The Topic At Hand: How Do You Like Your Eggs?

When I was 26, I was treated for Lymphoma. That Easter, about halfway through the chemo, my hair was getting pretty thin, so I decided to let it go. I had a head-shaving ceremony with a few friends, in my studio apartment on Essex St, and afterwards used some of the hair to decorate eggs.

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It’s been nine years. I still have the eggs.

I keep these hirsute ova to remember something, but I’ve forgotten what. They are emptied nests, tiny fragile eggshells covered in strong locks and messy paint, and they sit in the Styrofoam box I must have bought them in… I don’t remember buying them, or even the process of emptying them of potential chickens. In fact, what I usually think of when I look at the box is that I have moved a million times in New York, and that every time I move, I think that these eggs will break. So far they have made it.

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But looking at them now, I’m struck by a lot of random things.

To start with, there are only eleven of them. I guess that means I must’ve dropped one at the start, very much like me… a baker’s dozen is one over, but my dozen falls one short. On reflection, though, the number seems fitting, a quiet prime number–not lucky like 7 or unlucky like 13, but still, not satisfyingly coherent like 12 (or 8 or 9 or 10, for that matter) would be. Eleven’s an odd little inscrutable number, overflowing one standard grouping and not quite reaching another. Like life itself, in a way—more than you could ever ask for, and yet somehow never enough.

What I think of next is what they are, eggs. I did the head-shaving on Easter Sunday in order to connect to rituals of rebirth and renewal from all traditions (plus after three months of ABVD treatments, it was about time). So the spring celebration of fertility, co-opted by christians as a celebration of rebirth, was co-opted by me as a celebration of vitality. Now that it’s been practically a decade I almost feel ashamed for having thought I might have died. Obviously I wasn’t going to die—I’ve lived nine more years! But at the time—at that moment in my life—and for the first time for me—the future was truly blank. Of course it had always been, but I’d never quite realized it, always had hallucinated some mirage of the forthcoming days. I finally saw reality: there is nothing there.

The eggs, though… Perhaps they dispute this point. Eggs and seeds and things that grow hold within themselves possibilities and futures. Life is always moving forward. There’s a future living within the present, indefinite but maybe not illusory. Or maybe that reality of seeing the serious absence before me has just healed over with time.

The next thing I think about is nature and artifice. These little mementos are decorated with both paint and hair, a combination of raw stuff and human made stuff, and they’re natural as eggs but art, of a sort, as mementos. The hair, a wild mess of my own DNA, was what I shaved off that day, in an effort to be positive since it was thinning anyway. I’d shaved my head twice before, but this time I cut it ceremoniously in honor of spiritual practices, like many hindus and buddhists, who often use shaving hair as a cleansing or purifying ritual. But instead of throwing away the history I was disconnecting from, I kept some memory of it as a medium to play with, to create something out of material trouble rather than just leave it altogether.

The hair is mixed with paint, which is sort of lodged between natural and artificial, because it’s an ancient medium, and often made of very “natural” ingredients—but it’s still created, in a way that hair isn’t. Even the most natural paint can only be natural in content, not in form, unless you count something like the blood in our veins as a kind of “paint”, since it could conceivably be used that way. And acrylic paint has multiple levels of human-made forms, so it’s really artificial. Oils, eggs, or gums occurs in nature, even if not mixed with pigments and stirred to the right consistency for use, but acrylic binders were invented in labs, even if in the end they have to be made from natural elements eventually. If I want to make egg tempera at home, I just need pigment and egg, but to make acrylic paint, I have to buy some pre-made plastic product, that someone else’s hands already worked on. I used both watercolors and acrylics on these eggs, so they span from the untouched growths of wild life to complex products that took centuries of human investigation to invent.

But the most artificial element is clearly their artificial nest. The eggs sit in neat columns, hugged perfectly by that polystyrene box. I probably have Styrofoam to thank as much as anyone for the fact that these mementos are still with me, through all the moves. (Did you know “the color Blue is a trademark of the Dow chemical company”?). But though Dow created the Styrofoam the eggs live in now, it’s not impossible that they may have created a chemical that originally caused the cancer

At least they keep the eggs safe.

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7 responses to “Eggsistential Anxt”

  1. The richness of overlapping real-life symbolism here is fascinating. Death and life, nesting and self-nurturing, the natural and the artificial, all mixed up together in a ritual that is clearly personal and original, yet resonates in so many universal ways.

  2. Eric Eicher says:

    Miranda, I really enjoyed this. Looking at some of the decorated eggs made me a little ill, but the act of decorating them struck me as a triumphant and therapeutic thing, and I admired your courage in sharing the whole episode with the cyber world, at large.

    Rhetorically, this essay contains some wonderful writing: the brief paragraph on the wonders of 11 concludes with a sentence on life that’s my favorite line on this site so far; the irony that ends the piece is effective, and the image of the future, not as a “hallucinated…mirage of the forthcoming days,” but as complete blank, is a powerful one.

    I definitely look forward to your future work.

  3. Maya says:

    What rich and layered reflective writing on such a profound process!
    You’ve poetically, politically and philosophically woven together intricately personal elements with the universal. The contemplation of Styrofoam as both the protector of the symbolic eggs and potential contributor of the disease was quite powerful.

    I was and still am honored to have been a part of your ritual of renewal and celebration of your beauty and strength!!
    Inspiring and potent work, as always.

  4. vve says:

    Beautifully put: “Eleven’s an odd little inscrutable number, overflowing one standard grouping and not quite reaching another. Like life itself, in a way—more than you could ever ask for, and yet somehow never enough.” It’s an image I know my mind will wander back to.

    The analysis of the art you created to help you cope with your fears and hopes is fascinating. The final irony of the box itself is emblematic of the modern life we live–and the ominous price we pay for comfort and convenience.

    I look forward to your next essay.

  5. Rachel B. says:

    “But instead of throwing away the history I was disconnecting from, I kept some memory of it as a medium to play with, to create something out of material trouble rather than just leave it altogether.”

    You mentioned that you did this on Easter as a symbol of rebirth, and I don’t think keeping the eggs is incongruous with that idea. In fact, I think that you simply executed a very pure, and valuable, act of recycling-based creation. Especially since you say the eggs no longer have a distinct or clear meaning to you, all kinds of ideas about identity and the nature and purpose of art leap to mind. (I’m a philosophy school drop-out, but you probably understand where I’m going with this.)

    To me, I see this an example of certain materials at Point A become different materials at Point B, which is really interesting conversation about aesthetics and utility; form and content…and of course, identity over time. Yours and the eggs and the hair.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking exploration.

  6. liberty says:

    One of the wonderful things about this post is that it is open to comment–and interpretation. I very much enjoyed reading the different musings and reactions (so far).

  7. Collette says:

    What a wonderful way to celebrate life…in words, symbols, history, and just “being.” Reading this has been very inspirational, motivational and encouraging to not give up my very own fight in dealing with cancer.

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The Author

Miranda Nell

Miranda Nell is working on completing a PhD in philosophy, and currently teaches in the NYC area. She has presented at various conferences and published a few reviews, in journals like Science And Society and Philosophical Frontiers. Her undergraduate interests were more artistically focused, however, and many of her personal projects explore creative avenues, including the visual, poetic and theatrical arts. She co-produced the Wantler Readings at Galapagos Space, published the Drink Me zine, was part of the film Puzzlehead, was published in the magazine Warped Reality, and organized the Sister Spit East open mic series, among other things. She has a comatose blog that may yet come back to life.

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