Thursday, January 18, 2018



What we need is some clear measure
Of how we stand in life each day.
And knowing this, we’ll know how to feel:
Numerical fact keeps doubt at bay.

How many days until the week-end?
How many pounds have been lost or gained?
How much toothpaste left in the tube?
What is joy: How much has it rained?

How flat are the tires? How many gray hairs?
How long has it been since I’ve been fed?
How much do we have in our savings account?
How many minutes ‘till we meet in bed?

Some fixity would help us here
To tell if we’re happy, to show us the score.
How many games out of first are we?
Can I rest content, or must I live some more?

            I wrote “Measures” almost 50 years ago. As an English major in college, then an English teacher and now a writer, I know that stories matter more than the “clear measures” that numbers seem to provide.

            Once a month Kim gets her blood tested, and her oncologist looks at her numbers. I believe he is mainly looking at the impact of her daily chemo on her red blood count and her immune system, and indeed her lowered scores limit both her energy and her willingness to go to events crowded with sneezers and coughers. But her numbers are not so low as to cause alarm bells to go off at the cancer center. So we kinda know where we stand, numerically.

            We also look at the numbers associated with Kim’s stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, which a short time ago meant, “Sit down with your attorney and make sure your will and trust are in order.” (We did that.) And then we look at the numbers associated with Kim’s chemo drug, Ibrance, and maybe adjust the stage 4 numbers. Should we plan our lives around those adjusted numbers? My classmate, Doug Reilly, reminded me of something that physicist Niels Bohr once said: “Predictions are difficult, especially about the future . . ..”

            We are grateful for our Ibrance, despite the expense and the side effects, but we mistrust the (maybe 2 additional years?) numbers. I think of a sick person back in the Middle Ages, lying in bed as the leeches are being applied, thinking, “I’m glad to have the benefit of modern medicine! Think of what people had to go through in the old days!” I know, I know – now we have science, which suggests knowledge, but still . . .. Predictions are difficult.

            No, maybe it’s better to live by stories than by numbers. We go out in a blizzard to take photographs because that’s a better story to live by than the one when we curl up to listen to the clock tick toward our count-down. We tell ourselves the story of living in this cool cottage on Torch Lake, where I can deal with the snow in winter and weeds in summer, and we can look for Petosky stones, photograph birds and maybe a fox, and in the winter, we watch the snow from our porch with our Jotul stove and a glass of wine to keep us warm. And we buy the occasional lottery ticket because we enjoy the story we inhabit, at least until the drawing.

            When I was a first-year teacher I sometimes felt overwhelmed by my life, and I needed a story by which I could imagine my way out. I found one with a magic number:

       Dialing 9

They said, “Dial 9
to get out.” I dialed
9 and was out
in the parking lot.
A clatter of voices
and mimeograph machines
followed me, so
I again dialed 9 and
was out
in the desert, or
was it the sea?
The sun heated the
skillet and I slid
across like hissing
butter. So, quickly
I dialed 9
and was out
tumbling breathless in
some starry void,
terrified by the silence
and by the gurgling
of my own organs,
so I dialed 9
and got out.

In the story that Kim and I are living in now, we are staying. We’ll get out soon enough . . ..

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Things I Don’t Need to Know

            In the age of Google and Siri and all the new stuff coming along, it takes some effort to remain ignorant. (When I was growing up, instead of Google we had my grandfather’s Encyclopedia Britannica as our go-to, with a Magic Eight-Ball for more difficult questions.) With all the resources now available, it’s important to know what you do not need to know. To help you get started on your list, I’m sharing my growing list of Things I Don’t Need to Know:

Anything about the Kardashians

Terms and conditions when I upgrade iPhone software. But be careful. Kim ordered a $5 sample of something, and her VISA was charged $100. She then learned that the fine print said she would be charged $100 unless she returned the product within 11 days.

When our sun will explode (unless it’s in the next 20 years).

How to steer when parachuting. Won’t happen.

Nuke codes. If called upon, however, I will learn them.

Regional ID. The deposit slip at my bank has a place for me to fill in Regional ID. The teller told me, “You don’t need to know that. Nobody needs to know that.” Relieved, I put it on my list.

Whether or not two snowflakes are alike. There are a lot of snowflakes out there this winter. Who is checking?

When to drool. I learned that if I’m buried in an avalanche, I should drool to learn which way gravity indicates is down, so I can crawl out in the other direction. Good, but I don’t need to know this, unless the exploding sun causes avalanches.

How to program my so-called “universal remote.” That’s why God created Best Buy’s Geek Squad.

How to tie a necktie. I used to know this, and my hands probably remember, but I no longer need to know it.

Who I am. I’ve lived ¾ of a century without knowing, and I’m happy, so why mess with it?

Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp)?  I looked it up, folks, and that’s the official title, even though I remember “in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp.” Next item, please . . .

Trump’s tax returns. Nothing in them would make him anything other than the Grand Canyon of assholes.

What my life would have been like if I’d done X instead of Y. Who the fuck knows? Who really cares other than folks inhabiting an alternative universe?

Do I dare to eat a peach? I’ll work this out when confronted by a peach. Until then, I don’t need to know.

What will my life be like five years from now?

So, obviously, what don't you need to know?

From Carl Levine:

A few of mine;
Who put the ram in the ram-a-lama-ding dong?   The next great question after Who put the bomp?
Whose woods are these?      Beats the s--t out of me
Is Certs a breath mint or a candy mint?    Duh!
Which fork do I use?     At this stage , I am grateful to be eating solid food.
Carl Levine

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Michigan Winter

Kim’s had ten months of Kim’s cancer pain/diagnosis/surgery/radiation/chemo/fatigue. And now it is snowing and cold, and the nights are long. That means it’s time to go outside and play. There’s no reason to fall victim to your circumstances. That’s not how my Kim operates.

Winter Walk
Beautiful winter day outside, temperature in the teens,

so we decided to go for a walk.

The icicles are getting longer every day . . .

and the snow is getting deeper.


Winter Drive

Ice and snow also mean it's time to go for a drive to see our Torch Lake cottage.

The road to our cottage

The cold did not stop the guys from working.

We will be swimming here in a few months.

We took another snowy drive out onto Leelenau Peninsula.

We weren't the only turkeys enjoying the day.

Kilcherman's Christmas Cove

Winter Tough

Is the lake frozen? No problem.

Snowy Owls fly south for Michigan winters. This 4-year-old female, Socia, was hatched and banded in Minnesota.

"I've got my love to keep me warm."

This is how Kim deals with her illness.