Stop the Presses!!

Today the Tribune informed us (this being Holy Holy Pink Breast Cancer Month) that black women in Chicago die more often of breast cancer than white women do. And that the reason is--get this!--that black women are more likely to live in poverty and therefore to have less access to good health care.

This is news?

To whom might this be a surprise? Perhaps people who thought there might be parity in health care in the US, for some reason. Or people who thought Chicago was like New York City, which has clinics scattered more evenly around the city. The Trib tells us: "The racial gap in Chicago was twice that of the United States and sevenfold that of New York City." This would not be a surprise to anyone who read Shane Tritsch's fine piece a year ago in Chicago magazine on the "Deadly Difference."

I think the best way to improve health care in the US as well as education is: make everyone rich. Then everything else will follow. We could start be spreading the wealth of this bailout. And throw in the money that the Iraq war is costing every day, in people and materiel and after-effects.

Dreaming of Cancer

The woman asked if I dreamed about cancer. She does. She is four years younger than I am, was diagnosed with the same stage (2A--the A makes it seem so tender, like the AA in one's first bra size) about a year behind me. She had chemo only four times instead of eight, and she had reconstructive surgery that started when the mastectomy was done. She had short curly hair and said she had terrible night sweats. And she dreamt a lot about cancer.

I never have. I have recurring dreams about failing to reach someone on a telephone. There are troubles with the buttons, I can never get the right numbers punched in. I have dreamed for years about having to put something large and opaque on my eye--like a leaf or a rock. I think this comes from my unconscious being freaked out by the thought of putting contacts on my eyeballs lo these many years. I dream about France and Houston and Eastern Europe. But I never dream about cancer.

Whenever someone says they've dreamed about me, I always ask: What was I wearing? In John Sayles' movie Passion Fish, the main character, who is paraplegic after an accident, dreams of being able to use her legs. I've never asked B, who has MS, if he dreams of walking and running. He probably does. There's an anecdote in Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search For Meaning. He tells of being in Auschwitz and hearing another prisoner cry out in his sleep. He wonders which would be more painful: to let the man continue his nightmare, or to wake the man up so that he could return to reality, in an extermination camp.

I wrote down my dreams for decades. When I was packing up this summer before moving, I threw files of them away. They were boring. I didn't want to re-read them. I didn't want to re-create those images in my head, those pieces of not-reality that would crowd out memories of things I really experienced. I know that Freud called dreams the royal road to the unconscious. I know that I threw out a written record of my unconscious. But I'm tired of analyzing. I've analyzed myself to the tune of $40 and $50 and $80 an hour while sitting on couch after couch with boxes of Kleenex close at hand. Once I even got health insurance to reimburse me for an hour of re-birthing. I have many faults and most of them are the same ones I've always had. I'm lazy and undisciplined and insecure and defensive and self-conscious. Prozac and its brethren got rid of the persistent lump in my throat. And for that I am grateful. Those pills have have also scraped away at my memory and my word-retrieval functions, but that is another story.

Les Sourcils

One thing--really, two things--that have not come back all the way since chemo are my eyebrows. They had been thinning out as I'd gotten older, but they grew very very thin and weaselly during chemo and are still not as robust as I'd like. Pre-emptively, I bought an eyebrow stencil from Chemochicks, but I never had to use it because my eyebrows didn't completely disappear. I finally sent the stencil to L the chemo nurse and hope she passed it along to someone who needed it. At the time, I didn't think about how she could gracefully hand it to someone: Uh, I noticed you've lost your eyebrows, and you might want to take this stencil home with you and use it, so that you don't look like a possum....

I've noticed lately that when I see someone who is nice-looking, that person usually has dark eyebrows. I look at pictures of my younger self and I see I had dark eyebrows. Sometimes I pencil in darker brows. Yesterday and today I laid the pencil on thick. I thought I looked remarkably different--more vibrant, more ethnic, younger.

Of course, no one said a thing.
I suppose if I were really concerned, I could order eyebrow wigs--made of French lace and human hair. All of which begs: Why French lace? Are the eyebrows made up of spare strands of eyebrow or do they come from hair from people's heads? How do you donate hair for eyebrow wigs and how much does it pay?

There are people who have no hope of ever growing eyebrows of their own, and so these eyebrow wigs must be a godsend. As a society we're so intolerant of any difference or "defect," so that everyone who is missing something must take pains to get one or two of whatever-it-is right away.
My eyelashes, luckily, never completely went away, and I think they've restored themselves. Which reminds me--my eyes used to tear up easily when I went outside. Now they don't. I assumed that was a side effect of chemo and I think it was.

Half Full

I organized a successful fundraiser last night but I keep looking at the dark side: OK, we raised about $7,000 or more, but my friend Maddy raised $30,000 in Northampton. We had a great mix of readers and readings, but it went on too long and we missed the first few minutes of the debate. We had a somewhat chaotic silent auction for books and cartoons and we (the fund raising we) have a box of books leftover in our already-messy office. Not to mention some cartoons, too. (I'm offering all for sale on line. Contact me if you want the list of offerings. Deadline for bidding is 11:59 p.m. Friday.) We raised $6,500 for Obama for America, but I should have designated the money collected at the door last night ($1,500) for the buses to take canvassers to Iowa. That would have doubled the amount I did turn in to finance the buses, from sales of buttons, stickers, books and cartoons. We have wine and soft drinks left over. Do I feel bad about that too? I don't think so.
Everyone told me how great it was. My main fear had been that the set-up for watching the debate wouldn't work, but Chopin Theatre co-owner Zygmunt Dyrkac, who doesn't own a TV himself, had a flat-screen TV for us. I asked him how he did it. Magic, he said. On stage, he said, we kill people, we have people fall in love who hate each other. Creating a TV was easy.

Praise the Lord & Pass the Ammunition

Now seems like a good time to quote from Mark Twain's War Prayer, published posthumously:

"'O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -– be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it –- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.'"

Cancer Bitch to emcee at Obama FUNdraiser

Cancer Bitch aka S.L. Wisenberg will MC at a literary fundraiser for Barack Obama, Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., Chicago.

5:30 pm- Reception and silent auction of signed books (by the readers, as well as Reg Gibbons, Rick Perlstein, Ayun Halliday & Paula Kamen)

6:30 pm- A flock of local writers will read work that is very fun, very interesting, very political (in the broadest sense) and very very brief: Sara Paretsky, Stuart Dybek, Haki Madhubuti, Rosellen Brown, James McManus, Jonathan Messinger, Roger Bonair-Agard, Kevin Coval, Michelle Goldberg, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Kristiana Rae Colón, Tom Geoghegan, Marcus Sakey, Libby Hellman, Carlos Cumpian & Cris Mazza, and non-silent auction of political cartoons by Nicole Hollander, Jennifer Berman, Tom Bachtell, Pat Byrnes & Tim Jackson.

8 pm- Viewing of the final Obama-McCain debate

Cost is $60/person at the door, $50 in advance, on line. People under 25 can pay their ages.

To buy your ticket, go to and hit “Donate” on the thermometer. Cartoonists and authors who'd like to donate their work to the auction: please e-mail

The Cab Driver/The Persistence of Cancer

I went to T's house to watch the veep debates. This was my first visit to her house, the first time I'd done anything social with her. She's in my yoga class and we've talked politics before. Beforehand I went downtown to hear Bernard Henri-Levy, but I got the time wrong and missed the event.

What can I say about the debates that you haven't heard already? I thought Palin's sentences didn't track. She comes from the Daley school of diction. We showed the white flag of surrender at Iraq: I hope that absurd phrase will dog her for the next month.

I took a cab home. It was driven by a white-haired man with black eyebrows and an accent. He thought the US should adopt the British system whereby the leader could be made to step down after a no-confidence vote, instead of being allowed to serve for four years automatically. He asked where my family was from. I said my grandparents were from Eastern Europe. He asked where. I told him: Lithuania, Moldova and Russia. Oh, he said, Aren't you Jewish? I said yes. He said, Why aren't you observing Rosh Hashanah? I told him that the holiday ended last night. I felt then I had the right to ask him where he was from. He said his father was Irish, his mother was Chinese-Jewish and he was Turkish. Was he kidding? He said the average American doesn't care about anything except getting a drink and finding a loose woman. He also said some poll showed that 62 percent of Americans are involved in homosexuality and alcoholism. I think that's what he said. He kept talking and was parked on my street and I saw the meter go up 10 cents, 15 cents, 25, 50. Enough was enough and I got out of the cab.

I've always thought that the people with the most developed senses of Jew-dar are Jews and anti-Semites. I wonder which he was.

A woman at T's asked how we knew each other or got to talking about politics at yoga. I couldn't remember. T said we started talking about the war when I had my head shaved with US out of Iraq. I explained to the other woman that I had been bald because of chemo. Of course that brings us to breast cancer and hair growing back. She was quite excited about my hair and said it was great and looked so healthy. The hair always seems to be the bellwether, because it's so THERE. Maybe it does reflect inner health. For me and my sister, our thick curly hair has always been indicative of our genetic makeup: We come from a family with thick curly hair. Then a man who was there asked what I was working on. What should I say? I wondered. Should I mention my book? I'm through working on it, except for proof sheets that will be coming my way next month, and my marketing report, that I have to finish. I told him I was writing a review-essay about cancer books and humor. Can't get away from that Cancer. It's here. It's there. It's everywhere. It came to rest and was removed but still hovers.

Tashlich, Casting Sins

Above: Tashlich in Poughkeepsie. Click to enlarge.

Yesterday after services we went to the lake to symbolically cast our sins into the water. It's an old tradition, supposedly begun to give children something to do outside, and it's become popular of late. Traditionally you scour your pockets for crumbs to throw out, but you can also use stones. I started using stones after someone said that tossing bread can disrupt the ecosystem. Though stones disappoint the seagulls. I decided to choose just a few sins so I'd remember them: Ego. Lack of Discipline. Impulsiveness. Then I shortened them to: Ego. Indolence. Though those two don't cover the waterfront. I kept saying them to myself as I gathered more rocks and threw them into the water. Trying not to hit the birds. Trying to make the stones not look like food. The birds gather and wheel. One had orange on the top part of its wing. I thought it had gotten into some paint. Someone else thought that it was tagged. It seemed an odd way to tag a bird, though I have to admit that the orange paint made the bird easy to spot. I wonder if the other birds notice.

I used to think, as the bard put it, that I was more sinned against than sinning, or that my greatest sin was not appreciating myself, but I realize now that I was mistaken.

Above: King Lear, who was not Jewish