through art then… #2 – and one day you wake up, you’re older, you’ve got cancer, and you realize there’s no going back

“… it’s clear, art reflects the attempts of singular and idiosyncratic human beings to make meaning, to capture the rumbling/exhilarating sensations of living a life: color, form, line, rhythm, sound, the biochemical, the physiological and the emotional; and the grandest for me are those rubbing up against the truth, those unsettled and trying to find ways to share what they’ve seen, heard, felt and understood. There’s nothing more marvelous than engaging the collected stories of someone like Ms. Roth, inspired truthtelling in sacred spaces. No critical review or attempt at summary explication can capture the depth and breadth, the impact and effect, of such an experience.”

— MKB, 69-1 - california modern [Epilogue]


~~~

So, when you’re dying a slow death by cancer, still conscious, still ambulatory, aching and creaking ever so hopefully, but clearly on your way out, hope fading every day, it’s something folks have a hard time with. They don’t want to hear, “I’m dying…,” but some, fearless and attentive to all of what the human experience is, ask the question, is it something you can articulate, write about? And it’s like, dang, life drawing to a close, write about it, I don’t know, to do so without being maudlin or morose? To write about how it’s more and more difficult to get out of bed, that the impetus to rise up, to find joy and delight in the simplest of things, to see clearly you’re not physiologically prevented from getting up, that the cancer’s held at bay for the moment, that it’s of the will, and spirit, that you’re simply unable to marshal up the courage, that your first thought now is to just lay there, covers up and over, eyes peeking out, this is the end, WTF!, as Roger Angell said in his recent New Yorker piece, to never again be “…together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach.” Brutal, oh so brutal. Love no longer within reach, among so many other things, and yes you want to be graceful and brave about it, and you’re laying there, 4 in the morning, usually the time you’d be up and out the door, but now, all you can marshal up is some self-talk, there in the half light, “Shall I engage and get fired up about managing the end, get excited and exhilarated about this final stage, to cancel all subscriptions, to make no more plans to travel, to rewrite the advance directive, to lay out an expeditious plan for a smooth and efficient exit, hospice and a morphine drip, let it come, no visitors, everything settled, narcotize me, and let the room fill with music, from Tous Les Matins Du Monde, “Le Badinage,” and let me wither in my own way, how civilized, how loving and genteel, to allow us to make our own end, palliative and pure, a kind of longing, one final illusion, my own film score, the final scene, fade to black.


But no, it doesn’t work that way. I’m at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, late afternoon, I’ve seen her once or twice before, and it begins, the pining away for one more promising conversation, one more excited and exhilarating meet up. Possibility. Romance. Overheard her speak about James Hillman, to a psychology undergrad; and they were talking about a notorious professor, and there was empathy, and she’s apparently working on her Ph.D., she’s older, and I’m thinking, just one more conversation, love love James Hillman, am reading A Blue Fire… right now, a revisiting of his work, and she glances over, and she doesn’t look away, but I do, don’t have it in me, no longer courageous but a coward with the covers up and over, and her eyes are a piercing brown, and there’s an earnestness, and a focus, she leans into her Mac Air and types, types and types, and now and again she looks up and over, as I do,… ha ha ha, the self-talk, I’m death and dying, nothing to offer, no future, dark dark. Slinking away into oblivion, the want of invisibility, to long for, yet never engage, that’s me now. Sad sack. Jesus H Christ, there was a time, such a look would rile, to the point of bravery, and I’d find a way to engage, and the ensuing conversation would lead to another, then another, and then all of a sudden, you’re finding out about: them, and you, always a kind of mirror, yes refracted, surely, but revealing and you see parts of yourself you’ve not seen before, only because you’re across from them, this one person, singular and unique, and then hope finds a way, the power of imagination, of illusion, and the romantic sensibility, at the worst nothing but the “creepy,” at its best, where love begins, and I am sucker for these moments, requited and unrequited, with Ms. Sims, behind the bookstore counter, our hands touched, both of us reaching for the same book, and we looked at each other in a way we hadn’t looked at each other before, something passed between us in that moment, another pair of piercing brown eyes, an 18-year relationship to follow; and with Ms. Koch (Henry), only one conversation, never a second, I tried and tried, and she ran off to New York, got married, had a kid, and came back, and I learned what it is to love another, to be convinced she was a kind of soul-mate, to suffer the ultimate illusion, that a second conversation would occur. It never has, I still see her, still wonder about, but I am judicious, restrained. Unrequited love? Who knew?

And now this, full-on cowardice, seeing clearly there’s no going back, no rewind, rediscovering, renewal; only death. When I was first diagnosed, when it was clear Sims and I were at an end, it was a revelation, a kind of shock, more self-talk, I’m not young anymore, hadn’t thought about age, or aging, as if we were ageless, and that there’d always be romance, and things to look forward to, and exhilaration, and excitement about the simplest of things: a gentle whisper in the night; holding hands on a stroll along the boardwalk; a kiss on the cheek in the produce section of the grocery store, shopping for a meal we’d prepare together; a drive with the top down along the PCH through Big Sur, our hair blowing in the wind; the simple, late night conversation in a fav café; or the cuddling up, the two of us and the cats, watching a film, at ease, traveling in imagination, feeling connected and loved, settled in.…

No going back. It’s all memory now, and it’s oh so, what’s the word? Fucked-up.

through art then… #1 - beginning again

“After you were gone I thought a lot, about you and I thought, why do I love you? And then, I felt everything in me just let go of everything I was holding on to so tightly, and hit me that I don’t have an intellectual reason, I don’t need one. I trust myself, I trust my feelings. I’m not gonna try to be anything other than who I am anymore.” — Samantha, in Spike Jonze’s Her 

~~~

No mean task, to begin again, to say it, write it, that you’ve died to the past, that you’re going to raise from the dead, and full-on, a kind of arrogance in it, and everywhere the language: leaning in, be insanely courageous, be embarrassingly brave, no fear, just do it, be vulnerable, failure a necessary ingredient along the way.

Beginning again, yes, and now more than ever, it’s clear, rewinding to the first go round, had it not been for the art and artists I engaged: films and books, writers, poets, filmmakers, actors, musicians and composers, I don’t make it, I don’t overcome the slow destruction of my physical presence, the androgen suppression with Lupron and Casodex, and the Zometa, Atrasentan and Docetaxel.

Sims and I were already finished, a loveless and touchless togetherness/growing apart, a disconnecting distance had formed, all of it intensified by cancer’s arrival, brutal to see it so clearly, looking back, as if more light now, more clarity, and this the dying, or maybe the first death, first stage, and it’s like the truth comes to you in stages, each a death that builds upon the rest, and there’s no avoiding the knocked off corners, all of the disappointments and “little failures,” the daily reminders that you’re ordinary and all the time imagining yourself extraordinary (Thinking about it, ordinary human beings believing in gods? Isn’t that a reaching for and aligning with the extraordinary?). Now this, having never conjured the possibility, reborn a eunuch, a love-crazed fool still imagining romance, still hankering after and in need of the touch of a woman in love. Illusion and imaginative flights a necessity.

So, when I came across/remembered the Henry Miller insight, “Through art then, one finally establishes contact with reality: that is the great discovery.” had to use it, had to make it baseline, and as I began to engage art and artists in a new way, Keats, Beckett, Rilke, Depp, Jennifer Lawrence et al., my romantic imagination was fired up, renewed, and it became THE thing that kept me going, contact with reality near unbearable, yet the intensification of sight and sound, the enhanced and emboldened vision became the goads/reasons to continue in the darkest and most despairing moments, and though I couldn’t see it clearly at the time, I full-on wrote myself out of the pain and suffering. FULL FUCKING ON! How does one do that, write oneself out of heartache and loneliness, enduring the loss of love? It wasn’t intentional, didn’t understand where the writing and reading would lead; it was a habit I had created when I left graduate school in the 80s. Imagined myself a writer, but after a few years it was clear, that was not something I’d become. Never to be a Tom Stoppard or a Marc Norman. First failures weren’t so bad, the rejection letters I got I took as a sign I was getting it done, but in the end there was nothing worth publishing. Then the marriage failed, needed to move back home, from Los Angeles to Northern California, death and rebirth. Beginning again in the book business. Got a job as a bookseller, moved into a flat of an old Victorian, kept writing, kept reading, kept submitting my work, kept getting rejected. And all along the way it occurred to me I’d never love again. The loss of love so brutalizing.

It took a year, and a few crazed relationships, and then Ms. Sims strolled into my life. Love was back, didn’t see it coming. An English Lit graduate student leaning in and purposeful, ambitious and driven. I had a hard time keeping up. Took to managing the bookstore and I kept writing. She and I moved in together, another Victorian in downtown Sacramento, two cats, and some semblance of home. It was while we were living on 22nd Street that I realized it had all been so ludicrous, that I was not brilliant or even baseline adept at writing, the light went on and never went off, finally, “You’re not a writer, get over it.”

I stopped submitting, gave up that part of it, but kept at it, words to paper. I took to writing probe-goads in the form of a fictional, chronological narrative. The first musings of Maxwell Kinney, and it’s here, without knowing it, that I began to fuse my own life with that of imagination and art, that I began to live in two worlds where writing became a kind of survival technique, a way to intensify and vivify what was going on day-to-day. Probe-goading? Not a diary, not a journal, but a tweaked out and simple imaginative flight of an ordinary man, maintaining the illusion of being a writer, setting aside time, knowing full well I wasn’t. Beginning to live in an illusory world that was richer, more expansive and wonderful than I had thought possible. Every time I read a novel or poem, watched a film, listened to a piece of music or a film score of a movie I’d just seen, I was transported and entered into the narrative, at one with the emotions and thoughts embodied in the form, and of course there’s no barrier, once you allow yourself to be touched, moved and engaged, it’s like falling in love, you go for it, you veer off, and it’s dangerous, a look, a smile, a kind word or gesture, they’re amplified, signified, and you’re all up in it, and then it happened, December 2009, Nurse Brenda walked up with her Infusion Cart, an intimate conversation and I flipped out, fell hard, Camille was born, alchemy at play, and I was changed, and when the cease and desist came a year and a half later, I wasn’t surprised just heartbroken, was sitting at Pannikin Coffee and Tea, love unrequited, something I hadn’t honestly experienced, a full rejection of what seemed a soul-mate force, Unbiddable, ungovernable, like a riot in the heart and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture. This a pivotal moment as the realization sunk in. Don’t know that any one person or any one moment in my life has been more affecting and profound. One extended duration of time with a caring and loving nurse, one conversation, and a boatload of imagination, kept me going, kept me alive, and I came to understand, so very late in life, what it means to love someone you don’t know, to understand what “falling in love” means, not an “artful posture” but a very real and unassailable intuition to act, a sensation you’d go to the wall for them, that you’d do whatever it takes to begin, to build a relationship, entering the unknown fearlessly, however it plays out, and when the message came to stop, the message I’d counseled she’d have to send, I was not surprised, I had fallen in love, I had felt what our poets, writers, musicians and artists had conjured over the centuries, I knew what it meant, and though unrequited, it didn’t matter, the hope it conjured, the warmth of feeling it inspired, to not turn away, to not be offended, to know that sometimes it’s just one way; and then on the heels of this most unsettling moment to finally understand, THE realization that I was at ease with all of it, all of what had happened in prelude, the dissolution of love with Sims, the cancer diagnosis and struggle, that now the only way to survive was to become a eunuch, to go forward with no testosterone, the coup de grâce, the unexpected and unanticipated, all along the way, from that sublime moment with Brenda at the Cancer Center to now, a sensation of acceptance about who I am and what I’ve done, a man dying of cancer, still upright, still hopeful, still alive to romance…

“Dying of” not “Living with”? Well, Doc Triple M has referred to all of this as “managing a chronic disease,” but honestly, it has been an andante movement of little Ds on the way to a big D. Slowly and quite surely I have been diminished, and debilitated, and destroyed, by the disease and the therapies administered to keep it at bay. Physically, so much has gone away in a short span of time, and your “hope” for the Rs: a repair, a return, or even a rebirth slips away. You’re forced to get real, to be real, to understand what’s happening and it is so very difficult to be hopeful about a time in the future where you might “forget” all of it, to simply live, without worry or pain or difficulty. To simply live. If it weren’t for films, and books, and poetry, and music, and a now & again glimmer of beauty and love (Sonjia, Danielle, Corrie), not sure I’d still be “upright.” That’s the operative word in all of this, when someone asks “How are you doing?” my response is, “I’m upright.” Appropriate and honest, and indicative. To remain upright, one never knows what the scientists and researchers may be able to conjure going forward.

michelledean:

From a piece I wrote on “Our Young-Adult Dystopia" for the New York Times magazine:

I suppose I’m admitting that those people who call young-adult readers “childish” are onto something. It’s just not the pure desire for regression they pompously diagnose. It’s a desire for stories substantial enough to withstand the ages, that are like smooth river rocks you can turn over and over again. It is an echo of the writing-for-the-ages stuff, and it’s worth preserving. Not least because it is, oddly, one of the last bulwarks of cultural appetite we have against the fast-moving vaudeville of “digital culture.” I think we’d better treasure and nurture it.


I’m a pleb/prole who has been reading authors above and beyond him for over 30 years:“It was clear now that I had philosophical leanings, drawn to those who were intellectually above and beyond me, remembering a line from one of Nietzsche’s aphorisms something like, “I am not for those of the herd, those democratic ones, I am for those more gifted, the dynamic and brilliant ones, the elect.” Nietzsche knew that once someone began to read him, to think and ponder and ruminate upon, they would be changed and there would be no turning back. He knew it could lead to ruin and failure for some, but he also knew that the person who came to him with an open mind, no matter what happened in the day-to-day of his or her practical life, a resilience would form, an insouciance and stoicism that would serve them when they were in the depths of despair, in the darkest moments of their lives. He was right.”Then in the last two years YA novelists, first Suzanne Collins then J. K. Rowling afterward, came into my life and everything has changed. And I think Michelle Dean here captures a bit of what’s going on:“It’s a desire for stories substantial enough to withstand the ages, that are like smooth river rocks you can turn over and over again. It is an echo of the writing-for-the-ages stuff, and it’s worth preserving. Not least because it is, oddly, one of the last bulwarks of cultural appetite we have against the fast-moving vaudeville of “digital culture.” I think we’d better treasure and nurture it.”

michelledean:

From a piece I wrote on “Our Young-Adult Dystopia" for the New York Times magazine:

I suppose I’m admitting that those people who call young-adult readers “childish” are onto something. It’s just not the pure desire for regression they pompously diagnose. It’s a desire for stories substantial enough to withstand the ages, that are like smooth river rocks you can turn over and over again. It is an echo of the writing-for-the-ages stuff, and it’s worth preserving. Not least because it is, oddly, one of the last bulwarks of cultural appetite we have against the fast-moving vaudeville of “digital culture.” I think we’d better treasure and nurture it.

I’m a pleb/prole who has been reading authors above and beyond him for over 30 years:

“It was clear now that I had philosophical leanings, drawn to those who were intellectually above and beyond me, remembering a line from one of Nietzsche’s aphorisms something like, “I am not for those of the herd, those democratic ones, I am for those more gifted, the dynamic and brilliant ones, the elect.” Nietzsche knew that once someone began to read him, to think and ponder and ruminate upon, they would be changed and there would be no turning back. He knew it could lead to ruin and failure for some, but he also knew that the person who came to him with an open mind, no matter what happened in the day-to-day of his or her practical life, a resilience would form, an insouciance and stoicism that would serve them when they were in the depths of despair, in the darkest moments of their lives. He was right.”

Then in the last two years YA novelists, first Suzanne Collins then J. K. Rowling afterward, came into my life and everything has changed. And I think Michelle Dean here captures a bit of what’s going on:

“It’s a desire for stories substantial enough to withstand the ages, that are like smooth river rocks you can turn over and over again. It is an echo of the writing-for-the-ages stuff, and it’s worth preserving. Not least because it is, oddly, one of the last bulwarks of cultural appetite we have against the fast-moving vaudeville of “digital culture.” I think we’d better treasure and nurture it.”

Just added Michael Llach’s Psych Sonnets to my Carnivàle of Expression section (Selected Poetry) at apart: in the midst of.His work is stirring, thought-provoking and humanizing. Well worth your time. You should dip in, see what he’s up to, follow him. 

Just added Michael Llach’s Psych Sonnets to my Carnivàle of Expression section (Selected Poetry) at apart: in the midst of.

His work is stirring, thought-provoking and humanizing. Well worth your time. You should dip in, see what he’s up to, follow him. 

Stirring and splendid dioramas, ” I doubt most architectural photographers are shooting at midnight, wearing their pajamas and holding a glass of iced tea.” ♥Lori Nix’s Miniature Post-Apocalyptic City

Stirring and splendid dioramas, ” I doubt most architectural photographers are shooting at midnight, wearing their pajamas and holding a glass of iced tea.” ♥

Lori Nix’s Miniature Post-Apocalyptic City

If you’re stirred and moved by architecture and photography then you must check out the new website of “photo industry badass” Julie Grahame and her colleagues.

This particular look at The White House and Pennsylvania Ave was quite marvelous, feels like we’ve traveled far into the past, as if we’ve lived in a neighborhood for 30 years, then we pull out some old pics of when the trees were just planted, when everything was new, memories stirred. Love love… 

"To tell the truth about oneself, to discover oneself near at hand, is not easy… ’tis a rugged road, more so than it seems, to follow a pace so rambling and uncertain, as that of the soul; to penetrate the dark profundities of its intricate internal windings; to choose and lay hold of so many little nimble motions; ’tis a new and extraordinary undertaking, and that withdraws us from the common and most recommended employments of the world."Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader

~~~

I began writing this “obituary” on August 6, 2013 in the interval between treatments for recurrent advanced metastatic prostate cancer (hoping that it’s another reprieve, that in marking off one’s death, one can layout the foundation for one’s rebirth). I’ve been known to veer toward the kitschy and sentimental, and let me tell you when you have no testosterone left, when only the prostate cancer cells produce it themselves to self-sustain, it’s easy to get misty-eyed, and look back ever so romantically…. more

nevver:

What we’re reading

Love love.
"What was lost was lost. There was no retrieving it, however you schemed, no returning to how things were, no going back."

— Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (via quotes-shape-us)

fuckyougreylady:

I was not planning on writing any thing else about the New York Times’ coverage of Anthony Weiner, in part because I was assuming that Lady Grey had already gone as low as she could go, and also because I don’t really care about Anthony Weiner, but what can I say? I’m a slutbag for woman-shaming.

Full-on.

bookoisseur:

Every damn day.

Don’t know, it’s like, is there someone else out there who would be interested in lollygagging in sweatpants, together: reading, writing, sipping coffee, taking strolls along the water, cuddling up,… 

bookoisseur:

Every damn day.

Don’t know, it’s like, is there someone else out there who would be interested in lollygagging in sweatpants, together: reading, writing, sipping coffee, taking strolls along the water, cuddling up,… 

(Source: amandaonwriting)

Our president? A grand leader, calm and circumspect talking about a very difficult and divisive subject. So love this guy.

Here’s NPR’s piece too: Obama Explains Black America to White America

Tootsie and Dustin Hoffman’s View of Women

Dustin Hoffman in a revealing interview on what it was that drove him to make the film Tootsie, how men are conditioned (brainwashed) to view women as objects of beauty, not as human beings who could be interesting, and smart, and brilliant… 

Hoffman Interview

If you’ve not seen Tootsie (1982, nominated for 10 Academy Awards), check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rv7smBQ-S80

A gift from Joss Whedon, the music of St. Germain. Feeling like I’m strolling in Montreal on a bluesy, late afternoon on the Boardwalk. Love love this.

Much Ado About Nothing? What a marvelous adaptation by Joss Whedon. His trailer to the film is a stand alone work of art.

The trailer for Much Ado… 

"The surgeon had an Indian accent that my father couldn’t understand, so my mother went to translate the accented English into unaccented English, and I thought That’s what love is—translating the same language together."

Chelsea Hodson in her recent piece: People I Don’t Talk to Anymore “I want to understand this little arm.”

Tags: What love is