All Rosé Today—Or, Men in P$#k

Photo by Matt, via Flickr Used with permission. Click for original.

Photo by Matt, via Flickr
Used with permission.
Click for original.

In search of a mature red characterized by phenomenal richness and incredible longevity,  I strode through the door, startled by an ocean, not of red, but of rosé.  Every single sales consultant in a pale shirt, clashing loudly with the red color scheme of the store.  At the customer service desk was a huddle of three managers, all apink.  It was too much to digest! In order to continue on my quest, I was obliged to don my sunglasses.

I wondered at the mass paling of the usual uniforms: they’re a bright cherry, with a notable black pepper finish.  Where had they gone?  Did someone mismanage the laundry?  Could they be attempting to “reclaim the rosé?”  I have heard that there is a campaign afoot to rescue the poor blush wine, “derided by winemakers, p***ed on by wine judges, revered by the public.”  And at last, it donned on me: October.

I summoned the courage to approach the ever-helpful Brandon, who once congratulated me on my choice of an economical shiraz for mulling, and I asked whether he might like some customer input.  We had a friendly exchange; I explained that I did not want him to be offended, but that some of us who have experienced breast cancer find the staining of October troubling.  “I know it’s for a good reason, and I know you’ll continue, but the store has no way of knowing some of us have misgivings unless we tell you.”  He was receptive and said he would pass on my comment.  Then we compared notes on the stunning Gigondas.  Bold, explosive, stunningly evocative garrigues flavors careen from the glass, blaring their stamp of origin like a neon sign. These are old-styled, powerful wines of enormous fruit amplitude and irresistible personality.  Plus there is the longevity!  All the more poignant in the face of rose-colored t-shirts.

Heartened by Brandon’s good will—and blushing, for I am shy—I sauntered in search of an intense, ruby rosso ready to be released—after all, life is short, or can be—and found one promising classic aromas of blackberry and raspberry, well integrated with notes of vanilla and tobacco. And more, the structure was guaranteed to be ample, very concentrated and harmonious, supported by a good acidity.  How I would love to see acid and harmony support one another more often!

Making my way to exchange lucre for terroir, I mused to myself, “I sense just a hint of strawberries nestled amongst what could almost be virginal yeast development. I can almost smell the acid. This is following nicely into the very fresh and acid driven palate, again the odd nuance of musk stick and strawberry in amongst all that acidity, with just a tinge of greenness on the back palate.”  I dug in my wallet for a few bills.

Looking around again, I saw that, indeed, the gentlemen (yes, they were all gentlemen, to a one) looked serene and tender in their rose-colored shirts.  To my surprise, I started to wish they’d discard the usual red shirts and wear these all year—or least bring them back for Gentle Men’s Month?

Will the rosé’s subtle finish be persistent?  Or will it perish?

Only time will tell.

—Rosie Untied

 

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Cancer Vacation

IMG_4138When cancer appears, life stops.  Except it doesn’t.  The mind may move in slow motion, sleepless nights may seem to last for weeks, and plans for holiday trips may be put on hold.  But one still has to pay the bills, shop for groceries, and keep up at work—all while considering options and preparing for treatment and its effects.  It’s kind of like having a second job, or taking night classes.  (And then there are people who already have a second job or have gone back to school . . . or who are caregivers for children, elders, or other family members.)

During the summer of 2007, as I recovered from surgery, I had all sorts of things on my mind, some weighing on me more heavily than fear of mortality, believe it or not.  At one point, a kind, supportive friend said, “You need a vacation.”  Somehow this unsettled me, and another ally later observed that, well, “you don’t really get a vacation from cancer.” She was not denying me the right to a vacation, but rather speaking a truth that life-threatening illness doesn’t really dole out breaks.

Cancer may be more or less present at certain times, but one cannot evade it.   Yesterday I witnessed much heated discussion about what I’ll simply call “October.”  It was overwhelming, and it is important.

Today I worked in my garden and experienced October, instead of “October.”  Every moment in the garden can be read as a metaphor of a cancer journey.  What do we remove, and what do we put in its place?  What do we engage in, and what do we pass by?  When do we speak up about what is given, and when do we create a silence instead?

 

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Losing Decline

Monta

Montauk Daisy, October

I always feel a twinge of disappointment when October arrives.  It’s not because the temperatures begin to fall or because the nights lengthen.  On the contrary, autumn has long been my—well, I would not want to play favorites with the seasons, but if I did have a favorite time of year, autumn would be it.  I love the glow of the sun through the cooler air; I relish the warm colors of the changing leaves; and I enjoy the escape from air conditioning to open windows and hear the crickets as I await (and await, and await) the night’s slumber. I happily anticipate the season’s call for pumpkin oatmeal, apple cobbler, and split-pea soup.

Whether I actually get around to making any of these delights is another story, though they are all long-established culinary rituals that I try to make time for and share with friends.  Later on, winter brings spicy solstice cookies, which require a hammer to smash whole peppercorns, cloves, and star anise.  (This is done lovingly, in the service of alchemy.)  The slow cooker, an inheritance from my mother, comes out to simmer with broths and sauces.  When the days lengthen once more, Pasta Caprese announces spring.  There’s always a lot of Pasta Caprese, straight through summer.  And in August, it’s blueberry pie, the recipe adopted from my mother’s Bible, Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook.  I’m pretty successful with pie crust, only because when I was a teenager with Crisco in hand, no one told me that rolling out the dough was difficult. Thus I did not know to fret. (No one warned me of the dangers of Crisco either; it was a different time.)  Each autumn I remember a friend proposing that we should meet up “as gin-and-tonic season gives way to Scotch season,” and I now extend the same  invitation to him.  Indeed, I am pleased think of mulled wine and sangria perching at opposite ends of the wheel of the year.  In October, I have lovely reminiscences of taking my tricolor beagle, Shiloh, to the woods; he perked up as the weather cooled, nearly camouflaged by the trees.

PumpkinsThere is the abundance of the harvest, coupled with the knowledge that it will not last forever: I’d better get to the farmers’ market these next few weeks, before it closes for the year.  The corn, already, is gone, but there are apples for my cobbler.  There are asters in my garden, and the myrtle I planted months ago has begun to fill in.  I’ve always been cheered and calmed by the waning of the sun, for it cannot but bring acknowledgment that all is impermanent.  This reminds me to cherish what I am given while I am able.  Spring, with its promiscuous, bursting blossoms—well, it is beautiful, to be sure, but it always seems a bit manic, overdone, urging me to forget how brief the life span of those bright colors will be.

Why, then, does my secretly favorite season—okay, I might as well admit it—bring such feelings of disappointment?  Is it because I remember three anniversaries in a row?  My mother died in 1995, two days before my fourth wedding anniversary, as my then-mate and I were on our way to a luxurious—I was a proverbially starving graduate student—weekend in Philly, occasioned by a once-in-a-lifetime Brancusi exhibit.  As I passed by the museum for the funeral home, my family members expressed sympathy that I would henceforth experience these two anniversaries in tandem.  Then, five years and two days later, my father died, on the wedding anniversary.  And a few years later, at the same time of year, my spouse and I began living apart, though we continued, for a time, to visit; the dog had died a few months before that, so our walks lacked Shiloh’s baying at squirrels and struggling to evade his leash.

No, the confluence of all these losses fails to dampen my enthusiasm for the shifting colors, sounds, and sensations, though for years it felled me.  Instead, the advent of autumn feels reassuring.  It underscores the way joys and treasures visit for a time, only to elude my grasp in the end.  Long ago I learned to accept, even welcome, these reminders of transience, and I feel more soothed than deflated at the turning of the wheel of the year, at the inexorable movement toward the longest night of the winter solstice and back around again.

What dismays me in October is not the departure of summer or the reminders of other sorts of leave-takings.  It is, rather, the overbearing presence of the color p$#k.  Just as autumn begins to make herself felt,—and heard, in the crunching of leaves and the blasting of marching bands at football games—Breast Cancer Awareness Month enters the stage, draping and drowning this sweet and tender time of year in garish p$#k ribbons.  They festoon ham sandwiches, manila file folders, candies, hair-care supplies.  It seems an ill-mannered intrusion: just as things are winding down and entering the quiet, my surroundings get painted brightly and incongruously with an aggressively cheery hue.  P$#k obstructs my autumn.

5AutumnWindGirlFall can offer a gentle invitation to surrender, to sink, to reflect, just as choosing to stay with any loss may cultivate serenity.  Pema Chödron, ever constant in her wisdom about inconstancy, says of the desire to evade discomfort and run elsewhere:Because we escape, we keep missing being right here, being right on the dot. We keep missing the moment we’re in. Yet if we can experience the moment we’re in, we discover that it is unique, precious, and completely fresh. It never happens twice.”  In a post titled “The Importance of Sadness,” Susan Piver asks questions that reflect gracefully on our autumn leaves: “What if I told you that the way to change the world was not to be bold, resolute, brilliant, or even compassionate? What if I told you that the way to change the world was to be sad?”  She muses that denying sadness may cause despair and blocks one’s own compassion.  Parker Palmer wrote last week about “The Complementary Natures of Beauty and Melancholy“: the way that gratitude may arise—or, one might say, might descend—at this time of year.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, though, encourages one, at least in part, to turn away from difficulty and loss.  Such resistance and dodging is more unsettling than grounding, and I cannot but question a call for “awareness” of a grueling illness that saturates itself with p#$k.  The ribbons promise to lift my spirits in the face of a deadly disease, a disease that entails great suffering, that reminds me daily, through the cycle of the year, of the cycle of life, of my impermanence.  It seems, well, ghoulish to stain this time of year with lurid p$#k trinkets.  So I turn away less from the illness than from the rose-colored glasses offered by Breast Cancer Awareness.  I guess that’s another form of resisting the moment—or is it?  What does it mean to resist resistance?

I want to ease into the quiet, to enter a hard-won peace in the shadows, not to be disturbed by simplistic statements, as empty as the branches of the trees will soon be, about awareness.  Awareness: of all but decay and decline.

So, bring on the pesky p$#k pumpkin. October is here.

I’ll take mine straight, though.  Orange works just fine for me.

—Posted by Rosie Untied

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The Legendary Hope Pumpkin

“It’s the P$#k Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
Click here for full-color version.  (Currently sold out.)
Three hours, ten minutes until October . . .

Pink Pumpkin—Grey

The Legendary Hope Pumpkin

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Katie Rose Guest Pryal on “Inspiration Porn”

William Murphy, Setanta – The Story via Flickr

William Murphy,
Setanta – The Story
via Flickr

 

From Katie Rose Guest Pryal’s September 25 post in her Chronicle Vitae series on psychiatric disability:

People who call you brave for disclosing a disability often feel “inspired” by you as well. Like this: “Your bravery in sharing your psychiatric disability with the world is so inspiring.” (That’s not an actual quotation from a message I received. Not exactly.) “Brave” plus “Inspiration” is a double-whammy of terrible. As the brilliant Stella Young has so nicely put it, “We’re not here for your inspiration.”

See more of Katie Rose Pryal’s “I’m Not Brave.”

 


How does the notion of “bravery” affect the dialogue surrounding breast cancer? Here is one example:

And a Brave Day™ Pink §emonade Project

 

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True and Pleasant, True and Disagreeable

Mark Epstein on saying what is true and pleasant:

Questioned some years after his enlightenment by a local prince about his penchant for delivering bad news, Buddha said that he could no longer abide by the traditional Sanskrit principle of saying only what was true and pleasant. He marched to a different drum, he maintained, and would speak of what was “true and beneficial even if it was disagreeable.” To illustrate his point, he pointed to a baby on the prince’s lap. What if the infant put a stick or a pebble in his mouth? Wouldn’t the prince pull it out even if doing so were likely to cause the baby some distress? Wasn’t that what a doctor sometimes had to do? Not to mention a mother? But he added one caveat. He would speak the beneficial, if disagreeable, truth only if he “knew the time to say it.” As is the case with good therapists today, tact was a major concern of the Buddha. If someone was not ready to acknowledge his or her trauma, he would not force the issue. Each individual had to liberate him- or herself, after all. The best a teacher, even a Buddha, can do is to show them how.

Epstein, Mark (2013-08-15). The Trauma of Everyday Life (p. 13). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

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September 25, 2014 · 10:53 am

Barbara Brown Taylor on Darkness

I have just listened to Mary Hynes’s interview with Barbara Brown Taylor, “Let There Be Dark,” on  CBC radio’s fine program Tapestry.  Highly recommended.  She talks about the pressure she felt as a preacher to be unfailingly sunny and describes her own religious practice as “lunar,” as distinguished from the “solar” tendencies of many communities.  This syncs up with my feelings about pink, about the efforts to dress up a painful experience with brightness. Any encounter with a kindred spirit who does not demand constant cheeriness makes me—cheery.  I’m still not pink though.

This is an excerpt from Barbara Brown Taylor’s “In Praise of Darkness,” in Time Magazine.  (It is an excerpt from her book “Learning to Walk in the Dark.”)

 . . . a kind of spirituality that deals with darkness by denying its existence or at least depriving it of any meaningful attention. I call it “full solar spirituality,” since it focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith. You can usually recognize a full solar church by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer. Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith. This sounds like heaven on earth. Who would not like to dwell in God’s light 24/7?

If you have ever belonged to such a community, however, you may have discovered that the trouble starts when darkness falls on your life, which can happen in any number of unsurprising ways: you lose your job, your marriage falls apart, your child acts out in some attention-getting way, you pray hard for something that does not happen, you begin to doubt some of the things you have been taught about what the Bible says. The first time you speak of these things in a full solar church, you can usually get a hearing. Continue to speak of them and you may be reminded that God will not let you be tested beyond your strength. All that is required of you is to have faith. If you still do not get the message, sooner or later it will be made explicit for you: the darkness is your own fault, because you do not have enough faith.

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Self-Portrait Through Mammogram

Mammogram and Me Rays

Self-Portrait Through Mammogram • Barbara White, August 28, 2014

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August 29, 2014 · 11:40 am

When Life-Saving Turns Life-Threatening

On cancer, medication, side effects, depression, and risk.
By Barbara White. Reblogged from iamnotmakingup.com.

The wound and the eye are one and the same. From the psyche’s viewpoint, pathology and insight are not opposites—as if we hurt because we have no insight and when we gain insight we shall no longer hurt.
—James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, 1975.

First, a recollection:

About seven years ago, I began taking an anti-cancer medication, Tamoxifen, after months of fretting about whether or not to do so. I had learned that in a very small percentage of patients, it could kindle or worsen depression. Although it was very rare for that to happen,—my surgeon had never seen a single case, my oncologist maybe one or two—I was indeed one of the “small percentage” to be felled. It took me some time to identify what was happening, but it really hit me that January when I caught a bad cold and had to stop my vigorous daily exercise routine. That habit was likely what had been keeping me afloat, and the sudden need to forgo it was devastating. After a period of perilous despair, during which I felt increasingly disinterested in the next week, day, and hour, I realized that the medication I was taking in the hope of staving off a life-threatening illness was itself life-threatening. For me. (Those last two words are crucial.) Fortunately, my doctors understood this and supported my choice to discontinue the medication. Any doubts I had ever had about the chemical aspect of mood were dispelled that January. There are so many debates and opinions in the offing about whether medication is necessary, helpful, virtuous, and so on. Having had such a severe depressive episode instigated by medication—the inverse of the usual—proved once and for all to my bodymind that chemistry can drive mood. I was not as in charge as I would have liked to think. I could not just repair my mental state with talk, toughness, or the right course of action. Sometimes there is no best course of action available. Sometimes one engages in revivifying exercise and finds it helps. And sometimes one gets a cold and realizes that the bank of endorphins has been used up for the time being. Sometimes Whole Foods runs out of fish oil.

think what you are

Next, a reflection:

It’s easy to think we know what depression is and to think we have wisdom about what is best for another who has experienced despair and anguish. But we know little. As many point out, the casual of the use of the d-word,—“Maleficent isn’t playing any more?! I am so depressed!”—hinders understanding. The mysterious and “yin” nature of the disease does too. Its darkness is powerful and seductive. It’s resistant to illumination. Even those who spend their lives experiencing mood challenges, and treating them, acknowledge the limits of their understanding. Some say that those who die of suicide are selfish, or that they failed to ask for help. Some say that pharmaceutical companies are agents of the State, that their medications are designed to break down the body’s natural chemicals, and that they will inevitably lead to a cure worse than the disease. (Tell that to someone who’s planning to take her life this week. A decline down the road might not be a bad alternative.) That one may eschew the word “suffering” and choose spiritual practice over medication, as long as one meditates in the “right way.” These are all things I have read this week, and I have been especially disheartened to hear some who identify themselves as spiritual practitioners reveal such self-satisfaction, such a lack of humility and compassion. I remember when I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer, dealing with (some) others’ responses was infinitely more difficult than accepting my own morbidity and eventual mortality. I’ve felt similarly pained by much of what I have read this week.

I cannot help but think that the persistent misunderstanding of depression and other mental health conditions relates closely to the fear of decline and death that is so evident in US culture. There are so many claims about superfoods and antioxidants and kale. (Oh, right, kale has been dethroned; is that right? Oops!) However, such apparently “positive” possibilities to engineer über-health inevitably reveal a dark side: all too often, such a desire to be well conspires with a similarly American rush to judge others and to express opinions that arise less from knowledge than from unconsidered attitudes—and, I suspect, from fears. Why else would one police another’s kale consumption? I see this in the discussion about cancer as well: the notion that one can outrun it in one way or another, that it can be cured. I have yet to hear anyone besides me ask in response, “And then what? No death? A better one? Worse?”

I find it hard to imagine that such a “police state of mind” is good for anyone’s mental or physical health. Yet there continues to be a cultural emphasis on the transaction: do this, and you’ll get this. Thing is, there is not always a thing to do, and if there is, it is sometimes comes with a heavy tax. Risk more cancer? Or risk suicide with a drug designed to fend it off? Fortunately, I had a reasonable alternative available. But not everyone does.

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.
—Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill (1926)

An invitation:

For those who have not had the “opportunity” to experience depression personally, or to look into its eyes in some other way, might you consider acknowledging your unknown knowns? Might you be able to tolerate the not knowing, as in Keats’s notion of negative capability? Might you emulate my doctors, who understood that their vast experience did not grant them omniscience, and who were able to accept that, even though it was statistically improbable, a life-saving medication could cause life-threatening side effects? Had they not, I might not be here to be wondering about this.

Here is the invitation, should you choose to accept it: For every opinion you express about depression, or other mental-health issue, read one article or essay about it. Or better yet, talk to someone who has lived with mental-health challenges, and instead of nursing your own opinion about how they should handle it, ask them about their experience, choices, and outcomes. It might be good for your own mental health too.

There’s No Map, But—

Below are some links that regarding mental health, depression, and well-being. They do not all agree with one another or with what I write above. I don’t always agree with myself either.

These two posts from The Belle Jar are especially informative:

When Getting Better Is No Longer An Option

Life as a Mountain Hike (Guest Post)

HuffPo Canada Living has had some good articles this week:

Arti Patel, Robin Williams’ Death Reminds Us Of The Impact Of Words Like ‘Sadness’ And ‘Depressed'”

Shannon Fisher, “Suicide Isn’t A Product Of Not Trying”

Spiritual Practitioners Discuss Depression

Lodro Rinzler, Meditation Isn’t Enough: A Buddhist Perspective on Suicide

Krista Tippett discusses her experience of depression (among many other things) on The One You Feed” (podcast)

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

Stephen Fry

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Breast Cancer Action on P$#kwashing

Excerpt from Annie Sartor’s “Pinkwashing on a Grand Scale” at Breast Cancer Action.

Many of the products that fall under the ACC [American Chemistry Council] or Procter & Gamble brand umbrellas are the very same products that are marketed and sold to consumers as pink ribbon products during Breast Cancer Awareness month each October. That’s right! Products containing chemicals that may be harmful to our health sold in the name of supporting women with breast cancer. 

 

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August 29, 2014 · 11:13 am