"How is your dessert?" "Fine," she says, fully sated Now, awkward silence
*Haiku are poems about nature. Senryu are poems about human nature. In Japanese, they both follow the same 5-7-5 syllable pattern. I published this senryu on my blog about five months ago but didn't have a suitable photo to run with it. Now I do.
Old two-lane Taghkanic highway of brittle macadam slices through the hunting grounds of the Algonquins sunlight filters through clouds plays tricks on the mountains gives them wrinkles tints them purple tickles the heather on their slopes and makes it shimmer tires thump on black rubber joints between pale roadway slabs in perfect time to the Bukka White blues on the radio the ghosts of the Dutch still haunt the geography of this place where creeks are called kills and rolling thunder is but the mirth of giants playing tenpins
The first four photos were taken on April 5, 1998, at the Buddha's Birthday celebration at Nippon-ji Temple in Tako Town, Chiba Prefecture, Japan. It's a very old and very famous temple of the Nichiren School of Mahayana Buddhism, about a 20-minute drive from where I lived. In Japan, Buddha's Birthday is called the Hana Matsuri, or Flower Festival. Though most of the Buddhist world marks Buddha's Birthday in May (if I'm not mistaken), it is observed on April 8 in Japan, and if that day is a weekday, processions usually are held on the nearest weekend. It is not a national holiday. In the first two photos, you can see the white elephant float that is an integral part of the day's procession. It is said that before he was born, Gautama Siddhartha, the future Buddha, appeared to his mother in a vision in the form of a white elephant. Above is a photo of three clergymen from this temple, taken in October 1996. The man in the center was the head priest, who was a television personality for his discourses on Buddhism. He died about a year after this photo was taken. His son, a kind and lovely man whose wife is the embodiment of kindness, inherited the temple and became head priest. I found out about his father's death while visiting the temple with my mother and eldest sister, who had come to Japan to visit me. We lit incense in the old priest's memory (the mourning period was still going on) and reminisced about the day this strange, bearded gaijin with a camera came walking down the path to the temple. You can see all my Japan photos by clicking here.
My serum calcium level has risen -- a medium-size rise, according to the doctor. As requested, she didn't give me specific numbers. So, my medication dosage has been increased, and she will consult with my endocrinologist Monday to find out if I also need an intravenous drug to manage the calcium levels. I'm growing very weary of this whole process. I have lots of major decisions to make about a range of circumstances in my life.
Farmers heading home from a picnic and an afternoon of gateball (a croquet-like game), Yokaichiba City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, April 1996, by Michael
My thanks to all of you for your very warm thoughts and good wishes for good results from today's blood test. It is very much appreciated! I called one of my doctors this afternoon to restate my desire not to be informed of the actual numbers from my test results. If I don't hear from her tomorrow or Monday, it will mean that I'm somewhere within the boundaries of being OK, and I'll continue my current dosage of medication. At my request, I'll be contacted only if I need to adjust my medication. Whether the numbers are good or bad will remain unknown to me as long as I want them to be. Some of you may see this as sparing myself unnecessary aggravation by removing a major source of worry from my life. Others may see this as avoiding the problem by ignoring it, even though ignoring it won't make it go away. Still others may see my strategy as a combination of the two. I'm under no illusions that my medical problem will disappear. I know it's an integral, undeniable, indelible part of me. But quantifying just how much of a hold it has on me interferes with the business of living. So, just for today, I won't worry. And tomorrow and on the days that follow, I'll set my sights on that same goal.
Top photo, a cormorant swimming in the Hudson River on Sunday. These diving birds can spend up to 30 seconds underwater in search of food. In the center of the photo above, you can see the circular wake this bird left as it disappeared beneath the surface on one of the half-dozen dives I watched.
Diving, surfacing, diving again A lone cormorant probing the Hudson's secrets
On Sunday, I took my first longish walk since Easter. I got off to my usual late start and wound up doing only about 11 miles. I walked down the Hudson River path as I always do, but cut across Manhattan at 94th Street, through the northernmost section of Central Park, exiting at 97th Street. I craved solitude and wanted to avoid the Lennonophiles pining for their martyred leader at Strawberry Fields, along with the throngs of tourists, cyclists, street vendors, dog walkers, sunbathers, Frisbee throwers, people watchers, book readers, inline skaters and picknickers. The park crowds usually don't come this far north except to play tennis on the vast sea of green courts parallel to the walking path.
Down in the East Village, I met up with fellow blogger and old soul An Xiao, a venerable Taoist immortal by way of the Philippines and Los Angeles. We discovered to our pleasure and relief that Zen lunatics still wander the earth. (Visit An's haiku blog for a rare treat.)
After An headed home, I walked the short distance to my friend Shiki-san's Japanese restaurant for sushi, beer and sake. We listened to mournful enka CDs and discussed our favorite samurai films. Shiki-san, descended from an old Kyushu samurai family, told me how his ancestors converted to Christianity in the 16th century but had to practice their faith in secret once the shogun outlawed the barbarian religion. I sat rapt, and the more I imbibed, the better my Japanese got.
Sated, I walked to one of my favorite bookstores, St. Mark's Book Shop, at Third Avenue and St. Mark's Place. The last thing in the world I need is more books. But when my brain is bathing in a sea of warm sake, browsing and buying become surprisingly easy.
I let my eyes slip from the volume of Chinese poetry in front of me to my watch. I panicked. It was 10:30. The George Washington Bridge pedestrian path closes at midnight. I still had to walk up to 59th Street and then crosstown to Columbus Circle for the A train to 178th and the bridge. And on Sundays, the A train runs far less frequently this time of night.
I paid for my books and charged up Third Avenue. It was about 10:55 by the time I got to 35th Street and realized I would never make it to the subway in time. I took a cab to Columbus Circle, sprinted down the steps to the subway station and was crestfallen at hearing the ominous sounds of construction. This would certainly mean more delays on top of the infrequent late-Sunday schedule.
A D train came by at about 11:20. I took it to 125th Street in Harlem and waited impatiently for the A. Luckily, it was a short wait.
I got to the GWB just as the guards were locking the gates to the pedestrian walkway, putting the bridge to bed for the night.
Two days ago, I got an e-mail from a stranger asking me if I was the same Michael who works as a newspaper editor and who was diagnosed with parathyroid cancer. Evidently, she did a Google blog search and found my blog. The woman signed her name and listed her job title and work phone number. She is a project editor at a TV station on the West Coast.
I did a Google search of my own and learned that she also was, and perhaps still is, a health reporter for the station. I was apprehensive in responding. I envisioned TV cameras and probing questions for a news report on rare illnesses -- not that I mind discussing my situation, but at least a blog affords as much anonymity as one chooses. Still, I replied.
It turns out she wasn't doing research for a story. She was diagnosed last summer and was anxiously looking for someone with whom to share information on the illness and on treatment options. She said she could find precious little useful information on the Internet, just gloom-and-doom mortality statistics and articles written in impenetrable medical jargon. Above all, she was looking for people with this cancer with whom she could talk and ask questions. So now, my circle of instant friends linked by a common plight has widened to three, including myself. I know one other person with this illness. He lives just 20 minutes from me and we've become good friends.
I advised the woman not to resort to the Internet for information on this illness, and I would give this same advice to anyone with any illness. There's a lot of misinformation out there, more than you could ever imagine. In the case of parathyroid cancer, a little-understood disease, this is especially true. A lot of the information on the Internet is woefully outdated and doesn't reflect the latest data on surgical and pharmacological treatments.
This caveat also applies to whom one asks for advice. I related to the woman my own horrific experience with the morons at the American Cancer Society. Around the time I was diagnosed, I made the mistake of calling the ACS for some insight into this disease. A "nurse" there read to me from a textbook -- that turned out to be a decade old -- about the illness, and the picture of demise this book painted had me convinced that I needed to make out my will as soon as possible.
Anyway, I'm glad to meet another person with whom to share my experiences in ways I can with very, very few others. This anecdote has no point other than to show how small a world this has become. It also shows that for those of us in difficult situations who find comfort in sharing with people in similar or identical circumstances, the Internet can be a blessing.
Thanks to those of you who weighed in on my previous post. It seems my thoughts were interpreted by readers in ways I didn't consciously intend and didn't foresee. I started off with an observation that readership is decreasing. Then I focused on other aspects of blogging. I didn't intend my post as a lament, but evidently that's the vibe I gave off whether or not I meant to. Fair enough. So, I'll let the chips fall where they may and thank the readers who commented.
As vain as I am, I had been discouraged these past several weeks by the steady dropoff in new and regular visitors to my blog. I began thinking that perhaps my blog was growing tedious in visitors' eyes. Repetitive. Stale. And then I stumbled upon this statistic published by Technorati, the blog-tracking service:
"Percentage of bloggers who still maintain their blogs with new posts after three months of blogging: 55 percent."
That, coupled with warmer weather (and with it less time spent by people in front of their computers) seems to explain the shrinking audience. I created this blog just before Thanksgiving, and confess that my ardor has cooled since then. From posting once and often twice or more a day, I now update it just a few times a week. I still think it's a great way to commisserate with people I otherwise would never meet, in far-flung places I might never visit. I still think blogging is a great exercise in interconnectedness.
I also think it's a great exercise in writing as its own reward, even if it winds up being for the writer's own eyes alone.
Now, if only I can begin vieiwing this blog as an exercise in non-attachment.