Saturday, June 11, 2011

What I Will Miss

Morning songbirds, announcing their joy at the new day; at being alive

Autumn leaves changing the light, washing the world with crimson and gold

Lightning flashing across a springtime sky, stark, bright, dazzling the night, spearing the darkness

Icy winter river in a midwestern forest, unpredictable, clear, edged with feathered lace

Godlight radiating from a sunset over Lake Michigan waves, bright golden flashes of fire on jade green surf

Night sounds of crickets, cicadas, katydids, spring peepers – the chorus of humid darkness

Apples left hanging heavily and lazily, yellow-gold on a gnarly, generous, old, giving tree

North wind, invisible but for the tops of crested waves and the bending dune grass and stinging cold touch

Transparent, glossy wings of the dragonfly, darting across meadow grasses, hungry, seeking

Morning glories, honeysuckle, wisteria, jasmine, gardenia

Elegant simplicity of a fern as it unfurls, pale green, delicate, to awaken and stand upright among others of its kind

Light through deep green sassafras leaves, dappled and alive on the forest floor

Ancient live oaks with spanish moss beards, spreading, reaching and wise, home for countless others

Northern lights, silvery green curtains of surprise and wonder

Ocean spray from Pacific's crystal waters, green sea turtles, coral, tropical fish, singing sands

Milkweed seeds, floating on silky clouds, fearless seekers of the soil, feeders of magic

Adventurous crows, blue black, swaggering, arguing, intelligent, bold

I’m a bit all over the place with this post. Writing reflects that, so it is fitting.

It was just exactly a year ago that I wrote the poem above. As a rule, I hate accrostix poems. More than anything, they show lack of creativity. When second and third graders write poetry, and they discover this form, their previous brilliance goes out the window in favor of writing their friend’s names vertically and a word to describe them horizontally for each letter.



Apples (because she likes apples)



So, exactly a year ago, I ignored my own advice to young writers and wrote an accrostix poem of my own. I thought it was cagey. I thought that if I just put it out there without any other explanation that my few constant readers would read it, appreciate the nature images and go to the next blog on their blog scroll.

It was a weird time for me. It was exactly a year ago that I had surgery to get rid of this bizarre thing that had invaded my body and created its own little bad cell factory, potentially a doomsday mechanism that would spell my demise. And I went there. To the darkest places. Totally. (Play Darth Vader’s Theme here in your head.)

Anniversaries are funny, aren’t they? Birthdays. Deathdays. Weddingdays. 365 and ¼ rotations on our axis. One revolution around our closest star. Exactly one orbit. That’s all it takes to remind us of something and bring it back into close focus. I know a guy whose birthday is also the anniversary of the day his mom died. THAT is a powerful anniversary. So it is my anniversary of my wide excision, my sentinal node biopsy. My bad boob job.

On a related topic, this is the time of year that you hear a lot of (white) people talking about their tan. They want one. They work on it. That healthy glow. That sign that they have been outdoors, relaxing, playing, getting, you know… healthy. A tan is like a status symbol that doesn’t cost anything. Your teeth and eyes just look so much brighter with a tan. Your hair gets more highlights. Your palette changes. Suddenly yellow, which made you look sickly in the wintertime, looks so bright and accents your healthy glow. Guys leave their shirts off. Girls wear shorter shorts. Immediate gratification.

I must liken this situation to cigarette smoking. OK, there might have been some people who really didn’t know that smoking would kill you. Now, I don’t really think there are many folks who don’t know. Yet, look at how many still smoke. Go by teenage hangouts and see how many young people are deliberately getting themselves hooked on something that will most assuredly shorten their lives. Immediate gratification.

So it is with getting that healthy glow. The healthier the glow, the more dangerous in the long run. And we know it. And we keep on doing it to ourselves. Our media hypes the tan ones. A tan line is sexy. Even when we know the dangers of sun exposure, the immediate gratification factor outweighs the dangers. Someday barely exists in our minds.

Surgeon and cancer researcher Adam Riker recently published a paper with his colleagues on the growing dangers from skin cancers like melanoma, which are becoming more common. They write, "Melanoma is the sixth most common fatal malignancy in the United States, responsible for 4% of all cancer deaths and 6 of every 7 skin cancer-related deaths." They estimate that 1 in 5 Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetimes, which means that each year there are at least 1 million new cases in the U.S. alone. Balk adds that nonmelanoma skin cancers basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are also on the rise, with 2 million new cases every year.


So here I am, on my one year anniversary, my single earth-orbit since my surgery. I feel good. Being a pinky, I was never a sun worshipper. Sunburn hurts us pinkies. But I got too much sun in my 53 years. Had I known when I was a kid that all that sun would be harmful, I would have worn a shirt before there were sunscreens, and I would have definitely worn sunscreen more carefully when such things did exist. Had I known that a single bad burn before you are 18 doubles your chance of getting malignant melanoma, I would have been more careful. God only knows haw many bad burns I did get. Once a year? Twice a year? Now I wish I could let my younger self know what was going to happen to me when I reached the ripe old age of 53.

Thanks, Emily.


Meesh Hays said...

Hays needs to
Apply sunscreen
Neurotically and
Keep the fair
Skin, remembering that your


Emily Whitecotton said...

You're welcome. Thank you, Tim. How powerful is that poem? Maybe the format isn't the hindrance itself, but the lack of really amazing examples. Yours is one. Maybe we should all write one of these to remind ourselves how important immediate gratification isn't.

Your likening tanning to cigarettes is welcomed. My sister often refuses to go out on the lake after 4 because "all the good sun is gone." I'm certain that she would never smoke a cigarette, so it seems ridiculous to me that she would cook herself. I so appreciate your sharing your experience from the other side of the tan.

Also on a somewhat unrelated note, when you mention your bad boob job, David Wilcox starts playing his Boob Job song in my head. If you haven't heard it, look it up, it's excellent.

Chris Hass said...

Ha, someone just recommended a David Wilcox song you to, of all people.

I'd say we all probably got at least one or two really bad burns every summer when we were growing up. I've read that your chances of developing melanoma double if you've had a really bad burn before the age of 18. Doesn't this seem like it'd probably be everyone - even now days? We're very careful to use sunscreen with the kids but each summer it seems both girls wind up with at least one decent burn from defective lotion, being out too long, or not reapplying often enough when in the water.

I hadn't heard from you since school let out so the beginning of this post scared me a bit. I thought maybe you had been back and received bad news. I'm thrilled to see it was, instead, an anniversary.

Mamafamilias said...

I'm like Chris, you scared me there for a minute.

thank you for this post and reminder. I wish everyone I know would read it - especially the young ones.

I think my girls are finally starting to understand my paranoia with the sun thing now. If they haven't already read this post, I will make sure they do. We met some friends at Myrtle Beach on Saturday. The mom is my age/my friend. Her children are the age of my girls. Her children are also as fair skinned as my girls. Therefore, it made me happy when we got there and I suggested that they didn't have to get out of the pool to entertain us (we were on a balcony in the shade) - they could get back in the pool if they wanted to. But all of them said no, they had been in the sun quite long enough and wanted to get out. Smart kids.

I look forward to many more of your anniversary posts - whatever anniversaries they may be.