Two Steps Forward….

Well, things slid backward this past Monday.  I had a low-grade fever all weekend and decided if it was still there Monday morning, call the doctor.  Events took charge and I ended up back at Barnes with a soft-tissue infection in half the appendectomy incision.  They did a CT scan to be sure that was all it was and lo!  I have an abscess.

So another day in the hospital having a drain installed, which is really annoying.  I’m home now and I have a nurse visiting everyday to make sure things track the way they’re supposed to.  There’s a twice-daily routine to go through which is unpleasant but I’m sticking to the program.  I want this over.

The nurse is cool, a chipper, upbeat woman named Dawn who is both very sociable and very efficient.  I’m not leaving the house till next Wednesday for a clinic visit.  Fingers crossed, in two weeks all the plumbing will be removed and things will resume some form or normal.

That’s all for now.  I’m getting reading done but not much else.

Plodding Along

For those who may be interested, recovery continues.  I know things are improving because my memory is fairly clear about how bad things were.  Last week, the week before.  But, as is the nature of the critter, we tend only to focus on the present and how crappy it may be.

But I am getting work done.  I’ve completed the first few prints I intend to exhibit in this year’s Archon art show.  Done the critiques of the short stories for the workshop I’m conducting then.  And just about finished two chapters in the current project.  (About those chapters, it is with wry amusement I note that I was about to doggedly go down the wrong path in one of them when this nonsense struck.  Between the time off and the percocet hell, I realized the mistake I was about to make and corrected it.  Always look for something positive, you know?)

Other things are better.  Not great.  I seriously doubt I’ll be back to the gym for at least another month.  And my body seems to have entered another phase of healing, because around noon or one o’clock I seem unable to stay awake.  My sleep is deep.  I’m assuming my body knows what it’s doing.

Part of my reticence involves a growing lack of patience.  I’m getting well enough to start chafing under the restrictions.  I would really like to walk my dog by myself.  I would like to go to the grocery store so that Donna doesn’t have to.  So on and so forth.  I’d like to be able to say I’m catching up on my reading, but that hasn’t been a notable achievement.

In any case, I’m still alive and that’s the best part.  So till my next entry here, I’ll leave you with a new image and a hope that the rest ofyour summer is just fine.


Sugar Steel Mill


Sometimes you just come to a sudden stop because the universe puts a wall—or a floor or a ceiling—in your way and you bang into it.  I am for the foreseeable future in recovery mode.

Let me explain.

Last Wednesday, August 8th, I finished up for the evening and started getting ready for bed.  I confess to preening.  I’ve been hitting the gym pretty hard and pretty regularly and things were beginning to show for all the effort, so I was checking out my torso in the mirror, noting a small bit of belly definition I have never had much of but is—was—beginning to show.

As I twisted around, something kind of “moved” inside.  An almost-cramp.  Ripples chased around my abdomen.  I stretched, didn’t think more about it, and went to bed.  But I got up twice during the night for unexpected visits to the toilet and the funny clenching was still there.  By morning I thought I might be getting stomach flu.  Great, I’d intended another morning workout and then a few hours downtown working for Left Bank Books.  Instead, I was moping around the house feeling thoroughly blah.

But no fever.  No diarrhea.  Just this generalized muscle cramp.  By Thursday afternoon, my hindbrain finally told me something was wrong.  I called my doctor, who was gone for the day, and the nurse practitioner was vague and unhelpful, but suggested I go to the emergency room.  That was three o’clock.  Donna would be home by 5:30, I could go then.

But it got markedly worse, so I called her to come and get me.

We staggered into Barnes ER around five and I was having a full-blown attack of appendicitis.  Despite the fact that it seemed to take forever, they got me in and on pain killers pretty quickly.

Cut to the chase, they removed my perforated appendix early Friday morning.  Had I gone in a few hours earlier, they likely would have been able to remove it laproscopically, which is out-patient surgery and rather neat.  Instead, I now have the classic three-inch appendectomy wound.

But…three hours or so later, I might not be writing this.  Or anything.

I have to say right here that if you’re going to get sick and need ER service in St. Louis, go to Barnes.  I was treated by a string of the most professional, pleasant people I have ever encountered in a group, especially considering what they have to deal with daily.  I felt very cared for.

I also have to say that irony seeps through this.  We’d been discussing terminating my health insurance.  Bottomline, money.  We’re at that point where it’s becoming untenable for me to carry it, even though in a couple of years I’ll have to.  But we didn’t and now intend hanging onto it at least for a while.  Because although this is fairly standard surgery and the costs are well-defined, there is no way we could have afforded this out of pocket.

What I’m dealing with now is recovery.  It’s going to be a while before I can do any meaningful exercise and this is the first writing of any length I’ve been able to do since coming home, mainly because of related intestinal issues making it impossible to sit in front of the keyboard more than a couple minutes at a time.  Issues I’m still dealing with.

A note on medication.  They put me on percocet for the pain.  Marvelous drug, that.  Shuts the pain down magnificently. Shuts several other things down, too.  But also opened a door in my brain for a series of the most razorsharp, crystalline-clear, hallucinogenic nightmares I have ever had.  I was reluctant to close my eyes after a couple of days.  Unbelievable.  I have stopped taking it.  I can put up with physical pain, but not that.

I thought I’d post something to let you all know where I’ve been and how I’m doing.  Needless to say I won’t be preening anytime soon.  All that wonderful definition is gone, replaced by a flaccid, doughy puffiness that annoys me.  All that work.  But that just means I get to climb back up out of the gravity well—once they let me lift more than ten pounds.  Fortunately, right now the only thing I feel like lifting is an idea and a coffee cup.

Take care.

Where It Comes Down For Me

I grew up in a sexist culture.

No, really. I was born in 1954. I grew up in the stew of sexism and was made very aware of it because it was being challenged throughout my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. I came of age during the heyday of Male Privilege, when the default assumption was that men were the smart ones, the strong ones, the ones who shouldered all responsibility, and women basically came along for the ride because, well, we needed them for babies and cooking and occasional interludes of sex and, well, because they looked good. Strong, independent women were weird, unnatural, and intended to be conquered by a stronger man who, paradoxically, didn’t actually need them but decided, for some reason, to protect them because while they were getting along fine without him, that simply couldn’t last because women couldn’t sustain themselves and it was great that one was independent for as long as she was, but it was really a man’s duty to take care of her, so…

It sounds absurd when you break it down like that, but really, that’s what it was. Women couldn’t do anything without a man.

Except they usually took care of the family finances, maintained the house, made most of the health care decisions, and, oh yeah, raised the next generation of males who thought women were helpless.

Women who insisted on their own sexual needs were characterized charmingly as sluts, whores, trash, “mannish”, or some variation that included unnatural in the mix. Much to the consternation of everyone, Playboy changed all that, for better or worse, by basically putting it Out There that women were pretty much like men in that they liked sex and, oh yeah, had a right to it, just like men. (All the academic and political activism in the world didn’t move the culture half so much as Playboy did, which has caused another kind of push-back, but that’s another story.)

By the time I was in my twenties I’d watched my culture turn itself inside out over this and come to a place where it seemed any sane, rational person would be repulsed by the standards of that quaint and rather scary prior era. I thought—mistakenly—that the debate was settled.

Debate? Women are people.

Again, to some this might sound silly so simply stated, but that’s what it came down to and where it comes down for me. Women are people. First. They have dreams, aspirations, ambitions, hopes, talents, traits, expectations, and rights just like any man. That seems perfectly natural to me. I like that idea, I like the kind of world it implies.

But it seems some folks can’t seem to accept that. The first time I was aware of any counterargument was Phyllis Schlafly, who seemed intent on convincing women that there was something wrong with them if they wanted careers in lieu of families, that they were defying some natural order by refusing to get down on their knees and worship men the way women had been made to do for millennia. The more I found out about her, the more I found her position not only unpalatable but also hypocritical, since she herself never gave up any of her goals or ambitions for motherhood. After a while I realized that this was a perverse form of noblesse oblige, the aristocrat telling the peasant what to do and why they couldn’t have what the aristocrat had.

Still, this was a mere ripple. Things were improving.

And then something really unexpected happened. An argument was found that made the whole issue seem to have nothing to do with women’s civil rights or status as people, but with the entire culture’s responsibility to something that had never heretofore been an issue in this particular way. The argument made it seem like any woman insisting on her rights was in danger of being a murderer.

Well. It became clear after a while that although the rhetoric seemed to be focused on questions of what constituted a human life, the tactics and strategy demonstrated that it was just the same old bunch of ancient, tired arguments from privilege that women ought to have no such rights, that they ought to be little more than incubators and sex slaves.

Here is a video which pretty much sums the issue up for me and afterward I’ll tell you why.

For me, the issue comes down to this. I am a person first, a man coincidentally. Odds were pretty much even up that I might have been a woman—but I would still be a person. And by that token, I have to say that if you tried to treat me the way some people are trying to treat women, I would absolutely be in your face about it. It would be my decision to reproduce, to use my body for that purpose, no one else’s, and anyone else’s qualms about how I conduct my personal life matter not at all. This should not be a political issue. No one has a right to live off the body of another. That would be a gift. Gifts only count if they’re given willingly.

Those who would deny women the right to live as they choose have themselves decided—by proxy, on behalf of people they don’t even know—that history means nothing, that rights are conditional, and that their, for wont of a better term, sense of modesty trumps everyone else’s freedoms. They have shown time and again that what they say is the issue really is not and in the last year have made it absolutely clear that their priorities have nothing to do with the “sanctity” of life but rather with an idealized aesthetic of what they consider “appropriate” behavior.

I just wanted to be clear.

The Vital Gore Is Gone

Gore Vidal has died.

Anyone with the merest scintilla of cultural or political awareness of the last 50 years should know who he was.  My first memory of him was from the 1968 election when he called William F. Buckley a crypto-nazi and Buckley, losing his cool, threatened to “sock you in your goddam face” on national television.  At the time (I was not yet 14 and only beginning to become aware of politics in any meaningful way), I thought Buckley was the cool one, but in retrospect Vidal never got ruffled, continued speaking clearly, and made his points.

Points which I later found myself in agreement with, by and large.

At other times I’ve found myself frustratingly at odds with Vidal, particularly in some of his reframings of American policies.

But I was right there with him during the Bush years when he told us what Bush-Cheney were doing to the Bill of Rights and what a fix we were all about to be in.

Vidal is one side of the spectrum of political essence that makes up who we are.  If you read Buckley, you must read Vidal for the other side (which most people don’t, on either side: we pick one or the other and stick to it without ever giving the opposing voice a chance, which is why we are in the cultural nightmare in which we are presently trapped), because between the two you can get some sense of the totality.

For my part, I would like to say that Vidal was one of those writers whose ability I admire.  He was a first-class stylist and his historical knowledge was enviable.  When he chose a historical subject—like Lincoln or Aaron Burr or a year, like 1876—he described what happened and what people said if reliable sources were available and added in the connective tissue with a fine eye for detail and sense of place.  His essays, often maddening, never bored, and usually revealed a vein of thought or fact hitherto unremarked that could prove absolutely trenchant.

Many on the Right hated him because he identified, generally quite accurately, the foundation of their politics (money or power, or both) and aimed his barbs at their historical amnesia, cultural ignorance, and always at their political hypocrisy.

Many on the Left were uncomfortable with him because he wouldn’t let them off the hook.  If they pandered, compromised their values, paid lip-service and then voted otherwise, he called them on it.

He once commented that he thought we had lost our chance to “have a civilization” here, that it looked for a time “like we were going to have one” but apparently not.  He said it with a deep sadness and while I took it as hyperbole, I can understand what he meant.  We’ve been arguing in the Forum about who we’re going to be as a nation and while the argument rages on we’re squandering our resources.  We have all the components of a really fine civilization but by and large they don’t seem to matter to most people, so they atrophy from lack of proper attention.

I stress though that a steady diet of Mr. Vidal’s writings, with nothing to balance it, can be as bad as a steady diet of William F. Buckley (or William Safire or George Will).  He represented an important aspect, one side, that must be respected and engaged as an equal part of all the other sides.  (Put Will and Buckley on one end and Chomsky and Vidal on the other and in the mix you find the substance of what it means to be a free people of serious intent.)

He was on Dick Cavett’s old talk show, often, and on one of them they were playing anagrams with names, and Vidal asked Cavett what his should be.  Without missing a beat, Cavett said “You’re the Vital Gore.”  Vidal smiled, apparently pleased.

Some of our essential vitality is gone.