A Skeptical Realist

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

32 degrees this morning on Shadow Mountain, raining. Fog grays out Black Mountain. So far our usual summertime foe, wildfire, looks less formidable. At least for this year.

Office, Edward Hopper, American realist

And, yes, if you, reader of Ancientrails, are tired of the medical overcast here, so am I. However.

As Kate and I talked yesterday, I told her about my new friend David, who has a prostate cancer situation more dire than mine. His has metastasized. He said, “I’m good at compartmentalization.” I’m not. Don’t want to be.

I’m a realist. Neither optimist nor pessimist. I want to know what is. There’s good evidence in psychological studies of depression that realists end up depressed more than optimists. That optimists are happier than realists or pessimists. May be. Still can’t look away.

That’s what you’re reading here. My attempt to see. Inside and out. And, even though I learned from Cosmos and Psyche that skepticism is a tool, not a lifeway, surprise; it’s a tool I’ve used so long that I can’t put it back in the toolbox, hang it on its little outline on the pegboard of my mind. Skepticism and realism have never made me the life of the party. Debbie Downer might be more apt.

Yet some deep commitment to honesty, learned I’m not sure where, keeps me realist and skeptic. I don’t like being manipulated, by others, by institutions, by myself. So I long ago chose to deal with the psychological fall out of the examined life, a fair exchange in my world. Not always pleasant, but cleaner. Candid.


Beltane Cancer Moon

This Morning

It’s been this kind of May. And it looks as if June will be cooler and wet, too, according to Weather5280. Good news for us, not so much for those lower down when the huge snowpack starts to melt.

Got further along on print Ancientrails. Am now in late 2017, quite a ways in. Then, print spool error. Again. Well. Gotta go back to whatever I did that solved it once. Tried so many things I’m not sure which one worked. Something did. For a while. Soon though. Then, I’ll take everything for three hole punching and decide what kind of binders I’m going to buy. Each folder with month tabs.

Also figured a way to unzip Superior Wolf and focus on Lycaon’s story. Don’t know whether I’ll follow up later on Christopher and Diana. The hunt for immortality is almost a cliche these days. And the central conceit of their story, a hedgefund group that funds Diana’s research, is not fiction anymore. Geez.

That means I’ve got months of work ahead, maybe years. My ikigai. A Japanese word that means reason to live. This article talks about ikigai in more depth as an explanation for Japanese longevity. Squares with my own intuition. Purpose keeps you alive and flourishing.

The Japanese have a lot about life figured out. Ichi-go, ichi-e is another favorite of mine. It comes from the Japanese tea ceremony and means each moment is once in a lifetime. No such thing as an insignificant experience with another person.

Sekkyakushi, 15th century, Muromachi period, Metropolitan Museum of art

Reading a book right now by the wonderful travel writer, Pico Iyer: Autumn Light, Season of Fire and Farewells. It’s a follow-up to his The Lady and the Monk, which I have not read, in which he recounts meeting Hiroko, the Japanese woman who would become his wife. He had moved to Kyoto to immerse himself in Japanese culture, sensing, as I do, that their approach to life is worth learning, perhaps adopting. Twenty-three years later he lives in Japan with Hiroko six months out of the year and six months in the U.S., caring for his mother and working for the New York Times. Recommended.

Each time I dip into some aspect of Japanese culture I find I want to know more. The MIA’s Japanese collection gave me a chance to interact with tea bowls, tatami mats, sumi-e, Buddhist and Shinto sculpture, put me deeper into my own Asian pivot.

Zen itself has not intrigued me, but I did follow Zen back to its roots in Chinese Chan Buddhism, a melding of Taoism and Buddhism. The Taoist aspect of Zen, and Chan. Yes.

Tomorrow. The CT scan. Probably the last of the imaging work. It will either show metastatic disease or a localized recurrence in the prostate fossa. If the former, one kind of treatment. And, prognosis. If the latter, 35 days of radiation and a possible cure. Hopeful, of course, that it will be localized, but aware that it might not be. In either case I’ll know. That’s been the hardest part of this time (well, no, that’s not right. The hardest part has been dealing with insurance and the hospital’s “benefits” office.), knowing the cancer has reasserted itself, but not knowing what that means for my life.

Will be glad to have this work done so I can move onto what’s next.

Are you going to be o.k.?

Mortality signals. Coming through loud and strong. A frisson of the world without me. “Are you going to be ok,” Kate asked, “Psychologically?” “Yeah, I think so. I’ll tell you if I’m not.”


Hard to avoid running the recent news all the way out to the literal end. (see post below) I’m neither a pessimist nor an optimist, I’m a realist. The indicators are not good. But. At this point that’s all they are. Indicators. As Kate also said, “We need more data.” Yes, an axumin scan would have helped, but a ct and an mri will get us started.

Yamantaka and I have been friends for a long time now. I’ve imagined my death, my corpse. Meditated on it. When my mind insists on following the bread crumbs, I let it. I end up the same place Yamantaka has taken me. The same place we all come to. The question isn’t whether, but when.

Yes, this is morbid. And, yes, even if all the signs are negative, nothing’s happening soon. But I can’t be other than where I am. Right now, on this chilly May Saturday, I’m still absorbing.

I do feel I’ll be ok. Psychologically. Which doesn’t mean I won’t be scared. The unknown is the landscape between here and death. Will treatments be able to slow down the cancer? Is there still a chance for a cure? Unknown.

There a couple of mantras I’ve said over and over for quite a while. Live until you die. I intend to do that. Live in the present. I’m doing that except for those pesky moments when the blood hound of logic starts baying at the trail. I still have books to write, paintings to finish, friends and family. Dogs. Those will not change. Books to read. Places to go. Mountains and nearby states to explore.

On that last. I will see the National Gallery of Art in Taipei. This is the museum which contains the Qing emperors collection, all the best of Chinese art over its long history. Chiang Kai-Shek gathered the collection and took it with him to Taiwan after a losing fight against Mao and the Red Army.

Here is a large copy of one piece I most want to see:

Fan Kuan, Travelers with Mountains and Streams, Song Dynasty

Cancer Returns

Spring                                                                  Rushing Waters Moon


Cancer cell

Had to go at this head on, today, while it’s fresh. When I got to my appointment with Anna Willis, Dr. Eigner’s P.A., the first person in the room was Eigner himself. Grayer and thinner, he smiled, shook my hand. When I said it was good to see him, he said, “It’s good to see you, too, but I’m not happy about the reason.” When I told him my anxiety made me move the decimal place on my PSA, his relief was obvious, “Thank god.” Anna came in about then.

They both remembered me. Anna remembered my glasses and our visits. Eigner remembered me partly because I’d sent him a couple of emails over the years thanking him, telling him about my life. It was one of the warmest visits I’ve had in a doctor’s office and that felt good.


Davinci robotic arm, Sky Ridge (where I had my surgery)

Turns out though. “When you’ve been perfect (a .1 psa which means essentially undetectable) and that changes, it’s scary.” He went on to say that it most likely does mean a recurrence, a relatively rare thing for those who choose prostatectomy, even rarer if the pathology report read, as mine did, clear margins. Clear margins means no cancer was found on the outside of the prostate. The best news.

Dr. Eigner took out a piece of paper and drew a sort of oblong on it. “This is the prostate. They can’t take sections from every part, so they take representative slices. If the cancer is between those slices, it won’t show up on the path report.” Oh, shit.

Since it is three and a half years since my surgery, and since the number for the uptick is relatively small, it means the recurrence is probably local, that is, in the area where the prostate used to be. That’s good news, much better than metastasis.

The plan is to redo my PSA in three months, doing the super sensitive one that can take the numbers 3 or 4 places rather than just two. If it’s still rising, I’ll get a referral right away to the oncologists to discuss radiation. “We’ll just go in there and kill it,” he said. “If you were older, I’d tell you not to do anything. This will take ten years to manifest anyhow, but at 72 you’ve still got a lot of life ahead of you.” That’s my opinion, too.

the Prostate Specific Antigen

the Prostate Specific Antigen

Radiation has some potential downsides, so I hope we don’t have to go that route. But, as I said to Kate, I’ve always chosen treatments that offer the best chance to remain active, and alive. I chose repair for my torn Achilles even though it means two months of no walking and crutches for a good while after. I chose knee replacement over other treatment options because I wanted to continue exercising. I chose a radical prostatectomy because that gave me the best shot at a cure. Likewise here, if radiation is the option that gives me the best chance to survive and thrive, I’ll choose it. No doubt.

All that’s the rational side, and that’s pretty damned important because these are high risk, high reward decisions. But they’re not all of it.

On the way back from Eigner’s I drove through Deer Creek Canyon. When my biopsy confirmed my prostate cancer in 2015, I drove Deer Creek Canyon, too. Going through there I felt the rock, rock so old that our human scale word ancient is quaint. This rock rose millions of years ago and it will slowly soften, the rough edges frozen and thawed, rained on, plant roots will crack them, and Deer Creek will carry the pebbles and sand to the Platte River on its way to the Gulf. Not only will I be dead long, long before then, it may be that the human race will have ended itself well before then, too. This comforts me.

Laramide Orogeny, 70 million years ago, begun. 35 million years ago, ended. Built the Rockies

Laramide Orogeny, 70 million years ago, begun. 35 million years ago, ended. Built the Rockies

William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” came to mind. See the opening stanza below.* He goes on to make the point that the earth itself is a great tomb, holding all those who once lived. Again, this comforts me. Death has not chosen me for a special fate. No, death itself is a universal for all who live. It seems harsh and cruel, yet it is, rather, the opposite. Death ends suffering. Allows the world to carry many creatures, but not all at once.

Here there were Utes and Apaches, Comanches, too. And even they were not the first. Older humans preceded even them. And before all came the Rockies, then the trees, the lodgepole pines and the ponderosa and the bristle cone, the aspen. Mountain lions, deer, elk, rabbits, raccoons, pikas, prairie dogs, bison, moose, wolves, fox, martens, fishers, beaver. All here before humans, most will be here after we are gone. I can look at the lodgepoles in my front yard and know that their direct ancestors flourished here thousands of years ago and will do so after I’m dead.

All this brackets whatever troubles I may experience, even cancer. And cancer may be that friend that carries me off to the mighty sepulchre. Or, it might be something else. Whatever is my death-friend will not be an enemy, but the specific cause of my life ending. And that is, for all of us, in spite of our fears, a good thing.


Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole

Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole

* “To him who in the love of Nature holds

Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—
                                       Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears…
The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould…
Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre.”

Long Gone

Spring                                                                              Rushing Waters Moon

Mary, Mark, Diane, me, Joe

Mary, Mark, Diane, me, Joe  Andover, Mn.

My cousin, Diane, lives in San Francisco. Born near and raised in Morristown, Indiana, my mother’s hometown, she’s returning to the heartland for a visit. For a month. I told her a month would be long time in Indiana for me. She’s going several different places in the Midwest to see family, friends. Her recent retirement makes this possible. She’ll probably organize a small reunion of the first cousins, a tribe of which there are still many in the Hoosier State.

My siblings and I have been gone from there a long, long time. Most of our adult lives. I left first in 1969, moving to Appleton, Wisconsin. Mary after taking a job on a campus of I.U. in Kuala Lumpur. Mark later to Bangkok. Not sure when Diane left for San Francisco. Our cousin Leisa moved to the Detroit area when she married Bob. The rest remain.

Though I was born in Duncan, Oklahoma, we left there when I was under 2 years old, so Indiana was the first home I really knew and I stayed in state through college, leaving shortly after I finished my senior year. A short sojourn in another small Indiana town, Connersville, then gone.

By Garaoihana - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

By Garaoihana – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.  the Klan in Muncie, 1922

If you grow into radical politics, Indiana is a tough place. It has a strong and unfortunate Klan history, with an openly Klan U.S. Senator and Governor being elected there in the early part of the 20th century. It remains unfriendly to those with differences, especially at the political level. Mike Pence, for example, is the former governor of Indiana.

It’s mostly farms and factories, though manufacturing, much of it supply chain work for the old Detroit, has declined a lot since my youth there. The factories have a complicated legacy. They attracted many from Dixie, white and black, folks from Appalachia, too. Though many of them voted for George Wallace during his abortive run for President, they also joined unions. In particular, the United Auto Workers. As long as the factories were strong and the UAW powerful, Indiana often turned out liberal Democrats for Congress.

Copper Kettle

Copper Kettle, Morristown

As Detroit lost its grip on auto sales, the factories went dark, putting the children of that Southern and Appalachian diaspora out of work and back into desperate times. Poverty is the enemy of social progress in so many ways, not the least of it being the competition for work among folks of different backgrounds. Race being the most volatile difference of all. Indiana is now Trump country. He got 60% of the vote in 2016. Hillary only 37.

Warm memories. Family reunions in James Whitcomb Riley park in Greenfield. Visiting the farm in Morristown. Eating at the Copper Kettle and the Bluebird Cafe there. That sugar cream pie and Aunt Mary’s fried chicken. Basketball games in high school. That one time we won the sectional, beating much larger Anderson. Decoration Day parades with tanks and bands and baton twirlers. The 500 mile race. The preparation month. The time trials. Race day. Visiting New Harmony as an adult.

20150911_113337Mostly conflicted memories. Mom’s early death. Estrangement from Dad. An outsiders life in high school even if I was popular. Awkward times with girls and later women. The knuckle dragging politics, racial and gender attitudes. Early stages of alcoholism. It was not clear to me until I moved to Minneapolis how much I had missed by living in a culture poor section of the country.

I love my cousins and the times we’ve had together, as I did my aunts and uncles, all now dead. But the conflict between progressive politics, an educated appreciation of the arts and the reality of Hoosier culture was too much for me. Still is.

Anyhow, have a good trip, Diane.




Spring                                                                             Recovery Moon

First, it’s not about gypsies. Roma is a neighborhood in Mexico City.

Second, it’s not a thriller, or a mystery, or a comedy (except perhaps of manners), or a drama. It’s not fantasy, anime, or horror. I would call it cinema verité, a slice of life, in this case a short period in the life of Cleo, an indigenous woman who serves as a maid to the deteriorating family of a physician. She and Adela, another maid, wake up the children, kiss them and love them, make meals, clean the house, and work from morning until night.

Cleo is affectionate, a para-mother, to the four children, three boys and a girl. They love her back and the relationship among them is strong enough that, despite not knowing how to swim, she wades into the Bay of Campeche to save Sofi from drowning as threatening waves break all around them.

The film is told with Cleo and her life as its center, and a good part of it covers the evolution of her pregnancy, the result of one afternoon with Fermín. Fermín’s full frontal nudity, while brandishing a staff in martial arts fashion, serves to highlight what I perceived as the strongly feminist theme. His is the only nudity in the film.

Cleo’s pregnancy ends in the birth of a dead girl. The physician moves away from his home, leaving his wife, her mother, the four kids, Cleo and Adela in the family house. After a drunken drive into the garage with the oversized, masculine body of a Ford Galaxy, the wife says to Cleo, “We’re all alone Cleo. We women are always alone.” Her mother is there, alone. Cleo and Adela are there alone.

Cleo tells Fermín that she’s late while they are at a movie. He says, “That’s good, yeah?” She looks a little bewildered, but nods. “I’m going to the bathroom.” He disappears. When she finds him much later, he’s moved back to a village and trains there. She asks him if he has a minute. He shouts at her, brandishes his staff, “It’s not mine. If you come back, I’ll beat your face in.”

Though the film consistently portrays the physician’s family, including his wife, as caring for Cleo, “We love you, Cleo, very much.” there is always the underlying dynamic of employer/employee. “Will you fire me?” Cleo asks when informing the wife of her pregnancy. “Of course not.” The story from Cleo’s point of view suggests several different times that her position could be precarious, even if the family does love her.

We don’t see films focused on servants. Especially not films that take a more or less neutral attitude toward servitude like Roma. Yes, we see the threat to Cleo, but we also see the families genuine affection for her, the children’s, too. She displays no anger at her life, nor does Adela. Her most negative emotions come after the birth of her dead girl. She sits and stares.

The black and white film, the setting in the early 1970’s, and the depiction of an infamous police riot against protesting college students give Roma the patina of a story from long ago, as if the participants were sitting around a campfire somewhere recounting that year that Cleo got pregnant. In that sense, and in its third person style, gives the viewer a distance from the events in the movie, like watching a newsreel.

This is a powerful, well-observed film. It drew me in to Cleo’s world, made me ache with her, want more for her, appreciate her love for the children, which, of course, drew a double line of irony under her unsuccessful pregnancy.


Spring                                                                          Recovery Moon

A dress designed by Ruth and made by Kate

A dress designed by Ruth and made by Kate

The recovery moon has begun to wane, but not before both Kate and me have made significant gains. Kate’s weight is up and her spirits have gone up with it. My mucus glands seem to have gotten tired, weary of all their work over the last couple of months. Yeah. Still many miles to go for Kate, but she’s making good progress.

Whenever a Johnson sister comes to visit, the talk turns to fabrics or yarn or weaving. This family sews, knits, quilts, and, in Anne’s case, weaves. BJ and Kate had a pattern in hand yesterday. “Why does it say knit, then pearl here? What if you’re doing that on circular needles?” “Do you like sparkly yarn?” “I did.” (I don’t.)

Came downstairs yesterday after my workout (oof, again, but a bit better than Thursday) to violin music. BJ practicing is always a pleasure to hear. Warms up the house, helps it feel alive. Just like the dogs. Musicians, I realized, again, are athletes, always training. Muscle memory is important for them, too, as well as music theory. Correct technique, too. My personal trainer watches and corrects my technique, musicians often have to do that for themselves after a certain point in their development.

music2The program I posted for Shecky’s concert at Merkin Hall involves not one, but three Beethoven sonatas. BJ says this is unusual, most play only one. Complicated to learn and execute. He started practicing them the other day, so he has about two months to get ready. Memory, style, technique. He’s reading a Jan Swafford biography of Beethoven, too. BJ recommended Swafford’s work. so I bought his first, a biography of Charles Ives, a favorite composer of mine.

The snow has melted almost completely off the driveway. Colorado. The solar snow shovel. Cheap and easy.

Friend Tom Crane and Roxann are on Maui, got there yesterday. Maui is the best. That’s its county motto. Each island is a county. Maui is wonderful lots of beautiful beaches, great restaurants, Lahaina (which means merciless sun and was an old whaler’s resupply stop), Haleakala, the curvy road to Hana. Mama’s Fish House.

Kauai, taro fields near Hana Lei

Kauai, taro fields near Hana Lei

I prefer Kauai, more rural, less intense, but Maui’s a fine place, too. Tom and Roxann have a meal planned at Mama’s where Kate and I celebrated my birthday several times. Her continuing medical education events that took us to Hawai’i often corresponded with Valentine’s Day.

Though the snow has melted off the driveway (mostly) it did cover up the bare spots in the backyard. With temps in the teens the snow will hang for a bit. Not long though since rain and high 50’s are forecast for this week. Snow is not over here though. April is our second snowiest month. In 2017 we got four feet of snow! It came the two days prior to our arrival back from Singapore after our trip to Korea for Joe and SeoAh’s wedding.

The Velveteen Rabbit aspect of human identity

Spring                                                                            Recovery Moon

Bat and Moon, 1930s Takahashi Bihō. MIA

Bat and Moon, 1930s
Takahashi Bihō. MIA

The Recovery moon illuminates Black Mountain this morning. The ski runs carved out on the mountain are white strips reflecting back moon shine. A light breeze moves the lodgepoles and a thin dusting of snow covers the solar panels. Early spring in the Rockies.

Kate made a salad last night. We bumped into each other in our galley kitchen for the first time in months. She also tossed her friendship quilt from the Bailey Patchworkers into the washing machine. She’s beginning to emerge from a long time in the chrysalis of illness. Wow.

Since the recovery moon seems to find us both on the uptick, my doctor’s nurse called with lab results, actually a second call due to confusion there occasioned by a weeks long problem with their computer systems. The first call came when I was still pretty sick and I didn’t pay close attention. This time I did. My PSA has moved up from .o1 to .012. Doesn’t seem like much, but when your prostate’s gone, it’s supposed to stay at .1, which is effectively .0. A recurrence is defined, for those of us who had our prostate’s removed, when the PSA hits .2. Concerning, but not yet a problem. Further testing required.

Rabbi Jamie called last night, wondering how we were. We were both steady and frequent attenders of things at CBE up until Kate’s bleed on September 28th. I continued until my own illness which began in early February. Since then, I’ve only been back for the chicken soup cook-off. Our sudden disappearance from the synagogue’s life caused him to say last time he talked with Kate that the schul isn’t the same without us. Kate was on the board and I was teaching religious school. We both attended mussar on Thursdays. We went to services less frequently, but showed up at education and special events, too. We’ve woven ourselves into the fabric that is CBE.

Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut,12th century French MMA

Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut,12th century French MMA

Community, like friendships, is reciprocal. You put your left foot in, then your right foot, then you shake it all about. With others doing the same thing. Over time we get to know each other, see each other, acknowledge each other. The line between thee and me is both more and less than we usually think. It’s more in that we don’t know our own selves well, our own depths eluding even the most introspective and life examining of us. How could others see into that, then? It’s less in that our perception of ourselves is constantly poked and prodded by interactions with others. In fact, much of our personhood gains definition as we sit down to coffee with someone, engage in critical thought, listen to music, sing with them. In community, in friendships, in family we become who we are.

At CBE, as with the Woolly’s, the docents, the political folks I’ve worked with, and our family, who I am has been in dialectical tension with both individuals and the collective. I’ve had to consider how Frank Broderick’s anti-Catholicism fits into my mostly positive assessment of religious life. I’ve offered ideas at CBE and had them put into action, changing myself and others in the process. As I got to know my fellow docents, I observed how they related to the art, to the art history we learned, to the museum visitors we guided on tours. And, how I was as a docent shaped itself in response.

Woolly Mammoths instructed in glass blowing

Woolly Mammoths instructed in glass blowing

In the instance of the Presbyterian ministry the two millennia plus history of Christianity was a body of thought and actions within which I had to find my particular place just like the thousands of year old history of art demanded I find a personal patch of ground on which to stand in relation to it. Both interactions shaped me and I, in turn, in small, individual ways reshaped both Christianity and the history of art. Not making a big, hubristic claim here, just observing that the dialectical tension affects both parties though not in equal ways.

This is, I suppose, the Velveteen Rabbit part of human identity formation. We rub ourselves up against people, animals, things and in the process we become real. And, we serve that same role for others. It’s an awesome responsibility. How do I, in my interactions, encourage the best in others? Or, do I? But that’s a question for another day.

I miss them still

Spring                                                                          Recovery Moon

Doryphoros, MIA

Doryphoros, MIA

Today is Kate’s pulmonology appointment. Another key moment on this journey. Is she fit enough for surgery to place the j-tube? Does she have some lung disease? And, a week delayed.

The cold. My cold, that is, and it’s follow on sinus infection has begun to lose its grip. Glimpses of normalcy, breathing freely. Is this it? The end to this seven weeks of this and that rattling around in my blood stream, squeezing my lungs, filling my head? I sure hope so. May do a little dance.

Ironies. Judge Gorsuch, a Colorado deep conservative appointed to the court by he who shall not be named, has sided with the liberal judges on a Yakima Indian treaty dispute. Being a Westerner, he’s been exposed to much more Indian law than any other member of the court. Not sure where he stands on public lands. Guess we take what we can get in this moment of conservative judges dominant in our judiciary.

Weather here unremarkable. Warmer, blue skies, great clouds.

Lucretia, Rembrandt, MIA

Lucretia, Rembrandt, MIA

On art. 12 years at the MIA opened my heart, my mind to the strange world of art. Not that I hadn’t visited before. Ever since I spent time in the small museum on the campus of Ball State I’ve haunted museums, art fairs, galleries. But then I was an art appreciator in a very random way. I had little context, little history of the art I saw. After my two year class on art history in preparation for being a docent, I had at least a modest grasp of the history of world art. As I prepared for tours, went to continuing education, that knowledge grew.

I’ve been frustrated since leaving the MIA with my inability to interact with art on a regular basis. That’s one reason I started painting. I wanted that intimacy I had while at the MIA. For a few years after my docent training, the museum, closed on Mondays, allowed docents to be in the museum that day. That meant a chance to experience the art with no crowds, almost no other people.

Bonnard, MIA

Bonnard, MIA

I loved those Mondays and would wander happily through the Chinese paintings, the Japanese teaware, the 19th century galleries filled with Delacroix, Goya, Courbet, Gerome, Cole, Church, Bierstadt. I could spend time with Rembrandt’s Lucretia, Dorphyoros, Goya’s Dr. Arrieta, as much time as I wanted.

To know a work of art well you need to see it in person, spend time with it over weeks and years. Let it speak to you as the artist hoped it would with color, with shape, with composition, with subject matter, with brush strokes and chiaroscuro, with its own, often centuries long story. The works become your friends, acquaintances who teach you, let you be your self, but also be affected at a soul level. I miss that still though my friends from the MIA live on in my memory, with me here on Shadow Mountain.


Imbolc                                                                         Recovery Moon

Near Seoul, Kate. April, 2016

Near Seoul, Kate. April, 2016

Kate’s above 84 pounds now! The tpn is working and the results are what we expected. We got Kate’s pulmonology appointment rescheduled for this Thursday. Gupta will decide on her fitness for surgery for the j-tube and we’ll get his reading of the ct scan. Potential interstitial lung disease. An important day.

This Thursday she goes on a 14 hours on, 10 hours off schedule with the tpn feeding. They couldn’t go down to 12 and 12 due to the volume of the feeding solution. That will give her 10 hours without the black bag to carry around.

I wish I could report my cold was resolving, but it isn’t. Seems to have slipped over into a sinus infection. Just one more turn of the screw. Oh, well. Major issue. More malaise. This aspect of illness I’d never truly appreciated before. The body needs to devote its energy to fending off the intruders which means it has little left over for daily life. After now having been sick myself for over six weeks (with a brief recovery respite before the cold showed up), I get the burden that Sjogren’s and malnourishment has visited on Kate. I saw it before, of course, but now I get it in my body.

Goya's, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta. Mpls Museum of Art

Goya’s Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta. Mpls Museum of Art

Malaise is a side effect, but it’s damaging, too. Every aspect of living takes more effort. Getting up. Staying up. Walking to the mail box. Cooking. Taking care of the dogs. All done on legs that don’t want to be standing, with arms that don’t want to lift, with hands that ache. In the short term the malaise is good because it signals your body to rest. I’ve got this, but you need to slow down while I fight.

Over a longer duration, six weeks now for me, and months now for Kate, it drags us down mentally. I can’t do the things I love, or only in short bursts, not good enough for, say, painting or writing. Even important self maintenance like cooking can seem too much. When I neglect those sorts of things, I feel bad. And the feeling can soak in, change the inner weather. In this regard I marvel that Kate has been able so often to stay centered, to adjust to the constant malaise, the constant weakness. It requires mental strength, constantly applied.

This painting, my favorite at the MIA and, I discovered, Kaywin Feldman’s too, (Director of the MIA now headed to the National Gallery) shows extreme malaise. The way Goya’s hand grips the sheet, so slightly, his head tilted over, the wan coloration of his skin. Barely visible, even when in the painting’s presence are shadowy figures, look to Arrieta’s right elbow, just over Goya’s left shoulder, are ghostly figures. His ancestors? The dead, whom he felt he might join? Or the sense of evanescence he feels, part way in this world, part way out of it?

But. the malaise and these illnesses will pass, just as they did for the grateful Goya. Someday, sooner I hope, rather than later, I’ll be motoring along at a more usual speed. Able to cook, work, go to CBE occasionally. That’s my future and I look forward to it. But, today. Moving slow, swimming in molasses.