Another eccentricity of my privileged Tofino house-sit is that i must vacate it periodically, when the owners to return or, sometimes, their house-swap partners. As of today i am on one such hiatus. Sometimes i luck into a temporarily empty apartment, sometimes i leave town to visit friends. This time, though, i decided to scratch a longtime curiosity: I’m living for three weeks on Poole’s Land. Continue reading
In the two years i’ve been off-and-on house-sitting this lovely Tofino home, one of the many eccentricities has been this impressive grandfather clock. It’s a real old-school baby, made many decades ago by a relative of the house-owner. It’s completely mechanical, powered by three heavy weights on chains that have to be re-hoisted every four days or so. There’s a pendulum with a brass disc that swings back and forth, eliciting an authoritative tick … tock with every swing. Listening closely, the left-swinging tick is higher-pitched than the right-swinging tock, which seems to have the falling intonation of a declarative sentence ending. It’s like the clock is making a statement, over and over again: “Tell me. Don’t go. Be free.”
That sound has been problematic for me over the months. Most of the time, i heard it as the soundtrack of an existential European movie, where the close-up of swinging pendulum and insistent tick-tock is a trope for the implacable march of time, the constant insistence that “Your life is slipping away, second by second, irretrievably.”
When one is not entirely sure that one is not wasting one’s life away, that reminder can be as unwelcome as the drip-drip of a Chinese water torture. Besides, i have in the past spent huge chunks of life basically lost in time — usually while travelling, when the day of the week and exact hour of the day are largely meaningless. I know how completely artificial our parsing of time into measurable bits really is.
This time around, however, it’s different. I hoist the weights with relish. The ticking is a background beat, like the clap of an high-hat to the day. And the chimes — did i mention it chimes every quarter hour? — are both musical and reminiscent of temple bells. Both are easily ignored, if required, in that way we humans have of not hearing what we don’t want to hear.
But the very best thing about the grandfather clock is something that i’ve only just realized in the last week: It’s an ideal meditation timer. I can sit down any time i want, without fumbling with my usual timers (cell phone or stovetop timer), and have a guaranteed sit of somewhere between zero and 15 minutes. I sit with my back to the clock, and i really like that i don’t know how long it’s going to be until the next chime, because that short-circuits the mental timer that is always unconsciously anticipating the end of the session. If the chime sounds after just a few minutes, i just remain seated, knowing it will sound again soon.
Furthermore, those unbanishable technological background worries of power failure or batteries dying are not a factor with the granddaddy clock. It conveniently ticks every second, so i can tell at once if its weights have reached the bottom of their descent and the clock has stopped. (It’s a strange background worry, borne perhaps of too many Twilight Zone episodes in my youth, that the meditation timer fails and they find me, days or weeks later, still frozen in the kneeling posture, waiting for the beep or bong or buzz to ends the sit.)
Grandfather clock fixes all that, so i can sit contentedly till — just like in a real Zen temple — the bell rings.
This post is prompted by the recent confluence of a couple of things: a visit to the ultrasound clinic in Victoria, and my friend Carmen’s recent blog post titled Me and my breasts (the adventures of a mammogram “abnormality”)
The icky bits: Some months ago i began noticing a lump, you know, down there. Inside my, er, scrotum. Oh hell, ball sack. Uninvited lumps are generally not good news anywhere in the body. (Here’s where i feel like i’m supposed to add “especially not there,” thereby playing along with the cultural imperative that no part of a man’s body is more precious than his “family jewels.” ‘Fraid not, though. They’re just another body part, and frankly i don’t get a lot of use out of them. If it came to a bizarre choice between my balls and, say, my knees, i know which i’d pick in a heartbeat.)
This lump didn’t hurt, it was just there, noticeable where i had never noticed one before. I monitored it like a good body owner/operator ought, and added it to my running list of things-to-mention-to-the-doc when i finally got around to my every-5-years-or-so obligatory check-up. Impossible to keep the C-word from coming to mind, given its ubiquity in the mediascape and the zeitgeist these days, but i took some comfort from the odd statistic that at 55 i was too old to be in the high-probability bracket for testicular cancer. And anyway, if it was cancer then it was cancer; worrying wouldn’t fix that. I did succumb to the occasional yikes moment, because that’s just who i am, a worrier — but i was surprisingly shruggish at the prospect of cancer.
Dr. J felt me up, said hmm, and thought we (doctors always say “we,” and i always wonder if that means him and me, or him and his colleagues) should take a closer look with an ultrasound scan. Tonquin Clinic made me an appointment — down in Victoria, which is a full-day bus trip from Tofino. They can do ultrasound in Nanaimo, only a half-day away, but if i’m going out of town for a medical procedure i’ll make a little holiday of it and visit a few friends.
I went to the appointed address, thankfully well before the appointed hour because the receptionist at the clinic had sent me to the office that books ultrasound appointments, not the place that does them (take note, Tonquin clinic!). I caught a cab to the Royal Jubilee Hospital and, thanks to a sympathetic young lady ultrasound tech who stayed late for me, spent a slightly surreal ttwenty minutes lying on a gurney having a wide-ranging conversation with her about her schooling, Winnipeg, Tofino, the medical system and i don’t know what else while she ran a jelly-smeared, hockey-puck sensor back and forth across my balls while staring at a screen. I was curious to see the ultrasound screen but the geometry of the set-up wouldn’t allow it, and besides, she said, it wouldn’t mean anything to anybody but a radiologist. “And i can’t tell you anything about the results,” she said, to which i replied that i wasn’t worried in the least anyway. (I do have this innate conviction that, if my body is going to entertain something serious in the way of disease, i will have some intuitive forewarning of it.)
I went on with my Victoria visit, came home, and forgot about it for a couple of weeks. Until a couple of days ago, when i read Carmen’s blogpost about her abnormal but healthy breasts. And until this morning, when Dr. J called to say it was just a simple cyst and the best thing to do was leave it alone, unless it started hurting. (Actually, i think that’s what he said; it was noisy, so let me check the message one more time….) Yep, i’m in the clear, the whole rest of my life ahead of me … spiced with the added frisson of a hint of mortality.
P.S. — Thanks, Carmen, for being brave enough to openly bring up things we all deal with, but which for some obscure, unexamined and unhealthy cultural reasons we are strongly encouraged to never talk openly about. As if repressing stuff ever made anything better; the whole twentieth century should be adequate testimony to that.