Just a Little Bit Menopausal

Years ago a friend of mine wrote an essay about her experience with in vitro fertilization, and said that indeed that it was possible to be just a little bit pregnant. I think I'm a little bit menopausal. Which is more menopausal than peri-menopausal. Ten days ago I had the FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) test and also had my fibroids ultrasounded. I thought the elusive gyne would call me with results, but he proved to live up to his name. I finally called his office yesterday and today and then he called back. He said sometimes it takes a while for the ultrasound results to get to him and that he was sorry not to get back to me sooner. He said the fibroids are pretty much the same size as last year, that the largest is 2-1/2 centimeters or the size of a golf ball, and that the test indicated that I was probably menopausal. We'll wait until I get results from genetic tests before doing anything further. Such as surgery. If the test shows I have the breast-ovarian cancer gene, I'll donate my second ovary to the hospital. If anyone wants the stale eggs of Cancer Bitch, let me know. They're cheaper by the dozen.

I thought golf balls were bigger than 2-1/2 centimeters, and L, who was a high school letterman in golf, confirmed that. We figure that the gyne just doesn't play golf. Again I'm moved to quote Marjorie Gross: "So I had a hysterectomy, and they found a tumor that they said was the size of an orange. (See, for women they use the citrus-fruit comparison; for men it's sporting goods: 'Oh it's the size of a softball,' or, in England, a cricket ball.) " She wrote that in 1996. Now in the 21st century, I guess doctors are more gender-neutral in their comparisons.

I feel like I should be menopausal by now because it seems everybody else is. It's a relief in a way because then I don't have to fear that I'll feel feel worse with menopause. I know that's a dangerous thing to say. It could always get worse. It's hard to distinguish hot flashes from menopause with those that are a side effect of chemo. My head is often clammy. Luckily, my scalp decoration is not water-soluable.

Last night my friend S added some Picasso-esque doves to the top and back of my head. The plan was to fill in some of the designs with henna, which she did, though she was hampered by the lack of a crucial piece of henna-design equipment. Either I misplaced it or it wasn't in the package sent by the good people of Earthhenna.com.

Yesterday I went for a mammogram of my right breast at the Fancy breast cancer factory. The tech showed it to a radiologist, and reported that it looked fine. I'm not due for another mammogram until next year. Then I had an appointment with my surgeon. The physician assistant measured my arms and said that my left (mastectomy) arm was only 1 centimeter wider than the right one, which is an insignifant difference, not an indicator of lymphodema. The most confident and competent of the surgery Fellows came in and led me through my paces (hold up arms high, put your hands on your hips, breathe normally, take a deep breath) and she palpated my breast. Then the surgeon came in and did pretty much the same. Her hands were also cold. She asked, of course, if I was hanging in there (I think the Fellows aren't allowed to ask that), and she asked how things were going, saying she read about me in the paper. I didn't ask if she was reading this blog. That would seem to cross some line. Then I'd have to say, What did you think of my description of you? (Which was that she was warm and business-like. Though she does, as noted, have that widespread "hanging in there" tic.) I'm supposed to get an MRI of the right breast next month. I went into a little room to schedule it. The scheduler said that she herself had a mass in one breast that she was going to have an ultrasound to check it out. Her aunt had just died of breast cancer (that had spread to her spine and brain). One of the last things her aunt said to her was to get it looked at. Her aunt was a fighter, she said. The aunt had been living with breast cancer for 13 years. When the cancer went to her brain it put her in a coma. I hope that for most of those 13 years she was in remission.

Cancer Bitch Meets the City Clerk

Warning: This post contains minutiae about red tape.

Today I went downtown so that the endodontist could finish his part in the root canal. It was uneventful, except that I found out why he works only one day a week in the office. The rest of the time he teaches at a dental school. That reassured me and it explained, too, his play-by-play about what he's doing. I like the play-by-play. I appreciate it, and prefer it to small talk about other stuff. And I love it when dentists talk about gutta-percha, which sounds so exotic because its word origin is Malay. It makes me think of British colonies and Mary Poppins. I don't think there's gutta-percha in the Poppins books; I think I'm thinking of plasticine, which is modeling clay, but I have that association anyway.

After the root canal I walked across the street to the Cultural Center, and leaned against a bronze statue of a cow while I called the city clerk's office to see if I could come by and get my annual zoned parking permit. People kept coming by to read the plaque by the cow and I felt self-conscious but I wanted to lean on something in case I had to write something down.

I'll try not to make this tedious. Since I live in a high-density area, most of the streets in the neighborhood require parked cars to have a special sticker. You have to be a resident to get the annual sticker. Residents can also buy one-day stickers to give to guests. (In February I wrote about trying to buy more than one book of stickers at a time because of my impending surgery. I failed.) Every June I get the annual sticker for $25, usually by mail, but at least once by going to the alderman's office. The tricky thing is that you have to buy the city's annual sticker first. I bought that on-line last week, and printed out the receipt. On the phone, I waited and listened and punched several buttons, and finally got a live person who said that the receipt would count as proof of purchase, and that there wasn't a wait.

So I walked the few blocks to the City and County Building and found people lined up in the hallway. A staff person stopped me at the entrance to the clerk's office and gave me forms to fill out and said to go to Window 8. The line was short there. The woman behind me in line said, That's the city clerk, walking in the middle of the room. I saw the back of a man in a white shirt. When I got to the counter, I was told that my address wasn't in the system and I needed a letter from my alderman to get the permit. I explained that I'd never had to do this before. The woman said I could go to the third floor and get the letter from the alderman if he was there. Sigh. I was afraid that I'd go up there and he wouldn't be there and I'd be a frustrated and hungry Cancer Bitch. I turned to go and saw the man in the white shirt right there. I asked, Are you the clerk? just to be sure, and told him my story.

He explained that I live on a "buffer street," which does not require the parking permits, and so I'm not eligible for the annual permit. I told him I'd always gotten the permit, etc., etc. I couldn't remember if I'd received a green permit form in the mail. We ended up going around and through and downstairs and stopping at a worker's computer, where she discovered that one of the people in my building had the residential permit. That was enough for the clerk and we went back upstairs and he told me to wait while he went behind a door. About five minutes later he returned with my permit and *two* packets of guest permits (which I paid for). I asked him if I should call the alderman so other people wouldn't have to go through this, and he said I should call J on his own staff.

A moment later J appeared by chance, and I told him my tale not of woe exactly, but of annoyance (though I was calm and not whiny or annoyed). He explained that in the past people who live on buffer streets have had to get the alderman's letter, but sometimes that was waived because it was too much trouble. Next year it should all be worked out.

So--if you live on a buffer street, be sure to contact your alderman.

I felt justified in asking the boss to help me, probably more justified than usual because I have cancer. But he's a public servant, right? I don't know if it's obvious that I'm cancerous. I'm bald except for little stubble poking up. My head decorations were fading and I didn't have my Cancer Sucks pin on my backpack. I told him I voted for him. Which is true. I urge you to, also. His name is Miguel del Valle, and he will probably be running unopposed.

But can you imagine *wanting* to be head of all this permit-issuing and form-sending-out and tending to frustrated people in lines? Of course, being city clerk is about being part of the Democratic power structure. Del Valle was a state senator before this and who wants to spend time in Springfield? (Our governor hates going there. If he weren't so unpopular he'd probably propose making Chicago the state capital.) City clerk might lead to something else. The *county* clerk is David Orr, who was interim mayor for about one week in 1987 after Harold Washington died; he got that job because he'd been the alderman who was the vice mayor. Orr was a reformer, a progressive, and he stepped aside to let an African-American be elected acting mayor (by the city council); it didn't seem right that a white guy would be mayor after Harold Washington. The affable (African-American) acting mayor was later elected by the voters. Was Orr too nice? He's now in charge of all the county's endless forms about everything: death and taxes, elections, marriages, births. A friend of mine, a political animal, says that Orr was afraid of risk. You could say he sacrificed himself for the good of the city. If I were David Orr, I'd keep kicking myself.

Taking Taxol/I feel petty, oh, so petty

What can I say about chemotherapy that hasn't already been said, in a million pop songs? That's a line from an essay by Marjorie Gross. I don't know what chemo-poison she was referring to. The chemotherapy agent of the hour, of my hour of discontent, is Taxol. Sounds like toxic. It seems like toxic. A drug that's injected in your veins that makes your bones hurt. Not like when you were little and your mother would mention offhand to your doctor you felt "growing pains." No, this is an ache in the joints and along the bones, that seems maybe it's not so bad, it's not acute, but it's there. Deep and unrelieved, and it makes you cry during yoga when you bury your head for child's pose. Because it doesn't seem like it should hurt so much. And you cry partly because you suspect you're exaggerating the hurt, and partly because of the hurt itself. And you look the same on the outside as you did the day before, when it didn't hurt, when all you had was apprehension about the possibility of this bone pain. But it's real, and it's from the wiping out of red blood cells, and it's there in the pink oncology binder, in black and white, under "side effects." And the nurse told you about it, that it might happen. It's the subtlety of it, as cruel as meangirl gossip, almost not-there, but there. And in your teeth, making them feel loose, and in your gums and a sharp sore on the side of your tongue, and an ache in your back, and you feel it in your endometrium, like a bad cramp, though there aren't bones there.
After yoga Friday I drove downtown to pick up L so we could meet V for dinner in the South Loop. When he got in the car to take my place (I hate driving) I was crying and we pulled to the corner and I told him I felt so bad. I had picked up a magazine at the park district where I do yoga, so I'd have something to read while L put me on the L to go back home, and he went on to dinner with V. He took me home and called V to cancel. I was so pathetic, so grateful that he was driving me home. He had planned to go on to Gary after dinner. He has a house there. We stopped at Blockbuster and got four DVDs: Curb Your Enthusiasm, first season; Sex and the City, second season; The Truth About Cats and Dogs and Sweet Home Alabama. At home I settled on the couch and he unloaded the dishwasher and did other household chores while I watched Sex and the City, which he can't stand but gets sucked into anyway. I took acetaminophen, which he said I should have been taking instead of ibuprofen. And lo and behold, it was the pain-reliever of choice in the pink oncology department binder from Fancy Hospital. I felt better and also whiny and self-indulgent. Friday he asked me what number the pain was, from 1-10, and I said 3, thinking that 3 sounds very small. Like nothing.

Now it's Sunday evening and what I've done this weekend is Nothing, meaning watched the videos and read some and slept. And wrote a pissy letter to the editor about the whitewashing of Nicaraguan history in the Travel section of the paper. I did what dogs do, which is lie around and nap and then get up and sleep. If dogs read, I'd be the perfect dog. L is in Gary right now. This weekend he has told me on the phone and in person that I'm silly to feel guilty for doing nothing, aka Taking Care of Myself. I was invited to a BBQ, which I've skipped, and was supposed to go to a Muslim festival to help publicize a Muslim-Jewish poetry anthology I'm helping put together. You have cancer! he tells me, and I say, Supposedly the cancer is gone, but he counters that I'm going through cancer treatment, and what I'm feeling is because of that treatment. Which is true. The bone-pain has lessened much, and I'm wondering if what I felt is what it's like when the cancer returns and it's in your bones. And that scares me. The fact of it returning to my bones scares me.

The pain is down to 1, or 0 in some places. The side of my tongue is still sore despite using this special chemo mouthwash cocktail I got at the pharmacy for $31, and oral analgesic ointment. There are so many pains a person could have, so many acute pains. The world is awash in suffering. Would I get used to it if I always felt the way I did on Friday? Would I want to kill myself? Once when I ran out of BuSpar tablets I felt so upset, so weepy and full of self-loathing, that I thought if I felt that way all the time I would kill myself. I was taking the generic for BuSpar and concluded it didn't work for me. But now I take the generic all the time because our new insurance plan won't pay for the name brand. What is the lesson of that?
Last night I dreamed I was looking for job postings at the WRU Press office to pass on to our grad students, and I took off my dress to do it, because that was the protocol. I thought. But I was wrong. And I felt embarrassed to be there, that I didn't belong there, and put my dress back on, and went to look for more job postings in the journalism department, and looked for my mail box there, but it wasn't there. I didn't belong. I didn't belong anywhere, even though WRU Press had published my first book (in the dream and in real life). In real life, too, my faculty mail box disappeared from the journalism department many years ago, because I had started teaching non-credit instead of credit journalism classes, and the Decider of Mail Boxes had decided I didn't deserve a box. Though there were lots of empty boxes. I eventually got hold of an empty cardboard box and put it on top of the mail boxes, with my name on it. That was taken away and then I got another box and labeled it ETAOIN SHRDLU, which is an old journalism (nonsense) phrase from the days of Linotype. I told a good friend about all this a few years after and he told me how terrible I was. He used the word asshole, which was the first and only time (I think) anyone has called me that, to my face. When he said that I felt I'd been petty and immature. It is unwise in academia to be petty and immature unless you have tenure.

But hey, he, the Decider, started it. And he removed the ETAOIN SHRDLU box, too. And I needed a box, dear readers, because I was teaching a for-credit undergraduate interdisciplinary class that met in a residential college I didn't have a key to. The students needed a place to drop off and pick up papers. We ended up using a student mail box (down the hall from my erstwhile one) and that worked out fine. OK, you can argue that the journalism department didn't owe me a box for the use of liberal arts students, but it would have been a nice courtesy, wouldn't it? And I did receive mail there occasionally.

I still have a mail box problem. I'm a part-time, year-round employee at WRU but my mail box downtown is removed during the quarters I'm not teaching downtown. I have tried repeatedly to change this, but the person who makes and inserts the mail box labels goes by a book of faculty names she gets every quarter and that's that. There's a separate area for full-time, year-round employee mail boxes, but it just so happens that there is no space there for an extra box. The assistant dean tried to intervene once but he couldn't get me a box. Sometimes I make my own mail box label and feel like an illegal squatter and wonder if the mail sorters will ignore it because the label isn't like the others.

This non-box-ness makes me feel disappeared. I try not to think about it. I had a permanent box in the suburban WRU mail room for about a year then one quarter it too disappeared. It was easy to get another label there and it was clear it was an oversight. Thank goodness.

Until I had these real estate crises, I used to think the comic strip Dilbert was ridiculous and unrealistic.

All in All, I'd Rather Have a Puppy

Back to Fancy Hospital today for an ultrasound to check on my uterine fibroids, and just in the next set of rooms, a blood test to determine my FSH level, or follicle-stimulating hormone, though, as I said earlier, the test is supposedly inaccurate. It was odd to get the ultrasound because L, his daughter R and I had just seen Knocked Up on Sunday for Father's Day. The pregnant woman and her impregnator go to a gyne and look at the ultrasound screen together and see the embryo. So when I looked at the monitor I half-expected to see a little curled animal of my own, but there was a black space capsule instead. Empty. I started thinking I would be happy to be carrying a dog. A nice little hairless pre-dog that would attain fur before it slipped its way out. But seems kind of gross, fur sticking to my intimate insides.

I dreamed once, about 20 years ago, that I was giving birth to cats. It didn't seem strange inside the dream, but it did afterwards. They kept coming out, one after the other. I don't remember whether I was licking them. I may have.

What does not kill me makes me stranger.

The Boyish Gyne is supposed to call to tell me whether my fibroids are growing or not growing and whether I am still peri- or am full-fledged meno-pausal. And then what?

It is never just one thing. It is one and then follow-up and more and more. And then it's time to do the wash again and water the plants.

The tongue,

said the endodontist this morning, is a very curious animal.

This is true. It has its own obsessions and compulsions. The tooth (number 13, third from the left, on top, next to the molars), had broken off after phase one of his root canal. Part of the remaining tooth had formed a point, which my tongue kept touching and feeling until I had a sore on it. The mild endodontist shaved off the point and will finish with the root canal next week. Then I'll get a crown from the dentist. I don't know why he didn't do the rooting out of the canal and the filling of it in one fell swoop. I should ask. I also don't know why he works downtown only on Tuesdays.

He told me his brother is an oncologist in Washington State who had cancer in his tonsils and directed his own treatment.

The cancer cell has its compulsions and obsessions. We are told: "Normal" cells stop dividing when they come into contact with like cells, a mechanism known as contact inhibition. Cancerous cells lose this ability. The cancer cell does not get the social cues. It cannot read the faces of the other cells. It does not know when to stop reproducing iteself, when to stop telling that story one more time about its cross-country trip in a beat-up station wagon. Because of this we need to ingest poison to stop the cancer cell, and in so doing, the toxin stops other harmless and helpful cells in their tracks. The faster the cells are dividing, the more likely it is that chemotherapy will kill the cells, causing the tumor to shrink. They also induce cell suicide (self-death or apoptosis).

Cancer cells are uninhibited. They put our lampshades on their heads and run through public fountains. But these same frolicking, out-of-control cancer cells are trying to kill us. In defense, we try to induce suicide. Can you blame us?

Today was chemo Round 5, the first dose of Taxol, which is derived from the Pacific yew. We have some kind of yew bushes out front, which we prune. I don't know what kind they are. Taxol is preserved with a chemical called cremo-something, which a few people are allergic to. The nurses told me that a reaction is rare, but they laid out epinephrine and benadryl on the table nearby just in case. They'd already given me some benadryl in the drip. Reactions include feeling very hot or having constricted breathing. It happens in the first few minutes.

After a few minutes on the drip I felt blood rush to my head and ears and they were hot hot hot, and there was a heavy foot on my chest and it was hard to breathe. I reported this calmly because they’d said they were prepared. They took me off the Taxol and gave me more benadryl and put oxygen cannula in my nostrils. I felt better. Then a few minutes later I had what felt like menstrual cramps, and a nurse gave me a heat pack. The cramps went away in about ten minutes.

Was this anaphylactic shock? I asked. No, said the nurse, it was anaphylaxis. Which, from what I read, is serious and life-threatening. But not shock.

So it may not end with a whimper, or a bang, but with a closing up.


Waiting for the L (train, not husband) today to go to Fancy Hospital I saw a guy in a very dark suit, white shirt, red tie with diagonal red and white stripes. Something odd about his outfit--so very severe, formal and self-conscious. He had opened a black leather folder to reveal a list, handwritten on yellow legal paper. Tell about... Tell about your… I presumed they were interview questions he was going over. His outfit was too perfect and plain. He did not seem proud of his suit. It was not ill-fitting but didn't seem tailor-made, either. Who wears white shirts any more, and who wears a black suit when it’s 80 degrees? I don’t see many people in suits on the L, but that’s because I don’t ride much during rush hour, especially in the morning. Tom Wolfe says he wears a white suit because he’s not trying to fit in. He used to try to dress like his interview subjects but he couldn’t look authentic. So he decided to look out of place. If you use that line of reasoning, then a person interviewing for a job shouldn’t look like an employee because he’s an outsider. Perhaps it is right and proper that he should dress differently from them as a sign of respect and a nod to the artificiality of the interview process. At the same time, he wants to communicate the message that he’d fit in. He wants the interviewers to imagine him working with them. When they offer him the job they should grab his jacket and fling it across the room and tell him to loosen his tie, roll up his sleeves and tear up his practice questions.

If he is smart, he will keep the list of questions.

Sacre Vert

The other night I was walking home from the L, toward Wrigley Field, just as the Chicago Cubs game was letting out. Therewere crowds on the street and sidewalk walking toward me. As I got near our place, I started to get vigilant. We've had problems with people walking onthe parkway (the garden area between the sidewalk and street). There are several transgressions to watch for: They walk on the flagstones that frame the parkway, dislodging them. They walk on the dirt, and thus trample the plants. They let their dogs trample the plants. They let their dogs relieve themselves on the plants. We think that our bushes turned brown and died from urine poisoning.

That night a guy had his golden retriever on a leash and was letting the dog walk in the yard. My husband L and I and my visiting friend D planted white and red-striped petunias there. In the dark you can't see which is the mulch (which several of us spread on Condo Day) and which are the plants. So I said, very casually and calmly (you haveto believe me on this): Your dog's walking on our flowers. No he's not, he said. We planted them, Is aid. We don't want them to get trampled. They kept on walking, though stepping out of the yard and onto the sidewalk. Now they were past me. The young woman with them turned around and said, You should put up a sign if you don't want people to walk there. I couldn'tbelieve this. Doesn't a frame of flagstones around flowers and plants signify Garden--Don't Smoosh? I felt anger and frustration boiling in me and so I yelled as loudly as I could, so loudly that it hurt my throat for about 10 minutes afterward (I haven't learned to yell from my diaphragm), I yelled the thing I yell when I can't stand someone and want to baffle: Que'est-ce que j'ai fait pour meriter ca? I say it fast and self-righteously.

I want the person to know I detest him and I also want to confuse him. I wouldn't mind if he felt stupid, either. I'd like him to feel stupid. It means: What did I do to deserve this? Iwant to sow confusion among my enemies, and they were my enemies, for a moment. That's why I prefer, when a stranger makes me angry, to give him the peace sign or, if I have two hands available, to form a circle or triangle with my two thumbs and pointer fingers. I want to be superior. If I were a better person, I would mean it when I make the V peace sign. But I don't.

That night I thought about yelling about my cancer but it didn't seem relevant. I guess I could have tried: Mais j'ai le cancer! Je suis malade! But that doesn't have the same punch. I don't think. Or: Don't walk on my flowers, I have cancer! But then it would seem that not wanting people to step on your plants was some sort of quirk, a side effect of chemo. Once when we saw a guy letting his dog roam in theyard, L said something to him, and the guy retorted: You ought to move to the suburbs. As if we were such property-proud bourgeois that we shouldn't live in the city. I thought later of telling the guy that L has lived in Gary, Indiana, for 30 years and no one has walked on flowers there. That's as gritty a city as they come, no huge lawns or picket (or electric) fences, no No Trespassing signs, and people don't feel the need to trample other people's flowers. Here in our dense North Side neighborhood people steal flowers in pots and dig out newly planted impatiens. They tore down and stole the American flag that we had up in front after 9/11. I had been against putting up the flag, but I recognized random vandalism when I saw it. They key our cars parked on the street. They smash car windows in order to get a few pennies inside. They stole L's bike ou tof his trunk. They pee in the alley. They yell into the night and throw their beer cans wherever they happen to land. Then they throw up on the sidewalk.

In the great scheme of things, these are minor complaints, crimes against property. (And to be fair, in the suburbs and in the subdivisions, people aren't tempted to walk in flower beds because there's plenty of room to roam.) I hear a neo-con curmudgeon in my head lamenting the decline of civil society. People have been uncivil since the dawn of civilization. As they say, just NIMBY. Or front.


The beginning of this guilt. First a feeling of difference, of feeling what I have isn't serious, not the real thing, starting from reading blogs by people with mets--meaning the breast cancer has metastasized. Reading reviews of books by these people--feeling I haven't really had cancer until it's moved from the breast to crack into my spine. That it's only, in the words of one blogger," garden variety" cancer. Which explains why the oncologist and his nurses seem nonchalant. What I have isn't deadly. (Not yet.)

Then hearing about a friend with breast cancer--a double mastectomy, mutual friends told me Sunday, with chemo and radiation,. What stage is she? I asked. Stage 1, they said. Which didn't make sense. Someone with stage 1 wouldn't have chemo and radiation, I don't think. She was having a hard time, they said. I emailed her. She emailed back. She seemed reticent. Single mastectomy. I named my meds. She said she was on pretty much the same. That it had been very difficult. I felt guilty that side effects weren't wiping me out. Though I get days in a row when I'm tired and depressed. But now I feel fine. When I feel fine I stop feeling sorry for myself. I feel guilty.

L reminded me that I'm not taking Cytoxan, which is one element of the usual ACT chemo brew--Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Taxol--because I have a platelet disorder. Cytoxan could cause a blood clot, which is more dangerous than the cancer. So I'm getting less poison than I would normally. It could be the Cytoxan that's causing my friend's side effects. But everyone is different. I'm lucky that the anesthesia didn't make me sick. My cancer-sister in Marin was throwing up for days from the anesthesia as well as the sedative they gave her when they installed her port. Do I feel guilty in regard to her? No. I also read on breastcancer.org that there's a slightly better chance of killing the cancer cells when you have chemo every two weeks instead of three. I've gotten Adriamycin every three weeks because I need the extra time for my blood to climb back to normal. Other people get a shot to beef up their blood, so they can be chemo-ed every fortnight, but I can't have the shot--because of my high platelet count.

Is guilt truly what I'm feeling? Not uneasiness? Guilt that I should be suffering more. Guilt that I'm faking it. That I don't really have cancer. That I'm not really getting chemo. How can I be saying/thinking this? You don't really have breast cancer. You are faking it. Is this a manifestation of denial? No, it's a transmogrification of the essential feeling: that I do not deserve to live. That I should perish soon. I was not made to live a long time. I was made to live tragically. Different from other people. I was made to be mourned. And to mourn while I was alive. Because I did not deserve to be alive. So living was treacherous. I had to live secretly, secretively. Under the radar.

Let me try to find logic in this. That I feel guilty because I feel good even though I'm supposed to be dying? That seems like it. The Cancer Bitch who would not die even though it was in the cards. She shuffled the deck. Used sleight of hand to change her fate. And then cried out: I am alive, please forgive me.

Bleed Me a River

Another day concerned with orifices. I went to the endodontist for part 1 of a root canal for tooth number 13. He was a modest guy without the Hail-fellow-well-met-ness of many dentists or others who often greet the public. He only said what needed to be said, no small talk or jokiness. I'd asked him to explain what he was doing and he did. He numbed me (three shots), clearing out bacteria from under a cracked filling, and cleaning out and widening the canal, home of the inflamed pulp. Now I'm using file number 30, he said, then I'll try size 40--or something like that. The only thing that hurt was the first two shots. I go back in two weeks for part 2, when he will fill the tooth permanently. Everything is fine except tonight I smelled cloves and realized that my tooth felt hollow and there was soft clay coming out--the source of the clove smell. I read online that oil of clove, eugenol, is used to sterilize the tooth, and is also part of a cement compound used to seal the tooth. A certain site says that eugenol is one of many toxins used in root canals, and recommends using acupuncture instead. However, having gone this far with conventional endodontia, I will ignore that. (My acupuncturist threw in some needles last week to help the tooth, but nothing changed.) I can't ignore that the temporary filling in the tooth has fallen out. I'll have to call tomorrow.

While I was filling out a form at the endodontist's, the Boyish Gyne called on my cell phone. My biopsies were negative. He hypothesized that I'm in menopause but bleeding because of the fibroids. I don't agree. I think I still have real periods but they're very very looooonnng because of the fibroids. Why would I think this? Am I loath to give up this sign of young womanhood? Maybe. Am I scared? I think I'm scared. Of what, besides death and old age and turning into a crone, a word that feminists reclaimed 20 years ago, after all? Have I enjoyed the sheer weirdness of 38 years of bleeding? Put that way, I realize I've bled more years than I haven't. I am used to it. The blood seems alive, a sign of life, though I know it's a sign of death (no embryo taking hold). I am so full of life that I have blood to spare. I have so much blood that it falls easily out of me, doesn't have to be sucked out by leeches. So much blood...but I have to admit it's too much; I have to take iron twice a day.

The gyne said that when I go in for my ultrasound (to see if the fibroids are growing), I can (or did he say should?) get a blood test for FSH, which is follicle-stimulating hormone, to see if I'm menopausal. However, it seems that the test might be unreliable. I would like for it to be reliable. I don't want to be in menopause but I don't want to be in limbo, either. I want to know. And then what? I want to be in menopause because menopause is supposed to cause the fibroids to shrink. But if I'm in menopause already, and am having faux periods caused by fibroids, then it means that menopause is not causing the fibroids to wither, as Engels said the state would, after the proletariat seized the means of production and abolished social classes.

There's an analogy here, but it only goes so far.

Bloggers R Us

So I have this image. A family has eaten dinner together then each member rushes to his/her computer and begins blogging, each in a separate room, reporting in the blog what everyone else in the family said, and then the blogger's side of it.

Does this already happen?

How ridiculous! Everyone knows that families don't sit down at home to eat together.


I think the high concentration of mold in the air is making both of us tired; we didn't go on the naked bike ride last night, alas. We walked slowly to a Mexican restaurant and then trudged to a used book store and then to a trifling Alain Resnais movie. I don't recommend it, especially if you go to French movies in order to see Paris. There is no Paris in the movie, only interior shots and snow. Modern interior shots. I think he might have been trying to make an American movie. It was based on a British play.

I was the subject of a newspaper column today. I heard from two people who saw it, one of whom works for the paper. I think this means that it's true that newspapers are dying.
The columnist, a friend of a friend, called after I sent her an e-mail invitation to the Diary Night reading I'm doing Thursday. She read my posts on cronicas and was interested in public/private aspects of writing about breast cancer. I'm interested in that too. Her questions were very good and made me think a lot about the history of writing about (one's own) illness. I felt renewed after talking to her. I will read and write more about illness essays and memoirs. I might put together a non-credit class on them. I also realized, on my own, before the interview, that I don't have to grasp for subject material. There is so much I haven't written about the body, my body, my breasts. I think in a breast cancer blog you should write more about breasts.
I'm realizing, too, that I need to do a lot of rewriting to make this into a book. The working title now is: "The Farewell-to-My-Left-Breast Party: a Body in the City." I am a body in the city, not in the country or wilderness. I'm not getting strength from nature's wisdom, etc. Rather, I feel better if I can see some nice Italianate architecture. One of my favorite buildings in town for that is Hotel St. Benedict Flats. Hmm. I think of it as Italianate, but the city of Chicago landmarks site calls it Victorian Gothic. Anyway, I love coming up from the Chicago Avenue stop on the Red Line and seeing that building. I react to old buildings the way other people react to favorite paintings.

Today we rode our bikes and stopped for sandwiches at Red Hen Bread on Diversey, which is in another favorite building, the Bewster Apartments. L got a Diet Dr. Pepper at the White Hen across the street. I don't know which came first, the red or the white. Clarice Lispector wrote three cronicas about eggs and chickens. From one: "The chicken exists so that the egg may traverse the ages. That is what a mother is for. The egg lives like a fugitive because it is always ahead of its time: it is more than contemporary: it belongs to the future."

L. and I sat outside the Red Hen to eat and saw a man and a woman come out of the building next door on Pine Grove and walk to a tree near us and peer in at the undergrowth around it. The woman explained that they were looking for the results of an experiment. Someone had brought six cicadas from Evanston to that tree, which sat on a square of dirt and was covered partly with greenery. They couldn't find any cicadas. I thought they should check in another 17 years. Later in the day at the Little Hardware Store down the street from us we saw a young brown and white beagle-ish dog that the owners denied was part beagle, averring that it was part basset. Then a bald man walked in with a large yellow and blue parrot, with big black beak and painted-looking face. The bird was clutching his hand from below. The man was in a rush and when I asked if the parrot talked, he said, Yes, too much, and kept walking. I think that a person who carries a large parrot shouldn't pretend that he's not carrying a parrot. Nonchalance in this situation will always seem feigned. The man did stop in the aisle where the dog was and held the bird just above the dog. The dog barked at it. I supposed the parrot guy didn't want to bother talking to anyone who wasn't with an animal.

Yesterday I received in the mail from my friend in Kentucky an article about a minature dachshund who had been rescued by the fire department along with two humans when their house filled with carbon monoxide. The people were taken to the hospital. The dog was, too, after being given oxygen in a mask especially for dogs, donated by the local kennel club. The masks come in three snout sizes. The link will take you to the article, but without photos, which is too bad, because they were darling. To see beautiful dachshunds in need of homes, click here.

Saturday with Doctors and Writers

If you don't like medical detail, just skip this post.

There was a nice little coffee/tea place/restaurant on in Greenwich Village named Anglers and Writers. I was there when it was rainy outside and so when I think of it I think of cold and rain outside and coziness inside, metal fishing implements on the walls and lots of rough-hewn wood everywhere. It may or may not have been like that. I say this in past tense because when we were in the Village in December it was gone. When I wrote the title above I thought about Doctors and Writers: Could there be an intimate restaurant with that name? What would there be on the wall? Black medical bags? Stethoscopes? Can the doctors and writers be friends? That song from Oklahoma!: Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends--even though they're at cross purposes. You can't say that about doctors and writers; they aren't diametrically opposed. Necessarily.

Saturday started with a 10:00 appointment with my accidental gynecologist. Meaning he's mine accidentally. I think I went to him for a third opinion, but liked his opinion then chose him to do surgery. He removed my ovary and salpinga, as mentioned earlier in this blog, because I had a cyst that wouldn't leave. The other two opiners said that my uterine fibroids should be cut out, but this guy said they might grow back and surgery might make a mess. He didn't say that exactly but that's how I imagined it: that he wouldn't be able to get all the fibroids and the remains would be bleeding, like little stumps. I liked this guy because he was willing to say that it was pretty clear that the cyst was benign and it was up to me whether to have surgery. I think the other doctors were assuming it was benign but were afraid to say it. What I don't like is that he's hard to get ahold of. His appointment-makers are also hard to get ahold of. Making an appointment requires staying on the phone, punching buttons and listening to bad music. It's a good opportunity to multi-task. He's in an office with a friend of mine from youth. We were in Sunday School carpool together. The gyne is also connected with Fancy Hospital, which means he can look up all my records on the computer. My regular doctor had felt a lump in my (former) left breast in August and told me to get an ultrasound, but since the last time she'd sent me for an ultrasound, the radiologist had found nothing and moreover had pooh-poohed internists as alarmists, I didn't do anything. I had an appointment with this gyne soon after and asked him to check it. He said it didn't feel like anything. So. I was waiting for him to find out through my Youthful friend that the lump had turned out to be Something and to tell me he felt bad, but that never happened. Probably the Friend of my Youth didn't pass the info along because of confidentiality. On the other hand, when my internist found out it was cancer, she called me and told me she was praying for me.

The Fancy gyne looks at least 10 years younger than I am, has even features and is good-looking (which I don't trust in a doctor) in a lithe, boyish way, and wears gym shoes with his doctor uniform. He seems like the kind of guy who would be very funny if you saw him away from the office, like he's holding back when he talks to you. But I might be wrong about this. I think he's very smart.

And lo it was the 27th day of my bleeding and my internist had found a cervical polyp recently so I called the Fancy gyne and got an appointment, amazingly enough, for a few days later, Saturday. And unbelievably I didn't even have to wait. I had mentioned chemo when I made the appointment, and I mentioned it that day to the nurse, so when the gyne came in he knew about it. Or maybe he'd already known about it. I had imagined making a dramatic announcement: Remember that lump you said was nothing? Well (whipping open the hospital gown and letting the silence be eloquent)--. He walked in with the motto on his lips of All Doctors Who Know You Have Cancer: Are you hanging in there? It's quite apt but gets tiresome. Maybe there will be a continuing medical education course that teaches them an alternate opening line.

My taciturn oncologist just asks how I am. Which is fine.

The rest gets grisly so feel free to skip.
It seems pretty clear that my bleeding is caused by the fibroids. Or five boys. See below. But he did an endometrial biopsy just to make sure there wasn't another cause, such as endometrial dysplasia, a pre-cancerous condition. He said removing the little bit to biopsy would take 10 seconds and feel like a strong menstrual cramp and he was right. It was strange that he was right. Strange to hear it come from a man. But as L has pointed out, even if he doesn't experience something himself, the male gyne hears over time from women what it felt like and so can pass it back on to me. Thus he is a conduit. For women's wisdom, you could say. He also removed the polyp. I asked to see it. It looked like a tiny red tutu floating in a jar. I asked what he thought about my getting tested for BRCA1 and 2, mutated genes that are a specialty of Ashkenazi Jews. We produce them in disproportionate numbers, along with violinists, comedians, doctors and Nobel Prize winners. (A bit of Jewish jingoism here.) My surgeon hadn't thought I needed testing but when I asked the oncologist last time I saw him, he said I could get tested, since I have an aunt and cousin who had breast cancer. The mutation can indicate that you're more at risk for ovarian cancer than otherwise. The gyne asked if I would have my second ovary taken out the test was positive, and I said yes. Then he said to go ahead. He also gave me a referral for another ultrasound to see if my fibroids were growing. I didn't have the guts to say, Are you sorry you missed the lump? But I did make reference to the lump he had felt, and later he said he was sorry I had cancer. He asked me if I was doing anything fun this weekend. I said I was moderating a panel at the Printers Row Book Fair. I guess that didn't sound fun enough because he asked again and I said we might go on a nude bike ride. If L wanted to. I'd seen it in the paper that morning: World Naked Bike Ride Chicago. Body painting at 6, riding naked or in costume at 9, I liked the idea of going topless. It seemed like a good way to make my former breast public. It's not like I'm exactly proud that I'm missing a breast. But I don't want to be ashamed of it.

My next appointment was with the dentist. I have two sensitive teeth, one of which had started aching. He told me that part of the filling is gone, and that, unsurprisingly, that I might need a root canal. He said to check with the oncologist about taking antibiotics and then to come in Monday and he'd take out the old filling and either refill the cavity or send me down to the endodontist. The story with the other tooth is that the pulp is very close to the filling. He told me that the pulp can grow and move around. Also, fillings can settle. But the thing is, I think that teeth are like hair and nails, but they're not. They're living, feeling parts of us. He gave me a brochure about chemo and teeth. Chemo can dry out your mouth and make it more prone to bacterial growth. He took a look and pronounced my saliva production satisfactory.

Later in the day I thought, Why on earth did I tell my gyne I was going bike-riding nude, even though it was a real possibility? He'll think I'm weird. L said, Everyone who knows you thinks you're weird.

Then came the writer part. At the book fair I went to the authors' (and moderators') check-in room and saw this shortish woman with thick straight gray hair, who looked sort of like a younger Nicole Hollander. It turned out she was Amy Hempel, who is a wonderful, voice-driven short-story writer. She was very easy to talk to. She is the stuff of legend, of the 1980s boom of short-story collections. Many fiction writers with unpublished collections are waiting for the short story to come back in popularity. It's about time now. Every time someone came up to her and learned who she was, they said, I teach your stories. I do too. We agreed that writing novels seems impossible, hard to hold all that information in your head. At her panel she read a short story. It was one sentence long.

At the fair I bought two books from Sarabande Books, a literary press in Louisville. I'd met the Saraband publicist at a dinner in her honor at B & S's house Friday night. Both books are essay collections, both by poets. Today I read the first, A Family of Strangers, by Deborah Tall, finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. It's odd and deceptively simple. Or maybe not deceptively. There's lots of white space. Each segment is about a page long and is made of very short paragraphs. It's about her quest for missing family. Her father was an orphan. The white space makes the book very quiet, gives it a hush. Some of the sentences are poetic and dense and some are not. In a way I think she's "cheating": by surrounding the lines with white space, she's making the reader pay attention to them, and she's declaring them to be poetic. As I said, most of them are. But some are not. I couldn't help wondering if I could "get away" with the same thing: Cut up my essays into snippets and float them in space. My friend P had told me about the book, and that Tall was Jewish. (Tall? What was it before? Talesnick. Maker of tallises.) I'd heard of Tall, who was the editor of the Seneca Review, home of the lyric essay. P also told me that Tall had recently died of breast cancer. She had inflammatory breast cancer, which is rare and aggressive. It's what Molly Ivins died of. In the last piece of the book Tall talks about her diagnosis: "In my grief, I dream most that my children may inherit a legacy of absence and yearning.

"Yet they will have this trail of crumbs I've scattered, this effort to make of us a story."

That was very sad to read. She died at 55.

Bourgeois Pig (R)

Yesterday I was at the Bourgeois Pig(R) Cafe, where we were married, and I overheard two girls reading from Chicago guidebooks, on and on about Al Capone and other gangsters. The Pig is around the corner from the Biograph Theater, where John Dillinger was gunned down by the FBI in 1934. Then the girls started conversing, and so softly I couldn't tell if it was English. Then I was pretty sure it was Dutch, and I wanted to ask them but I didn't and then they left. I wanted to be a Friendly American in an Old Building in a New City. Next two graduating music majors sat at the table. One was studying German and had a slight accent I couldn't place. They were talking about the future: I'm going to wash windows at stoplights like gypsies do, she said. The guy said: If music doesn't work out I'm going to work in the airline industry. He loves to fly. It's been a long time since I've met (OK, we didn't exactly meet) someone who loves to fly. The girl said it was dangerous but he said it wasn't, and besides, he could get a job on the ground.

He asked the girl when she had come to the US and she said 12 years ago, when she was 13. I imagined she was from Bosnia, then. But I don't know.

The attraction of eavesdropping--what is private becomes public. The image of a person lying across the eaves to hear what's being said on the street below, or inside. Eavesdropping is the closest I get to reading minds. I'm one of those people who has the desire to be like Sherlock Holmes or Henry Higgins (both fictional characters, of course), to be able to discern so much about a person from voice and subtle characteristics that only you can pick up.

At another table a slight kid was talking to a more substantial and older man, probably a professor, about resurrection and such. I don't believe in hell, the kid said. I think souls go off into the other world and see each other and say hi.

It reminded me of why I liked teaching gifted high school students at WRU in the summer. I remember one Saturday night as we were standing in line to get into a dance sponsored by the program, a kid said to me, I don't know if I really believe in God.

At a certain age, everything is important, everything is open. And then after some years have passed--saying certain things make you sound naive.


Our yoga class is on vacation this week because it's between terms. G came over Monday night to do yoga ad hoc, and to paint my head. She's been in the park district class for two years and I, about six--several times a week with the same instructor, the incomparable J, who's amazingly consistent with her language as she leads us through the poses. So you'd think G and I would have remembered a whole class to replicate. Well. We took turns leading and saying things like, Put your hands here. Go like this. Move over here. This way. It was quite humbling and I don't know how J manages to breathe, do the poses and guide us at the same time.

G freshened up my jagua juice designs. The juice is a gray-black ink I've been using instead of the henna. She also painted eyes in the back of my head, under the US out of Iraq. I wonder if this will give me 20/20 hindsight.

Later I talked on the phone to J, my actor friend in Madison, Wisconsin, who reported on her performance at a benefit to raise money for a Gilda's Club in town. She used me for source material, as well as the purveyor of my henna, head stencil, and eyebrow makeup: chemochicks.com. She had one of her personas tell the crowd that she had a friend who'd hennaed her head to say Obama in '08. She explained to me that Out of Iraq would be too political. You'd think that all of Madison would be against the war, but J knows her audience. It's a sign of progress that a liberal black man for president is considered non-controversial. But what does it say about the chances for this war to end?

J also told me that she met a woman who did Joan Rivers' makeup who reported that Rivers uses permanent marker for eyeliner. I can't imagine the fumes. Why doesn't she get the liner tattooed on her? J's mother just got tattooed eyebrows and loves them. I'm tempted to put marker on my head, but it doesn't seem healthy. And I can't imagine getting a real tattoo. All those needles!

I was standing in line at the little cafe up the street a while ago when one of the other denizens, a cop, asked me why my message didn't say, Support Your Local Police. I demurred: Too many words. He has thick gray hair with a receding hairline. He said that his scalp has a tattoo that says, US Marine Corps. He was young and drunk at the time. How odd to think that his history will be revealed, slowly, if he goes bald, his own personal archeology.

Hijo de Cronica

I went to the library tonight to look up the book on cronicas. I walked there and back--first time in a while I'd done my three miles. So now I know more about the Mexican cronica. It seems it's more a reportorial form, an urban sketch, a witness, than the personal cronicas of Clarice Lispector. I don't know enough to talk about how this reflects on the differences between Mexican and Brazilian culture and society. I read one essay that compares the Mexican essay with the Mexican cronica. Apparently the essay is more serious and expository and the cronica can be more playful and descriptive. One writer says his cronicas are ephemeral and another says his are poetic.

So why does this matter? Why do I want to know? Why am I reaching across the border to find a name for what I'm writing? It already has a name. It's right there in the URL: blogspot.com. But I want to know how to shape this thing, this chronicle thing, of mine. It's called Cancer Bitch, so it must be about cancer. I must be a bitch writing about cancer. Or bitching about cancer. Or being bitchy about it. But I know I'm not bitchy all the time here. Though I know I'm doing more than kvetching here. (Which reminds me of a book review I read in Bookforum by Rachel Shteir in which she coins the word kvetchungsroman--a variation of Bildungsroman, or novel of growing up.)

This self-self-self gazing has come upon me because I sent out queries to about a dozen agents about making this into a book, and most of them wrote back to say that there are a lot of cancer memoirs out there now, they're a hard sell. One wrote to ask for the first 30 pages, so I'm revising them. She also wrote: "As you know we represent the late Miriam Engelberg which is why we are uncertain about trying to sell another cancer memoir." I didn't know that. I should have known that. Engelberg wrote my favorite cancer book, the graphic memoir, Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person. I wanted to write back to ask if the agent was uncertain because she doesn't want another author to die on her, or if she's uncertain because that book didn't do well. It's black and white, much more crudely drawn than the graphic memoir Cancer Vixen, but it's funnier and depicts the life of a more normal person. Engelberg lived in San Francisco and worked for a non-profit. Cancer Vixen's author is a glamorous cartoonist who sells to the New Yorker and is married to the owner of a very "in" restaurant in Manhattan. Fashion models throw themselves at her husband. She requested light chemo so that she wouldn't lose her hair. She wears high-heeled designer shoes. So does her oncologist.

So I am asking myself what is this blog/book I'm writing? Is it the Jew in Chemolandia? Should it be the Jew in Chemolandia? What market niche can I curl my one-breasted self into? All my serious writing life, I've been told my work is marginal, not mainstream, and now I'm being told it's too mainstream. Well, I can't help it that breast cancer's an epidemic.

Which brings us to the thinking about cronicas. If I'm writing cronicas here, then what I'm writing has a form, it's valid. My cancer writing can be cronicas and I can digress and write about birds and books or the city, too. This logic makes sense to me. I don't know if it makes sense to anyone else. Or then again, I might just be lazy. Maybe I should limit this to cancer and I should do research (like I said I would) on breast cancer in Iraq and cancer in county hospital.
But I don't want to write about cancer all the time. L and I talked about this. I said, I should write Cancer Bitch Solves a Mystery. And he said, Yes, yes.


I have decided that these Cancer Bitch entries are cronicas. What is a cronica? "A literary genre peculiar to the Brazilian press," claims the back cover of Clarice Lispector's Selected Cronicas, which appeared originally in the Brazilian press. "In Chile," writes professor Joel Hancock in Hispania magazine, "the writing of cronicas has traditionally been an outlet for men of letters." In Mexico there are younger authors, the so-called 1968 generation, who wrote the "nuevo cronica," a politically-charged piece of writing that was a mix of high and low culture, Mexico's answer to the New Journalism of the U.S. There's the "cronica literaria," which is a book review. All of which doesn't say much but should give you the idea that it's a Latin American form, usually published in a newspaper by a person of letters. The pieces can be about literature, politics, personal life, current events, whatever strikes the writer as interesting. Eduardo Barrios, we're told by professor Hancock, wrote about "questions related to the economy; on methods of education; and on new techniques in agriculture... the importance of wearing berets, taking snuff, drinking wine, and the impact of Charlie Chaplin films." The equivalent in the US might be a newspaper column, but generally our columnists are not belles lettrists--belles lettres being another foreign designation for something we sorta kinda have/don't have in our popular culture. Then there's the European feuilleton, which was similar or the same--literary writing that appeared in a newspaper. Feature writing, you could say. Commentary. Drama reviews. But again, written by a person of letters who was known for his or her erudition and books. The presence of books is the key. In the US journalists might go on to write books, but they usually don't go back and forth between books and newspapers. Norman Mailer doesn't have a steady gig on the op-ed pages of the New York Times. Thomas Friedman, who does, writes books, but not Literature. And everyone loves Anna Quindlen but me so I won't even mention her.

However, what Kurt Vonnegut was writing in In These Times could be called cronicas. You could say that Nora Ephron and Jane Smiley write cronicas for the Huffington Post. But blogs are another animal, by their very nature, referring to other points on the internet. And I think that part of the definition of cronica is context: a literary piece within mass media. What is the context for blogs? They exist within the entire internet stratosphere.

Susan Sontag's infamous piece on 9/11 in The New Yorker was a cronica. Are they always short? Short but not ephemeral? That's what I seem to be saying. Is the cronica literary journalism? Another word for essay? If so, why does the bilingual MFA program at UT-El Paso ask for an "essay" as a nonfiction sample in English, and "cronica o ensayo" in Spanish?

Mas preguntas: What happens to the cronica when daily newspapers and daily newspaper subscribers are dying? Are newspapers dying in Latin America as they are here or are they blossoming with new democracies? I am going to look up a collection of essays, The Contemporary Mexican Chronicle: Theoretical Perspectives on the Liminal Genre, and see what I find out.

Now I've gotten myself in a tight corner here because I said at the outset that I'm a writer of cronicas, thus puffing myself up into some kind of artiste. Well, you be the judge of that. I would like to call all this the Cancer Bitch Cronicas, but of course that would make me sound like I'm trying to pass myself off as a Latina as well. My first-cousin-once-removed, the family genealogist, maintained for a time that we were Sephardic Jews, originating from pre-Inquisition Spain. This may be the case, but she hasn't pushed this argument for a number of years. I claim this heritage during Passover, because then it means I can eat by the looser Sephardi rules and have corn, beans and rice. But I'm clearly a daughter of Osteuropa, with grandparents and great-grandparents from Slutsk, Kishinev, Kovno and other consonant-studded towns. I like the sound of cronica because it sounds like "chronic," and that's what a lot of this material is about. Chronic anxiety. I hope I have one-time-only cancer, and not chronic cancer, because that would mean it had settled in my bones and blood, and that the clock was ticking, ticking for me. Cancer isn't universally chronic, like asthma and allergy, though a woman known as Chronic Babe has recently decided to include cancer information in her blog. Because once you have cancer, you chronically fear you still have cancer, or that the cancer's come back.

Chronic, from the French chronique, from Latin chronicus, from Greek khronikos, of time, from khronos, time. Which chains us all.

Lispector died of cancer.


Last week after chemo I saw a baby bird,
almost naked, curled up, on the sidewalk. L
and his friend R was with us. L said the kindest thing
would be to kill it, but none of us could bring
ourselves to stomp it to death. We hoped that the
mother would somehow bring it food and save its life.

I was talking to S the other day who told me there are
baby grackles in his attic. The mother seems to feed
them through slats, though she might also be able to
slide herself into the nest through the slats. They
are noisy but he's putting up with it and hopes soon
they will fly from the nest, as will his son, who is
looking for a job and an apartment.

Years ago I first saw the margins from sheet-fed
printouts used in a bird's nest. Last week I saw
plastic used in a nest. My friend J has seen donkey
and horse hair in nests. There is something so
comforting to me about pictures and photos of nests.
Because they are so familiar? Dry visible wombs?
Because bird-brains build them and humans can, sort
of, though we call it basket-weaving? There are
artists who make nests, as if to show: We can do it,
too. I bought a collection of prose poems a couple of
years ago based on the cover drawing, which was of a

When I was growing up, there was Spanish moss hanging
on many of the trees, and they looked like nests. In
Nicaragua I was translating an Adrienne Rich
poem with my students and we came upon the word
"moss," and I was thinking of Spanish moss, but
realized later it was the short, dense green moss that
grows on dirt.

In sixth grade one day our teacher had us bring in
fake birds, the kind you don't see much of today, but
did then. They were bird-size, made of something
heavier than papier-mache, and had a few feathers on
them. We attached them to the trees in the courtyard
of the school building. She also had us plant coins in
a pot to make a money tree. She believed in having us
believe in magic, but we felt too old for such things.
She also confiscated the ID bracelets of boys who had
given them to girls they were going steady with.

She had us chant: Pop, pop, pop goes the popcorn in
the pan. And, Edwin Markham's short poem, ending: "We
drew a circle that took him in."
Years later I went to see Visconti's Death in Venice
with J, whom
I was in love with. He was bored by it so we left.
Before leaving, I saw my sixth grade teacher. I think
that was the last time I saw her.

At the Alliance Francaise
last year I took a literature class, where we read Le
Jour des Fourmis (Empire of the Ants in English).
We discussed what animals build. The only animal that
cause damage, the teacher said, are the human and the
beaver. (Castor, in French.)

In junior high it seemed everyone had incubators for
baby chicks. Why did we have them? For Science. We
would open up an egg every day or so to see the
development. And then what? Did we throw out the
not-formed-yet baby bird? And then a decade or two
later we all had Salton yogurt makers that seemed
oddly the same; you put the stuff in the plastic holes
of a more-complicated-than-necessary contraption that
was plugged in to stay warm. Except that we took the
yogurt out all at the same time. And ate it.

This year we took our step-grandchild to the Museum of
Science and Industry.
My favorite part was the chick hatchery.
It seemed oddly natural, non-corporate, compared to the
glitz and bright lights and advertising of the other
displays. Though I think it must have been advertising
chickens or farming or eggs. Otherwise, why would it
have been there?


I got off the L yesterday afternoon after the Cubs game let out and the neighborhood was littered, as usual, with drunken and drunken-seeming louts. I was walking behind some on the sidewalk and then in front of them. I could hear them talking about the message on my head: Oh, I gotta put my glasses on to read that. Out? Pull out? That's what my girlfriend says, I can't pull out. We gotta stay in there. We gotta really go in there with soldiers and stay. We can't pull out. We gotta push.

Etc., etc.

When I walked in my gate and went up the porch steps I turned and waved.

Later I went with B to see a Brecht play up the street. Because he's in a scooter we were on the first row. The theater was small and almost packed, the second night, with at least one big critic there. It was loud and intense, much screaming. Cartoonish. Polemical. Typical Brecht. Some good acting. Finally it ended. We went out. In the little lobby the Big Critic was talking to some people. On the sidewalk there were about 15 people smoking, including at least one of the actors. There was a static-ness, not a rush to leave.

About two hours later, reading about the play on the Internet, I realized there were scenes we didn't see. We'd left at halftime. Both B and I see live theater at least every other month. Between us we must have seen thousands of performances. At this play, there hadn't been the bowing at the end. (I'm sure there's a word for that, which escapes me, just as I couldn't remember the word for airplane "gate" the other day and had to call L.) But with B's spaciness from his MS and with my chemo brain, we missed the obvious. We were louts.