What is Reasonable?

I was a resident at Artists Colony X in 1987, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2004. One time I was the judge for nonfiction applications. I used to be friendly with the people in charge, but people quit and retire, and move, and I barely know the director now. Anyway, I was offered a residency last year for 2-4 weeks in summer 2007. I decided to postpone it because I wasn't sure how chemo would affect me. Today I talked to the person in charge of residencies and he said he would get back to me in mid-April, after the current applications were processed. The people who applied for summer/fall 2008 would have first priority, then I would get what was left, if anything. I said OK, then about an hour later I became somewhat angry. I couldn't help it that I had to go through chemo. Shouldn't priority be given to the people accepted the year before who had cancer?

A lot of us in Chicago feel too proprietary about this artists colony, because it's so close and so familiar, and we used to be able to stay there almost whenever we wanted. It's tightened up now. Like college, it's harder to get into.

I feel attached to X because I've been there so many times. And taught writing workshops there for the public. Should I make way for people who haven't been there before?

I have asthma and need to have air conditioning or else I wheeze a lot and have to take prednisone. The rooms at X all have a/c units or central air. I've inquired around and I don't know of other artists colonies that have a/c. I turned down a residency a few years ago in Montauk, NY, after it became clear that the housing was ramshackle and moldy and the electricity couldn't support an a/c unit.

I want to be treated special. Is that asking too much?

Cancer Bitch on Radio, Sans Cancer

I have a short essay, Marching, that will be broadcast Monday morning on the 848 show on Chicago Public Radio. No mention of cancer. No mention of bitch. But there are references to the "enema man."

Krakow Ghetto--Terrorists

Today's Tribune had a story about the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto. Of course Schindler was brought into it, and why not? He did save Jews; just because something was in a movie doesn't mean it isn't true. After the ghetto was emptied out, some of the Jewish partisans were able to escape into the Wisnicz Forest, and they continued fighting until the autumn of 1943.

The Tribune (via wire service) does not tell us about the partisans because Spielberg did not make a movie about them. And they did not have the power of a German industrialist to save lives by providing work that helped the Nazi war effort. The Jewish fighters were, in effect, terrorists. In Poland's Ghettos At War, a book that's sympathetic to the Jewish Underground fighters, author Alfred Katz writes of the "campaign of terror" in 1942 and 1943 in Krakow, in which fighters killed Gestapo agents, and "liquidat[ed several German employees." Later they attacked a railroad station, killing dozens of Germans. In reprisal, the Germans killed 22 Jews.

I say it this way even though if I hope I would have had the courage to fight with the Jewish Underground. In the early 1980s I was a pacifist but I changed my mind (starting from the moment I read about Jewish self-defense against pogroms). Everyone who fights has a rationale. And everyone who kills can be judged. Are all murders equal? No. I'm sure the Nazis would have claimed self-defense, against the Jewish-Bolshevik scourge about to take over the world.

One of the people killed in Krakow was Mordechai Gebirtig, a famous poet and songwriter, was murdered in Krakow in 1942. His most famous song is Es Brent, It's burning, written in 1938 about a pogrom in Przytk, Poland. The song became like an anthem for the Jewish Underground.

The Living Breast

Today I heard of this for the first time: The Living Breast. There's a local artist who paints breasts. Doesn't paint pictures of breasts. Paints pictures on breasts. And on chests where breasts used to be. Then a photographer snaps them and they turn them into greeting cards. Money going, naturally, for breast cancer research, in fact, a "significant percentage of your purchase is donated to breast cancer research and advocacy." I don't know what that means.

The painted breasts and chests are quite beautiful, with bright swirls and stripes and flowers and a branch. It's a shame that the models can't show themselves off in public. Covering yourself with paint isn't the same as wearing clothes.

I don't know how I feel about these images. Painting over the scarred skin makes it beautiful. Painting over the unblemished breast makes it beautiful, too. What is it when the paint wears off? I suppose the artist is showing the women, and the public, that post-surgery bodies can be beautiful. Do I think my own puckered scars are beautiful? No. But they don't bother me. I'm generally skeptical about projects like this. I'm not sure why. I felt the skepticism in me as soon as I opened the web page. Because it's an idea that can't be good because I didn't think of it first? Because I don't know where the artist stands on cure vs. prevention? Because the bodies are merely canvases? I don't know.

The Bus Driver

The 151 bus stopped between stops, in an intersection, for no reason, I thought. Then the doors opened and the driver yelled out, What kind of a dog is that? to a woman who was walking a tall stripey dog with a square face. A mix, she said, rottweiler and pit bull. He repeated it and closed the doors and went on his way south.

Ferenc Molnar Rides Again

Today S and I went to see a matinee of Carousel, based on the play Liliom by Ferenc Molnar, whom I mentioned in a blog post last year. It was corny but we both cried at the end, which is all that matters. The American version pretty much follows the Hungarian story, except the romance is between a carousel barker and a mill girl in Maine instead of a carousel barker and a maid in Budapest. And in the end, the American Billy Bigelow, after his death, succeeds in his mission on earth, whereas Liliom doesn't and ends up in hell. And in the Hungarian version, the man who Liliom and his friend plan to rob is Jewish instead of a rich mill owner. So why is that? Why would Molnar nee Neumann, endorse the stereotype of the Jew as the guy with the money? You could call Molnar a self-hating Jew, but that's too easy. Yes, he changed his name from Neumann when he became a journalist because he wanted to be known as a Hungarian writer. That makes sense to me. The father of the great Hungarian Jewish martyr Hannah Senesch or Senesh (in Hungarian, Senesz) had changed his name from something that was more Jewish-sounding, I'm pretty sure. It was not possible to be both Jewish and Hungarian. I mean Hungarian-Hungarian. Her father was called Bela Senesz, and it is hard to find a name more Hungarian-sounding. (I'm Googling for his name, and I find my own essay about Hannah and Monica Lewinsky. It's like seeing yourself in a mirror that you thought was a window.) I find from reading myself that the family's last name had been Schlesinger.

In Liliom, the Jew who has the money is a cashier ("a strong, robust, red-bearded Jew about 40 years of age") traveling on a Saturday (handling money on Shabbos, forbidden--this is my comment, and is not in the play) to deliver the payroll to a leather factory. When Liliom says he's afraid to kill the man because his ghost will come after him, his partner in crime tells him, "A Jew's ghost don't come back." Later while they're waiting for the cashier's train to come in they talk about telephone wires and Liliom says Jews talk through them. As in Carousel, the intended victim happens to have packed a pistol for the first time, and is able to threaten the would-be robbers. In both, also, the duo has attacked too late; the money has already been taken to the factory/the ship's captain. In both, the friend runs off and Liliom/Billy is surrounded by police. He stabs himself with his own knife. In Liliom, Linzer the red-haired Jew calls the hospital. In Carousel, no one calls for medical help. As he's dying, Billy tells Julie to tell their unborn baby that he went to San Francisco. In Liliom, it's America.

Perhaps Molnar made the would-be victim Jewish because he was reflecting society--Jews often were agents, handling money for factory owners. Maybe he thought he was doing his fellow Jews a favor by showing a sturdy Jew instead of a bookish, spindly stereotype. Perhaps he wanted the audience to sympathize with the Jew who is attacked by bad guys. That seems doubtful. In Carousel, we accept it as a fact that in a mill town, the mill owner is rich. That's the guy with the money. (See Willie Sutton on robbing banks.) In any case, I protest. The Jews had enough trouble without one of their own reinforcing the stereotype that Jews are associated with money handling. So in case anyone wanted to know, Carousel is good for the Jews, because they're not in it.

It's Official

University of Iowa Press will publish Cancer Bitch next year. Subtitle to come.

Hoisting a Pint

or, the Annals of Polycythemia Vera (in Vera Veritas)

Two weeks ago I went to LifeSource and got a pint of blood removed. I go again on Tuesday. I asked the phlebotomist why my blood couldn't be donated and she said because it won't be tested. Which of course begs the question.... Why not test it?

I think the blood-letting has helped. I may be getting less red in the face and sweating less upon exertion and upon hot-flashing.

The other morning I woke up and thought I heard that British veterans with my disease were suing the govenrment. I figured it had to be part of my dreamworld, but it was real. Apparently hundreds of British and New Zealand servicemen witnessed nuclear tests in the South Pacific in the 1950s, and claim that the radiation exposure caused them to develop polycythemia and other illnesses. Some suffered immediate effects from the radiation: "Several chaps lost teeth, and others lost their hair," according to a serviceman who was 18 at the time and a radio operator aboard a HMS. "So a lot of wives and sweethearts waited in Devonport to welcome back bald fiances and bald boyfriends with a few teeth missing," Others developed PV later or cancers. Some 700 of them have banded together to sue the British Dept. of Defence for compensation.

The former radio operator quoted above was diagnosed with polycythemia in 1974. The BBC refers to it as "a rare form of blood cancer" that his doctors have linked to his exposure to radiation. (For his sake and the sake of the lawsuit, the disease should be as dire as possible; it's sometimes considered pre-cancerous, as a small percentage of people with it develop leukemia, and it's sometimes considered cancer, but it's not really cancer-cancer.)

I felt like saying, "Aha," when I read about the British lawsuit, though I have never sailed the high seas for the United Kingdom. I'm of a mind to blame large institutions for bad things that happen to people. (See my book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Blame the Military-Industrial Complex. ;>))But I was never around a nuclear test. I had a lot of chest X-rays as a child because of my asthma and the two times I had pneumonia, but how could I ever prove a connection between the X-rays and the polycythemia? I'm not part of a group of sailors or soldiers or anything else that had repeated chest X-rays. I am a lone Cancer Bitch from the lone prairie. With extra-thick blood and a bad attitude.