Monday, February 26, 2007

Forgotten Twice

Is better than being denied thrice.

In reading the last few postings on your blog, I found I came up (uncredited) twice. When you had that actress perform a Wallace Shawn play in your home, I was in attendance. And yes, it was sleep-inducing. I believe you had also provided some snacks before hand. I think the cost was ten or more dollars. And, as regards "My Dinner With Andre", it was indeed a theatrical release (I've seen it three times and think it is great). Have you seen Shawn in "Vanya on 42nd Street"? I like it very much also.And, regards my second forgottenness, you told me at the time (perhaps it was hyperbole) that I was the inspiration to having your character writing all those lists. I indeed filled in my 'cash spent list' just yesterday, in a long line of yearly booklets which go back over a quarter century. For all I know you're forgetting me right now. Is that a 'wooiiee wooiiee'?

This is a reply from my good friend Dale to two of my recent blogs. He is the most disciplined writer I know, in the writing itself, in the editing, and in the sending the manuscripts out to agents and publishers.


My friend Ted, the owner of a Mac so that he can't post on my site, e-mails me this comment:
"Yes. Good nursing is in a transcendent realm of goodness."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

On Being a Nurse

I have learned a lot about being a nurse the last 6 weeks. While Bill was in the hospital, I watched the nurses closely. I saw how they shaved him, and when he came home, I duplicated that. So far, knock on wood, I haven’t given him a knick. When the kids were little I played nurse on quite a few occasions. By coincidence, I have nursed 6 kids through chicken pox.

I have always admired nurses. They acquire an astonishing facility to do things most people couldn’t bring themselves to do: draw blood relatively painlessly, stick needles into tender body parts, and take care of various bodily wastes in a manner that doesn’t embarrass the patient. They also have a knack for getting the patient to do what he should be doing, eating or drinking the noxious substance or taking a pill, without sounding like a harridan.

When my dad was in the nursing home, not in his right mind, I heard a nurse say to him, laughing, “You like my poobahs, don’t you.” The nurse was from the Caribbean, and I realized that her poobahs were her breasts and that my father had touched them. She was not only kind to him, but pleasantly kind.

Over in One Word, Zhoen writes about being a nurse in the operating room. She seems to revel in her competence. To have that kind of competence in such an important job must be truly wonderful.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

My Weekly Column

I have been working on my "State of the Art" columns for the new arts section of the NB Telegraph Journal. When they first asked me to write for them, they wanted me to do a column every week, but I agreed to do one only every other week. I was afraid of a weekly deadline. Now the editor is again urging me to reconsider. I think I will give it a try. I have done a lot of art journalism -- profiles, reviews, news items -- but I have never had an opinion column, and I have always thought that it would be stimulating to have one. I am not a natural writer, that is, I don’t have an easy style or an instinctive humor, so I have to work at it. I envy Garrison Keillor, Rex Murphy, and David Brooks for their brilliant, original way of putting things. I loved the columns of the late Alden Nowlan. My memory has always been faulty and is getting faultier, and that is a detriment. However, the idea of the column has fired up my imagination, and I am often thinking, “That would make a good column.” Working on this blog has toned my muscles: one of the good things that has come of it.

Friday, February 23, 2007

synchronicity or maybe just coincidence

Yesterday I was looking for a book (which I didn’t find) and was amused that someone had put our two copies of Wallace Shawn’s The Fever on opposite ends of the bookshelf. A few hours later I was reading the latest copy of the NY Times Book Review, and saw that there was a review of the memoir of Wallace’s brother, Allen, illustrated with a photo of the brothers. I hadn’t thought of Wallace for quite a few years, and here he was, turning up twice.

In October of 1992, someone, I forget who, asked me if I would host the well-known actor Claire Coulter. This was something of an experiment, using people’s living rooms as a theatre. I was to invite people to come, and they were to pay, but I can remember only Ted and John although there were others. I can’t remember how much they had to pay. Coulter sat in our large maroon leather armchair and delivered a Wallace Shawn monologue in a normal tone of voice. Hosting the performance was a strange experience. over there were our usual friends, sitting in their accustomed places, and over here was a stranger, talking on and on. Ted told me later that he was afraid he would go to sleep and Bill agreed.

Did she perform The Fever? I don’t remember. I do have the two copies, one she gave us and one I bought for our daughter. I don’t know why I didn’t send it to her. Grace once got Bill to watch Shawn’s My Dinner with AndrĂ© with her. Was it on TV or did they go to the movies?

I thought it was a successful event, and I imagined other actors following her lead, but it never happened again. Our traveling actor friend Ellen Pierce would visit us occasionally, carrying with her all her worldly goods in various canvas bags. She was a master at making herself a cozy private nest within our house, pleasant to have around, not at all in the way. I would get her some gigs. One time she thought she would be paid on the spot, but red tape meant that she couldn’t be, so I had to lend her $30 to buy a bus ticket to her next engagement.

Both women weren’t just traveling mountebanks but were deeply committed to theatre and willing to make sacrifices to engage in it. I wish someone else would come along to enliven the scene.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Last summer I wrote what I thought was a short story. It began with an image I had of a family event. In October, starting to type it up, I realized it wasn’t a short story but the beginning of a novel. This has happened to me on several occasions. I began to go deeper into the story, and several characters emerged, one of whom was the husband of the central consciousness, Anna. It also gradually emerged that her husband had had a severe stroke. My father had had several strokes, and I thought as I was writing that was the experience I was building on. My father’s strokes had left me with the dread that I would have one, leaving Bill to look after me.

Now the strange part: it wasn’t me who had the stroke but Bill.

In 1969 I was writing a novel (never published) about a woman who went on a protest walk to NYC. I wrote on a Thursday, and the next Tuesday I was called home because my mother had gone into a coma. A few days later she died. A few weeks later I went back to the novel and read what I had written on that Thursday: “When she was sixteen, her mother died.” I was troubled. Something similar has happened a number of times, although not quite so troubling. I wrote about a mother and father who were sitting in the “quiet room” of the emergency ward, where they put people whose loved one is in dire straits. Their son had had an accident. Once when I had been in the emergency ward with one of the kids for a minor reason, I had glimpsed the quiet room and saw a couple in it so I knew what it looked like. A few months after I wrote about the quiet room, Bill and I were sitting in the quiet room. Our son had been bitten in the face by a dog.

One of the main characters in my first published novel keeps more and more complicated lists. She makes lists of her different lists. Her daughter gives her nicely bound black books to keep the lists in, and they comprise a kind of family history. My mother kept lists but not as elaborate. A few years ago I realized I was keeping lists of lists, a book in which I listed where other lists were kept, like my character. And two years ago I bought a black book in which I write everything down so that I won’t forget and only later did I think of the black books of Flora’s mother.

It’s all kind of spooky.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Milk of Human Kindness

What has ameliorated the awfulness of this past month is how kind, thoughtful, just plain nice people have been. The nurses in the Cardiac Care unit were so gentle and pleasant. I watched them shave Bill. They were careful, went slowly, rubbed shaving cream into the bristles gently. After he had his first cat scan, he smiled at the cardiac nurse who had accompanied him and she smiled at him, and he said to me and John, “With the help of my buddy here, I got through it.” It was as if together they had overcome a monumental obstacle.

My relatives and friends have rallied around. I have not a doubt that I could phone many different people, and they would be here immediately to help us. The ones far away have sent candy, Bill’s favorite fig squares, books, flowers, cards. They have phoned and e-mailed. The ones close by have visited, done errands, and brought food.

Yesterday we went to get Bill’s new glasses. I was filled with dread because his old ones have been unsatisfactory for several years – the bifocal part is so low that he can’t use them to read. The cheerful young woman put them on Bill and gave him something to read. I could tell that they weren’t right. She immediately said, “They’re not right. Who did those measurements anyway? You can’t use them. I’m sending them right back to the laboratory.” She called a colleague who agreed they weren’t right, and they discussed the proper positioning of the lower bifocals. Proper glasses might seem like a small thing compared to a stroke and possible lung cancer, but to someone whose life is reading and writing, it is huge.

Bill is, in many people’s opinion, both brilliant and eccentric. He sometimes is difficult to understand, but I can tell that everyone we have encountered in the last month has been trying hard to figure him out in a kindly way. A night nurse asked me what Bill did before he retired. I told her that he was a professor of English at UNB. Her eyes opened wide, she laughed, flung out her arms, and said, “That explains a lot! We wondered where all those big words were coming from.”

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you, but I didn’t realize just how bad it is. I knew that your chances of getting cancer rise when you smoke although not everyone who smokes gets cancer. If cancer were the only bad result, you would just be taking a gamble, like climbing Mt. Everest. Or even driving a car. I have learned, however, that there are many other results of smoking. The doctor told Bill that because of his smoking his condition is that of a man ten years older. There are so many things wrong with him that I am overwhelmed. For example, his ability to metabolize food is affected. And heart rhythm. And circulation. The only good thing that can be said of his smoking is that he was pretty old when his bad habit of 60 years caught up with him.

The young, pretty, female, heart resident leaned over Bill and asked him if he wanted his heart to be started again if it stopped. “This is something I have to ask you.” He might die, I thought. And then I thought, He is going to die. Now. Tonight.

Our youngest son was standing there too. I haven’t asked him what he thought. I only know that when our neighbor phoned him to tell him Bill had had a stroke, he left his house for the hour and a half drive without his wallet and in his crocs (in the middle of a New Brunswick winter.)

Now we are waiting. Bill can’t have anesthesia for at least another two weeks. We have had a month of harshly cold temperatures with bitter winds. We haven’t had such weather for several years. I can’t remember where I put our down-filled coats. He can’t have coffee or alcohol. And of course no cigarettes. He is having difficulty writing. The deadline for my column is tomorrow morning.

In her introduction of me in the new section of the newspaper, the editor called me “venerable.” A francophone woman e-mailed me about my first column and misquoted the word. She called me “vulnerable.”