Poetry Break: Ono No Komachi

This body

grown fragile, floating,

a reed cut from its roots…

If a stream would ask me

to follow, I’d go, I think.

(From The Ink Dark Moon, translated by Jane Hirschfield and Mariko Aratani)


My Life on Lupus: My First Acupuncture

Imagine this cotton ball is the top of my head.

Dear God, I’m a slow blogger. I’ve just figured out that I’ve posted exactly zero entries for July 2015. All those witty observations and enlightened ruminations I meant to put into blog form (I swear!) tragically never made it onto the computer, and I feel kinda crappy about that. What kind of writer am I if I’m not constantly bombarding the Interwebs with evidence of my existence?

(Yeah, don’t answer that, anybody. Especially certain arrogant representations of certain iconic authors, in action-figure form, currently sitting on my bookshelf.)

Granted, I have been through about a month of trying new meds, flaking out on them, and recovering from the flake-out. Which brings me to today, and this very post about acupuncture and Me Trying It Out. You see, after the fourth medication that amped up my anxiety to the point where I was constantly thinking about how I was going to die, I decided that perhaps I ought to try something for the pain in my hands and feet that didn’t involve changing my body chemistry. (Actually, most of my new meds of recent weeks have been for my exciting, recently diagnosed esssential tremor, but we’ll set that fact aside for the moment.) And since I’m a bit leery of massage therapy after a blood clot grew in my head right above a spot in my neck that a massage therapist in Iowa had earlier pinched the hell out of, I decided to try acupuncture. Other reasons for giving acupuncture a go: 1) I’ve been stuck with so many needles in 17 years that the needle fear center of my brain has withered away to nothing; 2) a few weeks back, when I got an EMG test to see how the nerves in my feet were doing, the doctors gave me little electric shocks through tiny acupuncture-like needles, and after the initial jolt of pain the zapping kinda felt good; and 3) I desperately want someone else to rub or press or stab away the pain in my body.

So this morning, I went to an appointment that I thought would be a regular old intake session but was, in fact, my first foray into Chinese medicine. Two rounds of needles: one with me face down, the other with me lying on my back. A heated bio mat was involved, as well as an eye pillow, which might have been more relaxing than the needles themselves. One thing that struck me as odd was that there wasn’t a lot of activity involved with the process. When you get a massage, obviously the massage therapist is there in the room with you, constantly oiling you down and manipulating your various muscles. With the needle treatment, the acupuncturist sticks you in a few places and leaves the room–I guess because the needles themselves are supposed to be doing all the work.

And it does feel like something was done to my body, something more than the penetration of my skin with sharp metal threads. The sensation is sort of like someone took certain of my muscles on a long marathon. Very specific areas of my body feel energized and sore at the same time. There have also been little itches and twitches throughout the day, little pricks of pain, like my whole body is in the process of bubbling. I don’t know how else to describe it, and I don’t know what the sensations mean. I don’t know what I’m going to feel like tomorrow. Maybe that’s the real point of the process: bringing the present into focus, so you can be mindful of your true reality.

I hope tomorrow I feel a tiny smidge better.

When Winter Comes…: The Death of John Keats, February 23, 1821

The house Keats died in, 194 years ago today.

I love to read the Romantic poets in the springtime. For all their faults (and the prejudices of those who boosted their work after their deaths), these six guys really knew how to convey the fleshy, hopeful energy of the growth season. My absolute favorite of the bunch, at least from a biographical perspective, is Keats, a working-class genius who died in Italy at the age of 25. He’d been suffering from TB for three years, and he’d made the trip to Rome because he and his friends didn’t think he’d make it through the winter in England. Keats died far from home in a tiny, melancholy room near the Spanish Steps. It’s a beautiful place, although I’m not sure he had any windows from which he could appreciate the view.

I think I’m drawn so much to Keats’s work in part because he lived with illness (rather than just dying from it) and because he always expresses an overwhelming sensitivity to how little time we truly have on this earth. Here’s the first stanza from one of his longer works, Endymion. Most have never read it in its entirety (not even me), but you’ve got to admit, with a first stanza like this you don’t really need any more poem afterward.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Update on Jan Hooks: There Is No Update

It’s been two and a half weeks since Jan Hooks, SNL superstar and amazing actress and comedian, died of an “undisclosed illness.” Every day since her death, I’ve put off writing this follow-up post. I wanted to wait until someone gave the world some kind of statement on what sort of illness she struggled with, why she seemed heavier in recent years, why her face looked puffy and a little misshapen. (All my links to sources with pictures are here, in my original post.) I guessed her changing looks might have been due to corticosteroid use, possibly related to a chronic illness, but that was pure speculation on my part. I’ve been anxiously awaiting a statement from a reliable source that provides a little more information. At the very least, I want to make sure I correct myself if, in my rush to fill a gap in the public knowledge of the situation, I’ve pulled something completely out of my ass.

Two-and-half-weeks later, however, we the total strangers interested in Hooks’s life and death still have no answers. I’m guessing, too, that we’re not going to get any answers anytime soon. The only news outlet I can find that’s commented on Hooks’s cause of death has been the Daily Mail in the UK, which published this article on October 10th claiming that Hooks had cancer. However, no other media outlet seems to be running with this story. Recently, for example, several reports covering Tina Fey’s tribute to Hooks at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards either don’t mention a cause of death or cite the ambiguous “undisclosed illness.” (In their coverage of Fey’s remarks, Yahoo TV does manage to straddle the line between knowing and not knowing: “While the cause of [Hooks’s] death has yet to be disclosed, it’s believed she died from cancer.”) This hesitation might be because of the fact that the Daily Mail is not known for its trustworthy reporting. (I happen to know that popular humor website Cracked.com will not accept the Daily Mail as source material in its article pitches. That’s right: professional purveyors of dick and boob jokes think the Daily Mail is beneath their editorial standards.)

So what’s with all the silence? I couldn’t say, but I’m not going to press the issue. Illness and death are hard topics in and of themselves. I don’t want to put pressure on a grieving family, who owes me nothing, just because I happen to be curious about a famous family member’s medical history. Jan Hooks died young. For now, that will have to be that.

There are also plenty of other things about Hooks’s life and career to talk about. One major issue that Fey brought up: why didn’t Hooks have a bigger career? (Fey’s exact words were: “Jan deserved a big movie career. Certainly as big as Rob Schneider’s f—ing career. She was a bigger star on ‘SNL.'”) Did Hooks run into problems as a female performer? Did her anxiety and stage fright become too overwhelming? (Okay, I know, I’m back on the medical speculation. But anxiety’s another big deal in my life, and once again I’m curious about how Hooks coped.) Did Hooks’s changing appearance contribute to her fading into the background in the entertainment industry? Why did looks even matter, when she kicked so much ass as Jenna Maroney’s mother, Verna, on “30 Rock”? Doesn’t it suck that we now live in a world without Jan Hooks, Gilda Radner, and Joan Rivers? And Robin Williams and Phil Hartman? Come on, Grim Reaper, give us a break. We need all the laughs we can get these days.

Anyway, here’s a funny, funny clip from Hooks’s days at SNL. I had no idea she had a Kathie Lee Gifford in her repertoire. Also interesting to see how much things have changed since the 1980s–and how much they haven’t. Enjoy!


On Jan Hooks, Looks, and Illness: RIP to Yet Another Talented Comedienne

Just heard that Jan Hooks passed away today at age 57. She was probably best known for her work as an SNL cast member during its mid-1980s heyday, although she had other memorable performances on Designing Women30 Rock, and The Simpsons (as Apu’s wife, Manjula). I’m old enough to remember her on SNL. She was an absolute scream, and one of the few cast members you could count on to always be funny. That’s a talent in and of itself. We’ll miss you, Jan.

The Internet is reporting that Hooks died after “battling a ‘serious illness.'” No word yet on what that illness was, but pictures of Hooks from the past ten years or so show her looking heavy and puffy faced–two symptoms, as those of us with immune system disorders know, that are synonymous with corticosteroid use. I’m not trying to speculate on her medical condition, but it’s clear that whatever she had probably affected her life for quite a while. And since she was an actress, she probably got slammed with the double-whammy of having to deal with the impact of illness on her ability to perform and on her physical appearance.

Think of Kathleen Turner, who came down with rheumatoid arthritis in the 1990s and felt she had to excuse her bloating and wobbliness on an alcohol problem, because it was a more acceptable excuse than being sick. Jesse Green of the New York Times reports that later Turner did confess to drinking heavily to combat the pain caused by RA. Even though I’m sure that the booze didn’t help the course of her disease, Green’s subtle oh-that-explains-it attitude toward Turner’s stint at rehab seems to reflect the usual ambivalence healthy people have over illness: so much easier to think it’s all the sick person’s fault, and therefore under her control.

Cut to 2010, when, in response to a blog griping about how crappy Jan Hooks looks in ads for her first guest appearance on 30 Rock, an anonymous commenter had this to say:

Jan, you fat hag, at fifty-two you better have a fatal illness to look that bad. Jesus Christ on a cross, your only job as an actor is to keep your self looking good.

Fat titties do not compensate for hagdom.

Well, guess what, Anonymous Commentator? Turns out Jan probably did have a fatal illness when she taped that show. Not that there’s anything wrong with being fat on T.V. for non-illness-related reasons, or being fat anywhere else, for that matter. Contrary to your apparent belief that women should not accost your eye with anything other than a slim-to-anorexic physique, it’s better to be plump and healthy than skinny and unwell. And I’m sure it was better for Hooks’s overall well-being–puffy or not, heavy or not, looking good to you or not–to be able to act while her body could handle it. She happened to be a phenomenal actress and comedienne. She probably loved getting a chance to do what she did best. And with some fatal illnesses, you never know when those chances will come.


Miss Fickle Shout-out, Lupus Style!

One more note for today: my post on me shredding myself with too much beach-going found its way into the leisure section of Life With Lupus, an online newsletter packed with info on lupus and related chronic illnesses.  Thanks to Miss Anne-Marie for passing along my meandering thoughts to the outside world!!!