Whodunnit: two household mysteries

1. The plumber came to figure out why water leaked downstairs yesterday when I took a long shower. After running the water and going downstairs and back, he couldn’t figure it out, because of course it didn’t leak when he was here. It could be that the water had splashed on the tile and there was a hole in the grout.

2. I have breast cancer and no one knows where it came from. Pollution? What about all the other people who didn’t get it and live in the same environment? What is the history of breast cancer? The first patient described (as a young woman) in Freud and Breuer’s "Case Studies on Hysteria" lived into her seventies and died of breast cancer, in 1936. That’s as far as my knowledge of the history of breast cancer goes. There must be histories of it in ancient Egypt, Rome, etc. Nothing in the bible as far as I know. (Pause for Google search.) A short history
here. And: the recent book, "Bathsheba's Breast: Women, Cancer, and History," by James S. Olson. From the book description: “A horror known to every culture in every age, breast cancer has been responsible for the deaths of 25 million women throughout history. An Egyptian physician writing 3,500 years ago concluded that there was no treatment for the disease.” I will order it (from my local independent bookstore) and report on it here.

Regular doctors
I went to the podiatrist Friday, the one who L goes to and who fixed L’s painful heels by injecting dextrose into them. It was so nice to go into a modest office with a friendly feeling, where Serious Disease did not hang in the air. (Of course, people with serious diseases see podiatrists.) The doctors are three brothers so they’re each referred to as Dr. First Name. I had diagnosed myself last year with chilblains, and then Raynaud’s: in the cold my toes turned white, then red and stayed cold a long time. When they warmed up they’d be itchy. Apparently chilblains aren't mentioned much any more, gone the way of neurasthenia. My toes have been sore this winter so I figured I should get this taken care of before I was locked into Cancerland. Dr. First Name agreed with my diagnosis and gave me a shot of something and recommendations for vitamins: B-6 twice a day, E once a day. He also got me strapped up to measure my vascular something or other. It was like having my blood pressure taken in my arms and legs. I felt vindicated that my diagnosis was right. I’ve also diagnosed L with Raynaud’s in his fingers but he doesn’t believe me. He told his doctor about his symptons and the doctor brushed them away. I told him to tell his doctor that I’ve diagnosed him and that I have experience with several medical facilities.

Teapot/Societe Anonyme
Our third free meal was with our good friends E and H. They have Italian ceramic dinnerware, as we do, but in a different pattern. They have mostly Raffaellesco, with a yellow dragon in the middle, and we have a mix of Veccio Deruta and Arabesco. Last year a friend gave me a Raffaellesco teapot. At dinner when E and H were in the other room, I whispered to L that when I’m gone he should give them the teapot.

Do I really think I will die soon, before L, before E and H (who are about 15 years older than I am), meaning, that I will die from this? No one dies from breast cancer, as far as I can tell, you die from the spread of the cancer to other parts of your body. I’ve thought about death a lot, from early on, partly because I would imagine what would happen if the Nazis came here, and partly because of having asthma. Then I would put the two together and know that I would go like that (snap o fingers) if I were taken to a concentration camp, because I wouldn’t be able to breathe without my medicines. Though I think about death a lot, I still can’t fathom what life would be like without *me* in it, the way I couldn’t understand how the schoolday could go on as normal if I was home sick. “If I die,” people say, as if there’s a doubt it will happen. I wonder about people who go to live in nursing homes, and if life seems meaningless because they know it will end soon. I’ve always thought that people in nursing homes should be harnessed to write letters for Amnesty International. Others have pushed for combining old-age homes with daycare for kids, and that makes sense. I’ve always felt part of the stream of Jewish history, which makes me feel less alone in the world, as if there is a place for my memory to reside. Certain rabbis have been known by the titles of their books; the title becames the guy’s name, so that two, three hundred years later, when you say the guy’s common name, you’re saying the name of his most famous book. I would like that.

Which brings up the question of the anonymity or “anonymity” of this blog. I started out anonymous, but giving friends the URL. I don’t want to libel people in the medical profession, especially--as my friends have pointed out--when they’re about to hold a sharp instrument to my skin. L has always been in favor of anonymity here, so that I won’t self-censor. But I’m already self-censoring, not saying every absolute thought in my head, about the doctors or friends or even L. My friend T says that I deserve credit for my bons mots, and I do want credit for my bons mots. And I want everyone to read this blog and then to buy my books. Everyone. But as far as I can tell, this blog is under the Google radar, it’s not findable at random in a Google search. So is it just for friends? It’s for me, to eventually turn into a book.

When I was a college a guy N, a hippie wanna-be, asked me if it would be enough for me to live on a commune and write just for the people of the commune. And I thought, No, though it seemed egocentric and impure to say No. You move from that question to, Would it be enough if five people read you? Then four? Then two? Then no one? Even Emily Dickinson sent her poems out for other writers to read. But mostly she stayed upstairs. Kafka had his coterie and was known in the equivalent of our literary-magazine world. In his famous speech and essay "Poetry and Ambition" (search here), Donald Hall chastises poets for ambition—the ambition to be famous, to live the poet lifestyle, to churn out book after book. Instead, says Hall, you should aim “to be as good as Dante.” But if Dante hadn’t published, how would Hall be able to name him as a standard ?

Insult to Injury
I never wanted to write book reviews. When a new book editor came to our local daily, she told my friend D that she wanted people with distinctive voices, such as [Cancer Bitch’s]. At least that’s what D told me. So I called the editor and we met for lunch and I started writing reviews for her. After a few years I somehow fell out of favor. I wrote reviews for a couple of other publications. The last two reviews that I wrote for Our City’s Main and Shrinking Alternative Weekly were very critical, and of books by women, and I felt slightly guilty about that. I proposed a review of The Bastard of Istanbul to my editor at the weekly, and when I sent in the review last week, she had some comments. I rewrote it, and sent it to her Friday, though it still had some holes in it. I’d never sent anything so rough before to an editor. She wrote back later and said it wasn’t really a review, it was a plot summary, had no thesis. So she killed it. I have never had a book review killed before. I never thought of myself as a good book reviewer, and was amazed that I could pull it off. Whenever I have trouble writing something I ask myself what’s holding me back. Was something holding me back with this review? Maybe. The book was absorbing but disappointing because I wanted to learn about the people of Istanbul and I learned mostly about Westward-looking Turkish women and an Armenian-American girl and her American mother. I think the author was trying to prove something by writing this book in English, with a couple of American protagonists. It was as if she were trying to prove to Americans that she could write about America and Americans. But we have plenty of America-based fiction homegrown writers. Her English was pockmarked with the awkward phrases of someone who is holding a thesaurus too close because she learned English from reading books. But I felt I couldn’t criticize her focus because, as we still say, it’s a free country: she can write about whoever she wants. The book was translated by someone else into Turkish, and it was published in Turkey in March 2006, and here, early this year. I was disappointed that her Turkish characters seemed very Western-American, but that’s the fault of American cultural hegemony and not the author. Or it could be because she grew up abroad, daughter of a diplomat. If I were my own student, I would say to myself, Cancer Bitch, why didn’t you write all that instead of struggling so?

And so I will get a kill fee. I was bravely writing and rewriting the book review while reeling from the cancer diagnosis (that’s not true; I wasn’t really reeling, just going to a lot of appointments). They call it a kill fee because it kills you a little bit to get it.