Monday, February 23, 2009
1. I'm a prolific sneezer. 2. I'm known for butchering song lyrics. 3. My first love, at the age of three, was a boy named Andrew.
There has been the usual backlash to all this talk of self, of course. One such liberation list, 25 Random Things about Me, circulated from friend to tagged friend at lightning speed, swiftly taking Facebook by storm, and set off a thundering response of both criticism and applause. Hijacking its users with an urgency to come up with a list of tasty, entertaining morsels about themselves, the 25 Things phenomenon spawned a massive outpouring of self-vetting. My life is really a little better since I discovered Ambien. I lost my virginity on the beach, but I don’t really recommend it. Water, sand and not knowing what you’re doing is not necessarily a good combination, despite what you may think after seeing “From Here to Eternity.” Mix in a little self-flagellation, self-deprecation, and self-celebration, and you’ve got an interesting brew of stuff wafting about, waiting to be inhaled, drunk down, and circulated all over again. It’s a bit like the old party game Truth or Dare, except no one can blame the warm beer in the keg anymore for their overzealous candor.
The original 25 Things list has generated an imaginative crop of new lists and games to consider, from 15 Transformative Albums to Sweet Memory Share and One Word Answers (or “Yet Another Way of Spending Time on FB”). But none of them have garnered as much harsh criticism as the 25 Things About Me lists, which have been trashed by some as being “self-indulgent” and “silly.” In reality, the material put out by these amateur writers often proves to be far more witty, amusing and interesting than much of what is out there on the professional circuit.
Why all the fuss? What, exactly, is wrong with partaking in the 25 Things exercise?
Despite what the t-shirt at despair.com says (I don’t even want to know one random thing about you), it seems odd to me that this culture, punch-drunk and empty-headed on the artificial sweeteners of celebrity cocktails, would find fault with something that actually has some heft to it—as besotted as we’ve become with reality TV shows and the quest for our own 15 minutes of fame, we too hunger for the face to face, the genuine clasp of connection and community, the tether and trust of true friendship in a world that both isolates and scatters us. As well, we’re eager to find our voice, be heard, understood, accepted, unlock our throat chakras, say hey. What better way than to reach out to your friends with some self-illuminating details, and an invitation for them to do the same? I want to know more about you, so I’m going to tell you something about me so you’ll feel more compelled to share something about you, and then, unless we’ve shared too much and suddenly feel uncomfortable with each other, we’ll feel closer! Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work? That’s healthy, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure that’s what I was taught growing up as the best way to make friends, deepen relationships, and feel a little less alone. Of course, depending on what you’re sharing, you could send some people running in the other direction—not always a bad thing, either.
Perhaps Tom Daschle could have benefited from the chance to write his own 25 Things You May or May Not Know About Me list. He could have gotten it all out in the open, saved his butt. 1. I'm allergic to bees. 2. I sucked my thumb until I was six. 3. Didn't pay $34,000 in income taxes, oops. 4. Favorite movie actress: Divine. Is he even on Facebook? Did we forget to tag him?
Facebook, like all successful, invasive species, has been skewered and spoofed by everyone, it seems. This, from idiotsofants.com and BBC’s The Wall: a hilarious look at what would happen if Facebook were actually played out in real life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrlSkU0TFLs
Our local morning DJ was recently heralding the fun to be had on Facebook. He made a distinction between his real friends as his “fake friends” on Facebook, and touted the etiquette inherent in such fallacious amity: why not allow anyone at all to be your friend on FB, since they’re not going to be your “real” friend anyway?
I, for one, would like to promote the finer points of quality over quantity as far as FB friends go. Somehow, I’ve amassed a group of FB friends that knit together circles of friends from high school, college, travels (however limited they’ve been), and my current community, with family members and the assorted former acquaintances who have become friends through our FB connection—it’s a lovely bunch, all very “real”, and nothing faux about them, and I do think they’d do most anything for me if I needed them to, not the least of which would be to write up 25 Things about themselves that I might not have known. Some of the connections I’ve made on Facebook have reminded me of the unexpected delight at making new friends at reunions with people I might not have known way back when or run across otherwise. There are friendships, always, to be mined.
I find the 25 Things exercise compelling, humorous, fun. I enjoy reading what my friends have chosen to drum up about themselves. It’s a self-vetting exercise as much as a therapeutic one—and an example of self-editing at its finest: just what does your 25 Things about Me list really says about you? Some lists are hilarious, some brutally honest, some quite eloquently pieced together, while others are impressive for their scope as much as for their simplicity. Some read like those annual Christmas letters, with emphatic exclamation points at the end of each sentence, while others read like a packing list of what to bring on this journey; some are so familiar that I could have written them for myself, while others seem a wee bit strange to me. But all of them offer opportunities to get to know people a little bit more in a way that we aren’t always afforded in our fast-paced, bustling world that leaves little time for saying anything beyond hey.
Remember Slam Books? I don’t think these 25 Things About Me lists are so very different from those notebooks full of questions and columns that we’d pass around in elementary and junior high school, asking for opinions on music, movies, celebrities, lip gloss flavors, and the most popular query: who do you think is the cutest boy in sixth grade? The pretense was the same: Hey, I think you’re interesting, so could you please tell me a few of your favorite things? I want to find out more about you, so I’ll tell you more about myself to get the ball rolling. It was a cooperative, community exploration of collective common ground, a way to belong, to try to measure up against the grain of normalcy that seemed to be a requirement for survival back then. Of course, Slam Books were really designed to find out who liked you, and Facebook is a little more grown-up than that. If Slam Books were declarations of our similarities, the 25 Things lists are revelations of our differences. But there are some lists out there that read more like Slam Books than anything else. Despite the suggestion that your responses might re-cast you as an oddball, “44 Odd Things about You” asks some pretty mundane, Slam Bookish questions: How many dogs do you have? What’s your favorite color? Candy? Book? And the clincher: Does someone have a crush on you?
It seems that the bottom line is the same: to stay sane with the three C’s: To feel Connected, Capable, and as if you Count (even, I suppose, if you don’t).
I don’t know about you, but I miss my old friends. The whole Facebook experience—and the I share-you share dynamic that has so successfully dominated the airspace as of late—seems like a great attempt at recreating those late night gab fests with a really good friend, when you’d share just about anything and everything, swap secrets, divulge hidden crushes, weaknesses, fears, addictions, triumphs. It’s infinitely harder not to keep up with each other’s lives the way we did when we went to high school or college together, and we’d stretch dinners into two hour exercises in procrastination and mastication, talk long into the night, get sufficiently soused to reach deep into our lock boxes, and spill…Those were the days when we did know those 25 things about each other—and a whole lot more. And now we’ve scattered, settled all over the map, had some kids, moved about, tried to grow up, and we don’t see each other as often as we’d like.
It’s a lucky person indeed who still enjoys the immediacy and intimacy of the tight-knit circle of close friends the way we did, who truly feels that they live in community with others. Facebook is nearly genius for the way it has brought us all together again in overlapping circles, and now, with our lists, in Venn Diagrams. The intimacy may be contrived, but the immediacy is there, with instant updates, wall-to-wall messaging, and the zillion other playful ways you can interact with, entertain, and good-naturedly annoy your friends. What’s remarkable is how Facebook facilitates the opportunity to share the details of our lives no matter how far apart we may live. We can post photos of our families, share links, compare favorite movies and music, play games with each other across oceans and continents, poke and be poked. There’s no substitute for getting together with your friends live and in person, but it’s impossible to do, and those reunions once every five years are wonderful but heart-breaking in their infrequency. Facebook fills in the time and distance, yanking together the torn seams of Pangaea, and providing us with ample reasons to waste more time in front of a screen. But the sense of community, however odd, feels real, and works like a charm when you really need it to.
Just before Christmas, our dog suffered a long night of frightening, non-stop seizures. After being shot up with valium and injected with Phenobarbital over and over again, Daisy finally relaxed into a sedated lump of exhaustion, and we were finally able to take her home. I went on Facebook immediately and posted an S.O.S. of sorts, hoping that I wouldn’t have to keep her sedated for too long, hoping that someone out there might know of some alternative treatments. An old high school friend saw it and forwarded it to a friend of hers, who just happens to be a certified pet expert, columnist for the New York Post, author of several books, yadda yadda. This woman responded to my note immediately, offering help, and over the course of the next several days, generously dispensed ideas and advice and support as if she was a close neighbor or old friend herself. I was very grateful. And as for Facebook, for making it possible? Brilliant, I say, brilliant.
Lev Grossman, in his Nerd World bit in the February 23rd issue of Time magazine, declared that “Facebook Is for Old People”, that is clearly better formatted and suited for those of who can benefit from its more obvious vehicles for self-promotion (“There is very little that old people enjoy more than forcing others to pay attention to pictures of their children. Facebook is the most efficient engine ever devised for this.”), social and business networking (“What’s the point of networking with people who can’t hire you?”), that it’s a great remedy for memory loss (“Facebook never forgets.”) Grossman, who doesn’t really look old enough in his half-face corner photo to be worried about memory loss, but he argues well the finer points of being able to access your friends without having to remember their e-mail addresses: “We’re too old to remember e-mail addresses. You have to understand: we have spent decades drinking diet soda out of aluminum cans. That stuff catches up with you. We can’t remember friends’ e-mail addresses. We can barely remember their names.”
Despite being a bit ravaged by memory loss this past year myself, I know that I’m not quite there yet, but I can appreciate what’s to come, and I’m awfully glad for Facebook’s clutch cyber-memory tools. I’ve tried to convince my mother to join Facebook, but the busy-ness of it is overwhelming, the risk of having her personal details (or God-forbid, her identity!) stolen by non-Friends or faux Friends or posers too great, and the notion of joining an online social networking group started by a mere man-child too strange.
Perhaps Grossman’s 10 reasons why “Facebook is for old fogies” will convince her.
We do like making lists, though, don’t we? Think David Letterman’s Top Ten Lists. Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Albums of the Decade. Time’s Short List. Their 25 People to Blame (for the economic mess we’re in). And our daily attempt at creating order out of chaos: Things to Do Today (hate that list). The 25 List no doubt came from some other list, and of course, was responsible for inspiring many others, which spread like a blistering
I’ve come up with some lists I’ve thought about initiating on Facebook:
Top 25 Grossest Things about me
Top 25 Stupidest Things I’ve ever done
25 Things I Don’t Like About Myself
Top 25 Lays (my, aren’t we prolific)
Top 25 Biggest Buggers about Getting Old(er)
Of course, one has to be careful about what the quantifier “Top” might suggest about oneself: that maybe there are 100 Gross Things about yourself, and what follows is a list of the carefully culled most-gross ones. Ewww.
And finally, as an adjunct to our homeschooling project of nearly the same name, 25 Traits I’ve Inherited (and Some I Have Not). Ring finger is longer than pointer finger. Widow’s peak. Propensity for worrying about lots of stupid stuff. Am not a Vulcan. Never did get any wisdom teeth. I figure that could mean one of two things: 1. that I’m just a little more evolved than all you poor saps who have to have your wisdom teeth painfully extracted OR 2. I’m a FOOL. You get the idea.
I’ve started to write a few different 25 Things lists. It feels, oddly enough, good for my soul. Some day I’ll share them on the blog. I’ve found it difficult, though, to match the brevity of the task, and well, you know me, I just seem to go on and on…there are stories that need to be told, explanations to accompany those concise little statements about self so I don’t appear to be too odd. After all these years, could it be that I’m still trying to stay on the normal side of the curve?
For now, though, I’m content to ponder this t-shirt slogan from the hilarious site www.despair.com:
More people have read this t-shirt
THAN YOUR BLOG
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I've been remiss in posting; apologies. Life has pulled me in many different directions this winter--doesn't it always? And despite scribbling madly and frequently in the many composition notebooks that inhabit my personal space (bedside table, car, pocketbook), I've been a bit preoccupied and have not quite been able to sweep away the clutter, tune out the distractions, and put thoughts down here. It's been mostly the usual--the incessant demands of the domestic front, homeschooling, kids, winter coughs and Daisy's boo-boos--with the twist of the unusual thrown in, just to keep me on my toes--getting on with the whole body reconstruction, and wondering, worrying, and finally getting to the bottom of my nodule-infested thyroid.
But I am here. And I'm certainly okay. I don't want anyone to think I've grabbed the keys, hopped in the car, and sped away, never to come back, or locked myself in the root cellar, flushed myself down the toilet, or fallen into a time portal, only to be whisked away into another dimension, unable to extricate myself from a flipbook of epoch encounters that have left me stranded on the beach with John Locke and Sawyer on the metaphysical island in Lost. There are times when I feel quite stranded, when I feel that I might as well flush myself down the toilet, or when I would love to find a time portal and escape, if only for a few hours, out of the here and now and into another space and time, but I haven't gone off the deep end just yet. Truth is, I've been trying to get out and enjoy winter, train for the 3-day, keep the kids on track, stay afloat, and try, try to remember to give the dog her phenobarbital and take my Tamoxifen, and not the other way around. Most days, there is time for only so much--take a nap or go for a walk or write or unload the damn dishwasher and drive the kids to the gym. The dishwasher and the kids usually win out. I do wish there was time for it all. Some day, perhaps, but not now.
About two months ago, my dear neighbor, friend, and nurse-midwife felt something on the left side of my thyroid. She has a good touch. I knew I should not ignore it. I took it to my new primary care doc, who recommended an ultrasound and started saying things like, "Well, given your history, we need to make sure it's not cancer." Bah! My history? Oh yeah, I had a history now. Bah! The mere possibility of having to deal with more cancer quickly and deftly infiltrated the little force field that I had set up to shield me from further assaults. I was amazed at how powerfully and quickly the urge to shout NO at the top of my lungs rose, at how much I wanted to deflect all of it, level the doctor with a left hook, and grab the keys... But I didn't, of course. I swallowed the NO, pushed it down deep into my throat, where it joined the countless other unspoken urges that simmer and whisper there, huddled masses, ghosts of despair. Eventually it made its way into my head, where it has remained all these weeks caught in an endless loop, No, No more cancer, No more cancer...
Two days before Christmas, I went in for the ultrasound, and asked the technician to show me her findings: nodules, it seems, had grown all over the place, nothing huge, but there they were, all lit up and outlined in fluorescent colors, like flecks of neon gold at the bottom of a dusty river. My doctor called to leave me a message. "Nothing really terrible," he said, "but we need to get the bigger nodules checked out." The poor guy had no idea how absolutely loaded his words were. Nodules? Nothing terrible? Uh-huh. The last time I had heard those words it was in response to the nodule the mammogram had just found in my left breast. We've found a nodule in your left breast--nothing terrible, but we'll need to biopsy it. I suppose nothing terrible can be terribly relative.
It took a while for me to get into see the endocrinologist, but when I did, three weeks ago, I easily explained away all the classic symptoms of thyroid malfunction. Fatigue? Sure, but who isn't tired? Insomnia? Well, every now and then, but that's been happening ever since I had kids and nursed my babies through the night. Cold extremities? Uh-huh. Runs in the family, and plus, I'm tall. Tingling in the hands? Yeah, and I've got a tremor, too, but I've had that forever, and there's some nerve impingement in my chest and shoulders, so... You get the idea. It was far too easy to blame my symptoms on being 43, on the Tamoxifen, on the stresses of the past year. But uncertain functionality aside, there was this problematic structural issue to resolve first. The docs made it clear that thyroid nodules are not like those found in the breasts. And the odds, it seemed, were clearly in my favor. Yep, I've heard that before, too. In any case, for whatever reason my thyroid has grown some pesky nodules this past year, there are two larger than the 1 centimeter-sized ones that are deemed safe but worthy of keeping an eye on that would need to be biopsied. Oh goody, I love biopsies. Shit.
The procedure didn't sound all that bad, really, and even when the doctors were explaining all the different kinds of thyroid cancer, they made the most common form and its treatment sound fairly simple: surgery to remove the thyroid (almost no scarring!), a little swab of radioactive iodine therapy, daily medication to replace the hormones your thyroid would have been generating, and voila! Cancer-free! Hmm. Cake. Yeah, but no thanks.
But you know, I didn't really want to go there, didn't really need to hear all the catastrophic forms of thyroid cancer that actually kill people, didn't really need to put any of that on my radar or in my head or into the hands of the fear that had been rising steadily since the ultrasound. Still don't. Come on already. Am I not done yet?
I'm not ready for a crash course on the thyroid, but maybe I should be: it seems that much of the breakthrough medicine that has set the medical world abuzz centers on the poor thyroid, which seems to take the brunt of aging amidst all the endocrine-disruptors and other environmental-wolves-in sheep's-clothing (ie, plastics, fire retardants, etc) that bring it on in new and disturbing ways. It's not a big surprise, then, that my thyroid is showing a little wear and tear. By some estimates, more than half of adults have somehow grown pesky nodules on their thyroids, yet another symptom of how toxic our environment has become, and how stressed out all of us are.
A little over a week ago, I went in for the biopsy. The procedure itself wasn't really a big deal--after experiencing a nipple construction, nothing seems to be much of a big deal anymore--and at this point, I'm convinced I can handle pretty much anything. I wore my one brave chick shirt (thank you, Kate). I put on my smile of steely resolve, Yes I can (thank you, Mr. President). I asked my mother to drive me to my appointment (thank you, Mom), and Dominick to keep her company (thank you, Dom). And I wished, oh how I wished, that I could ditch it all, blow it off, skip class, bag the needles and instead, take a long walk in the balmy sunshine that was melting the snow in melodious rivulets of rushing water.
A couple of bandaids later, I was ready to receive my discharge instructions: 1. take it easy for a couple of days. Milk it for all it's worth, he said. Uh-huh. That'll go over big in my house. 2. ice my neck a bag of frozen peas works best and take some Tylenol; it'll be a bit swollen and sore and 3. do something for myself: eat some ice cream, drink some wine, and eat some chocolate today, he suggested, just be sure to treat yourself. Chocolate, yes. Chocolate I will eat. It's so great when your doctor not only gives you permission to eat it but orders you to eat it, isn't it? Here, Harry, have a chocolate frog. It'll make you feel better. Thanks, Professor Lupin!
It was a long week. As much as I tried to keep them at bay, the uncertainties rose and swelled and fell like ocean waves during a vicious storm, knocking me off my feet, inhabiting my dreams, plunging me into a battle of wits and nerve. My acupuncturist loaned me a wonderful book written by a local woman who relates her "sudden awakening" and liberation from the fear that had gripped her for so many years and the resultant joyful calm When Fear Falls Away. There was much I took with me into the wait, but this bit below helped me remove the clutch of hands from my throat, try to breathe in each moment that presented itself, and hold on instead to the joys that ribboned through my days, like psychedelic eels that shine and glow in beautiful colors at the very bottom of the darkest seas.
No More Ache, November 5 (Jan Frazier)
"The poet Linda Pastan writes, "The world wounds us with its beauty." how this idea used to run through me like a knife: Time was always running, running out. Mortality was the dark underside of every loveliness, every pleasure. I could not look at the beautiful world without feeling its terrible brevity. I could not touch my tongue to life without tasting death. The dread of death was what fueled my poetry. I could not bear pure joy. It was as if the direct encounter with perfection might obliterate me like an infuriated god, if I failed to pay obeisance, if I did not lower my head to the feet of the inevitability of loss.
"Whatever made me think I needed the threat of annihilation to make me love, to wake me up? I thought the specter of time running out would press me to live, to stop wasting time.
"Now it is no longer so. Now the lovely sky takes me into it, blue by day, black by night. The loveliness of the sky is forever. I am forever. I no longer hold back from loving it: I will not lose it. I am the sky. Joy is unbroken, unbreakable. There is no more poignance, no more ache. It is only that I have to contain myself. When I am alone I crack with joy. I am a little child, a dog leaping, spinning in circles. Can't get enough. I don't have to stuff myself: there is no shortage. Time is a lie, a big fat lie, and death too."
Of course, when I first read this, I wondered just what the heck this woman was smoking, and how could I get my hands on some. Good pow pow will do that. But really, I think she's on to something. And she's so lucky to have found it. I haven't always been as lucky or successful--the grip of fear is menacing at times, and the joy, well, those eels are slippery, man. And they hide out sometimes, and you have to know where to look for them: close your eyes, and they're gone. It's the same game: keep eyes and heart open to the possibilities, rely not on hope for something else or something better but on the possibility of finding the joy in the here and now, in the always, even if the wings of despair are beating you down, even if the joy hides on the bottom, like psychedelic eels, or fluorescent thyroid nodules lighting up the ultrasound screen. It's in the not waiting for the threat of annihilation, for being pressed by the specter of time, before you let yourself unravel--don't wait. Just go.
The week passed, and I was grateful for the distractions of my children, who always pull me back into the present moment, and a weekend trip to Boston, which offered up a chance to breathe in the brisk sunshine and city vibe at the same time. The uncertainty of Wednesday inched closer, and despite my best efforts to not allow it to enter into my consciousness, it found me in my sleep, spilling into my dreams as ill-disguised nightmares. It seemed the horrors of the past year had begun to seep through the seams of that well-hewn lock box where I stuffed most of the deep, deep ache, the phantasms of fear, the destructive thought patterns and other mementos from the perilous journey.
But to hell with no sleep--Wednesday had arrived and I was relieved. Finally. It had been two months, way too long. So when the nurse called to tell me the results were not yet in, that I would have to wait a little longer, I was a little horrified, and disappointed, but not totally surprised. My mother was already on the way; she'd come over the trail to be with me, but now would keep going east to see a friend in Boston. The ladies from Moldova were coming to help me clean, and Dominick wasn't feeling well; I'd be able to spend the morning with him and Luke, scrub the kitchen, find a zillion things to lose myself in, maybe find time for a walk outside later in the afternoon. We had a day, after all, to walk through, to breathe in, to do.
The nurse's call in the late afternoon took me by surprise; as eager as I was to weave it into my consciousness and be done with it, I had almost forgotten this loose thread in my head. The results were in, she said, could you come in tomorrow morning? I felt the stab of urgency in my chest as I tried to gauge the tone in her voice. Nada. Can't you please tell me the results now, I pleaded, over the phone? No, we don't do that, I'm sorry. Can't you tell me anything? Anything at all? I could hear a split second of hesitation on her end, and then: Well, you should sleep well tonight. Thank you, thank you, thank you. That's all I needed to hear.
We agreed that I would come in the next morning to get the results. I hung up the phone and sobbed, just a quick release of a very palpable relief that rose suddenly and quickly, overtaking me for a few seconds, and then, vanished. As it turned out, I had too much time to think about what she had said, and started to play ridiculous, dangerous games in my head. Hmmm, I wondered, what if her idea of good news was completely different than mine? Maybe she figured I was expecting the worst, and so would be relieved, happy even, to hear that I didn't have the really deadly form of thyroid cancer, just the easy-to-treat, remove the thyroid, and voila! kind that nobody died from. Maybe she was just saying that to shut me up. But could she do that? Could she really do that? I told you--ridiculous, but there it was, all wrapped up in a ball that was bouncing about non-stop in my head. Boing, boing, boing. Bah!
Despite knowing, deep down, that all was okay, I found myself quaking in my seat as I waited for the doc to show up. Chill the f*#% out, I kept telling myself, but the shakes continued, and for a short twist in time, I was my dog, Daisy, waiting to get her nails clipped at the vet's: eyes searching for reassurance, body visibly shaking, straining on the lead to go. There were two pharmaceutical sales reps waiting for him across the hall, so when he did arrive, he was as antsy and impatient as a little boy trying not to wet his pants. He showed me the pathology report, and I should have requested a copy, because why save only the bad ones? This one was nice and short, to the point: both nodules were BENIGN, in capital letters. And that's all it said. And that's all I needed to hear, to see. I tried to ask the doc a few questions about thyroid function in general, but I could see that he was eager to 1. get his pen back that I had borrowed to write a quick note down to myself about my TSH levels and 2. check in with his drug company buddies across the way, so I said thank you and told him I would see him in another year. Who knows? Maybe they were waiting with a lovely spread for lunch, or a big fat bonus check, or a couple of plane tickets to the Bahamas. Maybe he'd prescribed so many of their superstar drugs that they were inducting him into the hall of fame. I know, I know. How cynical of me. But I couldn't help feel that the system, for all its breathtakingly executed surgical and pharmacological miracles, doesn't always serve our better, wiser selves, and our deeper, broader sense of wellness, that the incentives for doctors to prescribe certain medicines--the "chemo" bonuses, for instance--compromises the very "art of medicine" that such rewards should be celebrating.
But that's another post. For now, it's enough to know that this time, my voice was heard.
No more cancer! Yahooooo!