Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stinking up the ladies' room

A few weeks ago I bought a new kind of hand lotion. It turned out to have way more fragrance than my puny respiratory system could handle—made my eyes and nose stream—but rather than throwing it out, I put it in the women's bathroom at work. I felt a little guilty stowing my toxic waste in a public private place. Every time I looked at it, I thought, "I really should throw it out." When someone came out of the bathroom, I could tell if she had washed her hands—or at least if she had applied lotion. Then a couple weeks ago, a Post-it note appeared. It said, "Whoever left this moisturizer for all to use: THANK YOU!" Hard to tell whether a Post-it is sarcastic or sincere ...

Friday, March 20, 2009


Just returned from an appointment in Cancerland, a world populated by not-quite-dead, not-fully-alive zombi-like beings with sticky palor, wigs, and caustic chemicals in their veins. They are propped humanlike on couches that are comfortable but not quite homelike and not quite hotel-like, serviced by unnaurally kind people in white coats. I lived in Cancerland for over a year. Now I visit for an hour or two every few months. But once you've lived in Cancerland, you never forget what it's like to exist submerged in the twilight life of illness and fear. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eating right is hard to do

When our daughter C is here, Other and I load up the larder with tortilla chips and mini-burgers and cookies and ice cream and chocolate sauce, waiving our usual sense of obligation to eat like grownups. It's more important that, as skinny as she is, she eat anything at all than that she eat something that's actually good for her. Even so, she will often open the cupboard and complain that there's nothing to eat. Then we rush out to buy her chocolate croissants and bacon. 

After she goes back to college, Other and I spend the next few days acting like giant diabetic mice, surreptitiously scavenging among the staples—cans of organic beans, boxes of whole wheat pasta, low-fat whole-grain seaweed-flavored crackers, raw nuts and seeds and the like—sniffing out any crumbs of fat-filled sugar-laden or salt-laced snacks she might have left behind. Within a few days, we have found and consumed every remaining chocolate chip, and we sadly resume our drab adult diet.

The National Cancer Institute and the Food Guide Pyramid recommend eating five to nine fist-size servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Has anyone in modern times accomplished this feat consistently for, say, a week or more? I have tried and failed many times. 

I'm trying again, but it makes for pretty weird meals. If you include the smallest amount of meat or starch—and the Food Pyramid recommends a staggering 6 to 11 servings of the latter alone—you don't have room for all the fruit and veg. This morning I had a banana and an apple for breakfast. For lunch I had a pint of carrot juice and a falafel with lettuce and tomatoes. For dinner I had a slice of seriously vegetable pizza with half a cup of guacamole smeared on top. I think that gets me into the recommended range but brings with it a touch of dyspepsia—especially since I've also been glugging my way toward my goal of 8 cups of liquid a day. 

Sometimes I catapult myself into the zone by having a kitchen-cleaner salad for lunch, but even if you shovel it in like a glutton, it doesn't give you the warm, sleepy, sated feeling that the humblest bagel does. Sometimes I microwave a yam and carry it around in a baggy like an apple, hoping the starchiness will give me that full feeling. It doesn't. Sometimes I boil up a bunch of beets and beet greens and eat them with brown rice. Oddly, that's my favorite meal, despite the purple poop that results, but a day or two of that is about all I can manage.

With my cancer history, I have a lot at stake in achieving a healthy lifestyle. I earn A's in exercise and abstinence and fluid intake, but my diet is B-minus at best. I've always been a swotter, though, and tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Journey into the trackless waste

In ancient times, Buddhist seekers would retreat from civilization into "the trackless waste" to find truth, according to Touching Enlightenment, by Reginald A. Ray. There, in the chaos of the wilderness, with no intervening authorities or rules, the practitioner could directly experience primordial reality, or truth. As the forest has receded and become domesticated, Ray writes, we now turn to the "forest" of the human body, "a new terrain of chaos," leaving the thinking process behind, to explore "our most irreducible person."

And that, in a nutshell, is yoga—a walk on the wild side.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I'm not a prude—really—but when I heard that a celebrity had once been hospitalized after performing an act called gerbiling, I admit I was shocked. If I understand correctly, gerbiling refers to inserting a small rodent up your, um, rectum. That's pretty amazing, but here's the really startling thing: when I mentioned my new word to a few friends and family members, it turns out they all knew about the practice and about the specific incident. None of them seemed to think either was weird.

Sometimes I feel as if I live in a different world from the one inhabited by everyone else. Why would anyone enjoy this? How did anyone dream it up? How does someone actually manage to do it? 

Oh, never mind. Please don't tell me.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Panty dreams

So last night I had the weirdest dream, and I'm wondering what it means. I reached into my underwear drawer and pulled out a pair of ... my mother's underpants. Oh, I thought, I must have accidentally gotten a pair of hers mixed in with my laundry when I was in San Francisco. So I reached in to get another pair and pulled out ... another pair of hers. In fact, my drawer was filled with her underpants.

What does this mean? Maybe I don't want to know?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nice guys finish nasty

When I got my cancer diagnosis, one of my first—and most urgent—impulses was to crawl into the aptly named crawl space in our apartment and drag out the cardboard carton that holds all my old journals. I know there's some vile, hateful stuff in there, and I don't want my kids or Other to read it when I'm gone. But the carton was underneath other cartons behind a door that was blocked by Other's computer table, and I never had the time or strength or privacy to act on that impulse. But it has weighed on my mind ever since. Interestingly, my friend K had that exact same impulse when she got her diagnosis of uterine cancer. Only her stuff was more accessible, so she actually got started right away. 

With the prospect of my daughter C's return—with her mountains of bedding—for summer vacation, plus a promise from me that I would winnow down whatever was there, I finally got Other to move the computer table and empty out that corner of the storage space. We jettisoned boxes of children's books, old clothing, spare kitchen tiles from a floor we no longer have, 25-year-old cans of house paint. And we found two boxes of my old writing—journalism school projects, short stories and diaries. I've squirreled them under my desk for the time being as I slowly make my way through them. There's a lot of wince-worthy stuff, but there are also pearls of wisdom and some nice crisp writing.

One pearl of wisdom: Back in the late '70s when Other and I lived in the heart of Greenwich Village, our neighbors across the hall were a couple about our age. He was a long-haired, soft-bodied nerdy guy with "a little flatulence problem," as he (accurately) informed us. She was a high-strung, self-dramatizing actress with an eating disorder and what would now be termed environmental sensitivities, which together required her to constantly buy and retire expensive clothes, sometimes to the benefit of my closet. We weren't fond of them—especially after they asked us to pet-sit their dozens of gerbils, leaving us with a stinking cage and instructions to keep it clean—but we socialized from time to time. 

He was the kind of guy who had an invisible KICK ME sign plastered to his back. And he told me something interesting that I wrote down then and that still strikes me as true: He said wimps are the most dangerous fighters because they get beaten up so often that they abandon any notion of fair play and immediately go for the balls. I've known a lot of sweet-on-the-surface, nasty-underneath folks, and coming across that note in my journal reminds me why they might be that way.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another day, another victory over death

There are a couple of unexpected benefits to getting older, particularly if you've had a chronic or life-threatening illness. 

First, obviously, is that each new day is a milestone of survival, bringing you further from the early death you feared (though, ironically, closer to the death you will inevitably face). To me, it's amazing to be 59. There was a time when I didn't expect to live beyond 55. 

My friend K, who has lived with multiple sclerosis for four decades, points out that as those of us with special health problems get older, our same-age friends are finally catching up with us. We  may have looked and acted older earlier, but now our contemporaries are turning gray, slowing down, enduring age-related health conditions. Not nice, I know, to take pleasure in the decrepitude of others. But it's not their decrepitude I enjoy; it's their company.