Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bathrobes for January

American artist Jim Dine, who hails from my natal state of Ohio and is still making art at 74, loves bathrobes -- at least as inspiration for his work. (That's one of his many prints above). According to a recent explanation from a Wake Forest University website,
Jim Dine first used the image of a man's bathrobe, with the man airbrushed out of it, to create a self-portrait in 1964. Working from that same ad clipped out of the NY Times, he has repeated the theme of himself as an unseen figure in a robe ever since. "The ad shows a robe," said Dine, " it somehow looked like me, and I thought I'd make that a symbol for me."
I love that: "a symbol for me."

I love that the man was airbrushed out of it. Bathrobe as existential a proper bathrobe, in a dark and seemingly endless winter you can, maybe, forget you exist, tune out all the vicissitudes of life, and hide yourself in the soft contours of a big thick yardage of raiment. You could hibernate in there.

In general I love Jim Dine -- his 1995 documentary "JIm Dine: A Self-Portrait on the Walls" in which he creates huge charcoal drawings of trees and crows and an amazing self-portrait on the walls of an empty German castle (at one point using a large chunk of thick bread to nubble in some texture) and then paints over them six weeks later, is one of my all-time favorite statements about art. The 30-min gem was nominated for an Academy Award but didn't win.

But back to bathrobes. It's Jan. 25, for chrissakes, and it was four degrees when I reluctantly pulled myself out of bed today just in time to feed the cats, nuke up a cup of hot green tea, get the paper off the porch and settle down to switch back and forth between Meet the Press and This Week with George S. It has now spiked to six degrees, I see. The cats, released from their nightime basement hostel, seem comatose as the furnace cranks into action. I feel a bit comatose, too, but it's probably the tranquilizers I've recently taken to, which by the way I think are a fine idea for getting through a Midwestern winter.

And I'm in my bathrobe -- a big thick "authentic" St. John's Bay model -- though hecho in Taiwan, I see -- 100 percent polyester (my hasn't polyester improved over the years -- this feels soft as lambswool and is eminently washable). It's a man's bathrobe, L/XL, or, as it alternately says, G/XG which I take to mean "grande," like a Starbucks coffee. Or perhaps "gros." It is a navy and dark green plaid and has a thick belt that always gets tangled up with the jeans and towels in the dryer. I bought this robe for Ted, but either he doesn't like it (preferring the equally thick white number my sister-in-law bought him, that reminds him of the time we blew $700/night at Ventana Inn in Big Sur and had a lot of sex) or understands that from the begining, I loved the way this bathrobe encases my body so much that it was useless for him to claim it.

So here's to bathrobes, to Jim Dine, and to surviving January in Michigan with whatever resources we can muster. There is no sense having any ambition in this climate, except to sleep and stay warm. My strategy: stay in the damn bathrobe as long as possible. Maybe until May.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Notes from a Recovery

Carnations by Richard Mach, Ph.D.

1. I ate funny. For a solid week, all I could seem to eat were bananas and avocados. Fortunately, I like bananas and avocados. Ah, there's something luxurious about slicing open the nubbly black skin, parting the halves of the fruit, lightly pulling out the pit, sprinkling in some kosher salt, and eating the creamy green meat right out of the skin with a spoon. Bananas are nice for a similar reason -- you don't need a dish if you're too exhausted to even think about putting a plate in the sink.

2. Later, the cuisine of choice was bacon and yogurt. Don't ask me why, except to get rid of the bad case of thrush I was on a forced sort of customized Adkins Diet. I think I shocked my friend Kim, one of my Steady Eddy's family at The Farmer's Market, when I demanded a double order of bacon one morning. She'd never even seen me eat a BITE of bacon in all my years of having breakfast there: I'm usually a tofu reuben girl. Of course Mike crisped up a pile for me back in the kitchen, and it tasted FABULoUS. Oddly, the first thing I did afterwards was buy an antique oval mirror at the second hand store next door to Steady Eddy's -- only $35. Why I'd want anything to expose my pasty mug at this point is beyond me, but the point was that I loved the oval, the ebony frame. I wanted something beautiful.

3. And the bacon obsession led me to unearth my mother's antique cast iron frying pan. It was buried in a bottom cupboard with cake pans and a drainer piled on top of it. I love this frying pan - the real deal, probably 150 years old, heavy as hell. I fried up all my therapeutic bacon in this family heirloom. It was like having my mother with me, saying, "hang in there and remember the old values. You will be okay."

4. Swimming. Ted and I joined the UMF Rec Center and have been walking the track -- a meditation I find calming. But twice so far I also went through the considerable rigamarole to swim in the pool. Despite having to walk a long tunnel under the building to get there, etc. etc., once I get there I can slide into the warm water, roll over on my back and just float. Yeah, I did a few Puritanical laps because that's who I am, but the best is just floating, looking up at the concrete square patterns in the ceiling and let them glide by as I put my mind into neutral. I love the water, sinking into serenity.

5. Flowers from "Schmedly." One of my neighbors has decided that we all need bits of color in our email inboxes every morning. He never says much about any of his photos, from his garden last summer, but just attaches a flower. I can't tell you how much these gorgeous shots have meant each morning: it's chemical-free treatment for SADD...little daily joy pills. The carnations above are one of the first ones I got from him -- I love them. Thank you, Schmedly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Two glum poems from a hard winter

Perhaps the entry below will explain the sinister tone of these verses.

1. Winter Solstice, LA: Arrival

It’s dark here too, but wet--
harbor lights oily and only
someone else’s news.
I’m sick,
panicked from
the claustrophobic flight, sinuses
squalling and squirming
like preemies -- no, like
poor harridans shriveled and brittle in
wheelchairs in a hospice ward.
Enough of that. Black waves spread out
in waning moonrise.
I missed full monty, and what’s left
Is less, is less, a lunar solstice
cringeing into soggy waxen dawn.

2. Coming Home: "Light Chop"

...the pilot says, dry and neutral, businesslike
as puffed up little bags of peanuts jiggle
on a flight attendant’s tray. Things change:
the Continental Divide’s the culprit, wreaking
waves on earth’s upheavals
and, six miles high my body's fill of air and water
settles toward my feet, ankles bad balloons wanting
a joyless drift to land. My ancient heart
flutters, querulous. (I use a fancy word
to soothe my fear) as clouds rise up and bump us--no,
we are going down into all that cumulus like
a congested head, sliding into a sinus infection
we call Detroit, just a light chop, he says,
to get us drained all out on frozen ground.

Tentative step from the tunnel

A long tunnel of darkness and anxiety. Eerie solitude, doubt, illness, cold -- and finally, some light. And on this day when the country perhaps is turning. Such a day of hope and celebration.

I am grateful for cats in my lap, a pill that helps me sleep, lengthening days, a dining room table piled with work to do. Morning light sparkling on snow.

My husband lying next to me on the floor, whispering, saying hold on, when I could not get up, frozen with fear. This is something I've never experienced and it frightened me to my core. I hesitate to write it here, but it was real and happened more than once: once in San Pedro, twice here in Flint. Panic rising, adrenaline rushing, dread and claustrophobia.

A doctor who believed me and helped and is helping me. A body in rebellion from a powerful antibiotic, then a violent allergic reaction to the first antidepressant. A paralyzing combination of physiology and anxiety, a toxic and sobering mix. Now, though, an infection going away and sleep returning, beautiful sleep.

I am shaken and chastened by all that's transpired. I could not write about it until just tonight, when there is so much joy in the air. There is hope: gentle, gradual, tentative -- each small step a gift. Phew.