Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Shearing Cuts

Snowing outside—bright, glazed white porcelain snow glinting diagonal streaks across the dull, matte white, horizontal blinds. Warm inside, light grey steamy mists rising perpendicular to darker grey, vertical heating pipes. Cold sunlight crosses hot lamp light, casting a lace collar on the faded, ash-blonde wood floor. A chiaroscuro painting.

My black hair drifts in clumps to the floor—point, counterpoint, snippets alternating with the white, old man's hair falling outside. A mulch-covering ritual of renewal.


Clip, clip, snip scissors, the shears shearing. A perfect haiku: white spring snow and me, thick, black hair on a diminutive Japanese girl. Or, thick, harsh snow burning a cold January day and me, tall, heavy-boned black woman, crimps of wiry hair, hair in glassy, black waves—an ocean tangling into the African ivory coastline. The snow's cruel light gleams, thick and gagging, a chalky milkshake, threatening to choke and kill. Or, a dense, onerous snow trudging across the Russian Steppes, asphyxiating the land, crushing the houses, and me, moon-faced, unblinking—staunch. And inside I am warm, surrounded by tufts of hair, molting clumps from a stuffed Panda Bear.


I tenderly collect hair to braid into a rug, to cover with dust, cover with cat hair, cover as it covers—to be worn down back into the elements. Or, this gathering of hair, I will weave as the bottom of a wicker chair, supporting friends that come and go, supporting dust, supporting cat hair, supporting as it is supported. Thus start the years of collecting hair, hair constantly pruned short to fulfill such purposes.


I beg (steal) hair. Rescued from lovers, from friends, from strangers, …. swept from beauty parlors finely stained wood, from barbershops dust-covered, dull linoleum floors, from waste baskets in bathrooms, from brushes and combs patiently culled without breaking the knots and tangles. Workrooms deep in drifting, shifting color-spectrumnal hair—cotton white to Tupelo honey, Poppy red to the deep purple of ripe plums, leisurely loops to ringlets, electric shock waves to water flows. A wondrous fey-lock palette.


Space and history, I weave, time and emotion, I weave—shirts, jackets, dresses, pants…. Chiaroscuro body maps lined with purple amethyst Chinese silk. Hair-knittes huggings holding humans against the cold, the dirt, the outside that sometimes taps, sometimes scratches against my windows. My closests spill stories of dead cells shorn to be renewed, journeys of celebrations and mournings, of beginnings, changes, and ends—people I have never met, people I thought I knew, people I knew for only a while, and the very few I knew forever in the rhythm of their heartbeat. No, they never stay….. But I have their hair—and all that encompasses.




Monday, November 17, 2008

The Painful Truth



Dun-colored dust flings from the supply wagons plodding ahead of me. We trudge, in our fifth year, lacerating the landscape out of Alexander's compulsion to conquer. We vomit groans in the night. Alexander, in his desire to command us, supplies the "flower of mercy"—OPIUM. The Poppy: red - of blood and death, white - of purity and oblivion. We live for these brief respites.
And we endure.
Beyond words, beyond sense of self… just… beyond. One of our philosophers—Aristotle, Alexander's teacher—proclaimed death as the great leveler of all beings. But we, the warriors that may live to go home, if we talk of our experience at all, will say that which equalizes is Pain.
As a Roman gladiator, I embody strength, bravery, the valor and terrifying, magnificent potency of the Roman Empire. But I am a myth, a myth built on a body operating on opium. We are condemned criminals, prisoners of war, or slaves bought for the purpose of gladiatorial combat. A few of us are professionals, free men so low on the social scale we volunteer to participate in the games. Our life spans: two to three years. Oh yes, we fight, with the help of opium, we fight, die, and…escape.

I, We, humans have dragged our ravaged, diseased bodies out of Africa. For millions of years, we have lugged them across land, over mountains, through water. We have walked, run—crawled—from wretchedness. Searching for relief, first, in our struggle to survive, we developed receptors for what already existed. Then, we sought relief in what we could conjure into existence:

A Lesson in Evolution

: Plantisis Verse I:IV, In the beginning there was

Opium


Chemistrum Verse V:IX, Opium begat a son named

Morphine


Synthenim Verse X: IX, Morphine begat a son named

Heroin


Morphine came to us in the early 1800s, thanks to a German chemist looking for something to increase the strength of opium. And in 1898, Heroin, which generated quite a lucrative trade, advertised via the famous Bayer aspirin company came in the guise of cough medicine, a combatant for pneumonia, and also tuberculosis, among other things. Not till after W.W. II did the League of Nations finally demand that it be pulled off the market. But Bayer kept the profits, along with the money the company made manufacturing the gas used in the Jewish death camps (with full government knowledge from the start).

And now, chemical labs known and unknown

beget

a multitude of Drugs, in perpetuity, forever more,

in which we seek to obliterate torturous pain,

Amen


Pain: the stigmata. Holes ripping through life. Pain: The word made flesh. How to describe it?—the etiology, the history, the geography of pain. Pain that encompasses, pain that courses through breath, heartbeat, organs, joints, muscles, tendons, and bones. To sleep in pain. To wake in pain. To walk in pain. To breath in pain.

Stumping North from the Civil War on one leg, I cried out my suffering: Skrale. Krolde. Brachlin. Brackle. Chale. Chaleskine. Schriln. Grache. Harsh sounds racking my body in the synaptic firings of infinite anguish. Skin slit open and turned inside out, my nerves exposed to all the elements. The surgeons did try to mitigate the pain, but they only had four tools available: a butcher knife (to slice muscle and fat, a saw (to hack bone), a wire cutter (for tendons). . . and morphine.

A Theoretical Aside

Pain, according to socio-biologists, is an evolutionary mechanism serving to warn creatures that something needs fixing. But what a crude contrivance it surely is as so often there is nothing that can be done; when an animal in the wild suffers an abscessed tooth, that creature will most likely starve to death. And as for the human beast, too many physical afflictions reduce us to putrid skin bags stuffed with agony. Perhaps a particular interpretation of such torment—that it is noble and righteous to suffer for its own sake, an end in itself—developed to provide succor in the midst of our helplessness. As a political tool, its lucrative result has been to keep the masses from fomenting rebellion. Then, taking into account the Christian/Puritan penchant for suffering as punishment for sin along with pain and self-flagellation as expressions of the spiritual, we get the strong, cultural view: "Grin and bear it." "Stiff upper lip." "Suffer in silence." "Put up with it." "No pain no gain." …..i.e., No one wants to hear about it, so SHUT UP.

There is simply overwhelming torment, torment that does not lead to god, that doesn't ennoble us, that we do not learn from. The Opium Wars: a reaction to, an escape from, physical and psychic pain. The poppy field—to sleep and wake no more—death—oblivion. Opium, mixed with tobacco as early as the 1600s, gave the opium high its intense ability to relieve pain. The abysmal conditions for the billions in China led to opium dens; one-third of all Chinese sought relief while the British reaped the monetary rewards. The US offered China help in order to abolish the opium trade—in exchange for China opening its borders to American goods.

A Theoretical Aside

Viewed from a Marxist point of view, the workers toil and hurt, and those that own the means of production benefit off their suffering. Supply and demand. Money makes the world go round. And capitalism rules.


We live in the slums of Yantai and day and night unload the boats that fill the harbor. My father and his father before him have held their families together this way in a rotting, one-room shanty built against the backside of the main dock's garbage depository. Generations back, our family survived off fishing, but then we were told that that displeased the provincial representative of the Emperor. The Great One owned the sea, the fish, the land, and the ships that had begun delivering wondrous goods for his excellency's pleasure. And so we became the backs on which to unload these precious items for Him and, now, for this new group that has taken command after the last Emperor. But the few coins they deign to give us cannot pay for the acupuncture my father needs for his hurting, crippled hands and crooked legs. Nor can it pay for the medicine needed to cure the painful growths on my first born's back and buttocks. And my mother-in-law screams through the night from the horrible sufferings that come with the burden of age. And then there is myself. My family is …. hungry and tired. We understand this is our fate. We understand this. But it is a hard life to live. The gift of opium offers a little ease. As it does also for my father. And my mother-in-law. And my first born.

I have seen those around me kill and die, die and kill, and I have been told that a revolution has taken place, that now the sea, the land, the fish, the ships, and their miraculous goods belong to me, to my family, to my neighbors. But still we labor at the docks for far less than will provide for our most fundamental needs. And of late, soldiers of this new order have taken what little we have and demand even more. They say we must hand over our opium; we must tell them the names of those we get it from—although they offer no recompense—in money or to lessen the burden of our bodies. They say the opium causes pain. They say it will kill us. They say they will kill us. I have seen them take entire families to the community square and shoot them……..
My family has chosen the opium.

A Theoretical Aside

Twenty-first century theory regarding pain control has meant cutting the nerve bundles that carry the pain message to the brain. Unfortunately, this surgical procedure affects the body the same way amputation does, the brain responding as if the pain signals were still being sent. Furthermore, they try to grow back—thus doubling the initial messages' intensities. But doctors ignore the data coming in from their patients since they have determined that their theory is based in logic. Their only other type of treatment available—pain medication. The AMA prefers neither alternative. Their final word: Let the patients live by pain alone.

Biological evolution. Adaptation. Adapt or die. Though we declare we do not know what use it does for a chemical in the Poppy plant to develop interlocking adapters with the endorphin receptors of Homo Sapiens, for us, evolving receptors for substances that helped us ignore pain often meant the difference between life and death.
And so we endured.


- - - - - - -


Chronic back pain, 30 years. Days, sometimes weeks, of crawling to the bathroom. Never knowing when the 4th lumbar vertebrae would slip and I'd lose all control over being able to move my legs. Take anti-inflammatories. Live with the pain. Tried acupuncture and massage; neither worked. Practitioners blame me. Nor did Western medicine. Indiscriminate nerve pain in my neck and side of my head (known as Neuralgia), 20 years. Western medicine has no permanent drug for it, and since the worst pain is right under the temple of my glasses (I can't wear contacts), my glasses trigger the pain. Nothing for alternative medicine to do. Live with it. Fibromyalgia, 10 years. An auto-immune disease causing widespread pain in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Fatigue. Severe insomnia. Muscles and tendons twitch and at other times they burn. Always ache. Cause unknown. One nurse spits out, "It's all in your head." So is everything, but she meant I was simply crazy.

I only begged for pain management from my doctor that I had been seeing for over 6 years when the pain inhaled my time and space and every motion of every neuron. The AMA's public position: it is unethical and immoral to relieve such suffering with an opiate, despite the known fact that regular pain relievers do not work, as addiction is far worse than suffering excruciating, unmanageable, life-consuming pain. So, my doctor refused to prescribe.
Agony. Pain from my cells attacking and eating my tissues, my mind, my thoughts, my soul, my very being. Physical: pain in my neck, epileptic pain messages spasming through my shoulders, along the side of my head, down my shoulder blades, wrapping my fingers and elbows and wrists and hip joints and knees and legs—worst of all, the bottoms of my feet. It hurt too much to put on a pair of socks. I could not hold the weight of a coffee cup. I couldn't hold a pen or a fork for the pressure against my fingers sent stabbing, radiating pain. I could not sit, stand, drive, or walk for longer than 20 minutes. Mental: words seared, thoughts mangled, connections bloodily hacked and dangling beyond repair.
Emotional: No room, no room, no room for........... any.............. self............... just............ pain................... exists..................Chronic.............Forever. The doctor could accept that. The AMA could. Society could. The War on Drugs could.

I could not


I had the plan and means for suicide. The time and the place. Only when my sister, PHD clinical psychology, told my doctor—as I had done—that I was indeed suicidal did I finally get synthetic morphine—Only a Facade covering the pain, drilling, exploding, ravaging what I once called a life. No cure. Minimal reprieve. Constant pain boiling through the pitiful blockade.

The Afterbirth: How cool! You get to be high all the time.
That's a myth.
Hey—got any to share?

No. It's a medication.
Lucky you. I'd love to be "out of it" all the time.

You try working with no memory, fatigue, and pain.
You shouldn't be on that stuff. It's bad for you. Learn to cope some other way.

Thanks for the advice.
Oh, come on, picking up that book can't possibly hurt.

Based on what? Your health?
You're kidding! That slight brush with the edge of the table hurt? I can't believe it.

You don't have to.
So you can't sit in any of these chairs. I guess you'll just have to live with it.
I do.
So what do you expect from me? Pity? Boo hoo?
From you? I just want you to leave me the fuck alone.

Medical research has documented that pain is the most under treated medical problem in the U.S. Congress wants to further restrict pain research, doctors' rights to prescribe pain medication, criminalize the issue, and refuse pain control even to the terminally ill.
If they succeed, I also will choose death

rk

Dedication for A Painful Truth

While I wrote this piece six years ago, as far as the attitudes of the people I casually run into these days, when my disability comes up [in reality a combination of several chronic illnesses], unfortunately, the lack of understanding as well as the unwillingness to understand—even to insist that they know more than the doctors, researchers, biologists, myself, etc., combined, has grown exponentially. Not only do so many people adamantly believe they know what is right for me, this belief now extends to prejudging me: condescendingly, arrogantly, belittllingly, debasingly…. And this judgment extends far beyond me.


So I am dedicating this piece to everyone who has been made to feel less than equal, less than full—to everyone who has been condescended to, been prejudged and dismissed simply because they do not fit within the petty, minuscule box the abusers have decided defines “normal.” This piece, though it is limited to my particular circumstances dealing just with my illness [as opposed to all the other ways people have attempted to demean me], is written for all who have experienced prejudice in whatever form. In fact, almost every piece on this blog deals with some form of injustice and bigotry. As long as I have the ability, I hope to continue to speak out on such issues.