Wednesday, February 27, 2013

dreaming off the grid

1. faith nice smart love

I hadn’t seen my mentee, Daniela, since June. On Sunday texted me: “headin to la tomorrow cuz I got court the next day I be so happy to see yuh and unfortunately Jasmine [her year-old daughter] won’t be able to go.” I met her at a Yogurtland in the shiny mixed-use complex near the Red Line station.

She was beautiful as always, cat eyes made cattier by Amy Winehouse eyeliner. Her hair was nearly black, like her clothes, but she could never really be goth. There would always be a part of her that seemed like she was dressed in bright pink. The stud above her upper lip sparkled.

I had told her—via text, our main method of communication between her visits from Palmdale—that I’d been diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer. That things were hard, but okay. That I’d had surgery and started chemo. Just the facts, ma’am.

I knew she knew what cancer was, and I knew she cared about me. But somehow I’d thought she didn’t really know I was sick. My drama happened offstage just like hers did—my miscarriage and periodic relationship troubles and cancer. Her job changes and fights with her mom and frequent moves. To each other, we could just be good listeners and good people.

But when she saw me, when I’d barely filled my self-serve yogurt cup, her eyes filled with tears. I’d seen her cry maybe twice before.

Yogurtlandia, a true dreamland.
She wiped her eyes with her hand. “I worry about you,” she said.

“I worry about me too,” I said. “But I’m going to be okay. They caught it early. I have to go through a bunch of stuff like surgery and chemo, and I have to lose my hair, and it sucks, but I’m going to be okay.”

I figured I had at least five years before the inevitable doom that I secretly worry awaits me. By then Daniela would be twenty-five, almost as old as I’d been when I lost my mom. She’d be able to handle herself; enough time would pass that she couldn’t accuse me of lying. I’d be okay for a while.

It was the first time I’d felt the need to be okay in this particular way. For my dad and sister and AK, I produced a self-interested sort of functionality. I understood that if I wanted them in my life, I needed to give them breaks from the pile of shards I was inside. I needed to earn their love. Then I could cash in my chips and fall apart later.

With Daniela, I understood that she loved me unconditionally. I suspected that my family did too, maybe even more so, but Daniela’s love felt pure. Which, in the strange math of the subconscious, made the need to stay strong more instinctual, less hard-won. I would be brave and tearless because she needed me to be—whether she actually needed me to be or not. I felt it like a blow—the paradox of parenthood.

She gave me a silver chain with a glass dolphin the size of my thumb. Later she texted: “The dolphin mean faith nice smart love and most of all it mean your soul.”

“It just ain’t fair,” she said when we were still at Yogurtland.

“I know. It’s not, but that’s life. You’ve had some unfair things happen to you too, and you just have to keep living anyway.”

Then I awkwardly slipped into my default mode, which was to ask her lots of simple questions about herself and give encouraging responses. When do you start your job training? What words is Jasmine saying now? Is your girlfriend working? Does she take good care of you—like, emotionally?

She was going to train to be a medical assistant, she said, even though she really wanted to work with women in prison or abused kids. Her girlfriend was working construction—she kept getting stopped by the cops for driving without a license. Her cars kept getting impounded, and she couldn’t afford to get them back. She kept buying new-used cheap ones. Only luck had kept her from getting deported.

Okay, so Daniela's girlfriend probably didn't buy her car directly from the Joads.
The old me knew, as Daniela did, that her girlfriend was asking for trouble. The new me, the one failed by the grid, admired her for living off of it. For buying cars the law said she had no right to, for co-parenting Jasmine, a baby the law said she had no right to; even when the law said Daniela’s baby-daddy—who’d never even tried to meet the kid—had a right. Because the grid wasn’t fair, and she couldn’t wait around for it to acknowledge her. She would drive full speed into the desert, fuck the consequences. Get fucked by the consequences.

Daniela brought her cousin and two friends along to Yogurtland to keep her out of trouble. She knew the temptations of the city—her old gangster friends and all the things they did. They went home at the stroke of curfew.

2. lost girls

She updated her Facebook page later that night, and I knew she was tucked in safely, but I had a dream that she was lost in the city. I found her in the wee hours, when the night was strange and bright with the first cast of dawn. She took me to her apartment, which we had to enter via an underground garage. A door opened onto a ladder against a brick wall, and we had to squeeze through a narrow hole to get inside. We emerged into a small bedroom painted bright green and yellow.

I knew that this was where undocumented, off-the-grid people lived, and that no one else knew she was here.

“Don’t ever start a fire or leave candles burning,” I told her in the dream, thinking of turn-of-the-century tenements, burnt to the ground because the people inside were expendable and uncounted.

These are the dreams you have when you spend your high school years obsessed with Jacob Riis.
And then I was magically in my therapist’s fictional other office, which was buzzing with people. It was hard to find a place to talk, but he showed me to another secret room, behind his alleged office. For some reason we were going to walk to our cars together afterward. For some reason we were going to hang out. I felt giddy and awkward. I reminded myself not to be a self-centered asshole—to show him that I knew other ways of being besides talking endlessly about my hurt feelings.

Together we went to Daniela’s apartment. There were other kids there now, a sort of ragtag, half-naked bunch of Lost Boys, although there were girls and Jasmine among them. Senor Freud made easy conversation with them. I was excited to make introductions: Therapist, meet my own patient—the girl who can only afford an untrained, off-the-grid therapist/sometime-SAT-tutor like me.

3. cut the dream sequence

I told my therapist about the dream the next day. I’d spent our previous session talking about a handful of seemingly connected dreams: hypercolor scenes of lost worlds populated by damaged freaks, me as witness, perpetrator and fellow freak. We’d talked about identifying as a threatened class, about finding the beautiful colors in hidden worlds even as you accepted your own victimization.

I love talking about dreams with Senor Freud because it feels like old-school therapy, especially since he has a German accent.

But then I interrupted myself. “Wait, is hearing about people’s dreams in therapy sessions like it is in fiction?” I asked. “Really boring?”

“Are dreams in fiction boring?” he asked.

“Well, I usually tell my students to take them out. Usually they’re really obvious in their symbolism, and they’re like these failed shortcuts, when it would be better to tell the story by telling the story.”

He considered this. “Maybe in fiction they’re not such a window into the subconscious,” he said. “In real life, they’re stories we tell ourselves, and we can learn about ourselves.”

For the first time I realized the real reason dreams rarely work in fiction. “Because fiction is a dream.”

So I rambled on about mine, and we unpacked it together. The part I got from the start: This was about a breaching of boundaries and a transferring of roles, parent to child. He elaborated: If therapy is the place you go to remake your relationship with your actual parents, then he was my dream-parent, being introduced to his dream-grandchild, Daniela. It was also about having trouble finding Daniela, and wanting more care from my dream-dad than I felt it was okay to ask for.

I had full therapy buy-in, I promised him—I understood both the possibilities and the boundaries. But, I wondered, if I spent half my week with my four oncologists and two therapists, was I turning into a kind of strange celebrity, someone whose only friends were paid to care for her?

“Some people compare therapy to prostitution,” he said, “but I don’t see it that way. Yes, you pay me so that I can be here and be emotionally engaged instead of worrying about how I’m going to pay rent or buy food. You pay me for my time and a certain set of skills. But the emotions and friendship between us are genuine.”

Hey, big guy. Is that the DSM IV in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
I didn’t have time to tell him that I thought real emotions could probably develop in prostitute/john relationships too, or that the whole reason escort services were legal was because they operated on the premise that “You’re paying me for my time. Anything else that happens is just extra, and between consenting adults.” Because the hour was up.

Friday, February 22, 2013

bready dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

I’ve been doing this thing where I fast for forty-eight hours before chemo and another twenty-four hours after chemo.

Bear with me, here. As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m open to alternative medicine, when it’s not an either-or kind of thing—so, not an alternative but an additive. I am not open to the conspiracy-theory-laden remedies suggested by the most recent self-appointed oncologist to cross my path, the acupuncturist across the hall from me.

In addition to those damn alkaline foods, he talked about something called cesium that he actually referred to as a “magic bullet,” and sent me to the FAQ section of a website called “Don’t be put off by the name,” he said.

But is it okay to be put off by FAQ #5? “Why should I believe you? Weren’t you convicted of fraud?”

Anyway, no one involved in the ACTUAL MEDICAL STUDIES about fasting has been convicted of fraud. The theory is this: Healthy cells rally under a bit of stress, such as short stints of famine. Kind of like how plants grow bigger when you don’t water them too often. (Although, as I’ve learned the hard way, never watering them doesn’t have the same effect.) Cancer cells, on the other hand, shrivel up and die.

Take that, cancer cells.
So fasting pre-chemo gives chemo a little extra boost, and has the side effect of making chemo’s side effects less intense. It’s been proven in mice, and human studies are on the horizon.

I’d never fasted before—I don’t think my colon needs cleansing, and if I want to see God, I’ll just go to church, where there are coffee and donuts. But I figured it was worth a try, and it hasn’t been as hard as I thought—not eating (or, in my case, having a little bit of Gatorade or veggie broth once a day) for forty-eight hours isn’t that different from not eating for five hours: I get a hungry and a little grouchy and light-headed, but not more than that.

But I do think about food A LOT. The first night of this week’s fast, I went to the gym, and a cooking competition called The Taste was on TV. I was glad that for once the resident loudmouth conservative hadn’t changed the channel to FOX News. The theme of that night’s challenge was sandwiches, and I fell in love with every one of them: the Armenian-inspired sandwich with tzatziki sauce, the banh mi, the fried pork belly on homemade bread, the classic roast beef—pretty much every sammie but the one made by the girl who didn’t have time to finish cooking her chicken.

Anthony Bourdain tells some ladies about the very serious art of sandwich-making.
Recently I heard a radio story about early Antarctic explorers who created elaborate fantasy meals while gnawing away on their pemmican. One of my favorite childhood camping memories is of a terrible dinner my mom made; I don’t remember what it was, but all of us, including her, spent the whole meal laughing and talking about what we’d rather be eating.

So when AK and I went on a post-chemo walk yesterday, she indulged me in a lengthy food conversation. I could have told you she loved pho and pastries, but I found out she has a considerable soft spot for classic Italian comfort food. See? Food talk brought us closer together. My favorites can also be divided into the healthy-ish foods I eat semi-regularly—sushi, Brussels sprouts, tropical fruit, cereal (and all breakfast foods, actually), bread and bread and bread—and what the new health-minded Cookie Monster would call a “sometimes” food—dim sum, salt and vinegar potato chips, eggplant parmesan, burritos of all stripes, matzo brie, eggnog, any doughy dessert, any chocolaty dessert, any custardy dessert.

One of each, please. And two of those yellow things in the pink wrappers. And three of any dumpling with shimp inside.
I eased out of my fast this morning with a bowl of cereal, but the real celebration will come in a few hours when AK and I go down the street to Schodorf’s for a really amazing sandwich.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

swimming with sharks

1. you always hurt the ones you love

Friday night my dad called to say hi, and I mentioned something in passing about fearing a recurrence of cancer. Although I’m prone to medical anxiety, I think it’s safe to say that every person who’s had cancer and who thinks about the future wonders if that future will include cancer. But my dad took this as his cue to launch into a pseudo-scientific list of reasons why I would live to be 112. It’s what he needs to tell himself—and I get it, because a lot of the time it’s what I need to tell myself too, and sometimes it’s what I need him to tell me—but I wish he would admit it’s part of assuaging his own worry. Instead, he says things like, “I’m concerned you don’t have a realistic picture of your prognosis.”

We had a calm, if lengthy, conversation about managing anxiety; at one point I said, “I know you hate emotions,” and he was like, “I do! I do hate emotions!” And then I hung up and felt too tired to clean the house or pack for our trip to San Luis Obispo or make dinner. I spent the rest of the night jumping between Words With Friends and the FORCE message boards.

The next morning, as I was trying to clean, pack and pick up the rental car, my dad called back and said, “I don’t want to upset you any more, but I thought it might help you to know about this article I saw. If you’ve gotten a double mastectomy and had your ovaries removed, your chances of getting ovarian cancer are—”

But before he could say “low” or “next to nil,” I started screaming at him. The cats got big-eyed and ran from the room. “I wasn’t even talking to you about ovarian cancer! I am trying to live my fucking life! Can we not make this a cancer morning?!”

Trying to live one’s fucking life when one’s life is threatened—maybe not immediately or even greatly, but to an extent that no insurance company would ever put its money on you pre-Obama—is the fucking challenge.

2. poster child

When I was still emitting daily primal screams in the months after the miscarriage, I stumbled across the blog, Little Seal, and essays of Emily Rapp, a writer I’d met a handful of times. What I knew about her: She was accomplished, beautiful and had one leg. She’d written a memoir called Poster Child, about how, when one has one leg, one feels extra pressure to be accomplished.

Little seals in foreground. Big houses in background.
But her more recent writings were about slowly losing her son Ronan to Tay-Sachs disease, one of those horrible genetic diseases found most often among Ashkenazi Jews,* though I’m not sure if Emily was one. She wrote about her own primal screams, which probably ran deeper than mine, although I don’t believe in ranking such things. It made me feel less lonely to read about someone—someone normal and admirable, no less—who’d been utterly turned inside out by the simple unsolvable experience of life’s unfairness. Death’s unfairness.

In one post, she talked about how she sometimes felt judged for doing things like laughing and drinking wine and attending writing residencies; shouldn’t she be attending to and feeling sad about Ronan fulltime? She said she had a responsibility to him to find as much joy as possible, to live the full life his disease prevented him from doing. A blog seemed like the perfect raw, immediate (and also easily judge-able) form to process all of it in the only way a writer can.

Every scary diagnosis comes with a mandate to “live life to the fullest,” instructions which always baffled me and pissed me off. So a truly well adjusted person would just set aside cancer or violence or grief and go tromping through the rainforest? Wasn’t that called denial? Wasn’t that impossible?

But there’s a thing that comes after the primal scream. Or, more accurately, between the primal screams. It’s a setting aside while holding on. I haven’t achieved it for more than a handful of minutes at a time, and I’m not sure if anyone has. I think maybe Emily Rapp found it for hours or even days at a time, but I also suspect she’s not done screaming.

3. gambling, gamboling

Me, all I did was go to San Luis Obispo for the weekend with my girlfriend.

We’d escaped there after other hard periods, and I remembered our June 2011 trip as more of a relief. Because I was sadder when I left, and therefore happier for a break from my grief and anxiety? Or did this trip feel a little more sober because I’m still only a third of the way through chemo and it’s harder to truly escape?

I don’t know. But AK did book us an ocean kayaking tour, and I know it felt like living life to the fullest.

It’s hard to see pictures of my bald-headed self having a good time and not imagine some sort of condescending voice saying, “Oh, good for her. Look at her living life to the fullest, not letting cancer get her down.” The implication being that going on vacation was a noble act; that I was doomed; that these pictures would end up in my funeral slide show. (An imagination is a terrible thing.) The real accomplishment isn’t “not letting cancer get me down,” it’s getting back up and appreciating the world after it does, because it does.

Suiting up. Wetsuits are so warm and comfortable. I wish I could wear one to work.
And still I don’t feel like I’m articulating this very well, in any non-slide-show kind of way.

So I will just say that we pointed the bows of our yellow kayaks into the breaking waves, and it was impossible, for a little while, to think about anything else. I will say that it felt great to do something physical that didn’t involve needles or knives or chemicals. I will say that we saw sea otters grooming themselves in kelp beds and seals sunning themselves on the rocks.

Rocks and kelp beds keep them safe from sharks, but they can’t spend their whole lives there.

We burned a zillion calories paddling against the wind that kicked up (they had to cut the trip short, just like our trapeze class, but at least we got to paddle through a few caves first), and spent the rest of the day eating: steamed clams, ice cream sandwiches, Mexican-Greek food at the Wild Donkey.

Monday morning we slept in and shopped at Crazy Jay’s and visited some kind of apple orchard/farmer’s market/petting zoo place near Avila Beach. I think it’s safe to say that baby Nubian goats are the cutest things to ever walk the planet, and they only get cuter when they eat lettuce leaves.

That bird is all, "Hey, I'm cute too. WHERE'S MY LETTUCE?"
“Do you guys want to do some gamboling?” AK asked. “Come on, gambol, you guys!”

They obliged.

*AK’s Israeli supervisor likes to attribute my breast cancer genes to my quarter Jewish-ness, even though the genes come down through the WASPs on my mom’s side of the family. But has anyone written about how oppressing and isolating people for centuries, to the point that they have to marry cousins, is a kind of slow, creepy genocide?

I’ve been reading about the eugenics movement in the U.S. as it relates to American perceptions of “poor white trash,” but it’s hard to read about forced sterilizations and not think about my own upcoming “strongly encouraged” sterilization. And how I’d be on a lot of eugenics hit lists. And how I never really cared about reproducing my DNA, but it’s disturbing to think there might be people who are happy I’m not, and I can’t say fuck you by putting a Jewish-Latino gayby into the world. And how there’s a place inside me where my DNA and my socialization and my grief have formed a sort of psychic tumor that whispers, Yes, you are a degenerate. Best to end you now.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

our strange addictions: tales from a family of battle-losers and fingernail-keepers

1. then

For most of my childhood, my Aunt Vanessa lived in Ferndale, a charming Victorian town in Humboldt County. It was damp and everything there smelled like mold, but in a comforting sort of way. At the center of town was an old-timey general store called the Mercantile. Downstairs you could buy jeans or cowboy boots. Upstairs was a museum where you could see the tiny satin slippers of Chinese women with bound feet. On an unreachable mezzanine was a display of antique rocking horses with tangled hair and haunted eyes. When Cathy and I rented The Ring in the haunted days after my mom died, we looked at each other when a lonely rocking horse appeared in a barn loft onscreen and said, “The Mercantile.” How did the filmmakers know?

There was a Mexican restaurant called, for some reason, the Ivanhoe. The upstairs was roped off because there’d been a fire. This idea—of a place half occupied, half ruined—delighted me and found its way into Lilac Mines.

Ferndale: adorable, a liiiiittle musty.
According to conventional family wisdom, Aunt Vanessa had been the wild, popular one in high school. My mom had been quiet and studious. Vanessa had gotten pregnant as a teenager, gone on to marry four times, worked all kinds of jobs. She got in feuds with her crazy pot-growing neighbors. She had horses and mules and goats and a peacock. She once built a tiny town for the latter to stomp around in like Godzilla. Vanessa made for great stories, but I related to—and sort of sided with—my mom. Back then I took sides.

When my mom got sick, Vanessa made numerous trips down the coast. She was a natural caretaker, quick with a cup of ice chips or a cool rag. She was happy to shop for bargains at Pic N Save or just hang out at the foot of my mom’s bed, talking and being with her big sister.

When my mom got really sick—the deathwatch none of us would quite name as such—Aunt Vanessa was all tears and fluttering hands and aggressive optimism. They gave my mom some kind of medication that probably fell into the “make her comfortable” category, but Vanessa said she knew someone else who’d taken it and “really rallied.”

When my mom did not rally, Vanessa was sobs and hugs and declarations of love. It wasn’t my style, not back then. I clenched my fists and willed myself not to run to the bluffs surrounding the church where we had the memorial service.

2. now

It had been six years since Vanessa’s last visit. My dad steadfastly refused to let us open most of the Ferndale-scented presents she’d mailed during those years, and he hadn’t mailed any of ours for her, because we were going to do this in person, dammit. 

As soon as I saw her last Tuesday night, I realized that my wariness about the popular girl who had once teased my mom about her weight had given way to unabashed love.

Like anyone in her sixties who was lusted after in high school—who looked like Sophia Loren with a more delicate nose—the first words out of her mouth were all about how she wasn’t as thin as she wanted to be and didn’t want any photos of herself on Facebook other than the existing glamor shot, taken on an Alaskan cruise a few years ago. But she looked even better than that picture: red-brown hair in a ponytail, silver scarab necklace from my mom, bright teeth and throaty, self-deprecating laugh.

L-R: AK, Baldy, my mom's awesome cousin Adrienne, Aunt Vanessa.
Over burritos and tostadas at Leo’s, Vanessa told us stories from high school: how she almost never went on Mondays; how one Monday when she did, hot football guy Dick Whitney walked her to class; how her algebra class broke into applause and she was so embarrassed she never went back.

I started to see Vanessa through her own eyes: social and boy-crazy, yes, but no more secure than my mom had been. She was someone who’d worn her heart on her sleeve. She’d cried when other kids had gotten punished. She’d defended the librarian with the rubber arm who’d let her take refuge in the library with a fraudulent hall pass.

We went back to Cathy’s house to open gifts. Unlike most gift-opening experiences, what was inside was a mystery to all parties.

“Let’s hope it’s not Loleta cheese,” Vanessa laughed, referring to her current town’s primary export.

We did find a few artifacts: vegetarian cookbooks bookmarked with receipts from the now-defunct Borders, crumbly coffee grounds that didn’t smell like coffee. My dad gave Vanessa a framed picture of a bird he’d found in our attic, because Vanessa and her husband Linus had a parrot named Baby and loved birds. Then my dad realized that, actually, Vanessa had drawn that bird.

“I don’t remember that!” she exclaimed. The forgetful leading the forgetful.

Vanessa was giddy, remembering songs she’d written: “‘Me and My Kindle’ to the tune of ‘Me and My Shadow.’ Oh, and I have to send you the lyrics to ‘Thanks for the Mammaries,’ which I sang to my doctor when he did my lumpectomy. He didn’t think it was very funny.”

She got several years worth of cards that included photos of teddy bears my dad had donated to the H.A.L.O. Foundation, which gave them to sick kids in the hospital.

“Those kids are grown up by now,” I joked.

Then Vanessa read the card: “‘…donates teddy bears to children with terminal diagnoses.’”

“Oh. I guess those kids aren’t grown up now....”

Dr. Bear specializes in, um, palliative medicine.
We were all giddy and macabre. Vanessa shared other family stories, which I jotted down in my little blue notebook as fast as I could: how her mother’s side of the family had traveled west in a covered wagon and saved a woven blanket that my sister and I both have framed pieces of: “They were usually used to bury the dead,” Vanessa said, “but our family kept ours, which tells you how thrifty we were.”

Also kept: someone’s finger, which had been sliced off by a wagon wheel while fleeing an Indian attack, and her grandmother’s fingernails, which lived in a jar in the china cabinet. All the kids had loved visiting that gruesome china cabinet, which was also home to “the [N-word] whip.”

Until then, I’d always enjoyed the notion that my family tree hadn’t included any slave owners: My mom’s side lived in the north, and my dad’s was busy getting persecuted by Jew-haters in Europe during slavery times. But no, Vanessa confirmed, the Pope side of the family—her mother’s people—owned slaves.

But she showed us a picture of General John Pope who, at least, had fought in the Union army. “He was famous for losing the battle of Bull Run,” she said. I felt a strange surge of family pride.

Monday, February 04, 2013

chicken adobo, or: everyone’s an oncologist

1. at least frida kahlo had awesome hair

This morning at Starbucks an unassuming, middle-aged man came up to me and said he was gathering signatures for a new strip mall down the street. At first I was all skeptical and Occupy-ish, but then he said he was hiring a local architect, and I figured that local poor folks could benefit more from a 7-Eleven and a Chipotle than from a fifth record store or a seventeenth art gallery. So I signed.

He said he liked my Frida Kahlo day planner. I bought it because I wanted a daily reminder that people who spend a lot of time in hospitals can be fierce and glorious. He said he liked my hat, the one Keely made.
This is what people did in hospitals before iPads.

“Thanks,” I said. “A friend made it for me.”

“I have a friend who makes hats like that too,” he said. “Only she does it for chemo patients.”

“Well, that’s me right now.”

“Oh. Well, you look really healthy and vibrant.” (When people say this, I think what they’re saying is, You clearly have cancer and yet you’re also clearly under fifty. Brain. Can’t. Compute.) “What kind of cancer, if you don’t mind my asking?”

I feel like I should add here that his vibe was not creepy or intrusive; if it had been, I would have felt free to give him the ol’ I’m-Reading-A-Book-Here Starbucks glare. I struggle with my people-pleasing tendencies sometimes, but only with people who seem at least somewhat worth pleasing.

“Breast cancer,” I said.

“I had a good friend who stayed with me the whole time she was being treated for breast cancer. She’s doing great now. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself and eating lots of alkaline foods.”

I assured him I was doing my best to stay healthy, and we parted ways. I felt eight percent guilty for not doing the research about alkaline foods that I keep meaning to do. I felt ninety-two percent indignant, but not quite angry. As the daughter of a librarian, I default to free speech. You have the right to ask me for a zillion dollars; I have the right to say no. You have the right to give me unsolicited health advice; I have the right to post a blog re: What is up with that?!

As the daughter of a librarian, I also know that if I really wanted to be left alone to write, I could go to a library.


I’m sure every pregnant woman who’s had her belly rubbed by strangers or received dirty looks for sipping a beer thinks this too, but why is my body a public forum? (Again the effing pregnancy parallels. BUT WITHOUT THE BABY.) I recently read this post (thanks for the link, Tracy!) about fat acceptance, so I know it’s not just pregnant women and cancer patients either.

Would anyone ever go up to a fat person and say, “I hope you’re getting plenty of exercise and eating lots of vegetables”?

Actually, I’m sure some people would. It’s just that, as a non-asshole, I’m baffled by their behavior. I would never tell an overweight stranger (or friend, for that matter) how to take care of herself because:
1. It’s none of my goddamn business.
2. I don’t know why she’s overweight. Maybe she has a slow metabolism. Maybe she’s so stressed out from taking care of other people that she doesn’t have time to juice her own protein shakes or whatever. Maybe she works out five times a week and is actually in way better shape than I am.
3. I suppose it’s possible she’s one of the four people in America who just didn’t know that a diet of vegetables and whole grains was preferable to a diet of quesadillas, but what are the chances?
4. I’m not a doctor. What if I was all, “Just eat whole grains!” and she did, but then her thyroid problem went undiagnosed for years?
5. It’s none of my goddamn business.

But, sigh, everyone’s an oncologist.

2. and now i want some caramel. and a quesadilla.

Once Stephanie and I were traveling together and we met a woman who was originally from the Philippines. For some reason, upon learning this fact, Stephanie blurted out, “I love chicken adobo!”

The woman snapped, “There’s more to Filipino culture than chicken adobo.”
Normally I would say, "Sign me up for some tofu adobo," but I hear soy causes breast cancer. WHERE HAS ALL THE JOY GONE?

Stephanie is Chinese-American and got a degree from UCLA in the identity-politics nineties. If anyone knew not to reduce an entire culture to one stereotypical dish, it was her. But, as she sheepishly told me afterward, she’d just gotten excited. She did love chicken adobo. She wanted to connect with the woman.

I understand the impulse. It’s why all of us, in our own subtle or not-subtle ways, want to shout out, Some of my best friends are Filipino! Some of my best friends had breast cancer! Then again, no one really shouts out, Some of my best friends are white! Some of my best friends are totally healthy!

As any Psychology 101 student will tell you, everyone is a giant projection screen for everyone else’s shit. The bigger and more unresolved your shit is, the more it flickers at you from the human screens at Starbucks. The developer saw himself in my knit hat, and I saw myself in his questions about my knit hat.

Meanwhile, the girls next to me sucked their venti caramel frappuccinos through green straws.

“I love whipped cream,” one of them sighed. “Who even cares about coffee? I wish they would just give me a whole cup of whipped cream and caramel syrup.”

They were both pretty skinny.