Structuring my day around food and company comes as naturally to me here in the magical queendom of Hedgebrook as it does in the big shitty.
Taking oneself seriously as a writer is directly proportionate to thinking that it's all a farce and you're boring, even yourself.
A nettle sting, even to the tip of the pinky, is powerful. Surely that was a spider bite, I thought as the pain radiated out from the base of the nail and into the tip. It tingled, pins and needles for twelve hours.
The distance between being a woman respectable in appearance and well-spoken, to being a harridan with damp hair in the woods, haranguing herself, is short.
I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.
I am here at Hedgebrook with five other women residents, and we are mixed in age, in nationality and in race. We are both straight and lesbian. We each have our own enchanted cottage, not far from one another but far enough to sit undisturbed to do our individual work. Every evening, promptly at 5:30 we walk down a forest path with baskets and meet in the farmhouse for dinner, cooked for us right there with vegetables and flowers and fruit from the garden. We help ourselves from bowls and platters, arrayed on the same butcher block where the chef has prepared them, and then we sit down to eat at a long pine table with a view of Useless Bay. Yes, Useless Bay -- a name worthy of a post far longer than these that I will be writing for the next three weeks. The food is remarkable, simple and full of flavor. The chef sits with us and eats, too. I believe there are three of them who rotate through, all women who cater to and nourish us yet have a place at the woman table. At the end of the meal, the chef clears the table and begins to clean the kitchen while we pack our baskets with snacks, coffee, breakfast for the next morning. We spoon homemade granola out of jars, yogurt out of tubs, and coffee into little bags. We take fresh raspberries from the garden, so sweet and ripe that they disintegrate into syrup, almost, by the next day. There are snacks in jars along shelves -- peanut butter and pretzels, nuts and dried fruit, salty Asian crackers, seaweed and chocolate-covered mangos. Our lunch for the following day is neatly packed into a tupperware container -- a slice of quiche or a frittata, a chickpea salad, mixed lettuces and fruit. When our baskets are full we say good-bye to one another and walk back through the forest to our cottages where, I imagine, we all bow our heads in one way or another to the grace of this place and to our work.
I worked all morning today, have reached California, 1998. I walked to Useless Bay and then back along a dyke through Deer Lagoon. I pretended not to notice when what might have been tens of thousands of miniature dragonflies swarmed me, the whir of their wings so constant in my ear that I finally waved my hands in front of my face as I walked. I saw rabbits, a deer, several herons and transparent crabs that skittered over my feet and disappeared into the sand. I trudged home in the hot sun, sticky. I collapsed on my bed and shared a glass of water with a moth who fluttered up and out as I tipped the water back.
It's a day of love in the land we call country, an affirmation met with as much wonder in the woods as the city. It's a day, too, of amazing grace, I hear, sung by our own leader in a voice as rich as we all are to have him.
I slept last night with the window open, the sound of frogs and crickets, the dark as absolute as my nakedness. Today I read in bed for hours, walked in a meadow buzzing with dragonflies, opened my computer and a manuscript that I haven't worked on in years and began.
I am in You and You in me, Mutual in Love Divine
This is my little cottage in piney woods. Light slants through the pines, birds are chirping, breezes blow, there's a vegetable and flower garden with opium poppies, holly hocks and sweet peas, and the rugged beach is less than two miles down the road.
I feel like someone slipped a mind-altering hallucinogenic into my water.
I'm off to Hedgebrook in the morning, and while I am incredibly grateful and excited, I'm also feeling a little batshit crazy.
I'm not sure what my posting schedule will look like, as I'm told it's best to immerse yourself into the magic of the place with as few distractions as possible. I will, hopefully, get lots of writing done as well as respite and the chance to meet some extraordinary women. I might take photos and perhaps post them each day with something or other to keep ya'll entertained, but there'll probably only be slim pickins at the old a moon, worn as if it had been a shell.
In the meantime, keep abreast of that whole cannabis Big Pharma thing. It's all going down tomorrow in Washington, D.C. when the big guns meet. You know how I feel about it all, and never have I been more sure and committed about an issue. Scroll down to yesterday's post, read, share and join us if you are so inclined. Just click this link: Coalition for Access Now
I miss you already.
P.S. If you want to write me a letter, email me and I'll send you the address!
That's Sophie, and when her mind is clear and the seizures at bay, she can stare right into your soul. New readers should know that despite 22 medications and treatments, Sophie found no relief from tens of thousands of seizures over the first nineteen years of her life. When she began using Charlotte's Web in late 2013, her seizures lessened dramatically and that gaze became ever more penetrating and knowing. We're one of those families you've been hearing about, a family decimated by two decades of uncontrolled seizures, vicious side effects from powerful FDA and non-FDA approved antiepileptic drugs and then a radical reduction when cannbis oil is introduced.
Sophie is not alone. There are thousands of children like her, but they do not have access to CBD.
As her voice, I'm going to talk a little here about what's going on in Washington regarding CBD and hemp. There is a meeting on Wednesday, June 24th to determine the fate of CBD. This is the meeting of Senate members called the Caucus on International Narcotics Control. The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control was created to monitor and encourage against drug abuse and narcotics trafficking and to monitor and promote international compliance with narcotics control treaties.
As you can imagine, that's one scary and powerful group of senators.
How would something so benign as CBD end up in their caucus? Here's a metaphor: We're all in a giant swimming pool, swimming in our carefully marked lanes. The Stanley Brothers are just one swimmer in that pool, along with countless other people growing and making hemp products. There's lots of room. Pharmaceutical companies, namely GW Pharmaceuticals, a British behemoth, has a lane, too. They've working on Epidiolex. That's fine. They should have a lane. The really extraordinary swimmers, the lane where all the action is, though, is not this giant pharmaceutical company. The lane that literally came out of nowhere is our lane, and it's made up of hundreds of families whose lives have been changed by CBD -- whether it's Charlotte's Web or any number of strains of high CBD/low THC products. Keep that image in your head.
Here are some facts:
CBD and Hemp should be regulated as dietary supplements due to the very low toxicity (LD:50 (lethal dose rating) of 1:40,000 compared to aspirin at 1:20). These products already fill our store shelves in all 50 states with known amounts of THC (less than 0.3%) and unknown quantities of CBD.
There has already been research to establish that 1500 mg of CBD daily was well tolerated in humans.
17 states have passed cannabis legislation since February 2014. That's 16 months. All but three of those are high CBD/low THC legislation. This is an example of the extreme need of this underserved population.
Who do you think is the strongest opponent of this process?
You do not need legislation to do a clinical trial. This could very well be a serious misappropriation of state and health department funds. Do you want your state paying the tab for a gazillion dollar company?
Here are some more facts:
GW Pharmaceuticals partnered with Bayer HealthCare, a subsidiary of Bayer AG. Bayer was on the original ALEC committee that introduced the original medical marijuana legislation back in the mid-noughties.
ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, and is just one of the ways that Big Pharma lobbyists write and influence laws in their favor.
Apparently, GW Pharmaceuticals is fine with cannabis legislation and efforts that would help them to line their pockets, but it's a stretch of the old imagination to imagine them wanting families to get access now to keep their loved one alive, especially if it cuts into their lane.
We're talking about room for everyone, here, a lane for all swimmers. GW Pharmaceuticals wants the whole damn pool.
At risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, let me tell you something.
Parents' stories are being discredited. Just think of the disparaging remarks about placebo effects that Dr. Amy Brooks Kayal made on the Dateline special. We are, evidently, a bunch of crazy parents who can't properly count seizures and evidently have voodoo powers to regulate EEGS (that's sarcastic, of course).
Doctors who are supportive of CBD are discredited and frowned upon. There's a party line that is being pushed.
They're using propaganda to destroy the quality of the product, throwing around the term "artisanal" with the implication that we need the pharma model (despite the fact that we've been safely using cannabis for 1000s of years without that broken model)
They're attacking the safety of the product and of the compound in general.
In pushing for more research, they used unknowing and inexperienced families with promises of enrolling their children in the trials to push their agenda.
In pushing for more research, they're pushing the dosage of the product so high in trials that it creates negative events (so far, diarrhea). It seems to me that they need to prove that this can't exist as a dietary supplement.
Expect them to run their public relations and marketing campaigns (the pharmaceutical advertising budget is in the tens of billions) next on the basis of how wonderful their companies are, and insurance companies will follow suit, covering this "orphan drug" that will reap them untold profits.
In the proverbial nutshell, it looks like Big Pharma wants the whole shebang. It wants CBD to be a pharmaceutical. It's some scary shit.
As people who have been hurt again and again by a broken pharmaceutical system, we will not allow this to happen. You can't allow this to happen. If you think you don't care about CBD, that it's a limited component and that CBD legislation is destructive, think again. I hate to say it, but mark my words: these people will come after THC next. Can these powers be more powerful than the people? They are proving to be so.
We are Sophie's and countless other kids' voices, and we're swimming in a very big pool. We might very well get kicked out this week. Please help us fight for access. This is not about THC. That's another very worthy fight. This is about access to cannabis. It's about fighting the power. It's about doing the right thing. It's about being able to look back into your child's eyes and have them look right into your own soul.
Killjoy! they said when I told them to stop throwing rocks at the grill. Sophie tried to wiggle out of the chair, out from under Henry's insistent arm laid over her lap. Can't I bring her inside? he asked. You hold her! he said to Oliver. Oliver crouched nearby, a pile of rocks at his feet. I circled my three children with the hose, trying not to overwater.
Because I don't have it, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to take the above photo. I was strolling around my estate grounds, talking on the phone when I noticed a strange spiderweb on the rungs of a beat-up old wooden chair. I must have taken twenty shots that showed nothing on my phone and then more with my regular Canon. I considered stopping and justing observing -- why must we always make a record? It took me about a half an hour experimenting before I hung a black dress behind it and snapped the shot.
Have you ever seen a spider web so ziggy zaggy? I thought it must be a Cubist spider, an eight-legged Picasso or Braque who went rogue, away from concentric circles and into a break-up of form. The web was abandoned, pieces of it hanging and stuck with tiny yellow flowers shed from the tree above. If I remember my cubism properly, that break-up of form makes what is concrete, abstract, and in so doing, changes viewpoint. Is there meaning in that? What we think is concrete can so easily be spun into the abstract. One viewpoint shifts to another. Revolution is sparked.
Just something to think about when you don't have the time.
The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it. Sri Nisargadatta I'm sorry, I could never keep my fingers off a sore. Maggie the Cat, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof That quote by an Indian wiseman/swami came to me over the last couple of days as I drove about the shitty, and I couldn't remember why until I realized that I had posted it along with some meandering prose prompted by the last time I'd seen a Confederate flag flying. That was March of 2014, in Santa Monica, and here's the post that went with it. Go back and read it, and be sure not to miss the comments.
I don't know what else to think about, to tell you the truth. Both my boys have asked me what I think of the whole thing that happened in Charleston. They have the swagger of the teenager, the rebellious I hate this country, don't you? need for affirmation, and I just don't know what to say.
That's late August, 2001 when our family spent our first in nearly fifteen years in Hilton Head, South Carolina. In this photo, my father was entertaining Henry and his cousin Mary by puffing up his cheeks and blowing the air out with a loud and goofy noise. I remember that Henry and Mary were hysterical, over the top amused when he made the noise and then falling silent and expectant as he worked up to doing it again. And again. All of us were beside ourselves with laughter. It's a happy, happy memory.
What you can't see in the above photo and, of course, hear is the sound of Come On Down! that ancient game show refrain that apparently remains very seductive, even in 2015. I have good memories of getting up during the summer and watching game shows on television when I wasn't at the neighborhood pool playing Marco Polo. Oliver, I'm sure, has fantasies of winning all manner of material goods and has asked me numerous times whether he can be a contestant on The Price is Right, but it was Sophie's rapt attention to it that freaked me out. Sophie generally has no interest in television or movies, but she was into this program, and I literally tiptoed back and forth so as not to distract her.
Then there's the lazy no-sounds of summer where you just lie down on your soft bedroom rug and sleep for a bit.
Reader, tell me what you hear on a typical summer day.
Today's Interesting Epilepsy Pharmaceutical Side Effects presentation will be about the drug ezogabine. If that name is too much of a mouthful for you, we can also call it Potiga because Potiga is simpler, more catchy and conjures up a sweet-smelling weed, perhaps, and the babbling of a baby. I imagine the folks who sit in the airy rooms of the marketing departments of the big pharmaceutical companies have a grand time figuring out what to call the latest chemical being thrust upon the epileptic populace. What would be catchy for a neuronal potassium channel opener? Bart asks his group of young design hotshots. We need something that sounds appropriately serious with a bit of fluff to allay anxiety. Anyone?
Some of you particularly alert students of epilepsy pharmaceutical side effects might remember that several years after Potiga was approved for use in adults, the FDA in 2013 had to issue a box warning because of the strange reported side effect of skin discoloration and eye abnormalities characterized by pigment changes in the retina. I heard a bigwig doctor at last year's Epilepsy Pipeline Conference up in San Francisco speaking to a group of professionals about the drug and the unexpected side effects that showed up years later. She and the group of professionals in the audience actually chuckled when she explained that people were coming into neurology offices with blue lips and fingernails. Reader, you know I love a chuckle and have a sense of humor that is as dark as a guillotine (or is it a gallow?), but hearing those docs titter made me sick to my stomach. I know they were laughing with rue, but I couldn't help but think doctors aren't allowed to laugh about things like this. I was horrified because I had discussed Potiga a couple of years before as a possible add-on for Sophie, and that discussion was with Sophie's pediatric neurologist. No mention of blue lips, nail-beds and eyeballs was made because these were not known, but identified adverse effects included urinary retention, neuropsychiatric symptoms, suicidal thinking or behavior, dizziness and somnolence, QT interval effect, and withdrawal seizures. That list is pretty much par for the old epilepsy drug course, but I decided to pass anyway as I was still in the middle of my sacred vow not to accept any more drugs unless Jesus Christ offered them to me. I imagine that you particularly alert students of pharmaceutical side effects might have also raised your eyebrows that this drug was approved for use in adults back in 2011. Adults, not pediatric patients.
But that's yet another digression.
The timeline for Potiga is thus:
FDA approves Potiga in June, 2011
FDA issues Drug Safety Communication warning in April 2013 about the retinal abnormalities and blue skin discoloration
FDA announces approval of label changes to the drug to account for the above in October 2013, the so-called box warning.
FDA okays current label to manage eye, skin problems June 2015. Here's the information:
FDA review of additional safety reports does not indicate that the pigment changes in the retina observed in some patients affect vision," the FDA statement notes. "Skin discoloration associated with the use of Potiga appears to be a cosmetic effect and does not appear to be associated with more serious adverse effects.
What's my point beyond the rest assured that your blue lips and fingernails are just cosmetic and you have no need to worry about losing your vision except you still have to monitor it and notify your doctor if you feel suicidal or haven't pee'd in days?
My point is that we rarely hear about all the shit going on with epilepsy pharmaceuticals and the chances we are taking every single day when we give them to our children.
When a neurologist claims that they do not have enough information about cannabis to prescribe it or recommend it, they are being disingenuous if they don't also say that they don't know about Potiga or Banzel or Vimpat or Fycompa or Vigabatrin or Felbatol or hemispherectomies or vagal nerve stimulators or long-term use of benzodiazepines. The information about cannabis has been suppressed, buried, stymied for a couple of decades short of a century, but it exists.
What's that expression? The gig is up? The emperor has no clothes? Help me, Rhonda.
Oh dear Lord. Please no one ask me what I think of the woman who identifies as a black person when, in fact, she's a white person. I just don't have it in me to join the discussion and will leave it to less exhausted finer minds than mine to figure it all out. I'm generally fascinated by these kinds of things, but lately I've felt nearly comatose and even bored when the newest wild story comes out. I know that says more about me than anyone else and is probably indicative of mild depression or at least a dissociative disorder, but it's the truth. I'm having a hard time not saying I don't care when people ask me what I think about anything these days. Ironically, one of the things I'll be working on beginning next week when I leave for my residency at Hedgebrook involves my own wrestling with identity -- both mine and my daughter's. Hopefully, I'll be out of this funk and able to organize my thoughts and care.
As I drove around the shitty this afternoon, listening to the interminable talk about the woman who identified as black but who was really white, I did think about my own ethnic identity -- how I'm one-half Italian, one-quarter Syrian and one-quarter Scotch English. If people ask me what I am, I tend to say Italian because I definitely identify more with my Italian ancestry than the Middle Eastern or northern European. I can't tell you why exactly, but I feel Italian. Yesterday's post provoked some really great comments, including Mary Moon stating that she'd heard Italians don't believe in God so much as God's mother. Ha! That's true of me!
I was also thinking about The Powers That Be today, mainly because I got a letter in the mail informing me that our insurance company, Assurant, will no longer be in the health insurance marketplace as of January 2016 so we'll have to start looking for a new individual plan in November during that open season which sounds like we're all going hunting (and wouldn't you love to hunt down an insurance company and hang it, stuffed on your wall?) but actually means you're allowed to enroll in a certain window. Insurance companies and the whole healthcare system in this joint are kind of fascist, don't you think? God, I wish I could say that I don't care, but I'm going to have to care and scurry around and do all the stuff that needs to be done, including making sure that Sophie's Providers are covered and that her drugs are covered and that we can afford the premium and it's all so exhausting and I just don't care.
On the other hand, I've been engaged with one of my favorite Realm of Caring people, Heather, on Facebook who has done an incredible amount of work with this medical marijuana thing. She's one of my heroes, to tell you the truth, and just a pleasure to know as a person. She's indefatigable -- probably not unlike one of those Italian anti-Fascist fighters even if she doesn't exactly identify as one. She shared my recent blog post titled Access Public Service Announcementwhere I took to task the head of the American Epilepsy Society who was just so dooooooown on that recent Dateline special. It turns out that I did a radio show back in April, and the doctor with whom I spoke was the very same one! You can listen to it here. She was equally as dooooooooown on the radio show, too, and Heather and I can't figure out why these people aren't more excited by our stories (Heather's son has been seizure-free with CBD for nearly two years!). I said would it kill them to express some enthusiasm and marvel a bit because they've been stymied so long? Then again, maybe they just don't care, and lord (or given my Italian identity should I say Mary) knows, I understand that.
*This post is a ramble, a wander and it might make no sense. Read at your leisure.
I'm a week and a half away from leaving for three weeks, and I feel as if I'm wandering around in circles. I'm not complaining. I just don't know what to do first. My legs are leaden and my head filled with cotton. I feel strangely dejected despite all the good fortune coming my way.
I pulled a card out of my Poet Tarot deck this morning to see what I had in store this week. I got the Five of Mentors. I consulted the guidebook and learned that key phrases for this card are: disagreement within creative groups, being flexible in my artistic vision, choosing battles wisely.
Here's my advice to you, if you're a writer. Submit your work widely and then chill out. Chill out when you get rejections because you'll probably get a lot. For every ten things I've sent out over the years, I get about eight or nine rejections. Years ago, a literary agent sent a manuscript back to me with the words too sad written on the cover sheet. That was it. Sometimes rejections are wildly entertaining, like the one I got over the weekend from a literary journal named after a body of land with some amount of water around it. This is what it said:
Dear Elizabeth, Thank you for sending your work. Unfortunately, "Dreaming of Sex During Acupuncture" is not for us. Good luck with your writing and thank you for your interest in [name of journal]. Sincerely, the editors Doesn't that tickle you? I imagine you're wondering about the title of the piece I sent in, and hopefully you'll read the whole thing one day because I'm sending it back out. I'll keep you posted.
While vacuuming my car this morning, I pulled Frank O'Hara's little Lunch Poems out of the door pocket and opened it up, even as I scraped the dead leaves and grit from the floor. My heart is in my pocket, I read from the poem A Step Away from Them. How perfect is that? My other advice to writers is to read all the time and stash small poetry books in weird places.
Have I told you about my obsession with the Annunciation? Given my estrangement from the Roman Catholic faith, I'm not sure why I find it so compelling, but there's something about a big old angel leaning down to softly tell a virginal woman that she'll be carrying the son of God that knocks me flat. There's all this grace inherent in the gesture, I think. My favorite painting is Fra Angelico's Annunciation, and after visiting Italy for the second time and seeing it, after which I had a disturbing encounter with an epileptic young woman, its significance became all the greater. You honestly can't make that shit up, and I didn't. I did write an essay, though, that was accepted for publication by Slow Trains years and years ago. It was rejected at least five times before being accepted. You can read it if you like.
Mary Szybist wrote an entire book of poems about the Annunciation. It's called Incarnadine. Here's one of the poems:
Annunciation Overheard from the Kitchen
I could hear them from the kitchen, speaking as if
something important had happened.
I was washing the pears in cool water, cutting the bruises from them.
From my place at the sink, I could hear
a jet buzz hazily overhead, a vacuum
start up next door, the click,
click between shots.
"Mary, step back from the camera."
There was a softness to his voice
but no fondness, no hurry in it.
There were faint sounds
like walnuts being dropped by crows onto the street,
almost a brush
of windchime from the porch -----
Windows around me everywhere half-open ----
My skin alive with the pitch.
Maybe I'm weird, but that just blows my tiny little mother mind.™
They were lying there so nicely, on the bed in the gray light. I asked them to be still so I could take their photo. You look good, I told them. I like your colors. I felt bad because they'd been packed up for some time. When I lifted them out of the knit bag, dust rose up like smoke from a pipe. I put my lips together and blew. Mavis, on the far left, is in shadow, holding the seizures at bay. She assures me that the partial paralysis that comes and goes is no big deal. Rosalita in red holds the not a present. It's all you've got, she says. Even alone. Green June holds the future, says it's all going to be fine. Shabby Abby holds the folds of the body, assures its wildness and hunger isn't dead. The past, she says, you've got it in you. Now, Irene there on the edge is ultramarine, beyond the sea. You can't touch the blue in a flame, she says, just burn hot.
An evidence-based medicine approach to therapeutics requires scientific demonstration of a drug's efficacy as well as knowledge of short- and long-term adverse events that must be balanced against the drug's potential benefits. All of this information is lacking regarding the effects of smoking marijuana in the treatment of epilepsy. More research is needed before patients should consider marijuana for seizure relief, particularly because this represents criminal activity under US federal law and may be accompanied by adverse medical (and legal) events.
Andrew N. Wilner, M.D.
in an article on MedScape titled Marijuana: A Viable Epilepsy Therapy?: Conclusions
Damn. I was hoping that this might be an option for us.
This is a movie that you don't want to see alone as I did yesterday, as I've done a thousand times in order to keep what's sacred in my head, not have it be disrupted by opinion or someone breaking the spell, but love and mercy so overwhelmed me in its beauty and intensity that I left the theater in tears wishing there were someone, anyone, to hold. Paul Dano literally gets inside of Brian Wilson's head, at least I think he does, and I'm hard put to figure out whether it was the movie or the acting or Brian Wilson's head and thoughts and genius and soul or the whole shebang that left me so undone. I was one of those east coast girls who listened to The Beach Boys through a set of giant puffy headphones connected to a smoky plastic-covered turntable that sat on my green shagged carpeting, the beaches of southern California only a dream, but I had no idea, just absolutely no idea.
She loves to sit in her room for hours and mess around with various beads and vibrating pillows and baby toys. She can rock back and forth and hit her head over and over on the padded walls. She's not mad, though, or uncomfortable. When she was younger, we called that perseverative behavior, and it was to be avoided. Autistic children have a lot of perseverative behaviors, and whole modification systems have been set up to eradicate these or mitigate their supposed detrimental effects. I guess some of Sophie's behaviors suggest autism, but she's never been formally diagnosed with the disorder. I imagine the nervous system paths of both autistics and epileptics can criss-cross, a formidable yet fascinating jungle. There was a time when that behavior got on my nerves and made me feel a little crazy. I felt overwhelmingly responsible for changing it, fixing it or, at the very least, providing alternative stimulation. I guess there's something depressing about watching Sophie manipulate and mouth the same toys and types of things for more than twenty years, but how much of that is a cultural projection or construct? I'll venture out on the proverbial limb to say, Why the hell does it matter? She's totally content twirling her beads, pressing the vibrating travel pillow to her cheeks and folding herself over into a yoga pretzel position and closing her eyes. You're like the Wild Woman of Borneo! I said this morning from my outstretched perch on her bed where I lay reading. I've been reading incessantly for about 47 years, and there are numerous people who've said, I just don't have the time to read, with the faintest of implications that there are better things to do with time. It's one of the few, if only, things that makes me entirely content. I might be a perseverative reader. I might, too, be a wild woman of Borneo, just without the super curly hair.
*I looked up the origin of the wild woman of Borneo and could find nothing but a book that used the term, written in the 1970s. P.T. Barnum had wild men of Borneo in his turn-of-the-century circus freak show which I imagine was probably out and out racist, but when I use it I imagine something promiscuous, wild and forbidden.
I'm not sure I've complained here on the old a moon, worn as if it had been a shell about the McMansions going up in my neighborhood. What happens is that one day you wake up to hear enormous groaning sounds and crashes, look out your back door and see an 80-year old perfectly respectable cottage flattened. This can happen in under two hours, as can the knocking down of equally as old and perfectly healthy sycamore trees. What goes up in their place are gigantic modern dwellings that might fit into a wooded landscape but look preposterous on the postage stamp lots. The fact that these McMansions dwarf the houses around them, have balconies that allow the owners to peer down into our humble backyards and not onto sweeping ocean vistas or have interiors that quite emphatically mimic Ikea display rooms doesn't prevent people from coming in and spending upwards of $2.9 million on them. There's one going up just behind my house right this very moment, and nearly every morning when I open the back door to let my dog out, I am literally assailed by the sounds of the workers' music. They play the music loud enough to muffle the sounds of their drills and hammers and all manner of construction noise, so you can imagine how loud that must be. I have a neighbor who lives right next door to them who has three little children, one a baby not a year old. We have commiserated over the music for months. No stranger to discrimination, as an Orthodox Jew she was very sensitive to what she called the workers' culture and felt uncomfortable asking them to turn down their -- I'll be blunt -- mariachi music. Let's face it. Most of the construction work in this city is done by men of Latin origin, and when they work these long, brutal hours putting up McMansions, they listen to Latin radio. I actually like mariachi music but not at 7:00 in the morning and onward for eight hours. If Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Otis Redding and the Byrds were standing on the top floor playing music for eight hours, I'd probably go insane as well, but there's something particularly hellish for me about the incessant buoyancy and happiness of mariachi music untempered by, let's say, something mournful or blue.
Oliver has gone out with his megaphone and yelled at them to turn it down, to no avail. I've walked around the corner and given them my best uni-brow glare, but workers on McMansions could give a damn about women and their issues. I've thought about running around and doing what Gomer Pyle called a citizen's arrest*, but mostly I've just stewed in my own house.
This morning, I opened my bleary eyes to hear it reverberating even over the usual crows who cackle so loudly some mornings that I fantasize about shotguns. I emailed my neighbor with the subject line Have you made a pitcher of margaritas, yet? and she replied that she is thrilled to have my baby continue sleeping in a closet. Dark humor is the great uniter and binds me to people tighter even than blood. I imagine my neighbor and I, armed with shotguns, could bring down some crows and blow out some boomboxes as well. This morning, she gave me the number of a police officer in our neighborhood who she said is very personable and would respond if I called. It sounded very Andy Griffiithish (I mean, this is LA!), and I won't mince words but admit that I'm not exactly a law enforcement fan. There's something about all those mirrored sunglasses and the knee-high shiny black boots that give me the creeps, but I digress. I made the call.
Reader, Barney Fife (that's what I'll call him) told me he'd look into it and get back to me. An hour or so later, I realized that all I heard was the wind through the palms, the tinkle of the chimes on my porch and the chittering of the insane squirrels that romp on the wires that criss-cross the air. There might have been just the faintest sound of a leaf blower somewhere and the whir of a helicopter because it wouldn't be Los Angeles without that constant drone,but otherwise -- silence. And Officer Fife had actually left me a message that he'd stopped by and asked the workers to turn down or off their music.
Next thing you know, I'm going to be bringing brownies round to the police station and a pitcher of margaritas to the workers at the McMansion.
Did you notice while watching the Dateline special Growing Hopeon Sunday night that nearly every single commercial was for a pharmaceutical or for a pharmaceutical for your dog? Are you at all as bothered by the irony as I? I doubt anyone who wants to be relieved of their incontinence problems, their aching joints or their failure to maintain an erection has to beg their legislator to get relief.
I'm drawing up a few days' worth of Sophie's Charlotte's Web cannabis oil in the above photo. I told Oliver to hold that camera a little higher so you can't see any chins. You can see my Italian peasant woman arms, though, that soft and terribly strong part of my body that I defy anyone to put down as they've served me well as a mother for over twenty years. As you can see, I'm at the end of the bottle which means I can pick up the telephone or go online and order some more from Realm of Caring.
I have access to this lifesaving medication.
Thousands of families don't, though, and are either medical refugees or waiting to get access, at the mercy of politicians. I won't talk about doctors in this post, though, at least the misguided ones. Some people not only live in states without access to cannabis oils but also have doctors who stymie their desire to try it.
Strangely enough, that always gives us great pleasure,
and we say the author is a genius.
I just finished the new memoir by Joseph Luzzi, In a Dark Wood. Luzzi is an Italian professor at Bard who lost his wife in a terrible car accident. She was eight months pregnant with their first child when she was killed, but the baby was saved. Luzzi uses Dante's The Divine Comedy and other writing to frame his own grief and loss and emergence back into life. It's one of those books that I picked up because the cover design on the hardback is so spectacular and not because I'd heard about it or him. I saw the subtitle What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing and the Mysteries of Love and had to buy it. If you read that quote of Thomas Mann's above (thanks to my friend Liz for sending it to me), you'll know everything about my reaction to the book.
I've got an embarrassing backlog of books going on over here. In addition to the ones you see in the photo above, I sent a big box to Hedgebrook ahead of me with the following titles inside:
Raising Demons and Life with Savages - both by Shirley Jackson
Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann
Being Human: Readings from the President's Council on Bioethics
Early Warning by Jane Smiley
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
My Kindle (leaning against the books in the photo above) has the following titles waiting patiently to be read:
Alligator by Lisa Moore
The Sunken Cathedral by Kate Walbert
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go
On Elizabeth Bishop by Colm Toibin
I've got plans to re-read some favorites, like To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolfe, probably my most favorite novel of all time and, thankfully, shorter than my other favorite The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky which is too long to re-read at this point in my life. Maybe I'll look over The Grand Inquisitor section. I also packed some favorite poetry -- William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson and -- well -- I can't remember who else I tucked in with the novels and the rain boots (rain boots!) and the knitting (the sweater that I've been knitting for over three years).
Can you even imagine being squirreled away for three weeks in a cottage with all the books you've wanted to read and all the time to write your heart and mind out, to finally finish the book you've been working on for ten years and begin to organize the one that's in your head? I could never have imagined this opportunity that's been granted to me, but it's about two weeks away from being a reality.
Reader, what are you reading and planning to read this summer?
I'm not done chastising Dr. Amy Brooks-Kayal and her ridiculous statements made throughout the Dateline special Raising Hope that we all watched last night. I've been mulling over them all day, to tell you the truth, especially while pushing my daughter in her wheelchair through the leafy streets of my neighborhood. We cut a tiny amount of Sophie's Onfi about three weeks ago, and just as it's happened every time we've weaned, she's experiencing some dreadful side effects. These include agitation, discomfort and excessive drooling. She has a tremor and some weakness, as well as what I call withdrawal seizures.
I almost don't want to repeat a couple of Brooks-Kayal's statements because they were so -- let's call a spade a spade -- stupid. Beyond the usual call for more research (which we all want and which wouldn't be going on at all if a shitload of parents hadn't initiated this whole thing), she made some patently false claims about the Powers That Be concerns. She wondered what if it helps the seizures but makes your life worse? Even allowing for bad television editing, that was a loaded sentence that makes a mockery of the suffering our children have endured. She dismissed anecdote quite smugly and spoke of the placebo effect. My regular readers might remember that this line of smuggery was directed at me when I participated on a cannabis panel at the Epilepsy Foundation's Brain Summit a couple of months ago. I imagine that some of you might have thought that my emotions ran high, that a lot of our objections are knee-jerk ones. Surely these people aren't that arrogant? you might have thought. I'm secretly glad that Brooks-Kayal said what she said last night because it affirms what many of the people involved in this fight have experienced. These people really do think these things or they are, at the very least, spouting a party line.
Read the post that I quoted from above, written by my friend Mary Lou Connelly. She has a 30 year old son who has had refractory epilepsy for most of his life and who currently benefits from cannabis.
Another friend emailed me the following comment in response to my earlier post and after she herself viewed the Dateline special. She was puzzled by the doctor's comment about the placebo effect:
The way it was employed is sort of a misnomer. Placebo effect would mean the seizures stop because of belief in a substance. Which would be pretty impressive and hopeful and something to explore. (Is most certainly something very under-explored in general.) But what is really being said is that parents' observations are inaccurate. Researchers' observations can be biased as well, obviously --- hence double blind studies. But the adversarial rhetoric of this sort is absurd, because any drug that is used off-label, and there are lots of them, is used on the basis of reported experiences, AKA anecdotal. Neither placebo nor anecdotal should be used as pejoratives. It's all information.
I couldn't have said that better myself.
Out of the 20 drugs that Sophie has been on in her twenty years, more than three-quarters of them were used off-label. During the hundreds of visits I've made to our neurologists' offices over the years, I've "reported" how things were going. The doctors have always studiously taken notes. I tell you what. It's becoming more and more difficult to take any of these people seriously. Dr. Brooks-Kayal is the head of the American Epilepsy Society, an extremely influential organization. Because I'm a woman with a tiny little mother mind,™ I'm going to throw out the words Big Pharma, Medical/Industrial complex, money, money and more money and just -- well -- wonder.*
*And those of you who like myself don't watch much commercial television were probably bowled over by the amount of commercials that ran during the program and their length. Nearly every single commercial was for a pharmaceutical, including a drug for your dog. It's enough to make you want to go off-grid.
Sophie at the late Chris Burden's Ode to Santos Dumont
First, and above all, how rocking cool are those Stanley Brothers? I know it's heretical, especially given their evangelical roots, but honestly, I'd be tempted to follow Jesus and the Apostles again if he were Joel Stanley and his band of brothers. That awesome female biochemist could be Mary to my Magdalene, too.
Secondly, how strong and rocking cool is that Paige Figi? And those women who lobbied the Virginia legislature? And their beautiful kids, the brave soldier with PTSD, the man with multiple sclerosis who threw his bag o'pharms on the floor?
You watched it, didn't you? If you missed the Dateline special, Growing Hope, you can still help out by supporting the Coalition for Access Now.Click on that link, and you'll be able to access your own legislators' emails and telephone numbers to express your support. I myself have just returned to the lobbying efforts. I had a hiatus, mainly because I despise lobbying and fundraising. It's very difficult for me to plead legislators to do the obvious. Unlike Paige and the women profiled on the show, I get stuck and fixate on -- well, for instance, -- what appeared to be an entire Virginia legislature of white men in suits. Those guys did the right thing, but it's so hard that we have to literally beg for this stuff.
I'm girding my loins and calling the very estimable Senator Feinstein on Monday morning. She's decidedly not a white man in a suit, but she's said some worrisome things, and we need to tell her what we know. We need to share our stories. We need to plead with her. We want her to co-sponsor the Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act of 2015 (S.1333). Anybody out there who has an in to her office in Los Angeles or San Francisco? Please email me if you do.
Now let's talk about the proverbial thorns in the sides.
Thorn Number One in the Dateline special might be Dr. Amy Brooks Kayal. She's an epileptologist and the present head of the influential American Epilepsy Society. I recently read a letter she wrote to the governor of Pennsylvania, expressing her displeasure over any legislation favoring the legalization of CBD. At some point in the special tonight, she pointed out that parents are subject to the placebo effect and might be over-stating their children's response to Charlotte's Web. You might remember the doc at the Epilepsy Brain Summit that I sparred with said the exact same thing.
It's the Party Line.
I did the same thing that Mrs. Braddock did when Benjamin announced his marriage to Elaine.
The placebo effect argument drives me insane. I understand the power of the placebo effect, and I also find it interesting that the families who uproot themselves and move to states where cannabis is legal reportedly claim more success, but I question that research itself. Has anyone at the University of Southern California Neurology Department, other than my own wonderful neurologist, ever expressed any curiosity about the awesome success Sophie's had with CBD? Have they at UCLA where Sophie was treated for many years? Do they want to know? Has anyone done a study on revolutionary treatments and doctors' stubborn refusal to acknowledge change? When these doctors bring up the placebo effect, it stinks of patronization. I think of deer caught in headlights or steady blinking in the face of light.
They're not used to light. Bless their hearts.
Later, I engaged a bit with some other thorns -- those whoo I guess are called "haters" in the medical marijuana community. These people are, ironically, in the community in that they have loved ones who benefit from marijuana, but they consistently put down the Stanley Brothers, Realm of Caring and Paige Figi. Their concern is that CBD-only legislation will hurt the larger cause of making whole plant marijuana legal. They have some valid points, but they're often strident and make wild accusations. I know they're wrong. Just two years ago, I was wandering around Los Angeles looking for a product to give Sophie here in Los Angeles. We're now about to push through, hopefully, a bill in the federal government that will deschedule hemp, making it accessible to every citizen in every state, regardless of that state's marijuana laws. It's a small step, and it doesn't solve the larger problem of making sure that accessible natural plant medicine, including THC, is available to everyone who needs it. Cannabidiol alone is not a cure for everyone. There is much tweaking, and some people only see success when they add in THC and/or THCa. Some people are on so many antiepileptic drugs that success is elusive. It doesn't work for everyone, but there are thousands of children who need to try the product right now, who literally can't wait for what I believe will be the eventual legalization of marijuana on the federal level.
Today, I took Sophie over to LACMA to see the late Chris Burden's installation titled Ode to Santos Dumont. The museum states that the installation pays homage to ingenuity, optimism, and the persistence of experimentation, failure, and innovation. Inspired by Brazilian-born pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, widely considered the father of aviation in France, the kinetic airship sculpture was recently completed after a decade of research and work by Burden.
It's a strange and wonderful installation -- a sort of translucent dirigible that is put into motion in some complicated way and then floats around the room for a bit in a constant sixty-foot circle. Sophie and I stood with a crowd of people and watched the beautiful thing float around and around. We were all mesmerized. The explanation on the wall states that if the airship were to deviate from its sity-foot circle, the geometry of the tethers would force the balloon to turn in a smaller, tighter circle, which would cause the motor to work harder. The thing always seeks the sixty-foot circle, the path of least resistance or the sweet spot.
How beautiful and resonant the Ode to Santos Dumont with Sophie, to this work we have ahead.