Sunday, October 12, 2014


the curtains do not look like sheets after all; they look like curtains always look in hospital rooms or emergency rooms. brown/gold trim with holes like shower curtains, then white. i have plenty of time to observe as i wait on the table for 1/2 an hour or more.  it makes me nervous.  i'm feeling better in general, but neither the tiredness nor the fear have lessened, only the deep dark hole is gone, or masquerading somewhere. my blood pressure and my breathing, dr. andy tells me, are both bad: i
should try to get my pc doc  to change or add meds. i write her; we'll see. the thing is, which i don't say to him, is i don't care about my blood pressure, as i hope that within a few years it will lead to a heart attack and kill me. something will kill me sooner or later,, and looking at my parents' deaths--my mother from a particularly virulent form of Parkinson's playafully dubbed 'parkinson's plus,' my father from dementia caused by small strokes and, eventually, one large stroke that killed him. i wouldn't mind the one large stroke; it's a lesser stroke, or dementia itself, that scare me.  woody allen once said ' i'm not afraid of dying; i just dont want to be there when it happens.' that's my goal now. well that rules out suicide, so the doc's needn't worry on that score.

what i dislike most about the treatment is coming out of anaesthesia.  theres no pain to deal with, as there is no cutting into the body, but the feeling of coming out, my mind ahead of my body, so i know what i want to say but it emerges stuttering and incomprehensible; i know what i want to do, but only small parts of me will move at a time and i'm very dizzy. it doesnt last long, but it's grim while it does.

on Wednesday, we meet cheryl in the waiting room. on first glance, she seems quite ordinary. you expect her to be reading romance novels. well, maybe she does and if so, god bless her. she is waiting for her husband to be done with his treatments.we begin awkward conversation: it really is chilly today, but tomorrow is supposed to be more seasonal.  what do you do? what does your husband do? are mark and i married?[embarrassed laughter: mark and i are old friends; known each other 50 years; were college sweethearts but when that ended grew into the friendship we have now.)  bit by bit the conversation becomes more real. cheryl tells us she is schizophrenic and depressive, but both are being treated successfully with medication. John, less lucky,  is deeply depressive but nothing has helped till now. the first effort at basic ect didnt help much so he has continued into more intense forms of ect, which i didn't even know existed.i am releived to know they do, for john's sake and my own. i had thought this was my last chance; now it seems there's further to go if i need to.

cheryl wants to know about my teaching. when i tell her i teach about women in media and now about other aspects of gender in media, particularly gay and transgender isssues, she is thrilled.  people need to understand about these kinds of people and their lives, she says enthusiastically.  'that's the only way the bigotry will stop.'  she has begun to design what she calls her 'caring creations'--handmade cards for all occassions ...designed for those brave souls battling cancer and mental illness.'

when they call me  in for my treatment, mark and cheryl continue to talk. mark is bowled over by her; she doesnt fit any of our categories of deep-thinking people. when i come out, i am sad to see that john has finished his treatment and they've gone. i look forward to running into them again. cheryl's goal is to give people hope. she has certainly done that for me.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


so far, so good.  treatments monday, wednesday, friday mornings. my retired friend mark comes with me the first day, and he will come  with me henceforth. you gotta have someone with you, even with a taxi.  that's because every treatment requires general anesthetic, and you are seriously and unpleasantly stoned when you leave, even with sleeping after the treatment and then eating donuts and drinking coffee from dunkin donuts.
so i lay down on the table--one of several hidden from one another with white sheeting (it looks like a small emergency room] and the staff gets busy while dr. barker patiently waits. theyre a friendly crew: alison, anette [two black women with slight central American accents] and dr. andy, the white anesthesiologist who enjoys the fact that they are all three 'A's] and who brings in tomatoes from his garden, harvested that weekend, to share with everyone there. i like their combination of friendliness and professionalism.   i notice classical music playing quietly, and comment on it. annette beams.  friday, she tells me, is opera day. all day, opera is the music they play. we both recognize 'traviatta' and make small dance gestures. she's excited about her birthday in december: her friends are taking her to new york, to the met. she's never been to the met before.

meanwhile i am told to lie down on the bed, my head close to the top, and then to take off one sock and put it over the other one.  obviously the anesthetics have taken effect, and i am dreaming. i note that it's a very silly dream.

which it's not. annette is quite seriously telling me to do this. when i can't get up past all the plastic geegaws on my body, she removes the sock for me.  Later the anesthesiologist explains: since the anesthesia paralyzes my body, they can't tell if the brain is having seizures, which is the whole point of the thing. so the anesthesia is somehow prevented from going down into the right foot.  remember te archetypal mother who warns you to wear clean underpants whenever you go out? from that day for me, for the next few weeks now, it's clean sox.

then they do the anesthesia and i'm gone. when i wake up it feels unpleasant.i'm not fully awake;  moving is clumsy, like im unederwater and can't swim my way up.  i try to talk and it comes out in disconnected words. they think i'm awake; i think i'm not. i manage to articulate, very clearly, 'i wish i was dead.' they let me sleep a bit longer for my next treatments.  then they direct me to a little recovery room with the dunkin donuts goodies and coffee and gingerale. i gasp dramatically but earnestly,"water!!' and they seem surprised but agreeable. as i eat, i wake up further [i've had nothing to eat or drink since midnight].when mark and i leave i am zonked, and zonked i stay all day. i go to bed as soon as i get home, and it's just about noon. around 5 i wake up and have a combo lunch and dinner and a lot more water.  and then back to bed.

the next 2 days are pretty much the same, and i still feel crappy. but now my brother has come in from new york to be caretaker, giving poor mark the only break he'll get, as far as  i can see.  but by sunday i can feel the difference in my depression, and it feels good.still dead tired, but not quite in that dark hole.

we'll see how this goes on in week 2.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

big day tomorrow

wish me luck, readers, if there are any of you left.  tomorrow i begin several weeks of CET--i.e. electro convulsive therapy--aka```SHOCK`````in the bad old days.  maybe there's a way out of this murky depression after all!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

IT LURKS! [the depressive's lament]

it's that time of year. only not the same as it used to be.after 3 months with no work, tuesday begin summer classes.  usually this time of year, i feel a twinge, but mostly ready to pick up the routine again.  this time, having accomplished nothing in  my free months and having been invaded by the giant depression for so  long, i have merely dread--and pity-- for my poor students.  all i want is to curl up under the covers of my bed and stay there. get up to eat, pee, read a little, and cry.then i'm free from misery and fear, my identical twin shadows.   maybe it will work out better than i thought. i've had a few respites, after all.  maybe teaching again [with incomplete notes; some have vanished] but still, i know most of this stuff.

i really hoped i'd have something light, interesting, fun, illuminating to write here, but nothing emerges.  depression defines the keyboard. normally when i have nothing to say that isn't  dipped in misery, i don't write. but it's been so long since i've used my blog, i fear i'm letting it bleed to death and no one  will ever get back if they think i'm not writing.

so hold on, fair readers; maybe things will turn around soon and i'll have something worth saying.  meanwhile, remember my new little prayer:
now i lay me down to sleep;
i pray the lord my soul to keep,
and if i die before  i wake...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Annie, Auggie, and Little Nell

 In 1841, new yorkers stormed the wharfs of the city, desperate for information.  and the cry was heard 'round the world:  'Is Little Nell Alive?'  

Little Nell, for you of the 21st century who may not know, was the child heroine of charles  dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop, and the sailors who were carrying the newspaper with the last installment from london to new york called back that  nell had succumbed to whatever ailment she had, leaving brits and americans alike in tears [and providing material for the magnificently cynical oscar wilde].

i think of this now because a week from today, a year after the show's season premier last summer, thousands of us will crowd the metaphorical wharfs of tv land, crying with equal passion, 'Are Annie and Auggie still  together?' Annie and Auggie are the hero and second tier star of USA TV's Covert Affairs,' the summer spy show full of gorgeous people who work for the virtuous CIA [you think the CIA isnt virtuous? you think they hire homely spies?].  We, like little nell's adorers way back when, are probably doomed to disappointment.  but that doesn't stop us.  I know because i'm on a fan page for the show.  the nonexistence of auggie and annie, like that of little nell, is irrelevant.  they must be together, or something vital will go out of our lives.

this didn't happen in the early days of western literature.  everyone went to the plays knowing the end: no one cried in desperation, "did they get that damned horse in there?'  but somewhere along the lines of fiction's history, someone came up with the idea of telling stories whose endings no one knew, and anindustry flourished.  the glamour of fictional characters was interwoven with the uncertainty of real life, however artistic or banal the tale might be.   i have no doubt that tonight, thousands of people will move reluctantly from their computers to their tv's to find out if Doc Hank has found love or peace in the past year, of if his charming and manipulative brother has saved his marriage.  and will their beautiful associate find love with the homely, personality challenged doc who took in her and  her unborn child?  I'm fascinated by the ways we all identify with nonexistent people while a planet full of real people remain to us boring and abstract.

i had a lot to say about this, and i'm sure it's profound.  or maybe it isn't. maybe i just wanted to compare my passion for annie and auggie with that of dido for aeneus or hamlet for himself.  in any case, i don't have enough time, because it's almost 9 o'clock, and while they're not annie and auggie, i still want to know what's gone on with doc hank and the crowd while they've been gone all year....and after that comes the season start of the woes of the psychotic psychologist in "Perception." i have always enjoyed his chats with joan of arc....

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

If we are to remember America's dead soldiers, have we a right to ignore the rest of the world's soldiers?  brave, noble, cowardly, heroic; patriotic, pragmatic, cynical;  those who died killing others and those who died saving others?   the  spouses, lovers, children, parents, siblings who lost loved ones to the obscenity of war?  the good and bad die  together, and we lose them all.  i am sad for each american lost to war, but i choose to mourn equally for all war's victims, for those who are dying now as we celebrate the already dead. battles  may be won; no on ever wins war.  good journey to you all.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Invisible Me

once again, i need to apologize for my absence here. same reason--different illness. while the depression continues, it's overshadowed by another old friend--the worst asthma i've had in decades.  no energy to do anything, and orders from dr not to try.  threats of ER looming, backed up by threats of hospitalization--this while loaded with prednisone.  getting incrementally better each day, but very small increments. ideas zooming in my head for blog things i want to do [like challenge ' bucket list'] but no energy to do them.  will return......

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Been very dry in the past few months; nothing seems to want to be said.  but i did manage this brief poem, working with travel writing students:

From her temple
in the ruins of Nimes
blesses tourists and passersby.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What Powderfinger Said . . . Observations on Life in the Dying Empire: My Wise Friend

posting a blog of a blog-friend's post of his freind's post.

What Powderfinger Said . . . Observations on Life in the Dying Empire: My Wise Friend: I think he's about ten times smarter than I, at least. He goes by the monicker "Montag" and he's been blogging here for a...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bad Traveler Goes to Israel

Two weeks ago was my travel break from the castle, and off i flew to meet sylvia, the best friend of my childhood with whom i've kept sporadic touch over the years.  and now we're a pair of old ladies.  The trip started off horribly, when [first] i fell down on the way to what my information said was my my flight spot when i changed planes.  okay that was my own fault.  but thru a nasty set of circumstances not of my making, i missed not one but two flights, and though it wasn't my fault it cost me 700 euroes. and spent an entire night wandering around the airport at turkish airways alternately blubbery and blustery.   two bits of advice from that.  dont save money by switching planes when direct flights are available. you may, like me, lose money instead, and even if  you do save the money, the aggravation mightn't be worth it. and 2, don't for god's sake do it if the middle airport is turkish airways!

the worst part of that experience, however, is what it did to my depression. as old readers know, i've spent over 3 years in a varying depression which since october has been extremely mild, thanks to a combo of meds.  but it's always felt like skin beginning to scar, weak and vulnerable.  that whole airline business broke the fragile scar and i was pretty much of a mess thru the week.  but i managed to have fun with sylvia, whose patience is saintly.  how lovely to see her again! she lives in tel aviv now, and the weather was what she called awful, i called delightful.

that tuesday, she was working for  an hour with some arab school kids where she does weekly volunteer work. i asked if i could tag along and watch; the organizer asked if, with 3 volunteers out, i could fill in for one of them.  so, with no idea of what i would be doing [sylvia tried to explain but that got me further  confused, and my mind was in bad shape after the trip incidents] but i ended up as she said i would figuring it out by following what she was doing, and worked with a little girl named monica--adorable but very restless; thank god i teach college kids!

thru the week we ate and sat in coffee shops and parks a lot, and i of course had to nap a lot, but there wasnt much i awfully cared about seeing except sylvia and the sunset  over the  Mediterranean in tel aviv.  then we spent a couple of days in jerusalem, where sylvia lived until recently and where her friend sue still lives. i knew sue also; she had lived around the block from me and sylvia when we were kids, but in their mutual lives in isreal they had seen a   lot of each other and grown much closer. most of our time together was fun. then we went into the Old City, about which i knew nothing, but which sounded great. and i'm sure it is. but a disaster for my addled brain, all b/c of a misunderstood wise crack. they asked if i wanted to go to the catholic cathedral, and i thought they were joking, since i've long been a very ex catholic. i've seen some splendid cathedrals over the years, but the idea of spending limited time in jerusalem at a cathedral seemed silly to me, so i chuckled at their joke and followed along with them.  in fact, they were being kind to a christian, even ex christian, friend. which would have been okay but i'm frightened of walking since i fall pretty often and i'm very claustrophobic.  we began walking through what i assumed would be a small, bazaar-like area....and walked, and walked, and walked, on lovely slippery steps through a beautiful and endless maze, me afraid to say anything because i needed to hold in what breath i had.  luckily a part of my mind stood aside, first of all because it kept me from screaming, running, or crying; second because i was able to make a mental record out of what was a onetime experience.  except for the narrowness of the street, leading thru to other narrow streets from whence, i gathered, crawled yet further narrow streets, it looked like mideast bizarres look on US spy shows.  the goods sold were beautiful, like walls of multicolored silks reaching almost to the sky [the 'almost' saved me; i could see sky and remind myself that there was an end to the labyrinth, even if no way to reach it].  i was pretty close to sobbing at this point, and finally told my friends what was going on, and  just as they began to put their energy toward finding the quickest way out, a friend ran into sue. he was a gorgeously garbed ethiopian. he asked us to sit with him; sue looked pleadingly at me and i pulled up a smile, and found a tranquilizer in my wallet.  all around us walked people of different mideast populations, seemingly perfectly comfortable with each other. i was taken by the sight of 2 women passing in different directions: one was a catholic nun in the sort of medieval-based habit of years back, the other a muslim with full body and face covering. the similarity of the outfits was startling.
i tried to focus my mind in the part that saw the beauty of the place, and realized i was glad  i was seeing it; also that i would be a wreck the rest of the day. eventually they got me out of the maze, and the sheer sight of open air was magnificent. [it isn't hard to find magnificence in Jerusalem, built on the famed pale beige Jerusalem stone].  soon we were eating at an airy restaurant and laughing. sleeping that night was hard; the claustrophobia and weakness had gotten thru to my bones; luckily there was a lot of light and air through the windows.  back to tel aviv the next day, and sylvia and i had a leisurely dinner on the beach.  bathers filled the area; the weather was warm enough for brave swimmers, and the Mediterranean, even with a disappointing piss-yellow sunset, was impressive.

the return of the breakdown has lasted since my return, though today has been a bit better.  that's unfortunate, and may mean a new medication when i get back to boston mid april.  but worth it, definitely.  i wish i could describe the feeling of re-knowing sylvia, exploring each other's thinking, never really enough time and much of  it marred by my feeling of dependency on her to get me anywhere, with my fear of everything [part of the whole depression].  two  little girl, knowing ech other as teenagers and 20-somethings; years of sporadic communication--even getting together briefly on two of her short trips to the US. and now 2 old women, facing age very differently, having lived very different lives, but the 2 kids still there.  i'd love t go back and see her again--on a nonstop trip!--when i'm less dominated by depression.  but what i got, i got, and despite the  fight with my mind, well worth what it cost to get it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


i keep trying to post things on the blog, but the fact is, i'm blocked. noting seems to want to get itself written beyond a sentence or 2.  maybe my trip to israel a week from tomorrow to visit an old friend i haven't seen for years will help unblock  my sleepy brain.  i hope so; i miss blogging.  i think the aftereffects of severe depression [down to mild depression, which is a large improvement], plus the medications i take to keep it mild, contribute to a laissez faire [or lazy fare] brainset that's hard to pull out of, so it works only when i have no choice--like doing my classes.  so i just thought i'd say hi to anyone to stops by here to see what clever thoughts i've had of late.  thanks for looking at the blog.  i'll keep coming back, i promise....

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Report from the Lowlands, first 2 weeks

i had comfortable, uneventful flight with 80 strangers who would soon be familiar, and who were kind and helpful when i needed assistance with my carryon.  i became a hero briefly at schiphool airport when students were getting stopped after customs; apparently no one had been told to expect a group of 80 students, and the authorities insisted on getting confirmation from a 'leader.'  our 'leaders' were waiting for us outside the gate, and the students were getting concerned, til the RA remembered i was at the back of the line. 'wait,' he told the guy in the glass box, 'we have a professor!' and ran back to get me.  i had only a vague idea of what the problem was, but i guess i managed to look authoritative when i went to the head of the line and said, 'hello, i'm traveling with these students; how may i help you?' that seemed sufficient to the flustered offiicer, and all worked well.  i slept off and on through the weekend, while the kids went through the orientation drill, which should have been refreshing for me but wasn't; anyway i was able to prepare the first lit class, rereading for the 100th time the first 1/2 of the odyssey.  so far classes go well, and all the students seem like nice people, excited about their [mostly] first time in europe, and the thought of living in a castle.  and it's great to see my colleagues again.

last weekend the castle was closed down for the students' required trip to amsterdam, meaning i had to stay elsewhere, so i chose, very wisely, the B&B run by the lovely couple who do the castle's food service.  they were horrified that i'd never been to what the students call the Blue Lake [officially the Reindersmeer], and they promptly arranged to take me there saturday afternoon.  it was a lovely outing, and the lake really is blue--not the aqua of the Mediterranean or the Adriatic, but a kind of slate grey-blue, quite unusual and very pretty. we ate in the combined visitor's bureau/ restaurant overlooking the lake, and they had mustard soup with no bacon. this was a double treat; few enough restaurants have mustard soup, one of my favorite dutch foods, and those that do tend to have it with bacon bits.  on top of that, they had a lovely pannekoek [dutch pancakes; closer to crepes than to american pancakes, but heartier and larger] with brie and syrup.  hardly low-cal, but wonderful.

the only problem was that my insomnia kicked up badly both nights i was there and my first night back, making me so dizzy and weak i missed monday's class--only the 2nd class i've ever missed here. weak all week but got through. realized that the one thing that helps prevent a totally sleepless night is getting up and eating.  perfect for weight loss!  ah well, whatever gets me sleeping...

i love having only 2 classes; it will offset some of the sleep problems and keep me off the hectic schedule i've had in recent years.  yet one more thing to make me feel my age.  and the energy of these  kids does that too, in spades. they're like the bunny in the old battery commercial; they keep going and going....and they do that in class too. they seem anxious to learn, very cooperative--and some of them thank me when the class is done!

so, a decent start, if my body will only cooperate.  will start tarot readings next week...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RIP Pete Seeger

there doesn't seem to be much more to say. he lived to 94, one of the few greats of our time, joyful while acknowledging and fighting pretty much all the evils in america. and honestly humble through it all.  no one can match him; no one can even try. who can fail to be heart-heavy at his loss, and grateful for all he shared with us?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

For Those Who Hate Beowulf...

...and i am one of them. for several years after i began teaching "Literary Foundations," i  forced that dreary creature down my own throat and those of my students. what was interesting to me about the poem was  not the poem itself, but its nearly unique position in english lit.  but i ignored the nearly, and just dropped the beowulf, which worked quite well in one way: we left antiquity with the aenead and picked up the middle ages with the aenead-influenced inferno, with no nasty early medieval centuries in between to distract us.  then curiosity drove me to attend a lecture on the rest of the beowulf collection: some fragments and a possible non-fragment, a complete retelling of the story of the ancient biblical heroine judith.  i was entranced, and went home to bask in wikepedia and its links. the same great anglo-saxon rhythms and alliteration, probably written down by the same sort of monk who wrote down the epic beowulf. only here was a hero worth reading about!  no prissy good girl, our judith, but also no show-off warrior like beowulf. a job has to be done, and no one else is gonna do it, so it's up to her and her faithful handmaid.  she inserts herself into hateful holerfones' tent on the pretense of wanting the jews to surrender before they're all killed, because holerfones is such a great warrior.  the beastly boss is impressed with this show of intelligence, and invites her to come back and hang around together.  presuming  a sexual encounter,  he chases all his soldiers away. the virtuous virgin gets him drunk in anticipation of their night of lust, and when he's well soused, she chops his head off.  the joy of the monk writer blasts out of every syllable.  off go the ladies, freely through the camp of the enemy, carrying the basket in which they had brought goodies for the evening's enjoyment; it now carries past the soldiers the head of their dead leader.  now here's a tale.  it has its limits, of course. wholly judeo-christian, it has none of the blend of pagan and christian found in beowulf,  which makes the epic at least intellectually interesting. but 'judith' compensates with its constant motion, its emotional tone, and its competitively gory ambiance.  i still have to lecture about beowulf in the context of explaining the Judith manuscript, but i find beowulf  more interesting to talk about than to read.

judith is only one of the ways i have managed to get some female representation in the Great Works.  thought written by a man, it's a great picture of a woman, who is totally front and center.  the aenead too, in what is arguably is greatest section, offers an amazing female hero.  dido owns the first section of that amazing poem, and one of the most compelling things about her is that she never becomes only the woman who kills herself over her lover's abandonment.  she is that, no question.  but so much else! she is the only woman who could make a compatible mate for aeneas, and his sadness at his need to leave her is real, his argument sound. what forces him from her is just that. he cannot stay and help her build her city indefinitely; he must leave and found his own. neither can she leave with him; as she tells herself, that would destroy her carthage and leave it to its surrounding enemies.  her decision to commit suicide is one of the most amazing scenes in literature.  caught up in the fury and pain of his betrayal, she yet rationally considers all her possiblities.  goddess-driven, she has made a choice whose consequences leave no other way out.  had he stayed and been [as she sees it] her husband, they could rule carthage together, with both their armies.  his leaving loses her all credibility; she becomes,  simply, the alien's discarded whore.  she must die and leave her city to be ruled by other Carthaginians.  i can never read that scene without feeling her heartache and ecstasy.

later in the term, i again get to teach some cool women--and this time, as writers.  to understand the canterbury tales, you need to know a little at least of the decameron.  but the decameron has other followers, and to progress from the decameron through chaucer to the heptameron by maurguerite de neuvarre is sheer fun.  attempting to create 'the french decameron' 200 years after the original, she uses becaccio's  structure to invent a wholly different work, whose tale tellers are socially and personally deeply intertwined, and who stories relfect that.  and then there is the medieval woman who broke into the nasty 'querelle de femmes' to utter a fully female, almost proto-feminist retort in the  form of an imaginary city built  at the instruction of three women sent by the blessed virgin mary to the self-fictionalized christine de pizan.  the influence of the far superior writer dante is clear, as is that of baccaccio, but the result is a dazzling peice of propoganda, re-use of old myths, and wholly original work that became one of the first pieces of writing to be paid for in western history.

ah, mine is a tough  job......