Smokescreen

somewhere between Albuquerque and Amherst

“I keep telling myself that no one can keep my mind from going fuzzy except me.”
~ Elaine J. Kent
20 July 2009

While hanging out with mom last week, I finally asked her about blogging. Did she remember the writings about Uncle Sam? I’ve been weighing whether or not to do this since very soon after the emergency notification posted to my Facebook Wall by my sister-in-law. That day, I blundered my way through the opening of the Bakhtin conference trying to pay attention but distracted with worry. The hospital would tell me nothing because mom had not authorized them to do so. By the time (two days later) that Michael asked me about lying (in relation to the conference topics and his research on blogs), I had a quasi-grip on mom’s medical situation halfway around the world. ChineseLampTree.jpgShe had talked her way out of emergency surgery to tend a bit of emotional/relational business that she simply refused to leave undone in face of the (admittedly very small) risk of dying under anaesthesia. We had spoken, and I cannot recall – ever – her being so clear, direct, and sure of what mattered most and what she needed to do about it. Not only did she convince the hospital psychologists that she was sane, “Sissie” had also convinced her siblings along with me and my brother that this was the way things were going to be. And so they were.
The surgery to remove a large mass from her colon was, wouldn’t you know, only the tip of the iceberg. We’re still waiting results of a bone scan, but we know that chemo of one sort or another lies ahead, and in the meantime – because why have one major ailment when two are possible?! – the vertigo she’d been having for a few months suddenly worsened, and was traced to a 70% blockage in both carotid arteries. She’ll have surgery to clean the plumbing in the left carotid in a few weeks….. the right carotid will get its turn in due time.
While I tried to stay focused on the last month of fieldwork, family members played tag team and kept mom company and in good care. Brother Rich, btw, has just been stellar.
Despite everyone’s love and attention, it felt good to finally lay my own eyes on mom some six weeks after the drama began! After learning results of the first battery of tests, we spent most of our time walking, talking, eating, and just hanging out. Over the weekend we had a wonderful day with my good, longtime friend Laurel, and then mom took the next day just to read. Mom gave me the book after she’d finished, to read on the flight home. “It’s painful in the beginning,” she said, “but stick with it. You’ll like it!”
After our fun day sightseeing I remained in tourist mode, so Laurel and I squeezed in a visit to the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History.prayer.jpg They had an exhibit called The Shape of Time, about Charles Ross’s massive earth/artwork Star Axis, that I wanted to see. The security guard allowed me to take photos of the brief description by museum curators, describing how “star geometry [is] anchored in earth and rock,” enabling viewers to track precession – the 26,000 year cycle of the earth’s shifting axis.

“It is all very beautiful and magical here –
a quality which cannot be described. You have to live it and breathe it, let
the sun bake it into you.
The skies and land are so enormous, and the
detail so precise and exquisite that wherever you are you are
isolated in a glowing world
between the macro and the micro, where
everything is sidewise under you and over you, and even
the clocks stopped long ago.”
Ansel Adams in a letter to Alfred Stieglitz from Ghost Ranch, 1937

Also on display was an incredible collection of black and white photographs by Craig Varjabedian. Ghost Ranch became the home and inspiration of Georgia O’Keefe, who named one her paintings From the Faraway Nearby.

lush and mountains.jpg
Do you ever lie [on the blog]?”
I practically choked. It was not only an inappropriate moment to be forthcoming and blurt fear but also inopportune. At least I’ve learned that over the years of externally processing emotional experiences – and living through the interactive, relational consequences. But there was the question, the challenge, the opportunity, the dare: the crisis, right in my face, immediately. Always – until that very moment – when people asked me about blogging I would explain that I write about the most important thing happening in my immediate subjective world. These things vary considerably, from politics in the world at large to learning about language or cognition or interpretation to microsocial interactions with friends. But in that moment I knew I had to choose along a public/private dimension – would that make it a lie?
No. Yet the dilemma remained. Why do I blog? Why have I kept at it all this time? Do I really believe in my earliest inspirations for doing this public process of developing a consciousness . . . or will I shrink at the sharpest moment?

“To be able to reproduce a feeling so that others could recognize it, and perhaps understand it for the first time, one had to have some idea of what it felt like in reality. To show that one knew meant revealing what one had felt.”

Edward “Linc” Lincoln in Smokescreen, by Dick Francis (1972, p. 82)

Linc, the fictional protagonist in Smokescreen, is describing acting, but I read it as any kind of performance. Performing (such as writing) can also reveal what one has not felt, what one does not know. The first time I had to interpret someone’s grief in American Sign Language (nearly 20 years ago), my mentor said something to the effect of, “Well, it’s obvious that you don’t cry.” (This deficit, fyi, has since been corrected.)

Of course Mom remembers the blogging I did about Uncle Sam.

    Mom, I’ve been wondering whether or not I should – or want – to do some blogging like that about you, about this. How do you feel about it?”

    Well honey I don’t mind. If you think it will help somebody. Or you.

    I don’t know if it will help anyone, mom. It might. It might not.

Of course I am hoping it might.

References/Resources:
Remembering Sam, Reflexivity< Limits and Possibilities of Mikhael Bakhtin, Reflexivity
“Don’t flatter yourself.” [about not lying in the blog] Reflexivity
Museum Day, [about Brother Rich] Reflexivity
photo-eye Gallery: Star Axis
The Shape of Time, photo one
The Shape of Time, photo two
to lengthening our shadows (a toast), [about precession] Reflexivity
Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby, Craig Varjabedian
Georgia O’Keefe [a student team project] by James Adkins, Mona Manzanares and Jamie Long
Homage to a Mentor, Reflexivity
Smokescreen, Dick Francis

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