Sunday, June 28, 2009

Recovering from Vacation

A few things I did on my summer vacation to Chicago and Michigan:
  • On the plane from Albuquerque I sat two seats behind actor Gary Farmer. An odd coincidence, as I was already planning on his being the subject of my Meme of Fame 4/7. (I'd last seen him a couple of summers ago when I helped him hang a large painting on the wall of his now-out-of-business gallery, a block from our own. There you go: Meme of Fame 4/7 is now complete.) We exchanged awkward pleasantries in the O'Hare terminal, then went about our separate misadventures.
Farmer and Johnny Depp in Dead Man.
  • My spouse got his suitcase locked in a turnstile at the El station. The turnstile would not budge. My spouse therefore became locked in the turnstile. He would not budge. An attendant had to disengage the luggage, and thus my spouse, with brute force. The attendant broke a sweat wrestling the steel bars in their death grip. We haven't a clue exactly how it all happened. Just lucky I guess.
  • My spouse excused himself for a restroom engagement during a performance of The Enigma Variations at the concert pavilion in Millennium Park. He simply vanished. It was truly enigmatic. Then again, I might want to disappear after that turnstile stunt. Come to think of it, I never saw that man before in my entire life.
Everyone was whispering,
'Where did Bennie go?'

I went searching for him...

...only to find him napping on the sculpture terrace
of the new wing of the Art Institute.

  • In Michigan I was caught trespassing on the grounds of a private residence I'd mistaken for a funky collectibles shop. I mean, how many antique birdhouses, disintegrating farm implements, and sculptures of giant hands cradling the planet Earth does one family need? Shove your rusty hay rake. Take your vintage sausage grinders. Please.
And call your dog off.
  • Upon arriving at the steps leading down to Cherry Beach at Lake Michigan, a panic-stricken family was coming up, slapping at their arms and legs. They shouted warnings of a proliferation of giant and hungry flies. They weren't kidding. Here's Bennie coming back up the stairs, pursued by a swarm of famished flies.
Don't let the smile fool you.
Those insects mean business.
  • Arriving at Club Lago on West Superior in Chicago, salivating in anticipation of fried calamari and linguini, we discovered a big sign at the entrance, explaining that the restaurant was closed due to damage incurred by an exploding chimney next door.

They say they'll be back.
And so will we...

We just love vacations.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life (100 Ways)

No doubt you've seen this meme around Blogland. I started noticing it last winter and promised myself I'd participate. One of these days, I said. Today's the day. Warning: It's loooooooooong. Bennie and I are about to leave for a little vacation to Chicago and Lake Michigan, and I didn't want to leave you bereft of reading material. Feel free to drop in and read a few items, then come back and read more. And more. And more. It's a list of 100 things a person might have done in one's life. The idea is to copy and paste the same list, then put in bold the things you've done already. And you know me. I have to illustrate my memes.

1. Started my own blog (Truth be told, I found this blog in the parking lot of Denny's. Possession is, however, 9/10 of the law.)
2. Slept under the stars (Yup. In the Rockies, in Yosemite, on the beach beside the Pacific, and occasionally on the trampoline in my back yard in New Mexico. Long story.)

Camping in the Rockies with Trudy.

3. Played in a band (No, but I used to sing in a church choir. They took anyone who could "make a joyful noise.")
4. Visited Hawaii (We went there on our honeymoon. My favorite memory is sitting in the shade of a huge banyan tree, eating breakfast and drinking Kona coffee. At the time I didn't realize that the banyan tree was an omen of the roots we would be putting down, far sooner than we realized. Our firstborn would arrive a little over 9 months later.)

5. Watched a meteor shower (And I once spied on an asteroid taking a bath.)
6. Given more than I can afford to charity (Do you realize what gallery ownership is about? Commercial landlords are my least favorite charity, but they've twisted my arm to contribute to their cause for better than 24 years now.)
7. Been to Disneyland/world (When the kids were little, we traveled down the California coast, stopping along the way to camp on the beach, winding up at Disneyland and Universal Studios.)

8. Climbed a mountain (The closest I've come is hiking down the Vernal Falls trail and back up in Yosemite. That hardly qualifies, but doing that with one child in a stroller and another by the hand does qualify as an adventure, don't you think?)

9. Held a praying mantis (Why would I want to do that? Aren't they the ones who mate and tear their partner's head off?)
10. Sung a solo (Yes, when Oakley was a toddler and had stitches put in his head, I sang solo after solo, my face as near his as possible, unnerving the ER physician. "Well, somehow we got that done," he said, "despite the singing."
11. Bungee jumped (Are you f'in' kidding????)
12. Visited Paris (Oui.)

13. Watched lightning at sea (From the window of my motel room.)
14. Taught myself an art from scratch (The fine art of answering memes.)
15. Adopted a child (Only if you count our dog Trudy, adopted from the shelter in 1999.)
16. Had food poisoning (I must have, but I honestly can't recall an incident. And I've eaten in divey border towns as well as at Denny's. Guess my immune system is cast iron.)
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty (I'm more of a sidelines kind of person. I've looked at it from afar, from the Staten Island Ferry.)
18. Grown my own vegetables (A few tomatoes, some green onions and jalapenos, and some actual corn. My husband is the gardener. I'm a sidelines kind of person. But the garden's on my land too. Possession is 9/10 of the law.)

Bennie's High Desert Garden

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France (From the eighteenth row back, in a frenzied, picture-taking mob of Japanese tourists. And it may not have even been the actual Mona Lisa. To protect the real deal, they trot out replicas. You never know if what you see is what you get.)
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight (I was the featherweight champion of that train.)
22. Hitchhiked (Once while walking in my own subdivision, I got lost and flagged down a guy to ask directions. He drove me home. )
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill (Unless you want to include mental. Every day is a mentally ill day, for me.)
24. Built a snow fort (What's a snow fort? Why not a sand castle?)

25. Held a lamb (chop)
26. Gone skinny dipping (If a hot tub counts.)
27. Run a Marathon (But I've cheered my husband over the finish line.)

28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice (I am going to get to Italy. One of these days.)
29. Seen a total eclipse (Of business in 2009.)
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset (Every morning and every evening, from our deck.)

31. Hit a home run (Who? Me?)
32. Been on a cruise (Only up the Potomac. And around San Francisco Bay. And on the Staten Island Ferry.)
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person (I've flown over Wichita Falls.)
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors (I'll get to the Garden of Eden. Watch me.)
35. Seen an Amish community (I saw that movie with Kirstie Alley.)
36. Taught myself a new language (I know some Spanish. Enough to make my way around a hotel room in Chihuahua.)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied (OK, I can pretend, can't I?)
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David (I will. I will.)
41. Sung karaoke (Not on my to-do list, but I admire it in others.)
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt (in song, in a karaoke bar, in Oakley, Kansas.)

43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
(Never mind. That's my husband and my son.
But if he puts his hand in that water,
I'm going to act like I never saw him before in my life.)

44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight (On the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean. Now, to make it to the Mediterranean...)
46. Been transported in an ambulance (No, but I did have to climb into one and be checked out by paramedics after a car accident. That was close enough.)
47. Had my portrait painted (Sketched. Twice. Never painted. Unless you count my very abstract Self-Portrait.)
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person (I will. I will.)
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (As opposed to the Eiffel Tower in Las Cruces?)
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud (I recommend combining Numbers 52 & 53.)
54. Gone to a drive-in theater (When we moved to Santa Fe, we were delighted to discover the Yucca Drive-In. We saw The Lion King there with the kids. Sadly, the Yucca closed soon thereafter. Now, tell me the truth. Does that sign really look like a yucca?)

55. Been in a movie (When the kids were little, we wrote, directed, produced, and acted in our own action/adventure video. Sadly, it was a bomb at the box office. Never even made it to the Yucca.)
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business (We've had our gallery since 1985. And as a kid I had one hell of a profitable lemonade stand.)
58. Taken a martial arts class (But in San Francisco I rented a house from a guy named Bruce Lee.)
59. Visited Russia (No, but if I ever make it to Alaska...)
60. Served at a soup kitchen (I've prepared food for a homeless shelter, but I didn't serve it.)
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies (But I've bought, and eaten, them aplenty. Chocolate mint rules!)
62. Gone whale watching (Never. One for the bucket list I guess.)
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma (I should. I'm O negative, the universal donor. And I've been on the receiving end after a spell of anemia. Talk about a precious gift. Even better than flowers for no reason.)
65. Gone sky diving (I won't. I won't.)
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp (I probably will one of these days. It must be a profound experience.)
67. Bounced a check (After we sold our house in California, we deposited the proceeds in a bank in Santa Fe. The teller put a hold on the out-of-state funds. She meant to put a 10-day hold, but she typed an extra zero and held up everything for 100 days. Yes, there was a whole lot of bouncing going on.
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy up until my late 20s (Make that late 50s. I still have the little stuffed white dog with black ears I used to have to hug to fall asleep. (Bennie isn't too jealous.) My own daughter held that dog and now it's in storage for a grandchild down the way. And I have a collection of Troll dolls from the 60s. Remember those wild-haired things? And Flannery now decorates her kitchen with my Deluxe Dream Kitchen circa 1962. And I have my original Barbie Doll and my Ken Doll (who's actually developed a bald spot and a resemblance to our friend Eric)...and...

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial (Jefferson too.)
71. Eaten caviar (I personally don't see the big deal. Guess I'm a phlebian.)
72. Pieced a quilt (But both my grandmothers passed down to me some lovely hand-made quilts of their own creation, including one made by my great-grandmother. I live in a passive solar suffused with sunlight, and so I have to keep my beautiful, fragile quilts hidden away most of the time.)
Young Flannery, practicing head lifting,
on a quilt made by her great-grandmother.

73. Stood in Times Square (I even walked around the place.)
74. Toured the Everglades (As a young adult, with my parents.)
75. Been fired from a job (That's the disadvantage of being self-employed. I can't fire myself!)
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London (No, but I used to work at a gallery across from the Sir Francis Drake in San Francisco. The doormen wore Beefeater Guard outfits. I watched them go off duty.)
77. Broken a bone (My toe. Three times. The third time was the charm.)
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle (How do you think I broke my toe? Just kidding.)
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person (Everything, I mean everything, it's cracked up to be.)

80. Published a book (No, but I've published my writing in literary journals.)
81. Visited the Vatican (But I will get to Italy. One of these days. Keep reminding me.)
82. Bought a brand new car (Not anywhere near what it's cracked up to be. I'd rather save my money for paintings.)
83. Walked in Jerusalem (Little Jerusalem, aka Ave Maria Grotto, a replica of the Holy Land near Huntsville, Alabama.)

84. Had my picture in the newspaper (Several times. The first time was when I was a third-grader, touring the phone company. I've been a publicity hound ever since.)
85. Read the entire Bible (Not all of it, but I did walk in Little Jerusalem.)
86. Visited the White House (Only the areas that used to be available on public tours. I'm still awaiting that West Wing invitation.)
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating

A sampling of wild game. Hunted, killed, dressed, baked.

88. Had chickenpox (And measles and mumps. I grew up before those vaccinations existed. Did I mention I'm old?)
89. Saved someone’s life (Only my own. I make it a practice to stay out of the trajectory of falling meteorites.)
91. Met someone famous (Just this past Sunday Jane Lynch, of Christopher Guest movies fame, and 2 1/2 Men fame, popped into the gallery.)

Charlie Sheen's shrink. A juicy role.

92. Joined a book club (Several friends and I used to meet monthly at each others' homes for a potluck and book discussion. We were in far-flung locations. Los Alamos to Eldorado to Chupadero. The commute became a grind and we wound up reading our books in solitude.)
93. Lost a loved one (Yes. My father, all of my grandparents, all of my uncles and aunts, a cousin. Some friends. It's a hazard of growing older, losing people.)
94. Had a baby (Two times, and by natural childbirth.)

95. Seen the Alamo in person (No. But I've seen Los Alamos in person. See #92.)
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake (No! I'm too afraid of turning into a right-wing Republican. There's definitely something in the water up there.)
97. Been involved in a law suit (Small claims court. Twice. Sued a shipping company and a landlord. And I've filed a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General of California. Don't mess with me, people!)
98. Owned a cell phone (Aren't I special?)
99. Been stung by a bee (And I once accidentally stepped on a dead wasp with bare feet. I still got stung. The nerve!)
100. Ridden an elephant (It's a crucial part of my morning routine, right after coffee.)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Living Large: Meg Wolff's "Becoming Whole"

This book calls for a grand backdrop, a vista of possibility.

Those of you who've been reading my blog for a while know that I'm a friend of Meg Wolff. I've yet to meet her "in person," but I know her rather well. I enjoy her blog, and she frequents my own, always leaving generous, supportive comments. She and I exchange emails from time to time, and on my 55th birthday she had a cake delivered to my place of business! I think that qualifies for friendship.

For some time, a neglected item on my TO-READ list (which curiously gets longer, never shorter--when I last unfurled it, my list was rolling down Highway 285 towards Clines Corners), has been Becoming Whole by Meg Wolff. I am very pleased to report I have not only read Becoming Whole by Meg Wolff, I am going to recommend it to you. But please do no ask me to loan you my copy. It is one of those inspiring reads that I will want to keep handy, the kind of book I can open randomly, to any page, on a dark day, and find something uplifting. Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Becoming Whole is highly recommended by two of my heroes in the world of healing, Christiane Northrup, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, and Bernie Siegel, author of Love, Medicine, and Miracles.

Becoming Whole is Meg's startling, honest account of her journey through an entire decade of dealing with cancer--bone cancer, then further down the way, breast cancer. It is a descent into a personal hell few would emerge from. Along the way, Meg relinquishes her left leg, her right breast, her hair (of course), her self-worth, her confidence in her own body, and ultimately her connection to the Earth itself. She observes the heart-wrenching pain of children frightened of losing their mother, and she fantasizes about buying presents for them to unwrap on the birthdays she will not be a part of. Meg and her husband become strangers sleepwalking through a life that has been reduced to endurance. She privately selects a future wife for her husband, a mother for her children--a beautiful, kind friend who is going through a divorce.

Sounds like a difficult read, no? Yes, part of it is. The candid descriptions of various medical procedures--from chemo to radiology to amputation to partial radical mastectomy--the various, grisly wounds inflicted on this beautiful woman's body--these descriptions are in themselves very painful to read, as are Meg's observations of the emotions she experienced:
For weeks after the surgery, I was conscious of my deformed body. Everyone I encountered seemed to present the image of what a human being should look like. People should have two legs; women two breasts. I watched people move effortlessly as they crossed the street, or walked along sidewalks. I noticed mannequins in dress shops and photographs of women in magazines. Soon I realized that I must not watch television or read magazines, because they stressed the importance of women's figures, and insisted that these images were what women should be. I no longer measured up.

One cannot read Meg's story without feeling anguish, and even more so, anger. Make that furor. Furor at the arrogance of many of her doctors, furor at the fragmented vision of contemporary medicine, which focuses on poisoning the body in the name of curing disease, a medicine which can identify sickness but not health, a medicine in which doctors do not listen to patients. (Unbelievably, Meg suspected her cancer years before she received a diagnosis. Both times. She was condescended to, receiving the message she was a hysterical worry wart.) A medicine which breaks the essence of its own Hippocratic oath--Above all, do no harm. A medicine which all too often is detoured into costly, dangerous procedures because of the profit to be obtained. As Meg so succinctly puts it when one doctor insists she endure a bone marrow transplant procedure, which now, years later, is known to have killed women rather than saved them:
I had enough experience with doctors to spot a medical salesman when I saw one, and Dowd and the cancer institute physician were more entrepreneurs than healers. They saw my expensive health insurance card and knew that I could pay for the treatment. Something told me that that's what mattered most to them.

And so Meg begins to trust that soft-spoken, wise voice within, to trust the healers who are themselves humble and respectful. Sometimes these are traditional doctors of medicine. Other times they're alternative healers or macrobiotic chefs or massage therapists.

And that turning point is the juncture at which Meg begins to embrace life rather than seek to prolong it. She subsequently "just says no" to tamoxifen treatment, despite a doctor's urging that this is her last hope to eke out a little more time in this life. Her intuition tells her tamoxifen will kill her. Or at the very least render her helpless:
Who would take care of me when I had a stroke? Would Dr. Wingate take responsibility for me after I had become incapacitated and lay dying in some nursing home? Whose life was this anyway?


That was better than ten years ago. Meg has taken ownership of that life, and of the body inhabited by that life. She has been medication-free for all of those years! All of her medical tests indicate that her body has been restored to perfect health. Meg herself is the proof. She attributes her vitality to having undertaken the macrobiotic way of eating and living, a way of living which is balanced and attuned to nature. A way of "living large." MACRO biotics. Get it?

Maybe not.

That's why Meg has written Part Two. Part Two is devoted to a thorough explanation of the hows and whys of macrobiotic eating, pages of meal plans, and delectable, exotic recipes. Think of a a graceful dance between yin and yang. Think of the color balance in a beautiful painting, or in fresh foods arranged on a plate, bursting with life force. Think of an opening to life itself, saying yes! to all that matters and brings pure joy.

Does Meg feel bitter about all of those years lost to cancer and dead ends, the tragedy of Part One? I'll let her answer that question:

One day that spring, while cutting vegetables by the open window of my kitchen, I suddenly had a strange and surprising thought. I had cancer to thank, and all the trials and tribulations that accompanied it, for helping me to banish my fears, find my voice and mission, and find--really find--happiness.

This book is for anyone who suffers from dis-ease, physical or emotional. Anyone who has ever looked back at a wrong decision and thought, Hey, I knew better than that! Why did I listen to an authority figure rather than my own wisdom? Anyone who feels remorse or anger or bitterness. Anyone who's lost confidence and feels powerless. Anyone whose connections have disappeared--with family, or the body, or the Earth. In short, anyone. Becoming Whole is available at Meg's blog.