Why, what's this I see before me? It looks like an imaginary sheet of blank paper. I know I've seen imaginary sheets like this before... And there was that thing I did, like I'm doing now, wiggling my fingers and making little marks...
I think it's apparent, to me at least, that when Lent reached its culmination with Easter, it might have been better if I'd continued with some sort of, perhaps less rigorous, but at least regular writing regimen. I've felt out of sorts, and kind of mentally flab-i-fied, if you will, since Easter, what with having various thoughts on various things, and not remembering that there was a place I could conveniently stash said notion. (The likelihood of someone actually reading these many thoughts wasn't actually all that attractive, difficult as things have been of late...)
But today -- because I have far too much to do in the time allotted, and because I'm dealing with a very minor physical challenge that is consuming my focus and energy -- of course today I'm deciding to re-enter the pool of blogue-land, if only at the very shallow end.
So I'll start with my elbow.
My right elbow, for the accuracy-minded. Although I can't be sure when my current challenge began, I suspect it might have been on an artist's visit and lecture that I gave, at Tyler School of Art, in Philadelphia, about a three weeks ago. I'd been asked to come speak with the glass students at Tyler, visit the grad studios, and maybe do some glass blowing as well. After the talk (which wasn't the dynamic success I'd hoped for, in my opinion), I allowed myself to be talked into working in the hot shop. There, the first thing I did, to my eternal amazement, was to show off my t-shirt (from the famous Wet Dog Glass studio, formerly of New Orleans, and operated by a former school-mate of mine, Eddie Bernard), and then... I took the t-shirt off!
Of course, I was wearing an athletic shirt underneath, as I always do, but I'm still quite amazed that it occurred to me that these college juniors would be at all interested in looking at the pacemaker scar in the skin of someone old enough to be their grandfather (and to spare, year-wise...); they seemed, if not shocked, at least intrigued as I told the story of the little spiral-ended wires burrowing into my heart -- nothing quite like bringing your own horror movie with you wherever you go, I guess -- and then I got dressed again, and made some glass pieces, to show these poor kids just how ugly an otherwise voluptuous and sensual material can get. And so quickly too!
I worked, pretty much alone, as is my habit. I hadn't done any hot shop work in over a year, and I'd been afraid I would break down sobbing as I took my first gather of hot glass. Or maybe it would be as I was shaping it at the marver. Well, in any event, tears did not flow, but sweat certainly did. And there were those physical stresses unique to glass blowing. After doing my little show'n'tell, I went back to my little show'n'hotel, and changed clothes for dinner out, spent a night worrying that the alarm wouldn't go off in the morning (which it didn't), and after a brief couple of student visits, I came back home again.
I noticed that my right elbow was a little irritated just a few days later, but thought nothing of it. Bought an elastic elbow brace (to go with the elastic knee brace. Soon, I'll be shopping for the elastic 'whole right side of the body' brace...) and went on with life as usual. Actually enjoying my return to the gym, after the post-pacemaker interim period had finally passed.
But that right elbow kept getting a little sorer, and more prominent, and finally I went to see my doctor -- which visit being overdue, since she needs to know about the pacemaker too, I suppose. But in a change from the usual run of things (you know -- you call in to work sick, and then instantly feel better?), when I took my shirt off to show the doctor the offending elbow, she looked shocked. It was actually noticeably worse than it had been earlier that day. She gave me an antibiotic shot, a prescription for more such medication, and referred me to a specialist in rheumatism and arthritis. She also took a blood test, for possible gout.
The rheumatism doctor also seemed impressed when, the next day, I exhibited my own personal traveling freak show (Guaranteed Never Before Seen in North America, folks...); he decided to drain off some of whatever was... in... there, and said I should come back on Monday, if necessary.
Well, blah blah blah. I did have to go see him again on Monday, in his office in another North Jersey city in that seamless conglomeration of human habitation hugging the Hudson at that latitude. (Who knew there was a West Kennedy Boulevard and an East Kennedy Boulevard? Where I'd lived, there was only... Kennedy Boulevard. So much more refined) Found the doctor. Showed him the activity, which had extended to swelling of my right hand and upper arm. More... material removed, perhaps to be tested for... something. But the doctor said he felt fine, and that I had nothing to worry about.
Continue the medication, hot compresses. Live long and prosper.
Well, now it's back, and in my opinion, worse than before. I went back to the cheery rheumatologist, who confided that he felt he has the best job on earth, and that he loves his life, while I was wondering if I could still get over-the-counter rat poison at that little family-run Ace Hardware on Duncan Avenue. He was surprised I'd only been given a week's worth of antibiotics (because surely, a week of having your intestines scrubbed on a daily basis isn't really long enough in this vale of tears), and called in a three-week supply, cheerily waved me on my way, and went back to the best job on earth.
So. I'm now tethered to a heating pad, which works intermittently at best. I had to improvise a means of actually affixing said pad, because the 'designers' have only attached some decorative cotton ribands (sic) with which to hold their wimpy product close to the human body presumably in need of such warmth as their 'product' may decide to supply -- perhaps they thought that no one ever needs to heat an upper limb? Or, that everyone purchasing their product has live-in help, and after the farthingale has been tied on, what's another couple of bow-knots in the grand scheme of things? I used something I think I saw in the second section of the Lord of the Rings, where Aragorn, after the wild warg ride (which didn't happen in the book) fell to his near-death in a river (never happened), only to be rescued by his preternaturally savvy horse (guess what -- didn't happen), so he could ride back to the seige of Helm's Deep. Which, in a rare departure, actually did happen in the book. (Only differently) And as he was riding off on his oh-so-smart horse, he was loop-knotting a bandage onto his left arm. Aha!
So, I've used the arm-loops of an athletic shirt (could it be the same one I showed off in the Tyler hot shop? Stranger things have happened) to lash this whimsical heating device to my right arm, and I'm about to embark on stage two of the deepest housecleaning of several years, to prepare for... houseguests. Who Must Never Know.
But I don't want to talk about that whole issue at present. I want to mention a realization I had last night, as I was, once again, relashing the soi-dissant heating pad to my arm. I was thinking of a themed group art exhibit in which I participated, some time ago, in a Hudson Street gallery that was later turned into a shop for maternity wear, when babies became fashionable again. In the deep recesses of the pre-pregnancy period, the gallery liked to show off-beat and 'edgy' things, and the curator suggested that we contributors think about the writings of Jorge Luis Borges as we made or selected our works for the show. As I happened at the time to be in something of a Jorge Luis Borges moment in my life, this seemed singularly apt.
So I made a wall-dependent piece, featuring three average-sized (think, your usual adult liver) pieces of blown glass, all of which had been made at different times in what was then the recent past. In something I found truly uncanny, given the unpredictable way in which I work, two of those pieces seemed to have undergone exactly the same sort of blistering damage to their outer surfaces -- the only difference being that one of these looked older, more fragile and decrepit than the other. I found a slightly smaller, fresher-looking glass thingie, which practically oozed the stupid optimism of youth, and voila -- Section Two was born! It evokes a kind of hospital ward - scientific lab kind of feeling, with three slant-topped shelves each holding one of the glass pieces. Left to right, we see: optimistic youthful slightly sickie-looking one; mature, more inured, definitely sickie one; old, broken open, hopeless one, with a stained bit of cheesecloth under it. The three separated from each other by two stained plastic curtains, also affixed to the walls. More stage-dressing is involved -- tangles of wires under each shelf, mysterious circular metal basins covered in plastic; towels of differing degrees of cleanliness. That sort of thing.
I thought it was brilliant, and I rarely like my own work. It helped me talk about past/present/future, all at the same time, all in one piece, Something, I thought, Sr. Borges would have liked, fond as he was of playing with concepts of human time and space.
But not all viewers agreed. Oh no, my precious. They didn't agree at all. One man was very angry because, in the listing of works provided by the gallery, my piece was listed as the ninth work he would see. "But what are all these two's all over the place" he asked, "if it's supposed to be number nine? How am I supposed to know what I'm looking at?" He wasn't going to buy anything anyway.
And there was another group -- two women and a man, as I recall, who reached a certain point along the floor of this long, narrow gallery, and then stopped. Stopped cold, even though the wine was beyond my work, out on the back patio. Even the lure of zinfandel could not entice them any closer. They had their heads together conspiratorially, as though they were electing a pope. And at moments where the background hum of the chain saw chewing up a bowling ball died down a bit, I could pick up bits of their hissed conversation. "Excrement" "Bodily wastes. Urine" "Disgusting" Then, to my recollection, they left. Not having bought anything either.
But their comments made me think, somewhat sanctimoniously I now realize -- did any of them have someone they loved? Did any one of them suspect, in the least, that someone they loved might become ill, or injured, or need some kind of physical caring? Were they only prepared to love their loved ones if there wasn't anything wrong with them? In an odd way, this bit of art-provoked psychodrama on their part (which, in my own defense, I don't think I misinterpreted at all) helped me feel more assured about the sort of work I had been doing, and continued to do. What do you do, when the worst things happen? How do you react to these ordinarily subcutaneous realities, when they come spilling forth, unceremoniously and having no consideration for schedule or my narrow convenience?
As it happens -- and perhaps this is due to my being the oldest in a family of seven kids, with two being, at 12 and 13 years younger, practically my own children -- I don't generally have much trouble, that I've noticed, with the occasional eruption of this or that 'unpleasantness' (to borrow from Barbara Pym); Generally, I tend to the calm rearrangement of proprieties, along with the usual soothing noises and the odd hot or cool towel as needed.
But. No. Such. Compassion. For. Me.
And this, (whoever out there is still with me, this is for you), this is where all my orotundity has been leading -- to my very recent head-on collision with my own very deep, very passionate, very unflinching lack of sympathy for my own body and my own physical failings. From the way I'm reacting to this elbow drama (a staph infection, though from one of the more common types, not the one in the movies with Dustin Hoffman) you'd think I'd grown a second head that sported a singularly unpleasant complexion and badly-aligned teeth. I don't feel safe when I'm sick. I don't feel valuable when I'm not capable. I feel unacceptably vulnerable if I can't hold my grocery basket in one hand, as an older woman shopper noticed me doing the other day. And this mind-set is not amusing, because the temporal waters into which my little physical bark is headed has the worst rapids I will ever have faced -- and I've already almost died twice in my life that I know of. Three times if you listen to the hysterical cardiac specialist...
So, this is where I am (plus I do have to finish, so I can run to the bank, to get money so I can pay the handyman for mowing the lawn, so he won't come asking for cash at 10 o'clock at night because his grandmother died again); If I'm willing to be so judgmental about people who can't approach my artwork (which, by the way, is totally composed of man-make, inorganic materials, and only refers to the ideas which the viewers themselves create), without getting nauseated and offended, might I not think about trying to scrounge up a little bit of sympathy... for my own physical rendition? I made fun of the pacemaker, as a defense against its terrifying message. It's cute to show it off, because the scar is so negligible, and it looks like I've got an emergency saltine stashed under my skin, just in case. But this red, rude swollen joint of mine, with the skin peeling off, and my right hand looking like it belongs on a 300-lb version of yours truly, with which I can't even touch my own face, not that I would want to, with a hand like that -- with this, I find, it's much more difficult to have anything even remotely resembling acceptance, let alone sympathy.
In all probability, this infection episode will pass. (Either that, or I'll need a prosthesis. In which case, stand back) But this does, nonetheless, feel like just one of the very first bumps. And I don't think there are any seat belts in my little canoe.
© 2012 Walter Zimmerman