Friday, March 27, 2015

Operating Procedures

Rats, forgot the soft food!

Before every operation I stock up on stuff that’s easy to eat and free of spices. I’ve discovered that my digestive system, furious at being messed with, rebels after each surgery. Food is no longer my friend.

So off I go to Safeway. Ramen chicken soup, six bowls, check. Ginger ale, spring water, a couple of tomatoes, egg whites, check. Bob Evans macaroni and cheese, check.

The mac and cheese always makes me feel guilty. My late and sainted mother, when we first came to America, could not come to terms with yellow cheese. She likened to the blocks of wax used to polish the floor in our Paris apartment and in all honesty, the consistencies were about the same. She considered macaroni and cheese to be the devil’s food, designed to bind up a child’s insides. Whenever I had a stomach ache as a kid, that was the first question she’d ask: “Tu as mangé du macanjeeze?”

“Non, maman.”

"Tu es sure?”

Of course I was sure, I didn’t like the back stuff then and to this day am still not enamored. But it has actually been recommended by a couple of physicians, and who am I to buck medical wisdom.

Cat is fed and watered, humidifiers are full. Floors swept, bathroom moped. My surgery clothes are laid out: triple extra-large T shirt, leisure pants without a belt, espadrilles I can slip my feet into. No socks because after surgery I can’t bend over and put them on.

Ear-ring out. I’ve worn a single large hoop in my left ear for several years. No jewelry and is allowed, so I leave that at home.  

There’s always the sense that I’m forgetting something… I’m operating on clean-underpants-in-case-there’s-an-accident mode.

It’s raining outside, and the last of the dirt-stained snow piles are gone. Spring was just a few days ago and there are daffodils in my yard. I’m going to have to clean the pond out and hope some of the fish survived, and raccoons got in the garage, and I’ll attend to that as well. But not today. Today is surgery number nine.  

Okay. Ready to go.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Toot Toot

It’s been an odd week.

I have surgery in two days, which does not foster peace of mind. This is number nine. I had really hoped number eight would be it, but c’est la vie.

On the other hand, some good stuff has happened.

The first is that my new book Thirst is out. Wait... I have to be honest, it’s not an entirely new book. It’s a rewrite of an earlier book, but still, it’s readable or so I’m told.

Thirst is available from Here’s the deal: If you buy the actual paper-and-ink book, you get a free copy of the e-book. Also, I’m giving away e-book copies to the first six people willing to write an honest review of Thirst on Goodreads and Amazon. I need the reviews because that’s how books sell… I can send you a book file in any of the E-reader format—mobi, epub, zip, or pdf. Contact me and let me know what works for you:

A second good event is that the interview/video/recording of one of my songs, Jesus My Friend, was released yesterday by I’m pleased because I don’t look like a blithering idiot; it’s actually a really good video, for a really good cause. The song is available from my band’s page on

Third, the Washington Post will carry a piece on my Cancer Can Rock experience in its Health Section on Tuesday, March 31. What started out as a blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago was massaged into a feature article by Post editors. It’s been a long time since I’ve had something in that noteworthy paper so there is this sense of déjà vu; I worked there for years in the last millennium and used to be published regularly.

So there you have it. Forgive me for tooting my own horn, but self-publicity is a must in the brave new world of e-media. So toot too, or as they say in French, ta ra ta ta.




Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Well, Crap

Well crapola, here we go again. Surgery number nine is in two weeks. I had heard of the repeated surgical procedures often necessary following serious burns, or reconstructive work after an accident, but I never thought of it in terms of dealing with cancer. Nine is a lot. The pre-op nurse I saw yesterday said, “You again?” Yeah, me again.

On the positive side, I now have a very cool song that was recorded by the Cancer Can Rock people (see March 4 Epiphanettes), and if you’re interested, I’ll send it to you. The CCR ( folks are worth following. They’re doing worthwhile and little-known work.

Remaining positive, it looks as if the Washington Post may run the recording session blog I wrote. This is good, though it has that déjà vu feeling. Forty years ago, I wrote regularly for the Post. Now I’m beginning to do so again. Life is weird.

And still remaining positive (although now it’s getting tiresome) I have a re-edited book on Kindle, Thirst. Personally, I think it’s pretty neat and if you’re looking for a quick read, go for it. If you like it, please give it a review on Amazon. I’ll be grateful. It’s at

Lastly, it looks as if winter is over. I know, compared to other areas in the States, we in Northern Virginia had it easy—barely a foot. But what people don’t take into consideration is that Washington, DC, and its suburbs have the second worse traffic situation in the country. Add to that a very large population of, er, non-natives, who truly do not know how to drive generally, much less in snow, and here’s a disaster in the making.

A couple of weeks ago, a sudden snowfall caught me as I was returning from breakfast with friends. The highway home became brutally slick. Folks in SUVs decided the road’s shoulders were less crowded than the regular lanes and all of a sudden, I was surrounded by largish SUVs doing arabesques and sliding this way and that. It looked like an elephantine ballet. I drove away slowly hoping no one would get hurt and highly pleased my ancient car, normally unusable in the snow, managed to crawl its way home.

You take your joy where you can!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Testing, Testing...

So this is when I start getting scared, five or six days before the next cancer checkup.  I feel good but I’ve learned not to trust my body.  I’ve felt great in the past as, unbeknownst to me, the disease progressed.

After three years I should be used to it, but I’m not. My blood pressure will soar when I get to the doctor’s office (I’ve learned this is called ‘white coat syndrome’), and the nurse will admonish me gently, tut-tutting as she suggests I close my eyes and imagine a peaceful scene. I try. A morning at the beach. A walk though Paris. Breakfast with friends. Lying in bed with a loved one. That lowers the bp a little and the nurse feigns happiness.

 I take my clothes off in the examining room. The nurse gives me a large antibiotic pill to stave off possible infection and slathers my crotch with sticky orange goo.  The doctor—the surgeon who has operated on me—threads a tube up my urethra. It’s not pleasant. There’s a tiny camera at the end of the tube, and my innards are displayed on a large screen above my head. I don’t look, even though I’m invited to do so every time.  I clench my teeth and ball up my fists. The procedure lasts a few minutes. The doctor renders his verdict.  If I’m clean, he congratulates me and I’ll see him for my next test in three months. If I’m not, he says uh oh, which is something you never, ever, want to hear a doctor say. Uh ho means I’ll be back on the operating table within a couple of weeks and the entire process will begin again.

Bladder cancer is neither sexy nor high profile. It’s an easy subject for jokes, of which I’ve been both the originator (I’ve threatened to name my next band the Bad Bladders) and the butt. It’s not necessarily lethal, but it did kill my oldest sister, as well as the husband of a friend, and a few thousand more.  And Andy Williams; mustn’t forget Andy Williams.

In the back of my mind, I always suspected I would get some form of cancer because my family has been riddled with it—mother (liver), father (prostate), sister (bladder), grandfather (lung), and great aunt (pancreas). I’d seen what it did to my dad, who recovered, and to my mom, who did not.  Neither was pretty. So when I was first diagnosed and after the initial shock, I thought one of two things would happen: I would get operated on and be cured, or I would be operated on and not be cured, and I’d die. I’ve been operated on—eight times to date; I haven’t died; I haven’t been cured.  I’ve been told three times that I was now cancer free and seven times that the cancer had returned. I am almost certain that the panic attacks that hit me with regularity are somehow related to pre-test and post-surgery anxieties.  I’m pretty sure I’ve taken a hit square in the self-esteem. Cancer makes me feel soiled and terminally unattractive. Psychologists agree such feelings are common if rarely discussed side-effects of the disease.    

I get to---quite literally---gird my loins.

Ha. Actually, that’s pretty funny!  





Monday, March 2, 2015

And Still More on Writers

I know writers who write well. I also know writers whose works are, at least to me, barely readable. I know broke writers and wealthy writers, writers of novels, historical romances, science fiction and fantasy. I know a poet or two, and song writers and journalists, and flash writers whose stories are never more than a few lines at most.

Writing, I believe, is nothing more than a craft. We work with words rather than, say, wood. We learn the basic rules and apply them.

Grammar is important, as are sentence structure and clarity. We find ways not to overburden the prose and after a while we come to realize that very good writing often depends on what is not written or even alluded to. Good writing promises and delivers. Bad writing promises and does not.

Excellent writing, which is much rarer, has windows and doors that allow the reader to become part of the story being told. Excellent writing invites you into the house, serves tea and madeleines, and then, as you’re inspecting the art work on the walls, it delivers the knockout punch. You don’t see the punch coming, nor do you feel it. You simply and suddenly find yourself knocked flat on your butt, almost breathless, certainly stunned, and grateful for it.    

It’s only after you know most of the guiding principles of your craft that you can begin to take liberties, and you’ll do this at great risks.

I once had the pleasure of meeting Hunter Thompson, the creator and best purveyor of gonzo journalism. Thompson, despite his massive success, would say he never felt totally comfortable bending the rules of reporting. He did it anyway because he had to. The traditional media, he thought, was largely spineless, uninspired, and seldom really interested in reporting facts. Thompson believed the only way to write and to pass on the passion he felt was to put himself inexorably in the epicenter of his story. He would become part and parcel of the tale, grab its audience by the scruff of neck and drag the readers—sometime as they kicked and screamed—into his writing.

He appeared to be an easy read but wasn’t. What occasionally seemed like the ravings of a deranged man was actually wonderfully composed and powerful prose. He stirred a new generation of writers, none of whom to date have even come close to achieving his level of sagacity.

At the other end of the spectrum are good writers who have dumbed themselves down to please a greater readership. That’s an art as well, though perhaps a less satisfying one.

Me, I’m nowhere near the level where I can go off the beaten track and establish anything totally my own. I still ape writers better than I am, and I still struggle with some of the most basic rules.

That’s okay. I’ll get there or maybe not.

Progress, not perfection.