Friday, June 26, 2015

Inch Sixty-Nine: This House

This house—our house—is a mess.

There is no other way to put it. Between the music festival this week (concerts or rehearsals every night), my health, Warren's schedule without the music festival, and other family (the larger family) matters, there is no time, no energy, no bigger picture, no anything to spare.

Monday night we decamped to a spare bedroom. It is the same bedroom in which I have my writing desk and which was already in a state of—ummmm—disarray before we moved in.

It was in a state of chaos before because I have been purging again: eight bags to Goodwill, personal papers to recycling or shredding. There were still those piles of "do I send this out to Ben (or Sam) now or wait?" and "well, what about that?" Those stacks got hastily shifted to the perimeter of the room when I cleared and made up the bed at 11:00 p.m. Monday night.

Our sudden late night exit was due to the invasion of bedbugs from one of our travels or one of our activities. It was the dermatologist examining Warren who said "have you looked for bedbugs?" We did that night. The good news is that we caught them early; the great news is that the mattress in our bedroom was long overdue for replacement.

The bad news is that we are now strung across two bedrooms since we are sleeping in the spare room but our clothes are in our bedroom.

Well, for that matter, we are also strung across two bathrooms right now too. Warren and his son yanked out the toilet from the little bathroom adjoining our bedroom (it is too small to call a "master bath;" a "master bath closet" is more accurate) because it had been leaking and the floor needs replacing. We might as well paint our bathroom while we are at it. Our toiletries and the shower we use are in the bath closet; the working toilet on the second floor is in the other bathroom, which is conveniently located next to our current bedroom.

The toilet, incidentally, is in the other spare bedroom, along with all the art work from the first floor which came off  the walls last May when we repainted and had new carpet installed before Ben and Alise and Ramona came to visit.

The first floor has its own issues. The whole floor is the staging area for the Symphony's Executive Director and timpanist (i.e., Warren) and last night we filled the living room with the remains of the percussion ensemble's performance. Did I also mention that there are more crotales in this house right now than most major percussion manufacturers keep in warehouses at any given time? And there are Zildjian hats of different colors scattered around as well, courtesy of last night, including the checkered flag one perched on the kitchen table right now.

And let's not forget the bedding which I washed and dried on HOT post bedbug search just in case they had any bright ideas of migrating. It occupies three-quarters of the couch right now.

I am writing this longhand outside on the back deck in the early morning. I like to start my mornings out here when I can, listening to the birds bringing up on the day. From where I sit, I can glance to the right and see the garden. This year's garden is a riot of flowers...and grass and weeds. The flowers are perennials—some wintered over, some established by me in past years—none of which got moved to new beds because of schedules and travels and illness and the fact that Boger's son never brought back his dad's most excellent rototiller and so we did not get the new garden beds dug.  The garden is beautiful if you don't look too closely, but if I don't get some of it cleaned up, the grass and weeds will choke the pathetic tomato plants.

The other beds are hardly any better, although I did finally get the suckers around the ornamental cherry cut back after the robins fledged.

You must also appreciate that to get to the garden from the deck, although it is a short distance, you must navigate past the bagged soil that never got opened and used, the spare cargo trailer that occupies that bulk of the weedy brick patio and that I want Warren to give to his son because I cannot easily reach the garden with it in the way, and the small heap of wood (ends of old boards) that came up from the shed in the backyard and never got used this winter.

E. B. White wrote an essay, "Memorandum," in October 1941 in which he listed all the miscellaneous chores he really needed to do that day, ranging from bringing in the pumpkins to writing a long overdue letter to replacing a broken light in the workshop. White rolls through a lengthy to-do list, then concludes "I've been spending a lot of time here typing, and I see it is four o'clock already and almost dark, so I had better get going. Specially since I ought to get a haircut while I am at it."

I know just how White felt. It is already 6:30 a.m., I need to get showered and dressed, fix breakfast, and get to a half day training session. And I really should take another bag of stuff to Goodwill while I am at it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Inch Sixty-Eight: Out of the Ashes

In some versions of the fairytale Cinderella, as told by the Brothers Grimm and not Walt Disney, the wicked stepmother throws two shovelfuls of lentils into the hearth ashes and commands Cinderella to pick them out if she is to go to the ball. In other versions, it is linseed (flaxseed) that is hurled into the ashes. What is thrown is not important. What is important is that Cinderella is given the impossible task of separating the small beans or seeds from the grit and ashes.

Cinderella cannot complete the task, but she does not have to. Instead, the turtledoves who nest in the tree over her mother's grave and the other birds of the air fly down and quickly peck out the clean from the dirty, the food from the cinders.

I have been back from my trip to the Mayo Clinic for two weeks now. There is still a medical issue to sort out and I still have to sit down with my oncologist at month's end to discuss the next line of treatment. All the same, I have a good idea of where I am at and what lies ahead. The relapses are coming more closely together and the branch I am way out on is getting thinner and cracklier.

I have been sharing the story with those closest to me. At times I tell the tale with a large dash of bravado. Sometimes I tell it more quietly. Sometimes there are tears. Judith reached over and held my hand while I talked. Mel leaned her head against my shoulder. Margo put her arm around me when both of our voices broke.

The one universal response is "what can I/we do to help you?" It is said with fervor, it is said with love, it is said with commitment, it is said in any number of ways, but it is always the same. "What can I do to help you?"

My answer is always the same. Right now, nothing really. But the day will come when Warren and I will need a helping hand or some friendly assistance. And that is when all these wonderful people in my life, the ones already flocking around me, will descend upon my lifer like Cinderella's birds and pick the good of the ashes.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Inch Sixty-Seven: What the Tower Held


When I posted last week, Warren and I were in Rochester, Minnesota, while I underwent a consult at the Mayo Clinic. I had just arranged a tour of the Mayo carillon. I wrote:

Mayo is unique in that it has its own carillon atop the Plummer Building, a 1926 structure with fantastic terra cotta ornamentation. For the unaware, a carillon is a musical instrument (percussion, of course) that has at least 23 tuned bronze bells. It is played by a clavier (keyboard) and clappers, not by swinging like the typical church bell.) While the building was being constructed, William Mayo (one of the two Mayo brothers) went to Belgium and become enraptured of carillons. When he returned to Rochester, he had the architect revise the building plans and add a carillon tower on top. Until 2001, the Plummer Building with its carillon tower was the tallest structure in Rochester. The carillon currently has 56 bells in it.

I have always, always wanted to be up inside a carillon tower. Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago has one, but I have never managed a tour. The Mayo allows tours of its carillon. Needless to say, I was thrilled.


To arrange one, you call the carillonneur (the bell master) directly on his cell phone. What a great small town touch! Jeff was delighted to arrange a tour; he will be playing Thursday morning at 8:30 for the downtown market, and we are meeting at 8:20 in the lobby of the Plummer to climb up into the tower with him. I can't wait.


The carillon tour did not disappoint.

Warren and I arrived early and took a seat in the ornate lobby of the Plummer Building. We had not yet met Jeff, but I was confident we'd know him right away. Sure enough,  a tall, thin man rushed in, broke into a grin, and headed straight towards us. We made some quick introductions and headed up.

To reach the carillon tower, you take the elevator as far up as it will go, then start climbing a tight spiral staircase, identical to ones in lighthouses. As we labored up the spiral stairs, Jeff, who talks rapidly and has a nervous laugh, asked us where we were from.

"Delaware, Ohio," I said and started to add that Delaware was in central Ohio when Jeff broke in and said he knew exactly where it was because he attended his first two years of college at Ohio Wesleyan, our local college. Well! That lead to an exchange between Jeff and Warren of who they knew in common and although Jeff has about a decade of age on me, Warren knew many of the music faculty from the years Jeff attended OWU.

When you get to the top of the spiral staircases, you are in a large room with a work area, a desk areas, and a thing—a generator, perhaps?—that plays the bells on the hours (and, when it is working properly, the quarter hours). Jeff grabbed his organ shoes and we climbed up one final short flight of steps to the top of the world.

A carillon is played by the carillonneur in two ways. The carillonneur plays the pedal board with his feet (think of an organ) and large oak keys called batons with his hands. Playing the batons requires striking them forcefully, not tapping gently. In fact, as I watched Jeff play, I realized that but for my total inability to ever play a keyboard instrument, I would love to play a carillon because you essentially beat on the instrument to get it to sound.


I do mean "beat." Jeff told us that he had taken a long layoff from the carillon while it underwent structural repairs. During that time, his playing calluses softened. When he was once again sat down and started playing, he felt something on the batons. He looked down. There was blood on the batons from his hands breaking open.

Jeff had a 25 minute performance that morning, and we had the run of the carillon tower and the ramparts all around the tower while he played. Here is the view of the rampart and the parapet wall, which wrapped all around the tower.





Except for the lack of Winkies and a bucket of water, I immediately was reminded of Oz and the Wicked Witch's castle. 

Jeff played a wide selection, including "Puttin' on the Ritz." You have not lived until you are high in the sky on the outside of a carillon tower while the carillonneur plays "Puttin' on the Ritz."  (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: this is not a quality video!):


video

Of course, what that brought to mind was this:

  


It was a wild and wonderful time up in the carillon tower. 

Meeting Jeff and spending time hanging out with him in the carillon tower was treat enough for the day. But as it turned out, there was a bonus for me. I've created a character, Cecil Deavers,  in my nascent youth novel.  Mr. Deavers is tall and thin and animated and moves and talks quickly. In exclamation points, for that matter. It is not at all unusual for the writer to create a character based on real people, but I certainly was not expecting to meet one of my characters alive and playing the carillon in Rochester. I did not tell Warren until later, but I found myself watching Jeff extremely closely, storing up impressions of his movements and his personality. 

What did the tower hold? A stunning carillon, a bell master who knew our hometown, and one of my book characters. You can't make up results like that! 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Inch Sixty-Six: On The Road

After our adventure last week in Cleveland, we spent one day back home and then headed out early Sunday to Rochester, Minnesota. We spent Sunday evening in Madison with family, then made our way leisurely to Rochester.

By "leisurely," I mean we drove over via small highways and byways that took us through the small towns of western Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. By "small," I mean a population of a thousand here, of seven hundred there, of another twenty-three hundred ten miles down the road.

In Harpers Ferry, Iowa, a town clinging to the bluffs above the Mississippi, there was a soft-serve ice cream joint built against the bluff. Each end of its parking lot was guarded by a giant ice cream cone. When I see small towns with ice cream shacks, let alone shacks with giant cones, my spirits lift and I hold out hope for America.

Rochester is a company town and company is the Mayo Clinic. Mayo's name and buildings and presence dominate the downtown core. Dominate? Mayo is the core downtown. (To its credit, Mayo appears to take its civic role seriously.)

Mayo is unique in that it has its own carillon atop the Plummer Building, a 1926 structure with fantastic terra cotta ornamentation. For the unaware, a carillon is a musical instrument (percussion, of course) that has at least 23 tuned bronze bells. It is played by a clavier (keyboard) and clappers, not by swinging like the typical church bell.) While the building was being constructed, William Mayo (one of the two Mayo brothers) went to Belgium and become enraptured of carillons. When he returned to Rochester, he had the architect revise the building plans and add a carillon tower on top. Until 2001, the Plummer Building with its carillon tower was the tallest structure in Rochester. The carillon currently has 56 bells in it.

I have always, always wanted to be up inside a carillon tower. Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago has one, but I have never managed a tour. The Mayo allows tours of its carillon. Needless to say, I was thrilled.

To arrange one, you call the carillonneur (the bell master) directly on his cell phone. What a great small town touch! Jeff was delighted to arrange a tour; he will be playing Thursday morning at 8:30 for the downtown market, and we are meeting at 8:20 in the lobby of the Plummer to climb up into the tower with him. I can't wait.

I have a very limited view of Rochester, being that my focus is on the Mayo and not the bigger town. All the same, one sunny afternoon I walked around a neighborhood near the Mayo core. A woman of about my age was in her garden and I stopped to chat. She had been away from her house for a year, thinking she would sell it. Now she had returned and the vegetable garden had gone wild. The asparagus beds were tall and green, the delicate ferny stalks waving to and fro in the breeze. "And my rhubarb," she said. "I don't even recognize it." I didn't either, until I looked at one massive growth against a corner shed and realized I was looking at a rhubarb forest. She was cheerful and good-natured about the garden, telling me how much pleasure she took in being out in the sun, turning the dirt, caging the tomatoes she had just planted. Our exchange made Rochester a little more personal, a little closer to home.

The trip to Rochester is a serious one, coming from my oncologist's suggestion that I would benefit from a consult with a world-class expert institution. Ten and a half years out from my original diagnosis, I am part of a very, very small group of myeloma patients. "Rare" is the phrase my Mayo oncologist used when we met on Tuesday. Warren and I will meet with him again on Friday to discuss the findings of three days of testing, but we have already experienced a heightened awareness of just how far out on the limb I am and how very thin the branch is becoming.

It is a sharp realization.

All the way across western Wisconsin, red-winged blackbirds threaded the fields and perched on the fence posts. Mile after mile, I would see the flash of red on their shoulders. I thought of section V of "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens:

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.   


Section V reminds me of where I am on the cancer spectrum and where I am in my life. The beauty of inflection or the beauty of innuendo?

It will be a long, thoughtful trip back to Delaware.