Thursday, November 26, 2009


Last Thanksgiving I was a guest for dinner across the alley at the Andersons. Eli brought a turkey, Rose cooked it, and Wayne and I were appreciative. Rose died of cancer last spring. Eli and Wayne were killed in a car crash this fall. Eli took a plate to Lee, who lived alone in an old warehouse. This year Lee has been taken to a nursing home. I’m thankful for last Thanksgiving, which was a happy day.

This year I acquired a grand-nephew, a baby so big he’s always in the ninetieth percentile on the growth charts. His papa is in the timber business, so I figure he’s a throwback to Paul Bunyan. Just week, I discovered that the house where I grew up is now owned by a bright and handsome professional couple with a two-year-old named “Finn.” I’m thankful for these two babies named for mythic characters.

I’m thankful for ten years in this house, and looking forward to the next ten. I came to write and that’s what I’m doing. My thanks are fervent for my co-writer, Tim Barrus, and the guys who are so important to him -- and me.

Yesterday I found the following url of a video that struck me so hard I was weeping. It’s made a big impression on other folks as well. Commissioned by Harvard in order to teach elementary cell biology it animates scientifically accurate events and entities in one human cell. It looks like cosmic ballet with humorous little bits and then amazing sequences like Hubble telescope photographs of galaxies, the birth of stars. The second url is comments by the studio that made the animation. They say it is as accurate as possible, except that they had to put in far more space than is between these molecules in your cells as you sit there. All this stuff is crammed together in one tiny skin.

This is quoted from the second url:

The Inner Life of a Cell, an eight-minute animation created in NewTek LightWave 3D and Adobe After Effects for Harvard biology students, won’t draw the kind of box office crowds that more ferocious ˜and furrier˜ digital creations did last Christmas. But it will share a place along side them in SIGGRAPH's Electronic Theatre show, which will run for three days during the 33rd annual exhibition and conference in Boston next month. Created by XVIVO, a scientific animation company near Hartford, CT, the animation illustrates unseen molecular mechanisms and the ones they trigger, specifically how white blood cells sense and respond to their surroundings and external stimuli.

“Nuclei, proteins and lipids move with bug-like authority, slithering, gliding and twisting through 3D space. “All of those things that you see in the animation are going on in every one of your cells in your body all the time,” says XVIVO lead animator John Liebler, who worked with company partners David Bolinsky, XVIVO’s medical director, and Mike Astrachan, the project’s production director, to blend the academic data and narrative from Harvard’s faculty into a fluid visual interpretation. “First, we couldn’t have known where to begin with all of this material without significant work done by Alain Viel, Ph.D. [associate director of undergraduate research at Harvard University], who wrote and guided the focus to include the essential processes that needed to be described to complement the curriculum and sustain an interesting narrative. I’ve been in the medical animation field for seven years now, so I’m a little jaded, but I still get surprised by things. For instance, in the animation there’s a motor protein that’s sort of walking along a line, carrying this round sphere of lipids. When I started working on that section I admit I was kind of surprised to see that it really does look like it’s out for a stroll, like a character in a science fiction film or animation. But based on all the data, it’s a completely accurate rendering.”

Anthropomorphizing white blood cells is familiar to the Cinematheque guys who struggle daily with HIV, which eliminates white blood cells, exposing the guys to mortality. To stay alive they must know more about their cells than most people do. This high awareness can be a burden but it is nothing compared to the burden of ostracism and blame that society throws at them.

I subscribe to academic “aggregators” about the environment and nature-writing, about Westerns, Western history, animals, arts and book reviews. A steady flow of ideas and information comes through this old computer. Recently H-Amerindian ran a short clip noting that in Manitoba the demographics of HIV-AIDS has shifted from gay single guys to families, because the origin of the infection has moved from blood exchange through sex to blood exchange through contaminated needles used for drugs. They said it is now typical to have one member of a family come in for treatment, to test the rest of the family, and discover that even the newborns are infected. This is a function of poverty. The drugs treat fear, starvation, and abuse.

At one point in the history of Cinematheque, a history as crammed together and complex as the workings of a cell, the guys began to take Sustiva. They were living in an old warehouse that had small spaces for each to have a studio/bedroom. On the first night of Sustiva, Tim asked the boys to sleep in pairs or trios so that no one would wake alone in the night, because the drug -- which can pass the brain barrier in pursuit of the HIV virus -- causes terrifying dreams.

I told Rose about all this and we shared a concern for these guys, esp. the youngest, so we cooked up a fantasy to make ourselves feel better. We pretended that we were able to go to that dormitory in the deepest part of night and trail around in our old lady nightgowns among the boys, putting our hands on their heads to reassure them. It was kind of goofy and we made it funny by saying Rose didn’t have her teeth in. But imagining such a thing did have some power, at least for us. Tim told the boys.

The epigraph on Cinematheque’s blog is by Picasso: “Everything you can imagine is real.” Let us imagine a better world, even as we are thankful for this one.


prairie mary said...

Ever vigilant, Tim adds this advice:

Beautiful stuff. I have these POOR FAMILY suspicions that come and go. One is TOOTHBRUSH.

A toothbrush used by someone with HIV only has to have the tiniest drop and in that warm, wet environment the virus could live for a long time.

No sharing toothbrushes.


We should ALL be changing diapers in latex or rubber gloves.

Babies: HIV passes into milk.

Teenage Boys: No wearing someone else's jockstrap. Guys itch their balls and leave enough blood on the jockstrap to transmit.

Dishwashing: Use bleach. Cut fingers are bad. Never just rinse a glass.

Our sex and lipstick: HIV loves lipstick and lip balm.

No sharing socks.

NO NO NO NO NO sharing razor blades.

Laundry: Wear rubber gloves. There is cum in laundry. Use HOT water (bleach).

Kissing. No tongue. Kiss their cheek.

Hugs are safe and very very very necessary.

Tim Barrus

Art Durkee said...

Hugs to you and all y'all today.

I'm alone today, except for the virtual screen campfire of my laptop, and the connections made via that virtual campfire.

I made some stone sculpture in the garden today, and I'll be baking something small now, to make a feast anyway.

Thank you, and best wishes.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Entropy can be counteracted by the artist, who synthesizes new order out of nothing and thus overcomes the relentless tendency toward decay. (Pynchon)

Art Durkee said...

Artistry IS wizardry, because both are anti-entropic.