Thursday, March 6, 2014

Romance Studies: Memory Lane Repost

This was published a year ago, and is one of those pieces that has the germs of several good short stories scattered about -- so many fine characters, such unique situations.  But mostly it serves as a reminder of the importance of friends, in all the classifications and confusions inherent to those relationships.  From demanding divas to mealy-mouthed geniuses, make the time to swipe a bandanna stained with their salty sweat, or maybe a sweater as soft to the skin as that friend was to your fragility, in some truck stop before dawn.
Just don't take anything that they need.  Or divulge what you all pinkie-swore to protect as private.

Faust poster, Milan, 1863

Hello, Dear Readers!

I've been quiet here, but pretty darned loud, elsewhere.  The mapping coordinates of my new "elsewhere"?  Ha!  What do you think I am, gullible?  Excuse me one moment, la Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore calls -- she is down with The Crud, from which Fred and I are just now escaping, and the poor child needs fresh, microwaved arboreal rice heating packs, wrapped in the organic flannel of my favorite old shirt. Apparently there is no softer organic flannel in the world... than my favorite... old... beloved... shirt.

It's over-sized, not being really mine. Over-sized soft things are perfect for CRPSers.  And, until The Milanese Nightingale made me wash it ten times straight,then douse it with Snuggles laundry softener, it still smelled like the man I "borrowed" it from.  Okay, so some people leave relationships with pre-fabricated legal divisions, half of the children, the beach house but not the in-town condo.  I leave with pieces of favored fashion -- in this case, Matthew's well-worn plaid organic cotton shirt.

Matthew vies with Brother-Units Grader Boob and TW for Total Sweetness Quotient.  No offense to TW, but as I recall, he is on the normal side of height, and no offense to Grader Boob, all of six feet and four, but if Matt didn't slouch, he topped The Boob by another good four inches.  And while years of grading have added girth to The Boob, Matt is genetically determined to skeletal aspirations. Also, he forgets to eat.

Matt had no love relationship with me.  He may have secretly hated me, but I'm pretty sure that'd be both beyond his capabilities and just not the case, being unwarranted.  So how dare I have stolen his long, soft, well-worn organic cotton blue plaid shirt?

Okay, and a V-neck sweater, baby blue.  That's it.  I swear.

Well, I had a huge crush on him, of course.

Matthew mumbles.  Probably not now, as he's established as a biggie in the academic world, is a father and a husband -- to a strong, beautiful woman who just wouldn't tolerate mumbling if that mumbling were controllable.  She's also a doctor, and so I think Matthew gets a Mumbling Pass due to some mild condition, maybe an oral deformity of some kind, or larynx liabilities.  Cathy wouldn't spend her life with a Mumbler-By-Choice.

Cathy was there when I met Matt, fell head over heels for Matt, and knew, as did I, the complete impossibility of my infatuation.  I liked her a lot.  Smart, calm, swift, pretty, private.

The thing is, you get used to it, Matt's mumbles.  Also, he garners a few benefits from this minor affliction.  People shut up when he speaks, the better to hear him.  And thank the Lord above, he doesn't waste the opportunity with a bunch of yaddayadda.  Unfortunately, the Devil on his broad shoulders has him convinced that he can tell a good joke.  Ay.  Oy.  The Devil double dogged him, too, as Matt thought he played a decent hand of poker.  We wagered match sticks, poverty-stricken academics that we were.

Matt hosted prodigious dinners, always themed by color.  White dinners were good, and pretty easy to digest.  Orange dinners called for antacids.

Those broad shoulders.  That beautiful long black hair, always one day late for a shampoo, in a pony tail.  Speckled with grey back then, probably all grey now, though I hope not.  A bodacious beard, neatly trimmed.

No butt, but legs from here to there.  I never saw him on a bed that didn't look like a fun house set up, his knees usually marking the end of the mattress, his honker feet hanging in the air. Unfortunately, unless Cathy was there to shape the spoon, he liked to spread out in sleep, no curling up, no tucking of those grandaddy long legs.

I met him at my first campus Amnesty International chapter meeting. New to the Gothic Wonderland, I wanted some activities outside the scintillating world of Romance Studies, something I think anyone could understand.

Romance studies is an umbrella academic discipline that covers the study of the languages, literatures, and cultures of areas that speak a Romance language. Romance studies departments usually include the study of Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. Additional languages of study include Catalan and Romanian, among others.
Romance studies departments differ from single- or two-language departments in that they attempt to break down the barriers in scholarship among the various languages, through interdisciplinary or comparative work. These departments differ from Romance language departments in that they place a heavier emphasis on connections between language and literature, on one hand, and culture, history, and politics on the other hand.
Because most places in Latin America speak a Romance language, Latin America is also studied in Romance studies departments. As a result, non-Romance languages in use in Latin America, such as Quechua, are sometimes also taught in Romance studies departments.

For some reason, I remember one moment with the intricacy of a sharply focused journalistic photograph.  There were five us crammed inside the car of our recently deceased boss -- she was killed in a car accident while vacationing in Portugal, and we inherited her car, her overwrought, shrill coven, and her tribe of feral cats.

Along with her life, the semester had just ended and we had an unmet grading deadline or something -- for some reason, we were frantic to get to the Languages Building, do whatever it was needed doing, pile back in the car, and be on our own way to vacation, which, if I recall correctly, was a Latin American studies conference in New Orleans.  We were flying in our own booze, being universally broke.

The campus was empty, bereft of rich kids, void of harried profs, a sucking vacuum free of administrative types -- though somewhere was a woman tapping her long, well-kept fingernails on the thin veneer of a big desk, waiting, waiting, waiting for those Romance Studies ne'er-do-wells who owed her a printout of grades.  Tap tap tap.

So being stopped by a campus cop was not helpful.  The Dead Boss' parking decal was out-of-date and no way were we going to be allowed to park in front of the bleeping chapel, just a hop, a skip, and a frantic sprint from the Languages Building.  Please note:  there were maybe four cars in sight and there was no way Mr. Campus Cop could know about the vodka bottle leaking on my underwear in the baggage crammed inside Dead Boss Lady's trunk.  Not that my drunk underwear should keep us from parking in front of the chapel but some people are judgmental.

Clearly, Campus Cop was bored, and we were the cure.

"So, where are y'all heading in such a hurry, anyway?" he asked, leaning into my space through the open window.

Like trained seals, we answered as one:  "205 Languages Building..." after which our chorus broke down into cacophonous parts of differing lengths and stresses.

I said, " that we can finish some important business for the Dean."
Alice said, "...'cause we gotta empty our mailboxes."
Alejandro added the ever useful "and we got schtuff to do!"
Scott, whom few managed to understand, tossed off a friendly "...and we have to deconstruct Calderón's historical adaptations of..."
And dear Valérie, a Phys Ed grad student from France, summed it all up with: "I have the besoin, the growing need, to use the Romance Studies' salle de bains... You must let us pass, you flic, you feuk...

Before Valérie's full bladder led her to further announcements in verlan, we regained our choral strength and declared, in striking unison, "We're faculty with Romance Studies!"

He pulled his considerable girth out of the car window, stood up straight, one hand on the radio clipped to his belt, right where one would expect a gun, and chuckled.

"Y'all are messed up.  You want me to believe they teach romance here?"

Anyway, it went on and on, we weren't able to get Valérie to shush, and it wasn't all that funny.  I can't even manage a "you had to be there!" -- because what was more memorable was how time froze and I saw the place for the first time in years.  Maybe because it was empty, maybe because we were driving a dead friend's car, anxious to get away from her coven mates, her feral cats, our grief.  Maybe because I could hear tunes in my head, mixed by a mean DJ -- "a winter's day.." and "Monday, monday, monday..." and various Jim Croce tunes, the most oft repeated being "I've got a name, I've got a name..."

The sky was grey, the trees and dead leaves were of no color at all.

Dana, our dead boss, had begun the transition from Romance Studies to Primatology, which makes a sort of sense.  The nattering of lemurs.

Matthew's clothing smelled like work.  Like his stories of raking cranberries in Wisconsin, harvesting blueberries in Maine.  Like his waking just minutes before his classes were to begin, dunking his head in water, shaking off excess with the vigor of a damp dog, running out the door in the same clothes he slept in.  A plaid blue shirt, covered by a misshapen baby blue v-neck pullover.  He taught philosophy and was finishing his dissertation, and saw brilliance in most every student he met.

He's the one to whom I gave the canvas, the huge canvas, that bore the explanation of my near death experience on the cliff -- do you remember, Dear Reader?  It doesn't matter, really.  What matters is that he is the one whose understanding I valued the most.  He hung it in his office, despite the fact that much of the "paint," not being paint at all, began to fall off the ill-prepared painting surface -- the gold hair foam, for instance, and some of the kaopectate.  It would have held up better kept horizontal, flat.

Matt and I shared something else, that we, in turn, kind of kept under wraps -- our attempt to help a battered woman that I'd met while in the hospital.  It helped that Matt was so tall and broad, the prominence of his skeleton hidden by the bulk of shirt, sweater, and a weird black raincoat.  But she couldn't leave, wouldn't leave, despite our two trips to free her.

There was a custom in Matt's house, one that I picked up, of welcoming visitors who tend to stay, on average, for three years.  So always have a house with a porch, and hang on to the hammocks you collect, because they're perfect for 3-year visitors -- who will all be, I can assure you, Buddhists.  I don't know why.

Our battered woman was an evangelical Christian who still loved the man who had left old scars and new welts on her back from his predilection for belts with big metal buckles.  When I was helping her pack during our first visit, she packed several of those belts and cowboy buckles, rolling them up to save room, her hands lingering on the leather with a soft passion.

Matthew always loved Cathy;  Cathy loved no one but Matt.  But, and this is the one area in which we all snickered at Philosophy Boy, he did not believe in monogamy.  Despite remaining monogamous after meeting Cathy, if you don't count the sex he had with other women. They managed marriage after I left that scene, but I would love to have heard the reasonable conversations that had to have taken place.

Oops, Bianca is yelling -- to me, a sign of recovery and hope for a rapid cure for her beleaguered voice, her operatic instrument -- for another "hot flannel." Another bit of Matt, cut into strips, then basted together to make pockets for the arboreal rice The Castafiore insists upon as the best heat-retaining rice.

Believe it or not, Gounod's Faust is on the schedule at The Met, beginning Thursday, March 21, with the final production on 5 April.  It's been envisioned in a setting that encompasses our most recent World Wars, which I think suits the story well.  Bianca is cast as first understudy to Marguerite, Marina Poplavskaya.

Most importantly, not only will the Milanese Nightingale enjoy a fine time in New York City, but we will be free of Marguerite's Jewel Song for weeks, possibly even a month should the show tour...

It's expensive business, opera.  I just checked the cost of an orchestra seat, specifically Row Q, Seat 111 -- $235.  But "day of" standing room tickets go for between $17 and $40.  You'd have to really love Gounod to stand through 3+ hours of his Faust.

What's that?

The sweater?  Well, the night that Marmy Fluffy Butt decided to give birth to five kittens, though she quit in exasperation after four, leaving Fred to birth little Dobby, I grabbed the first, warmest, softest thing I could find, and that was Matthew's sweater.  The kittens, no offense to Marmy, seemed to love the sweater more than her own unreliable fluff, and so the sweater was donated to the cause.  When they finally were weaned and confident enough to travel any-and-every where, I retrieved it, washed it.  But the clawed holes and stains were permanent, as were my memories of my marble-mouthed philosopher friend, so I threw it away.

Well, she's launched into what might be considered a scream, so I'd best be going.  Please support The Met in this newly envisioned version of Gounod's Faust... as we would be both proud and just plain old ecstatic were it to hit the road in May for say, a six month university tour.  Yes, we'd miss Bianca's help during ManorFest 2013, when she's usually anchor to the night Rescue Squad that retrieves lost Maze Runners.  And I know the Manor Staff would regret not having her here to wax both the marble and the wood steps to our many magnificent stairs.  But as it is for the greater good, we will pull together and get by.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

CRPS Update

I should let you, Dear Readers, know upfront that this is an update on the personal level -- although I've been doing a fair amount of reading "in the field," the reading is mostly above my head or personal interest stories.  Why share that with you when I can bitch and moan on my own?

Remember the fundamental principle here at Marlinspike Hall:  Whose blog is it, anyway?

Since life switched from our Renaissance King-sized bed to my single hospital contraption, decorated with an understated trapeze attachment in matte black, I've been in a steady decline.  Well, it's not much of a leap to needing to ask for a hospital bed to that assumption, eh?

Not that my Purple Prose Gratitude Journal is getting fat with loopy handwritten entries, but I will admit that when my body goes into spastic mode, the understated trapeze attachment softly jingles and jangles, calling up memories of one of my favorite Southern Tête de Hergé's front porches and its many gentle wind chimes. Those same spaz attacks bring waves of desire for the blueberry moonshine that also rise up in memory of that ivy-covered porch.  Ahem.

Many is the time I've sworn that it is the spasms that will one day make me paper my body with Fentanyl patches and mix up a chocolate pudding laced with lethal doses of a dozen sweet drugs.  If I did not think that a peaty single malt would make me lose the pudding, it'd replace blueberry shine as my favorite strong drink.

Ah, ha ha, just joshing.

In any event, I've now become the Manor Resident who grabs sleep where she can, and that usually is long after dawn.  This is something I intend to change, and soon, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.  Tomorrow may also see me pitching in to help the Genetically Indentured Manor Staff, as so many have taken vacation time to warmer climes.  A little vacuuming, mopping, laundry, poofing and fluffing never hurt anyone.

Fevers are up about a degree and I blame those mo'fos for my general decline.  A febrile state makes for great melodrama (Oy! I am burning up, as if in the very flames of Hell, and so on, and so forth) and laziness (Is that cat hair clinging to my electrostatic hospital bed rails?  Ew, gross.  SOMEONE should do a bit of dusting around here, damn it!).

But, fevers also are truly... tiring.  Mostly the parts where they're going up, and the parts where they're going back down.  The steady heat is not bad.  Kind of energizing, even.

CRPS is not causing the heat waves, of course, it's the untreatable osteomyelitis, perhaps a touch of lupus. And yet, CRPS so hates to be excluded, and so tends to get nasty during a persistent fever.  So it's spazspazspaz and burning neuropathic pain married to the deep ache of the bones.

I've mentioned before, or hope I have, that I employ more than a bucket load of drugs to handle these things. Heck, I got me a graduate degree at Berkeley, so you know I turn a quick eye to all that is alternative, complementary, or adjunctive therapy.  What works best is ice... until those medical sadists, the Physical Therapist Gangs, beat it into my head that cold is bad, bad, bad, wrong, wrong, wrong.  So I moved on, but how many times can you watch repeats of Downton Abbey?  So I began an incisive, lighthearted study and practice of mindfulness.

The initial forays into mindfulness for CRPS led to anaphylactic shock until my mentors made an adjustment and removed any references to the "happy place."  Once that was taken care of, it turned out to be pretty simple.

You don't run away from the pain.  Like a cat, and some dogs, you circle three times, wiggle your butt a little, and curl up smack dab in the middle of that pain.  There you stay until you're through it.  You don't speak much about it, beyond what may be necessary.  But you snuggle into it, stare at it, see it, observe it. Thank G_d, you don't analyze it (until pressured by such asshats as physicians).

For long term and unending severe pain, like mine, you mix in the occasional distraction, and that would be best defined as whatever works at the moment.  Mahjong, when played in a zen state, can be very effective. The vogue of marathon reruns of classic television might fit like a glove one day, and repulse the next. Law and Order SVU, for example, has no usefulness any longer in mindlessness/mindfulness sessions, whereas the Criminal Intent version, or the early original shows -- the variety pack -- are entertaining.

When mindless mindfulness is flat out denied by a pouting, infantile CRPS patient, that's when such an ingrate should opt for a comedy genre (literary or televised/streamed) or the infallible humor of felines.  Being fussed at by Marmy Fluffy Butt because you dared shift her tiny frame a few centimeters gets a belly laugh every time.  Dobby in a box is hysterical.  Buddy the Maine Coon cracks a person up just by facial expression. And all three have extensive nursing backgrounds.  A kitty massage is a better soporific than anything Big Pharma can dream up.

Music requires a careful touch.  The mp3 player yields mysterious tunes in shuffle mode, sometimes so eerily reflective of one's severe pain that it's simply not a decent option.  Unless, of course, you need to cry and have not been able to produce tears, either due to the constant dehydration from the constant fever, or due to the aridity of my heart.

Most of the time, though, music is a great aid to treating pain, especially in those 20-35 minute periods before the breakthrough meds kick in.  Also, when the dark is terrifying -- you know, when the threat of dawn edges into the window pane and you think: "No, not again, not another night of no sleep."  Then you must make yourself circle thrice, settle in, and call up Nina Simone and Eric Clapton, certain bits of Neil Young, ending with the Brett Dennen of around 2004.  That's this week's menu.  Last week saw more of the Decemberists, my beloved John Hartford, and the Wainwright family, Loudon, Martha, and Rufus.  I am finding great focus for my pain in Johnny Cash's American Recordings and the very sweet beginnings of Bonnie Raitt, from a very sweet album recorded in her parents' garage, with their supremely sweet jazz musician friends.  She sounds so wavery and young, so un-twangy, that knowing every bit of her later sounds is enough to make me weep.

I'm undergoing a good many variations in the CRPS experience, feeling stuff that I thought would never return, rapid cycling from red to deep purple, cold to hot, electric strikes that produce yips of howls. The everpresent, though, is what makes "suicidal ideation" something to ridicule.  The deep, deep pain, the burning bones that are somehow also ice. The "movement disorder" -- but we've covered that.

On the up-side, I have lost most of my decrepit fingernails and the regrowth seems healthier.

Where did I put that Purple Prose Gratitude Journal?

As for how it's going, breaking in my new Obamacare doctors -- last Thursday, I met the doctor who will be my Primary Care.  She put together a hasty Problem List.  I decided CRPS should top it, and so mentioned it first.

Blank look.

Okay, so I reverted to "RSD" and before I could unpack it, she said, hand waving in the air, "Oh, I know. Something Sympathetic Something."

I shot her a bright smile. "Right!"

And when they gave me their efficient printout record of our brief initial alliance, I saw that my primary problem was "CLPS." Fred giggled.

Sorry, loves, but I have to go.  I feel a need for Townes Van Zandt.  twitchtwitchtwitch.  I think I hear his clunky cowboy boots out on the Front Porch... and the gentle call of windchimes.

© 2013 L. Ryan