Monday, March 26, 2012

classics, medical tests, and such

This post is utterly rambling, but there's been a lot afoot.

Last Tuesday I had a breast MRI, to see if the cancer has returned. So, you know, an unemotional situation.

My radiologist looked exactly like Clancy Brown, complete with being about six foot five. It was mildly disconcerting. Fortunately he had a very different voice, so when he spoke to me over the headphones I wasn't expecting to hear, "Tonight you SLEEP IN HELL," although that might have been distracting, and by the end I could use some distraction.

You see, you have to lie on your stomach with your arms up above your head, and when they initially position you, they ask, "Is this okay?" and you say, "Yes," because it does feel fine. And then after about ten minutes your shoulders start to spasm. And then your arms start to shake. And then your sternum and ribs announce, very loudly, that they are not happy about lying on hard plastic with all your body weight on them. And then all you can think is I NEED TO MOVE RIGHT NOW.

Clancy Brown also decided that the pictures weren't good enough after the first fifteen minutes, so they pulled me out, re-positioned me, and started over. Meaning I had to deal with forty-five minutes of this. Aiiieee.

Then I had to wait three days for the results. Friday morning I finally e-mailed my oncologist, saying, "Um, if the results are in, please call me?" She called right away, and said that the results were fine. Nothing to worry about. Since I had been sustained by sheer panic for three days, I collapsed a little bit, and spent most of the weekend lying on the couch reading.

I finished Middlemarch, which is just so wonderful I can hardly bear it. The political stuff bogged a tiny bit, but that's my only quibble. I had wondered how sympathetic I would be to Dorothea as an older reader, and, to my surprise, was perhaps more sympathetic than I was as an adolescent. I can only imagine what my life would be like if I'd been inclined to make marriage decisions at nineteen.

Then I read The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific by Charles Montgomery. Montgomery re-traces the journeys of his missionary great-grandfather in Melanesnia, and the result is sort of what would happen if Anthony Bourdain was writing about religion instead of food. I don't know why this didn't click for me. Montgomery is a good writer, and explorations of faith fascinate me, but the only impact this had was that I felt deep grief for the horrible poverty he witnesses.  

Now I am re-reading A Tale of Two Cities, which I have wanted to do since reading Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety, in which she steals both the death of Foulon and her protagonist being guillotined (with everything being "swept away") almost word-for-word from Dickens. I hadn't read ToTC since high school, and of course it's one of the least of the lesser Dickens, but it's fun so far.

And you know what? Lucie Manette is coming off much better than I remembered her. I mean, it's a low bar I set, and she does cry in every appearance, but she handles Carton's declaration of love pretty well. What would you do if some guy you barely knew who walks up and down your street all night informed you, "I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul"? Other than mace him? Macing not being an option, Lucie copes rather gracefully. And later, when Darnay (who, let's face it, is kind of a dick) makes fun of Carton behind his back, Lucie informs him that this is not cool. In conclusion: Lucie Manette: not as bad as previously thought! Still pretty bad, though.

It's also fascinating to see how, with Sydney Carton, Dickens is laying the groundwork for Eugene Wrayburn from Our Mutual Friend, who is equally dissolute and stalker-y, but who is allowed to be redeemed by the love of his stalkee a good woman.

And oh, Sydney Carton. Possibly my first literary crush. Which brings me to a topic that has long interested me (and I know this post is too long already, SORRY): how reader girls deal with literary aspirational figures, or the lack thereof. See, when I was growing up, there were no Katniss Everdeens or Hermione Grangers. We all wanted to be Jo March until halfway through the book (ladies, you know what I'm talking about); some of us wanted to be Lizzie Bennett but we all secretly knew we never could; and while Jane Drew from Susan Cooper's books is pretty awesome, she's emphatically a minor player in the boys' plot. I did discover Robin McKinley later, but I've always drawn primarily from the classics.

So I did as many girls probably do (once I got over wanting to be the goddess Artemis*): I both crushed on and wanted to be the male protagonists. And I don't find my later path in life to be completely unrelated to my Sydney Carton fixation. The idea that you can stagger debauched through life making self-pitying speeches about how you shall only sink lower, and then redeem yourself with one big dramatic sacrifice... yeah, I bought into that for a while. Then I realized you can, alternatively, get your shit together and do a thousand little good things, instead of one far, far better one. Reading about Carton now leaves me with a certain impatience. "Sensible of the blight upon him" - okay, I'll buy the tragic flaw and even call it romantic - "and resigning himself to let it eat him away" - now I'm unsympathetic and bored.

What do you, the viewers at home, think? Regardless of your gender, who did you want to be as a young reader?

*I lie; I have never gotten over this.


  1. So glad the MRI results were good, woohoo!
    When I was a very small child I wanted to be the bear Corduroy (from the book Corduroy), then Tintin of course, then Kim from the Rudyard Kipling book, then Gandalf the Grey. I was pretty convinced that if I hoped and prayed hard enough God would turn me into a boy. Puberty was an infuriating let-down.

  2. Ooh, and Hawkeye from the Last of the Mohicans...I read that when I was 12 and I both wanted to be him and I was in love with him. Gay love I guess, since I was still pretty sure I'd wake up with a penis one day soon.

  3. I wanted to be Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island SO BAD. And oh yes, total crush on Hawkeye!

  4. Oh yeah Jim Hawkins, he was great! Sigh.