Such is the kindness of nurse one; such is the friendliness of nurse two.

Or is the girl as miserable as ever? Does she wish both would leave--let the helium leak, let oxygen sizzle, let a third nurse come and give her drugs? Are smiles just more expedient than the Wong-Baker Scale of Twisted Faces?

At any rate, now I see myself in the clinic in the reflections of elevator walls, smiling as false in spirit as Joan Rivers in face. Why? I’m tired not just from illness, also, this morning, of smiles in general.  Whose smile in here grates me the most? The friendly man’s smile who chats with all comers and reaffirms the acquaintance with all leavers, who I suspect pushes top-floor buttons in case a promising topic arises or is it the kind woman’s smile whose misery appears be no less deeply furrowed than mine but who lets every punk kid and self-important business man exit before her until she finally just offers to wait for the next Otis.  And she waits. And I’ll probably see her next in the basement, a tad late for her MRI. And hopefully by then I’ll have wiped this bogus smile off my face.

Unless there is some confusion as to my own confusion then I hope I have not made myself clear.

2/ 24 / 14

Given: there are roughly 7 billion people in the world.

Let: P = (the precise # of people in the world).

There are two kinds of people in the world:  1]  (P – 2) = those who would exit a self-checkout line which is situated between an unmanned register station (i.e. immoveable) and a register station “manned” by a gossiping “employee” and a “manager” bagging groceries (i.e. unmoving), cast quick glances around, grin at each other like simpering schoolgirls (i.e. simpering frat boys), grab-up their bags of “hard” lemonade and “hard” cider, shrug, and then proceed to exit the store, leaving their unmanned cart parallel to the wheel-chaired man’s sole point of departure (i.e. impassable) between two unyielding objects.  2]  (P – 2) = those who wouldn't,  just simply wouldn't. Talk about getting worked up! Grr.


“Anybody can get worked up, if you have the intention. It's peacefulness that is hard come by on purpose.” Alice, Pigs in Heaven, Barbara Kingsolver.

Amen notwithstanding. Grr. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

sharon and kelly in the garage

An Apologie to Poesie for Havinge No Defence 

2/ 12/ 14

I wish I could boast a less ambivalent take on poetry, it figuring so prominently in my life. Or at least articulate the stronger allegiance which I do have in my heart. In my Romantic days, my sentiments coursed aortic and flush-valved parallel Sir Philip Sidney’s. Below, for purposes of contrast with my waffling assessment, I have included the last portion of his vehement and hilarious response to poetry haters across time and space. Sidney’s Defense of Poesie was published in the late 17th century. He did not have a blog.

But if—fie of such a but!—you be born so near the dull-making cataract of Nilus, that you cannot hear the planet-like music of poetry; if you have so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry, or rather, by a certain rustical disdain, will become such a mome [blockhead—ed.], as to be a Momus of poetry; then, though I will not wish unto you the ass’ ears of Midas, nor to be driven by a poet’s verses, as Bubonax was, to hang himself; nor to be rimed to death, as is said to be done in Ireland; yet thus much curse. I must send you in the behalf of all poets:—that while you live in love, and never get favor for lacking skill of a sonnet; and when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph.

Poetry. It's a sensitive subject for poets. A good reason not to consider yourself one. Certainly don't call yourself one. Exception to the former--none. Exception to the latter--someone is offering $50 cash to the first ten people to call themselves a poet. Like, “No, here, just take it" kind of cash; "that part about the 'azure eyes and cascading hair' was poetic."

Not like, "Do you want to enter for a chance to win our inaugural issue's Second Annual Walt Whitman Prize for Emerging Voices? Your part? Via our submissions manager, simply send (along with a three dollar reading fee, four dollar submissions manager fee, twenty dollar contest fee) the second quatrain of your strongest Shakespearean sonnet written as a non-facetious homage to Ginsberg. The prize? $50 and free entry into your choice of our 1] Second Annual Walt Whitman Prize for Emerging Voices 2] second issue's inaugural Annual Walt Whitman Prize for Passé Voices.*

*Prize subject to change pending non-sufficient participation and/ or the editor's determination of non-sufficient non-facetiousness.

Poetry. Fine, it's a sensitive subject for now aging emerging poets and now jaded no-named poets and now uninspired dying poets.

Poetry. It was an early affinity of mine— just ask most anyone who knew me. An early virtuosity—just ask my mother. It was an adolescent infatuation, pursued with goofy zeal for long stretches, passing into my periphery for short whiles, but destined for awkward collision and renewed zeal, less goofy somehow—the early affinity poking through, the early, let's call it proficiency (mom) this time waking up.

Poetry. Like long hair, angst, and Camel Lights, it grew into part of my undergraduate identity. So blond, so existential, soo smooth. I'll meet you at the Slam after work. To. Denigrate. Spo. Ken . . . wordpoetryoverdollar cansof luke . . . WARM?! P! B! R. But. Are we? Our we? Ouïe we . . . Are. Ours.

When I graduated college, I got back to life. The one with poetry back-burnered while the calluses grew. The sickening, satisfying life of flat-top grills, ham steaks and sweat, deep-fryers, chicken fried steak, and scalded arms. Crazy struggles, but sane pursuits. Poetry. Too effortful and insane. Back-burnered, forgotten, scorched.

However, creativity-wise, I wrote and played deeply cathartic rock songs with good old forever-five, Andrew, in a garage on an old, black acoustic named Sharon and a gleaming red Les Paul named Kelly. Poetry. Surreptitiously. Under a haze and the watchful eyes of a cat somehow mellowing on top of a raucous amplifier or snoozing in the folds of a raggedy kick drum pillow. Her name was Stank Rock. Poetry.

But too soon . . . Call of the wild. Response of the mild. Return of the once-considered, so-called poet. Call of the scholar. I went back to school and learned how to write better. Much better, even I eventually and gladly had to agree. Work I was proud of and equipped to improve upon. I got a crisp new diploma and a license to submit poetry to small literary journals. Acceptance, rejection--a real-live, semi-pro. Scarcely a thought to eye color or hair flow. A way of life, a state of mind. I shall preach the way. I shall teach the state.

Brain tumors. A way of life, a state of mind. Also poetry. Might as well live them as well as I can, might as well mind them as often as I can.

Fortuitously, I am good enough—just ask most any of my friends, and equipped enough—ask
the occasional editor of labor-of-love literary journals, and I am at my copious leisure enough—just ask my family.

*An Apologie for Poetrie, ed Edward Arber (London, 1858), with additional material from Sidney’s Apologie for Poetrie, ed. J. Churton Collins (Oxford, 1907) and The Defense of Poesy, ed A. S. Cook (Boston, 1890).

Sunday, March 2, 2014

the flurbiting-wurbit

Red Mountain: Resonance High and Low

2/ 6/ 14


The Whitesnake/ Mulberry Bush Enigma: the clinic's parking deck. Get there in the still of the night when the wolf howls, honey, and still be going round and round all the live long day.

The Run on Ahead/ Run-On Sentence Dilemma: When snowstorms cause mass-rescheduling and there being no preferential treatment for frequent flyers in the clinic's encapsulated whirligigs, some flyers are relegated to the ruins of antiquity in the old wing, at which facility you can park in the nearby, albeit dilapidated, deck and after a jaunty wife-push/ wheel-roll, be all snug in your jostle-machine right on schedule, or you can park at the newer wing, in which facility you are scheduled to meet with your doctor immediately following your scan and after a ten minute wife-dash/ mine-cart jostle arrive in yesteryear just in time to get all unsettled in your jostle-machine, one way or the other you're in for some jaunty jostles/ jostly jaunts; enjoy.


The Racket/ Noise Continuum: Cue the cowboy clucking for his horses to giddy-yup, the UFO's touch and go wumping into new atmospheres, and the flurbiting-wurbit of an over-kaled juicer.

When I had my first MRI, they equipped me with headphones to muffle the noise and perhaps distract me from terror. I remember being offered a choice between country music and something somehow less appealing. I wish I could remember that too. Ragtime? Mariachi? Anyway, I figured the headphones were standard operating procedure. That was the last time I had headphones with any audio offerings. I've had padded props, spongy plugs, what seemed to be bar-counter rags, and gone commando.  Eventually, nobody's fooling nobody with nothing.  Until yesterday. Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice . . . no, you know what? . . . still shame on you, guys. Call-in sports radio on college football's national signing day coming to me live in the South from the station just a scosh down the road and just a smidge up the hill from the full-body Chinese finger trap in which I was presently engaged. That is--WJOXFM, your choice for voluble, vituperative, velociraptor venting. Yes, double shame on you and a plague on all your scrubs. And don't act like we couldn't have been listening to country music from the station just a sliver farther down the ridge.


The Minimum Ado About Something: Doc says conditions are stable, proceed with round two of new chemo. Sound good? Sounds reasonable. Six weeks, then? Sounds good.

Down a Stream

2/ 10 / 14

Along life's merry way, I have attached value to things like intellect, understanding, and wisdom; life, literature, and music; faith, hope, and love.

Of the last three, it has been said that love is greatest. I'm fine with that, but I'd like to throw patience into the mix and say, now of the last four, without patience which of the others would survive?

In the previous three (life, literature, and music), I've marveled, I've regaled, and I've reveled--respectively for the most part but often alternately. But at times and for whiles, each have lost luster, each have run-aground, each have slipped as far as abhorrent.

As for the first three (intellect, understanding, and wisdom), initially seeming most attainable yet now seeming least. So much energy bought at exorbitant prices traded with abandon. Too much of the other six (seven allowing my patience) frittered like so much conch and corn.

Nevertheless, life's way seems merrier most days. Minus the feverish pursuit. To slip instead grip.

Because the old gray matter's got something the matter. Old Denmark, Horatio, she's spoiling. It lapses, us my precious, it lapses us.  {tunefully} . . . and the sun shines on the bay-ay . . . has anyone seen my sharpest knife, in the drawer at last check? I get goofy. I get going before having a place to go and forget how I got there when I do. I get mad at my pajamas for still being my daytime clothes. I get to wondering where I put my nose only to find it was beneath my glasses the whole time. I get to wandering . . . I’m getting to be . . .

A garage fluorescent winking dim, a gibbous moon waning thin,
Gosling feathers aloft, adrift, pavement plenty for a mind on the lift.