For Nana, written for my grandmother’s memorial, May 2003

Written for my grandmother’s memorial, in May 2003

What makes us human is that we know we will die.

What makes us human is that we know we will live forever, in our families, in our children, in the memories of those whom we have loved and who have loved us.

We rejoice in the life of Grace DeBacco – Grazietta Silverio. And what a rejoicing it is. Look around you. It’s Grace’s Faces as far as the eye can see. Once at one of the many birthday parties and family reunions someone who had married into the clan said to me, “I look out over this crowd, and you all have the same nose.”

I am not certain about the noses. But our blood and bone are indeed the same. I submit to you, however, that what’s really the same is that we all have the same heart. If heart means courage, and strength, and laughter, and family, we have the same heart indeed. It was she who gave it to us, in her body, in her spirit, and in her love.

I cannot pretend that I knew my Nana as a person. I knew her as my Nana – strong, loving, generous, full of stories. I suspect strongly that my own near-sacred devotion to good food comes from her, handed down directly through my mother. She had a definite sense of style, too, giving hope to all of us short, round women who manage to be stylish in her honor and in her memory.

Each of us knew her in varying ways – as mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin. Each of us were shaped by her in ways seen and unseen, across a long life.

She was a little girl who came from Chieti, Italy to Pennsylvania, a voyage by ship where she was so seasick that she asked her mother if she was going to throw up the entire ocean. She was a young girl who fell in love, and lost her love, and then found love again. She worked hard. She had ten children. She knew how to laugh, and she loved to have her family gathered around her.

In a Star Trek novel he wrote, my son Keith, Nana’s oldest great-grandchild, named the president of the Federation after her. I think she could have run a whole planet, no problem. She certainly did a good job on us.

She and my mother, her oldest child, Annie, made a life together for themselves for over twenty-five years, after my father died and my mother came home to live in that little house in Roseville. They were quite a performance, those two. It’s a part of my grandmother’s life I got to know pretty well, since it had my mother in it. It was great theater. And it comforts me more than I can say that Mom was holding Nana’s hand when she died.

It is a little scary to think of the changes that passed by her in her life. She was born after the turn of the century just passed – before either world war, and just a year after the first air flight at Kitty Hawk.

This week when she died – just after the turn of another century – much of her large and far-flung family were in constant and almost instantaneous touch through the medium of the internet, on the web site Tim has so aptly called The Grapevine. How extraordinary.

What is more extraordinary, though, is that throughout her long life, the things that she lived are the things that do not change. Wake up and greet the day. Smile at the children. Feed the family. Do the work to hand. Sow the seeds of laughter, and make sure that there are hugs and kisses in great abundance for everyone.

What makes us human is that we know we will die.

What makes us human is that we know we will live forever. And Nana will, in all those noses, and in our hearts, in our children and our children’s children, and in the heaven where I know she lives now.

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Memory: growing older

When I was a child in the 1950s and 60s, we lived in the upstairs half of a two-family house in the North Bronx. We had a porch, but no air conditioning, not even fans. On very hot summer nights when I could not sleep, I would get up and go out to the porch, where I usually found my dad, sitting in his shorts and bare feet, smoking a cigarette. Summer mornings, sometimes we would have a treat for breakfast that I don’t remember anyone in the house liking but us, blueberries and sour cream. Daddy loved it, and so did I.

I read Peter Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place as an adult. It takes place in Woodlawn Cemetery, about a mile from where I grew up and only steps from our house now. Blueberries and sour cream play a small role in that fantastical and cherished story, as do images and shadows of the Bronx where I was raised.

This morning I had blueberries and sour cream, thinking about my father, and unicorns, and growing older.

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The Red Studio: Art was a language, and you could learn it

When I was in seventh and eighth grade, at St Frances of Rome school in the early 1960s, once a week a teacher came to visit who wasn’t a nun. She had a rich Spanish accent and an exotic history – she may have been a Cuban refugee. But what she taught was even more exotic. Each week, she brought us a small color reproduction of a famous work of art. And then she talked to us about it. I can’t recall clearly any but the first one, which was Matisse’s painting The Red Studio.

I understood that this was a famous artist and that this was supposed to be a great painting. But I couldn’t figure out why everything was so red, deep red, rose red – the floor and the chairs and the table, quivering with red. Why didn’t he make the space look real, the way it did it photographs? And why were the shapes so squiggly, so artless?

The art teacher spoke to us, and we read from the Art Appreciation brochure she brought. Matisse wanted the space to vibrate. He wanted us to see what he saw, in his studio, shapes leaping into aliveness, ideas almost born, everything dizzy with color. It was possible to see things if you knew what to look for. Art was a language, and you could learn it.

I was at the Museum of Modern Art many years later, wandering through the galleries, enjoying the city on a damp autumn Sunday, when I came upon my old favorite. The Matisse was even redder than I remembered, as rich and intoxicating as it was in my fevered decades-old memory. Yes, I shouted at him in my head. I know why you did it this way. I can see it.

Today, the among the first museum visits I have dared since the pandemic, I visited MoMA to see Matisse: The Red Studio, with its artifacts and history and letters about the painting. Today, I found out that color Matisse called Venetian Red. Today, I had all my molecules rearranged by that painting once again.

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farewell, beloved scent

Comme des Garçons was (and is) a perfume that introduced in 1994, a year when I was the editor-in-chief of a small professional magazine, a shopper of some repute, and at what turned out to be the height of my career. I bought my scents mostly at Barneys (remember Barneys?) in part because I certainly could not afford (nor fit into) their clothes. Its name came from the fashion house that produced it, meaning “like the boys” and whose ads proclaimed that it “worked like a medicine and behaved like a drug.”

It was and is absolutely luscious. Their web site says the scents are “Labdanum, Styrax, Cedarwood, Cardamon, Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Honey, Rose, Cloves, Nutmeg, Incense, Sandalwood.” It manages to be both exceedingly comforting and frankly erotic, like deep December holidays and Midsummer Eve at the same time. It was never a daily perfume, but it was always in regular rotation.

I wore the last of the last bottle last night. I am sure I could still find it, if I chose, but I am going to let it go. In all its loveliness, it brings to mind a part of my life that is now so much in the past that I feel as though a different person lived it. That is true. I could not let it go without a tribute.

ADDENDUM, June 6, 2022

Today was my 75th birthday, and in the mail today, came a gift from a couple very dear to me. They read this essay, they found that beloved scent, and made sure that I would no longer be without it. My heart is full.

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Ten things you need to know about online classes, with a little help from the yellow submarine

(by GraceAnne A. DeCandido, for my graduate classes at Rutgers 8/2009)

1.The Long and Winding Road: Taking a class online is more work than an in-person class. You have to read more and faster, interact with your classmates more, log in almost daily to see what is going on, and keep up.

2.We Can Work It Out: Everybody has a life. In online classes, these lives tend to be even more complicated. Many of my online students have children or elder parents to care for, part- or full-time jobs, chronic illnesses of their own or of family members. No matter what accident or crisis has befallen you, I can guarantee at least two other students this semester are suffering through it, right now.

3. Eight Days a Week: We work asynchronously, but not alone. Work needs to be completed and shared within its unit and section dates, but when you do it is up to you.

4. I’m Looking Through You: An online course in literature requires intense reading and thoughtful responses. It is not, however, a therapy session nor a confessional. Think carefully about personal stories and how they relate to the book in hand.

5. Don’t Let Me Down: Your lack of planning does not constitute your instructor’s emergency. The class is available 24/7, the instructor is not.

6. Things We Said Today: You will probably get to know your classmates and your instructor better than you could ever do in a face-to-face classroom.

7. Getting Better: Know what technology will be used, and learn how to use it. Make sure you have your own email address and that it displays your name. Be comfortable online.

8. A Hard Day’s Night:This is a graduate course. Spelling, grammar, usage, and style all count, as they would in any written assignment on the graduate level. This is not a place for IM, texting, or other abbreviated methods of communication. The exception to this rule is live Chat.

9. Here Comes the Sun: Practice netiquette. Practice courtesy and good manners. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” says Philo of Alexandria, and I say it, too.

10. Yesterday: In an online class, you can see the whole arc of the semester from the beginning, and see your own arc of understanding and knowledge and even wisdom unfold before you. You can share that with your classmates. It is made of awesome.

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Farewell, my linen

originally written in 2012

In the late 1980’s, I was a senior/executive editor at a professional/trade magazine. A friend and I were known by our family as “the fashion group.” I had achieved a personal goal of owning enough silk blouses to wear a different one to work every day for two weeks.

I also loved linen. I bought a luscious linen shirt from the elegant Paul Stuart. It was simply tailored, a heavyweight Irish linen the rich color of double cream. It fit me perfectly. It did have to be ironed, but I sent it out for a time. A long time.
Time passed. I moved on to an editorship. It was the best job, ever. The magazine closed, and in 1997 I began working from home. A lot of the silk blouses found other venues.

The linen, however, I discovered looked just as good and felt just as comfortable with jeans. I also discovered that if washed in cold water and hung in the sun to dry, it was not terribly wrinkly. In fact, with jeans, it made quite a nice hipster look. It was one of my favorite things to wear. For years. Even after a spot or two of tea took up residence below a button and would not come out.

Before Hurricane Sandy, I did laundry. When I went to hang up the linen, I discovered that blouse had begun to shred, all at once and nothing first, not along its solid seams but in the middle of the fabric.

Reader, I cut off the back panel and am thinking of turning it into a handkerchief. It is still a beautiful weave and a beautiful color. I have loved it now for nearly twenty years. There is just enough of it to make a story.

 

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Zucchini blossoms/Pumpkin flowers

Zucchini blossoms / pumpkin flowers, first published in 2015 or so.
zucchiniblossomspumpkinflowers.jpg

When I was a child, these were an extraordinary summer treat, almost magical, because no one I knew except our relatives ever made them. I made them today, and they were perfect and delicious. This recipe is based on my mother’s, memory, and Marcella Hazen’s.

Zucchini flowers, rinsed, patted dry, with about an inch of stem left on
2/3 cup of flour
Water
Olive oil
Salt

Put about half a cup of water in a shallow bowl. Strain flour through a sieve into the bowl, and stir mixture with a fork, until it is the consistency of sour cream. Add water and flour as needed to get that consistency.
Put about a quarter of an inch of olive oil in a pan and heat over medium-high until almost smoking. Dip each flower in the flour/water mixture on both sides and put in the oil without crowding them in the pan. Turn them with tongs or two forks until they are golden on each side (about 3-4 minutes on the first side, 2-3 on the second). Put on a plate, salt according to taste. Consume immediately. Yum.

 

 

 

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Music from many places

All you need is LOVE written June 2007

One of the reasons I chose Las Vegas for my sixtieth birthday celebration was for the Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil show.

I was at Shea Stadium for the Beatles. Hearing “Hey Jude” still makes me a little queasy, as I was pregnant when it was popular. I have always been a Paul girl. I have the CD of this show, with its Beatles music remixed and remastered by George Martin himself, and his son. I had read and seen the clips online. I was keenly looking forward to it.

I was not prepared in the least.

It is the most powerful theatrical experience I have ever had. The stage is at the center and the acrobats and dancers use it and the air above it as their canvas. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” fills the dark of the theatre with three-dimensional lights. An extraordinary skateboarders-performance-on-roller-boots was thrilling. And then there were the trampoline guys. “Here Comes the Sun” took its dance moves almost entirely from yoga practice, including the beautiful greeting of the sun. Once the entire audience was covered with a translucent sheet, through which we could see iridescent lights and see each other’s raised hands. Then it vanished, held aloft and then disappearing into the ever-moving stage.

Women danced and spun on flying swings. One male dancer was made perhaps of rubber, so astounding were his moves. Things were always happening on the ground and above our heads. The Octopus’s Garden was the prettiest thing ever. Screens and scrims of the Beatles, of shapes and letters, shaped and sculpted the space.

And the music could be heard in our very heartbeats. It was like, as the writer in Wired wrote, like being inside a Beatles song, every minute, and so it was. Yeah, it made me cry, as my life spun out before me in those lyrics I know like the sound of my own name, but it was entirely new, too.

I would come back to Las Vegas just to see this again, no question. It was worth the entire trip.

http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/CirqueDuSoleil/en/showstickets/love/intro/intro.htm

17 February 2012 @ 09:31 pm

Richard Thompson

Valentine’s day in New York City at the City Winery. Richard Thompson doing an all-request show. Bliss.

The City Winery is a wonderful venue, tightly packed to be sure, but good food and drink at those tiny tables and shows that go from 8 to 10 or so, for us folks who have to go home and go to bed.

I have been listening to Thompson all my life (and his, we are about the same age) but had never seen him live.

It was awesome.

He had a silver bucket full of the tiny slips we each filled out with our requests. He did all four of my group’s choices: Dimming of the Day, Turning of the Tide, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, and Persuasion. He also did the Beatles’ I Feel Fine.

His voice, an instrument burnished and strong, has lost none of its seductive power. But the guitar work! My dear folk, I am not a musician, but he was magical. I wish I could have gone all three nights. I found nice reviews for two of the shows:

http://www.cliffviewpilot.com/good-life/55-in-tune/3397-richard-thompson-at-city-winery-playing-your-song-and-yours-and-yours

http://burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com/2012/02/richard-thompsons-all-request-residency.html

 

11 July 2011 @ 04:56 pm

Rock and Roll

I took my younger twin brothers to their first rock concert: it was the WMCA Good Guys, it was during the day, and it featured the Animals and Chuck Berry and probably a few other people. The year was somewhere around 1962, when I was about 14 and they were three years younger.

The boys were in a band called The Discords during high school and after. Nat played drums, Fred played bass, and the band played all over the Bronx and Westchester for schools, parties, and proms. They were famous for their five-part harmonies.

My brothers have always played. I remember them banging on pots and pans when they were toddlers.  I have been to hear them play many times. For their 50th birthday, they played for themselves. I had always dreamed of playing keyboards and singing harmony with them, but that never happened. I was just a little too late to learn, and a little too timid to be Patti Smith.

They have played in bar bands and wedding bands over the years, but often they have played with The Sundown Band, a Southern rock group. Fred was their regular bass player for awhile, and Nat has had regular gigs as their drummer. That band has been playing for an astounding 35 years, and they celebrated that occasion at BB King’s in New York City on Saturday July 9, 2011.

I love BB King’s. It’s a great, relatively small space, it has pretty good Southern-style food, a lot of bourbon, and the sound and sight lines are good. I got to hear my brothers play in that space, separately and together – and Nat’s duo drum solo with Bam-Bam was awesome – and I could not help but think for how many decades I have been listening to them play.

They played a very fine “Green Grass and High Tide” and they played a kick-ass “Whipping Post” and they ended (of course) with “Free Bird” which I don’t think I have ever heard live.

Rock and roll, guys. Rock and roll.

http://thesundownband.net/

http://www.pellegrinlowend.com/discords.html

Current Music: Glory Days

 

07 February 2011 @ 06:07 pm

Let’s Have a Rhythm Band

I have a lot of vivid memories of grammar school, but they tend to be set pieces: a moment, an object, a conversation.

My teacher in kindergarten was Miss Eva Mirchin, in a public school in the Bronx. She was probably in her sixties then, with a halo of white hair. She managed to handle me, an overly sensitive, bright five year old, brilliantly. One day I sat down at the piano in her classroom and played the notes of Brahms lullaby on the high keys while she played the real music. I do not know why or how I did that, but I loved the music, and I loved making music on the piano. We had a little band in the classroom, and I was the band leader. She called it a rhythm band, and I was the child who pointed to each instrument in turn to play the triangle, or a small drum, or whatever. It seems to me that every child played something.

Miss Mirchin wrote a letter to my mother at the end of kindergarten, telling her that I had musical aptitude and that I should have music lessons of some kind. There was no money for that, and it never happened. (I did have a short stint taking accordion lessons, of all things, and my much younger sister got the piano and the lessons, but those are other stories for other times.)

But I never stopped loving music. It is too late for me to make music now – I always had the fantasy of playing keyboards in my brothers’ bands – but the music has remained with me.

Today I searched Eva Mirchin on the internet. I found that she had written a pamphlet about such music for children.

From WorldCat
5811728

Let’s have a rhythm band.

by Eva Mirchin

Musical score : Songs : Juvenile audience

Language: English  Publisher: New York : Reynard Pub. Co., 1958.

I also found a genealogy record for an Eva Mirchin who was born in Odessa, Russia in February 10, 1899, and who died in New York in September 1983. I believe that was my teacher. I was touched and humbled to find this information.

30 June 2008 @ 09:01 am

Words musical words

Sometimes I fall in love with a word. A long time ago, I fell in love with the word hocket. A hocket is a musical term, a kind of movement between two voices that gives the effect of a call and answer like bells ringing. The musical group http://www.anonymous4.com/ uses hockets a great deal, to beauteous effect. My first laptop was named Hocket.

Today, I fell in love with another word, another musical term, hemiola. A hemiola is a grace note – actually the definition is rather more complicated. Then there is melisma, another honeyed musical term, of which Wikipedia writes “Music of ancient cultures used melismatic techniques to induce a hypnotic trance in the listener” and so it does. I love these words. I love the taste of them in my mouth, and I love the sounds they evoke.

 

16 April 2008 @ 02:30 pm

How my son Keith got his name

The soundtrack of my teens was the British Invasion. I was a Paul Girl. I loved the Beatles, and Peter & Gordon, and the Stones, and the Dave Clark Five, all of them. I loved their names: Nigel and Colin and Keith. They sounded exotic and sexy to me. I vowed my first son would be named Keith. I was, I think, sixteen.

When my son was born, I was 21 and just finishing college. We proudly named him Keith. It sounded strong and Celtic, and you couldn’t make a nickname out of it (we did anyway, but it was a baby name and will not be repeated here). What I did not realize then was that not only is there no letter “K” in Italian, but there is no “th” sound in Italian. The best our Italian relatives could do was Keet’. It was embarrassing. I felt really dumb, but I didn’t stop loving his name.

In 1988 I got to hear Keith Richards at the Beacon, having won free tickets on one of those put-your-business-card-in-a-fishbowl drawings, were in about the sixth row. It was deeply awesome and very loud. But it was then that I realized I had probably named my son after Keith Richards.

We saw Shine A Light a few days ago, and were thoroughly immersed in a rock concert, Scorsese’s brilliant and fluid camera work, and the beautiful sound. It was humbling, seeing these guys, older than I am, doing what they do. They don’t apologize, either. They make music. And there was Keith, disreputable as ever, playing that guitar. My son Keith was with us, enjoying the hell out of the show.
The NYTimes review of that Beacon show

 

 

04 April 2008 @ 04:12 pm

Music is in my blood. My brothers, my nieces, my son and I, all share that need to hear a particular chord change, or a particular harmony. We listen to music a lot and we talk about it a lot. Some of them sing, and all of them play.

Periodically I become obsessed with a song, and I need to hear it over and over. Periodically I become obsessed with a piece of music, and want to hear different versions of it. I adore live music, and find chamber music and early music concerts simply thrilling. I suspect my days of stadium concerts are over at this point, but I saw Bruce Springsteen this year, so you never know.

I have been struggling to describe how radically my iPod has affected me, and how glorious it is. It’s not just that I can make playlists of all my favorites, or mix up the classical, the Celtic, and the guitar chords, although I do all of that. It isn’t just that I can bring those into the kitchen, or to my home office aerie, or to the bedroom. Nor is it just that I can carry it with me traveling on the train or subway. I just love being able to get a piece of music right away, as soon as I want it. I have gone straight from a radio program to iTunes, to buy a copy of a song for myself and also to send it to my son. It’s lovely. Last night I discovered the Tallis Scholars have a new recording (Josquin’s Missa sine Nomine), and I bought it and listened to it and burned it to disk before bedtime.

It is listening to music in a public place like the train, on headphones, that most astonishes me. Something about that practice seems to channel the music directly from my ear to my emotions, without anything in between. It’s lovely. It’s also a little scary, to be feeling something so essentially private in a place that isn’t.

 

09 January 2008 @ 09:00 pm

Tam Lin

Some time in the past – it was probably in the late 1970s when there was only vinyl – we came upon a folk festival on television. A female singer got up, and with her hands at her sides and at the top of her voice, sang “Tam Lin.” This is a powerful ballad, of course, and she sang it a capella with riveting intensity. Her name was Frankie Armstrong, and we despaired of remembering her name or ever finding the recording.

We did remember it though, not her name, but the performance.

Some years later – there still was only vinyl – we were in a women’s bookstore somewhere that was not our home in New York City. We came across a record with that song on it, and we thought, “Frankie Armstrong? This could be the one.” We took it home, and it was, that same powerful, compelling rendition of that scarily beguiling song.

I was besotted with my iPod mini, and I am currently besotted with my iTouch. These pretty tools enable me to keep a fairly vast array of music with me all the time. And on iTunes is that astonishing performance of Frankie Armstrong’s “Tam Lin” so now I have it not just in memory but in my hand.

25 July 2008 @ 04:09 pm

music, the net, e-buddies, NYC

Every so often, a phrase of music bubbles up into my consciousness, usually from my teen years, and I have to track it down. This can usually be done by Googling the group, if I remember the group, or the phrase in the lyrics that has turned into an earworm. This time, however, all I had was a phrase that wouldn’t come up on Google. I knew it dated from the early Sixties, and I knew I loved it and wanted it back.  Current Music: Sun Arise, by Dana Gillespie

A Revival Meeting of the Church of Rock & Roll

03 October 2007 @ 07:10 am

My son, two of his friends and I drove the three hours to Hartford CT to see Bruce Springsteen on the night he opened his current tour. I have seen Bruce perhaps five times over 25 or more years, and I never cease to marvel at his prodigious ability to turn a huge arena into an intimate shared experience.
He covered his canon over his whole career – Badlands to Magic, Darkness to American Land. He did, bless me, my very favorite Springsteen song, “She’s the One.” The set list can be found here

http://backstreets.com/setlists.html

Bruce and the band all look their age, but it is a good age: they know what they are doing, and they do it with care and love and tremendous power. Patti is astonishingly beautiful – she glows onstage, and we could tell this because of the huge overhead screens that offered close-ups of the band as they performed. It was about two and a half hours long – none of them is under 50 at this point, I don’t think – and the mix was a bit rough. The voices sometimes were muffled under the clarity of the music, but it is a pleasant arena, not too huge, and filled with crowds from teenyboppers to boomers (although most of the audience was closer to my and Bruce’s age than not).
This is a political concert. There was not a lot of patter between songs, but what there was stressed Bruce’s desire to take the country back (“Livin’ in the future … this ain’t happened yet.”) and find reason to believe in the American land. He was Bruce the preacher, exhorting, laughing, singing, praying, and we were worshipers in the revival house of the church of rock & roll.
I am definitely too old for this. The crowds were all so tall (I am under 5’ myself), I had to punctuate the concert with timeouts for my allergy and bp meds, and there was the standing and dancing part for hours. But it was undisputably great.

 

 

21 September 2007 @ 11:10 am

We saw Across the Universe.
It is just lovely. Julie Taymor’s magnificent imagination has shaped and formed a really elegant film, and she has spun the magic of the Beatles songs into a narrative of love, war, and the 1960s.
The casting is superb — the actor who plays Jude, Jim Sturgess, is not only twinkly-adorable but sings well enough to tear your heart out — and cameos by Eddie Izzard as Mr Kite, Joe Cocker, and Bono are brilliant both musically and visually.
I love the Beatles. I love their music, from the Persuasions doing them a capella to Cirque du Soleil. This is another alchemy – the songs live and the movie is a delight. Go. Listen. Watch. Fill yourself with joy.

An excellent article about the movie, the songs, and the references is in Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Across_the_Universe_%28film%29

 

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Reading, How to

After food, and sex, and occasionally, sleep, the deepest and most sustaining pleasure of my life has been reading, reading stories.

For the past few years, since chemotherapy and radiation treatment for Stage 3 endometrial cancer, I have read very little. Oh, I read online, in short bursts of 20 minutes or so, and most days I read the NYTimes in paper form, but my Goodreads page is looking pretty thin these days. I am wrestling with why.

My hands hurt. I have peripheral neuropathy in my hands and feet from chemo. They are tingly all the time, and sometimes I get sharp, shooting pains in my hands that startle me. I also have arthritis in several fingers, and those joints are swollen and often painful. It can be hard to hold a book, and sometimes even holding Teacup, my trusty iPad Mini, hurts my hands. The touch of plastic or metal feels unpleasant against my skin. Teacup has a beautiful leather cover, but that makes it heavy to hold.

My eyes hurt. I have macular edema in one eye, and many floaters like a spiderweb across my vision. I have had cataract surgery and have reading glasses, but my eyes give me a hard time anyway. Sometimes my shoulders ache from the tension that builds up around my eyes from watching or sitting too long. What constitutes too long varies widely.

I have very little concentration. That started with the infamous “chemo brain” and continued with the beta blockers I take for high blood pressure. Since my dosage has been reduced I feel once again like I might be able to focus on a whole story, but while it’s better it isn’t good.

I confess I loathe audiobooks. The sensation of being read to is a sweet one, but I can’t do anything else while I am listening. I get antsy (and uncomfortable) sitting still. It’s hard to concentrate on them, too.

There is so little energy. I have to carefully distribute what I have each day, and reading takes a chunk out of it as does pretty much every single daily activity. I miss the stories. I miss the books I continue to buy but have not started yet, and the books I have started and haven’t gotten past a chapter or two.

I don’t feel cozy anywhere. The easiest place to read a print book is at the dining room table, which is not where I want to be unless I am eating. My rocking chairs are as comfy as I can get sitting down, but it’s hard to hold a book in any format for a sustained period.

Then, sometimes I think it’s just wrestling with the idea of it. I have been reading and teaching and reviewing all of my adult life. Books were my jam, as the younger folk say. The person who did all of that, who had long hair and could walk for miles and navigated her city as if it were her private domain no longer exists. The person who is now, who moves with a cane and has a cloud of short silver hair, that person misses stories. I have not yet wrestled my way back to them.

 

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Hair story the last, probably

Since I was 14 years old, I had long hair, often nearly to my waist. I loved it. I was vain about it. It was lush and wavy and deep chestnut brown. I thought it was my best feature. In my late 50s and 60s, it turned grey, then silver. I liked that, too. I loved being a woman of a certain age with long silver hair.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, I had to have my hair cut. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Cancer breaks you. How you heal at the broken places is different for everyone. In my case, every single activity, every single thing I was and did, changed utterly. However, I thought I would grow my hair back. I knew it might not work, but I thought it was worth a try. So I did.
What grew back, however, was not my old, cherished hair. It was thin, and brittle, and didn’t wave or curl much once it was past my shoulders. It wouldn’t stay pinned up, and it hurt when I tried.
Last week, I accepted that I was no longer that woman with long hair. The wonderful hairdresser who cut my hair before chemo cut it today. Now it’s fluffy and I think it will curl more. It is, as Howl said of Sophie, the color of starlight.
I am not the person I was. But here I am.

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