Seven hours in the cinema

What question, Tony used to ask, is this the answer to?
I guess you're thinking, O, that's what they do on Jeopardy. But Tony was Anton Kaes, a Germanist at Berkeley, and this was a seminar for professors, and he would ask this about a film from the Weimar period, or advice in a German women's magazine, and we would turn our brains around to conjecture.
Today I went to the Siskel Film Center at 2:15 and left for home at nearly 11pm, with an hour break for dinner. I sat through the four parts of Hitler: A Film From Germany, and it appears that you can watch it for free here. Tony has written about the film, but I haven't read all of his interpretation and analysis. I don't know everything that I think about it. It will take time to absorb. But it seems that the question the movie is the answer to is: How do you explain what Hitler means to Germans in a way that doesn't use the expected tools: heavy voiceover, Treaty of Versailles, runaway inflation, salutes and soldiers, tanks, extermination camp images, etc.? How do you rouse the viewers out of the torpor of their expectation of the expected? By creating new images: by a young girl in a black cloak made shiny with film loops laid on it, and she is instructing an inert puppet or doll of King Ludwig. By elaborate, theatrical sets that look like they're made up of what was in the back rooms of an antique store. By repeating the speeches of Hitler and his henchmen, and repeating that we are Hitler and Hitler is Germany. By the image of a Hamlet holding a skull marked Jude. The film is a pastiche of radio broadcasts and surreal monologues by the Nazi puppets, by an actor speaking the memories of Hitler's valet as he walks in front of zoomed photos of Hitler's offices. His "project," as the academics would say, was to find Hitler's meaning in a soul-deep way, by using music and shadow and making stage-pictures to affix themselves in your brain. The movie came out in 1977 and I wonder if it would have changed me, how it would have changed me, if I'd seen it then. I spent my junior year abroad in Paris 1976-77, and I wonder if the film was showing in Paris while I was there, or if it was released later. (See video essay on the film here.) It was shown in the US, in Chicago. If I'd seen it new, would I have dismissed it, baffled and scornful, or would I have embraced it? Would it have broke open my deep melancholia, which was a result, first of all, of my temperament, and second, of my severe doubt that I would ever be able to have the life of a writer? Would it have wakened me to the possibilities of creating a personal interpretation of art and politics? Would it have shown me that I could do what I taught myself to do later--dig into the past and shape what I found there until it became one collage-story told in my voice? Would I have made a turn and sought out my destiny in political performance art? Would it, I'm wondering, have changed my life?

Using the cancer card

I was riding my bike to the Belmont L and had stopped at the light at Belmont and Sheffield. I felt someone bump against my basket. Some guy who was maybe in his 40s with blondish hair and a t-shirt wearing a belligerent attitude. You're in the crosswalk, he said, rather heatedly. I was. I hadn't meant to be. And I hadn't expected people to walk across the street without looking. He was irate. I said, Peace on earth. He was already at the curb. What did you say? What did you say? Peace on earth, I said. Peace on earth? He walked back toward me. I've got plenty of peace. You shouldn't be stopped between these lines. See this line? You're stupid. Stupid! I thought he was going to slug me. I thought I was going to slug him. He went back to the curb. Peace on earth, I said. The light changed.

I was upset. I was mad. I thought later I should have used the cancer card: You rammed into my bike and I have blood cancer! But that seemed a stretch. That night I went to my desk at Smart U, a communal desk that I'd been squatting in for about three years, and the drawers were locked. There was a vase of flowers (kind of droopy but still bright pink) and a welcome note to someone other than Cancer Bitch, who was now occupying this space. Where was all my stuff? My assiduously collected pile of scratch paper, a few books I'd meant to bring home, originals for course packets. Beyond that, I felt displaced. Because--I had been displaced. Without a note or warning.

Later I went upstairs to the office of Smart U's magazine and there was the box of my precious stuff: a cloth bag, the papers, the hot pot I never use. Some ginseng tea. At least They hadn't thrown everything away.

Today I was on my way to Smart U and thinking about what I would say to the Paper-and-Stuff-Removal Guy: I've been around here instead of the other office for the last few months because I'm getting treatment around the corner three times a week for symptoms caused by blood cancer. Of incurable blood cancer! And why didn't you email me about moving me stuff? I have incurable blood cancer! Give me back my drawer!

I was getting so worked up about the incurable part. I had never put it that way before. I do have incurable blood cancer. Polycythemia is chronic. There's no cure. Therefore, not curable. I kept getting sadder and sadder. People have leukemia and they get over it. They're cured. They're in remission. It's gone. PV is never gone. There's the joke (dead serious) about advice to med students: Become an allergist. They never get better and they never die. Except people with PV die, die early, though lately the word is that we could have a near-normal life span. Just gotta watch out for clots. That move up from your legs into your lung or brain and then--

out like a candle.

For info on ordering an actual cancer charge card (pictured at top), click here.

Mysterious Blue Lights

[Andrew Nelles photo}

Lately I noticed that some buildings in the Loop had blue lights on top and I couldn't figure out why. It couldn't be for Halloween, and I don't associate Columbus Day (Indigenous Peoples Day in Berkeley) with any color at all except maybe those of the Italian flag. Which aren't blue. After ROW practice on Monday, as we sat on the outside patio of the nearby Gem Bar (No Sam Adams, no Goose Island, we're not the North Side--said nicely) someone mentioned that the blue lights were actually were teal, for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which is September. Then today's Trib had a piece on it. There's a fundraiser Friday night. Some of our rowers have ovarian, uterine and other cancers. Some have what's called "mets," which means their cancer has metastasized. And some still row. And some don't.

For those who need nipples...

[reconstructed breasts, no nipples yet, photo from]

Serena Lander reports that she will be back in Chicago Oct. 15 to work on tattooing nipples for women who have had breast reconstruction. She's also available for consultation.

Christopher Hitchens, still God-free

[Christopher Hitchens, AP photo]
I'm dying, and so are you, Hitchens told his audience in Alabama. His esophageal cancer has metastasized, but still an atheist, and doesn't mind if people pray for him to get better. If it makes them feel better, it's fine with him. Read more here.

I would say just about the same things, except no one's asking me. I am sorry that he has cancer.

apres Yom Kippur

So it is the next day, four hours after the nine-year-old at our break-fast blew the shofar to signal the end of the fast. I suppose we are all written in the book of life, since we (me, L, the people who were at the break-fast) haven't keeled over yet. How comforting it must be to really believe that whew, I get to live for sure for another year. No hits by lightning, no car crashes, no flower pots falling from window sills. (The college friend of my high school friend P lost a sister to a falling flower pot. A terrible and ridiculous way to die.) Who by fire... Etc. etc. And after you clean up after a party, it's like the end of The Cat in the Hat. There was once chaos and now it's all tidied up. That in itself is a miracle. All of us here in this room are going to die, said E, who I just met. I told her I didn't think about the people who used to live here. I don't think about their ghosts or what they went through in this house. Why not? Because I can't begin to imagine them. I don't even know their names. I would need something to go on.

The services I went to for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are informal, where you can wear whatever you want, and there were all kinds of combinations of white and white, because that's the color you're supposed to wear for the holidays. Last night I wondered hwo I would have reacted if there had been services like this when I was growing up. Would I have embraced the synagogue because everything was fun? Because I liked to dance and sing and play drums? Probably. But there was nothing like this in Houston. I learned Friday night that Yom Kippur is one fo the two most joyous days of the year. It is not supposed to be somber. It was a holiday of drifting. You'd drift in and out of the sanctuary, the room behind the sanctuary which was no longer separated by an accordian partition, glide into the bathroom, go back out to sit in chairs in the hallway to complain about being hungry, slip back into the sanctuary to whisper during the service. The place was too damned big to feel like your voice mattered during the songs. So now I go to the small place, and what if over time it becomes large, so large that it starts to feel institutional and impersonal? Then someone will branch off and start a new group and it will grow and so on and so forth.

Plant a garlic clove, said the rabbi Friday night. Plant a lot of them and in the spring you'll have garlic. Plant your soul and you will reap later. Or something along those lines.

[garlic plant]

Woman with stage 4 breast cancer says landlord unfair

[Mary Ellen Hintz, photo by Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune]

The Trib has shrunk physically--the pages became narrower some years ago--and it's much less hefty--what's so ingloriously called the news hole has shrunk down down down--but it is delivering cancer news two days in a row. Front page: A woman with stage 4 breast cancer was told she couldn't sign her lease herself. She had to have a co-signer or give her son power of attorney and let him do it. Or she could rent month to month. Her landlord said that there were staff reports she wasn't lucid, and he had a copy of a note from her doctor to her attorney saying she couldn't drive to contest a DUI charge because she's on narcotics. The DUI, she says, came from driving while using sleeping pills. Her landlord concluded that she couldn't understand the terms of the lease because of her medications.

The woman also admits that she pays the rent on the third week of the month, as per an agreement; two summer rent checks bounced but she now pays by mail order. Oh yeah, she also complained when her air conditioning broke down during the 90-plus degree days we had here.

The landlord raised her rent by more than $62.

What would you say? Was the landlord within his rights? Was he discriminating against her because she was obviously undergoing chemo and in late-stage cancer? Was he scared of having a cancer patient on his property? Was he, deep down, beyond monetary concerns, terrified she would die in her apartment? And if you're afraid, can you act accordingly? What were her legal rights?

The Tribune got the woman and landlord together and they agreed to a one-year lease with a rent hike of $62, which was smaller than his earlier stated hike. We're not told how much smaller. She signed in the presence of a witness who said she was of sound mind.

In this case, the newspaper came to the rescue. For everyone else, there's a national organization that provides legal help for people with cancer who have problems with insurance, jobs and housing. It's the Cancer Legal Resource Center, 866-THE-CIRC or 866-843-2572.

In today's Trib

1. Mammograms may not reveal tumors in women under 50 because the tumors and dense breast tissue show up as the same color. Read Trib story here. Here is the study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

2. A federal appeals court in St. Louis reinstated a lawsuit that accuses Costco, Safeway, Target, WalMart, WildOats and Aurora of claiming their milk was organic when it was not. For those of us who had estrogen-positive tumors, this matters, because bovine growth hormone can possibly feed new tumors. However, there's no test to determine if milk contains BGH. So you can put your trust in a label that declares there's no BGH. Or you can opt for organic milk, which means the cows have been grazing naturally and haven't had antibiotics (unless they were sick) or hormones. More here.

3. Hospice patients have a better quality of life than those who die at the hospital. That ain't news. What's somewhat interesting is that caregivers of patients who die in an ICU are at heightened risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. More here, where there's a link to the Dana-Farber study.

What is "the suburbs"?

What is Detroit? sparked some comment on Facebook. Where did my vision of Detroit come from? Why do I get to have it and spread it?
The question, Whose Detroit is it? is also asking, Who gets to define anything? Who's in control of our myth-making?
To paraphrase A. J. Liebling, freedom of the press belongs to anyone who has a blogging account. In the last century, he couldn't imagine the multiplicity of voices. And if everybody is somebody, then nobody is anybody.
Which sort of brings us to one of the best short stories about the suburbs, which is really about class and generation. It's The Man Who Loved Levittown, the title story in W. D. Weatherall's collection. The narrator is reasonable, irrational, unreflective, angry and compelling, and you can understand why he does what he does.
O, and if you're looking for cancer? Scroll a little bit down.

Lke me, like me, like me

O what is wrong with me? I heard that a longtime friend's daughter had moved to town and I want to invite her to come over to break the Yom Kippur fast and I keep thinking how I have to prove to her that we are cool, we are interesting, we are people worth knowing, even though we are her parents' ages. Even though kids today supposedly like to hang out with their Baby Boomer parents. I try to think about how I would have responded to such an invitation from an *old old stranger* when I was 24 or 25. I did have such an invitation when I was 29, from an old old family friend who was only about five years older, and she did seem older, more settled, with husband and house and kids and friends with same, though she was so very sweet and fun and irreverent. Such prejudices we have. Or maybe it's only me with such prejudices. And again I think of my cousin B, who died at 97, and gave me the pick of her jewelry (the only older relative with pierced ears!) and books, and who would go for walks with her neighbor who was in her 20s and from the Philippines, and would visit back and forth with her nieces and nephews. My 10-year-old step-step grandchild called on Sunday and said Happy Birthday, then, I mean Happy Grandparents' Day, and neither L nor I had had any idea that it was any such day. O, I say to myself, she just likes using her new cell phone.

What is Detroit?

[Fisher Body Plant No. 21, Detroit, Sean Hemmerle, Time]

Yesterday's Trib had an op-ed by a mayoral wannabe from 1971. He began: Chicago is on the brink of becoming another Detroit. When I think of Detroit, I think of a dead, burnt city, burned by the riots so many years ago, dead from the near-end of car-manufacturing, and abandoned by whites of all classes and the black middle-class. Detroit is a spectre. Detroit is where you would not go for vacation. Detroit is where the empty lots are becoming gardens, though people are wary about poisons the factories might have leached into the ground. Mayor Daley I saved Chicago for the middle class, even though he rammed a highway through an Italian neighborhood and created a university, and did very little to spread the wealth or city services to people of color, unless they were part of the patronage system. His son made Chicago a jewel, a capital city on the New York and European model: shining for the tourists, shifting the underclass further and further away from the main drags. This mayor Daley pushed gun control, but he was not able to control gang violence. In the meantime, like other Rustbelt cities, Chicago lost manufacturing; thus the rise of the residential loft, where residents now sit on their living room sofas in buildings that once were home to factories and warehouses. The U.S. is a service-sector economy, much of its manufacturing (and customer service, as anyone who's called a computer helpline or finds out) sent overseas, where poor people are grateful to work for less money, under worse conditions, and seldom is heard the word union.

All this is evident. To me, to many people. Apparently not to Richard E. Friedman, who wrote the op-ed, and ran as a Republican against Mayor Daley II in 1971, and has never ceased licking his wounds.

Is this racial politics? I asked L when I read the piece. Is he trying to warn the aging white readers of the Tribune that they need to support a Republican or else our fair city will turn into a Detroit--an impoverished city, a city that does not work, a black city?

Mebbe, said L, who hadn't gone beyond the first sentence of the piece because, he said, someone had taken the section for herself.

Steppenwolf Theatre has been thinking about Detroit, and apparently to Steppenwolf, Detroit means an inner-ring suburb of any medium-sized city, a suburb created by white flight (though that's not mentioned), where houses are starting to fall apart, along with the American Dream. I saw the very first preview of the premiere of the show Detroit, written by Lisa D'Amour. Steppenwolf commissioned the play. In the program, which I've uncharacteristically already recycled, we're told that the highways mentioned are just outside Detroit, but the back yards we see meticulously recreated, the white suburban angst we see so absolutely well-performed, could really be anywhere.

If so, then why call it Detroit? I want to condemn the playwright and Steppenwolf for making Detroit a metaphor because it is a not a metaphor. It is a place of suffering and hope and chronic unemployment. It is a black city. It is not a white suburb. Am I being unfair to the playwright and the theater, because my Detroit is not their Detroit?

[Laurie Metcalf in Steppenwolf's Detroit, where everything is personal, even fire-setting]

And there are other Detroits:

[The Heidelberg Project, using art to revitalize the city]


I was in the elevator at the Fancy Hospital Medical Building after my phototherapy session, which has really helped alleviate the itching/burning of my skin caused by my polycythemia vera. A guy, sort of pale, dark hair I think pulled back, maybe 30s, hunched over a little, black t-shirt, was talking to a woman about how he had to quit skating because of blood clots. He got off at the second floor. He didn't look tough enough and scarred enough for hockey. I asked her if he had polycythemia vera, and she said it sounded like that, but not quite, and I guessed, Essential thrombocythemia? and she said yes, that he'd had his spleen removed a few months ago, and that he had been a professional skateboarder. My hematologist pats down my spleen at every office visit, because it can become enlarged, but it's always OK. I had essential thrombocythemia first, and it does often lead to PV. ET didn't seem like anything. I just had too many platelets, and eventually got some prophylactic phlebotomies for it (or was it for PV only? I don't remember), and my skin itched after taking a shower. It seemed like a sleeper disease, a disease that isn't there. I know a kid (30s) who has it who doesn't want anyone to know and I was was astounded to learn that he wanted to keep it quiet. I know that when I'm on a plane I'm supposed to do isometrics so the blood won't pool into clots, and the hematologist and her assistant have schooled me in the symptoms of a blood clot (a piece of pain starting in the legs; but the sudden appearance of two identical bumps on each ankle, for example, has nothing to do with blood clots; that's something I knew but it panicked me anyway the day that they appeared and I called the physician's assistant who of course said it must be mosquito bites, but they weren't bites, I knew that), but I think I'm self-aggrandizing when I call my disorder cancer, even though it is cancer. To get info on it from the government you go to the National Cancer Institute, but the Mayo brothers think of it more of a disorder than a cancer.

Along the same train of thought though it seems not to be: I had to start up with the periodontists again because I had a tooth implant that failed. It was loose in my mouth. It's a father-son business, and the son had done the work. When I went back I asked to confer with the father to see if he could supply a reason for the implant failure. He looked at my chart and asked me if I still had cancer, and I said, Not breast cancer, but I have blood cancer and take oral chemo. He asked what I had and then told me that it wasn't cancer. I felt devalued, as if he were saying that I was faking it. I was emailing someone who also has it and was telling her that I want it to be considered cancer, and she asked me why it mattered. I don't know exactly. It has something to do with the shiny burden that cancer is. Cancer is deadly, cancer is scary, cancer is what everything can give you, cancer is the end of times, it's dramatic, and if you have cancer then you are special. I have beat/beat/beat/drumroll, c-a-n-c-e-r. Conversation stopping, jaw-dropping, cabosh-putting-on, oh-my-god-how-wonderful-you-are-to-go-on (I can't go on, I must go on, I go on) cancer. The domestic and industrial beast. The dragon. The disease that makes you a martyr.

To continue with the digression on the pere-iodontist, or periodondist pere: He looked at my list of medicines and said, O of course your chemo lowered your resistance and you had bacteria so that's why the implant failed. Couldn't be because of some failure by periodondist fils. I happened to go to the hematologist a few days later, who showed me my white cell and neutrafill counts, which were clearly inside of normal, because it's chemo but not that kind of chemo, so where's the excuse now, pere doctor?

I was thinking of turning this blog into the laments of the continuous patient, but I don't want to be that person, it's just that I'm going to the doctor or medical building all the time, for medical and quasi-medical appointments, that I'm presenting my case to alleged healers and those who administer healing, so it does seem to be a focus but it can't be the main focus, unless it's interesting enough to write another book about. Which it doesn't seem to be.