A COMMISSION

A friend lost two kitties this year.  Glenn and I are making a spirit house for them to live in now,  something that will also function as a piece of art.  By the time you read this,  she also will have two more kittens.  Classic cat-woman.

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I watched her grow up as part of a family of three strong women.  Her mother was my framer and has been my friend for years.  Then the whole group went to the Northwest.  Way under 40, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been beating the piss out of it for two years.  And standing up to politicians who want to balance their budgets on the backs of the unlucky.  She does not go quietly.

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But she is not going anywhere (except back to work, brava!).   Not now.  What is remarkably healthy about this woman is that she is taking control where there can be little,  when in your cancer chapter.  This house will be for her as well, in the future.  To a  person who has been in dialog with cancer herself,  this is a fine idea.  Apply everything related to creativity and creation during your cancer interlude.  It can work wonders.  Creating anything is the exact opposite of being in decline.

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She has been going through old pictures and little stuff for me to include on the surface of the house, and also inside it.  Wonky doors and windows will be defined by the people in the pictures.   Reminders of the beach of South Carolina will be imbedded in the walls.  I have found amazing little artifacts at flea markets to include, as if the universe was chucking them out to me.

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Stay tuned.

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FIGHTING CANCER WITH HAMMERED ALUMINUM

For me, this is an old topic.  A tale about warriors and shields, an idea put forth by my friend Judy.  A tale from the 1990s and I mean to discuss this now because of friends engaged in this battle.

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It is not the 1990s anymore.  With my last mammogram, 2011, the tech had all my old info available.  She told me that I was a miracle.  She referred to that decade as the Dark Ages for cancer.  Years ago,  a doctor shook  my hand because he had never met anyone who survived a metastasis of colon cancer.

My father died  in 1974 at age 47, after many years of dealing with this humiliating disease.  When it started in on me in the nineties, the docs asked lots of questions about him.  Where in his colon was the disease?  Was it right sided or left sided?  We knew nothing.  If that information was somewhere, we didn’t know how to find it.  At that time there was a rudimentary form of genetic testing, but my doc asked me to think about whether we should do that or not.  Was it good for the world to know that I had the gene for colon cancer?

Because I was so young (42, 43, 44) Mayo Clinic Jax was very aggressive with me.  With the first operation, 40 percent of my colon was taken.  That fact has made absolutely no difference in my life.  Fearful of this, probably more than death, that “bag”  gave my father so much trouble, and it fairly separated him from the rest of us.

I was to have three more operations and learned a little about dealing with the medical community.  I remember telling a friend, a radiology technician, while standing in a line at a buffet,  that there was now a lesion on my lung.  She got this odd look on her face.  I did not know exactly what a lesion was, but she did.

Later I had one third of my lung removed.  Of course Mayo had been looking closely, but they had been doing CT scans only from about my waist down.  Very lucky that this lesion was seen.  I insisted on full body CT scans after that and no one argued with me.

My tumor was rated Dukes B2:  it was in the colon, involved the colon wall, but did not extend outside it.  Never had any lymph node involvement.  How did it get to the lung then?

After my first operation the tumor was deemed so localized that they removed it and we did nothing.  A year later was the lesion.  Then we did six months of chemotherapy, not at Mayo’s but in Columbia, SC.

I did everything to fight my cancer.  It was used as the topic of my art, I integrated it into my life symbolically and removed it symbolically (I bought two pairs of fabulous purple suede penny loafers which could stamp out cancer cells as you would a fire on grass.  Wore them until they were in shreds).  I had four surgeries and chemotherapy.  It was on my chemo trips to Columbia that I began buying hammered aluminum in thrift shops.  Started with ice buckets, I loved their double walls.  I went on to corner the market in my area.

A trip to the oncologist was paired up with a trip to the thrifts.  I also took work to my photographer, etc.  I could do anything after chemo, save getting my words out all lined up perfectly.  That was a little weird.

The point was to integrate the beast, to direct its removal symbolically, talk about it, and go on.  Women join groups, they are good at that.  It is healthy to speak about these things.  I absolutely loved chemo in a group situation.  Here were these people, removed of pretense, sitting in lounges fighting the beast together.  It was like being in a huddle on a football team.

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I had an exhibition at the Mayo Clinic.  They were interested in promoting the correct mind set for healing.  They were impressive that way.  As an artist, whatever was going on in my life was subject to being featured in my art, and that turned out to be a very healing idea.  An then of course, there was all this metal armament that I bought.

www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PllSO140673605746225.pdf     

Search in the box with “Lee Malerich”.

LASTING A VERY SHORT TIME

Once I was juried into a show called “Ephemeral”.  It was at Cal Tech as I remember and the show was very well done.  Fabulous catalog and invitation.  It included all media, and many definitions of the word: ephemeral.

Some works looked like ghosts.  Some self destructed.  My work at that time was about my colon cancer and its re-occurrence, so it was me, the artist that was ephemeral, not the work.  Still fit in.

Big opening, of course done without me, living so far away.  Carried off  in the absolute heights of coolness.

After a couple of weeks, the sprinkler system malfunctioned and would not shut off.  The art was recovered but the gallery walls were like soaked cardboard.   The truncated show was all over.  Ephemeral.

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CANCER, HE SAID

My doc asked me what patients thought about when they had a pain, knowing that he would solicit the answer from me.  What?, I said when we were in the examining room.  My mind froze trying to think of any answer.  Focusing on my running injury which was why I was there;  I did not get the game.

Cancer, he said.  Anybody with your history would think of that first.  I did not.  I wanted to run again and not be dealing with sciatica, which was what I thought was my problem.  How long ago was your cancer, anyway?
18 years ago.  Oh, I did not realize it was that long ago.  Of course, a return could happen after that interval of time, but….ok then.  Never mind.

I was looking for a referral to a sports doctor.  He obviously was looking for something else.  We did x-rays.  We looked at them in the hallway.  Most of my patients have not the good reason you do for your back pain.  Look at these vertebrae.  The bottom two were out of line about an inch.  It was rather dramatic.

I always knew my back was of a bad design.  I am not supposed to do this, but you should see a chiropractor.

I had seen one 26 years ago.  In the office, he provided me with a technique to deal with my back up to now.  He put blocks under my hips while I lay on my stomach, and I was a quick study.  I put a pillow under my hips for sleep for the next 26 years.  It worked until now.

I was trying to be smart.  We pay two thirds of our base income for health insurance and it does not allow for chiropractors.  Why do these docs occupy such a questionable part of the medical world?  Why aren’t their offices built of pink marble like everyone else’s?  It could be because they don’t have a strong lobby in Washington.  That would be a good thing.

I am not sure I can trust.  Remembering vividly my first visit,  there were two old scales, the kind from the fifties or sixties, placed side to side.  You know the ones with the bump up in the middle and the magnification of the number of pounds that you were?  And they had little black ribbed mats glued on the surface?  He had me step one foot on each scale.  Yep.  Your body is all screwed up.  Why does a device like this make me doubt?  FYI, the two scales are still there in the office.  He did not use them on me this time.  They are now probably part of  his collection of antique devices.

He took x-rays too.  They looked like the others, except he did my neck as well.  Are you sure that you don’t have any neck pain?  Look at these deposits of bone where there should be none.  No, but I have a strong will.  I believe you do, he said.

Just patch me up so I can run, please.

I had metastatic colon cancer in the early nineties.  I should not be alive.  Most who have had this problem are not.  My dad is not.  He died at 47, and I have the gene for colon cancer.  As I proceeded through my cancer years, there was one primal scream that came from deep within:  I am not doing this.

And I did not.  My will prevailed after four operations.  It was very simple.  I would not entertain the idea of having cancer, and took great pains to always think of it in the past tense.  I had other techniques as well.  Having found two pairs of beautiful dark lavender suede loafers, I wore these cancer cell stomping shoes until they wore out.  My art at the time was all about claiming and then exorcizing cancer.

So I have not run for six weeks, trying to be smart, and not trying the chiropractor.  I have attended two high school cross country meets where students with lithe bodies, streaming hair and red faces crossed the finish line in droves, boys and girls.  It was hard to take.

The day after the last meet, three days ago, and still in pain, I ran.  Did my entire four miles, and also picked up 34 cans.  Strange pains were shooting around, and I knew that this was because I was favoring my left side and carrying 34 cans in a grocery bag.  But I did it.

And I did it yesterday and today.  The pain is not like it was.  Should have depended upon my will first off.  That’s my best characteristic, not trying to be “smart” about anything.  Being smart feels foreign.

SIMPLE ADDICTION OR PROVING ONE’S EXISTANCE

I am reading a book by Louise DeSalvo, “Crazy in the Kitchen”.  I read an earlier one, “Vertigo” for a public book course conducted by Jeanette Turner Hospital for the University of South Carolina. It was a great course; we would first read a book, and for the next class session, the author came to speak.  Louise is very strong and very open in her memoirs.

(above) LABYRINTH, Lee Malerich, 2001, Hand embroidery on pieced fabric, 9″ x 9″

What I read last night in the book described a former time in my life perfectly.  It was not an especially healthy time and I had too much to prove.

DeSalvo says about her grandmother in “Crazy in the Kitchen”:  “Once I saw my grandmother finish a tablecloth and begin a new one on the same day without stopping to take some refreshment, without holding the completed work up to the light of the window, without stopping to admire what she had accomplished.  To crochet and to knit in the absence of anyone’s desire but your own.  To crochet and to knit because the very act of knitting, of crocheting gives you what others do not, what others cannot give you, what the country you left, what the country you came to does not give you: a sense of worth and some small scrap of human dignity.

My grandmother’s hands, all dry and cracked and sere like the land she fled, making beauty.  My grandmother at her needlework, affirming her right to exist in a world that did not want her. ”

DeSalvo’s grandmother and I produced things of fiber for the same and different reasons.  Both being women, we knew these skills because our mothers and grandmothers taught us.  They are handed down.  Or were.  Don’t know about currently.

Using repetitive actions like crocheting requires,  and as the Yi potters knew with their throwing techniques,  your mind and body to focus on that movement.  The rhythm can facilitate thought.  The Buddhist Yi potters used their repetitive movements when making their pottery and felt the by-product of this movement was that  the “enlightenment” could creep in.  Focus your mind and body on something else, and truth occurs.

The above is the Buddhist, selfless result of repetitive work.  But when one lays a layer of “self” in the repetitive creative process, like I do with my embroidery, it is a different process indeed.  I chose to talk about my life in this process, and that is not at all selfless.  Perhaps a pure process was tainted!  Trying to prove something in a generally unaccepted medium, one mostly done by women, and one that is soooooo labor intensive was a bad decision.

It worked for me for a long time however.  I was recording time, while I made my work.  I was proving that I was alive.  I was doing that even before my life threatening cancer. It was my father’s cancer and death that made me start to record time.

The grandmother was also recording time.  With this realization, she was the healthier one, not admiring her work because she had to start again.  Time was streaming by!  With my ulterior motive, that layer of self expression applied to the technique might move me into a different category.  The only hitch is that talking about my disease was such a healthy thing to do to heal.  And all art comes from pain.