Old Undies, New Year

December 31, 2009

So, I guess it’s me and every other blogger writing our new year’s resolutions about now. My resolutions below are few, and deeply shallow, but I hope achievable:

1) Go dancing more often. I didn’t dance much as a young thing because I thought I was really crap at it. But now that I’m nearly of an age where women are invisible to most of the population a) it doesn’t matter if I’m crap or not and b) I don’t care whether I’m crap or not.

2) Dress up more in fancy dress, sparkles, OTT makeup, wigs and super-high heels. This may well happen in conjunction with resolution #1.

3) Stop having my hair dyed a dark colour.  There are two reasons for this: a) because dark dyes may be connected to some cancers and b) because I think I’m losing some pigment and my skin really doesn’t suit deep colours anymore. The problem is, how to do it, and what to aim for? Do I want to look like Pixie Geldof or Emmy Lou Harris’? After a bit of an internet search I think this is very elegant, what do you think?

4) Go back to Iyengar yoga, because although I dread going, and I hate it while I’m there, I feel great afterwards.

5) Buy better quality underwear. I mean, I’m technically rich now, I’m earning more than the average wage for the first time in my life, so perhaps my undies can reflect this, instead of looking like something you might use to apply the furniture polish with.

5) Ditch the Liptons & Dilmar teabags and only drink nice tea, like the Morning Red from T2 that I’m sipping now.  I’m worth it.

6) Cultivate some straight friends. Why are nearly all my good friends queer? It’s embarrassing, because when I have parties or dinners I’ll do a guest list thinking “Oooh, Adam & Will will really like Suzanne & Tracy, and I haven’t seen Grant & Andrew for a while, and Margie & Julia have to come”, and then they all turn up and it looks like I’ve organised Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride. Where to find these elusive heterosexuals though? Suggestions or applications welcome.

December 31, 2009

Top Ten Moments of 2009
Tagged by Kerryn Goldsworthy

I couldn’t narrow it down to ten…

  1. Supported two teenage girls through a year filled with break-ups, drug problems (not theirs), all-night assignments, jobs, & various emotional dramas. We still all like each other!
  2. Lived by myself overseas for three months: discovered I enjoy my own company very much.
  3. In Bangkok saw a gender-reassignment operation up close & in shockingly unhygienic conditions. I didn’t faint or vomit (but am still processing what to do with that experience).
  4. Published two books—Cosmetic Surgery: A Feminist Primer and Trunk Volume One: HAIR—both collaborations with brilliant friends
  5. Saw my little brother Dorian marry his long time love Laura
  6. Made one new friend
  7. Gave my first keynote address at a conference; nobody booed
  8. Dressed up and went dancing with y and Della
  9. Got my first (maybe last?) academic promotion
  10. Visited Cressida and David in Edmonton, Alberta, to welcome their darling new son Solomon Danger
  11. Had lots of fun with little Griff & fell more in love with him every minute we were together
  12. Got closer and closer to my gentle husband
  13. Got really good at cooking vegetarian middle eastern feasts, then spending Sunday afternoons devouring them
  14. Kept alive a personable domestic rat way past his use by date and an ageing pug who is losing her hearing
  15. Turned the backyard into a mini urban farm with two laying Ilsa Browns (Buffy & Willow) and a productive veggie patch

An inheritance

December 15, 2009

One of my Nannas, aged 90, has recently gone to live in a nursing home. She’s very healthy and sound, despite having had two hip replacements and a bladder cancer (successfully treated) in the past year or so. She couldn’t take a lot with her, although her room is quite big, so most of her stuff has been divided up between her four sons, their wives and children and grandchildren (amongst the things that Nanna chose to have with her at the nursing home are her own father’s baby clothes, tiny garments in perfect condition).

Today the truck bringing the things destined for me and Ruby arrived from Melbourne. This evening I have taken possession of: a round oak table, circa 1910, with two leaves and a winder; a four-drawer dressing table with a bevelled, tilting mirror, circa 1940, its drawers lined with newspaper from 1988 and one containing half a roll of Mentos.

Also, a grey rabbit-fur coat, ¾ length and lined in silver satin, protected by an ancient linen housecoat (it’s as if the coat is wearing a shirt); a rust-coloured fox-fur coat; a brown rabbit-fur stole; several towels—all smaller than towels you get nowadays—coloured apricot, orange, pale rose, fuschia, salmon and lemon; two single-bed woollen blankets that have only been used twice, when my grandmother’s sister visited from England; a single-bed quilt made of patchwork hezagons, stitched in a tiny hand, made of recycled fabrics—florals and ginghams and plains—in shades of mustard, sienna, amber and bronze.

These smaller items were packed in a wooden travelling trunk that Nanna brought on the ship to Australia from England just after the war. Lined in canvas, it has a lift-out top compartment, strong leather handles and the initials “G. J.” hand-painted in matte black on the front (Gabriel is my family’s Jewish name, Jones is our Anglo one). Inside was tucked this label, I’m guessing from the shop where Nanna and Pop bought the trunk in Liverpool:

I think the trunk is beautiful, with its wooden ribs and brass rivets, but Nanna clearly didn’t agree because she’s gone to some trouble to disguise it as a seat. She’s made a fitted & padded damask cover for it, printed with purple roses and cornflowers. This cover smells the most of Nanna of any of the things that have arrived. Musk, lavender, moth balls, talcum powder… it puts me straight into her bedroom where the pale carpet is soft, where a tiny bowl of porcelain roses sits on the dressing table next to the creamy bakerlite & silver hairbrush, where the lace curtains are never opened and where the temperature is two degrees cooler than the rest of the world.

Sensible hypochondria and the Elvis woman

December 11, 2009

Last week, just after I got back from holiday, I felt a tiny lump in my armpit—in that strange border between pit and breast. It was spherical and it hurt. For those two reasons I was pretty sure it was nothing to worry about: cancers aren’t usually round (but cysts are) and cancers don’t usually hurt (but swollen glands do).  I had also done a rather gruesome yoga class on Tuesday night that had left me with sore arms and shoulders, so I thought it might be something to do with that.

Nevertheless, off I went to my GP for a referral, then off I went to have an ultrasound. Since my cancer treatment in 2006 this must be the fifth or sixth time I’ve found something suspicious and needed an ultrasound—these are in addition to my yearly mammograms and check-ups. My GP always says that my hypochondria is sensible—that’s obviously a contradiction—but it’s one I enjoy being permitted.

Having an ultrasound is a funny business, surrounded by distinct actions and movements and feelings that I forget from one time to the next. Mostly there is this panicky, sickly worry that there might be something there:

What if I need surgery? Will I have to cancel Chrismas? What if I have to have chemo again? Would I keep going to work this time or take sick leave, now that I have the luxury of tenure? What if it’s incurable? Death scene—don’t go there—fast forward to funeral. What music should play? I’d love Cold Chisel’s ‘Flame Trees’ but is it too cheesy?—perhaps I should have classical?—no, I’ll have ‘Flame Trees’, after all it is my funeral.  I’d better get my will fixed up, and there’s still that unfinished student film in the cupboard—I’ve got to make the soundtrack. Oh rats, I don’t want to die before I’m a grandmother or a professor, hell, even before I’ve had a sabbatical, noooooo…..

Then there’s the inevitable search around the house for the last ultrasound films, so the doctors can compare and contrast. I usually find them under the bed. They have to be dusted off and then carried, flapping in the wind, to Newtown on the bus. When you’re burdened with those big white envelopes that don’t fit into any bag everyone knows where you’re off to. You get smiles from strangers.

On the journey things get out of whack: cars and people and bikes all seem like they’re going at slower speeds than me. Also, colours become dull, almost grey. I sit on the 423 bus and wonder how many of my fellow passengers have cancers they don’t know about, how many of them have diabetes or heart disease, how many might be about to have a stroke, how many of them might have gangrenous legs hidden under their nice slacks… it’s oddly comforting.

In the waiting room at 100 Carillon Avenue, surrounded by people with goiters and gangrene and oxygen masks and in wheelchairs, but mostly people like me who look perfectly healthy, I watch the three receptionists working the phones and the counter. One is only about 20, she’s African-Australian with long cornrows and high black and white patent heels; one is middle-aged, very olive-skinned and pretty; and one is blonde and voluptuous but strangely unattractive—perhaps it’s because of her thick kabuki-style foundation. They juggle the ringing phones, the strutting doctors, the frowning technicians, the freaking-out or exhausted patients: it’s like a dance. Then there’s a sudden lull. The phones stop ringing, the queues disappear. All three of them immediately put their heads down to do paperwork. But the glass doors slide open and in saunters a big woman in three-quarter length cut off jeans, black converse sneakers, a black Lesbians on the Loose tee-shirt. Her hair is peroxided and spiky, she wears studded wristbands. Positioning herself, legs an inverted V and hands held in pistol grips, she intones ‘Hello ladies’ in an Elvis drawl. They all look up and smile as she does a quick dance that says ‘Who do I go to?’ The three of them, laughing, wave their arms and yell ‘Choose me, no, choose me!’ In less than ten seconds she is processed and they’re all back at work.

In the cool darkness of the ultrasound room the technician murmurs, concentrating on her green screen, that my lump is nothing but a bit of scar tissue, maybe a tiny swollen gland, maybe a ‘ridge’. As I step out into the Sydney humidity I’m back in sync with the world—cars travel at their normal speeds and the colours are all sharp again. I dig my sunnies out of my bag, breathe in the fumes and the frangipani, and float across Missenden road to Campos for a quick espresso before going in to work.

Still getting sand out of my undies

December 4, 2009

Meredith Jones & Griffin Parker

I’ve been away from the blogosphere, even away from email and facebook and twitter… staying for a week in Tathra, a little seaside town on the south coast of New South Wales, about an eight-hour drive from Sydney. I thought about leaving the laptop and mobile at home, having a ‘proper break’ away from technology to commune with nature and all that, but I ended up packing them, unable to detach. Then, horror, there was no reception at our holiday house! To even get my phone messages I had to strump up to the top of the hill, Sailor puffing at my side, and stand on a little tussock between the police station (a locked portable shed) and Big Al’s Restaurant (an old house, once the Harbour Master’s), holding the phone aloft.

Without the internet my computer was like a big old scallop shell — closed and useless — a dumb white plastic thing. Speaking of bi-valves, gee we ate a lot of oysters. We ended up buying three dozen one day in our greediness for their metallic deliciousness and we ate about 26 of them.  The others languished on the cool bathroom floor for a few days until we took them down to the beach and set them free in a rockpool. I wonder if oysters can reattach, or did we murder them?

We saw whales (I think Southern Rights) flicking and frolicking not far offshore and an echidna and a pair of grey kangaroos.

The Tathra op shop is highly recommended. I bought a jar of carrot marmalade made by Betty McIntyre and a woollen pinstriped waistcoat made for a very small man so it looks good on me. The shop is run by a group of older men gossiping with cups of tea and practically giving things away (‘take it home and try it on, if it fits drop the money in tomorrow’ — heh?)

The Tathra annual Christmas fete was on. A proper fat bearded Anglo Father Christmas greeted us (call me racist and ageist but skinny Indian international students don’t cut it as Santa) with sweeties. The hall was filled with ladies in silly bonnets selling homemade Christmas puddings. I think Margaret Whitlam was there, unless it was her six-foot-one cheery doppelganger.

I loved being with my husband and our best friends and their little boy (who is also ours in a way as my husband is his father). I would have happily stayed on holiday longer, much longer, playing with the little guy on the sand and taking walks with my friends and being asleep by nine. But that aside, I missed my layers of virtualness. I missed my buddies on facebook: the ones I’ve only met once or twice, at a dinner or a gallery opening somewhere; the ones I had love affairs with more than twenty years ago but haven’t seen now in person for a very long time; the ones I’ve never met at all. I’m used to operating on multiple levels now. I honestly don’t think I would have lost anything from the holiday had I been emailing or facebooking or texting as well as swimming and surfing (well, splashing in the shallows with a blow up lilo) and reading Wolf Hall (only 50 pages to go and boy is it good).

What am I saying? Just that I’m glad to be back in my own version of augmented reality — complete with my own layers of virtuality, my own constant communications, my own webs of meaning and connection — they’re part of me now.

3.30am Saturday

November 15, 2009

I cleverly invented a Summer cooling pick-me-up today: ice, espresso and tonic (I liked it, nobody else in my household did). I drank several of these blackish concoctions. Now I’m wide awake. All is still in Marrickville but one confused bird is calling outside. I’ve flushed five slugs down the toilet. The teenagers are still out. I’ve tried to wake Sailor up to play with me but she’s not having a bar of it; she’s asleep with her eyes open. Can you guess which one of these lovelies is her? A prize for the first correct answer, family members can’t play.

Darth-PugCartman-SailorSailor in Grass

Ten things I love and hate about my cancer

November 12, 2009

Remission sounds like you’re just waiting for it to come back. I only say I’m in remission if I’m milking someone for sympathy, hehehe. But, technically, my cancer is in remission. I’m in remission. In 19 months, if nothing changes, I’ll be officially cured.

One of my oncologists, a spunky young Vietnamese-Australian, accidentally used the word ‘cured’ a few months ago. I’d asked him what he liked about the job and he’d replied that it was great to be in a research-intense area that was in constant development and change (‘not like gynaecology’, he said). He told me he liked dealing with ‘people who are cured like you’. Cured. I froze when he used that word. I felt clear and still, like a TV that’s been staticky for ages and is suddenly fixed.

I knew that his more experienced superiors would never have made such a slip. Because until five years have passed I’m only in remission. At half a decade ‘cured’ kicks in. Five years is the magic marker: five years cancer-free gives me the same statistical chance of another cancer happening as anyone else my age. The first two years post-diagnosis are the most dangerous for recurrence. But some women find a growth in lungs or liver three, or four, or four and a half years after their breast cancer has been treated.

Meredith Jones

This was taken mid-chemo, about August of 2006, before I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes.

Richard and I were on the Marrickville 423 bus last night coming home from a quick eggplant curry at Kammadhenu. A couple of real oldies were in the front seat. He had pure-white neatly trimmed hair and was terribly bent over and slow. She was tiny and spry with hands twisted into arthritic forms hard as branches. As they struggled down the stairs of the bus & turned stiffly to thank the young driver I whispered to Richard

‘I want to get that old’.

‘You will’ he said ‘with your genes’.

And I nearly said ‘but what about with my cancer?’ but I didn’t.

My genes are pretty good: my Nannas are both still alive with all their marbles, one is 89 the other is 90. My mother, in her 60s, is in just about perfect health. Perhaps the cancer was a blip — caused by plastic containers or diesel fumes or a virus or just bad luck — in an otherwise blessedly healthy body.

Anyway, enough blah blah, on to the purpose of this post: ten things I love/hate about my cancer.

1. I love that it helped me cull half a dozen of what my Nanna would call ‘fairweather friends’.  Bye bye fuckers, you know who you are.

2. I hate that the tamoxifen makes me grow uterine polyps that have to be scraped out every 18 months or so, although I love the general anaesthetics, especially the pre-ops. One anaesthetist, a big rich-sounding white South African, said as he injected me ‘This will feel like a glass of white wine on a Summer’s day in the South of France’. It was true.

3. I love that the tamoxifen is wondrously blocking that pesky oestrogen from feeding more cancer.

4. I hate the panic that sets in — like I’ve swallowed concrete — whenever I think I feel a new lump, get breathless, lose weight (without trying to) or have a pain in the small of my back.

5. I love that my true women friends came to the party while I was having treatment. Sitting for hours with me in the Royal Prince Alfred chemo ward (Deborah & Tracy you stars); buying brandy and holding my hair out of the way while I was vomiting (Zoe); madly offering to pay for limos to and from the chemo treatments (Lesley you treasure), and flying from London just to Be With (Julia).

6. I love/hate that some people are a bit scared of me now.

7. I hate that I’ve lost my sense of being invulnerable — I’m now permanently aware that life is a series of suspensions of disbelief around the fact that we’ll all be dead rather soon.

8. I love that occasionally I forget about point seven, above, and experience a glorious feeling of lightness.

9. I hate that this might happen to my daughter. This point was very hard to write. It’s actually the unmentionable.

10. I love that I’m still here because none of the alternatives, from oblivion to golden angels, are really my cup of tea.

Love & Work

November 10, 2009

Soooooo…. at last, a shiny new blog.

The title is from an Emily Dickinson poem. I’m sure you know it: Because I Could Not Stop for Death. I chose it because of how it expresses stasis & momentum tugging at each other. This poem makes me want to sit still & just wait for the end, almost comatose, but also rush about do-do-doing stuff. Both reactions occur because I’m reminded that one day I will be (we will all be) in that rolling carriage, the one that holds only us and Death himself. Morbid, true, worth keeping in mind. But in the meantime we have lives to perform, other beings to love, and work to do.

Sigmund Freud, riddled with cancer of the mouth & jaw (cigars!), said Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness. In this carriage-blog I will write about work & love… perhaps about how they’re intertwined, especially in art. But I’ll also write about fun, play and laziness. And hatred, only occasionally (I am VERY mild-mannered but three times in my life I have experienced prolonged, passionate hatred and wished someone dead… and, well, it wasn’t pretty).

I’ll put glittery, beautiful things & fascinating people & creatures in here (watch out for yourself). It’s highly likely that I’ll write about beauty, glamour, fashion, body parts and bodily fluids (watch out for yourself).

I’m putting Marrickvillia out to pasture, officially, although I will still visit her often.

Sarsaparilla, vessel of many joyful blogging moments, has eventually died of technological complications after a long illness.  You can still hear her ghost at Pandora.

Hitch a ride here anytime — RSS-feed, bookmark, blogroll, comment, and please return.