Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Joy passes. Joy rises in different forms but, like rage, profound sadness, and terror, it passes.

There was the time as a ten year old I wandered from the group on a weeklong field trip. We had stopped at the end point in the road of the Haast Pass. The diaspora of green unfurled its rain forest fronds and drew me to its breast. I fell into it clambering over the river worn smooth rocks of the pristine water feeling its song inside every cell of my being.

Then there was the time when I was 17. Heather and Cheryl and I were hitchhiking as usual, up through the North Island after our summer raspberry-picking gig. We had decided for some reason to head from Wellington around the east coast instead of straight up through the middle. Traffic was sparse. Long empty stretches of road wound up through tree-clad mountains. Forests of pine pricked the cloudless blue skies. An ancient Holden Ute patch-worked in the colors of its past picked us up. There was not enough room in the cab for all of us. I sat in the back open to the clear blue sky that carried wafts of pine scent and the ocean to me. Bouncing around among rusty tools and discolored tarps in the back, I felt completely free and embraced by the world at the same time, held in place with an unshakable love.

And then there was red matched with my determination to have it on the walls of my new home. As the color dripped into the deep base I expressed concern that it did not look at all like the red that I had so carefully chosen from among more than a dozen possibles over the course of two months. The young lady assured me that it was most certainly “Red Obsession.” It was expensive paint even with my professional discount. As I opened the can the next morning, the brightness of it halted my breath. It dribbled miserably over the nondescript beige, catching onto nothing until it fell in great blobs over the white trim. Panic and despair followed the roller as I stubbornly but carefully applied the paint. It set in different hues and intensities, looking more and more like the fruit punch pink my daughter had forbidden me to use.

“Holy shit that’s red”

I attempted to avoid looking into the open 25 by 18 foot room. It meant having my eyes trapped by the red nail polish on my recently pedicured toes. The room looked like the slaughterhouse from a bad nightmare.

I persisted. Completed the first coat and started the second before my body mounted an irresistible protest. Rumpled blankets with wiggles and squiggles of red greeted me the next morning. I completed the second coat with new tools. I set the off white rocker and espresso bookshelf from Big Lots in one corner by the window. It didn’t look so bad. In fact, it looked a lot like I’d hoped. As long as I didn’t look from the nighttime dark through the drapeless windows into the well-lit brightness of the red, it looked pretty damn good. It just might be what I had dreamed of and stepped toward so slowly over many years.

Joy passes. But first, it has to rise and with inscrutable love, unscrew the hinges of the heart.

Photo of fern by Roger Sonneland

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Smile for the Camera

I have discovered yet another example of the American Euphemism. I encountered it at the diagnostic imaging suite at the medical center. It’s the perfect context for minimizing, deflecting, obsequiousness, and Victorian manners. In short, it’s the place where the American Euphemism can thrive. It’s quite possible that it was born in some very similar place where female genitalia needed to be exposed.

It is probably a little known fact that for hundreds of years in so called Western civilization there was not even a name for the most exquisite part of the female genitalia – the clitoris. Long after the detailed exploration and naming of parts of the human form by the ancient Egyptians in the fifth century B.C., men of the medical persuasion in the west still didn’t know of the existence of the clitoris. Religious and moral beliefs and prohibitions prevented male “doctors” from seeing naked women dead or alive, even while they were attempting to birth their children. So, for about 700 years the clitoris remained unknown and unnamed in the west.

Women knew it was there of course.

During the same time period, it was also believed that women were spiritually inferior, that they did not possess souls, as did men. Women knew differently about that too.

It took a movement of women into the workforce, into positions of economic and political power, into places where women were not supposed to go, before it was recognized that perhaps, just maybe, women not only had souls but also the ability to achieve sexual ecstasy. It was a huge shock to the men in the royal courts. All of a sudden being called impotent by a woman could disgrace them.

This was followed by a harsh put down of women. We were supposed to know our place and remain in it and there would be no talk of sexual anything unless it was to titivate manly desire. From there, despite hundreds of years, the feminist revolution, the love fest of the sixties, and the movement of women into places of economic and political power, demure practices from a Victorian era permeate places medicinal.

So it was that I found myself emerging from the bathroom in the sonogram section of diagnostic imaging naked from the waist down with a sheet wrapped around my waist. I was busily knotting it at the side when the radiologist, Michelle, told me to place the opening at the rear. I thought that a little strange but did as I was told. And then I attempted to lie down on the low bed with my feet in the stirrups as instructed. It’s not easy to place yourself on a low bed and insert your feet in stirrups while keeping a sheet with an opening at the rear wrapped around you. In fact it requires some considerable physical gymnastics.

Task accomplished, I lay there as Michelle readied the vaginal ultrasound transducer, a long bright red penile shaped thing that looks for all the world like a dildo for the color blind. The camera in its smooth rounded head would take pictures of my ovaries ad anything that may be attached to them.

“I’m going to give this to you to insert just as you would a tampon.”

It’s years since I inserted a tampon and told her so as I placed the bright red dildo in my vagina. Michelle held it and began to maneuver it so she could get a clear sighting of my ovaries and take all the pictures she needed. The computer whirred and beeped every time she took a photo. With her left hand she reached across and pulled the sheet from where it had dropped exposing my knees and thighs. She pulled it back up over my knees.

I laughed.

“When you’re holding that thing in my vagina, I don’t think you need to cover my knees.”

Michelle laughed. Another American Euphemism exposed by women who know about these things.