As a follow-up to my post about Dara’s experience with chemo I thought it might also be helpful, and provide some background for other posts around my care taking lessons learned, to talk about the process of her diagnosis and the surgery prior to chemo for her breast cancer. This is also another information dump sort of post—it’ll be interesting for someone who might be going through this process or having someone they know going through it to read a detailed experience.
A couple weeks ago our friend Barb asked us if we wanted to go to the closing party for the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Getty Museum. I hadn’t been to the exhibit yet, the party was free and it sounded fabulous. We had to RSVP with our email addresses, there were no plus ones, and the event filled up fast. We were the only folks we knew going, so it was kind of a social experiment–what kinds of queers were going to be at an LA Pride Presents event?
Dara and I just hit the six month mark of living in LA and Barb is maybe three weeks into officially living here after lots of weekend visits from Fresno. All of us are recent residents of Brooklyn. It’s kind of scary, fun and exciting to go to gay events in a new town where you only know some people and you don’t know “the scene.”
The party started at 7, we planned to leave for the museum at 6:30 and I got a LOT done yesterday. I woke up at 8 and it was way cooler than most mornings in this heatwave because there was a haze over the sun, so I got to work doing some house projects. Dara was inspired, too, and we got a lot of physical things done at the house, only taking a break to go to Home Depot. (As a Femme who has only lived in major metropolitan cities as an adult I am feeling some type of Lesbian Merit Badge Achievement at the amount of home improvement and Home Depot attendance I’ve amassed since we moved here and rented this quirky house.)
After I did all of that stuff I met up with my friends Monica and Heather at the Glassell Park Pool to do some aqua jog. Exercise is really important for my mental and emotional health and it has been hard in this heatwave to move enough. I know it’s also super dangerous to move too much in the heat. I find aqua jog to be a great way to do both cardio and cooling off, but since we were doing it and chatting about serious stuff I didn’t realize I had been in the pool, moving, not drinking water and in the sun for an hour and forty five minutes, an hour longer than I usually aqua jog. In spite of my sunhat, I didn’t take enough self care precautions and I know in hindsight that took a lot out of me. When I got home I jumped right into finishing house projects and then got ready to leave.
In this whole backstory I’m not drinking nearly as much water as I usually do and doing a lot more physical work during the heat than I usually do. So my body is super dehydrated but for some reason I’m not getting any warning signs, not consciously realizing it but behind the scenes things were going into alarm bell mode.
We parked in the Getty parking lot just inside the entrance off the 405, at the base of a hill. I was confused because I understood the museum to be at the top of a hill. We exited the first place we could from the parking garage, which was a not clearly marked staircase. If we had kept walking through the parking garage we would have found elevators, apparently, but three flights of stairs later we walked onto the “roof access” area and asked folks for directions. You can walk up the hill to the museum or there is a lovely train that will take you. We chose the train. Pro tip, if you go visit the Getty for the first time, read the website. There are many tips for visiting and I wish I had read them.
We got to watch the just-post-sunset colors over the mountains and the freeway below get more and more beautiful on the less than five minute ride. We exited into this spectacular terrace with a view of the last minute of sunset. My eye was drawn to the sunset but I definitely missed any signs about where to go for the party or the museum, so after our sunset photos we got into the first line we saw that seemed like tickets.
Sometimes the sunset is the best art in the world, you know?
An official looking woman handed us plastic books with information about caves. I was thinking, “What a fabulous party it’s in a cave!” None of the people in line seemed like folks who were there for an LA Pride closing party for a queer artist exhibit. Part of me wanted to check out the caves since we were there but we had all discussed how much easier it is to do a museum and only see one exhibit and focus just on that experience. In hindsight I’m so glad we made the decision to ask whether there was a different entrance for the Mapplethorpe closing party because if I had fainted in a cave it could have been way worse.
We had to go up a bunch more stairs, which I think is the grand entrance to the Getty. I was thinking a lot about privilege and accessibility throughout this whole entrance process. First of all, one big part of accessibility is being clear about barriers to participation up front and what accommodations are available. Not seeing signs to the elevators in the parking garage or to the entrance was a thing that if I had been checked into how my body was feeling I probably would have opted for them. As an event coordinator I make sure to have those notes on events. (Noting whether there is street parking available, if there are stairs and how many, whether there are elevators, if the venue is ADA compliant, etc…) At the time I was acknowledging our ability privilege that if we were lost at the Getty we could at least walk up the grand staircase to get where we were going.
I was also thinking about art privilege and these giant statues we were seeing walking up. Money for arts seems so arbitrary sometimes. I know so many incredibly talented artists who, if given the financial resources, could make extraordinary sculptural pieces. It costs a lot to work with metal/most materials on large scale and I had just gotten an email from our photo booth designers for Dollypalooza about our tiny budget for props and it was just an interesting contrast about how we create, monetize and people experience art.
These are the things I think of when going to a big fancy museum. We found the check in area for the party at the top of the grand staircase and got our purple party stickers. We took more pictures overlooking Downtown LA below and saw the event on the terrace, it was spectacular. It felt appropriate and awesome that the closing party of an exhibit by a queer man be a party thrown by an LGBT Pride organization. We finally found an elevator, too, tucked behind a column of stone with no signage.
I loved that the event designer matched the stickers to the party lighting and tablecloths. I thought it was a nice touch and great flow to the party layout, too.
The food was sooooo gooooooood at the party. I had been doing a whole foods cleanse for a couple of weeks to reset my digestion and really hoped that the duck egg rolls were wrapped in rice wrappers because they were very delicious and I knew I might get a tummy ache from them if it wasn’t rice wrappers but I was feeling the party vibe and living on the edge. And still not drinking water.
A friend of a friend came up and introduced themselves to me (a friend of Shannon/Miss Mary Wanna is a friend of mine!) and we gave them all of our drink tickets because none of us were drinking booze. Things were feeling great and fun and so magical!
Then we went to see the exhibit. I love Robert Mapplethorpe from intimacy with him through Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids. They lived in the same neighborhood I did in Brooklyn while he was going to Pratt, everything felt like such a big connection, living a big queer life knowing their weirdo artist friends in the 60s/70s reminds me of my weird queer artist community. I know a lot of photographers who shoot people similar to Mapplethorpe and wouldn’t be surprised to go to a Getty exhibit for one of them someday! (I highly recommend getting Shoog’s book Queers in Nature!)
I was getting really into the exhibit and the curatorial writing going along with the photos telling his story. How he loved fame and longed for it (way to go getting a posthumous Getty exhibit, what an amazing fame achievement).
I overheard a man talking about how Mapplethorpe had a model he photographed where he showed his penis in some photos and his face in others and he promised the model he would never show them in the same image. So the curation involved a photo of the model’s face next to a photo of his penis and I had a lot of feelings of judgment coming up about deciding to break an artist/model consent contract intentionally like that. Even if not explicitly breaking it, I feel like when you’re curating you need to keep in mind what understandings the artist had with their models. As someone who models for folks, I am glad we do written consent/model releases now.
Mapplethorpe died of AIDS related illness and I was curious if a lot of his models have passed, too. What does death do with our art and consent practices? Should artists be including a clause in their estates about adhering to consent?
Anyway, then I had a few minutes looking at the Andy Warhol photo and marveling at the intimate look Mapplethorpe captured, feeling like I was making a connection with Warhol himself through the photo. How photography is sometimes catching the right expression or creating the right intimacy to convey to the audience a specific emotion. I walked away from the Warhol, found Dara and told her I was feeling woozy.
I don’t remember this part of what happened clearly, but this is Dara’s account, in her words to me:
You were feeling woozy and I wasn’t sure if it was a quick wooze or something more serious. So I checked in again and you said it wasn’t going away so you said we should sit down. We went and found a bench to sit on. Sat there for a few minutes and then you decided you needed to go to the bathroom. Rather than having you walk around woozy, I decided to see where the bathrooms were so we could get there the quickest route. I came back, took you to the bathroom and held your arm so I was supporting you a little bit.
You were walking and talking for a little bit. Then you stopped talking and then you proceeded to slowly fall to the ground as though you were walking an invisible staircase. I kept asking if you were okay but you weren’t responding. I wasn’t sure if you were bending over to pick something up so I tried to keep holding you upright but letting you go down slowly.
Once you were kneeling I said “Are you okay?” and you tried to stand up again. And you said, “I think I might have just fainted.” And then you fainted again, still with my arm underneath you so I was holding a fair portion of your weight. And then I said, “Baby, I need you to get on your butt,” when you were back to being lucid, I didn’t want you to fall over again.
Then you finally heard me and said, “Yeah that’s a good idea.” And you sat down on your butt, against the wall, and then a security guard came over.
Once I came to I realized shit was really wrong for me and that I should probably go to the ER. I haven’t ever fainted in my adult life so I was super worried about it. One of my besties fainted and hit her head going down on a counter and had a serious brain injury from it. I told the security guard I needed help and he said help was on the way and so was a wheelchair.
Barb’s dress was pretty incredible.
I have a chronic digestive disorder, which means I am very intimate with my body’s warning signals around episodes of that, and since my whole body was shutting down of course that was happening, too. I was like, “I still need to get to the bathroom, I cannot wait, I still have my dignity and I am not going to shit my pants at the Getty.” In spite of everyone’s protests, I crawled to the bathroom. I was aware I was having an Ab Fab worthy spectacle and talking about my dignity, but better to be a spectacle than to shit your pants.
Brandon, one of the first responders, helped scoop me up with Dara to quasi carry me to the bathroom. I made it in time, with Barb and Dara waiting right outside the stall to make sure I was okay. Also, while washing my hands in the bathroom I ran into someone I know. Imagine being in a situation where you might be about to go to the ER when you run into someone and not have the words to even explain what’s happening so you just introduce your partner and your friend and say how good it is to see someone and then go out of the bathroom into the waiting arms of the first responders from the Getty.
Who, by the way, were amazing! They took a bunch of info from me and talked to me about my condition, with a certain kindness that felt safe and not mean. They thought I was probably very dehydrated and needed to go home and rest. It felt very VIP the way they cared for me and treated me through the whole thing. I got a wheelchair and they let me take a spin through the exhibit to see if I was up for seeing it in a wheelchair (the answer was no, but the FOMO part of me was glad I at least tried). I snapchatted the wheelchair ride because I was like “I will not waste this outrageous moment in my life, this is what social media is for.”
The hashtag at the museum is #gettyinspired and they have it on the ground where they think you should take photos which I thought was a great social media idea.
First responders are total heroes, the capacity to know what to do in an emergency and handle it with grace and kindness is a true skill. To be the people who run into the burning building… The first responder team at the Getty also had some amazing stuff to say about the Getty Foundation’s good works outside the museum and the exhibits at the museum (apparently London Calling is not to be missed). I feel so grateful that if I was going to pass out in public I did it while on the arm of my supportive partner and with first responders so readily available.
They took us out of the museum in a truck from the VIP parking lot where the higher ups in the Getty Museum park directly to our car in the parking lot down the hill. I felt like a very woozy, sick celebrity.
Barb was soooo helpful during the aftermath. Even just holding the purse and being back-up for Dara was really helpful. Also look at these shoes she just got on a work trip to Shanghai.
So then Barb drove us home. We stopped at a Whole Foods on the way because we needed electrolytes to help hydrate me and I called my mom. I don’t think she follows me much on social media but it felt terrible that she might find out I fainted at the Getty from someone else so I thought she should know first. Also I still wasn’t sure if I would end up in the ER.
I actually hurt my foot bending the toes back when I fell but so grateful I didn’t hit my head or anything. Also I’m totally wearing bike shorts in this photo and feel great about that choice for chub rub prevention last night when I was crawling towards the bathroom.
After home, bed, air conditioning, 2+ liters of coconut water and tons of alkaline water I am feeling 60% better. I am taking my body’s warning signs very seriously and keeping it simple and asking for help. I have a history of heat sickness and this is the worst it has ever been. I am going to be extremely mindful of heat, activity, house projects, hydration, electrolytes and social activity from now on.
And now I have a great story to tell.
I cannot thank my supportive, awesome partner Dara enough for taking such good care of me during and after this ordeal. We are binge watching the Fosters on Netflix because my friend Silas Howard directed an episode in the current season and I want to watch it with context!