Have You Roared Lately?

What an exquisite instrument is the human brain! It can out-google the finest search engine, insource the most arcane knowledge, and categorize the microfiches of the world's greatest libraries. Unfolding: A Memoir is the title of an extended essay I wrote some years ago which was reproduced as a chapter in the book, "Women Artists of the American West". It described the feelings of someone caught in a genetic cul-de-sac, absorbing a fatal diagnosis, looking closely at the world of fictionaries that others had constructed around her.

It described myself.

The diagnosis was Gaucher's, the problem a missing enzyme which was supposed to help the body dispose of its waste products efficiently. Glucocerebrosidase, the defective enzyme, was hard to spell and harder to live with. Ironically, it seems to claim a large number of visual artists in its ranks. Without it, the liver, spleen, bones and blood act like human trash cans, accumulating toxins at an alarming rate. There was some relief, I was told: a new infusion therapy, administered every two weeks for the rest of your life at a hospital or clinic, and costing some $400,000. per year. For patients who protested that their insurance would not cover such an expense, the pharmaceutical company suggested that husbands (!) change jobs regularly to start with fresh limits. Infuse? No. I refused.

Now I find, in the latest research, that the body's attempts to produce a workable mutation instead create misfolded or unstable genes. Did my brain know what I did not, those many years ago? Is that why I thought to use the word unfolding in the title? What seems to be missing are some appropriately folded genes. So does that make me misfolded and inappropriate?

The land of the inappropriate spells home to most artists. We inhabit a territory often unexplored by others and unfamiliar to most. Each generation has its foreign shores which some few decide to challenge. Today, for example, an art student at Yale University is being criticized for her senior project, an examination of insemination and miscarriage over a period of months using herself as subject. By 20 years from now I suspect that the furor over her choice will seem rather quaint. Karen Finley , as we know, covered herself in chocolate for a performance and covered herself thereby in opprobrium. Both artists directly challenged our preconceptions and forced us to reconsider our myths. Dale Chihuly refused to accept that glass is fragile and breakable - by defying this conventional wisdom he led the art world in building gardens and ice-skating rinks of glass R. Mutt, rejected for exhibition in 1917, is now an icon of the ready-made art scene where previously he had been a lowly urinal. Duchamps' "Nude Descending a Staircase" gives us a visual metaphor for unfolding, doesn't it?

Being rebellious has its compensations. Here's how the poet J. D. McClatchy words it:

"God spoke one and I heard two.

That is, he heard himself as well.

Can what I say be also true?

Shaky grounds on which to dwell,

I'd say that angels still rebel

Against authority. And you?"

The notion of unfolding has an interesting heritage. Unfolding a hollow hypercube into 3-space presents mathematicians with 261 distinct hypercubes, according to the Journal of Recreational Mathematics. Historian David Kaiser's new book, "The Road to Dallas", is described in the Denver Post as an incredible unfolding of history in light of new data unearthed by the Kennedy Assassination Records Act of 1992. The band, Axiom of Choice, in 1992 released an album called "Unfolding" in which they set the words of poet Omar Khayyam to eastern music with a western flavor.

Answers.com tells us that unfolding means "to be revealed gradually to the understanding". I'm not sure I will ever understand what is unfolding within me, either genetically or artistically. Artists simply cannot translate "know thyself". Only their work can. Equilibrium_unfolding offers one hope, since it holds out the possibility that changing the environment can change its protein makeup. Equally exciting are the changes brought about by alterations in lifestyle: listen to Dr. Dean Ornish on how you can impact your genes. (This site changes frequently, so you may have to do a search for Ornish genes.)

Unfolding is the lingua franca of the Internet Age, as evidenced by Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and the entire blogosphere. I guess I will continue unfolding the skeins of my DNA, inappropriate or not. When choice is not available, acceptance is wisdom. I embrace my raggle-taggle gypsy genes (as Robert Frost might have said). What I value are the correspondents and friends I have encountered on this journey through convoluted genetics, some of whom have much greater burdens than my own. All of us like to think we are unique. Perhaps it's best that we are not. Oh, and as for Dean Ornish's advice - you bet it works. I've been using a similar protocol for over twenty years, ever since they told me to settle my estate and prepare to die. My response was to enlarge my house and travel to Greece. (As they said recently on Grey's Anatomy, "You're in a lion fight. Just because you didn't win doesn't mean you don't know how to roar.") What about you? Have you roared lately?

c. Corinne Whitaker 2008