There she goes. On her own.

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Been having a tough time keeping up with my workouts due to morning meetings, doctor’s appointments. If I don’t workout in the morning, our afternoon nap finishes off the rest of the day for exercise. Why? Not sure. But, I’m lethargic when I get up. A non-workout feeling. Why nap if I get up lethargic? It doesn’t last, but it lasts long enough to throw off my wanna exercise motivation. Something I could work on.

Working out makes me feel better in the moment while the net effects of cardio and resistance work to keep my healthspan longer. There are other daily benefits: getting up out of a chair unassisted, able to hold a chainsaw, get outside work done, enough muscle to handle daily domestic chores, stamina, stair climbing. In spite of my two issues: copd and prostate cancer, my sense of good health, even excellent health remains. But, not if I don’t get in my workouts. Gotta get more careful about scheduling mornings.

Used the instapot last night to make round steak. It came out tough and chewy. Hmm. Not the idea. Gotta figure out what the problem is.

Making progress on my painting, IMO. When I do Rothko-like paintings, I’m finding myself closer to the moodiness his produced. Once that comes more easily, I’m going to start playing around with it. Put photographs or drawings or a flower or something metal in them, IDK. Make them mine. I’m imitating a man I consider a master artist, one of the best of the last century, American or otherwise, trying to learn from recreating his work techniques, color combinations, composition, brush work. A long, long way to go, but I’m having a helluva good time.

Gonna finish my bagel table work today and tomorrow.

Starting to feel the beginnings of a new phase here on Shadow Mountain. Not sure what it is, but it feels pretty good.

Example: Kate drove herself to needleworkers yesterday. She stayed till mid-afternoon. When I saw her drive away, I had a feeling similar to taking Joseph to his freshman year of college. There she goes, on her own. Glad, a bit concerned, happy for her.

Why did Sarah die?

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Met with Alan to discuss our bagel table a week from Saturday. Dandelion. A quiet breakfast place off 74 in the northern part of Evergreen. We’re both going to come up with a plan by next Tuesday then we’ll mix and match or choose one.

I’m focused on an interesting midrashic tradition raised by Avivah Zornberg in her commentary on Genesis and the Chayei parsha. Midrash aggadah are torah interpretations by generations of rabbis.They are imaginative, clever, often surprising. The tradition is similar to the notion of hermeneutics with which I am familiar, that is the art of bringing Biblical messages into a contemporary context. I mentioned this in my post on Sunday.

Midrash aggadah are dissimilar in the tools and techniques used. And, in the results.

The midrashic tradition Zornberg mentions in the beginning of her commentary on Chayei Sarah (Gen. 23:1-25:18) began with rabbis wondering about two things: 1. The akedah, or the binding of Isaac. Jewish tradition focuses on the act of binding Isaac for his sacrifice. 2. The death of Sarah which immediately follows the akedah.

Why did Sarah die, they wondered. An interpretation rose up that the akedah was the reason for Sarah’s death, though there is no mention of a connection in the text. In one midrash Isaac returns after the akedah, tells his mother what happened, and she makes shofar like noises, then dies. In another Satan appears to her in the guise of Isaac and tells her what Abraham did. And in yet another Satan comes to Sarah and says Abraham has actually sacrificed Isaac.

From these, then, Zornberg suggests that the problem of Sarah’s life began with her period of infertility, till age 99, ended by Isaac’s birth. The relationship between her and Isaac, then, becomes the central issue for Sarah. It does not resolve, Zornberg suggests, until:

Gen. 25:67 “And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her. And was comforted for (the loss) of his mother.”

This is a direction that would never occur in a Christian exegetical/hermeneutical exploration of these texts. Why? Because the Christian exegete focuses on the words as they exist and critical methodologies helping to clarify their meaning. Speculation about what happened offline so to speak is not encouraged.

This is so much fun for me. I like learning another way of coming at the Bible and I find the midrash aggadah appealing as provocateurs about life and its convolutions. A lot of wisdom in them.

Turn Starwheel Turn

Samain and a full Fallow Moon

Orion was there, but dim. 4:30 am. Full Fallow Moon above Black Mountain outshone his distant stars. Going outside in the early morning, seeing Orion rise, his big dog, too, has somewhat rekindled my interest in astronomy. Enough that I repurchased something I gave away when we moved, a starwheel. Wonderful name. Relearning parts of the night sky.

The big dipper, easy to locate in Andover, often hides behind the lodgepoles to the northeast, but is now rising early enough that I can see it. With that friend I can find Polaris and Arcturus. Follow the arc to Arcturus. Follow the pointer stars to Polaris.

Coming out at 4:30 or so on a daily basis makes me understand how the heavens could have been used not only as a calendar, but also as a clock. Orion ticks over further and further to the west. Others come to his former spot. A person who focused on the stars at night could tell time with this movement.

Living in the mountains surrounded by the Arapaho National Forest gives each day and night a close connection with the changing natural world. On the ground. In the sky.

One outcome of Kate’s good news and my ok news about our lung diseases (geez) is that we’re here to stay. Yes, we’re challenged by the thin air, but we can cope. Better up here for both of us than down in the polluted air of the Denver metro.

Saw Lisa

Samain and the Fallow Moon

COPD. Mild. Shouldn’t progress unless I do something to aggravate it. Like start smoking again. Nope. Good news. Does mean I’m stuck with some shortness of breath, some vulnerability to lung disease. Well within livable parameters.

A landmark day

Samain and the Fallow Moon

7 degrees and snowing here on Shadow Mountain. Means I must have a doctor’s appointment today. Yep, COPD follow up with Lisa. I’m interested in staging. I want to have a prognosis and a plan for what I need to do to manage this disease. Perhaps a referral to a pulmonologist. It’s been about two months since my diagnosis.

Yesterday was a landmark day here. We started prepping Kate’s sewing room for her return to this domestic art form. Gathered up cloth, moved embroidery thread, organized papers, put the repaired Bernini back on its table, cleared off her work surface. Exciting to see her willing and able.

Gonna need to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Thought I had SeoAh set up to do it, but turns out they won’t arrive until the day before. She’ll do her Korean holiday meal on Friday or Saturday. At least this Thanksgiving I feel able to do it. Last Thanksgiving, with Kate barely back from rehab, I didn’t. We catered from Tony’s Market.

Capon. I love capon, don’t like turkey. I’ll handle the bird, Kate’s going to organize side dishes and parcel them out to other cooks like SeoAh and Ruth. I might make a stuffing. Not sure yet.

We’ll have a full house with the Georgia three and Annie staying here. Jon, Ruth, Gabe will come up for the meal from Aurora. 8. Just right.

Painting. Right now I’m trying to recreate Mark Rothko paintings. I want to imitate him, figure out how he created the mood, the emotional resonance. At some point I’ll go off on my own, but right now I want to learn from one of my favorites. Autodidact color field painter. That’s me.

Jewish and Christian Modes of Biblical Interpretation

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Went to the bagel table yesterday morning. Torah study with Rabbi Jamie. Always fun and deep. Added bonus. I got to see how he does it. It’s been awhile and I wanted to learn from his approach before Alan and I do our bagel table on November 23rd.

I told Jamie afterward, this is so different from how I was taught. And, it is. My training came from the higher criticism movement which began in 19th century Germany. It came into being over against lower criticism which used the Bible as its source of scholarship for interpretation.

If you’re familiar with the idea of proof texting, that is, using a verse or two out of context to buttress a theological argument, then you know how lower criticism proceeds. It was, in many ways, similar to the scholarship style of the medieval scholastics. The scholastics used other written texts to “prove” their arguments, rather than looking for evidence outside others thoughts.

When Francis Bacon introduced the ideas that lead to the scientific method, he changed the world of scholarship forever. Historians had to look at documents and artifacts from the time periods they were studying rather than taking Herodotus, or Tacitus, or the Bible literally at their words. Scientists looked to nature and experimentation rather than Ptolemy or alchemy. Of course the old texts were useful still, just not in the way they had been.

Higher criticism followed in that vein. No longer was the Bible seen as the inspired word of God to be revered and understood as written. That attitude is not too different from the so-called “originalist” camp in interpretation of the Constitution.

The same methods, critical methods, used by literary scholars and scientists were brought to bear on scripture. The howls of blasphemy and apostasy started then and in some conservative theological circles have never softened.

Here are the questions of higher criticism. What did the text likely mean to the author? Here’s a heretical idea. Multiple authors for not only books of the bible but even multiple authors within books. Example: the documentary hypothesis for Genesis. JEDP. The Yahwist. The Elohist. (two names for God) The Deutronomic historian. The Priestly writers. The two stories of the creation of humans, which differ significantly, are the products of two different authors.

Redaction criticism took seriously this literary criticism, but noted that somebody had to put all of those fragments together in their current form. The redactors or editors. What does it mean that the redactors of Genesis chose to put both stories in with no commentary about why?

Tradition criticism looks for evidence of rituals, cultural understandings that show how texts evolved from oral tradition into written text. Other schools of criticism look at the manuscripts of biblical books, which one is the most ancient, the closest to the source texts, and the reception that various texts have received, both within the Bible and outside it.

All of this work comes under the heading of exegesis: “a systematic process by which a person arrives at a reasonable and coherent sense of the meaning and message of a biblical passage.” Theopedia (I like this definition, but not the site.) In my training the exegetical work preceded and informed the hermeneutical task, taking that meaning and message into the contemporary context, most commonly in a sermon.

I didn’t understand until yesterday the reason Rabbi Jamie’s Torah study is so different from my training. The Christian exegete looks for the meaning, the message of a biblical passage, then propounds it. The way Rabbi Jamie does Torah study is at one and the same time more conservative and more radical than higher criticism.

It is more conservative in that it relies on the Talmud, the Midrash, the history of rabbinic interpretation of both the texts themselves and what lies within the gaps. What was Abraham like before he appears in Genesis, already seventy-five years old? Why did Sarah die after Abraham took Isaac off for sacrifice? In that sense it’s reliance on the text as written is more like lower criticism. There’s a lot of proof-texting in the Talmud.

It’s more radical in that insists on multiple interpretations of the same text, allowing, to misuse Mao, a hundred meanings to bloom. This is the crux of the difference between my training and Rabbi Jamie’s method. As the definition of exegesis implies, biblical interpreters used higher critical methods to discover the text’s meaning and therefore its message for today. The meaning. Of course there were different conclusions using the same data, just as in the Midrash, but there lurked in the background always that there was one true meaning if only it could be found.

In the Jewish tradition Rabbi Jamie follows there is no one meaning. In fact several meanings can be uncovered through the imaginative application of many unusual tools. Like gematria. The numerology of Hebrew letters. Like imagining God asking Moses to inform Aaron of his imminent death. When you add in kabbalistic interpretations, the Torah becomes a polyvalent text. Not one you can do anything you want with, but not one you can say anything definitive about either.

Right now I’m appreciating the Jewish tradition of biblical interpretation. It’s more open-ended, more down to earth often, more immediately applicable to daily life. I also appreciate higher criticism, an approach that has now gone well beyond biblical texts into texts of any kind. Can be used, for example, in challenging the “originalists” on the Supreme Court.

On November 23rd, when Alan and I do Chayei Sarah: Genesis 23:1-Genesis 25:18, I’m going to try to stay in the Jewish traditional lane. Will not be easy for me because I don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of Hebrew and the Midrash that Jamie does. Zornberg’s commentary on the parsha in her book on Genesis, The Beginning of Desire, is giving me a lot of help. There are other resources. We’ll see how much time I have to use them.

Mild!

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Not sure what to do here on Shadow Mountain. Kate got good news at the docs yesterday. Dr. Taryle, the National Jewish pulmonologist, started out by saying, “I’m confused.”

What confused him was the appointment with Dr. Gruber, the cardio-thoracic surgeon. The pulmonary function test Taryle had ordered came back with only mild impairment. Mild! That was a week ago. And, he said, the c.t. scan you had two weeks ago, looks the same as the one in May. The same! Lung disease not progressing.

Why do something as risky as a lung biopsy if your disease is mild and not progressing? Why, indeed. We canceled it.

The mood here has swung. Fist bumps. Peace signs. Arms in the air.

She does have some kind of lung disease and she needs oxygen still but the drumbeats of the fourth horsemen have receded into the distance. With her weight stabilized above 100 pounds, her stent, and her feeding tube the malnutrition horsemen has ridden off, hopefully to never return. Sjogren’s still plagues her, but we’ve discovered that having a healthy diet ameliorates a lot of the worst symptoms.

Oh, and she had cataract surgery in both eyes over the last couple of weeks. More colors. The newspaper has started printing the type more clearly, much easier to see for that crossword. We’re counting this as three victories in a short period of time.

Here on Shadow Mountain with the atmosphere shifting.

Friendship. Solitude. Memories.

Samain and the Fallow Moon

The 32nd Woolly Mammoth retreat. Or, so. Happening near Stillwater, Minnesota at Dunrovin retreat center. Soon. The topic: Friendship and Solitude. The last full retreat I attended was in 2015 shortly after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Given the recency of our move to Colorado and the shock of that news that retreat was especially important for me.

Friendship and the Woollies. In many ways the Woollies, my men’s group for over 30 years, was a tutorial in alternative methods of male friendship. We did not bond over the Vikings, not even the Packers. We didn’t start out as a poker night or a hunting group or as fishing buddies. The Woollies were an outgrowth of the Men’s Movement, furthered in Minnesota by Robert Bly, yes, that Robert Bly, in particular.

We learned that friendship could be nurtured through intimacy, with each other. Not a shocker, I know, but far from the norm when men gather for just about anything. In the early years we had retreat topics like Fathers, Mothers, Death, Pilgrimage.

During the year we met on the first Monday and the third Monday of every month. That was another learning. Friendship requires commitment and work. Frank always took March so he could serve corned beef and cabbage in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. This honored Frank’s Irish blood, not the Roman Catholic Church. At Scott’s Yin would put out a Chinese meal and until her death, Yin’s mother, Moon, would help. At other homes it was soup, or barbecue, or turkey chili. We would eat together, then have a meeting on a topic the host chose.

On the first Monday we would gather at a restaurant, in the early years at the Black Forest in Minneapolis. We talked about that son, the Asperger’s one, who was difficult. Or, the movie we’d just seen. Might have been Spirited Away or a blockbuster. Sometimes work, but most often about relationships.

At Villanova, a Catholic retreat center on the Mississippi, there was a lunar eclipse. Our retreats then were usually in January. A group of us went outside around midnight and stood in the snow and well below zero weather to watch the moon turn red. Another January retreat at Valhelga, a family retreat center designed by Woolly Stefan Helgeson, the temperature was -30. The Minnesota January was part of our year.

Now I meet once a month with five of these men using Zoom the video conferencing software. These friendships are lifelong. Amazingly, for a group of ten men, none of us have died though two are into their eighties.

Solitude. Mostly introverts. Solitude preferred. One Woolly moved to northern Maine. Paul. I moved to the Rocky Mountains. Jimmie, though not an introvert, is in South Dakota. Another, Charlie, lives on a lake in northwestern Wisconsin. There is a Woolly diaspora and where we chose to live reflects the preference for solitude.

Solitude accepts our inner life as worthy. Necessary. It’s about nurturing a friendship with whoever narrates your life right now. It allows us to grow as individuals, to honor ourselves, and be able to honor others.

Perhaps I would have added memory to this retreat topic. Friendship and Solitude are complementary for sure. But it is the memories that bind us together. The broomball on the ice at Valhelga. The visits to Richard Bresnahan’s pottery studio at St. John’s Monastery. Meals at the Black Forest, Christo’s, Sawatdee. Frank’s ongoing hate affair with the Roman Catholic Church. Warren’s articles on aging written as a reporter for the Star-Tribune. That one guy that got shot at by his wife. The night we ate in what turned out be a former Nazi military commander’s house, ironically in the very Jewish suburb of St. Louis Park.

My friends, my brothers, the Woollies. Then, now. Forever.

Chronic

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Met David yesterday for coffee. He has metastatic prostate cancer, a more serious situation than mine. His doc told him on Tuesday that they were now treating his prostate cancer as a chronic disease. This is more and more the case with cancer, prostate cancer in particular.

Makes me feel more positive. My trajectory is still toward a cure and it’s looking like I might make it there. But, if I don’t. There’s always David’s route. Beginning to sound more and more like prostate cancer will not take me across the threshold to the next world.

David’s a Beth Evergreen friend, as is his wife. They brought us a meal during the hard days at the end of my radiation treatment.

After David and I had coffee, at the Starbucks in Safeway, I took the opportunity to do some grocery shopping. It was busy, odd for 3 pm on Wednesday. The bagger said it was folks getting in ahead of the fog storm. Huh? When I left, I couldn’t see any mountain peaks. All in clouds. Driving home made me wonder how folks who live along oceans and big lakes drive in fog since it’s more frequent.

Second day in a row with no doctor appointments. Feels a bit vacant. A good feeling.

A Visit to the Oncologist

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Got in Ruby at noon and drove, once again, to Lone Tree. Through the everlasting construction project that is toll roads for 470 West. Wanted to drink water, get my bladder in shape for the next radiation treatment but no. That’s over with. August. Now it’s November and I’m on my way to a three month follow up with Anna Willis, Dr. Eigner’s physician’s assistant.

I have one question that matters to me. Is the cancer still there? The reason? I have two. First, that 0.03 result on my September PSA (test for prostate specific antigen). I thought, I’m on lupron which suppresses testosterone. I finished a course of 35 sacrifices under the Cyberknife. Shouldn’t this mean no cancer? Or, could it mean, that 0.03 is detectable psa, that the radiation didn’t work?

The second reason is Gertie. Gertie’s is our eleven year old German wirehair pointer. She’s deaf in at least one ear and her eyes have cataracts that cloud them. Her nose though works fine. During the time leading up both to the prostatectomy in 2015 and the recent recurrence Gertie sniffed my pee a lot.

I know, gross, right? Well, no. Not for dog owners. Dog’s get a lot of information from urine. That’s the whole fireplug thing. And, dogs can smell cancer. She seems fascinated again. Still. Could be my paraonia, I know. Still, it factored in to my hunch that the cancer was still there.

Yes, indeed, it is. That is in fact what the .03 means. There are still psa producing cells in my body which means prostate cells. They’re supposed to be eliminated by first, the surgery, second, the radiation, and third, suppressed by the lupron.

However. It’s ok. Dr. Eigner “stole” me from Anna Willis, his p.a. That is, he watched for my appearance on the schedule and arranged his day so he could see me in place of Anna. His schedule books far, far out so his schedulers won’t give me time with him. He checks and so far has seen me each time I’ve come in. That makes me feel good. He remembers me.

Good to see you! He’s in blue surgical scrubs, looking thinner than when I saw him last. He does seem glad to see me. I only have one question that matters to me. Is my cancer gone? Or, does the .03 mean that the radiation failed?

Well. Let me show you. He got a piece of blank paper and a ballpoint. At the top he wrote .2. Not so long ago .2 was undetectable. Then, .1. He inscribed .07, then a .05, then .02, and finally a .01. Each of these have in their turn described undetectable. So, 5 years ago we would have said your cancer was undetectable, but now our assays are more sensitive. That means your .03 is a really low number, but, yes, it also means there is still some cancer in your body.

Have you heard of secondary cell death? No, I haven’t. Radiation kills directly most of the cancer cells, but it continues working for a long time after treatment finishes. How? It damages the DNA of some cancer cells, but doesn’t kill them outright. Only when they go through mitosis, division, do they die.

Oh. Glimmer of hope.

He then drew a graph that showed the effect of lupron on my psa. PSA decreases rapidly, then flattens out near the bottom and remains there over time until it’s discontinued. At that point testosterone begins to rise again and psa goes up.

This line though is radiation. This line sloped down gradually, but where the lupron line began to go up, signifying its discontinuance and the resulting rise in psa, the radiation line continues to the bottom of the graph and stops.

Here is the critical time. He indicated the spot on the graph where the lupron line, going up, met the radiation line on its slope down toward zero. Your psa will rise here until the radiation effect takes over. This spot was well before the radiation line met the bottom of the graph.

Both you and I will be concerned until it flattens out, then begins to drop. That would mean a cure, right? Exactly. Sometimes, of course, it continues to rise, but even then we’ve knocked it back a long ways. Can you go back to the lupron then? Oh, yes. And there are other drugs, too. It’s the trend line over time that’s important.

OK. I see. How long do I need to be on the lupron? Ah, the great debate. One year, some say two years. What’s right? With you, a year. Your last lupron injection will be next March. Then, in June we’ll have a psa that will tell us where we are. Might still be going up some, then. Remember the graph? Then the psas following that will show us the trend.

I get it. Thanks.