Paperwhites Emerging

This heavy glossy photopaper I’m painting on is quite fun for watercolors. They can be washed off, easily corrected, the way watercolors usually can’t be. Watercolors are notorious for being difficult to correct, but this paper is almost like a computer screen for its flexibility. Once the watercolor dries, and I’m okay with the results, I spray it with fixative, such as I’d use on a pastel to keep it from smudging, and it’s fixed. Really. I discovered it when I began illustrating What’s In the Woods? and had to paint recognizable nature. Not good at this, I needed an forgiving medium, and voila! Who knew?

I scanned today’s Paperwhites painting on PhotoShop and found that I could run some color plays on it and make some really interesting variations. The original is a 10-inch square–but it wouldn’t fit on my scanner and I like this better anyway.

Recovering from Yesterday’s News

I seem to be recognizing my life-threatening circumstances in stages. It’s hard to know which stage I’m in until I’m booted into the next. People who have been here before me recognize where I am, I think, and they are patient. They know. The professionals, I’m guessing, have seen this again and again. I don’t know if I’m normal or just superresistant. A psychiatrist once told me, about thirty years ago (!), that I was the most resistant patient she’d ever treated. I expect my radio oncologist might sympathize.

Yesterday I checked out all my hugs sources, couldn’t find any available, had a cry day, and now I’m okay. Now that I understand the situation, my resistance is gone. Just call me Ms. Cooperation. Just call me Ms. Courage. I’ll even cancel my trip to Florida.

RESPONSE: This is the first response I’ve had to my Breast Cancer Log. It’s from a woman in her sixties who had found my website so she could order one of my books. I find stories like these really helpful to me, and I’m hoping that my sharing my experiences will help others in the same way. Here is Janet Stillwell’s email to me:

I am a Breast Cancer Survivor. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer in 1995, had a lumpectomy and radiation. Three years later the same diagnosis on the right breast – again a lumpectomy and radiation. I faithfully had my mammograms and with each one they would find some microcalficications and recommend a biopsy. After a couple of these, when they decided I needed to have my mammograms every six months, I said to my surgeon “there has to be a better way than this.” He said “we could do a simple bilateral mastectomy and be done with this forever.” I said “go for it” and he responded” I hate to tell a woman she needs a bilateral mastectomy” to which I replied, “I’m not earning my living as a topless dancer!” He did the surgery and I have been fine ever since.

Not Out of the Woods

I found out today from my radio oncologist, who spoke with me for almost two hours, that I do indeed have invasive cancer and I have decided that I am going to have to go through radiation after all. I resisted it because lymphedema to my right arm, upon which my whole life and livelihood rests, scares me more than losing a breast. But now I believe that it would be foolish of me not to do it. I was so happy, feeling as if I was let out of prison, and now I feel reincarcerated. Sort of apt, don’t you think? Sort of incarcinoma-ed? I am not without courage but I am a wimp. Getting sucked into the medical machinery like this scares me silly.

My brother, a doctor, helped me read the pathology report. It was dense with scary language but he was a short cut to getting some of the terms. A website that also helped me was A similar website,, suggests how Chinese medicine might enhance traditional Western treastments. I may explore this to support my own healing.

Becoming consious of losses

Isn’t life just like that? When the news was bad, I thought I was finished, that there wasn’t going to be any good news for me again. But I was wrong. And when things are going along great, I feel on a roll, that nothing bad can happen to me. But those things swing, pendulum like, through my life. However, I had never been hit with a life-threatening condition. I lived a healthy life, exercised, ate well, looked great. I felt immune.

A friend of mine would call this “magical thinking.” But really, illusions have their value. They protect me from so much reality that I can’t live fully in the present. Possibly that positive thinking acts as a kind of protection, like vitamins. But now I can’t pretend I can protect myself. I feel a little like the way I felt when I brought my son home after a perfectly normal birth: vulnerable in a new, irreparable way. I’d never be safe the same way again.

My Best 2004 Holiday Reads

This holiday included a lot of airport and flight time, and I’ve never enjoyed reading anything more in such circumstances than Alexander McCall Smith’s novels about Precious Ramotswe at her No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana. Easy to read and full of fun and wisdom, Precious Ramotswe’s take on life sounds true to my experiences in Nigeria when I was in the Peace Corps years ago. A book in this series (there are five now) lasts me from the gate at the Flint Michigan airport to the baggage claim someplace eight hours away. The latest–this year’s reliably good read–was The Full Cupboard of Life. Other titles lend a clue: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls, The Kalahari Typing School for Men.

A longer read, on a different level, is a book in Martin Cruz Smith’s Arcady Renko series. These mysteries, which include Gorky Park, Red Square, and the latest, Wolves Eat Dogs, offer an exciting armchair look at contemporary Russia. Far more than that, MC Smith is a master craftsman. Every sentence is a joy to read; metaphors are fresh and unpretentious; characters are many-sided and engaging; the plot is unpredictable. Who would think that a novel taking place largely in Chernobyl, the worst nuclear power disaster in history, would be fun to read. I’ve been a big fan of Smith ever since I read Red Square. His books offer a blueprint in novel-writing. Maybe I’ll attempt one.

Last, I really enjoyed reading The Winter Queen, by Boris Akunin, a translation from the Russian. The language is so lovely that I couldn’t believe it was a translation (Andrew Bromfield did this one), and the plot was interesting. This time I got a historical visit to Russia–Moscow in the 1870s. I felt betrayed, though, by the end. I was actually angry about it. As a writer myself, I feel a responsibility to my reader, and I felt Akunin enjoyed too much playing God.

See Mary’s art in January Saginaw Art Show

I chosen three of my larger acrylic paintings for this show.Two are on paper, framed, and priced at $500.00. “Almost Home” is acrylic on canvas, also $500. The reception for the twelve artists involved should be interesting! Please come and meet us.

Mary’s EVERYDAY ART project begins on January 01!

I said I’d only take half an hour for this project but I am taking more. This one took about an hour. I don’t like it much. Maybe I’ll try this again with watercolor. Beginnings are usually discouraging for me. I usually am appalled by what I produce. But I have done this kind of thing for many years and I’ve learned that to do anything worthwhile, I just have to start doing something awful. I’ve pledged four or five entries–art or poetry–a week for a year, but even if I just did three, that’s 150 small creations, and they just can’t all be bad!

This pastel piece looks darker than it is. I tweaked it on PhotoShop. I gave a similar set of paperwhite bulbs to a friend for Christmas. I wonder how HIS are coming along!