sabato, gennaio 23, 2016

Speaking of shitful accumulations

My father, cancer, he has it.

I'm not very worried about the cancer itself (except OF COURSE I'm fucking worried) because it was caught very early, and it's a very common, treatable, slow-growing one in men his age. I am worried about where he is - in Canada, and in a rural part of Canada. On both counts, medical care is not all it could or should be. Public universal health care on the Australian, British, or Canadian model looks good on paper - looks best on paper - but my experience is definitely that when it comes to anything even a little complicated or in terms to access to specialists, outcomes and doctor quality are better in European countries with mandatory insurance schemes. Maybe less political footballing. I don't know why.

So I wish he was here, or in France - I would feel a lot more confident in whatever treatment plan gets came up with for him. Anyways. He's not. So, no use fretting about it. By the end of the month we'll have a clearer idea of how serious it is, and how it will be treated.

But the big takeaway, so far, as we wait, is this sort of slap across the face that there's not so much time left. He's probably fine - this carcinoma is probably just a symptom of his being in his late 70s - just a symptom of him being of an age where, if we're lucky, we have ten really good years and then - fuck, just fuck, fuck, fuck.

And yes, I know, I'm lucky to still have him, and my mother, still in such good health, as so many people lose their parents so much earlier. But that doesn't make me feel better, frankly. Just worse for those other people who lost their parents so early. I won't be ready when he goes - when they go. I will not be ready at all. The idea of being ready is absurd. How could people who lose their parents young bear it? Surely something in them must just die out of sheer self-protection? I don't know.

lunedì, gennaio 18, 2016

The new tyrannosaurus

Well . . . how are you doing this week? I'm in the middle of some questions of myself, and creativity, and mortality, and things . . . but they are not bad. I know it doesn't sound frightfully cheerful. But I've always been a pretty gloomy person and I see no reason to panic or worry over or try to change being a little gloomy now that I've actually got some things to be gloomy about from time to time.

Just to add to the cacophony of mourning voices out there - David Bowie - he's one of my favourite pop musicians, and about 15 of his songs occupy my top 30, if I have one. But his talent wasn't boundless, and he knew it. And he decided to be David Bowie anyways. I can say and acknowledge until the cows stumble home trying to mask their rummy breath that the work is more important than the result, but somehow it took David Bowie dying a couple of days after his millionth album came out, with this massive body of occasionally brilliant work behind him, for me to understand it. That is a profound gift to give people. Almost as good a gift as the music itself. Maybe better. It's quite a thing to get a Buddhist levelling-up handed to you like that from a man you've never met.

And I feel like a slightly better mother these days because I bought Godzilla a new tyrannosaurus that he can cuddle in bed, and he fell asleep with it as soon as he opened the package.  

martedì, gennaio 12, 2016


People who are smarter and more emotionally experienced than me have warned me that I need to be ready, after losing the baby, to pick up on signs of PTSD. I wanted to scoff, but choked back those scoffs, because of that whole "smarter and more emotionally experienced" thing, and decided - okay. Let's see how things go. Let's look for help if I need it.

I still don't think I need it - I think the points where I'm not doing okay are not running away with me. But the points where I'm not doing okay are surprising me a little. At first it was just a generalized anxiety - that something would happen to Godzilla, or me, or the F-word, or all sorts of other things, but that passed - partly from the distractions of going on holiday, and partly from coming to terms - to a point - with life being out of my fucking control.

Last night, I realized the point at which I had and have not accepted that.

During a side trip to Padova during the vacation, the boy's favourite stuffed animal got lost, which I internalized like assuming accountability was the fucking Olympic sport I was the fucking Serena Williams of. I'm still super-pissed at myself for it, and sorry for the boy, who still misses it. So that's one thing. And then getting back into the work world yesterday, the F-word had a meltdown over an appointment he'd forgotten and nearly missed, and then I heard David Bowie died, and then while I was parking the boy in front of the television, cooking and washing dishes in the afternoon, I glanced over at him, saw he'd got his little pocket flashlight open, was chewing on the pieces, and OH FUCK THE BATTERIES WEREN'T ANYWHERE.

Cue our first family trip to the emergency room - two of them, actually, as the first hospital we went to didn't handle children - and an X-ray that drove a hitherto unplussed but quite tired Godzilla into hysterics, and showed he had not swallowed any batteries. Okay. All so far so good. I think potential battery swallowing warrants the physical response we gave it. So far my actions are all making sense.

But my brain is fucking clobbering me, man.

There's the accountability for accidents thing, making me feel like a really shitty mother, and you know what, I think that might just be a sort of core condition of motherhood, particularly in its early years, so I'm not too worried about it; I'll just feel it and let it pass. But it's just shocking me the way the bad things that happen are stacking up like an almightily huge and sticky pile of ratshit that is blocking my view of the motherfucking sun.

Last night waiting in the first emergency room (no waiting at the second, thank goodness and thank Germany) I wasn't particularly worried - nobody dies or even gets particularly hurt from swallowing a battery as long as something is done about it in good time. But I just felt so fucking victimized. No - not even victimized. That would suggest that I felt like the universe had some sort of plan for me, and I didn't feel like that.

I just felt fucking clobbered. By my own incompetence as a caregiver, by human mortality, by the fucking inexorable and cruel logic of the miscarriage clobbering us as a family leading to me weaning Godzilla all of a sudden, leading to him re-entering an oral fixation that hadn't been active for the last two years, leading to us sitting in a fucking emergency room where the best-case scenario would be exposing my little boy to fucking radioactivity the day after the man who first made me interested in music and genitalia, two rather fucking important things, died of fucking cancer.

The past month just swept the fuck over me like a stinking tidal wave of sewage while I thought a bunch of other shitty things - big things like about how my parents are older than David Bowie was and I'm living so far away, and little things like some bills I'd meant to pay that evening - and fuck me. I felt old. And suddenly - after finding out there were no batteries in Godzilla and all my tension could shrivel up - I felt myself feeling old. And started questioning.

Why are bad things so accumulative? Why do they stack up like that? And in a life as full of blessings as mine is, why the fuck aren't the good things accumulative like that? Why aren't I occasionally overwhelmed with the feeling of "wow, I have a partner I love who I'm still sexually interested in, a wonderful son, a great kitchen, a loving and pretty healthy and reasonably happy extended family who I get to see a lot, a good job, enough money for sensible purposes - life is pretty fucking awesome"?

And I think it's back to those twin Buddhist bugbears of fear and hope. The fear, as I deal with one shitty thing after another, that more shitty things are coming. The fear all my blessings will be taken from me. And the hope that these blessings will last, and last, and last beyond a point where I intellectually know they can't last anymore - and that knowing breaks my heart and fills me with fear and makes the blessings taste bitter.

Fuck, that is a stupid way to live. I've been acutely conscious of it since the miscarriage. But not because the miscarriage did it to me - but because I've been living that way all my life.

I'm not sure what to do about this. I'm hoping realizing it is doing something about it, somehow. I guess we'll see. 

domenica, gennaio 10, 2016

Floating away

We spent the last two weeks in Venice. I guess on several levels I'm glad to be back (electric toothbrush! Lovely kitchen! Dirt, trees, grass and birds besides pigeons!) but on a few others, I think I left my heart there. Got back yesterday and been dreaming about it all night. Funny how much cleaner the water was in my dreams. 

Post-miscarriage there are all sorts of mental and emotional things this trip meant to me. But the way I'm feeling now is, for me and I think for most people, the mark of a successful vacation. The really, really good trips I go on make my brain race ahead to a parallel universe where I set up shop permanently wherever I'm visiting - don't you? There are theoretical Spliffes living out their lives in Shanghai, Barcelona, Vancouver, Pori, Berlin, etc. etc. . . . and now there's one in Venice too. 

Which is odd, because besides one in Rome and one in Padova that's pretty much the only theoretical Italian Spliffe despite me having spent a lot of pleasant time in the country. (Besides a few nightmare visions of what would have happened to me if I had somehow been born and/or raised in my father's home province, or if that really hot construction worker I used to have unsettlingly wonderful sex with had knocked me up when I was young and stupid.) 

But Venice isn't really Italy. Even less so than Calabria and Sicily aren't really Italy, to me, anyways, as a non-Italian; Southern Italian identity is so key to how the world sees Italy in terms of food, customs, look, etc., that weird as the South is in general Italian terms it's inescapably Italian - the way New York is so weird relative to the rest of the States but, if you aren't American, is an inescapable vision of the States. 

I know that's a weird thought to Northern Italians. But let's face it: for the last 100 years, all the North has exported is fascism, smog, and cars that are really hard to repair. Versus the South: pizza, semolina pasta, the least retarded fashion houses, three of the best New Hollywood directors in the 1970s, Bruce Springsteen's maternal ancestors, three seperate and extremely powerful organized crime communities, about a kabillion people, etc. . . .  

Anyways, Venice isn't Italy. Venice is an island of about 50,000 permanent residents, who all know each other, I think, and most of whom are pretty old, and all of whom speak a language whose relationship with Italian, as far as I could tell, is about as close as Spanish, and their intonation makes them sound like Peter Lorre, which is fucking adorable. 

Venice is a ranch whose cash crop is tourists, where the vastly outnumbered locals herd them onto a few main corrals and then enjoy the serenity and much greater beauty of the rest of the place, generally ignoring the few cattle who wander off course; it is an island, after all, or a bunch of islands; it's not like they're going to run away. They ignore the Italian tourists in exactly the same way they ignore everybody else - they just do it in Italian instead of in English. They were nice to us; I think because they liked Godzilla.

Much to the annoyance of Venetians, Anglophone and German authors have leaned heavily on Venice as some sort of death metaphor for the past century or two, and it works pretty well in that sense. Venice started dying when the patrician class decided that all the other snotty aristocratic pieces of shit in Europe were right and trade was beneath them as patricians, despite that trade having built their own and their city's fortunes (maybe they had a point though, considering what enthusiastic slave traders they'd been). 

Infected with an invasive snobbery virus, they locked 80% of their daughters up in convents, retired to estates in the Veneto to exploit their tenants, and got so feeble and etoliated Napoleon hardly had to push to invade and fire a bolt into the city's forehead; the place was already slipping back into the lagoon then. 

In 1570 the population was 190,000. Considering there are not 140,000 tourists there on a busy day, an emotional resentment of their tourist cash crop is obvious when they blame them for being so numerous they're helping the city sink (the main culprit, besides rising sea levels, seems to have been the nearby industrial town of Marghera, where apparently my grandfather had an awesome time in his 20s, drawing groundwater from beneath Venice). 

And I sympathize. A big fight now among the locals is against massive cruise ships going between the main islands and Giudecca to dock near the tourist centre. On a good day they stink and tear the hell out of the lagoon's ecosytem, and inevitably there will be a bad day when they seriously leak something, or hit something, or - something - and that will be a fucking catastrophe. 

Still, at a certain point I say humph. Venice is dying. But it has had the longest funeral in the history of funerals. The most mourners filing in to pay their respects, even if shatteringly clumsily at times (Dude. What is with Americans abroad? Some of them are just so fucking . . . ugh.) And it's certainly been the most lucrative funeral that has ever been held, even if the effect of the influx of mourners has ended up seeing Venetians head elsewhere in the Veneto in droves to make room for hotels and AirBNB apartments. 

If I sound cynical I don't mean to. Or maybe I do, but I still love Venice. Love it to the point where the only things standing between me making Theoretical Spliffe in Venice into Actual Spliffe in Venice is that I don't think the conditions are good enough for Godzilla and for any other sprogs I may be able to whelp in the future (see comment above re. dirt, trees, grass and birds besides pigeons) and that considering people in my family habitually see triple digits I'm not confident the city will outlast me. 

domenica, dicembre 20, 2015

Books in the dark

So, thanks to the Economist and the books it reviews, shortly before the miscarriage I was introduced to this, which looks like this:

And this book about it was reviewed in the Economist.

Directly after the curettage on Friday, I had a massive energy boost, from some sort of hormonal realignment, I guess, and from no longer being pregnant. It was very welcome but one side effect was sleeplessness - not usually something I suffer from. For awhile the sleeplessness was welcome as a way to process what had and was happening but eventually it just got silly. So, I got the ebook to read in the dark on the phone. And the chord this has been striking with me is enormous.

The big deal about malambo is who does it, how they train, where they do it, and how they stop. Unlike so much professional sport and dance, it isn't a middle-class activity. It's a traditional dance normal people suffer to do professionally; a herculean training regime has to be combined with some sort of working-class lifestyle. The top competition for malambo is in Laborde, and the winner of the solo event at Laborde has to retire; if he competed and lost at another competition somewhere, he would be tarnishing the reputation of the Laborde competition.

The author of Dancing For His Life was fascinated - as was I - at the idea that winning the competition ended a career. Within the small world of malambo, you are covered in glory, and assured of a professional future as a teacher able to charge three figures for an hour of class, and since your retirement from dancing is enforced, suddenly you get four hours of your day back that you had to spend training before. But that's it. You put in a herculean effort for years, and then you are done. It's fascinating altogether, and as the Economist review highlighted, the book is a really engaging exploration of what authenticity is. But it took me a few days to figure out why it was ringing in my head as a subject so much.

The morning I went into hospital was the last time I breastfed Godzilla. I didn't want to stop even though breastfeeding had become fucking penitential. We had got to a point where we were intermittently trading a candida infection back and forth. Between that and pregnancy sensitivity, it was starting to hurt - more than it ever had since the beginning of breastfeeding. It was making me cross, and extra tired.

But I didn't want to stop. I stopped because I needed to get my estrogen levels back up after the curettage to get back on a normal cycle and help avoid scarring. Otherwise the plan had been to keep going until he stopped asking. I cried when I realized we were at the end of the line. And my body has been protesting too. After a whole week, my left boob was still sore and leaking. Godzilla caught a cold on Friday and listening to him snuffling and snoring and not being able to breastfeed him through it - which I was sure always accelerated him getting over colds and sicknesses in the past - was like a fucking knife in the heart.

But you know who hasn't been protesting? Godzilla. He is fine. He is finished. He still wants to cuddle and touch them, but he isn't asking to nurse anymore. Today he actually explained to me why he couldn't nurse anymore: "you went to the hospital, and now we can't nurse anymore to help you not get sick again." He is sleeping well. He is falling asleep faster and without fussing. He is done. Those three years got us past the finish line. We have won at nursing. And winning at nursing means never doing it again - with that kid, at least. That is fucking bittersweet. And I think that is why the whole malambo-winning-retiring thing is striking this crazy chord with me right now.

It's not just breastfeeding, of course. It's so many important things in life: winning, if it means anything, means finishing. Backing off, letting go. If we are good enough parents to Godzilla, someday he won't need us anymore: first he won't need us to take care of him, and then he won't even need us to be alive; he will be able to bury us, or feed us to birds, or whatever, and then continue to have a happy life. Writing a good book means that once it's finished, it isn't mine anymore. It belongs to the people who read it. If I have an intractable problem with someone (cough-inlaw-cough) I don't win by being better than them at fighting or being better at being a shitty person; I win by resolving my own problems with the relationship and leaving the conflict in the past.

This experience - the miscarriage and its aftermath - is teaching me something - I'm not sure what - about control, and specifically about not actually having it.

I think it is this: I cannot control the most fundamental aspects of my or anyone else's existence. No one can. If they try, they either become destructive - since choosing to be destructive is something we can control - or they close themselves in to a tiny and highly regulated world, and it still doesn't work. I can prepare for what my best guesses are for what the future will hold, and I'd be insane not to. But even the best case scenarios in a good life, in the right kind of life, involve so much surrender of control. So much acknowledging that complete control is not the best outcome. It's not even a possible outcome.

Like a malambo champion: winning doesn't mean you're the best forever. It means you're the best at one moment, and then the rest of your career, at best, is helping other people be the best. Being a good parent doesn't mean that you are the centre of your child's world forever - the person who permits them, or a lodestar whose disappearance would throw an expedition into chaos. It means loving someone enough to give them the equipment they need for their own expeditions. After awhile you're not even the base camp anymore. You're the person who taught them how to build a base camp.

And I'm starting to feel like this - thing - this lie that we tell ourselves over how possible and how desirable control is - is at the heart of the worst aspects of human society. You can find it all through history but we're at some sort of apogee now. This is how we got sold rugged individualism as an ideal life - this big fucking lie that the great truth of life is that our fate is in our own hands; that misfortune is a result of some sort of failure of will - of people not controlling their own destinies properly. That control is happiness.