I look like Sluggo, Nancy's pal in the comic strip. My hairline is lower than my tattoo-line was, and I look like a Neandertal.* My tattoos are mostly faded. I want to get someone to rewrite the US out of Iraq on the back of my head. My scalp still shows through the hair. My eyebrows are growing in but I still use pencil to darken. My eyes are close together (an oculist told me, and it's true) and I think it's more pronounced now that the tattoos are gone. I am vain and obsessed. I think about 50 percent of the time about my hair/non-hair and the rest of the time about food, students, writing, the world brutality du jour, cancer coming back. Not in that order. The order keeps changing. I suppose I should be thinking about the Cubs' major win. They are Midwest division champs of the National division. Or something like that. Only 11 more wins and they are world (US and Canada) champs. I applied today for a fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. I regret never writing to him. He has been dead about 20 years. A friend of mine wrote to Meridel LeSueur and kept up a correspondence. I regret not sending my books to Grace Paley, who would have read them or not, but at least she would have been aware of them. A critic wrote that Paley wrote English as if it were Yiddish and someone once said that about my work. She was much much closer to Yiddish speakers and inflection than I've been. I interviewed her over the phone and then met her here, but before I had any books. I didn't mention my breast cancer on the personal statement to the Isherwood Foundation. I would have if it were for nonfiction writers, but it was for fiction, so I put my best fiction foot forward. I almost wrote: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and finished chemo this summer. I am writing a nonfiction book about it and that takes time away from my fiction so I need money to buy time for my fiction. That was all I could think to say so I didn't say it. Other than: I had breast cancer, feel sorry for me and send money. My time may be short. But think of all the writers with AIDS who may be applying. Breast cancer seems like chump change. At least my kind of. It is garden-variety-ish, and that is why my oncologist (soon to be my former) seemed bored with it. Or maybe he is without affect. I will see the new young female oncologist on Friday. The old oncologist seemed indifferent to my case. He didn't call my shrink back to talk about drug interactions and when they did talk (after she called again) she asked him about monitoring of something or other in my liver and he brushed her off. I want an oncologist who at least feigns interest and goes through the right motions. Is that too much to ask?
I have tried to find pictures of Sluggo on line to link to, but it's hard to find good ones. In most, he's wearing a hat. I remember him as being nearly bald, with stubs all over, and a low hairline. But in this comic, it's not so low.
*"Neanderthal" sounds more natural, but I want to sound smart, so I'm spelling it without the H. Mr. Neandert(h)al was not available for comment.


It's always dangerous to make absolute statements (such as those that include "always"), but I will venture: Everyone loves secret code. That's what's so magical about speaking a foreign language.

I went to a French-language gathering last week. It was at La Creperie, and when I arrived there were about 20 people sitting outside at a long table. I went to sit down in an empty chair and a man gestured toward me and said he liked "l'ecran." My screen? What was he talking about? O, "le crane," my cranium, my scalp, meaning the message on my head: US out of Iraq. I'd thought it was too light to read. I told him I had the tattoo because I'd lost my hair. He didn't ask where it had gone. He was a very good and quick speaker of French, thanks to a French ex-wife. I realized I hadn't spoken French since December. I spoke rather rustily to him and to another guy who arrived, looking like a lawyer in a yellow tie and suit. And he was--a lawyer. I say I'm a writer and people say what do you write and I tell them I'm writing about cancer. What kind? asks the lawyer. Breast, sein, I say, and to make sure he's understanding me, he touches his chest. I am telling this stranger about my breast cancer and my recordings on WBEZ, and I'm feeling I wouldn't be telling him all this in English, so easily. Of course it's not easily tripping off my tongue. The gears are creaky. I read a William Maxwell story in which he talks about a man and his wife who want a child, and the wife is unhappy as a 1950s housewife without career or children, and they take a French class and say to one another what they can't say in English. Then their life goes on, after that brief opening up. I'm amazed at what one reveals in French, but at the same time on this very blog I've said many an intimate thing to--anyone--n'importe ou (anywhere)--who can find this square of zero-dimensional cyberspace. But it's different in person, isn't it? But in French in person it's not real; it's not English, doesn't matter what you say, and everything is interesting if it's said in French, because it's French, you have to struggle a little, to comprend. Pay that extra attention. French not real the way that travelers unfold the bills from their wallets and say, How much is this in real money?

The waitress came to collect money and the lawyer was asking her for change (in French) and she couldn't understand him. We were in a haze of French, speaking French, speaking in a familiar but foreign language to strangers. And we thought the world could understand us, because these people we'd never ever seen before could.

Makes you believe in the believers in Esperanto, who would craft a universal language and we would all be able to speak to one another, to speak the same language, as it were, and there would be no more strife.

But there were civil wars. Still are.

But the Jew who started Esperanto already had a universal language at hand: Yiddish.
Don't be afraid of Yiddish, Kafka told an audience once. You will understand it more than you thought you would, because it is like German. (Don't be afraid that you'll turn into your grandparents because of it.)

Old joke: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
What do you call someone who speaks one language?

What is Mine

Marcel Marceau is mine. And that's not a typo. He is mine because his father, Karl Mangel, was born in a small town in Poland and was a kosher butcher in Strasbourg. I understand kosher butchers. I understand Yiddish-speaking Polish fathers, though mine wasn't either. After his father was arrested, Marcel and his brother worked in the Resistance. Marcel took a new last name from a Victor Hugo poem. He used his artistic skill to forge documents. He led a group of Jewish children, dressed as Boy Scouts, across the Swiss frontier. He took drama lessons in Paris from a school that had been named, before and after the War, for a famous Jewish actress. Sarah Bernhardt. She is mine, too. So is Simone Weil; and Edith Piaf, but only because I saw the Piaf movie. Simone de Beauvoir isn't mine, though I know she had an orgasm for the first time when she had sex with Nelson Algren on the beach in Indiana. He isn't mine, either, though he was Jewish, despite the Scandinavianizing of his name. Or maybe it was in his apartment in Chicago. She wrote him love letters.
Marceau's father was murdered in Auschwitz, and so was Karl's younger brother.
Herschel Grynzspan is mine. Anne Frank is mine, though she's everyone's and they've all trooped through her cramped re-created attic in Amsterdam. Philip Roth is mine, though Cynthia Ozick is not. I.B. Singer is not, Bernard Malamud is not, though he was my teacher's teacher, and my teacher named his son after him. Delmore Schwartz is mine. St. Augustine is mine, for his agony, though I haven't read his diary since freshman year of college. So is Thomas Merton. Both had wild early years. Charlotte Salomon is mine, and Lincoln Park (the neighborhood) is mine. Louis Sullivan is mine--the ornamentation, not the shape of the buildings--and Sacagawea and Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose former summer place I stayed in for a month on a fellowship. Squirrels are mine, and raccoons, and dachshunds and beagles. Cicada skins and doodle bugs and grasshoppers, though they struggle against my closed hand (quick as lightning) and spit tobacco juice on my fingers. Lightning bugs aren't mine. Mark Twain isn't mine though he looks so familiar in his white mustache and suit. Milk chocolate is mine, but only when it's sold in bulk, and covers almonds or malt balls. Milk shakes aren't mine though chocolate chip ice cream is. Tiropita is mine. And kosher gumbo. And espresso. Organic milk is mine, and organic rice milk. Dark wood molding is mine, and green walls against dark wood is mine, and also polished light pine floors. Dark chocolate is never mine. French is mine and Hebrew is mine, and spoken but not written Yiddish. Kafka is mine. The Nora Ephron from the 70s is mine. Mrs. Pigglewiggle is and so is Jeanne-Marie who counts her sheep. Little Brown Bear is mine and Judy Bolton but not Nancy Drew.
Emma Goldman is mine and Eugene Debs and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Frida Kahlo and Walter Benjamin are mine but I have to share them with everybody else. New York isn't mine but Berkeley is. And Venice, though I don't know it well, and twisty little rue Mouffetard, with its little Vietnamese and Moroccan restaurants in the late 1970s, is mine. Adon Olam is mine and Avenu Malkenu. The year 1968 isn't mine, or 1967, but 1945 is and 1976 and 1978. Crosswords aren't mine, nor Scrabble nor Monopoly, but Clue is. Barcelona isn't mine though I walked its streets and into its Art Deco lobbies for almost a week. Harbors aren't mine. Nor boats. Cambridge, Mass., is mine. And Newport, R.I. Lapis lazuli is mine but not jade or silver. Nail polish isn't mine but bow lips are. Silent films aren't mine but Tina Modotti is. Der Blau Engel is mine though I don't understand German. Potato latkes are mine though I don't fry things well. Mary McCarthy is mine. The Bayeux Tapestry is almost mine. Glow worms are almost mine. The main square in Brussels is mine, though I've been there just once. South Street in Philadelphia is mine. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's aren't mine, though I seem to be in one or the other every other day. The sun is not mine but the 2/3s-full moon is. Pansies are, especially dark ones.
Why must I claim so much? Why must I own, even in words?
I saw Marcel Marceau perform, wide-eyed and whitefaced in Chicago. I couldn't see what he was seeing. Maybe, he said to an interviewer, I am silent because of the silence of those who returned from the camps. But this was not his own idea; he was saying Perhaps in answer to the journalist's question.
The amoeba makes itself an arm so it can reach what it wants. The amoeba surrounds the thing and takes it into its one-celled self.
Everything is already named. I have been alive for half a century. I do not know what to do with myself.

Tribune/Great Henna-head/Four Women, Four Breasts

Yesterday's Trib came in a plastic wrapper with a pocket that held three free food items geared toward women: two little boxes of Curves cereal and one Curves food bar. Thanks, Trib. Just what I wanted on Judaism's most solemn fast day. Fast, as in not eat until sundown. I'm sure the Muslim subscribers who were observing Ramadam loved the free gifts, too. That's a 30-day period when observant Muslims don't eat from dawn to sundown. Not even free cereal. Get it?

I came across this lovely henna-head. She says she uses black henna, which is dangerous. I use jagua, which is a black fruit-based ink--not black henna. I can see why she switched to black, though. Henna can look faded, even when it's fresh. Geez, this same woman reports that when a woman saw her on the street with her henna baldness, she crossed herself.

I went to A and P's 30th anniversary picnic today. When they were cutting the cake (quite beautiful, from Angel Food Bakery), I was standing nearby, and noticed N (mastectomy) standing on A's other side. Later I said to A (mastectomy): I don' t think I've been anywhere where there were three one-breasted women. And then she pointed out a fourth. A, N and I don't wear prostheses. A, N and the fourth woman are all lesbians. Are lesbians less likely to opt for reconstruction? Are they less attached to the symmetry that epitomizes the mainstream female ideal? Earlier, I was waiting on the corner for G to give me a ride to the picnic. The Cubs game was just letting out. A guy noticed my adorned baldness and exclaimed: Look at you! What would he have said if he'd noticed my one-breastedness? Depends on how drunk he was.

The Right Side

The weather was cool today, so it was Yom Kippur without that Bikram feeling. I had scheduled my arrival to services just about right: I got to the little-synagogue-that-isn't-there at about 1:30, with just two prayers to go before the break. Then there was yoga. Most of us were wearing white, which is the traditional color worn for the High Holidays. It was nice to see so much white. Made the mind calm. Unlike black, it shows up. You notice it. I was thinking of making white my signature color. Though unlike black, it is not slimming. I liked our yoga instructor. At the end, in savasana, corpse pose, he listed all the parts of each side of our bodies, as we checked on them or touched them with our minds. As he was going through the right leg, for some reason I started thinking of my cousin B, who died two autumns ago, at age 97. I cried a little. I remembered sitting in her kitchen with her with the bird clock on the wall, and me watching a lizard through the window. Why did going over the right side of my body make me think of B? Is there a message there? It makes me almost believe it is possible to commune with the dead. That was maybe the penultimate time I saw her. She was still walking around then. Her last year she was in the hospital and back.

At the break I talked to B, who told me his wife had died of breast cancer. It bothers me to look at you, he said, because of it. She was 50 when she was diagnosed, and had 10 years before it came back. How old are you, he said, in your 20s? I'm 51, I said. When I told him the cancer was not in my lymph nodes, he gestured dismissively, as if I had nothing to worry about. I also talked with an 18-year-old diabetic who was fasting, but who had insulin and food with him, just in case. I said I was fasting but I was drinking water. Did your oncologist tell you to do that? he asked. No, I said, my husband did. The young man told me when he was diagnosed, the first thing he wanted to know was if he could fast on Yom Kippur.


I have just finished reading through a blog written by the cat of a friend of mine. I think her style is influencing mine here. She is a surrealist and a dreamer with typical evil cat aloofness. She has angry leftist politics and a hatred of squirrels. In other words, she is no Mehitabel.

Bikram Kol Nidre

O man, was it hot in services tonight. We had an erev (eve) Yom Kippur dinner here and then R, P2 and I went to the little congregation that meets in a church. There were two ceiling fans and one rotating fan. I wanted to go stand by the rotating fan but didn't want to hog the air. I have been a very sweaty Cancer Bitch it seems like forever. Partly it's because I stopped taking black cohosh because it interferes with one of my Pills to Combat Melancholy. Partly it's from being zapped from peri-menopause into full-blown menopause by the chemo. Partly, according to X, my acupuncturist, it's because I'm still getting rid of the toxins. When I get warm, I stay very very warm. And get sweaty. When I have a slightly unpleasant thought or think of a time when I was embarrassed or irritated, I get sweaty. I get a clammy peach-fuzz head and then sweat streams and streams around my face. And then too when I'm just sitting around or standing or walking, calm and minding my own business, a flash starts. Sometimes I feel my ears get red first. I don't mind the heat, it's the *sweat.* I can't take soy for the flashes because I had the kind of breast cancer that feeds on soy, because it's estrogen-like. In other words, the cancer (the cancer that is no longer with us, the cancer that was cut out with wide margins, the cancer that was sliced and diced and put in parrafin) feeds on estrogen and estrogen-like substances, such as soy and pesticides and bovine growth hormones. Which means I'm supposed to eat organic as much as possible, and soy as little as possible. Which brings us to this musical question: If the oncology nutritionist said to have more protein, and to take it in the form of whey powder, should I still eat it even though I can't find organic? How do I know that this concentrated powder isn't full of contrated hormones? Next time I'm in Whole Foods, I'll ask at the courtesy desk about ordering the organic. Or I could even ask the nutritionist directly, God forbid.

But services. Erev Yom Kippur services are called Kol Nidre after the first prayer*, which is chanted three times. My father always said, Kol Nidre can make or break a cantor. I thought that was funny. Our family tradition was to wise-crack during services. Tonight we got to services late, after the Kol Nidre. I think the real reason it is repeated is so that latecomers will get to hear it. Forgive me, I missed the Kol Nidre at the Kol Nidre service.

The confessions on behalf of the community: We have done this, we have done that. But our prayers, repentance and charity will help us be forgiven. Every year we say we are sorry. And then we go out and sin some more. We are supposed to ask forgiveness of people we have sinned against. But I am stubborn. I am unchanging. I had a best friend. I don't have her any more. It has been more than 10 years. I tell people: We brought out the worst in each other. I should ask forgiveness for hurting her. Did I hurt her? I still feel competitive with her. Is that a sin? Yes. A sin against her, against me, against the universe. If I am competitive, it means there is not enough. It means that I am paying too much attention to what she has. I am looking to the side when I should look ahead. Or inside. I do rejoice when other friends rejoice. I am not always ungenerous. I should ask forgiveness for the times I provoked her. For being late. For staying annoyed. For holding a grudge. We have held grudges, we have bribed, we have betrayed, we have cheated, we have stolen. Forgive us, all of us. We are sorry. By tradition, we beat our chests while we confess, but the modern thing is to massage our hearts--after all, we are of the generation that believes in "not beating yourself up. " Just as we no longer give one another 39 (light, according to tradition) lashes. Massage your heart until it produces regret. Massage your heart until it is soft, and warmth radiates from it, settling on all the bits and pieces and the big large things in the universe. Massage your heart until it opens. It is a hard heart. It is a frightened heart. It is afraid that if it opens like a locket and takes in the universe, it will disappear. It is afraid that it will then become the universe's heart. It will no longer be the heart of the one, the only Cancer Bitch. It will be just like anybody else's. But it already looks like anybody else's. It pumps blood. It does all the things a heart does. Its blood is type O+, which is the most common type, the type that billions of other humans have and had and will have. Its blood can be given and taken. Its blood can be shared. Its blood can be sorted and separated and centrifuged and spread between clear glass plates. It can be spilled. ("If you prick us, do we not bleed?")

One story about Eden, said the rabbi, is that Adam and Eve were pure light. And then when they were exiled from the garden they were given skins. To contain them, to separate them from every other thing in the world that they had not been separate from. Another story is that everything in the world was made of light. Then the light became fragmented and we are trying in this life to collect and connect all the light, to restore and repair the world. The way to heal, I think, and I mean heal the soul, is to train yourself to see the light everywhere. Until you know without looking. Until you feel it without pointing it out to yourself, mouthing the words. It's just there. Like it's been all along.

A few hours after I wrote this I realized: I wanted too much from her. I wanted too much and didn't tell her and then the resentment started. And when I told her, the resentment had already taken root. For all that I am sorry.
*(The Internet tells me that Kol Nidre is really a declaration, not a prayer.)

To Cover or Not to Cover

The back of my head, as you can see here, says U.S. out of Iraq. Sometimes it is faint. Sometimes it looks like USOUT of IRAB but you get the message. Most people do when they look carefully, usually from above. My dentist noticed when it had faded completely, and thought I'd had a change of heart, and was reassured when I returned with the protest back in place. I would not wear a political button in class but by default, I cannot remove my scalp wherever I go. I can, though, cover it up. I wore a scarf during two official events where I represented WRU (Well-Regarded University) and I was going to wear one tonight at a student orientation. I didn't cover it last night at Intellectual University, because I was teaching students I'd taught before, and felt comfortable enough with them to be informal. I also felt that they were comfortable enough with me to voice any opposition. During class there's the illusion we're by ourselves, not being watched by anyone, because it's evening and we're surrounded by business-school students who don't pay attention to us. We're in our own Literary universe.

I used to wear a Code Pink button on my winter hat and was stopped in an elevator at WRU by a woman who said she liked Code Pink very much. I gave her the button. She said she couldn't wear it at work but took it to wear away from work. She did something in catering, I think, at WRU. I wonder, What if I had a permanent tattoo that said PEACE? Or PAX PACIS, as would be more appropriate at IU, where Latin adorns the walls and my boss used Latin twice in a meeting? It's that kind of place, even though the ivy covers buildings on its main campus, miles away from my modern classroom. But that's a different issue: Peace in itself is non-controversial. Everyone wants peace. Some believe that invasion is a necessary prerequisite.

I think I will be uncovered next week when I start teaching again at WRU. But I truly don't want students who disagree with me to feel uncomfortable. I will talk to them about my scalp. It is a class on how to teach, and we will talk about personal politics in the classroom.

I just found out that I won't be needed, after all, tonight at the official WRU event. So I will go to yoga and afterwards may ask my friend G to touch up my head, front and back.

Homage to Our Podiatrist

Our podiatrist is avuncular. He is nice-looking with short white hair that sticks up. He has a Hungarian vizsla who is ageing (who does not come to the office). His staff unties your shoes and takes off your socks, and when the appointment is over, puts your socks on and ties up your shoes for you. The staff is like Mom and he is the avunc. His brother is in practice with him as well as another doctor who wears a yarmulke. Today there was a nun in the waiting room. Usually there is a rabbi. Our podiatrist will clip our nails. He seems happy to see me. He uses ultrasound and prolotherapy and has a fancy way of making orthotics involving gait, he doesn't just put your feet into a sticky substance to make the mold. He gives me samples of Biofreeze to massage into my achilles tendon. He believes in Vitamin B for circulation. In the waiting room is a plaque acknowledging his father's efforts in getting podiatry accepted as a bonafide part of the medical profession, complete with insurance reimbursement. The father and the two sons practiced together. Now it is just the two sons. Our podiatrist has two sons and one is in screenwriting and the other is in Israel. That son is fluent in Hebrew. Our podiatrist has that Jewish-Skokie accent that sounds almost like New York-Yiddish-inflected. He is comforting in his goodlooking-ness and uncle/fatherliness and his confidence. Most of all his confidence. He tries this then he tries that. He is calm about trying this then that, scientific method, tick this off, then that. Our podiatrist's synagogue is 50 years old and has had the same rabbi that whole time. On Rosh Hashanah our podiatrist threw his sins into the canal. Our podiatrist stands for stability and family and father-sonliness and Skokie, though he practices in Chicago. He seems to come out of an earlier time, when sons followed into their fathers' businesses, when it wasn't so hard to find people. By that I mean, people didn't stray so far from their origins. I do mean it was easier to locate people. They stayed where they belonged. I didn't stay where I belonged. But the podiatrist makes me feel that I have come into a place where everyone has remained for a generation a two, where they are settled but will move over for a newcomer or two. Where there is a place. Where there will always be a place.

Sadness, the Empty Room

We (I) spend time talking to B and S, telling them what they should do, in light of B's MS getting worse, in light of his falls from his chair, and my nattering and nagging fill the air, fill the space, takes the place of emotion. But when S talked about it last night, about B needing full-time help, or when I think about him in assisted living, I get overwhelmed by sadness. Yesterday he had a bad day, he could barely get out of bed. They realize how bad the situation is, and it changes the conversation. They finally see it as tragic and impossible as I do.

Here Comes the Fuzz

The thing is, we confuse recovery from chemo with recovery from cancer. Cancer doesn't always make you feel bad. As my friend R says, You're feeling great, then you find out you have cancer, and the treatment makes you feel lousy. So as my hair slowly grows back, I start to feel that I'm cured, that spring is in the air (though it's an autumnlike day, time to bring the basil crop inside). My scalp now feels like a tennis ball, according to my friend G., or peach fuzz, according to L. I have some dark stubs, too, on my scalp, along with a few wayward one-inch white hairs, and dark little dots on my otherwise pale eyebrow area, and my eyelashes are moving from sparse to less so.

My black head-decoration is wearing off in back. I will need a touch-up soon, though L says soon the fuzz on my head will keep the ink or henna from sticking. As if he knows. Even though I'm optimistic about the near-future return of my hair, I just sent off for more jagua AKA genipap ink, this time from a place in the UK instead of California, because of the lower price and the different shape of the container--a tube instead of a difficult-to-squeeze needle-nosed bottle.

The book "The Summer of Her Baldness" contains a sequence of photos of the author's hair re-growth. You can find something similar on this site, and here's the blogger's hennaed head. The blogger has since become a Christian-based life coach. (NOTE: The last two links aren't working at the moment.)


I threw my sins into the lake yesterday. It's a Rosh Hashanah custom. Usually we throw bread crumbs as a stand-in, but there's talk that the crumbs could upset the ecosystem. So I threw a very few crumbs and some sand and some rocks. Seagulls found us and hovered and dove and one of them went after a rock I threw, thinking it was bread. I was glad the bird came up empty. It would be terrible to be responsible for killing a seagull while you were throwing off your last year's sins. The synagogue I went to is unaffiliated, meaning it's not Reform or Conservative or Orthodox or Traditional or Conservadox or Reconstructionist or Renewal. Though it seems like Renewal. Stuff about breathing and light in the photocopied prayer book, and God isn't called "he" unless there's a reference to "she" coming up soon. I've never understood what's so revolutionary about making God genderless or hermaphroditic. To me the issue is God in general. I don't believe in God, though I've mellowed over the last year or so (not related to cancer) and can accept God as a label for the ineffable liveliness of the atoms inside each of us and everything around us. I was telling L about this last night and he said then who are you praying to? I said it's general gratitude. He said why do you need that? I said it makes you more grateful for what you have. He accepted that. This veers into the teachings of the Harvard Happier guru (mentioned a few posts below) Tal Ben-Shahar who writes down every night what he's grateful for. There's nothing wrong with being grateful, though it's very 12-steppy--"attitude of gratitude." Like anything, it can become meaningless and rote and banal. I think it's the banality that bothers me more than anything else. I read "Pollyanna" for the first time when I went to summer camp and got the mumps. I read it in the infirmary while I petted a denatured skunk and waited for my parents to come get me. That was my best ever camp experience. Being inside, reading. What could be better? Pollyanna is, well, Pollyanna-ish, but not in a bland way. She learned the bright way of looking at things from her (poor, dead) father, and it was a way of having fun, not of avoiding reality. And as we learned in shul yesterday, Isaac's name means "laughter," because his mother, Sara, laughed when told she would give birth in old age. All this is in the Torah portion read on Rosh Hashanah. Isaac married Rebecca, the rabbi told us, and we are told they played together. Later he said that Rebecca was only 3 when they met, and they didn't consummate their union (thank goodness) for 20 years. This is the only instance where we are told a couple played together, the rabbi said.

And I write this as if I believe these were real people. As real as Pollyanna.

Becoming a Better Person

Tis the season. Perhaps Rosh Hashanah is based on a Babylonian holiday, writes Arthur Waskow in Seasons of Our Joy. Every year after harvest, he writes, "was an occasion for pledging renewed obedience to the Babylonian throne." So the Jews got the idea to have a holiday to celebrate God's power, to hear the Torah being read and explained, to pledge to make their lives holier.

I have been thinking more about my judgment of people, my approval and non-approval. Yesterday I got on the L and there was a window seat next to a young man, who was sitting in the aisle. He got up so I could take the window. After he left, I had the window seat for a while and then a small tailored woman with a big tailored backpack got on the train and sat down. She was turned away from me and her backpack was in my side. She moved herself around and adjusted herself and she was hunched over, still turned away from me, reading her education textbook. Her hair was straight and highlighted in about three colors and her elbow was touching mine. I did not approve of her, even though she was reading an educational book. It was amazing that a small person was taking up so much space. I didn't say anything, just pushed back a tiny bit when her elbow touched mine. She was intent on not turning toward me or acknowledging me. I did not approve of her, and almost said to her, You don't ride the L much, do you? because she didn't know the etiquette.

On the way home, I sat next to a fat woman who was asleep in the window seat. Every so often her elbow would slide into mine, but I didn't blame her because she was asleep. And I was on the aisle seat so I had infinite space to expand.

I started out trying to examine my judgmental self and I ended up being judgmental. Maybe I am saying here that behavior is how I judge a person. Ha. I would like to think that about myself, but I am not so unbiased. Most of my women friends look like me--they don't wear makeup and they dress more for comfort than style. (I hope they don't take offense here.) And the ones that are stylish are already my friends so I don't judge them for it. (But that's illogical--how did they become my friends? I will skip over that.) My friends from high school are different. Some of them dress like they're in the Junior League (and what's more, they are!!). Why does everyone have to be like you, Cancer Bitch? Is it too much of a threat if someone is different? The truth is, I was raised to dress like them, and part of my identity is based on not being the way I was raised to be. Still. After all this time.

On the L yesterday before the Small Intrusive Woman came on board, I heard a young man on the phone behind me telling the person on the other end that to be with someone, "they got all of my body, mind and heart. That's why you know you can be with somebody. ...You can be physically attracted to someone without having sex." It seemed that he was trying to explain to this person that s/he didn't rate in all three areas. Then he told the caller to hold on while he took another call. It was about work. He was running late, thanks to the CTA. I don't know if he got back to first call. The I looked back and saw that he was sitting next to a young woman who put her head on his lap: "Do I have all three?" she asked him. "We'll talk about that later," he said and she closed her eyes.

Radio/Rosh Hashanah

I may be on the Thursday, Sept. 13 on 91.5 FM, between 9 and 10 am and again between 8 and 9 pm. The recording is from my post on my meltdown and the producers have added some cool echo-y audio to it. But it might be postponed again.

Wednesday is our new year's eve for year 5768. I was shocked to read that among the traditional foods eaten on the Jewish new year are black-eyed peas, which I always eat on the first day of the secular new year. So my Texas and Jewish heritages converge. The peas and other foods (such as sheep's head) supposedly arouse the heart to prayer. I am planning to make kosher gumbo, made without shellfish and also without the heads of fish or mammals. The fishmongers at Dirk's will even de-bone and cut up the fish for me. I recommend Dirk's for fish, but if you tell him that Cancer Bitch sent you, Dirk will not know what you are talking about.

My mother went to pick up her special security parking card today for her synagogue parking lot. This is in addition to her parking lot sticker, which was mailed to her. I am going to be taking the L to a little synogogue in Rogers Park, because the rabbi-who-married-us is no longer leading services at my usual place, DePaul. The little synagogue in Rogers Park is invisible. It meets inside a visible church. Just like our congregation met inside a Catholic university. In a way you could say we're hidden Jews but there are always signs pointing to where we are gathering. And if there are no signs you can just follow the guy on the street holding the velvet tallis bag.

I am reading "Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology" by Arthur Green. He doesn't talk (so far) about believing in God or not believing in God, but says that the Hebrew word for God is a verb, and that that verb is what's behind growth everywhere. And that we are all part of everything and each other, a notion that we would call Zen. Or physics. I know all this, that we are dust and air, and yet I am so critical of all who are Other. A blonde women in pink who is walking too slowly on Michigan Avenue. On the L a pudgy woman with dyed red hair in a housedress with mismatched seams, who is wearing earrings I wouldn't wear and whose sweat smells old. Should I move? Would it be rude to move? (She smells of hard work, lazy old Cancer Bitch.)

I'm equally judgmental about women who wear stiletto heels, because they show bad sense, retro politics and misplaced vanity. Unless they are reading books that I think show evidence of a live intellect. A therapist once suggested that I look at people as works of art. I have taken figure drawing and I should be able to do this. But I am critical. Of just about everything. Most of the thought that is underneath my thought has to do with comparing. I am trying to figure out if this person (in paisley, for instance) is as fat as I am or fatter. This is what girls are trained to do. Our comparing comes partly from our never being able to know exactly what we look like from the outside. Another part has to do with the patriarchy. The other other part has to do with keeping ourselves to ourselves. Yes, we are made of sand and ash like everybody else, but what if we really believed deep down to the bottom of our DNA that we were just made up of molecules and atoms and subatomic particles, just as everything and everyone else is--like this keyboard and the sidewalk and the person in paisley--would we then lose our outline? Would we merge with the rest of the world? Would our skin fly off and all our thoughts breeze away into the clouds?


And that is why I am afraid of meditation.

This is all I have to say. Except: Read my scalp. (U.S. out of Iraq.)


Am I the last person to learn of this book called "Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment," by super-popular Harvard lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar? From what I've read about the book, Ben-Shahar advises people to defer gratification and count their blessings. The way he frames things is very clever. Instead of feeling that you must do something (like yoga every morning), you think of what will make you happier (like doing yoga every morning) and you do it. Harvard students considered (he's not teaching this year) his course to be easy but also life-changing. And there were only nineteen sleepers observed in four class sessions, out of about 845 bodies in each audience, according to the student newspaper. Ben-Shahar is part of the positive psychology movement, which we Anxious Ones look at askance. And he is or at least was a follower of the thinking of Ayn Rand, the queen of libertarian meritocracy. It is easy to tell Harvard students they should be happy.* It is harder to make a convincing case to the downtrodden. I guess that's what religion's for--to convince the poor and powerless that they'll be happy in the bye and bye. And no matter--the downtrodden don't shell out money for hardcovers, anyway.
But I guess I should read the book. For all I know, he might advocate seizing the means of production as a way for the proletariat to find happiness. Quien sabe? Even so, Joe Hill said it first: Don't mourn--organize!

*Though a friend of mine who went to Harvard says that being a graduate means that you feel like an underachiever ever after.


That my hair has not returned. That I have about 20 little white hairs scattered all over my scalp, about a half-inch long each. And nothing more. That I visited the dentist twice last week as part of the world's most-protracted root-canal procedure, and the temporary crown has fallen out. That my husband does not feel bad for nagging me. That he nags me because of the weight I gained since I met him, his nagging coming in the form of little unwanted suggestions about exercise. That he would say it's all about exercise. That I cannot control my paperwork. That paper is crowding all around me, and I feel guilty for gathering up the get-well cards and birthday cards from the mantel and putting them in a big envelope to give to children to make into boxes. That I am mired in yet another book review. That I forget words. That I couldn't think, for instance, of what to call that machine next to the radio, the Cuisinart. That I am a pause-er more than in the past because of this aphasia. That I've had this aphasia and gaps in my memory since I was 30. That I can't blame it all on chemo-brain. That I am tired. That I am more tired than in the middle of chemo. That people ask, When did they say your hair would be back? and "they" didn't tell me. That when I ask my friend Miz P about paperwork she tells me she saves every single letter and then reveals that she and her husband lease a storage space. That I tell a non-pack-rat about the invoice from 1982 for my payment as a stand-up comic ($10) and she says, You can't throw that away! That I have gone through this life-changing medical event and have not changed my life. That I can smell fishiness coming from the empty bag of salmon jerky in the trash, the same jerky that jerked out part of my temporary crown. That I am still wrestling with the novel or whatever it is that I started in the summer of 1981. That I read reviews in the paper and I'm jealous or envious of both the reviewer and the author of the book reviewed. That I'm not getting any younger. That I am dying. That a man in my new yoga class looks like my podiatrist, and that young people don't have podiatrists. That my heel hurts when I walk more than a mile despite the new orthotics and the silicone slip-on ankle-thing. That I have to finish the syllabus for class Sept. 18 and was going to print it out to work on it in the Little Cafe but I ran out of printer cartridges. That I had to get the air conditioner fixed yesterday. That we have that crack in the bedroom wall. That the mantel looks better without all the cards on it but also looks forlorn and sad. That I feel sad looking at it without its lovely cards bearing good personal wishes for my health and happiness. That my mother can tell on the phone that I'm walking and if I was in that good of shape she shouldn't be able to hear me breathing like that, should she? That the books have outgrown the shelves. That I'm not Grace Paley. That everyone else has more books (that they've written). That I have no disclipline. That I have no children, so where has all that time gone? That even people who've had children are so much skinnier than I am. That I have cassette recordings of things I don't care about any more but I don't want to throw away the tapes because it's wasteful but it takes too much time to record emptiness over them. That the pile of scratch paper is too tall. That you can't save everything. That I don't know if I'd regret it if I threw away the receipt of payment for being a standup comic. That I have a box of things I wrote in graduate school and haven't looked at them in years so why am I saving them? That I miss the cards on the mantel already, including one with woodcuts of cardinals on it from two years ago. That I am so foolish that my goose-lamp has a Cubs outfit I put on her. That it's September and I haven't sent out any new work to literary magazines. That the 15th is the deadline for a contest of recorded essays and I don't have a clue about the technology involved. That I don't know how many people are coming to dinner on Wednesday. That I haven't called the fish market to order the fish for it or decided whether it will be gumbo or cioppino and which did I have last year or both? That other people don't have six four-drawer file cabinets. That I didn't think I would have to keep ordering henna and fruit-ink from that place in California, almost six weeks after the last chemo treatment. That I plan to change oncologists because the current one seems bored by my case but he's leading a meeting about new treatments in cancer in two weeks and I'm afraid if I change before then he'll be upset when he sees me. That I bother to think that. That in reality he should be bothered by why I wanted to change, should use that as a cue to look inside himself. That really I'm afraid I'll feel embarrassed to see him. That I haven't sent out all the forms for pathology reports that I should, to aid in the genetic counselor's work. That I don't have a schedule or a routine. That I don't have discipline. That I have vitiligo. That B's sister had it but it went away after she stopped drinking milk. That I think about quitting dairy and then I don't. That I do for a little while and then I don't. That everything makes me weary. That the thought of carrying rice milk with me everywhere makes me weary. That I used to walk longer without getting tired. That I'm not sure what getting tired means. That I don't know if it's the body or the mind, the eyes, the sleepiness of the eyes. That I have hot flashes that melt the ink on my head. That the henna I bought on Devon Avenue faded on my head after two days, after G's lovely design job. That the bicycle seat needs to be raised. That everyone is ahead of me. That I don't know what I really mean but I know it's true. That I have on my desk a blank taxi-cab receipt, a brochure from a Portland restaurant about mindful breathing, a box of bills, my old planner and my new one, two Diet Dr. Pepper cans and so much more. That there is always so much more, including a monitor I haven't used in about two years. That I say to myself: If you throw that away, you might regret it, but you can live with the regret. That for months I did sun salutations in the morning and then for months and months I didn't and this morning I did one downward-facing dog because I was too lazy to unroll the mat. That I slept 14-1/2 hours today, and thus missed both an anti-war demonstration at my congressman's office and a BBQ for Obama. That I'm afraid I'm for Obama only because he's more exciting than Hillary. That I don't care who wins as long as s/he a Democrat. That I should decide. That I still resent the Obama for Senate campaign for sending us out to register voters without signage and without the capacity to really register them, we were in reality pre-registering them. That the papers are stacked and stacked. That I have four versions of a reading packet from teaching 10 years ago. That I know whole famlies live in houses the size of my office. That I am not mindful. That I don't like the pictures I glued onto the cover of my new calendar-planner. That they seem too chaotic. The central one is of Simon Rodia and Watt Towers. That I was in L.A. last fall and forgot to go see Watts Towers. That I want to build a Watts Towers. A monument. Something grand and crazy and built bit by bit. To last.