Nicole Xylouri Osborne

Maybe a couple of you have met my former student Nicole, who came with us to the Recovery on Water fundraiser a couple of years ago. Nicole studied fiction writing at Northwestern and then left Chicago to get a master's in education at U Penn, then returned to work in administration at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
She got in touch when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I decorated her head when she was bald the first time. My mother visited her when she came to M.D. Anderson in Houston. (Her own mother embarrassed her, she said, by accosting young doctors who weren't wearing wedding rings in the hospital elevator and introducing them to Nicole, who invariably was wearing a hospital gown, ) Recently Nicole was on the comedy circuit: Breast cancer patient Nicole Osborne turns illness into punchline
A mutual friend just told me that Nicole died two days ago.

Now is the point where I should say something about lifting a pint and saying something or other. The best I can do: In her honor, tell a joke, a joke with a hard edge, one that acknowledges death peeking around the corner, but makes you laugh nevertheless. .

Another reason to think before you pink

For some reason the very nice post I posted here has disappeared so I will recap it very very quickly. Gregory Karp of the Trib reported that it's not worth it to get an affinity credit card with a pink ribbon or other charitable logo on it. It may make you feel good but the amount that is donated to the charity will not be much and it would be better to get a rewards card and make a (tax-deductible) donation from that. He got in touch with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which keeps trying to make us aware of breast cancer and is unthinkingly right-wing in its politics. "The cards are free to the consumer, and give them an opportunity to show their support for the breast cancer movement and generate a donation to Komen at no cost to them," Komen spokeswoman Andrea Rader said.
Those donations of 0.08 percent add up, generating more than $6 million since 2009 for investment in research and community outreach, she said.
Komen is better than it used to be--it does give money to research, but I remain skeptical of its community outreach. Especially because some of this outreach means to get cozy with fracking, strange as it may seem. Or you might decide you'd rather donate to the Bad Girls of Cancer, Breast Cancer Action.

The one line to keep on your typewriter

or computer.
I made L listen to me as I told him about the trouble I was having with my essay on Mixing. It's about:
-the use of the term "mix" in describing the missing Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney 50+ years ago; they were a "mix trio," meaning they were anti-segregationists
-a booklet that was published in 1864 on Miscegenation, advocating it and at the same time inventing the eponymous term,
-the nefariousness of the aforementioned booklet, which was written anonymously by two Democratic anti-Lincoln newspapermen who aimed to get Republican anti-slavery endorsements so that they could expose the Republicans as race mixers

-L's essay in high school about race, which advocated race mixing in order to extinguish racism, and the comment from his instructor: What if your daughter married one?
-the marriage of the daughter and the son to African-Americans, and a cute but important dialogue in which our grandson says he is mixed with pie, which his father interpreted as a mis-hearing of the term "bi"
-self-critical and raw statements by Toi Derricotte from "The Black Notebook"
-the electrocution of Willie McGee in Laurel, MS, for raping a white woman; they probably had a consensual relationship
-the charges against the white racists behind the triple murder, verdicts, and further verdicts
-and overall my snarky superiority to the racists, which is pretty easy and probably unfair because their actions were 50 and 150 years ago & I'm not talking about now very much & they are such easy targets

He asked me what the point of my book was and after some more talking I came up with this:
...that slavery and the Civil War are part of everything in present-day US, whether we're aware of this or not

So that is what your piece is about, he said, and again he recommended I read a book of his, White Over Black, and this time I listened to him. It traces the beliefs about and prejudices of Englishmen toward Africans from the mid-16th century through early 19th. The germ of current racism is there and I'm reading it with interest, lamenting how unschooled I am in this.Asking myself if I should get/ should have gotten a PhD in history a dozen or so years ago, but knowing that I would have been impatient with having to do work assigned by others.

My one line to remember/elevator pitch is not quite gainly or subtle but it captures broadly what I'm doing.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie's Lingo

In the few months I have been on Jakafi, I've had bronchitis twice, throat fungus once, and stomach flu, also once. The other night I said to L. I need to get back into the mode I was in when I was on chemo (for breast cancer)--sleep a lot, stay far away from people who are the least bit sick, and be super-vigilant about exposure to germs. Example from bc-chemo: I was at a cafe and ordered a sandwich at the counter, and saw the sandwich-ista was handling everything--no gloves or anything. (I already sound like a nut, right?) and I said, Excuse me, but I'm going through chemo, and I'm very susceptible, could you please--what did I ask her to do? She either had plastic gloves back there or not. Maybe that's not a good example. What I wanted to show was I had to overcome embarrassment in order to protect myself. I recalled that the plastic bag that the bottle of Jakafi comes in says CHEMOTHERAPY in scary zig-zag letters, or there is something lightning-boltish about the warning. So I legitimately am in chemo. Going through chemo. What is the correct verb? I arrived in Arizona yesterday for the Nonfictionow Conference, and I wanted to skip a group dinner, but I didn't. It was fun (though the food at the Dreary Inn is twice the price it should be and one fourth the quality) but I would have been better off sleeping. I slept late and ran into the conference organizers in the very cute Matador coffee shop across the street from the hotel, which is somehow encompassed by Northern Arizona University, or NAU ("gnaw"--the mascot is a beaver chewing on a log) and R asked if I had gone to a morning panel. I said, No, I had to sleep, I'm in chemo, but so that he wouldn't be alarmed, I said, but it's good chemo.
Why do I need to keep people from being alarmed? I do have this fucking incurable and rare blood cancer. It's not the hair-falling-out chemo but it is the suppress-your-immune-system chemo. Suddenly, if I convince myself that I am indeed going through chemo, then my world-view ( Weltanschauung) and my priorities shift: My goal becomes making sure that I don't get sick. I suddenly have the right to that goal. And everything else follows from that.

Nonfiction Now: You Lived Through It; Do We Have To Read About It?

If you'll be in Flagstaff, we invite you to come to our panel at 9 a.m. Saturday, Halloween Morn, in Doyle at the conference center. You are encouraged to wear your pajamas. Lost your schedule? Click here.

[Just roll right out of bed and come on down.]

Here's a description of the panel.
Much has been written about the therapeutic benefits of writing and art-making for survivors of traumas such as war, disasters, slavery, disease, rape, incest. In other words, the writing is generally agreed to be good for the mental health of the amateurs. What about those of us who call ourselves writers? When does nonfiction writing about trauma rise to the level of art? What makes some artful, and others, self-serving and irrelevant? Of course the answers are subjective, but we will explore the questions and hazard some answers. Speaking as writers, readers, and editors, we will examine successful and unsuccessful creative nonfictions and tease out our reasons for making those judgments.

These are the authors and works we are quoting in our presentations, as well as other recommended works. Also included are links to books we've written.

Jane Hirschfield, Given Sugar, Given Salt
Dani Shapiro, Still Writing
Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face
Gregory Orr, The Blessing
Richard Hoffman, Half the House
Kathryn Harris, The Kiss
Janice Gary, Short Leash: a Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance

Joan Didion, "Goodbye to All That" in Slouching Towards Bethlethem
Toni Morrison, "The Site of Memory" in Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, ed. William Zinsser
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself
(Note: There are various versions of his autobiography.)
Judy Ruiz, "The Mother, the Daughter, and the Holy Horse: A Trilogy," Iowa Review vol. 23, no. 2
S.L. Wisenberg, The Adventures of Cancer Bitch book
Holocaust Girls: History, Memory & Other Obsessions

Alfred Doeblin, Destiny's Journey
Raymond Federer, SHHH: The Story of a Childhood
Stanley Elkin, "Why I Live Where I Live" and title essay, Pieces of Soap
Janet Burroway, Losing Tim: A Memoir
Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals
An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum

Elizabeth Kadestsky:                                                                                                                                          Judith Herman: Trauma and Recovery
Ben Yagoda: Memoir 
Cathy Caruth (essays by Dori Laub and Cathy Caruth in) Trauma: Explorations in Memory
Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking
Simone de Beauvoir: A Very Easy Death
JoAnn Beard, The Boys of my Youth ("Fourth State of Matter")
Maggie Nelson, Bluets

Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli
Sarah Manguso, The Guardians 
Sophie Calle, Exquisite Pain
Elizabeth KadetskyThe Poison that Purifies You 
On the Island at the Center of the Center of the World 
First There is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance

Die Welten

It's interesting (to me at least) how we (I) try to find the logical roots of Symptom. A bad headache: not enough sleep. Caffeine withdrawal (though not enough time had passed without it to constitute withdrawal). Heredity: O this dizziness is what my mother goes through with her vertigo, dormant for ten years until late this summer. Power of suggestion: the nurse at the oncologist's on Wednesday went through my medications and symptoms. Dizziness and nausea? she asked and I said no. But then here they were, the very next day. And then when it becomes clear (Mayo Clinic on the internet) that I have "stomach flu" or gastroenteritis, another hunt for etiology: the River (but we rowed down a cleaner part of it on Wednesday night), lowered immune system because of the new drug Jakafi--which handily leads into my world view, my Weltanschauung, which is Weltschmerz--from every good (new drug) flies a corresponding and ironic bad.

(Cemetery, Basking Ridge, NJ, where we went for my cousin's wedding in late September. Tombstone standing in for the glass the groom stomps on: sadness and broken things in the midst of happiness and beginnings [let's ignore the obvious sexist connection to the breaking of the hymen])

Welcome, 5776

Greetings, those of all religions and those of no religion. I guess I'm both, though I observe some holidays. Rosh Hashanah began Sunday night--so Sunday night was our new year's eve. We don't set off firework but we do eat. Of course. In our Ashkenazi (European) tradition, we eat apples and honey, because that's what you could get in early fall in Europe, from Russia to Great Britain. Those in the Sephardic tradition eat dates, beans, leeks, beets, pomegranates, as well as apples. They also hold up the head of a ram or fish and say, May I be a head and not a tail. Raise your hand if you do that. I would do it if I could borrow a ram, head still connected to its neck. But I don't think that's the point. Maybe vegetarians could hold up a head of lettuce. At least that's something positive that you could do with iceberg. It has no other function--contains a bit of crunch, is devoid of nutrients.
[What, me worry?]

But let us continue. An important aside: You will read that Ashkenzi Jews are those from Eastern Europe. This is usually wrong, and it matters when you're talking about diseases we Ashkenazim are more prone to because of all the inbreeding. The Sephardim are from Spain and Portugal, which outlawed Jews and Judaism just as Christopher Columbus (whom some claim was Jewish; why that first name? Trying too hard?) was sailing the ocean blue. (In 1492/ Isabella said, Get out, O Jew!) Those who did not leave either converted sincerely or insincerely. Just for good measure, the Crown and Church launched an Inquisition. In his photography book on Sarajevo, Edward Serotta has a photo of Sarajevo Jews holding aloft their keys from Spain. They kept them in the family all these years. Which is a good thing, because now Spain says that if you can prove that your Jewish family was forced to leave, you can claim Spanish citizenship. Which opens up the whole of Europe for you. Perhaps that's the best route to go for Syrian refugees.

Sephardic Jews speak or spoke Ladino as a lingua franca. Ladino is to Spanish as Yiddish is to German. (Memorize that, it will be on the GRE.)  Both written with Hebrew letters. Some German Jews will tell you that they are not Ashkenazi, and if they can trace their roots to Spain, they're correct. But often they're just ignorant. They think that Ashkenazi means Eastern European, which in the 19th century especially meant poor, immigrant religious Jew who embarrassed the cultivated Goethe-spouting German Jew. If your family spoke Yiddish, no matter how many generations back, then Congratulations, you have breast cancer. Not definitely. But you have a greater chance of carrying the BRCA gene mutations. If you just clicked on BRCA, you will see that the Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina* refers to Ashkenazim as Eastern European in the title of the BRCA entry. It does clarify: mostly Jews from Germany, Poland, Russia. And the North Carolinians are correct in saying that 90 percent of US Jews are Ashkenazim. The rest are Sephardic, originally from Spain, France, Italy, North Africa, according to NC. I would add: Turkey, Greece (any who remained after Kurt Waldheim helped murder most of the Salonikan Jews), Holland, West Indies, Bulgaria (who saved its Jews, while throwing those from Macedonia and Thrace to the wolves), parts of the former Yugoslavia. Britain, friendly Britain, did not let us in for centuries. And then when Jewish war refugees started coming across the channel from Germany and Austria, the kindly Brits put them in camps alongside Nazis. Ach, they all sound alike, no?  Perhaps the Brits should be forgiven, since so many German Jews identified with Germany over Judaism. Which gave rise to this joke: Two German Jews have escaped the Nazis and are in exile in Paris. It's early 1940 and they're watching the French army go through maneuvers. One says to the other: Ach, our army is so much better. 

Meaning the German army. 

Get it?

But the point. The point is that I went to services Monday and then to the lake for tashlich, where we throw our sins into the water symbolically. 
We used to look like this:

but now we look like this:

People usually throw in crumbs or pocket lint (there was a discussion Monday of belly-button lint)  I threw in weeds. I narrowed my sins to two: grasping and complaining. I chanted to myself that I was giving them up. No grasping, no complaining.

And so I could not complain, about people or situations. It has been very difficult. (I am stating a fact, not complaining.) I really really wanted to tell L. about a conversation I had with someone who is more neurotic than I am, and kept repeating himself, and worrying about a teeny tiny thing, and the point would be that deep down I'm saying, I'm not so bad, look at him, and there would be ever-so- slight contempt in my gut and face. But because I couldn't tell him, I didn't have that patronizing feeling. O, I had it for a moment, but it kept disintegrating. Which is a good thing. As for the grasping--that is more abstract, and I find that it is harder to avoid.

*Why pick on North Carolinians? Because their site came up when I googled the key words.