The bitch is rich!

I got my first royalty check ever today: 895 whole dollars, US.
I still owe money to the publishers of my other two books; the difference is that they paid advances. U of Iowa Press, publisher of The Adventures of Cancer Bitch, did not. So I have nearly $900 free and clear. The book is in its second printing. The only way to go is up.

Red and Black

As a kid, it seemed that everyone else had gotten the guidebook. The other kids knew what it meant, for example, when someone asked if you were a Texan or an Aggie. They knew whether it was polite to eat fried chicken with your hands during school lunch. (They did not hunch down and eat behind their lunch kits.) They knew what the raised middle finger meant ("something about those bathroom things," H guessed in 6th grade, and I wasn't sure whether he was close or not) and how the car blinker knew when to go on. They knew what game we were playing when we wore bibs called pinneys and stood in front of "goals." They also understood Red and Black, which was a ritual at summer camp, the reason red and black bandanas were on our packing list, along with t-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes.

I think the whole camp was divided in half, and we won team points by doing activities. I barely remember, but I know I was confused. I didn't understand the purpose. I have an inkling of the purpose now: It was the last week of camp, so Red and Black got everyone all excited, knocking them out of complacency or boredom; it was a way to meet kids in other bunks and bond with them; it inculcated us into the dog-eat-dogness of the Military Industrial Complex awaiting our older selves. Red stood for Red, and Black for Black--we weren't talking Socialism and Anarchy.

And yet, the paradox is that Red and Black week was all about the communal. The Red Team worked together (I guess, but it must have been unwieldy) and so did the Black. We're talking about that sacred American institution, the team. Team spirit. Team player. The alleged ethos of our camp was carved out on a board nailed over the entrance to the mess hall: God-1, You-2, Me-3. The individual wasn't that important. Your friends were. Your teammates.

I can't remember being on a team, a real team. We must have had them so that we'd know which side of the volleyball or badminton net to stand on in gym class, but I don't remember any team consciousness. At least I wasn't always the last kid picked for a team; I should have been, since I was so ungainly and confused, but there must have been girls more outree and unfortunate than myself. I don't remember suffering in that way and I carry grudges.

In high school, for the very first time in my life, I was a little bit better than some others in a physical skill. I jogged longer and faster than a couple of other girls. I collected ribbons for accrued distances. They were printed in different colors and featured a running cardinal, our school mascot. Junior year, Title IX was passed, the law guaranteeing equality in sports, and one of the gym teachers began arranging a track team. I thought for a moment of joining, but I didn't. I have asthma that's aggravated by exercise, but I also have tremendous lung capacity. I could have been a contender.

I have rowed three times now. I do not look forward to competing with other clubs. I do not care if our scull goes faster than the other one. (I'm brought out of the boat for informal races, so that a more experienced rower can help the scull move forward--or to put it another way, so that my choppy oaring won't impede movement and others can get a workout). I'm competitive but also indifferent. If no one expects anything of me I do well. The other side of the experience is the encouragement. Practices are a mix of: Perfect! Much better than last time! and imperatives: Watch M and move when she does! Put your oar all the way in the water! Bring it on in! Watch S! Take your oar out! Push off with your legs! Sweep all the way back!

I know we should all be working together; I'm not coordinated enough to do that all the time.

Have you ever been on a team before? I asked M last week at rowing practice. No, she said, and I said No too. This is rehabilitation for us Boomers Who Were Left Out. Someone else made off with our slice of the American Dream. We want it back. No questions asked.


I am sitting at the dining room table in the house of strangers who are vacationing in Oregon. I have never met them, but they left their key for me in the shed and have encouraged me to eat the perishables in the refrigerator. They took their computers with them but they've left two TVs and a stereo and just a few earrings on the earring holder in the bathroom. (Did they hide the valuable ones?) I am in Madison, Wisconsin, and this was supposed to be a getaway weekend with L. We'd planned it around a reading and workshop I did today at Gilda's Club in Madison which is really in another nearby town. Then L's mother was diagnosed with a melanoma on her leg and he went Downstate last week to accompany her to her appointment with the surgeon. He's going back on Monday so he can go with her on Tuesday to the surgery. He had too many vacation days and now he's worrying that he won't have enough. So I am on the getaway alone. I put an ad on Craig's List looking for a Madison-Chicago house swap, and was contacted by the owner of this house, who asked if I wanted to stay there, swapping cash for her house. I said yes (still thinking it was for both of us) and now I'm get-awaying by myself.

At Gilda's Club my audience was small and I wasn't sure who they were, what their backgrounds were, so when I told about having my scalp decorated, I didn't tell them that I'd had US OUT OF IRAQ painted in the middle. I was afraid of losing them. I talked about this with J this afternoon. She does programs for corporations and non-profits and says she can't be her whole complete self in these circumstances. She's right. In nonfiction workshops I talk to the students about different levels of formality and disclosure: You're more casual and intimate with your ... intimates than with your boss or with people interviewing you for a job.

I used a page from Joe Brainard's I Remember as a template. (See Brainard's photo, above.) For some reason it is so much easier to list aspects of an experience if you begin each sentence with I remember. Or, as Georges Perec did, with Je me souviens. in his book W (dedicated to Brainard). We went around the room and read from a page in Brainard's memoir, nearly every sentence beginning with I remember. When I was in Oakland I was pretty sure that my audience was the standard-issue East Bay Feminist, so that I could use words like patriarchy without explanation. Here I didn't know where we could and couldn't connect and I was surprised at myself for not knowing. I don't want to categorize people but that is what I do.Sometimes people laugh when I read from the book about it being axiomatic for liberal Jews to be Buddhist. Either they think it's so odd they laugh or else they laugh in recognition because it's so true. I've had both responses. Sometimes people laugh when I read the part about Amelia, my ex-best friend, and our rivalry and how I wanted every book in the world to be written by me alone. Sometimes they don't. Today they didn't. I am being so self-concerned here instead of quoting the moments of revelation when they read their own sentences aloud.

Before I leave Wisconsin, I hope to effect the Great Midwestern Pill Bottle Exchange. I have some empty pill bottles and I thought it would be a waste to throw them away so I advertised on Craig's List in the Free section. An artist wrote that she was interested in them, but in quantity. I put the same ad on Craig's List in Madison, because I could easily bring my empty bottles with me in the car. I heard from one Madisonian who's been saving hundreds of bottles. I hope I hear back from her tomorrow so that I can pile the pill bottles in my car and take them across state lines, where they will be welcomed.

We don't know what stage my mother-in-law's melanoma is in. The surgeon will cut down two centimeters and will test her lymph nodes. Hers is a relatively rare form, nodular, which is fast-growing. She happened to mention that a growth on her leg was bothering her when she was last at her internist's. It seemed to come from no where and we hope it will go back there soon.

Melanomas develop most often in people with fair skin, light eyes, and a history (however short) of sunburn.

Where's my degree?

I am tired of seeing doctors and doctors and getting estimates and giving my insurance card to be photocopied and also the list of medicine I take. I'm tired of filling out forms that don't give me enough choice; I'm the insured but the place I work is not the place that provides my insurance. It's L's place of work. This week so far: Monday I saw my primary care doctor because her office called and said I had to meet with her because my last mammogram showed I had calcifications, probably benign, as I've had for the last year. The staffer who called said that my doctor had to examine me or she could be liable for malpractice, and that beyond that it was good doctoring to check me out. I did not agree but I went anyway since she was the one who first felt the cancer in me. She felt me and felt nothing. I told her I had been spotting--a few days a month ago and Sunday and Monday. My new theory was that I was having my period again. She said that didn't seem likely and to talk to my gyne. Which I did today--I left a message and she called back. I should not be so incredulous about that. What is the state of medicine that I believe this to be a miracle, even as I'm wondering if she's charging me extra for it. When you call the office you get a long recording talking about what they can and might charge for. But I charge, too, for phone consultations with my editing/coaching clients. But but.... And my gyne thought that my spotting might turn out to be the return of the period and she said to keep track and get back to her in two months. Because my uterus is just fine and dandy, and cervix and so on and so forth because she'd checked everything out in the last couple of month. She took out a fibroid in June and a polyp before that.

Is this TMI? One of my students is a Follower of this blog, meaning (I think) that she gets this delivered to her email box. Hello, J, here's info about my period and my surmising about my period. Welcome. A student applied to our program and her writing sample had much about her internal organ workings and impediments to the smooth working of her innards, and it was well-written and so she came into our program. I read last week from my book at a literary afternoon at Smart University and I felt self-conscious: I was afraid I had too much Content, that it wasn't Literary enough. I was advocating humor in the face of illness and reeling off the advantages of same. Did I have enough artistry? I wondered. So odd odd that I'm afraid that Work with Substance is not Artistic. God forbid I should provide information to an audience.

A professor from Michigan with prostate cancer wrote an essay recently about telling a class about the cancer. He mentioned me and my book, saying: "Reading the intriguing blog’s revelations and information, though, scared me straight. I could never share so much with my students." I teach graduate students and adult learners. Does the age of my students make revelation easier? I teach at least one nonfiction workshop a year, in which students write about abuse, body image, family, death, mental illness--so my natterings about Buspar, Wellbutrin and their ilk, and my bodily processes don't seem so unseemly. And the reader can always click on the X to get rid of the page.

My friend J wrote an essay once about in vitro fertilization, concluding that you can indeed be half pregnant. I am pre-post menopausal, or post-pre. After going to slee after chemo, my ovaries could wake up, my young oncologist has said, making it sound like they'd fallen asleep on the poppy field in the Wizard of Oz. I should make that singular, since my left ovary and salpingo (Fallopian tube) were removed a few years ago. The word salpingo comes from the Greek salpinx, trumpet. Gabriello Fallopio is credited with "discovering" the tubes connecting the ovaries and uterus, so you can figure how the tubes got their names.

And so immortality was conferred upon ol' Gabriello, who noticed things.

Yesterday my dentist cleaned my teeth and I met with an oral surgeon who gave his opinion about my impending implant, having a metal rod attach itself to my jaw bone, which will grow up and around it. That's three doctors in the flesh and a fourth on the phone, in two days.

And all I want is an MD degree so that I can put my vast knowledge of medicines to use.

The Looming Future

R said she was afraid that after she gave birth to her twins, she would be seized by post-partum depression. She was afraid she'd turn into one of those mothers who hears the voice of the devil and butchers her babies in the bath tub.
I said, You can take drugs to prevent that.
I was surprised to find someone as neurotic as I am, already thinking of the worst-case scenario.
She said she wanted to take something now. I said, You can't take it now, it won't work. I said, You don't have the depression yet, it comes after birth and all the hormone upset. I said, You could take Prozac, maybe Buspar.
S, who was eating lunch with us, said, It takes those drugs a few weeks to kick in.
R said, Yes, that's what I'm afraid of. What do I do before they start working?
I said, You could take Ativan, Ativan works quickly.
She said, Yes, my brother's girlfriend takes it before she flies.
So perfect, I said. You see how fast it works.
She said, Can I still breastfeed?
Ah. I didn't know. But wouldn't anyone give up breastfeeding if they knew that otherwise they'd be crazy and harmful to others?

I pride myself on my medical knowledge, all gained through experience. One day I hope to be awarded an honorary medical degree, and then I will get me a pad of prescription blanks and go to town.

An old boyfriend said once, Oh, you'd be a great mother. How would he know? When he knew me I was not a very good adult. I was too needy and lump-in-my-throat frightened, and Prozac wasn't on the market yet. I was not patient or happy or satisfied and after six months he decided I wasn't marriage material either.

During my junior year abroad in Paris my sink detached itself from the wall, and when I saw it, I ran out the door. I didn't want to deal with it. I thought: If a sink makes me run away, what about children? They'd yell or scream or cry and I'd leave and never come back. I would not be responsible. I would be an improper mother. I take three calming drugs now just to get through the day. Some days I'm wearing the same T shirt I just slept in. I can't believe that parents used to trust me, as a teen-ager, to take care of their children when they were gone. Luckily, none of the plumbing broke under my watch.

I made an attempt to find out about Ativan and breastfeeding. I found this about other anti-anxiety medicines:

From Druginfonet:
Question: What are the possible effects on an infant of taking Paxil and Xanax while breastfeeding?

Answer: Both are passed into milk, no clear idea of the long term effect, but, short term effects would be probably most marked with Xanax(sedation etc). If you need to take these drugs, I would consider formula or a wet nurse.

Wet nurse?

There don't seem to be any on Craig's List.

I don't wanna think about it.

I'm not talking about cancer.
I'm talking about rowing.
I started rowing on Thursday with the cancer rowers. The boat, as noted previously, is very skinny. Very very skinny, even narrower than the escalator at the North and Clybourn L stop. I got in the four-person scull, after being warned that if I put my foot on the floor of the boat, it would break through.
So I sat in position 3. I was terrified. Not that I would drown, because even if I caused the boat to flip, I wouldn't be in much danger. We were close to the dock, I can swim, the river ain't that big, and Coach J was nearby in her motor boat with a supply of orange life jackets. And it's summer. No need to fear hypothermia. I wasn't afraid of the river, which I should have been, because it is opaque and nasty and filled with debris. It was terror at being in this small boat and seeing the water just out there. Like right out there. Like an inch away, nothing but the walls of the boat separating water and Cancer Bitch. The uncanny, I've read, can be defined as a thing that should be inside being outside. I guess the river is far away all the time and now it was right there, all around me. How did early peoples invent boats, anyway? How odd odd odd it is that a boat can float. And that we can sit in a boat and it'll still float.

[ROW photo]

So I rowed and the coxswain yelled at me and I got confused. Watch S, in front of you, J said, do what she does. But I couldn't see what she was doing. Just her back. And her oar is on the port side and mine's on the starboard so I couldn't do exactly what she was doing. I would get into the rhythm (thinking about 1-2-3-4, pull, lean back, lean forward, bend knees, move the oar perpendicularly through the water, and then bring it back forward. I would time-out every so often, getting everything backwards and then I'd let the oar lay flat on the water, a neutral position, not hurting anything. Not helping, either. I was thinking about multiple intelligences and how I've always known that I don't have the athletic/coordinated intelligence. I was thinking about how A and I took ballet when we were in junior high--we were the big girls in a class of little kids--and how I could never memorize the sequences. I never remember what to do in step classes. Downtown Bobby Brown. Cha cha cha. I can do the grapevine with my feet when I'm part of a circle, and I remember step-shuf-fle-ball-change from gym class and the pronged taps we pushed into our tennis shoes. I kept getting out of sequence with my oar. The coxswain kept yelling that I needed to push the oar all the way out on the water, against the oar lock, not draw it back in. She kept saying Amy do this and Amy do that I thought that she thought my name was Amy and that I was supposed to do what she was telling Amy to do. And I probably even started thinking that my name was Amy, but Amy was a person behind me, toward the bow (back).
In my youth it took me so long to learn how to run into the jump rope when it was going going, slapping against the sidewalk. It was terrifying. You have to time it right. It seems like a door that opened just for a second.

There was a name for that running-into-the-rope-in-between-the-scoops-of-it but I don't remember what it was. And before I was able to do run into the jump rope and start jumping, it seemed impossible, and that's how it felt when I was sitting on the boat and trying to keep up. It seems impossible but everyone else is managing to do it.

And then Coach J said, Why don't you get out and let S take your place and I felt like I had failed. Someone else had to take my place. Besides yelling what I should be doing, Coach J had been yelling encouragement but then I heard her say to C, the high school rower in the boat with her, that you have to find something good that someone is doing, even if they're not doing it, and when I brought it up, she said, No, but you were good.
But back to the not wanting to think about it. I felt drawn, drawn to rowing and so I met up with S, who is Coach J's friend and maybe a coach, too, at the Lincoln Park Boat Club, which is hidden away between the zoo parking lot and the lagoon. We went into a workout room and did the ergs. That was Friday. And then I emailed S about meeting up today and she said, come around 7, and today I kept thinking, I'm going to go back there, and I felt drawn to the erg, and thought of the high school film we saw with Lorne Greene (born Lyon Himan "Chaim" Green) intoning, I must go down to the sea again and I was feeling that way about the erg. And I didn't want to think about it, analyze it because then I was afraid that I wouldn't feel drawn to it any more.
I did go there tonight and S gave me a workout (one minute of this, one of this, etc.) and I was less deliberate with my motions, not tracking 1-2-3-4, but going forward, bent knees, pull, lean back, recover. I'm getting the hang of rowing on the erg, and tomorrow, Monday, I will be back on the dirty water in the very skinny boat. And maybe I will see a Great Blue Heron again, which flew over the edge of the river last week, and we took it as a sign that the river still has life in it.