Wednesday, August 31, 2005


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Sometimes I still get bags under my eyes from meeting deadlines, but this time I had stayed up half the night watching The Weather Channel instead....

Each of my eyes comes from a different photograph. The clock normally lives in the bookshelves near our dining table, though I photographed it in our better-lit kitchen, leaning it against the coffee maker.

The clouds combine three different shots. The mesh frame is taken from a picture of one of our rain barrel covers. I'd actually taken that shot in an attempt to capture some interesting-looking, metallic-green bugs (our field guide pegs them as Green June Beetles) who ended up as blurs. The text (readable by clicking on the photo) is taken from a March 15, 2000, journal entry:
I'd like to hide out from the world right now. Ten hours work Sunday, not counting breaks, double shifts the past two nights, another tonight, another tomorrow night, crisis call -- still have to get taxes ready for Saturday AM. And they've got a labor shortage and want me to do even more. I'll have to deal with it one day at a time. I am ready to nap. But it's time to report in.
I no longer have the commute of at least an hour each way on public transportation, followed up with work at home until midnight or 1 AM after a rushed supper. Though sometimes my longer commutes were mini-vacations in themselves -- time for leisure reading or writing, except for when I took home large editing jobs and wielded my red pen on the subway. Sometimes I left early to spend time at a cafe -- another mini-vacation, "renting" my writing table for the price and duration of a cup of coffee. For a few minutes I had a psychological mini-buffer, a point of refreshment before completing the trip to my office.

Time pressure had been my constant companion. I did the self-portrait below in college: no head, sketchy nude torso, but I had pressed hard on my pencil to draw the watch-pendant I used to wear. That, I reasoned, had for better or worse become my true identity. Time ruled me.

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Decades later I had tried my hand at carving art stamps, taking an X-Acto knife to Eberhard Faber "Rubkleen" (No. 6002) or Faber Castell "Magic Rub" (No. 1954) erasers. (Rubkleen was harder to cut but made a sharper image; I used it for more detailed work.) I created "Chaplinesque Clock," a little therapeutic piece for myself. It was a reminder that in and of itself time was a benign thing. if I tried hard enough, I could make it my friend.

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Down here I am largely removed from other people's clocks. My deadlines correspond to days rather than minutes, though I have fond memories of pulling all-nighters when it was just me at the office. (I'd pulled my first all-nighter two months after I was hired, at a place where working 'round the clock was de rigeur.) I'd brewed up a pot of coffee, took the pot in its entirety to my desk, tuned my radio to classical music, and spent dreamlike hours editing one report and formatting another. In those days I was paid for working overtime, which made a big difference. "Comp time" didn't cover the rent unless I used it -- and often did -- to complete freelance jobs.

Some months ago a client expressed surprise that I'd worked through the weekend, but I'd done the same thing repeatedly when we were coworkers. Perhaps the difference is that now the way I spend my time is more my choice. The clock flexes. "Comp time" is a thing of the past -- now that I am paid for all the hours I work I have more leeway to play.

Another client, who has also turned to freelancing, recently told me, "I learned more about you in a few minutes of looking at your web page than in the 12 years we worked together."

Which tells me: It's about more than time. It's always been about more than time.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Coffee in the Woods

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Colleen commented on the surrealistic aspect of Finding Home. I thought I'd go a mite further...

The "woods" here is actually land that borders one of our county libraries. I'd gone there for a meeting, noticed the bucolic scene, and whipped out the camera.

My sneakers really are that dirty, and we really do have a rotary phone. Two, in fact. My parents had brought them down from Brooklyn back in '80: one turquoise (here tweaked into more of a blue) and one mustard yellow (not far off from the color of the sneakers, themselves tweaked).

I had purchased the mug during a fundraiser for the school that a former coworker's daughter had attended. The "carpet" is a mouse pad given me by a friend. The fan (normally dark brown and with a broken light fixture attached to the center) is courtesy of our Florida room, which in other parts of the country is called the "family room."

And my foot is normally not so pale, nor do I use it as a coffee stirrer or stare at it from within my sneaker.

This silliness was home-grown with no artificial additives or preservatives. Past performance is no guarantee of future behavior, though the current trend is toward incorrigible. Any relation to characters living or dead is deliberate. Side effects may include giddiness, rolling of the eyes (please don't litter; pick them up afterwards), and rude noises. Feel encouraged to try this at home. And although no pixels were harmed in the making of this collage, one can rightfully say that the artist is considerably pixilated.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Guest Shots

Photo credit: Tom Ault, 1 January 2005 Posted by Picasa

My heart goes out to all those affected by Katrina. Be careful out there.

I'm taking a break from watching storm coverage and thought a serene sunset might be in order. My writing buddy Tom sent me these, taken on New Year's Day, and gave me permission to share (thanks!)....

Photo credit: Tom Ault, 1 January 2005 Posted by Picasa

Been doing research on collage copyright issues, mainly using information referenced by The International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction. The U.S. Copyright Office's Circular 14: Copyright Registration for Derivative Works states, "Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work." Sarah Ovenall's information on derivative works addresses the issue of de minimis -- e.g., Circular 14 states, "Titles, short phrases, and format, for example, are not copyrightable" -- but no clear definition of the term exists. How minimal must something be to qualify as de minimis?

Ovenall ultimately recommends that collage artists take their own photographs and create their own effects so as not to violate copyright laws. She's still working on her "Theory and Reality" page, which I plan to check when it's up.

Wikipedia provides a useful collection of public domain image resources, though taking advantage of them requires some time and patience, and following some links took me off the public domain pages (usually with prior warning).

Given the caveats, I've been moseying around the house, taking photos of various everyday items: coffee cup, stapler, a hand, a foot, the ceiling fan (both at rest and in motion). In a way it's similar to my scavenger hunts along the curb and the beach up north
for treasures to use in mixed-media pieces, though now I keep the clutter inside my computer. I now look at everything for its photographic and manipulative potential: fabrics, textures. Like draping a pretty scarf over my lampshade and photographing that to see how the light comes through. Pure play, especially given the vagaries of my no-frills camera and the leeway to have as many retakes as my batteries will allow.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Finding Home

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Credit for the photo of the back of my head goes to the Citrus County Library System. The rest are shots I've taken....

This one combines photographs of the Withlacoochie State Forest (left, in the montage below) and our old Dorchester neighborhood. I've placed trees from the latter "inside" one of our side windows, and put our back door beside that. (Our cat Red has stepped outside to take a look.) My face is downcast because I was taking notes at a lecture on sinkholes in the original shot.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Heralds of Katrina

25 August 2005, #7 Posted by Picasa

1 PM: Katrina still twirls off the coast. Digitized pinwheels crowd the Weather Channel screen while outside our window the clouds boil. Kisses from the outermost bands, though "band" is a misnomer; instead, droplets of radar green sprinkle the county. Light rain teases. Katrina's handmaidens spill across the sky, tapping our shoulders.

So beautiful. So ignorant of the destructive power that gives them life.

I will take the beauty. They are tigers overhead, wild beasts roaming the sky. They bear distinctive markings, individual personalities. Even in the midst of shape-shifting, they tell me who they are....

25 August 2005, #10 Posted by Picasa

1:50 PM. When I arrive at our writing group the northern sky is almost black. A fat streak of lightning blazes a straight shot down; less than a second later the whip of thunder cracks. I want to wait out in the open for the next one, its flash mesmerizing and deadly as a cobra, but I know better. Rationally. Wistfully. Rumbles follow me to the door.

L, who sits opposite me today, is equally besotted. "I have never seen skies like what we have down here," she says. "Never. Anywhere."

25 August 2005, #12 Posted by Picasa

4:30 PM. After the meeting I steel myself to watch the road and not the sky while driving. As soon as I park outside the supermarket I grab the camera again. A slight tilt of the head and I have left behind Winn-Dixie, Hungry Howie's, Movie Gallery, and the rest of the strip mall. We have been through one cloudburst already. Saturated air clings to me with viscous heat.

25 August 2005, #14 Posted by Picasa

4:55 PM. I have bought nothing out of the ordinary: bread and cheese, orange juice, peanuts, raisins. A birthday card. Toilet paper. Our hurricane supplies have been waiting at home since June, non-perishable foods packed in boxes. We do not expect much of an impact where we are, so long as Katrina goes where she is expected to go.

But we are so small, and the sky is so big. Clouds and storms follow their own dictates.

25 August 2005, #17 Posted by Picasa

5:05 PM. Mary had been sawing wood when I left the house. When I returned with mail and groceries I spotted her finished hatch cover closing off the attic from the garage. It is thick plywood now, better able to withstand the suck of a mini-tornado. Last summer, during Frances, our old hatch had lifted and settled back down, askew.

10:00 PM. We flick on the Weather Channel; Katrina is crossing the Everglades. Two people are dead from fallen trees; hundreds of thousands have lost power.

In the kitchen sink a small spider struggles to wrap its web around an earwig six times its size. They are a brief diversion from the mammoth weather. The earwig curls and uncurls, tries to whip its body free of the silk while the spider perseveres with frenzied diligence. They are both beneficial insects; I can't take sides.

Finally the earwig triumphs and drops free, hurrying across dull yellow enamel painted with white Bin to counteract the rust. We need new plumbing there, haven't used the sink in months. We have the pieces, just need to get them installed. Until then a small community of insects lives inside the bowl, consumed with matters of life and death.

The spider fidgets for a bit, then settles into what I can only call resignation. The earwig tries to climb its lemon-colored horizon. We wait for news.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Pot of Painlessness at the End of the Rainbow

"Based on the information you have provided, we are removing the [medical exclusion] rider for 'the female internal genital organs' from your contract effective August 01, 2005. We recommend that you retain a copy of this letter with your policy for future reference."

I stood in the post office yesterday, holding the letter from my insurance carrier's underwriting department and letting deep satisfaction wash over me, down to my toes. If I wasn't careful I would cry with relief....

Warning: What follows is medically and biologically explicit.

I had gone on the Pill after 18 years of debilitating menstrual cramps and bleeding that in the end had gone from one week in duration to two weeks and then to three. The Pill gave me my life back but at the cost of secondary problems -- leading my new health insurance carrier to include an exclusionary rider in my contract that denied any coverage to my reproductive organs. After two years treatment-free, I could ask that the rider be removed.

I had switched health care providers when I moved down from Boston. I was no longer working multiple shifts. With clearance from my doctor I discontinued taking the Pill, filling and setting aside four months of refills in case I was driven back to it.

Miraculously, I experienced less pain, not more. Perimenopause could be one reason, but I believe the major factor was the nosedive my stress level had taken. Muscles relaxed that I hadn't known existed, let alone realized they had been tensed, perhaps for all of my conscious life. After two years treatment-free, and with letters from doctors, I petitioned to have the rider removed, and yesterday received the good news.

My journal entries from before the Pill report on pain. They try to verbalize the experience, form a philosophy, seek and offer comfort. Agony, like its less troubling and often jubilant siblings, is offered a seat at the narrative table. Dealing with it becomes its own journey, with its own enlightenments.


"I never knew what day I'd get my period," my mother once told me, "but it always came between the same two subway stops in Queens."

She had lived in the Bronx and gone to Brooklyn College. By the time she was in Queens it was too late to turn back. She'd had no choice but to complete the trip, lie down in the infirmary, rip a set of sheets to shreds, throw up, and fall asleep. When she awoke it was time to go home.

I envied her because she could fall asleep after she threw up.

I was 15 years old when I saw gynecologist #1, who told me, "Get married and have plenty of children, and make sure you do it in that order."

In college I was prescribed Darvocet. I took it for exactly three days. The first day it seemed to work. The second day it failed miserably, which led me to medicate myself during the night as well as during the day. The third day I was high but in considerable pain, and I stopped taking the pills cold-turkey. The third night I was a physical and emotional mess, and realized that after only three days I was suffering withdrawal symptoms. I never touched the stuff again. Years later, when I indicated an "allergy" to Darvocet and explained why, the doctor marked "drug addiction" on my form.

I was anorexic the year I entered college. I had dropped 55 pounds in 5-1/2 months, did not menstruate for 4. Being cramp-free was paradise, but when my periods started again the cramps returned immediately, full-tilt.

Gynecologist #2 prescribed Zomax. It was the only medicine that worked more often than not. I told her, "Please give me a prescription for as many of these as you can." If it helped me I knew, instinctually, that it would be taken off the market.

Three months later it was, after five women had died. Gynecologist #2 begged me not to fill the prescription. But I was leaving my marriage and I had to support myself. I filled the Rx for 100 pills, which lasted me for several years, after which my condition worsened significantly. But I could work. Far from killing me, the Zomax had helped to save my life.

Journal excerpts

1983-1984 (age 25)

10/26/83. Today my flow started. Began quite ordinarily, 32 days. Took a Zomax at 9 AM because I felt some discomfort, wanted to keep up my level of efficiency (cursed word!). All through the morning I had a new feeling: one of fullness, back pains rather than abdominal pains, and the feeling I had swallowed two lead cannonballs. As though gas and lead were pushing my stomach out, rather than a crowbar pressing it in.

Then, at 11:30, I began to get a build-up of my old pain, only 2-1/2 hours after I'd taken the Zomax, which only once before has "betrayed" me, and that was because I ate a spicy sandwich in a fit of stupidity. This time I'd only had half a cup of coffee and a plain croissant, just to have something in my stomach. I wasn't at all hungry.

But the pain came; by 11:45 I excused myself for an early lunch, struggling to walk and pale and clammy with agony. I stumbled to Morgan, to the women's lounge, and was hit with full waves of pain as I lay on the couch and moaned, cried, hyperventilated. The Zomax was doing nothing -- after nine months of miracle from the drug, after six months of taking it after it had been taken off the shelves for killing five women. (What is the correlation between flirting with death/destruction and avoiding pain? I have seen death, have willed it to me, have decided living is much more in order and continued my life with the faith that when my time comes, it comes.)

Two women came in as I was vomiting into a garbage can reeking of cigarette butts, and escorted me to the health service in Cumnock. Am I a closet hobo, a closet derelict? In New York I could sit on the Ferry, in the Subway, and groan, doubled over in pain, grip the poles and straps blinking against the pain in half-crazed tunnel vision, and not feel as though I were out of place, as though such expression of pain was forbidden. Here in Boston I watch myself. The subways are clean, orderly, filled with God-fearing people, filled with Heritage, a confidence that schizophrenic New York lacks. Hit with waves of pain in the middle of Boston I would be a rip in that fabric of relative calm.

My cramp lasted 45 minutes. The nurse took my blood pressure: normal. I told her a brief history; she confirmed that indeed my problem was genuine. I mentioned that stress probably had a lot to do with it. That was difficult for me, because I have a problem admitting to the effects of stress, as though I am somehow above it. As though logic and control will do away with it.

And, of course, the waves of pain began to disappear as soon as I started getting attention, and that seems to be too good a coincidence to be ignored. I've certainly heard of more aesthetic attention-getters! But is there an aesthetic way to say I'm in pain, hold me, tell me it's all right, tell me I'm all right, don't lock me away, tell me I'm loved?

10/28/83. Staci and Matt gave me a lift home, after my second day of intense physical pain. Wednesday it was almost unbearable shock and confusion -- had I mistreated myself that badly? Was I betraying my body, or was my body betraying me? Was the Zomax miracle over?

I decided today I was going to give in to my pain. I called the clinic, made an appointment.

Wednesday two women "carried" me; tonight Staci and Matt. Like my mother I joked through my pain; it still confuses me after 14 years and confuses me even more after 9 months of respite. I can admit to stress being a factor, to workaholism being a factor, when I drive myself too hard, when it stops being fun. I said to Staci, "This is one helluva way of getting attention," and she laughed and said, "I know you're not like that."

Sometimes I'm not sure; what makes the body feel pain? Especially since under normal conditions I set my receptors against pain, need more stimulation than average.

J tells me I've done so much in so short a time -- home, home office, new job, new lover, writing, huge projects, now my health appointment -- that I've neglected my emotions. Said, "It's time to get the cobwebs out," told me I should check out all three groups -- rape, battered women, and child abuse support groups. "You can do a lot worse than that!" she told me. In any case, the readiness is there -- making my doctor's appointment was the shifting of one gear; now it's time for me to shift another.

2/14/84. A very relaxing, forgotten dream last night -- somewhere around my 2:45 AM cramp. Difficulty waking up this morning. Almost no work, so put together the Update index. Cramp set in at 11 -- went to lie down at 11:50. Sixth Zomax of the month (4 days) at 12:15. Trouble rousing myself at 1. Lightheaded now (2:50 PM). Went to sleep last night at 8 PM.

2/15/84. Cramps occur more frequently now than before, accompanied by sensory changes (enhanced awareness; more sensitivity to light, touch). Ginger ale yesterday and today -- took aspirin for cramps and headache; this is the fifth day of my period and my flow is minimal, but the pain is still there. Virtually all lights and bright colors come across as glaring. I feel as though I've been run ragged when in reality this has been a very slow day -- one in which I've scanned issues of both Time and Newsweek and also U.S. News and World Report.

2/17/84. After [karate] class, before I changed in the women's room, I sat on the toilet and noticed I was shaking slightly. I felt very frightened and couldn't exactly put my finger on why -- a couple of tears rose in my eyes. I felt drained past the usual effects of the work-out.

As I sat on the train a black man opposite me, across the aisle, came over to me and asked if I was okay. I must have looked glazed-over. He was sitting almost double-jointedly, in an awkward position with his legs wrapped by each other, in which he looked perfectly comfortable. After he asked me if I was all right and sat back down, he got up again and had to say three times before I understood what he was saying: "I've been supporting a kid in Korea for three years. Do you think it'll come back to me in this life?"

When I finally heard him I said, "Yes. Yes, I think so," and he grinned and said, "I hope so!"

2/18/84. Pain pretty constant all day -- the eighth day of my cycle and I'm still bleeding steadily. Just popped a Zomax, #7 for the month. I feel as though my body is killing me. I'm not used to this -- not this prolonged pain, prolonged bleeding. Sensorially everything is too bright, especially at a science fiction convention where people are naturally hyper.

2/21/84. Bleeding for the 11th day now, diarrhea last night and Sunday night. The physical ailments are the only things that mar my experiences now -- I have relaxed into contentment, a oneness with the universe, meditative joy. More tolerant of confusion.

4/12/84. Last night Karen accompanied me to Memorial Hall, where I had psyched myself up to give blood for the first time. As I was talking about it in the morning, my left arm went numb. Psychosomatics, I thought; my body likes to throw temper tantrums.

The hall was filled with jelly beans and juice, sign-up tables, temperature and blood pressure tables, folding chairs, and M*A*S*H-type tables where people lay to give blood. Karen was very warm, almost fainted from the heat, but I felt comfortable. Then I learned my own nervousness had raised my temperature to 99.4 -- the upper limit of accepting donors is 99.5.

At the next station, responding to the transfusions I'd had when I was hospitalized, the nurse asked if I would give an extra vial, since the transfusions meant I had built up valuable antibodies in my blood. I said I would.

It was when she asked me if I'd had any fainting spells or convulsions that my dysmenorrheic history came into play -- and the reactions I had while menstruating in the months following my laparoscopy. Because I do convulse and ultimately pass out from pain and muscular dysfunction, I was rejected as a donor. I was told that only after a full year without symptoms should I try to donate again.

(My Aunt S, years ago: "Oh, I'm sure the pain is just your imagination.")

8/30/84. This morning I awoke with cramps and knew I'd be late to work. I took a Zomax and collapsed on the couch -- then, when I had enough strength, crawled upstairs and collapsed much more convincingly on the bed.

By 8:30 I was well -- it always fascinates me how the pain vanishes, and -- unless it's a whopper that stays for six hours and departs leaving sore muscles -- usually doesn't leave a trace.

8/31/84. Cramps from 3:10-5:30 AM (after getting to bed about midnight). Today I dragged myself to work and hover between listlessness and bursts of adrenalin to keep my senses working.

Before I'd gone to sleep -- feeling exhausted but otherwise fine -- I thought, "Amazing. No pain. I feel as if it's all over, can't even remember what it felt like." Like labor, I suppose. So when I rolled awake at 3:10 and felt the suddenly familiar pain and its build-up I tried to verbalize to myself just what happens.

My first reaction is in the legs and arms. To give in to tension in my lower abdomen causes sharp, excruciating pain; the initial stages have me pointing my toes and flaring them as well -- otherwise my thighs tense -- and they become disabled soon enough. I start with the extremities to distract me from the pain, almost like ferrying muscle spasms away from the center.

My fingers interlock,and twist. Or my hands hold onto each other, palms pushing together in an isometric fashion. At times I stretch myself and pull, rack-style, to concentrate on the arms and legs rather than on the abdomen.

This is a useful, but temporary, way to alleviate the pain. Soon enough my leg muscles in particular, and thighs especially, become fatigued and begin to hurt. I relax them -- and the pain in my abdomen leaps up to full intensity. I find something to do with my hands -- in last night's case, focusing on the peeling skin from my sunburn gotten at Crane's Beach. Usually I dig my nails into my flesh, or scratch it, or give it a hard rub, to focus my attention away from the pain.

In later stages my body twists and turns as a whole, when my small muscular groups have been strained to capacity. (If the pain gets bad enough I go into convulsions here; fortunately this didn't happen last night.) My legs become rigid and sometimes jerk at odd angles, to try to "divert" feeling into muscles as yet un-strained.

The cramps occur in waves that don't always decline to base level. There are times when there is severe pain but it is held constant. I lie perfectly still (any movement sets off spasms), nauseous, and mentally retreat from the pain. My face, creased during spasms, is perfectly smooth -- except for the taut muscles in my abdomen my body is completely relaxed -- until the spasms begin again.

During the spasms my breathing is hard. I push, the way I imagine a woman does in labor -- tightening the stomach muscles as I push my diaphragm up. Somewhere in the pain process, there is a switch: from diverting muscular tension to extremities, to premeditated pushing at the source of pain in an attempt to vanquish it by using its own power.

When hard breathing no longer sufficies I moan. It is a low, guttural moan -- my adenoids draw up and I push from the diaphragm -- almost in true singer's form, but much more ragged (though the harder I push the moan at times, the "purer" the tone). When my throat is this open I often feel the need to yawn, and the rush of oxygen and blood to my brain provides quick but brief relief from the pain.

When the waves are such that I have brief respite -- no pain at all -- my mind is blank. All I am aware of half-consciously is letting that lack of pain course through me. When the spasms return I am quickly brought back to consciousness in which, in less excruciating stages, I "negotiate" with the pain. In more excruciating stages, I do battle with it.

In these more excruciating stages -- which I did not experience last night but which have the potential to arise -- the convulsions occur. I lose control of my voice -- as my entire body tenses, my moan rises to a high pitch and finally to a thin scream. At such stages I plead to the pain, to the higher powers, and alternately react to the pain with undiminished rage. (How dare it treat me like this!)

As the spasms decrease and the respites lengthen I lose consciousness. I am able to dimly sense when the pain seems to have stopped for good, and the feeling is one of utmost serenity.

1985-1986 (age 26-27)

2/9/85. On Friday my period began at 9:15 AM. I'd braved the Boston Deep Freeze and the bus and subway to get to work. Cambridge is filled with ice patches; the wind was blustery and snow-frozen-into-ice was blown into my face dead-on. People around me slipped and fell; I was sliding.

By 10 AM I couldn't walk. As I stood, to attempt to get to my cot in Morgan Hall, a searing pain lanced through the right side of my groin and I listed to the right. My entire right leg was inflamed.

Karen walked me to Morgan, where I lay down and napped. My overall cramp diminished but my right side was still pained and I thought I felt a bit of swelling; perhaps I'd pulled a groin muscle. I later discovered I hadn't -- I just had a very severe, very localized cramp on top of the general excruciating pain. The localization was something new. (Shit! Fifteen years and I have to get a new kind of pain?!)

I thought I'd try to make it back to the office. When I called, Bill suggested I stop at the Health Center. I asked for an escort because I still had trouble walking. I waited on a bench outside the Personnel office.

Between 5-10 minutes later, hurting more, I began to wonder if Bill realized I'd asked for someone to help me walk. I staggered back into the Personnel office and called again.

This time Jim answered. As I spoke with him another wave of pain hit on the right side. I lowered the phone, then put it down and calmly asked the woman at the desk for a trash basket. And gave up my breakfast.

One of the professors stood off to the side. I turned to him when I had finished and said, half-seriously, "Sorry to have been so gauche."

He began to escort me back to the lounge when we met Karen; they and a woman from Morgan supported me as we took the tunnel to the health center in Cumnock. I'd had to pause about every three steps to breathe deeply until a contraction passed. Karen massaged my back, saying over and over, "You poor kid."

I'd been cracking jokes. She was surprised at my spirit. I said, "Well, it's a case where you either have to laugh or cry."

"Yeah, but most people would cry."

Professor B stayed with us. I leaned on him as well. We passed an industrial-sized dolly and looked at each other.

Karen: "Shall we steal it?"

Me (smiling through pain): "Why not?"

I lay on the flatbed in a fetal position and the others wheeled me through the tunnel. The woman from Morgan held my hand. Karen and Professor B negotiated me around corners and we joked as I rode with gritted teeth. ("Well, here's where we let you go and let you slide to the bottom!") When we couldn't take the dolly any further I looked up and asked, coyly, "Is this where I pay my fare?"

4/16/85. Sitting at the Harvard Book Store Cafe on Newbury Street. Doped up on Zomax and aspirin and a touch of Black Russian. I had napped off a cramp early in the afternoon (flow began this morning). Six Zomax left, 14 if you count the sample expired since 2/82.

I have, after today, 5 days of vacation. I want to get in some Play this week. Part of me wants to visit with friends; another part vants to be alone! But adventurous -- explore Rockport or sleep on a beach or something. Or hop down to D.C. and personally get to touch the Vietnam Memorial. Or hit New York again.

Part of me wants to get on a plane and fly -- anywhere. Like Alaska.

And part just wants to bike, or sit outdoors, write, finish up the work outstanding, and bum around Boston -- take in concerts and events and what have you, shop the Haymarket, get to be a tourist here, with home not far off.

I did zombie out earlier today. And the letters unwritten hang like albatrosses around my neck. I want to catch up on things. Take in a movie or two.

I will probably do this. As long as I also play. Important! The weather has been superb.

10/3/85. I got into the office at 8:50, pale and in pain. PMS or some bodily reaction to my workout. I'd performed my usual routine, actually one a bit easier. Five miles pedaled. I stayed, for the most part, to 10 lifts per weight instead of stretching my endurance to 12 or 15. I passed up rowing altogether.

I was fine as I sponged down with paper towels in the bathroom. Then I performed a slow head circle to loosen up my neck....

And saw spots.

Color drained from my face at once and I felt a hard twinge. I was nauseous. Half-dressed, I sat on the toilet seat, the rest of my clothes and coat hanging askew off the stall's wooden door. I placed my head between my knees.

My breathing was uneven. I couldn't tell if that was from exertion, or pain, or nausea; in fact, I hadn't been breathing hard. Exercise makes me sweat; it doesn't make me gulp air.

The knowledge of my breathing came to me as though from a distance. I was instead wondering how to get rid of the nausea, let it run its course on the path of least resistance. I wondered verbally, thinking to myself, repeating phrases over and over.

Finally I stood up. My face was rosy once again. Then it drained, pale.

My lime green sweats were balanced on a ceramic sink corner. Well, if someone came in and found me on the floor it would be embarrassing, but would prove to be for the best. I didn't want to stagger out and undergo that extra exertion in the rain. I felt hampered and concerned but in no immediate danger.

My stomach began to unclench. I felt warmer; I'd been drenched in cold, nausea sweat after I'd wiped the warmer, workout sweat away. Thought: Low blood sugar? Thought: No wonder they told me I can't give blood.

I pictured a peasant woman out in the fields, lying down in tall rushes or wheat stalks to wait for her body to recharge. I pictured a Chinese woman; I had just finished reading Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior while cycling. All those stories of strong women able to bear 50 pounds of water on their backs, bending hour after hour in the fields. Superwomen of a more "primitive" type than the mother/wife/executive.

You don't see them when they lie down in fields, clutching their stomachs and breathing through their mouths. The tall grasses hide them, make them invisible when sick.

Such were the scenes that ran through my head as I lay on the cool tiles, clutching my stomach and breathing through my mouth. When I felt color begin to creek back into my face I told myself, "Give it a couple more minutes. Give it until you're bored with lying down."

Pretty soon I was bored.

Then it was a question of discipline. "Take 10 deep breaths before you try to get up." ("Eat all your peas; then you can have dessert," my mother said in my head, in tandem.)

I lifted myself to my knees. "Don't get up too quickly." ("Don't wolf down that blueberry pie; take small bites.")

Good, good. My face doesn't drain of blood.

I finished dressing as another woman walked in. Hellos, talk of the over-filled wastebasket. Then I put on my coat, hoisted my backpack, and left.

I was cramped and pale again by the time I reached the office. Said good mornings through blanched skin and nausea, then went upstairs and put on a pad, just in case; came back down and took a Nuprin. About a half hour later I felt fine.

1/25/86. "The test of whether one has chosen rightly can never be made by considering what is best, only by whether one has rightly judged what made one happy." -- Isak Dinesen, Letters from Africa

1/30/86. Mensis began this morning, closing off a 43-day cycle. Irregular as sin. So far there have been only twinges. The Nuprin has alleviated those.

I read of Isak Dinesen's overwhelming physical pain and disability. Her biographer Thurman comments, "Unfortunately it was not ambrosia but amphetamines that would give her the overdrive she required, and late in her life she took them recklessly, whenever strength was needed at an important moment. From her doctor's point of view, or from that of any prudent person, she was running herself into the ground."

If prudence presupposes rationality, then I am afraid I am not prudent. I identify both with the physical pain and the overdrive; in her position I am quite sure I would do the same thing. Earlier, Thurman quotes Dinesen from Out of Africa: "He lives free who has the strength to." I have above my word processor here, "That is called freedom when you do in your work time what you love to do, and in your spare time that which is required of you."

I meld the two. To do what you love to do is freedom. Freedom requires strength. And whatever strength requires, that is the price paid for one's freedom.

7/24/86. I'd gotten my period Tuesday morning at 8:30. At 10:15 my legs began to paralyze, my pelvis inflamed with pain. I went down to Morgan, where the master key had been stolen. I had to wait for Security to open up my little room for me.

I was in unabated agony. After the full wave of pain, screams, and vomiting passed, a second wave began. I'd pass out from the pain and awaken, after a short period of unconsciousness, to more pain. I was still in agony at 4:30 when I crawled out to take a cab home. I was still in agony at 2:30 the next morning, when finally I was able to fall asleep.

Yesterday I was weak as a kitten. Out of it, barely able to function. Beth: "If the pain's gone on for this long there must be a deficiency." Pam: "Next time it happens, just go to the Mt. Auburn Emergency Room. Be bitchy. Say you've had 16 years of this and you can't take it any more."

8/12/86. "You look like you been floatin' in the Charles, lady." A street worker, probably commenting on my downturned face from lack of sleep. Waiting now for an almost-forgotten doctor's appointment, a 40-minute walk from home.

8/13/86. Dr. S. had given me a prescription for Naprosyn: "There are stronger prostaglandin inhibitors, but if this works we won't have to go to them. If not, we'll just keep trying." She added, "The prescription will say to take this twice a day, but you can take it more often if you need to. I won't write that down because it will raise eyebrows at the pharmacy." Blood pressure is a terrific 90/70.

8/27/86. 10 AM. Rose at 6, took 2 Naprosyn and breakfasted, returned to word processing.

11:45. Zombied out. I am lightheaded on the medication and feel dull discomfort where Naprosyn declares war on my prostaglandins. Practicing slow, deep breathing, flooding my pelvis with oxygenated warmth. This is a day I'd like to go home, stretch out on the bed, and sleep. Lunch hour is just a few minutes away.

1 PM. Took 2 Naprosyn 15 minutes ago; pain still increasing. Went through New York Times and Washington Post. Every discomfort impacts me now, full-force. The worming of soaps into the music. The nausea of ambient cigarette smoke. The incessant hysteria of a phone ringing unanswered. The muscles in my pelvis strain, pulling, pushing. Legs like lead.

11:44 PM. By the time I'd returned to the office I was nauseous, could hardly walk. Said I was going home and bypassed the "high priority" word processing task left on my chair. I struggled to the bus stop -- stopping every few feet to hold into a wall, a fence, breathing deeply until I'd relaxed the cramp enough to continue on for a few more steps. Sat doubled over on the bus, then inched my way home. By 2:30 I felt much better, able to eat: a required accompaniment for the Naprosyn. Trouble is, when the pain begins and builds, whatever I eat comes right back up.

At around 8 a cramp set in again. Took 2 more Naprosyn, played the "Pain Reliever" tape and entered trance. My body was completely relaxed, except for the spasms in my pelvis.

"All your internal organs are open," the woman on the tape droned. "Completely relaxed."

"Fat chance," I replied.

8/29/86. A convulsive cramp hit at close to midnight. Took 2 Naprosyn (I'd taken 2 earlier yesterday, at 10 AM) and continued to jerk in agony, breathing through my mouth, body rigid to stifle screams. It was 2 blocks to Mt. Auburn Hospital but I'd wait for the cramp to pass. There was no way I could walk; they'd have to carry me out. If I called for an ambulance my landlord would be awakened for something that eventually passed; I'd be better off screaming.

9/14/86. Last night, as I lay half-conscious, I thought upwards: "Thank you for this vessel -- it's a lovely one." I ran my hands lightly over my forehead, nose, cheeks, eyes, lips. Arms. Sternum, breasts, stomach, loins, thighs. Loving the imperfections. Knowing I'm locked inside it when there is pain. But feeling -- knowing -- that behind the bright eyes, the bow smile, and the prominent cheeks, there is a recognizeable spirit. One that, for the first time, I can see through the skin. Paradoxically there is a further claiming of my body as well -- that whatever it is and whatever has happened to it, it is a vessel that has kept me in good stead. It has allowed me to be in the world, contained in a package, a symbol -- the body (concrete) being a symbol of the spirit (abstract).

1987 (age 28-29)

5/21/87, 8:07 PM. I was practicing piano tonight when a cramp hit. I popped Naprosyn dry, then had to wait for it to take effect. As the pain worsened I lay down on the stone floor, then realized it was going to escalate. I left Paine Hall and walked through the Science Center, stopping to wait for a spasm to pass, then steeled myself and moved on. Walked as far as I could through Harvard Yard, then stopped -- twice -- to wait until my legs were no longer seized up. Finally I made it to the Health Center.

"You'll need to wait here for someone to see you," the receptionist said.

I was leaning on the counter, holding myself up. "Let me tell you the situation," I said softly, firmly. "I am in a good deal of physical pain. If I have to stay here I'll need to lie down on the floor, and then I may have to find a place quick to throw up."

She started to process papers. "Okay."

"I'm sorry to bypass protocol," I said, "but I've had this for 17 years and I know what to expect."

She led me to an examination room, where I lay down. Later I was moved to an empty room to free up the examination room, after temperature, blood pressure, pulse were taken (pressure 90/70).

It's been a difficult period this month -- still, nothing compared to some that have gone before.

7/22/87. I float an armada of antiprostaglandins to make war on a vicious body chemistry.Yesterday, when I awoke to my flow, I headed off the pain with 2 Naprosyn. At 10:15, less than 3 hrs. later, I needed to do the same. Pain returned, escalating, an hour later.

My prescription reads, "Two pills, no more than twice a day." My doctor said, "Take them more often if you need to." She hadn't written this on the Rx in order to avoid problems from the pharmacy.

I'd never followed up an hour after medicating. Not with more of the same pill. This time, after last month's pain, I said, "Damn the torpedoes." Six pills in less than 4 hrs., or 3x the prescribed dose.

I was a little light-headed but otherwise fine. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I'd stopped a serious cramp. I needed to medicate again at 7, then at 4 this afternoon.

Walking to work this morning, I came up with the analogy of a speeding train. Let's say that a brick wall stops a train at speed S. Assuming the brick wall is of a given depth and thickness, there comes a point where such thickness becomes meaningless if the speed of the train reaches S+x. To stop the train, one must thicken the wall. When I take medication, all else being equal, it will work up to a given point. Beyond that point, there is no gradation of effectiveness; rather, it is as though I'd taken nothing at all.

Yesterday changed that. I'd sent reinforcements immediately.

8/26/87 1:14 PM. I am lying low. The Naprosyn has begun to make me more dizzy and do less to alleviate the pain. Then again it could be stress. Then again it could be my left ovary, which has been steadily sore over the summer. Then again that could be stress, too.

Today I am in pain, but strong. Merci Dieu. Last night I was a goner, as I was yesterday. I'd simply Lost It -- not too much, but enough to get me furious enough at myself to wipe the slate clean, put the skids on this collision between J and me.Yesterday it had all come to a head -- the multi-hour phone calls, the endless talk, the endless reassurances. The endless questions. The endless brainstorming. And I, ever eager to be helpful (as much as she; and that's where we're both stupid together), took out my textbook on Abnormal Psych. Called upon my faculties of verbalization.

Monday was my return to work. The boss out sick, second-in-command on his vacation. The office short-staffed with an assistant out, too, and me covering for her in the Visitor Information Center. The VIC is a cell inside Baker Library: lovely, beige carpeting, two full-sized desks. No window to the outside, and blank white walls. Maximum security detention for white-collar workers. It's a new office, not yet outfitted with the amenities.

As a Quiet Space it was ideal -- if my period hadn't begun. Newspapers were everywhere: remnants of clipping jobs. I scanned -- leisurely -- the Washington Post and New York Times, grateful for the chance to do so. However, there was no water nearby, no bathroom nearby, the door (opened by Facilities after a 90-minute wait) locked when shut unless I left it open. C from the next office was in Maine. I was, save for the occasional visitor who stepped in, entirely alone.

I could feel my period begin, and popped 2 Naprosyn dry at 11. I turned out the light, closed the door, hitched up my skirt and put on a pad. My pain continued to escalate. I popped 2 more Naprosyn at 11:30. The pain decreased slightly, then held -- still enough to make me have to stand up on occasion, double over, and grasp the edge of the desk until the spasms passed.

I couldn't concentrate. I could hardly think. When I answered the phone, my voice sounded far away; what I really needed to do was sleep. When I greeted visitors I had to steel myself against the pain, try not to sway on my feet. If I took more medication I would be further impaired.

I did not have the solace of a day's rest. I did not even have the solace of a good night's sleep; no wonder I could not write, concentrate, or be anything other than listless. It is no wonder that I wanted a strong arm around me and a warm, happy embrace rather than protracted deliberations with J on relationships and instant appraisals of where I was with my own. I was too lethargic, too unfocused from the medication and pain combined, too spent.

Rather than tough it out I craved solace -- since I usually toughed things out by writing them down. I simply had neither the energy nor the concentration to write what I needed to write, revise what I needed to revise, read what I needed to read. And on top of that there was constant pain, and still my job to attend to, the public relations front to put up.

I'd spent my lunch hour on Monday in the women's room, bleeding heavily into the toilet and then stretching out on the couch, too much in pain to sleep but at least able to rest in a semiconscious state. Before returning to the office, I picked up a can of soda and fruits and nuts, in case I could eat something later on. Throughout the afternoon I was doubled over in pain and still woozy from medication. When I arrived home I called J, who went on about her doctor's incompetence, and asked me what I would say. My head filled with words, with worries, with overpowering fatigue.

Afterwards I tried to sleep and could not. I needed to take more Naprosyn. Tuesday I could hardly rise. My alarm went off and I stayed in bed for another hour, then moved slowly, lethargically, sometimes standing still, shaky. Unsteady on my feet. I didn't know what had happened to my life. I couldn't do what I needed to do. I was alone. I was drained. I was hurting mightily.

My "vacation" had been filled with calls and discomfort that pervaded my outings because I was damned if I was going to fester in the apartment. I danced with cramps when I could, because if I could not dance I wasn't living. And I needed desperately to live. I myself was stuck in a pattern of calling and worrying and I saw no way out.

On Tuesday I'd been devastated. I simply needed someone to turn to, on whom I could unload freely for a while and then let it go at that. No probing. No psychoanalysis. No attempts at logical deductions. When an infant is in discomfort, one holds it until it stops crying. All I wanted was to be held and given the chance to cry, and coddled with no inquiries until I stopped crying. That's all. Nothing complicated.

I spent the morning with tears in my eyes. I was still listless, still in pain, still having to answer the phone in a professional voice that to me sounded completely hollow. My eyes hurt under the bright fluorescent lights. I felt myself under extreme pressure, with no way to alleviate it except to cry. And to cry in the office was verboten.

I called my doctor's office for a referral to Ob/Gyn. Later I called back, on the verge of tears, for a referral to Mental Health, citing "listlessness, moodiness, inability to sleep." I knew it was caused by stress and by medical effects; I'd reached a critical break-point. When I held back the tears mightily, my nose began to run. No matter what I did, my emotions would have their release.

I went to the bathroom and cried. I tried to finish the cry, washed my face, tried to fan the red from my eyes. It was no use. I took my lunch hour, lying on the banks of the Charles and crying my eyes out. Nothing seemed to matter inasmuch as what could bring me joy -- I couldn't concentrate on anything. This was not a question of needing simple guidance or advice; it was a question of living through a world that had fallen on me: daily and long phone calls, being a good listener, answering questions, constant pain and discomfort including a new ovarian pain, expectations dashed, side effects from medication and an overall feeling of flatness, exhaustion, helplessness. And no one to turn to, because I really needed the peace and quiet to get through it, myself.

I wept uncontrollably, heaving on the grass. I had no tissues, pulling instead round leaves from the ground to wipe my eyes and blow my nose. Thanking Nature, a tacit understanding that I don't usually pull the leaves off plants, but they would let me, this time.

I spent an hour taking dried leaves and crumbling them, making a mound of compost over the green leaves with tears and snot. A ritual, something to help me calm down. A repetitive action that I could perform without the need to think. It calmed me, slowly, so that I could return to work. Over the course of the afternoon, my mood improved.

9/1/87. When I am hit with cramps -- when I'm lying on the floor or pulling myself along a fence --when I stop in mid-step to convulse in spasms before I can take the few steps until it happens again -- I am wholly stoic. I am in excruciating pain, but lucid. What if, now, my pain medication has side effects? I clearly want someone to baby me. And I will clearly have to baby myself and go it alone.

It is when I feel I've taken care of others that I feel the need for return care at such a time as this...otherwise I'm happy to be of service, up to a point. It almost seems as though I am best off when I am quiet, isolate. The sailor, the journeyer. I've departed from that, felt a new loneliness.

I don't like to feel this needy -- but I'm learning patience here, a blind faith of the heart. I keep reminding myself of this. It is like being a good soldier, following the duty toward one's development, toward being of service.


In September 1987 I went in for a Vabra aspiration, a procedure that extracts uterine tissue to test for pre-cancerous conditions. Before I went on the Pill, we had to be sure that no such conditions existed.


9/22/87 7:15 PM. Given a choice of what I'd want done again -- all 4 wisdom teeth extracted or the Vabra aspiration -- I'll take the wisdom teeth. The Vabra is a thoroughly awful procedure, but worth its potential in miracles. The results take 2 weeks, but Dr. B gave me an Rx for Norinyl -- a moderate-strength Pill. If, by small chance, the Vabra uncovers any nasties, the # of days I'd have taken the Pill would have had no effect, and this way I can catch the next cycle.

The pharmacist asked me, "Do you want all three months on the prescription? Or just one?"

"Three," I said.

My coworker Jim: "They're going to hurt you?"


Jim buried his face in his hands. "I could never be a woman. Don't tell me -- what are they going to do?"

"They're going to extract some gunk. Then they're going to look at the gunk to see if I can go on the Pill."

He moaned, "I can't stand pain. I'm like a child. I guess you get used to it."

"You don't get used to it. But this may take away a lot of future pain, so it's worth it."

I was plenty nervous when I arrived at the clinic. Went to the back desk and asked if there were any readings on the procedure. The nurses couldn't find one. One -- a woman in her 60s, who seemed a seasoned veteran, pointed to a contraption on the floor made of tubing, a large motor, and a glass jug. The jug, attached to the tubes, seemed to have a half-gallon capacity.

"We use this," she said, "but we attach the tube to a sterile, very small tube and that gets inserted into the uterus."

I recognized the contraption. I'd seen it on a PBS special on abortions. The "Empty jar after each use" was reserved for aborted fetuses.

Only in the medical world, I thought: I have myself sterilized, so I can go through an ersatz abortion that will let me know if I'm able to go on the Pill.

"Could you tell me anything about the procedure?" I asked. "All I know is it takes about 30 seconds and it's painful."

"To tell you the truth," the nurse said, serious, "some women don't feel any pain. Others clench their teeth and grimace." She screwed up her face by way of example. "You can get some spotting afterwards."

I thanked her and continued to wait, meditating. Then the same nurse -- the one who would assist Dr. B -- called me in. Orange quilted mittens had been placed over the stirrups and I broke out into a grin.

"Nervous?" she asked.

"Yes. I guess it's natural."

I asked to be told what went on during the procedure. When I had my laparoscopy I'd been verbally walked through every step of the way.

Dr. B had told me to take any necessary pain medication before I arrived. When he asked if I had, I said, "All day." Two Naprosyn at 7:30, two at 11:30, two at 3.

My answer seemed to surprise him, and he looked at me. I looked levelly back at him. After a couple seconds of this, he said, "I'm going to give you a local anaesthesia at the cervix." A significant gesture, and one that earned my respect; the nurse had told me a local isn't generally used. She'd also said that, after the procedure, there may be pain for a few minutes and a bit of spotting.

She needed to leave the examination room in order to get the syringe. Dr. B gave me three shots of the cervical block, then clamped the cervix and said, "I'm going to turn on the machine. It will sound like a vacuum cleaner."

Sure enough.

"I'm going to begin the suction," he said.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is a severe cramp under my regular menstrual conditions, I usually begin at 1 or 2 and quickly ascend. Here I came in at an 8. My moans were just short of howls, and unending. I knotted my fingers. On the ceiling above me there was taped a full-color picture from a Rocky Mountains '86 calendar -- but I closed my eyes instead against the pain. And the pain was agony.

"Just a few more seconds," Dr. B said. Earlier he'd asked me to tell him to stop if I felt "too much pain."

I'd answered, "If I feel about to go into convulsions I'll tell you to stop." I wasn't there, but I was close. My body began to tremor.

"Just a few more seconds... Just 30 more seconds -- " Dr. B stopped himself, corrected: "A few more seconds...."

As soon as the nurse was free, she came and took my hand. I squeezed hers, hard. If, in her seasoned years, the most the nurse had ever seen was a grimace and clenched teeth, I added another dimension to her experience. Even Dr. B sounded nervous.

Finally he was finished. He removed the equipment, came around, and held my other hand. "How do you feel?"

"Still spasming." That would be my answer for the next half hour.

He apologized, said, "I hope I haven't hurt you too much."

"Next to my menstrual cramps, this is nothing," I said. "It's important that you got all you needed."

He got his pad. "The results won't be in for two weeks. But I can give you a prescription now, so you can begin the next cycle." Even if something showed on the Vabra, I wouldn't have taken enough pills to do damage.

I felt a trickle. "I'm leaking," I said.

The nurse got a towel. They gave me a pad. What I experienced was a far cry from spotting; it was closer to hemorrhaging.

Every few minutes Dr. B or the nurse stopped in to see how I was doing. Each time the spasms had lessened, but I was still in a lot of pain. The nurse offered to get me a towel for my forehead. I didn't need the towel, knew it was just a question of waiting.

"Your pulse is slower," Dr. B said. "The pain medication does that; don't get up too quickly or you'll feel dizzy; and take it easy for a while."

I nodded. I wasn't going anywhere.

After a half hour following the procedure I felt able to stand. Slowly I made my way to have the Rx filled, then took a cab home. I continued to bleed. I'd shared a couple of "war stories" with the nurse. Adventures in pain, stoicism.

She said, "That takes a lot of courage. Most women would just give up -- no school, no work."

I smiled to myself: here's to guts.

10/2/87 8:50 AM. The other day, after my morning fatigue at 9:30, a cramp developed at 10:30 and quickly escalated. I was on the verge of screaming -- already in convulsions from the pain and moaning loudly-- enough, I thought, to disturb the household if anyone was home. I'd never had it this bad on the fifth day of my cycle. Coworkers had been nagging me to go to the emergency room; I decided to give it a try.

I tried to call the office and several times had to interrupt my dialing, get through a wave of spasms and begin again. Finally I got Karen. Then it was a question of laboriously getting dressed. I did not go for the amenities -- merely threw on sweats and went braless, hair uncombed. Had I the strength and control of my movements I'd have done more.

I slipped my feet into bedroom slippers. Karen and Pam had come for me in a cab, helped me in, and sat me between them. They all but carried me into the Emergency Room, where I sat down, shaking, next to a woman in a leg cast who told me her daughter goes through the same thing. (Imagine a bedraggled, pale, sweat-soaked woman facing a bunch of patients staring openly at this new arrival, who tells them with a smile between spasms, "It's only menstrual cramps.")

Karen held my hand, held me across the back, saying, "Poor thing."

Pam called over for stats, which she also gave to the registration desk attendant. Finally I staggered over, holding onto the partition to give date of birth, mother's name, insurance, address. "You can die before they take all this down," Pam said.

"Were you brought in by friends?" the attendant asked, "or relatives?"

"Coworkers," I said, adding, "and friends, and surrogate relatives."

Karen grinned. "Sisters."

"Sisters," I said.

The attendant asked who my doctor was, which clinic I went to. Pam continued to shake her head, incredulous. "You could die before they get all this down."

I pointed a trembling finger at the terminal, adding, "And purple's my favorite color."

"Okay," the attendant said. "You can sit down and we'll get a nurse for you."

I couldn't sit down. It was either stand, or lie. First I tried to stand, holding onto the wall; then I figured to hell with it. In a hospital emergency room you let pain override decorum. I lay down by the chairs.

In about a minute a nurse walked in and I struggled to my feet. Once I was in an examining room my shrieks came out in earnest as I struggled onto the table.

The nurse was wincing. "I can't take your blood pressure with you screaming like that. I can't hear your heart."

I tried to choke down the screams. My limbs began to flail. From then on I was enslaved to the pain, shrieking past hoarseness, praying that I'd pass out from exhaustion if nothing else.

Twice I vomited -- the first time after crushing the plastic kidney-shaped basin I was handed. I'd clenched my hands from the pain and crushed, then twisted the basin, having to "unfold" it before I could use it.

I was seen by a Dr. F, who along with the nurse asked me about my family history. "What is your normal period?"

"I don't have a normal period," I gasped.

"When do you get it?"

"Between 28 and 40 days, usually. This month was 33."

Often my answers were interrupted by screams; I'd spasm and all speech would go by the wayside. They asked me to answer the questions and I assured them I was trying to. The pelvic exam was a nightmare -- probably for all of us.

The nurse had long since put up the guard rails on the examining table. Immediately the rails became a push-pull object on which to vent the spasms.

"We're going to put you on an IV," the nurse said, "and give you a shot of Demerol." The IV was a nutrient solution that would replenish the fluid I'd sweated away. The Demerol had no effect. When the nurse looked in and saw that it wasn't working, she injected a painkiller into the IV. This second painkiller helped to deaden the rest of me, but my spasms remained. It meant that between spasms I was all the more limp; when they came on again and I had to endure them, I was all the more weak.

Dr. F kept saying to me, "We're going to find a way to make you comfortable." Finally he came in and said, "We're going to give you something in the phenothiazine family, called Thorazine."

Part of me wanted to laugh; at the rate I was going I certainly looked psychotic. I was literally hysterical with pain. I was ready to take anything short of a bullet in the head.

They sent in someone whom Dr. F called a hypnotist.

"You have to get your mind off the pain in order for the medicine to work," she said.

"I'm trying," I gasped.

"That's not good enough."

When a scream came out she told me to stop. "No more of that. Now I want you to concentrate. Think of something you most like to do."

Writing, I thought -- but in this setting it didn't work. I imagined my sanctuaries, relaxation. A spasm hit.

"You're tense as a board," she said. "You need to relax in order for the medicine to work."

"I'm trying," I said, tears flooding from me. "I feel so weak -- " A thing I never thought I'd say.

"You can do it; you just need to concentrate. Start with the head and work your way down. Breathe normally."

I'd been gulping air through my mouth; my nose was stuffed. To breathe normally was agony.

"Don't think of the pain." How could I not think of the pain? "Now I'm going to turn the lights low, and check back in 10 minutes to see how you're doing."

Turning off the bright fluorescent lights was the best thing she did. When I spasmed I bit down the screams and tensed my right foot while gripping the guardrail with my hands. It did the trick until I finally passed out. From then on I drifted in and out of exhausted but blissfully painless sleep, until Dr. F returned to ask how I was doing.

There had been repeated questions as to why I had been sterilized and whether I had ever been pregnant. I explained: No, I have never been pregnant. Yes, I had myself sterilized in view of A, B,and C.

10/2/87 7:35 PM. Take 3 hours of the same yesterday, and three more today, without the emergency ward and injections. No vomiting, but close to it. I have sweated buckets and been at wit's end.Yesterday I was still doped-out, shuffling and bedraggled from room to room. Joints ached, no fever. I'd been in the emergency room two days ago from approximately noon to 6 PM, when I took a cab home, and listened while waiting to a man who spoke about his nephew's drug OD less than a year after his twin brother's suicide. A drug-abuse counselor, the man had a hefty list of casualties.

Pam and Karen had picked up a bookmark of a chorale singer, and left that with a cab slip for the nurse to give to me. This morning I called Kupersmith Florist, to have a basket of flowers delivered to each of them. Pam: "We should be sending you flowers! You really didn't have to -- " Me: "Look at it this way: I probably can't appreciate them here as much as knowing they're brightening up the office." Added they could also share with Tracy, our new clippings-person, who is learning fast and is, according to Bill, "really putting the office into shape."

10/23/87. I am looking to rectify 18 years of screwed-up hormones. Compared to that, a month (or even 2) of bleeding may simply be a temporary reaction to the Herculean task of setting unruly hormones into new formations.

J could not understand how, with my screaming and vomiting, my parents never thought of taking me to the hospital. My mother's ailments had proved enough of a "burden" to my father. My mother, who had also suffered from cramps, was no doubt told for years that it was all in her head -- and if she was meant to suffer from something that "was in her head," no doubt her daughter was as well.

Thus I'd learned to be stoic -- and, for several days out of the month, a pariah. I remember a temp stint I did at Avon, which had its infirmary next to the cafeteria. This meant that at lunchtime, pin-striped executives dining on their afternoon fare were simultaneously treated to my blood-curdling screams. When my cramp had passed, the nurse on duty yelled at me, "Don't you ever come in here in that condition again!" So much for compassion for the sick; I had effectively been banned from Avon's infirmary.

I simply took myself out of circulation, like an animal who, sensing the approach of death, finds a dark closet or a hidden, private niche. In college, if I could not get to my dorm room, I found an empty classroom and lay on the floor in the dark, out of sight, with a wastebasket by my head. To my mind, I had a problem that was simply part of nature, and for which there was no cure short of a hysterectomy. No sense in announcing it to the world if I could help it; if I hid it to the best of my ability it would not incriminate me (who would hire someone unable to work for several days out of each month?).

The Zen approach: If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does the tree exist? If a woman screams in pain and no one hears it, does her pain exist?

10/24/87 10:30 AM. Very dizzy. Nauseous. I awoke at around 9, sat up, and the world reeled. When it quieted down I went to the bathroom, then came back to bed and lay down. A couple minutes later I tried to rise again, and again the world reeled.

I slowly made my way to the kitchen and tried to cook breakfast; then dizziness and nausea overcame hunger. The pan is still on the stove, and I am back in bed.

Nausea and dizziness are among the Pill's side effects, which include everything but the kitchen sink.

10/25/87 9AM. Was in bed all day yesterday -- unable to read or write, let along edit. Could hardly eat. Couldn't read, because my eyes were swimming. For a minute or so I felt an overwhelming loneliness. The realization that I might die alone some day, simply -- passing. No one to share with. Then I realized: no. There is always the Divine; one is never truly alone. It was at that moment a question of blind faith, because there was no presence, per se. Only the knowledge and the surety that the One, the Wholeness, is there.

11/4/87. One of the appendices in Vol. II of the Summa Theologica mentioned that according to St. Thomas, humans will "receive grace" even though we are "undeserving." I have a problem with that view.

Deservingness implies worthiness. Undeserving implies unworthy. The view is that no human is perfect; therefore no human is worthy of grace but will nevertheless receive it -- in order to influence self and others in the direction of perfection, i.e., toward God.

Unconditional love, i.e., Divine love, to my mind transcends the human concept of worthiness. On a personal level, I have had and continue to have experiences/visions/etc. that I do not question insofar as worthiness. My gratitude is immensely deep; I feel myself to be extraordinarily lucky; however, the point of deserving vs. nondeserving does not arise.

Run the concept of worthiness back, and one can question whether humans (or, for that matter, everything) are worthy of existence. To take that personally is to go toward nihilism, hopelessness. We are all involved in a form of partnership. Partnership is founded on right action, not deservedness; enact one and the other is moot.

This concept of deservedness is something I feel is potentially dangerous because it allows for a separation of one from joy. For how does one reconcile "undeserved" joy? It is as though something that is priceless (i.e., no price is needed) is converted into the kind of priceless that means it can never be repaid. An absence of debt becomes a permanent debt. This is different from saying that grace and/or existence is unearned. Unearned is the same as unconditional.

I have come to view my fortunes and misfortunes as inherently unconditional, and at the same time karmic. Namely, they have a purpose, and one that is visible or not on manifold levels. Lately, it has been physical pain and limitation. There is a reason why I have had cramps for so long; a reason, too, why one method after another has come and gone.

For one thing, it teaches me about physical pain: when to fight it and when to succumb to it. How to attempt to heal it, and how to endure the side effects. How to set priorities according to need.

One does not ask why; one merely attempts to thrive in the face of opposition. By thrive I mean learn, transcend. For me, transcendance is part and parcel of endurance.

4/24/89, age 30. On the Pill for approximately 19 months.

Stepping into the college oval at my alma mater I faced Main Hall and thought I'd forgotten which stairs led to the psych department. I remembered, then, that the entrance was closer to the Science Center -- and also saw the lights on at that side. I felt strange as I stepped inside, noting the new coat of paint on the floor and stairs, hearing the theater department rehearse in the auditorium. Passed the second floor, wondering if I should stop at the women's room on whose floor I had lain in pain the day Diane had come down to literally pick me up and half-carry me back to class.

When everyone else was telling me my cramps were in my head, my former professor had been the only one who said, "There is something wrong with you physically, and you damn well better get it checked!"

"Unfortunately, the majority ruled at the time," I told him at the reunion. "But you called it."

"Well," he answered, "you were obviously not malingering. If you were, your desire to learn would have outweighed the pain and you would not have had to keep leaving the classroom." Said in a lecture voice, for the benefit of others at the table as well as for myself.

June 19, 2003, age 44. Five days off the Pill after almost 16 years on.

My own health post-Pill is an unknown, though I still have 4 months of Rx to serve as a safety net. Sometimes I feel as though the odds are against me, but in my better moments I keep forging ahead, damn the torpedoes. Overcome the obstacles. I’ve done it before.

One day, one job at a time.

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Tea Tin Quilt

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Years ago I had bought a pretty container for two bucks at a small antiques shop. It holds an assortment of tea bags that I don't use much because the flavors don't particularly appeal to me and the tin itself is hard to open -- you have to really work to yank up the lid.

But now that I've become a maniac with the camera, I've found an additional use for the tin....

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The tin above shows two of the seven photos I took. I used four in the collage, employing duplication, rotation, and color reversal. I used PowerPoint to create and fill the diamond shapes.

Nothing fancy, since the tin itself has already done that job for me.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Cloud Mandala

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Mary and I had just sat through several hours of a Florida State Poets Association executive board meeting on Sunday. Some time after 5 PM we headed back to the car, parked in the lot of a large mall. I hefted our box of papers in my arms and was ready to simply ease it into the trunk.

Instead I turned, took one look at the sky, and my eyes widened. I practically sprinted to the car, dropped the box on top of the trunk, whipped my camera out of my fanny pack, and took two quick shots as the first drops of rain began to fall....

When I uploaded the pictures I got this:

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After color enhancement, most of the mandala is the left-hand shot copied and rotated, but that left me with a big blob of tree. Switching back and forth between Paint and Photo Editor, I isolated only the blob, then reversed the colors to make it white against a black background. I made the white transparent; placed the multiply-mirrored shape over part of the right-hand shot; knocked out the background; and put the new, cloud-filled form over its original counterpart.

Then I went to PowerPoint, where I drew a circle and filled it with the saved mandala image. I rotated the circle 90 degrees, placed it over the original image in Paint, and re-saved.

Thanks to Via Negativa, whose way cool list of web references includes one to the Online Etymology Dictionary, I found the intriguing word root of "cloud" and thought immediately of the rocks I'd photographed and used in my entry about object descriptions. I isolated the rocks in those pictures and set them into other cloud shots, using masking to tuck them in; then used Adobe Acrobat to capture and snip the quote. Then it was back to PowerPoint to add the title and save everything into a condensed .jpg file.

Carpe kludas.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Kitty Heaven

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Every time I see one or both of our cats at the window, trembling with excitement and chittering at a bird outside, I get an image of them daydreaming about wearing wings and soaring off into the sky. I haven't yet been able to draw it to my satisfaction.

This comes close....

I photographed the cloud on Thursday as a typical Florida summer storm was building. All the cats here are different shots of Daisy; their wings are taken from the Devi in my studio.

The sun is a little mixed-media piece I did called Sun Goddess: sculpted, painted paper pulp ringed with shed cat fur (I've erased the fabric-covered wood block on which the face is mounted). I created the rays in Paint and smudged the larger forms in Photo Editor.

The temple, which I photographed in Garni, Armenia, had been built in tribute to an actual sun goddess named Mehezh. (My poem The Temple of the Sun-Goddess, Mehezh gives more detail.)

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Saturday, August 20, 2005


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Twyla (Whimsical Mystic) asked what my "little home shrine" looked like. It occurs to me I perhaps shouldn't have called it "little"....

Velveteen Rabbi's July 14 post Altarity described her own home altar and referenced several others. At that time I offered the following comment:
I've had an altar for 20+ years. It's served different purposes over time (years ago I meditated and prayed there but I don't do that now). Now it serves mainly to focus my attention while paying homage to different traditions, including my own personal ones. So it has items like statues of Sarasvati (Hindu goddess of writing, music, teaching, creativity in general), Athena, a cute little wooden monk I bought in Assisi, a cross bookmark in a little booklet of reproductions by Giotto, a Kachina, an Inuit sculpture of a bear, symbols from various other traditions, rocks and shells, an abandoned paper wasp nest, the covered-bridge pin I had given my mother as a gift (because she loved covered bridges), gifts given to me, etc. It has some statues I've made of home-grown goddesses. I have draped an Arabic-inscribed pendant with the opening of the Koran around my small, childhood menorah in hopes of peaceful coexistence. The most recent addition is a button from the "Voices For the Wall" project, an aural reproduction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, for which I helped read names.

The altar first lived on a plastic Parson's table, then on various dressers, and now fills a cabinet where I keep art supplies. I'd rescued the cabinet from the curb and painted it with botanical images.

In other places where I've lived the collection was backdropped by a star map and a "Peace on Earth" bumper sticker, but I've had to find other wall space for that. Other items have migrated from the altar to places throughout my studio. (In a sense, my entire studio serves as an altar and my creative output is one form of prayer.)

On the concept of idols: I agree with Lorianne that they serve as reminders. For me they are lenses that help focus my attention toward the Divine -- and toward the diverse ways in which we all connect to that source.
When I first moved in 1983 to the small house I rented in Woburn, I set aside a room to serve as my library and meditation space. My altar was much smaller then, containing (among other things) the key mentioned in the preceding entry, my Magen David and childhood menorah, and some rocks and shells. One of my first additions, placed between the table legs, had been a pair of smiling moon-face slippers made from green foam. I had worn them at my voluntary sterilization; time has since worn them away.

In 1986 I moved from that house to a small, furnished studio apartment in Cambridge. My altar shifted from the Parson's table to rest atop the first of three dressers (one per move). Down here, it lives on the aforementioned cabinet.

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The cabinet dates back to the night before one trash day in Dorchester. I found it down the block from where we lived, set out on the curb for pickup. The photo at upper left is the "before" shot. To its right is me in our then-kitchen, clad in my "Celebration of Life" apron and holding my morning coffee, after I had cleaned the cabinet and applied the first coats of paint. ("A Celebration of Life" is the annual Thanksgiving dinner given by the Boston Living Center for people living with HIV. Mary and I volunteered at it for several years.)

The large horizontal surface is a gazania (daisy family); the sides are painted with meconopsis (blue poppies) and butter-and-eggs (snapdragon family). The doors are painted with pulsatilla and a bee; a snail resides above them. My source materials included Harold Feinstein's One Hundred Flowers and Roger Phillips' and Martyn Rix's The Random House Book of Perennials.

I placed my invocation to the God/dess on the back. I had written it as my Artist's Prayer while doing The Artist's Way with a group:

O God/dess, O Muse,
You have nurtured me
When I have most resisted You,
Filled my cup with Divine Flow
When I have been open,
Talked to me when I needed talking to,
Left me empty when I needed cleansing,
Then sent fresh, new water from Your well.
You have blessed me from the beginning
And so I ask of You: Please help me
Keep my mind and body free to welcome you,
My soul to let you into dark corners.
Please help me proceed in the best possible way
To use Your gifts and blessings for the betterment of all life
In all our connectedness
Within the Universe --
And may I fully be
Part of Your glory
By honoring my uniqueness, and power, and gifts
That have stemmed from You.

The last photo shows the finished cabinet loaded with my art supplies in my old studio room. The portrait of the woman is one my uncle did of my mother, years before I was born.

Blurrier digital photos follow, though hopefully enough to give a general idea of my work/play environment.

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"Altar Central" now sits on two surfaces on the art supply cabinet; the top shelf also holds a bookcase filled with music CDs. On this surface sit three of my sculptures, wooden boxes with rocks and shells, various pendants (including an Om and a pendant of a grain goddess that I found in Armenia), a dorje, and statues of assorted deities.

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One of the first items I actually bought for the shrine (other than the candlestick) was a statue of Sarasvati. I'd first seen a carving of her at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and simply loved what she was about. She's on the top shelf, behind and to the left of my "Crone Goddess" in blue. Both of them sit on a mouse pad, imprinted with the image of a prayer rug, that a friend gave me. The carved red wooden box in the lower left holds pumice and basalt from Mt. St. Helens that I picked up a year after the eruption. A statue of Athena stands in front of the candlestick.

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This button is my newest addition to the shrine (which gains and "loses" pieces, though most of the latter have simply been moved to other parts of the house). I grew up during the Vietnam War. When I heard that a group called Vietnam Veterans Gathering was making an audio version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (the photo at left is from my visit there in 1987) I volunteered to read names. They asked folks to read a page with 30 names on it; on my first visit to the recording booth I read over 1,000 -- almost no one had shown up that day and I had plenty of time. (I didn't want to hog the booth, but the organizers told me that when not enough people showed up they read the names themselves.)

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The lower shelf contains other boxes with rocks and shells, along with a few feathers, statues, semiprecious stones (amethyst, tigereye, jasper), and other miscellany. In addition to items mentioned in my comment above, it includes but is not limited to:

  • An owl made out of small shells, given to me by my next-door neighbor in Woburn.

  • A ceramic cat that I kept from a childhood collection of ceramic animals, some of which are now in other parts of the house.

  • A small bowl that I picked up at the Pueblo at Acoma.

  • An old, purple glass goblet passed down in the family.

  • A ceramic dragon-shaped incense burner.

  • A couple of buttons from the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art on Staten Island, NY.

  • A Mesoamerican clay pipe with the image of a to-me-unknown deity -- bought in Salem, MA.

  • A bronze sculpture, "Faun", depicting a lithe satyr, bought in Florence, Italy; and a small ceramic mask from the same trip.

  • A pewter fairy sculpture.

  • Bread sculptures, one of a turtle and one of a witch, bought in Quito, Ecuador.

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    Some items -- a Buddha pendant a friend gave me, wooden prayer beads (also from Ecuador), and others -- have moved from Altar Central to my art/writing supply storage area (a former closet whose bifold doors I removed). The wooden sign hanging from one of the shelf struts reads, "Trust Your Crazy Ideas." (I picked that one up at the New England Flower Show.)

    I used to use my altar for meditation but haven't for quite some time. For some years during the 80s I regularly lit candles, burned incense, and for a while had erected my version of a medicine wheel, setting out various herbs that I changed and renewed atop a round, green marble trivet.

    Pictures adorn the wall beside the altar: photo enlargements and several-part panoramas, mostly of landscapes.

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    My writing desk (where I'm typing this) is itself a kind of mini-altar. The shelf above the desk has, among other items, the portrait my uncle did of my mother (beneath a still life he had also painted); Queenie (the mug that provided the face for "Moonrise on Phosphorescent Island", and whose story deserves another entry), the transistor radio from my hospitalization in 1966, and a fisherman mug. I'd bought the fisherman because one of my earliest memories is of visiting my mother's cousin and falling in love with a similar, benevolent-faced mug on a high shelf (though, at the time, every shelf was a high shelf. My other memory from that visit is being tall enough to get my chin just above a glass-topped table, so that I could look through the glass and see my shoes).

    Just beneath the lower left of the still life is a pastel I bought from Hugo, the homeless man mentioned at the end of my "Unexpected Trails" entry. Next to that is a calligraphy plaque signed by Candace Kelly, which reads, "What can be conceived can be created." To the left of the shelf, seen fairly edge-on, is a mobile made with homemade paper, pieces of glass and ceramic, and a tree branch, that I bought from a friend and co-Artist's Way participant.

    Beneath the shelf is another plaque done by Kelly, which contains the Spanish proverb, "What one does, one becomes." Above that plaque is a quote from Audre Lorde, which Mary and I each received when we took a self-defense course, and which reads:

    When I dare
    To be powerful,

    To use my strength
    In the service of my vision,

    Then it becomes
    Less and less important
    Whether I am afraid.

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    Overhead hangs a Devi, one of three in the house, that I'd picked up at a craft fair in Cambridge, MA. Behind her is a painting I'd bought in Juneau of ravens; it lives above the entrance to the writing/art supply area.

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