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.


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.


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.

Time To Go

Samain and the Fallow Moon

The time clock, the early morning sky, has moved Orion further west. He will move below the horizon only to show up later in the Winter night. With the time shift his movement has become more obvious. I’m up at 4:30 still, but Orion knows not of saving time, only moving as the earth turns, all the while, too, rattling around our star, Big Sol, at speed. This timepiece is all we need; if only we could look up, see what we’re looking at.

I’m comfortable with clocks that tell of a broader version of time, a wider one. This is Samain, so we know the world moves toward darkness, cold. The Solstice of Winter. I could live with no clock, riding along with the seasonal changes. That would be fine. I do not need time. We are always in the moment, in a season, in a particular place. Enough.

Though of course others would counter this. How would I know when to zoom with my buddies? How would I make breakfast with Alan at the Lakeshore Cafe? I say I would know the same way the dogs know when to eat, when to get up, when to get their evening meds. I would say the same the way the cows on Bill Schmidt’s farm knew when to be milked. Why confuse all this knowing with long hands and short hands, digital numbers?

Life begins. We do not need to know the time, only the moment of slipping out of the watery world and into the airy one. Life ends. We will not know the time. The artificial measurements all cease to have meaning then. In between the schools, designed with early factories in mind, have bells and clocks and start times and end times. We go there to learn the constrictions, the tyranny of clocks. And, we learn well. Too well if you ask me. But, you do not.

I prefer the liminal spaces, another way of knowing the moment. When dawn breaks through the clouds turn pink over Black Mountain. I thought, oh, blue sky. Sky is male. Blue for boys. The clouds are pink. Does that connect to girls somehow? Couldn’t see it.

Or, as the sky bruises toward evening, twilight falls. Time to slow down, ease into the rest. No one needs a smart watch to know dawn or twilight.

What about the calendar? Easier, probably, to make notches on a tree branch. Day 1. Day 2. Day 43. Day 350. As Emerson said, the days are gods, so the calendar is their temple.

I could celebrate my birthday on the first morning that Orion is fully in the sky. Or on the new moon after the first big freeze. You could choose a marker for yourself. I’d agree with you.

Tradition is just peer pressure from the dead. (a facebook meme) All this fascination with dates and times, years and months, just peer pressure from the dead. We could work out our lives under other methods. Think of the billions who’ve died before us who did just that. It’s possible.

My stomach, for example, has sent a breakfast signal. That growly sound. Think I’ll replace seven o’clock with that growl.


Samain and the Fallow Moon

A fellow MIA docent posted a Navajo rug and it had this explanation of hózhó:

Hózhǫ́ is a foundational concept in the Navajo world, encompassing ideas of beauty, harmony, balance, order, grace, health, and happiness. It is a state of being, thinking, and acting. Navajo artists embody hózhǫ́ as they weave, and textiles are imbued with and become works of hózhǫ́.

Not a human being. No. A human becoming. Becoming with hózhó, with knowing ichi-go ichi-ge as the rich moment, with an ikigai of life as it is, not as we might want or wish it, but as it is, hózhó always. No matter what.

With wabi-sabi as a preferred way of seeing the world. Tarnished often, broken, yes. But even so a Velveteen Rabbit place. Repaired with gold where the cracks are. Walking this ancientrail of becoming which never ends. Walk along with me, friend.

Reading Zornberg on Genesis (see below), The Beginning of Desire. She found this title in a poem fragment from Wallace Stevens, his Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction:

“And not to have is the beginning of desire.
To have what is not is its ancient cycle.
It is desire at the end of winter…

It knows that what it has is what is not
And throws it away like a thing of another time…”

Sat down this morning to read Zornberg, but I printed out this poem, 23 pages long, yesterday. Thought I’d check where her fragment fit in the whole. Wallace Stevens is a giant to me though I know only a few of his poems. He hits me in a place I do not recall exists until I read him.

Anyhow an hour later I looked up. Read the whole thing. Yowzer. Let me repeat that. Yowzer.

A few lines:

The death of one god is the death of all.

Phoebus was a name for something that never could be named.

…the future casts and throws his stars around the floor

There was a myth before the myth began, Venerable and articulate and complete

The bear, the ponderous cinnamon, snarls in his mountain At summer thunder…

Stevens kept throwing in beautiful lines filled with the horror of nothingness and whether the Supreme Fiction can counter it. I’ve got to read it several more times. But, wow. This poem is something. It’s apparently considered his master work and I can see why.

Reading it reminded me that reading poetry, ancient texts, philosophy has a sustenance all its own. A castle of temporary meanings lodged in stony rooms, waiting for a visitor. Part of life now. Not what’s next. But, now.

Hózhó in this once in a lifetime moment and the next one, a wabi-sabi vision sufficient for ikigai.


Samain and the Fallow Moon

Saturday. Worked out. Getting back to six days a week. Three cardio. Three cardio plus resistance. Tough to pull off with the scattering of doctor appointments on our calendar, but I’m getting there.

Weakness is still an issue. Is it the lupron? The COPD? Stress? I’m not moving up on my weights, but I’m accepting that. It will come back.

Realized had I not had my Achilles tendon rupture repaired and my arthritic knee replaced, it would not be possible to exercise now. At least not at the level I’m used to. Made me think about the downstream consequences of decisions made long ago. Smoking was another one. Drinking, too. Two marriages, then, at last, Kate. Seminary.

Made garlic and herb pork tenderloin last night. Oven fried potatoes and lemon/garlic green beans. My cooking skills are improving. Having Kate as a consultant gives me backup.

Oh. yeah. DST. Gone. Thank god. Except. We have dogs. I get up at 4:30 am to feed them. 4:30 is now 3:30 to them. Need to wait, gradually introduce them to the new time. Grrr.

Snow still on the ground. I imagine there will be more mitigation opportunities before winter fully sets in. The white Rav4, Ivory, has snow tires on now. Will put snowshoes on Ruby, maybe after Thanksgiving. She has good tread on her all-seasons and AWD. Works well.

Four Elements

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Just realized something else. Wildfire = fire. Mountain streams and snowpack = water. Shadow Mountain = earth. 8,800 feet above sea level = air. This is an elemental location, Black Mountain Drive and its surrounding peaks and towns.