Saturday, May 13, 2006

5.13.06, You Get to Tickle His Creatures

“So what’s the Franky Scale today?” you begin.

“Proverbs for Paranoids, 3: If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers” (GR 251). Ah, it’s OK, I even ask myself every day now.

In Seattle it is now 3:11, the thin afternoon sun stretches from the Hill to out over the Sound, thin and quiet lest through some collective urban realization our surprise will make it all disappear, turn grey. Same time in Hayward, same in La Jolla. Tulsa, 5:11, right? 4:11 in Salt Lake City. 6:11 in Rochester. 6:11 in East Northport, NY. 6:11 in Benguet, tomorrow. Somebody’s lurking at Harvard, same time, 4:11 back in El Paso, one hour later in Denver, or two less. Context. Tight readership, we expand then contract, almost no other continents with their eyes turned on the Emerald City today. Today we are intimate save for a Phillipines hit.

The first of the Proverbs for Paranoids: “You may never get to the touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures” (GR 237).

Last day of chemo drugs for this cycle, too--yesterday--always a joy, cessation of the harsh toxic input. In line with that I’m going to mark yesterday as a “6 +” on the Franky Scale, since I was remiss, but to do so I need to lower Thursday to a 5--it actually sucked, I just didn’t want to tell you in the moment. Today, Saturday, pre-mother’s day, physically: 7; emotionally: Complex.

“Proverbs for Paranoids, 2: The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master” (GR 241)

Since I started chemo I haven’t had a haircut. Barney the Guru-Savant barber in SLC, who knows the whereabouts of the real Golden Plates but will tell only the trusted, was my choice but I realized this on a Monday. No reputable barber cuts Mondays. My subconscious thinks it’s in charge--the futile Samsonesque gesture to grow the hair, doubly futile because I actually haven’t lost any yet and normally wear it shorter anyhow. #4, “You hide, they seek” (GR 262). Sale on scissors at RiteAid.

It’s been a slow day for the blogs, the statistics page tells me. Did you buy your mother a Mother’s Day gift? A card perhaps? Less than fifty readers today. We get tired, we’re all a bit behind, slow be it. Do we need more prurience? More danger? More shit blood fevers and poking? Or is it simply the fact that no matter how important one little narcissist’s life appears to himself (at times, only at times, please), no one would dare deny the big big world’s constitution through other lives, concerns, relations, worries, bills, degrees, projects, lack of degrees, jobs, dreams, fears? Anxieties don’t die. Each family to its own dysfunction--and this I’m comfortable with saying about everyone I know. . . . Aren’t we a mechanical little circus?

One close relative will face another close relative, over a cell phone: “The check’s in the mail & ... [the rest of that story remains in the NSA files].” And the conversation will likely continue as ever before, as ever before, as ever before. It’s what we know, we like what we know. The daily choice we make so often reduced to: anything, just don’t make me choose.

On choices, one could do far worse than Ashbery: At some point, “yes, [one must] be selective, but not selective in one’s choices if you see what I mean. Not choose this or that because it pleases, merely to assume the idea of choosing, so that some things can be left behind. It doesn’t matter which ones. I could tell you about some of the things I’ve discarded but that wouldn’t help you because you must choose your own, or rather not choose them but let them be inflicted on and off you.” That’s about four pages into the “New Spirit” in Three Poems, and what is more melancholic to think is how we all recognize these lines as soon as we read them.

A final proverb (these are Pynchon’s, btw, not mine, as if/if only): “Paranoids are not paranoids . . . because they’re paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations” (GR 292). The fifth.

. . . . merely be selective--not too selective--it doesn’t matter--must choose your own--or rather not choose--inflicted on and off you . . . . some of us hide in closets, some fill them with shoes, some speak, some do, some worship, some work out their own salvation, and some, some pretend there is more than silence. One of them used to tell me: we’re all just squirrels tryin to get a nut. Yup, you and me both.

Friday, May 12, 2006

5.12.06 [Guest Blog], Frank, Non-Being, & Buddhistic Calm

[unexpergated, unedited. -Mr. J]

To say my four days visiting with Scott in Seattle was intense would be as great an understatement as Scott telling me his elevator was slow. We laughed, we cried, we read, we talked, we slept and that was just in the eight story ride up the elevator to his penthouse apartment. I told you about Scott’s apartment in my first guest blog and honestly I was overwhelmed by the response. Phone numbers! Lingerie in the mail? It's all so crazy! It’s not about me - it's about my boy! Sir Scott.

The medical side of it all is incredible to watch. The pills. The liquids. The strength to run when he can barely stand. The need to fight on through it all. Fight, fight and by no means, under no circumstances.... “go gently.”

I can’t wait to return to Seattle and live large again with my friend and stare at the Space Needle, wonder what Gehry was smoking? Explore Rem's Kool House Library and imagine a vegan life style and a latte permanent fixed in my hand. I find peace every day in the blog as I’m sure the rest of us do.

As my spiritual advisor and the “godfather” of my daughter, Scott’s wisdom has shown me the importance and ridiculousness of many religions. Hs continues to teach and educate me but from a new, unfamiliar and medically challenging arena. With that...the wise words below are for Scott, about Scott.....they are least for me.

Love you my brother!

The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the worlds ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

5.11.06, Slow Out the Gate

Day three after chemo, if the IV hospital day is counted as day one, is a low one. The nurses say the steroids begin wearing off, so the incongruous "high" or simply more normal feeling I tend to get on day two, rapidly vanishes and I find myself in a place something like the lowlands of flu. Not unbearable, just not the kind of thing to make one feel highly motivated. (But I have a potential motivator in the third paragraph...)

In line with that, Franky Scale: 6. And the Franky guest blog anticipation scale continues to rise, we even spoke about this today and I reminded him of his responsibilities, his reading constituency, his fans. So we wait.

One more item--perhaps more will come tonight, but for now, one item--I had an email exchange with a friend about issues we have and what we hide in our closets, what we can deal with directly, what we need to sweep out of sight. You know the conversation. This is the suggestion/solution that came up: the more issues that are let out of your closet (dealt with, shared, eliminated,...), the more room there is for new shoes! It's genius. Just serious enough, but also just enough whimsy. The blend of metaphor and reality perfect. This is my meditation topic for today, I'm going to figure out if certain issues deserve certain kinds of shoes, or vice versa: what do wingtips deserve? desert boots? oxfords? Hm.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

5.10.06, A Day in the Cancer Life

A Day in the Cancer Life, first part.

You wake up and feel the fog, a kind of Ambien glaze or hangover--I feel this everyday though they say “You shouldn’t feel any ‘hangover’”--how did they know? Psychological suggestion and psychosomatic reaction? And this is not so pleasant, yet the fact that the drug can push me into sleep, hold me down there, for close to eight hours, eight hours I really try for every night, outweighs the hangover side-effects. The first change in my relation to life now is that almost every choice I make seems to be a balance analysis--are the benefits of this act worth more than the potential side-effects? Surgery. Chemo. Water and food intake--when you have no appetite and your stomach feels tiny. Running. Another pill--any round of pill-taking might be 2 to 8 pills, not every one is necessary you see, I have to go through the cost-benefit analysis every time. Phone calls. Paying down certain bills. This list has no end.

Why is Protonix Man called protonix man? Because it’s the first drug of the day, to protect the stomach--my dosed doubled as of today--and it lends my superhero name. I love the people here (“here” in my world of family-friends that spills into the blogosp-here) too--I just got the silliest and most hilarious custom-made teddy-bear, or teddy-cat, doll which was made to be Protonix Man, or rather my sidekick--very cool in and of itself, but more than a sidekick I finally got my goddam cape!! No shit--I will wear it sometime and post a photo. Another genius earlier sent homemade cookies, which were great, but better still, they were in a box that now holds my dozen or so prescription bottles--all the ones Rush Limbaugh has wet dreams for--that has a custom-made “P” on its top. Now I have box, cape, a double-prescription of Protonix, and a stuffed sidekick who can’t really be called P-Man, since that’s me, so I’ll call him Screwman instead. (Provenance is too hard to explain, but it is pronounced as it would be in Utah, the final “a” in “man” should be said like a schwa or shwa, represented by the upsie down "e," that “everyvowel” or between-everyvowel; other words same sound, “Newman” in _Seinfeld_ or “Carman” in _South Park_.) Protonix Man and Screwman. You can imagine the kind of trouble they’d get into.

After this, coffee. One of the lowest days of my whole cancer experience came the day after Frank left, not a result of the leaving since we’ll meet up again, it was that I went in groggy to fill the coffee maker, put in the filter after the secret fold that forces the water through just that much slower so the coffee gets that much stronger, pull out the grinder, & fill it with beans. Then, the silence of death! Coffee death, I mean. Fucking grinder dead, after somehow squeaking by long enough to make coffee for Frank’s last day, but in my Moment of Need, in the valley of the shadow--nada nada nada. Oh me, oh cruel life! Anemia, so what; impacted bowels, well, kind of serious; fevers, I’ll live through. No fresh coffee in the morning--that is Shakespearean! Next day I bought a new one--strange how purchases now have warrantees that will likely outlast my own. Shopping that makes you go “hmm,” new meaning The Clash song “All Lost in the Supermarket.” On every ordinary morning, coffee, black, then feed the cats, flip on NPR, move coffee to laptop next to my downtown-Puget Sound view, and I kind of settle in.

Settle in? Emailing and coffee drinking and writing--all now structured, however, in a pain-in-my-ass manner around protonix time, food time, watch the clock and then chemo drug time--it’s too structured and confining. What you go into academia to avoid. The Clock. Now, though, it’s my life. The “normal” activities of email and/or writing are mixed between work and personal, tenure-track and non-tenure-track; and I will not lie and say that I think a great deal about the former so much anymore. What I do think about ? “Don’t lose your job so that you don't lose your insurance.” That is all there is. My job or my Appointment was renewed (the yrs before tenure at here are split into two three-year “appointments”) recently, and if all were to go smoothly… and I do have an academic book manuscript, nearly done, however it sits under an increasing pile of dust near my desk. As other books, papers, medical bills, thermometers, drug literature, and articles on GTX and the like, etc. pile up, the academic MS gets slowly pushed farther and farther from desk, further and further from the mind. One of these days I won’t be able to find it any more, that’s my guess. _Politicizing the What…_ Part of the daily calculus is how much do you value such a book, how much do you value another book in progress--on a different topic, essays, non-fiction, poems, fiction--what is it you want to do when you’re feeling fit enough to do it? The life-coaching question gone horrifically wrong: “Imagine you have six months to live, what then do you want to accomplish?” “Uh…..” Polish poems, push publishers to get out a book of translations that has also been gathering dust for months and months, a chapbook that also waits. The daily calculus--and I suck at math, but not at mixing metaphors.

The average time spent on this blog each day by each reader/viewer/voyeur has gone up to something like 6 and half minutes, in light of which, maybe I should cut this entry here. That’s most of my morning/s, the rest can wait. Frank’s guest blog is still on it’s way--right Frank?--and there’s more extrajesus on Thomas for later, still gestating, growing.

Franky Scale: 8.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

5.08.06, Cautious Good News...

The bad news first, so we don't get too imbalanced. My IV-chemo time changed today, and one of the side-effects I have which was verified today, called "chemo brain," helped me forget or never notice the change, so that at 9:30 on the dot I was looking through some SCCA paperwork, then realized, "Oops, today's chemo starts right now, and I'm not there." Missing class or a dinner appointment, different story. So I called, panicked, told them I'd be there late, and 20 minutes later I was on the bed half naked and fully unshowered. I had to leave a msg for G. and let here fend for herself.

Tuesday's are draining, what with all the sexual innuendo... or really, what with all the drugs they pump into me. Which means I'll be keeping this short.

The good news: seems, to me anyway, that this phrase has been too seldomly used of late. Every two weeks or so they check my CA 19-9 numbers from blood work. It's an antigen that works as a marker telling how much cancer (specifically pancreatic cancer) is in the body (roughly). The normal person should have a number of 54 (five-four) or less; the cancer person will have a "grossly elevated" number up in the thousands. Four weeks ago my number was about 12,800, twelve thousand eight hundred. More than 54. We want the number down, of course, because it functions very accurately as a mark of cancer levels. Right after chemo started my number was 11,700ish. Down, but too soon to be remarkable.

Today the number I got back (from week-old blood tests) was 9,400--what the good doctor says is a "significant drop" and yes, a number that can be taken for a trend, cautiously. Some fucking good news, finally! What appears to be happening is that my cancer is responding well to the GTX treatment I'm taking. I'm really wiped out right now, otherwise, I'd piss for joy, or at least jump up and down. Seems good, seems to be helping. [short round of applause]

Instead of Franky Scale today, I'm submitting that number: 9,400. You always have to look at the context, right?

Monday, May 08, 2006

5.08.06, Sex and Chemo

(It's all about a good hook.) Tomorrow is IV chemo, #4 I believe, where I fight to stay awake for four hours and Gillian gets a lot of work done. She pointed out to me how much I've left out (of the blog) of our Little Sessions at the SCCA, the sexy, juicy bits...

What you're missing: how half of us are half naked most of the time, how I get in and rip off my shirt, which is no longer completely bare but about half grown back in, how I'm helpless and restrained and Gillian has her way with me for four hours of delirium and sometimes I wake up and my clothes are on backwards, and there's that whole thing we do with the panopticon and the parergon and the speculum of the other woman and Herculine Barbin joins us and then scopophilia and Lacan's little object ... oh wait, that's work ... , well, OK, so it's not that exciting. But I do get half naked, and I do have three nipples now, if you're into that kind of thing. Tuesday's are very progressive in my chemo room. And G. does get a lot done.

In my mind, this is not a real post, merely a filler--since I'm in my office today doing the most satisfying part of my job, why I spent so many years in grad school, and the one part that remains meaningful in the face Of It All--administrative bullshit. So bizarre--or so logical in our totalized capitalist society?--that you can be faced with a bad dose of cancer even and the one thing you can't let slide is paperwork and admin-related duties. Hmm. An article that would reshape the field for the next year or two? Nope. The aesthetic handbook that would change art and criticism forever? Nope. Meeting with highly motivated to students to change their lives for the better? Nope. Approving x-fer credits, restating via email what is already in about 4 different web FAQ's to students who are either too thick, lazy, or distracted to read the rules on their own, and squaring away all matters that might possibly affect overall enrollment in the department? Yes. The important things. (On a serious note, props to my dept because they have been very understanding about giving me space during this.)

Just a teaser above. The Franky Scale--the same Frank who's gone now but owes us one more guest blog and whose wit and charm or some goddam thing are apparently so very appealing to everyone that I'm sure we all just can wait, blah blah blah, just great, aren't we all excited! I could spit. ;-) anyway, 7/8, although sitting in my office I don't always get the best F.S. reception. Still, 7/8.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

5.07.06b, About the Poem, Pt. 2

"Do Not Go Gentle,” Exegesis, Pt 2:

Let me start by pointing out the error of mhermeneuticic ways. An error in the aesthetic analysis, Kant (the rule- and time-bound philosopher) would chide me: the basis of Kant's chiding however in fact reveals one of Kant's major flaws, especially in relation to aesthetic theory, i.e., his overly rigorous structure of rules and exclusions that is absolutely necessary to make his system work--that's another essay (e.g. I go after him a bit in an essay called "Negative Aeshetics," which I think is coming out in some minor UW publication, a coference volume, this year, FYI). The positive point to learn from him, which I concede here, regards my evaluation “sucks ass,” which is not an aesthetic judgment. Coming around backside to my point, the chiding would stem not only from my assessment dealing with a secondary judgment based on how the artwork signifies but more fundamentally on the fact that the very assessment is not disinterested, not objective, rational, detached if you will. But that's Kant. For me, I conflated the What of the poem, or even more-and/or-less, the signified of the poem, with the How of the poem, the various signifiers and their interrelations--something I always stress that my students have to distinguish. Death does suck, granted; but that is not an aesthetic judgment. It might be personal, familial, social, metaphysical, something--but not aesthetic, unless it be through the actual aestheticization of death as Bataille was wont to perform. It is one possible route, however it’s not my idiom, and in terms of how this poems works (aesthetic) it’s not the point. Rather, the poetic key here (in part) is the contradiction, tension, the negativity at work and the subtlety in the form of the piece. Subtlety, despite the rhymy-stymy aspect of the villanelle.

There is the gentle entry & a “good” night (l. 1 and throughout). The fact that “Old age” cannot really rage, nor can terminal pain/disability, at least not easily (l. 2). The wise have knowledge, but not enough to fork lightning with their words (ll.4-6). The good whose deeds are frail, trapped in the subjunctive--forever (ll. 7-9); the wild, too rash and unobservant (ll. 10-12); the grave, Teresian but too late (ll. 13-15); and the twist with the father, the Father, deserves its own entry but is also summed up in "curse, bless” in one too realistic fell swoop. Throughout, the speaker implies that none should go gentle into death (title, l. 1), but then contradictorily, says in a declarative mode that "you should rage b/c you were mediocre,” etc. How deflating the "good men,” anyone’s version of good will do, is declarative in that they simply do not go. . ., yet they go through and after a strong "might have” that did not bring change to the world (ll. 6-8). And so it goes, limping along. Think of Faulkner's "man's puny voice" from his Nobel acceptance speech.

(Interlude: What “Princess,” with her science degree, noted [see Comments on 5.05.06b, "About the Poem, Pt. 1," I think] is actually another core piece of the poem, part of its foundation--i.e., that Thomas is not talking about death, he’s talking about life. She beats me to the punch, and with a science degree no less! I think I know why, or how; because the real-life experience someone at life’s end, actually watching that person go, clearly trumps the experience (merely) on the page. Real insight. More on this that "he’s actually writing about life” in a later installment. For now it’s enough to say that’s also why the blog's subtitle ends with “Life and Death”--I’ve been realizing progressively how death is circumscribed, supplemented (yes, Derrida), given its very meaning or any meaning at all through life--life up to that moment, the lives that go on, the experiences and minds of the people who can go check the Wall of Death and see whether anybody got a chance to spit on it.)

Every example given in the poem is: a perhaps, a subjunctive, a might’ve been -- there are no clear-cut great deeds, no successes, no accomplishments, no unquestionable legacies. NB: from the _OED_, "b. Designating a mood (L. _modus subjunctivus_, . . .) the forms of which are employed to denote an action or a state as conceived (and not as a fact) and therefore used to express a wish, command, exhortation, or a contingent, hypothetical, or prospective event.” If you’re struck down by stroke at 65, you may have had some time, been given "your" time, but how comforting is that when most likely you didn’t see it coming and you are left with the living. How is it to be left alive with no clarity, no vision? (The best of friends is tied to this "hypothetical," and I grieve for him, no more to say.) A very pertinent corollary: the contrastive harshness of our lives, between the might-have-been's and what-we-actually-do’s, or get-a-chance-to-do's, is better explained nowhere I think than in the life and work of John Ashbery: _Three Poems_ if nowhere else. A work I could spend a life rereading and being quietly and consistently amazed by. He keeps trying to not go gentle, slow and steady. Still, you read him and know he realizes the underlying falling short of it all. And he gives everything to you in a modal or tonal form, skillfully improvised from the chart we all have but few can read, filled always with the just the right number of blue notes. Every note around the melody played, but the thing itself left unspoken, a negative presence that haunts through its outline.

[Franky Scale: 8; and we've got hits from four continents today.]

To be continued, w/ Icarus in my lap. . .…

5.07.06, Casino Royale, Franky Scale Update

Local casino visit went very well: I spent half of my "limit" but it kept me busy at craps for over two hours; Frank, on the other hand, was not only kept busy but was secretly squirreling away 5-dollar chips into his pocket and made enough to feel like he accomplished something, I assume, but not enough for Uncle W to take a cut. Turns out the casino atmosphere was much less trying for me a lot of other social situations these days. Not too draining, a nice distraction, and a good cap on the week before the original "Mr. Jones" and I sit down over coffee and discuss the Serious prior to his midday departure. Time for the heavy & time for the light. So it's late but I have Ambien (and so far I haven't found on any morning that my ice cream supply or liquor cabinet have been diminished), and I'd bump up the Franky Scale to a 9. Maybe the Oxy-cola helped. (I keep my apt door locked tight so Rush Limbaugh, or P. Kennedy for that matter, doesn't sneak in and ravage through my pharmacy at the foot of the bed. He'd have a field day. And still not lose any listeners! God bless America, huh.) Now it's time to slip back into the land of exegesis for a bit till sleep arrives.

The little things have taken on much different, greater meaning now (sounds cheesy, yes, but), like good friends, of course, but also the chance to sit over a slow cup of strong black coffee, no fever, no milk-of-magnesia calculus, no falling behind in pain management, no overly-loud crowds.