29 June 2015

I just watched this short clip in the hope of hearing something positive. Not really.
Instead, I have been carrying this quote below inside of me like a heavy dark stone:

In a recent interview the Nobel prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the leading scholar of cognitive biases, was asked about our brains’ limitations when it comes to understanding the dangers of climate change. “I’m not very optimistic about that,” Kahneman replies, despondently sipping tomato soup. “No amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living. So that’s my bottom line: there is not much hope. I’m thoroughly pessimistic. I’m sorry.”

28 June 2015

People tell me: do that, ask your doctor for that, insist on test xyz now. Don't wait, demand this new treatment. Do you have any idea how complicated this all is? How difficult it is some days to call and ask for an appointment. Should I let it get worse? Is this bad enough? 

Some days, I just want to move on, never see another waiting room, ever again. I could write a book on waiting room decorations, it would end on a tragic note. No more carefully rehearsed questions that fail to express what I really wanted to explain anyway. I gave up on lists some time ago, it makes you look like a hypochondriac nerd with issues. 

Some days, I just want to walk in there and look across the inevitable desk and roar: I feel ill, just do something. Whatever. Just let me lie over there on that stretcher and get on with it.

No more cheerful thank yous and smiles all round because I want to remain in the good books  when the shit hits the fan. I want to be the good patient, the one who is on the ball while at the same time understands the constraints of time and money, who can come up with short precise descriptions and not asks too much. In my ideal world, every person with a chronic illness deserves a personal assistant who organises appointments, tests, insurances, dinner dates and holidays, incl. cancellations and sick certs. I would settle for a robot.

And some days I want to test fate, just let things happen, just wait and see. What would happen if I pretend to be stuck somewhere without doctors and labs and pharmacies and all those shiny diagnostic tools. (After last week's x-ray, the young intern said, please remember to record it in your x-ray data card. Oh sweetie, I almost replied, nice try but I've lost track long ago.)
But whatever it is - panic, fear, worry or simply the fact that I love being alive just that bit too much - I cannot do that. 

And then there's this thought: I know I can look within and watch the stuff coming up - the restlessness, anxiety, impatience, fear and tears, the lot - just watch it come up and don't get involved. I know by now how it rises, how it eventually passes away. I know it requires patience, self discipline, sometimes distraction, sometimes a cup of valerian tea, a walk through the garden at night. I know that sometimes it takes ages and sometimes it can be just a matter of sleeping through it. And yes, I know that in the end I will be where I started: a woman with a serious chronic illness.  But what else is there? This is it, my gorgeous life. And I mean it.

This day 33 years ago, we got married.

26 June 2015

the lungs

Breath from The Mercadantes on Vimeo.

Another lung function test, another diagnosis to accommodate into my fabulous life. Shit happens. Summer is gorgeous.

23 June 2015

Watching footage of desperate migrants from the illegal camps near the Eurotunnel in Calais trying to board lorries, reading the report from a commander of an Irish navy vessel on their latest rescue efforts in the Mediterranean Sea, listening to one of my colleagues arguing that basically they are all scum, only looking for free welfare. I want to hang my head and cry. Seriously.

Listen, I want to shout, we are all descendants of one tribe, one family. This planet is our home, not yours alone. But of course, it's more complicated than that. Obviously. It must be. Once again, I am too naïve to get the point.
That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

Carl Sagan

21 June 2015

today's science lecture

don't worry, it's subtitled

19 June 2015

In order to test my stamina and the recovery status of my impaired balance organs I decided to clean R's study. Well ok, it just happened, I didn't plan it. As I was opening our insurance folder, I absentmindedly brushed away the quadruple layer of dust on the shelf and before I knew it, one hand was holding a bucket of water, while other one was washing one of the slightly immodest Kenyan ebony bookends - one of the many souvenirial artifacts so skilfully put on display here. Hence, one thing led to the next etc.

The study is a small room of pleasing rectangular shape, facing south and overlooking the garden. For probably another two years, the wall paper may be considered white in colour and the deep rich green of the organic linoleum floor reflects the mindset of dedicated nature lover, an image that is often reinforced by an urgent reverberating sound not unlike an approaching small herd of, say, wildebeest but which upon closer acoustic inspection reveals itself to originate from the rollers of a humble office chair. It is furnished in R's unique style, i.e. start at the bottom right hand corner and work your way up over the years. To the uninitiated viewer, it may indeed look somewhat messy or even haphazard and careless. But once you allow your visual capacities to let go of western cultural limitations - all those sad preconceptions and prejudices fostered by ikea and Martha Stewart - the open and indeed anarchic spirit with its garage-like ambiance will hit you with liberating vengeance.
As it has been sufficiently proven in recent years that most men suffer from refrigerator blindness, (aka selective loss of visual acuity in association with common foraging behaviour) and that this functional blindness extends to the display patterns applied in studies and esp. on large desks,
I was extremely careful to maintain the underlying order of all things with the obvious exclusion of recent nail clippings and about a car load of dust mites. 

But just in case, I send him a careful message, beginning with "do not be alarmed" and ending with the rather more cheerful note of "I am confident that you will be able to cope" - to which he just replied, "cut the sarcasm". 

18 June 2015

about the cats

Since you've been asking. 
We have had a couple of cats to date but we are cat-less at the moment - or as R calls it, cat-free.

First, there were Kieran & Donal, two black-ish toms, wild and vicious. The idea was that they would keep down the number of rodents in the basement of the big crumbling mansion that was our communal home in the south of Ireland - they didn't or maybe the rodent population was too big. We were a very poorly organised crowd with endless house meetings and an activist agenda but little time for pets. S would occasionally try to pull either of the two misfortunate animals by their tails up the grand staircase. As a result, both cats went into hiding when kids were around. And since I spent most of my time with S attached to me, I had little cat interaction. Before you think too badly of us, somebody did take care of them, incl. food and vet etc. But I have no memory of what eventually happened to them.

When we lived in paradise, we soon found out that local people disposed of kittens the same way they disposed of old car batteries or broken transistor radios. Also, the kids in our neighbourhood liked to play with kittens the same way kids in Europe play with teddy bears. This being a small island, cats - and dogs for that matter - are highly inbred with a poor life expectancy. 
But all this could not stop us from saving Minnie from a fate worse than death, or so we thought. Yet, Minnie was a lost cause. Not only did she pass on to us a huge variety of parasitic worms, she also made it her aim to attack us at any given moment, especially while asleep. It's not easy impossible to cat proof a small bungalow in a tropical location. Take my word. I am not going to tell you about Minnie's fate. But we had a couple of really nice dogs there.

Back in Europe, things improved. We got Molly. We picked her up from a friendly home where she had been the tiny runt of the litter and for the first three years of her life, she was an indoor cat in a city apartment. When not climbing up the xmas tree and sitting on top of the tv set with her tail swishing across the screen, she was polite and generous. And shy. 

Then came Ronia. She was an emergency. Friends hat discovered a tiny abandoned kitten, almost dead, in their barn and, well, put two and two together. We did. But those two hated each other. From day one and for ever. Lucky for them and for us, we were about to move into the house with the garden in this quiet suburb with cat-friendly streets and neighbours. Plenty of space to get lost in, trees to climb and be unable to come down from, mice and moles and squirrels to present as early morning gifts and so on. Soon, both cats had developed into fierce outdoor creatures with a busy nightlife away from us, winter or summer. Molly became huge and pompous with an occasional mean temper. Ronia was always slightly daft, and I mean this in the nicest possible way.  
I believe they were both extremely happy.

Molly died four years ago at age 16, Ronia was 17 years old when she died last November. We gave away all the cat's things only last month. But the basement doors are permanently fitted with cat flaps. You never know.


15 June 2015

I showed this to R because it's the 150th birthday thing all over the Irish media and also because, well there is a fire in my head at the moment.

So, he watched it with the usual slightly bored yet generous patience he reserves for people who go all ooh and aah and generally fall over themselves gushing about Ireland as if it was a place of poetry and music and artists, many with red hair etc. But at about 1:38, he got all excited. Oh look, he called out, Ben Bulben in winter. Must climb that one again.

13 June 2015

W B Yeats, 150th birthday today.

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

12 June 2015

This much I can do:
sitting outside with a cup of early morning tea
listening to the birds
waiting for the day's heat to build up
reading for a while
changing the sheets just because I want to and feeling like a fool afterwards, shaking and sweating
eating fresh strawberries
missing my cats
waiting for the thunderstorm and the heavy rain supposedly hitting us in a couple of hours

Music and talking is not so easy but I watched tv last night for a while, some drama about the Danish Prussian war, excellent acting I have been told, it just went past me in a blur of beautiful images. For that I can recommend it.

I am still walking on water, waiting for the swells to calm down, hoping to reach steady ground eventually.

10 June 2015

elephants in the forest

First, I think it's a scam. Then I want to shout. Don't. No, hey wait! But my voice doesn't seem to work and I am sucked out through the open door of the plane and now I am in free fall, rapidly spinning through cold air, hot air, sluggish fog, icy wind, my tears freezing on my cheeks, my stomach churning in protest, shrill deafening noises ring in my ears, the air smells of burning pine needles.
But suddenly I can see my hand resting on the handlebars of my bicycle, the forest in all its deep greens around me, the sun is breaking through a small opening and shines straight onto a small pond, birds singing around me. I don't know where I am or what has happened and I feel the noise growing again so I take a quick picture. Frogspawn on an almost dried up forest pond.

How calm, how beautiful, summer in the forest, I try and convince myself. But now a herd of noisy elephants is racing towards me, I can taste the dust on my lips already and I fall on my knees, cradling my head.
Later on, while we watch the slow drip of a massive cortisone infusion, the doctor still cannot believe me: you came here on your bicycle? I must have, I can see it locked outside the surgery.
And much later, after R has smoothed the sheets, opened the windows wide to let in the sweet evening air, after I tried unsuccessfully to keep down a bit of dry toast, panic seizes me like a force I thought I never knew.

08 June 2015

passing the buck to future generations is not going to solve this

We've been had, sarcasm dosn't even cover it. 85 years? You must be out of your mind.
Who are these people? What planet do they live on?

05 June 2015

There is a man downstairs painting my kitchen walls. He tells that me he lives in a tepee during the summer. Yesterday, he showed me the scar on his neck where he had a tumour the size of a grapefruit removed last year, 38 radiation sessions. But you know, he said, I just got back onto my horse - which in his case is an imported US van. He smells of woodsmoke and sings church hymns while he works.
His daughter, he informs me, is afraid of the open skies and refuses to visit him.

Meanwhile, my daughter calls and we talk for a long time about everything and nothing. When people ask me how I manage what with my only child living so far away, I try to come up with a clever answer.  Because honestly, I can't tell you. What would it be like if she came through this door from time to time and put the kettle on in the kitchen? Would we talk about the same things? Would we have a different relationship? No idea. When I am awake, I know she is asleep and when she is up and about, I am asleep. We meet at the edges of our days. She is always 12 hours ahead of me. If in rare moments, I need comfort, I know she is not alone. That she is married to a wonderful man.

Do I miss her? Complicated. I just love what she is doing, has done with her life. I could not for a second ask her to abandon it. And no, we have not driven her away. If anything, we encouraged her.
This is where most people start shaking their heads in disbelief. I like to think she had a great childhood, what with the different countries and continents and schools and all that chaos. Or even despite of that. I know I made a mess of being a mother, many times. I think we all do. I told her that much.

Watch us, a small family of three, two adults, one girl, so close at times, we could walk with our eyes shut, holding each others' hands. One tiny shift of chin, one short stare and we know what's up. Even via skype. Beautiful and scary at the same time. We will never be without each other.

I can tell you this: she knows how to cook, grow food, swim, cycle, teach yoga, climb mountains, manage entire government departments, speak diplomacy, she is a ferocious reader, loves fiercely, and she has never ever been afraid of the open skies.

I could not ask for more.

She'll probably give out to me now for telling.

03 June 2015

Tomorrow the very skilled man is coming to paint the walls downstairs, some of them. It would make sense to have all of them repainted but we are finicky and stingy and who cares anyway.
It coincides nicely with the heatwave followed by thunder storms with heavy rain predicted for the next couple of days.

This morning I cleaned away various flora and fauna behind the shelves and sofas and where the pictures were on the walls and of course behind my great grandmother's sideboard. The spiders etc. all ran like hell and I hope they found homes elsewhere by now. The ants, I'm afraid, didn't make it. I could have rolled the dust bunnies into a large ball and spin it into gold but the hoover gobbled it all up.

Next week, after R will have perfectly reassembled the shelving, my task will be to put what feels like thousands of books back into some order. I am very tempted to chuck out most of them. I know, I know, books are holy and so on, but some are not so holy anymore and it's time to start clearing spaces, unloading my baggage so to speak.

Last night I foolishly started to calculate our meagre pensions and once again stared into the dark tunnel of poverty. Which is really quite arrogant because we will find a way to make ends meet, surely. And now my mind just brought me back 35 years when we were clearing out the attic room in Heidelberg. We had lived in this tiny room with its very crooked walls for almost a year while I was trying to figure out what to do with my university career and R was getting restless. In the end and for lack of options and cash, we decided to free ourselves from the shackles of careers and academia and start a new idealistic life in Ireland - or something like that, it was a long time ago, we were young and foolish then.

As a start, we decided to give away most of our earthly possessions - because hardly anybody wanted to pay money for it. The rule was: keep 20 books, 10 records, one bicycle and one rucksack with clothing and essentials per person. To this day, I still regret the 10 records rule and miss my Joan Armatrading and Cat Stevens collection and the fabulous Joni Mitchell live set, oh, and John McLaughlin's "Electric Dreams".

So we'll see what will happen to the books next week.

01 June 2015

the question

When the great ships come back,
and come they will,
when they stand in the sky
all over the world,
candescent suns by day,
radiant cathedrals in the night,
how shall we answer the question:
What have you done
with what was given you,
what have you done with
the blue, beautiful world?

Theo Dorgan

From this online collection: Keep it in the ground, a poem a day. There are 20, but try and don't gobble them all up at once, they will linger.