December 31, 2014

Finishing "The Book of Marvelous Cats"

The end of the year is here. I had set a modest goal of finishing the illustrations for my Book of Marvelous Cats and have done so. Most of the illlustrations were revisions of previous drawings. The revising, although truly time consuming, turned out to be a good idea as the second generation of images were much more detailed and rich with nuance than the first generation.

After completing the last revision, I created one more new drawing - Carpenter Cat.

In the remake of Bouncer Cat, pictured above, the interior has been transformed from a vacant space into a lived in home. Gone is the rat in Bouncer Cat’s right hand. Instead he grabs a hapless person by the foot. In keeping with my new interest in shoes, there is a shoe on the floor. The enormous cat is so eager to fling the man out of the house that he doesn’t even allow the "bounced" person a chance to put on his shoes. On the wall is a picture of "Designer Cat," from a previous illustration. The picture is replete with a number of such details of the cat within the picture of the cat. See the earlier version at right for a comparison.

December 2, 2014

Eliminating Methylparaben, Other Parabens and the Return of the Dragon

The drawing illustrated above is a cultural overlay of ancient and modern design. The bottles are drawn from Byzantine glass perfume vessels. The background consists of over a hundred repeated tracings from a tube of ointment. What they represent are my present search for paraben free products. My drawing, however, with its background of nine columns each of thirteen tubes (if you count the implied tubes hidden behind the glass bottles) came to signify something else after I completed it. So I will address the subliminal, almost mystical aspect of the drawing first, then proceed to the paraben issue.

Before attending to my blog post about my attempts to eradicate parabens from my life and after I finished the drawing I had an interesting experience with my history in China. I was cleaning out my basement, also to downsize and remove allergens, when I came across a crate that my mother had sent to me nearly two decades ago. The crate contained my letters from China. She had kept every one. I had not the heart to open the crate because although China in the 1980's and 1990's was a meaningful experience, life there was very painful in many ways as well. Yet as I was doing yard work later that day, I thought about the memoir I had started to write a few years ago before I became too ill to work on it. Should I recover enough to work on this memoir again, I thought, looking over the letters would be helpful as time clouds memory.

Later that day, I received a package from a friend that I had kept up with off and on since high school. She had been cleaning out her house this past week as well, she told me in a letter, and thought I could use the contents of the package she sent. The package contained three boxes of letters from China that I had written to her over a four year period. She had kept every one!

After this day of synchronicity, I looked began to look at other things for clues or signs that there was something mystical in the works. Was there something subliminal or cosmic about my choice of nine columns of thirteen tubes in the background of my drawing? Nine times thirteen equals one hundred and seventeen. Out of curiosity I looked up nine, thirteen and one hundred and seventeen in Chinese numerology. To my surprise I found that nine is the symbol of the dragon and that the Chinese dragon has one hundred and seventeen scales because nine times thirteen is one hundred and seventeen. Amazing! It could be coincidence or perhaps the China years are so ingrained in my subconscious that I subliminally use significant numbers.

Does this relate to the preservative methylparaben and can I extend the metaphor of dragons, numbers and China to a chemical compound? Probably not. I suppose I could grab at an obscure reference to methylparaben having an odd number (3) of oxygen atoms in its chemical structure but that would be a stretch. Once again, my writing about an illustration will be in two completely unrelated parts.

The preservative Methyl Paraben as well as other parabens, has been receiving scrutiny in recent years as a commonly used preservative in numerous over the counter as well as prescription medical products. There is some research implicating parabens as not quite healthy for human consumption in general and as a result there are a growing number of "Green" , "Eco-friendly," and "Hypo-Allergenic" industries that claim to leave this preservative out of their products. See the Washingnton Post article: www.washingtonpostcom/...parabens

For those who are suspicious of this product and wish to eliminate it from their daily use, I have provided links to various companies that produce paraben free products. For those who are allergic to it, elimination will be essential.

I first became aware of the preservative methylparaben when I found out that this product was on my long list of chemicals that I am allergic to. Finding products without methylparaben in them has proved to be challenging. The first product to eliminate was local anesthetics, cortisone injections, or other ingested drugs with this product in them. This first line of attack against the parabens was essential because ingesting or injecting the paraben would cause the most severe reaction, i.e. low blood pressure, tachycardia and loss of consciousness. Not being able to use local anesthetics for minor procedures was becoming increasingly difficult. Although I did get through a forty-five minute tooth extraction with no anesthetics I would not recommend it.

Fortunately there is an epinephrine free lidocaine without the methylparaben in it. I did get chills and some tremors after using this, probably from hypersensitivity, but the severe reaction was eliminated. A heads up though, about local anesthetics for people allergic to methylparaben. Local anesthetics fall into two categories; amides and esters. The ester local anesthetics are broken down by the body into para-aminobenzoic acid, or PABA, which is a metabolite of methylparaben. This could provoke an allergic reaction.

With the local anestheic problem tentatively addressed, I turned to eliminating methylparaben in the numerous over the counter and prescription medications as well as in soaps, shampoos, and cremes. I was amazed at how ubiquitous the chemical is. I found it in sunscreen. It was in my lotion. The metabolite of methylparaben, PABA, was in the multivitamin I was taking every day. It was in metalworking oils and fluids. It was in the food I was eating.

In addition to its predominance in so many products, another problem in eliminating methylparaben and paraben mix compounds from these products is that it goes by so many different names. It can even be masked under "other fragrances." The alternate names for methylparaben are: Methyl p-hydroxybenzoate, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid methyl ester, methyl parahydroxybenzoate, p-methoxycarbonylphenol, ethyl p-hydroxybenzoatek ethylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid ethyl ester, ethyl p-oxybenzoate, p-carbethoxyphenol, propyl p-hydroxybenzoate, propylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid propyl ester, butyl p-hydroxybenzoate, butylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid butyl ester, benzyl p-hydroxybenzoate, benzylparaben, phenylmethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate, p-hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl ester. Like spell check on my computer, most health care professionals do not recognize the names of these chemicals.

Considering the hard to remember multi syllabic chemical names and the fact that companies may not even list the names, or may mask it under a vague name, the best course of action I found, was to use products that specifically state that they are paraben free.

The paraben free product that I was initially most interested in obtaining was hydrocortisone creme. It seems counter productive, but just about every over the counter hydrocortisone creme on the market contains both methylparaben and paraben mixes. One wonders at why an anti-itch anti-rash creme would contain a common allergen known to elicit contact dermatitis - unless the object is to create more rashes so that the hapless victim keeps using more hydrocortisone creme. There is one company worth mentioning here. Exederm, based in New Jersey, offers a paraben free hydrocortisone creme: 908 542-9300. They may be the only company that manufactures paraben free hydrocortisone creme. They are worth checking out, as they are committed to purity in their products and produce other items that are paraben free, such as shampoos and conditioners.

For paraben free toothpaste and lip balm (yes chapstick brand chapstick has methylparaben in it) I used Tom’s of Maine: The Allergy Asthma Center has a good line of paraben free soaps, shampoos, detergents and skin lotions. They also have a shower attachment that removes chemicals such as chlorine from the shower water. The latter has proved to be quite rewarding: www.allergyasthmatechcom or call 1-800 621-5545. Hope this helps chemical allergy sufferers!