Sunday, May 31, 2009

Triangles and Words That Heal

This morning in church we prayed, “But only say the word and I shall be healed”, and I laughed out loud. This week it was words that jump-started some healing for me: The Karpman Drama Triangle, a psycho-social theory developed by Stephen Karpman. In it he describes the cycle or triangle of how we move from rescuer or persecutor to victim—always cycling thru to victim, victim, victim. It came to me seemingly out of the blue in some unrelated research but there it was, the very “word” I needed to hear and heal.

It is perfect and perfect timing. I realized this week that I have been trying to out-victim the victim in my relationship with John and in other parts of my life as well. Karpman would simply say, “Uh huh.”

Here’s where it get’s tricky: cancer care. People with cancer—those in the throes of chemo and surgery are kind of victim-y and cancer caregivers—those in the midst of physical and emotional exhaustion are wonderfully victim-y, and those surrounding both of them make perfect persecutors: “You should”, “One should”, “You never should”, “You must”, “Do it this way, and “Well…”.

Cancer care is loaded with victims, rescuers and persecutors all vying for top billing as best and biggest victim. It’s so easy to say don’t do what you don’t want to do, or take care of yourself first—God knows we preach that crap all the time--but in real life and real caregiving theory is honored in the breach.

Maybe the Karpman Triangle can be taught to caregivers. Maybe we can give out little triangles as a reminder. Maybe I need a triangle tattooed on my right hand.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hester's Dress

The door of the jail being flung open from within, there appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and grisly presence of the town-beadle, with a sword by his side…. Stretching forth the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward; until, on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will. She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day….

When the young woman-the mother of this child-stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbors.

On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.

The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes. She was lady-like, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterized by a certain state and dignity, rather than by the delicate, evanescent, and indescribable grace, which is now recognized as its indication. And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison.

Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped. .. But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer,-so that both men and women, who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time,-was that Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.

---Nathaniel Hawthorne

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rainy Day

It’s cold and rainy inside and out today. In therapy I talk about my family—again, and my father--again. I feel distracted at work, not focusing on things that matter. My friend Liesl calls to say she is exhausted. Her mother is dying of cancer and there are so many doctors and so many appointments. Another friend is deciding whether to take a big job. It’s the top of her career but it means a move. Another friend is at the end of her divorce process---three years after many more years of finding out in painful layers that her husband had a secret life. Maybe it’s a rainy day for everyone. I want the sun to come back and I want my own joy and peace to return. I am wondering if I have to leave this relationship to find that sun again. I can barely breathe when I think about that.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mind Body

Last week I met a man on the train to New York City. One of those “I hope he doesn’t try to talk to me” moments and then I noticed that he was reading a Kindle and I blurted out, “You have a Kindle!” So then all hope was lost for trying to stay cool and aloof and send “leave me alone” vibes. So Kindle always leads to, “What do you read/are you reading?” and an hour later we were talking about the mind-body connection and Candace Pert’s work on neurophysiology. Well, he was talking and I was taking notes.

I finished the book last night and in addition to making me want to try meditation again I really want to try not scaring myself to death all the time. I see—from this neurophysicist’s point of view-- what I am doing to my body when I terrorize myself. All thru John’s cancer and even now as I unpack and repack this relationship—I go straight to fear. That’s not new; it’s a lifelong habit. But what that adrenaline and coritisol are doing to my body. …well, I guess now I am interested in saving my body too. Yeah, I’m feeling like it’s time to take care of me.

This week I’m not sure where we are going or if we are going, but I am going forward in any case.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Golf Lesson

Golf Lesson

It’s the little things. Shifting my weight to my right foot. Not dropping my left shoulder. Leading with my hands. Trusting that I will hit the ball. Going for it. Staying focused. Laughing.

Sex Lesson

It’s the little things. Shifting my attention. Not worrying what he thinks. Loving my body. Loving his body. Trusting that it will happen. Going for it. Staying focused. Laughing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

It’s been one of those perfect weekends. Weather. People, Relationships. Work.
It began with dinner out Friday with old and new friends. A conversation that flowed from theater and books to business and travel. Sex. Then Saturday began with a meeting and some planning for the summer. Sex. A day trip to Hudson New York. Looking for art for our apartment. Mexican Radio for dinner and a movie with Audrey Tatou. Sex. Sunday brought writing time and schoolwork for both of us. Lesson plans and thinking through creative projects and possibilities. Procrastination. And sex. Out to the movies to see “Sugar”, a surprise but powerful in the truth it told rather than the fantasy I wanted to be told. Home to ice cream and almost sex but really sleep. And today, Monday, began with a parade for him and website work for me. Then book shopping. Playing golf. and a shower a deux. Ice cream at McDonalds and yes, almost sex.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Again and Again

Take out the repetition
They all said.
I said, “No”.
But you repeat yourself,
Yes, I said, Yes, I do, I said, I know
I do.
But you have to pull this together, they said.
And again I remember Gloria at Joy’s grave
telling me to pull myself together,
And I thought, What’s the point
of death if we
pull ourselves together?
But of course, it’s for them that we must be
To see it raggedy
unfinished, unformed, disconcerts; “breaks the contract”
Is that so bad?
This contract broke so long ago.
But you repeat yourself, he said again
“Yes” she echoed, “You’re repeating here, do you see that?”
I hear you, I repeated, I responded, I replied.

I tapped my pen and said,
This is like a set of boxes, you know, like a telescoping set of boxes, you know,
like inside each other?
You can get them at Pier One”
Glossy shiny blood red lacquered paper boxes.
Big red box, take off the lid
inside a red box, take off the lid
another red box, take off the lid
again red box, take off the lid, and then, finally
red box, small, smaller, smallest, take off the lid.
What’s inside?
A diamond ring? No

If this was a short story
Something would be in the box
But this is nonfiction.
And so there is nothing in the box,
and only the tiniest bit of nothing.
There is nothing inside the smallest, the last, the end of the boxes
You want there to be something inside that box, like a
diamond ring, car key, a rune stone, a plastic charm, even a folded bit of paper
Something, anything we can make meaning with.
There is nothing inside the smallest, the last, the end of the boxes.

“People are meaning making machines”, the trainer repeats,
tapping her pointer again at the sentence on the board.

So we insist there is something in
the last box or we leap:
“He was holding his orange juice and fell over and blood came out of his
I am telling this to a woman on the bus.
I tell the minister, “He was holding juice, orange juice and he kind of fell over and
blood came out of his mouth,
and to my new boyfriend,
“He was holding this juice and then like he fell over and blood was

This is not how we make meaning.
This is meaning.
we don’t have to make it,
we just have to keep
Repeating, and repeating, and repeating, and repeating.

Perseveration, most beautiful word.
Er, er, er,
It sings its own songs
symptom of itself
tells its own story
But that’s the point,
they all died.
They died.

Like the boxes, they go on
nothing but boxes
Take out the repetition?
I don’t think so.
Anxiety and fear encased in every word
Do you get it? What I’m trying to say?
You see now?
They died you know,
They all died.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New York City Day

Yesterday was a special day. I spent the day at The Met in New York. It was a day of friendship and love. My dear friend of 25 years—who has seen me through so much—and me of her too—was in New York for one day interviewing at The Met. I took the train—then walked to the Met...talked and talked between her interviews. A reminder that I had a life before and that I will have a life again. She reminds me that I am a writer and that I am loved. We talked about all the changes we have each been thru—all the growth from all the hard things and the hopes we both hold for dreams yet to be fulfilled. We talked about relationships and about John. She does not want me to hurt anymore. In the afternoon I walked back to Penn Station stopping in an out of stores, window shopping, running the perfume gauntlet at Saks, and buying a bright green quilted jacket at Orvis. A kind of green that surprised me but it is, now that I think of it, the green of new grass on a early summer day—one much like today. It is new growth and new life and the color of hope.

Monday, May 18, 2009

These Honeymoons

It’s all perspective and experience.

I talked to a friend today whose husband has ALS—Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s a horrible illness and a horrible death. I watched my brother die of ALS and the only possible gratitude was that he didn’t make the expected 18 months but rather died in a compassionate ten.

Talking to her we were exchanging “good news”: Her husband is at home and still able to do some work. John has passed one test and we get a breather until others begin. “This is our honeymoon” I said to her. “Yes”, she replied, “ours too.”

No one else would think these are places for laughter, gratitude or honeymoons, but for love in cancer or ALS or other serous illness they are exactly that. And just like any other honeymoon we break out the nice dinner, the candlelight and the pretty lingerie.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Good News

Yesterday was John’s colonoscopy. We were at the hospital before 7am and he was done by 10. I was pleased that I was finally able to pray for acceptance no matter what the outcome might be and was able to pray to be present for him –and not just think about myself—though that was hard. The fear fantasies and scenarios of how this might unfold had me stuck in a pretty selfish place.

I left him in his room and got a beeper in the waiting room. It seemed like time flew and the beeper summed me to the recovery room. When I walked into an empty room I panicked fearful that they were planning to talk to us in private and I know what that means. But then he was rolled in—pretty drugged and dozy—and the nurses started reading from his chart. She had to say “No sign of cancer” three times before it registered that she was telling me this. I started to cry. I had not realized that I had been holding so tight. “No sign of cancer”.

For the rest of the day I kept saying to him, “So you’re going to live.” And he said, “and live with you.”

That was sweet.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Prep

Everyone will tell you that “the prep” is the worst part of a colonoscopy. And they are right. John’s next one is Wednesday and he’s getting ready. And so am I.
While he is buying juice and Ducolax and limes (*see hint below) and beginning his fast, I am calling friends, writing lists and making deals with God.

His prep is physical and brutal. He has the emotions to manage as well. We don’t know what the odds are this time. I return over and over in my imagination to a year ago when his routine colonoscopy turned into cancer and spun us in circles.

My prep involves lists of questions, packing for a day of hospital waiting rooms, trying to stay positive and hopeful and dissolving into fear.

We survived this year of surgery, chemo, caregiving and living on hold. We’ve had a few months of peace and taking the tiniest steps toward having a future. But now the fear has returned. In a few more days we’ll know. I want to stop time and speed it up and yes, I alternate deal making with surrender. I ask for favors I don’t deserve from God and every family member we have on the other side.

Limes: I’m told this is the Katie Couric tip: when drinking the lousy flavored colon prep drink you should suck on a lime before and after each big swallow. The nasty flavor will never reach your taste buds and so you’ll not experience the aversion or the gagging that can come when you get to the last bottle.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Everybody has Something

This week L’s mother’s cancer returned, and B’s stomach problem turned out to be something much more serous than indigestion. J’s dad was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s—and he’s only 53. G’s daughter—so pretty and so smart --has a serious mental illness and M’s daughter now has confirmation that her tremor is Parkinson’s. K’s granddaughter is dying and A’s sister has gone out again—a relapse after being sober ten months. D’s husband left her and he’s not coming back.

Everybody has something. So many have lost jobs, can’t make the rent, and are afraid, scared and suffering. It is humbling and it is hard.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Again, Again

Last night in class my heart began to pound. May 5. John’s colonoscopy is in eight days. What if? If the news is bad what will we do? Surgery again? Chemo again? Hospital rooms again and again?

Last year it was all new. We didn’t know what was coming so even though it was hard we just kept moving expecting each next step to make things better. I didn’t know what was coming. I knew about hospital rooms and ICU and sleeping in chairs from taking care of my family all those years when they were dying. But cancer was new and chemo was new, and we kept at it. I didn’t know how hard it could get.

But now I do. Hospital again? Chemo again? And the scariest thought: If his cancer has come back it means more than surgery and treatment. It means we won’t get the time together we dreamed of. It means he will die.

I tell myself that even if that is the outcome, even if that is his and our fate, that I will be OK. I have supports and resources and people that I did not have years ago. But today I do not want resources and supports and people. I want him in my life. I want more time to love him.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Yesterday we did a cancer walk. It was a fundraiser and I walked with old and new friends. John walked nearby, conversations moving in and out of school, work, health, movies. It was a marker. We did this walk a year ago. It was a different walk this year and we are different a year later.

Now the Monday morning feeling. A new week. Refreshed. Bringing new ideas and new resolutions to this next six days. But the fear in the belly is there too. Him, me, work, them, money, doctors, and more work. The constant feeling of not getting enough done, yet knowing that I do so much. Surrender comes to me. Surrender to God, to process, to faith.

Ages ago someone said to me, “God’s will is what is.” and “IF you want to know God’s will leave your house, start walking and when you hit a wall turn left.” As if we even get to decide God’s will.

The challenge now is to believe in a loving God. To believe I am cared for. That all will be well, no matter what.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bull Durham: Why Women Love This Movie

The past couple of nights I have been watching Bull Durham. This is the movie from 1988 with Kevin Costner playing an aging catcher in the minor leagues. This is a movie that appears to be about baseball life with its travails and hopes and the desperate desires of men who want to play ball for a living. It is seemingly a men’s movie with all the swearing and ass slapping and drinking and real life baseball lore. But no, this really is THE all time best chick flick.

Yes, we love Kevin Costner from the first moment he arrives in the locker room wearing his navy blazer, rumpled white shirt and the khakis that are the perfect shade of tan with a hint of olive. He’s a manly man who in the first 20 minutes gives the fabulous, if too artful, monologue about his beliefs which includes, “I believe in the cock, the pussy,, the small of a woman’s back…that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap”, and which ends with his belief in “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days”.

Yes! You had us at “long, slow and deep”—and yes, at the Susan Sontag part too.

But there is a later scene that truly outs women for what they truly want.
“Do you want to dance?” Sarandon asks Costner, sitting in the kitchen late at night. He says yes, but surprises her by not dancing but instead by sweeping all the food and dishes off the kitchen table onto the floor. He spins Sarandon onto that now empty table and they go at it rolling and clutching.

Oh, that’s part of it. We want a man to want us that much; we want a man who wants to make love a second time so much that he goes for it on the kitchen table. We do want that kind of passion in our lives. But, there is something else in this scene that truly makes this a women’s dream come true. What most women truly desire is not what Costner does, but what Sarandon does NOT do. As all of her dishes and the leftover food crash onto the floor Sarandon allows herself to be swept onto that table instead of diving for a broom, or a dish cloth or saying to her lover, “Hold on just a second, I’ll clean this up and then meet you in the bedroom.”

No, she is in the moment and desires this man and this sex more than she desires a clean floor or neat kitchen. She wants the rapture of this man and his body even with cereal and milk oozing under the fridge. And she is not saying, “Oh dear God that was my mother’s china bowl.” Nope, she’s on that table fucking her brains out.

Oh, to be that kind of woman. We assume the power is in the man, that to be taken that way would free us. But what we see in Bull Durham is a woman who CAN be taken. She is not a woman thinking, “When did we last wash these sheets?” while a man is dutifully going down on her.

Oh, we do wish for a partner to love us with such sweet abandon, but Sarandon, in Bull Durham, shows us a woman who can abandon herself.