Sunday, January 20, 2013

getting clean, getting dirty

1. waiting for the bus

I spent five hours cleaning the house yesterday. It was my first Real Cleaning in a month, and it felt heavenly. Don’t get me wrong: AK rose to the occasion while I was recuperating. She gave the floors her signature polish and kept the living room uncharacteristically tidy. It kept me feeling sane and loved.

But feeling sane and loved isn’t the same as feeling in control. My mom was a stress cleaner too. We’re both one trauma (and, okay, a lot of laziness) away from being characters on Obsessed, bathing in bleach or arranging the DVDs by color.

Who needs control when you can see your reflection in the sink?
In 2002, when I was living with B, a man in a jacket that said “Coroner” knocked on our door. The coroner never stops by to tell you that your party is too loud, you know?

Our good friend and upstairs neighbor, Tania, had been hit by a bus while crossing the street on her bike. (This always adds an extra layer of weirdness to certain cancer-related statements: “Sure, BRCA-2 means you’re at slightly increased risk for pancreatic cancer. But your chances of being hit by a bus are probably greater!” “Sure, you were diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, but any of us could get hit by a bus at anytime!” I always thought Tania, who had an odd sense of humor,* would have found it crazy/weird/hilarious that she was hit by a bus.)

B opened the door and talked to the coroner. I knew something bad had happened, but it didn’t seem right to run to the door like a looky-loo. So I returned to the kitchen and finished washing the dishes. At the time, my mom was being treated for ovarian cancer—I think it was her second bout. No one had said the word “terminal,” but it hung there as a possibility. I scrubbed pans and thought, I guess this is how I act when someone dies. It felt like a dress rehearsal for future, deeper grief. The thought repeated over the course of the next few days and weeks as I went for long runs until I started crying, as B and Tania’s boyfriend Norm and I went for stumbling, surreal walks through USC’s Victorian ghetto.

Norm called Tania’s parents from our living room. Afterward he told us that her mom had started out cheerful. Hi, Norm! I’m sure he wanted to preserve that moment; I’m sure he hated being the omniscient narrator in that phone call.

2. flexing scarred muscles

Last night my sister and I, needing a break from thoughts of mutant genes that give you no superpowers whatsoever, dressed up, went to dinner and saw Django Unchained. It’s one of those movies that doesn’t really take place in the real world, but Quentin Tarantino is (perversely? unflinchingly?) all about depicting the real-world horrors of slavery. So it was cathartic in a Oh, so you think YOU can’t control YOUR life, do you? kind of way.

And the Klan-struggling-with-the-eyeholes-on-their-hoods scene was hilarious, and Kerry Washington is amazing at acting with her face.

Her face is all, "Go fuck yourself, Stephen."
But I’d read this article first, so I watching with a critical eye. Executive summary: The movie’s main failing is that it creates a superhero in Django, discrediting the fact that African Americans resisted their enslavement on a mass level for centuries—that freedom wouldn’t have come without the millions of unsung heroes who ran away or poisoned the master’s food or married illegally or took a little longer filling bags of cotton than necessary. I would add that creating individual heroes and villains rather than unpacking complex social issues is the problem of movies in general.

The article also argues that Django is wrong to villainize Samuel L. Jackson’s Uncle Tom house slave character, because the whole thing about oppression is that it turns oppressed people against each other. I couldn’t agree more with this statement—I always worry that if I’d been born into different circumstances, I would be more of a Stephen, less of Django.

I’m not sure what the official definition of an Uncle Tom is, but I thought Stephen was more complicated than that—yes, he kissed slave-owner ass to preserve his own, but he also had subversive power, twisted as it was. I wanted the movie to do more with this. What if he’d eventually decided to use his impressive intuition to help Django instead of Leonard DiCaprio’s eyeliner-wearing sadist? What if Django had decided to spare Stephen because he didn’t want to stoop to his level by taking out his anger on his own people?

But there was no time for such things: There were people to be shot, body-squish sound effects to be blasted over the surround-sound.

Django transforms from cowed to empowered, but empowerment, his German bounty hunter mentor tells him, means getting his hands dirty. To watch Django slip off his slave rags and flex his scarred muscles is to watch him harden. I guess you can harden for good or for evil. I guess either way, you think, This is how I act when.  

*Favorite Tania story: Once she wanted to get my friend Sara a kitten. Her cover story: She desperately needed Sara to go to Home Depot with her. They drove to a residential section of the Valley, miles from where we all lived. Sara was like, “Where are we? There’s a Home Depot in Hollywood.” Tania took her to a lady’s house and was like, “Surprise, it’s a kitten!”


Jesi said...

my sister Bonnie said it best when anytime anyone says the whole bus bullsh*t, when you are told/diagnosed with something like BRCA-2 you are no longer walking along side the road you are in the middle of the effing high-traffic freeway. you might as well be a target!

and about Django Unchained, not really a happy-go-lucky film of course, the major problem I had with it was it was trying so hard to be pro-african-american, I guess, and yet the most horrific violence in the movie is done/against African-Americans. stupid whities got lucky and just got shot or blown up. while the African-Americans were torn apart by dogs and beaten to death. along with getting shot too. I had to close my eyes. it's bad enough to watch a movie about slavery and it's bad enough to watch a movie with lots of graphic violence, so trying to sit through a movie that combines both ... ugh.

Jesi said...

btw, not tarantinos best. i wish he would go back and make movies like Pulp Fiction and/or Resevoir Dogs. brilliant!

Cheryl said...

J: Yes and yes. And I could still get hit by a bus! It's not like cancer frees you up from all other risks.

I do feel like Tarantino tries to have his cake and eat it too with that movie, getting nearly porny with the violence but then condemning it. As historical revenge fantasies go, I liked Inglourious Bastereds better.

Jesi said...

have you heard of this:

my sis sent it to me. she got tired of all the pink ribbon crap.

Cheryl said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Jesi. Most of the photos I've seen of post-cancer boobs are headless pics on plastic surgeons' websites. They look so sad and clinical. There's sadness in these photos too, but it's human and beautiful.

I've always thought scars can be noble and even sexy. Since I'm going to have no less than eight scars on my upper body (some huge, some tiny, one from my hernia surgery), I guess I'm going to be REALLY noble and REALLY sexy. :-)

Jesi said...

damn straight! you go sexy woman!

i went to my first FORCE meeting last night. the woman who started it was there. and it was ok. i feel the group is better at helping ppl who have been diagnosed with breast cancer from a genetic mutation. know what i mean? if you, like me, have just been told you have a genetic mutation and no cancer (yet!), i feel as if i'm in limbo, or more justly put purgatory. there's a guillotine with my name on it, when it falls or if it falls nobody knows. no one can give you any advice; do i have my body parts chopped off, do i have kids, do i get my ovaries and breasts removed, just my ovaries, just my boobs, my left arm or my right arm, do i have kids, can i have kids, do i even want kids, and you might as well throw in there what's the meaning of life. hahahahaha!

the woman, sue friedman, who started FORCE, has a book and blog. it's prolly worth it to check it out (i haven't checked it out yet):
Confronting Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer: Identify Your Risk, Understand Your Options, Change Your Destiny

hang in there beautiful sexy woman! and let me know if you are ever visiting san diego. i will let you know if i get up to LA. need to visit the other beautiful sexy woman, jamie.

Jesi said...

and just what you need, more info:

another book:
The Breast Reconstruction Guidebook

AND, another blog, that my beautiful sexy sis suggested:

because you can never have too much info. ha!

Cheryl said...

My sister is getting involved with FORCE and facing the same questions you are. I guess you either get hard decisions/no chemo-and-radiation-and-cancer or easy decisions/chemo-and-radiation-and-cancer. Neither version is as nice as perfect genes. Or blissful ignorance.

Thanks for the resources!