Monthly Archives: July 2010

Reunion in Marfa: part II

And a few more photos:

Donald Judd's milled aluminum boxes in a different light

More Judd sculptures

Another permanent installation at Chinati

Interior of the arena

Reunion in Marfa

Last weekend it was time for the annual reunion of my childhood friends, and this year we convened in Marfa. It was a blast and I’ve got a few stories to share. I’m going to have to do so in bits and pieces, as (ironically following my last post) it would seem that my laptop picked up a virus of its own. At any rate, it’s toast, so I’m poaching moments here and there from Peter and David on their (sigh) yet healthy computers.

For the moment I’m going to put up a few photos and there will be more of those as well as a tale or two to come:

Agave in Bloom

Sky above hangar at Chinati

Donald Judd's milled aluminum boxes

Melinda, Sally, Amy, and Kate taking a break at Chinati

Cancer and cockroaches

In Meredith the mice had been making nocturnal raids again. I placed a  butterfly on my desk (found lying by the roadside) and in the morning the wings were scattered about and mouse turds had been exchanged for the carcass of the insect. Cheeky little beggars. Here in Marfa, it is cockroaches that really want to come inside.

No matter how much effort goes into eradicating these unwelcome pests, they persist. I can’t help but think how similar the situation is to one of cancerous cells, albeit with a very important difference. The mice  (and even the roaches) are not intent on destruction; they simply want what we have (food, shelter, a comfortable life), and help themselves.

I had rather a Eureka moment the other day as I was pondering the nature of disease and its relationship to host. Just as the mice are opportunistic invaders, so are parasites, bacterial infections, viruses and cancer. Each hijacks another’s resources for its own advancement. However, unlike those other pests and pathologies, the fate of an individual cancer is inextricably tied to that of the organism it inhabits. There is no infectious component to the cancer itself (although the onset of some cancers have been demonstrated to correspond to a virus) and therefore no opportunity to transfer to another host. It could be argued that however injurious their presence may be to the body they inhabit; infections, viruses and parasites, like mice and cockroaches, have their own survival as an ultimate goal. Their invasion is really not personal.

Cancer is rather like a suicide bomber though. As each cancer arises within the DNA of an individual organism, it is precisely coded for that organism and that organism only. When the host dies, so does the cancer. Were we to assign a motive to cancer’s reign of terror, it would be total nihilism.

That’s really kind of spooky and certainly not very sympathetic; also frankly impossible not to take personally.

And now I’m going to expand my metaphor. Imagine that your body is a house and the cancer is a cockroach. As I’ve alluded to in an earlier post, sometimes we are cohabiting with mice (or other vermin) and they are so deep within the walls of our residence that we never know they are there. As long as they do no damage, we may remain unaware of their presence for a long, long time.

Should we happen to find a single roach, it will undoubtedly make us uncomfortable and we may take some initial steps toward eviction. However, once it becomes clear that there is a full scale invasion at hand, war will be declared.

There are several possible strategies. Ideally we would figure out how the invaders are gaining admittance to our residence, and block those portals. Much, much smaller than us, they are able to gain access through the tiniest of gaps. It is virtually impossible to identify and close them all. We could also attempt to cut off their food source, but even a high degree of fastidiousness may not be enough. Our house in Marfa, built almost one hundred years ago, had several rooms with the original wallpaper. It had been pasted to the wall using an animal skin glue, and the cockroaches were dining on the ancient adhesive (now that was a nasty job, pulling down that paper).

Roaches multiply at an astoundingly high rate. I had a chat once with an exterminator, and he said that for every roach you see, there are perhaps another hundred hidden in the walls.

The parallels with cancer are fairly obvious:  the most effective solutions are rarely elegant and generally involve harmful chemicals with potentially dangerous side effects. They may not work, and even if they do succeed in eradicating the pest, there is a high probability that it will return. Sound familiar?

Here’s the scoop…

I’m in Marfa, Texas and I’m having a bowl of green tea ice cream.  I arrived here Wednesday evening after an eventful day of travel (more on that in a minute) In the meantime, what have I been doing since that bloody long post? Well, I haven’t been watching the World Cup, but I enlarged a bed of flowers, bid goodbye to David, Pete, Buddy and two hermit crabs on Saturday morning (they were driving out to Marfa ahead of me with a U-Haul trailer in tow), dined with Mary and Raleigh on three different occasions, tried Pastis from Paris and Compari, walked, watched a couple of movies, read a very good and long novel, painted my dining room acid green, worked and worked on a soon-to-be-posted blog about cancer, drove to Boston for two different appointments, and then was picked up at seven a.m. sharp on Wednesday by my neighbor June for a ride to the airport.

On Monday I had exchanged some emails with my friend Brian, who lives with his girlfriend Jennifer in Baltimore. I had discovered that I had a three hour layover in Baltimore. I’d  queried Brian, a former commercial pilot, for advice as to where one might get some fine fast food in the Baltimore Airport.  Our correspondence went like this:

Hmm, fast food?  Bleck.  Protein bars?  Better, but…
What airline?
What time?
Do you like crab cakes?
southwest, arrive at 11:40, depart 3:00, love crab cakes.

When I got off the plane in Baltimore, Brian was there with two hot Maryland crab cakes and all the fixings. What a guy! Almost better yet, he hung out with me until my connecting flight boarded and we had a chance to catch up on a whole bunch of stuff.

On the next leg of the flight I sat next to a fascinating young man (hi Robin). I slept for the first hour or so, but then we began to chat and he made numbers, of all things, come alive for me.  Robin, who is getting an advanced degree in mechanical engineering, might want to become a teacher and I hope he does, because I’m sure he could inspire a love of learning in his students.

Once more short flight and I was in El Paso, where David was waiting with yet another little picnic meal. I was feeling pretty well taken care of at this point. And then we hopped in his truck for the three hour drive to Marfa, where Peter and Buddy were waiting. I saw both some violent thunderstorms as well as a beautiful sunset before I drifted off to sleep again.

The last two days have involved unpacking the U-Haul as well as hitting a few of my favorite Marfa hangouts (Marfa Book Co., Pizza Foundation, Get and Go and the local thrift store). And now it’s time to go make dinner.

And I’m all caught up.

Bloody hot and a bloody long blog as well

Before the ambient temperature rose so very high, I was busy stacking stones and rolling paint; walls inside and out. Both activities are immensely satisfying to me. I love to work and find the rhythm of physical tasks very conducive to thinking.

In fact, I am of the opinion that far too often our conventional institutions encourage passivity when physical labor might be more appropriate. School and prison, which unfortunately share some similar qualities, come immediately to mind. Each involve enforced confinement; the former employs passive listening while the latter primarily mandates non-productive solitude. In the case of students, being truly active (hands on learning) seems far more effective; it certainly would have been so in my case. And if incarceration has not just punishment but also reformation and restitution as its goals, than I should think that being able to work at something and to achieve the satisfaction of completed tasks would foster less resentment as well as ultimately encouraging redemption.

This was but one of the many thoughts going through my head as I dragged stones from the woods for walls I am building around the gardens in the traditional dry stacked method. Our property is crisscrossed by these often precarious looking but in actuality quite durable structures; many have been standing since the civil war. My own walls are modest in scale, but as I heft the granite I feel that I am winking at death. See how alive I am? So strong yet, erecting stone structures, defying mortality!

I was much reassured by the news that my last scan was stable. However, at that same appointment, when Alice examined me she was able to detect wheezing. I’d been aware of it for several weeks. It is a familiar but troubling sensation and although it is possibly benign, I can’t help but feel anxious regarding its presence. I have gone back on prescribed inhalers and have also stepped up my level of physical activity. Fighting back, if you will.

In fact, on Friday David and I went on a little jaunt in the woods that evolved into a five mile hike. We became accidental tourists, as we followed a stream to a path, which crossed a small wooden bridge and culminated at a relic of an old mill. We’d heard rumors of this place, but somehow had never before found it. It was magical and serenely beautiful and now that we know where it is, I’m certain we will go back often.

And then Jemesii and Jamie (and their hamster Prudence) came for a visit, and the fourth of July rolled around.

We celebrated with food, friends and firecrackers ( legal and prevalent in New Hampshire). As we live on the crest of a hill, we were able to see firework displays all up and down the lake. David barbecued spicy shrimp, and Jem made two different types of cupcakes; one savory and one sweet. On Sunday morning, she whipped up a custardy pancake (she’s our little baker).

Suddenly it got really, really hot. Peter delighted in pointing out that the basement, where his quarters are, was a good twenty degrees cooler than the rest of the house. By Monday, the ovens were off and it was salads and iced tea for lunch, take-out sushi for dinner. Sadly, shortly thereafter, it was time for Jem and Jamie to pack up Prudence and hit the road.

Also tucked into the back seat of their car was a portrait that I did of Jemesii many years ago. Recently I decided that I had looked at it long enough, and that it was Jem’s turn now. Prior to their departure, I took a picture of Jemesii in front of the painting (titled Blue Slips and Goblins).

Tuesday the heat got the better of my ambition, and I accomplished little beyond diminishing the stack of  dirty dishes that had been multiplying next to the kitchen sink.

It was a little cooler last night, and I slept the deep and satisfied way I recall from childhood. After coffee on the verandah and some general tidying, I slipped off to the local thrift store, where I generally make both weekly deposits and withdrawals. The misses Betty and Lisa are the proprietors of said establishment, and on this particular morning Lisa asked if I’d like an iced coffee made with organic milk and chocolate. Well, yes I would!  As she handed it to me she whispered “don’t tell the other customers”. Not a chance and by the way, such sweet service!

On my return home I popped into Mary and Raleigh’s, and they were just sitting down to a glass of mint water and Mary’s apple pie, of which I was invited to partake. Things were looking up. I returned home happy and fortified and determined to break my current spell of lethargy by composing a blog. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of hours. However, happy hour seems to have descended yet again, as David has placed a cold margarita into my hands. Probably a good time to sign off on this one.