Heard around my house lately

“[The Prophet] is making an animation with Google Slides! [cackle!]”

“It’s not fair! If I were a centaur I’d be dressed by now. Because I’d have more limbs.”

Howl’s Moving Castle doesn’t ‘make sense’ make sense, but it kind of makes sense in a Japanese way.”

“One Dutch baby to go, please!”

“Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics are not consistent with second wave feminism, but they sure are hard to shake.”

“No, Mommy, leave me alone. OH MY GOD, leave me alone!”

“I just crossed something off of my boring to do list.”


Meanwhile, in Canada . . .

As predicted, winter has been long and bleak. My lovely neighbour put out her recycling (above), and it is more organized than anything in my house. Yikes, you don’t even want to see her bathroom.

It turns out that Canadians are troopers when it comes to snow, but freezing rain is another story entirely. We have now had two days of school cancellations because the roads and sidewalks were frozen. One day was so bad that we couldn’t even go for a walk. This makes for a very stir crazy winter. I am looking forward to a big thaw.icy

I try not to share stories that make the wonderful Canadian healthcare system look bad, on the one hand. But on the other, my personal and professional experience suggest that it is as prone to human error as any other system. For example, one can go to one’s local emergency department and be placed in a room and forgotten for 7 hours. And then when a resident comes to examine one, he might announce loudly, “I’m looking for Lisa? She has a pericardial effusion?” before introducing himself to the patient in the next room. Don’t worry, I’m fine. Seriously, my heart is functioning normally, and I was just dehydrated.  But that really sucked for my husband and the lovely friend R who sat with me in emerg.

One thing that I have collected is interesting stories about how people have handled grief. I really appreciated this story from Liz Gilbert about her partner’s death from cancer. Also, if there is one thing that I dislike, it’s stage theories that tell you that there is one right way to go about something. Therefore, this essay was right up my alley. The five stages of grief? They are not intended to go in order, according to their author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. A friend suggested reading her, and I was a bit concerned that having a book about grief out in the open would freak my family out, so I ordered it from Amazon. Turns out that the answer is to leave it on the stairs, and they will just ignore it like any other piece of mail that I put there.

One thing that I have been meaning to write about for a long time is my relationship with religion. I am currently reading Why Religion? by Elaine Pagels and will report back. For me, and for most people, religion is less about what you believe and more about what you do.

Every Friday we observe the shabbat with the lighting of the candles and a few short blessings of the children, wine or grape juice, and challah. Our prayer book reminds us, “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Sitting together around candles has come to be a touchstone, it’s something that reminds us that the week is over. It’s a chance to look at each other in candlelight, literally shake off the week, and give thanks that we are together. At some point in the past I tried to implement a longer, more faithful and less abbreviated blessing, but no one else was having it.

This means that every Friday, I frantically try to find challah in our small, non-Jewish city. I can tell you that there are three bakeries that reliably have challot on Fridays. (For those of you keeping score, they are Remark, Angelo’s, and the International Bakery at Covent Market, and any or all of these may sell out.) Only one of these is within walking distance, which matters because my radiation oncologist said I cannot drive, and if they have any at all they will get 4 loaves in on Friday. If I call before they sell out, they will hold a loaf for me, and they know me by name. Susan at the bakery will worry if I don’t come in on Friday to buy my egg bread. Also, I have to request “egg bread,” because if I call it “challah,” they don’t know what I am talking about.

But the loaves are braided and faintly sweet and large enough to make awesome French toast over the weekend. Years ago I observed that if I gave French toast to the kids, they would experience a blood sugar crash in about two hours that resulted in tantrums, so now I give it to them right before Sunday school. Kind of like pouring the gasoline, lighting the match, and then walking away.

I also try to have some kind of nice dessert available on Friday. Last week I tried a chocolate olive oil cake from Smitten Kitchen. It was okay, but my sloppiness meant that there were streaks of chocolate in our sour cream that confused everyone on Taco Tuesday. It did not come out as well as the date squares that I also made, but that probably has more to do with me as a cook than with the recipe itself.

When it comes to recipes, I like simple and easy. For some reason, I often fail at supposedly no-fail food. Cases in point, most recipes for rice pudding and macaroni and cheese fail me.  This week La Neige’s friend’s dad was kind enough to send me his mac n cheese recipe. The secret ingredient is cream cheese. You can’t just make a roux and add milk and fancy cheese and call it a day. Also, I’m going to stop messing around with rice pudding recipes and just make this one, which comes out great but makes more rice pudding than I should have around. I suspect that there is no great dairy-free rice pudding recipe for me, so I’ll just have to take a Kirkland lactaid and maybe eat less of it. Sigh.

This week I ran out of cooking inspiration, so I requested Chrissy Teigen’s cookbooks from the library after reading about them in a Food52 essay. OMG, her writing is hysterical.  Here is a random sample:

Despite never knowing they’re “BrusselSSSSS” sprouts, I have been a lover of them since I grew teeth. And John is one Brussels sprouts-loving SOB. So in order to keep our Brussels sprouts sex life spicy, I am constantly trying to find new ways to doll them up. But sometimes things are just easy. He loves salad. He loves sprouts. He loves grapes. He loves nuts. So he loves this salad. Men. Don’t overthink it.

The book is full of pictures of her and her husband enjoying food and vamping it up. Do yourself a favour and read this book.

I don’t speak Canadian

Did you know that if you go to Ikea’s website, you can find out what is in stock where, as well as where in the store to find it? Look, I’m not the only person to feel bloated with stuff by the end of the holidays. When I dragged The Historian to Ikea last Saturday, it was full of people who were, presumably, looking for better ways to store their stuff.

One of the times that I came home from the hospital I had a deep urge to purge unwanted things from my life. A friend of mine who works in psychotherapy described this as “important identity work.” No doubt, D, no doubt.

It turns out, I was not alone. By the end of our 2-week break, I was at Ikea looking for things to organize the home. Strolling through the bedlinens section I heard one woman say to the man she was with, “Can’t we just try this for a little while, and if you don’t like it we can go back to the way it was?” And I turned around 360 degrees and realized that I was surrounded by couples at odds with each other, as far as the eye could see.

I came to Ikea armed with a list of stuff to buy, especially for the formerly-flooded basement. But you cannot get organized simply by moving around the stuff that you have. Eventually, you have to purge.  You can NOT buy a string of holiday lights shaped like squirrels (for just $12.99!) and just assume that you will find a place to put them. If you are lucky, your husband will restrain you from buying more than one set of squirrel lights and numerous lamps.

And that’s where Marie Kondo comes in. You can sit down and turn on Netflix and watch her wrangle a parade of familiar-looking houses into shape. Mind you, I have both of her books, and I believe in her deeply, but I hate this show. For one thing, the families are excessively attractive, especially that dumb bitch in the first episode who doesn’t even know how to do laundry or put stuff away in the kitchen. But you better believe that her mascara is PERFECTION. For another, I simply don’t believe that that interpreter is doing a decent job. If they were willing to hire a decent interpreter, they might not have so many of those stupid white subtitles that Netflix seems to favor.

Then there’s the cultural aspect. I watched the beginning with my friend S from Germany, and, let me tell you, Americans, the world is delighted to watch you choke on your own stuff. Not that S said as much, that is my own value-added analysis, she merely said, “I think it’s weird to watch an Asian woman tell Americans how to live their lives.” If you even cared a little about culture, you might explain the role that animism plays in Kondo’s worldview, Netflix.

Anyway, the point of the show is that we have too much stuff, and there I was at Ikea, which is Stuff Central, and I got to say to The Historian, “Look! There’s a lamp you don’t want! And there’s another one!” Since I checked the website ahead of time, I came with a good list that only required 4 trips through the check-out, where the checkers-out seemed unaware that they were in a Worker’s Paradise with free wi-fi.

Now, please excuse me. I have to go assemble a plant stand.

One of the strangest things about moving from the U.S. to Canada is how subtle the differences are, but they are there. For example, it might take you days to get snow tires on your car because we have a pseudo-British approach to customer service, even at the American-owned Costco. My mom was good enough to call and ask if they could put tires on our car, and the guy who answered the phone at the Tire Centre was like, “Maybe.” Mind you, he only answered the phone because I complained when they did not.

Overall, I’m happy to go on and on about how wonderful the heatlh care is here. However, sometimes I find communication to be difficult for one as literal-minded as me. I regularly get asked, “How have you been feeling lately?” Look, this is just too open-ended of a question. Lately I’ve been nauseated, but when I report this, I find nurses or doctors are likely to say, “Hmm, have you taken anything for that?” The truth is that there are wonderful anti-nausea drugs out there, but they all make me a bit tired or dopey, so I have to be pretty nauseous before I’ll choose to be dopey.

I’m pretty sure that when someone says, “Have you tried . . . ?” that is Canadian for, “I won’t help you at all until you take what I have already prescribed you.” Fair enough. However, do you really expect me to follow all of that? The other issue is that when you are a doctor or nurse, you are socialized totalkextremelyfast. I only half realized this until I brought S to an appointment, and she was like, “Did you get all of that?” Now, I understand that the short appointments are the doings of insurance companies, OHIP, and the payers in general, but that does not change the fact that ordinary people–not to mention those of us with compromised brains–do not get what you are saying.

Is that plant stand still not assembled?



Happy New Year!

There is a program that actually exists called “Look Good Feel Better,” and it teaches women with cancer how best to wear wigs and put on make-up when they have cancer. I thought this was ridiculous when I first heard about it because, if you are dealing with cancer, why should you have to work on looking “good” too? The cynic in me would also point out that if you go to one of these workshops you will walk away with free make-up that contains actual known carcinogens. Turns out, I was wrong about this—sometimes working on how you look is a way of feeling “normal” when things are crazy and out of control.

One day I was meeting a friend for coffee, and I was coming from the gym, so I put a little blush on to feel like I made an effort. Then when I got there, she said, “Oh my god, what’s wrong with your face? [pause] Do you have cancer of the face now?” Now, there is nothing funny about “cancer of the face,” so you can stop laughing right now. But it is a little funny if that is someone’s response to your attempt to try to look good.

Newsflash: I look good! That’s what I hear when I go to any oncologist or to the local cancer centre. It appeals to my ego to be told that I look good, even if I suspect that I am being compared to the 70- and 80-something patients whom they usually see. Having been diagnosed with cancer before I was 45, that makes me young, in this context. One day when I went to the Emergency Room for a broken bone in my foot, I found myself consoling the nurse who was triaging me and told me, “But you’re so young!” She had just lost her father to cancer, and it was her first day back.  This is the type of strange conversation that you might have on any given day when you have cancer.

Anyway, Happy New Year! Every year the holidays are a blessed event in our family in which we argue about how to properly celebrate the holidays.

I grew up in a non-observant Jewish household in which the one thing that we knew was that we did not have a Christmas tree. My mother grew up in a Christmas-tree-having non-observant Japanese Buddhist household. So our tradition was that every year my parents would argue about a tree until Christmas Eve, when my mom would go out–sometimes my sister or I came with her–and get the saddest-looking tree still on the lot. Of course, she talked them down in price to like $15. Then one year the tree fell over, spilling tree-water and pine needles everywhere. Good times.

So I decided to be a bit more clear, and I simply decided that we don’t have a Christmas tree. We have a Christmas wreath, white lights in the window, and stockings hanging from the mantle, but no tree.

Then one day I went to my beloved Farmer’s Market, and they had mini-trees for sale. I was already feeling a little guilty after the dentist said something like, “You never know what’s going to happen, you have to make every holiday count.” (WTF is up with our dentist’s office? Make it count, indeed.)  Anyway, I had somehow decided that a tree might be kosher if it was less than 2 feet tall. No one bought this argument. Anyway, I came home with an adorable 2-foot tree. Mind you, I am a fan of the history of religion, and I have been explaining for years that the symbols of Christmas are actually pagan symbols stolen from the pagan druids.

Mind you, it was a toss-up as to who would give me the most flak for this particular dubious decision. Nonetheless, I was not expecting it to be my normally-accepting husband. I think it went something like this:

H: What’s that?

Me: It’s a pagan tree! For us! Isn’t it cute? We can decorate it with the silver and gold balls that I got on sale at the grocery store last year!

H: Looks like your love of buying things at the market won the fight with your hatred of Christmas trees.

Me: It’s not a Christmas tree!

La Neige: Yeah! It’s a pagan tree. Obviously!

The Prophet: Can I decorate it?

Me: Yes! We can get ribbon from our Christian friends.

La Neige: Can we put presents under it? Apparently, people put Christmas presents under the tree. I don’t think there is room for presents under that tree.

H: Wait a second, what’s going on here? I’ve been wanting a Christmas tree forever, but I understood that that was the trade-off I made in having an interfaith household.

Me: It’s a pagan tree! We can put presents next to it.

H: Why would your people choose the one cool aspect of the holiday to ban?

What was I supposed to say? My people like suffering (which is true)? I leave this to smarter people than I to answer. I told my kids to enjoy the heck out of their cousins’ and grandparents’ trees.

Anyway, it’s been a nice holiday. I’ve enjoyed time with family and friends. I love this op-ed piece, which led me to this beautiful podcast, which actually made me cry in like every episode.

In cancer news, I’ve been going to the hospital for once a week for echocardiograms because in the endless game of Whack-a-mole, it’s currently my heart that we worry about. Mind you, cardio complications are a regular thing for cancer patients because cancer meds are–surprise!–not easy on the heart. I also started a new chemotherapy drug, Kadcyla, which is my second line of treatment, over the holidays.  The news about my heart is . . . it is beating! I know this because I saw it beating on a screen. It looks a little like a baby, which is a great way to remember to treat myself with kindness. If I were carrying a baby, then I would be gentle with myself.

When I go in for my echocardiograms, sometimes the technician who performs them is a male and sometimes it’s a female. One thing that I have noticed, is that I am more easily annoyed by the female caregivers than the male ones. I first noticed this when a female CT technician was trying (and failing) to put an IV in my left arm immediately after her trainee failed to put one in my right arm. I really did not like the feeling of having her dig around in my veins with that needle. It was worse than when her trainee did the same thing. It reminded me of the time about a year ago that a female neurosurgery fellow put a stitch in my lower back, and it hurt like hell. I think that she eventually gave up, telling the nurse, “I don’t want to put the patient through any more than she has been through already.” This was after the brain surgery and the spinal tap, both painful experiences administered by male doctors. But I was more annoyed by the painful stitches from the resident than the others, and I was like, “WHERE IS YOUR COMPASSION, GODDAMMIT?” Similarly, the male technician, whom I have come to know better than I would wish, is not gentle when he jabs me with the ultrasound transducer. In fact, at one point I had a bruise on my side where he jabbed me.

People, I may be a raging feminist, but I never said that I was immune to unconscious bias. I imagine that it must be annoying to be a female caregiver who has to be nicer to every single patient than her male colleagues.

Okay, I have no fantastic recipes, but I recently asked friends on FaceBook for meatball recipes, and you came through with so many. Ultimate comfort food.

Walking and chewing gum

Ever since my brain decided to go a little haywire, it has been my aspiration to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Well, yesterday I did it! I didn’t even mean to, but I had a regular dental appointment, and afterwards they gave me some sugar free gum to chew, and before I knew it, I was walking and chewing gum at the same time!

Why is this a big deal? For starters, in the hospital I was told that I was not able to swallow properly. A speech language pathologist came to my home to watch me eat–that was awkward–after I got out of the hospital. She pronounced my swallowing improved enough that I could eat and drink and even take pills without restriction. Since I love to eat, that was a great day. She also told me that swallowing requires the coordination of hundreds of muscles and nerves, which makes it one of the most complicated things that a body does. And the stakes are high because if you don’t swallow properly, food can go into your lungs, cause pneumonia, and kill you. Fun fact, as La Neige would say.

(So when I say that I inhaled a piece of Mexican chocolate cake at my favorite restorant, I may not be speaking metaphorically.)

I love food, I love the way that it sustains us, I love it as an outlet of creativity. For the past several years, I have been following the blog Smitten Kitchen because

  1. I like her chatty style
  2. She shows that you can cook anything in a tiny, unglamorous, urban kitchen.
  3. She is a former vegetarian and is vegetable-forward
  4. You can find a recipe for pretty much everything on her site, including great brisket and my go-to latke recipe, which has a little too much  salt, FYI

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I took a hard look at my diet and gave up alcohol and also went mostly-vegan. That was not hard. My deal with myself was that I was going to eat healthy, but if things went badly, I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted. Because, really, no one has eaten more raw kale in their lives than me, so I feel that I deserve any chocolate that comes my way.

But then I had to think about what I wanted to eat. Turns out, I don’t care about alcohol much, but I have a very sweet tooth, and I looove fruit.

So if I’m craving carrot cake, I’m going to make the carrot cake. What is not a good idea is eating a slice of carrot cake, having your husband say, “Is this carrot cake cooked all the way through?” then putting the carrot cake back in the oven and forgetting about it for two hours. If you do this, you will not have edible carrot cake.

But there’s more! When I was up at 5:00 (because steroids) I had time to make an apple/pear/cherry crisp that was still warm for breakfast. This recipe is a keeper. You might think that you don’t need a whole stick of butter for breakfast, but you would be wrong. Also, you can make it with any kind of fruit you like. I used Cortland apples and bosc pears and some frozen cherries that I had on hand.

So there I was in the dental chair yesterday, and the dental hygenist said to me, “So what’s your prognosis?” OMG. I have tried to be grateful for anyone who is brave enough to engage with me around a difficult subject. But don’t do this. Don’t ask anyone what their prognosis is unless you are prepared for the answer that you don’t want to hear. I was not in the mood to make the nice dental hygenist feel better about my cancer prognosis. I think I said something like, “It’s not good.” And I managed to say this while she cleaned my teeth, with poor speech and swallowing.

THEN she said, “Did you catch it early?”  OMG, OMG. Don’t do this. “Catching it early” is part of the narrative around cancer that I hate more than anything. And there’s a lot to hate about cancer. So let me just put it in writing–it seems when someone says, “Did you catch it early,” they’re really saying

  • It’s okay, because you caught it early!
  • Did you do what you were supposed to do? Because you’re supposed to be vigilant enough to catch cancer early. And if you don’t, it’s your fault, so I don’t have to feel bad for you. After all, notice that I asked if you caught it early!
  • Did you exercise control where you could? Because I cannot deal with the fact that illness strikes randomly.
  • Were you paying attention to your family history, like you were supposed to? (Fun fact, I have no family history of breast cancer.)

In fairness, we are trained to ask this question, so there should be no shame around asking the question that we are trained to ask. Lately there is a small literature that has arisen around training people to ask new questions. But that seems exhausting–not everyone has the wherewithal to figure out what the right thing to say is. Honestly, there is no right thing to say.

What I have noticed is that there are two groups of people who seem to understand the cancer experience, and they are 1) people who have experienced chronic illness and 2) people who are inherently religious and whose religious traditions tell them to provide for the sick. I am grateful to these people and to the traditions that guide them.  (Edited to add: I could also include the wonderful mental health professionals in my life, but they understand chronic illness very well and are maybe even in the first category.)

Or, as I recently heard in a brilliant On Beingpodcast:

But, this is — it sounds funny — one of the great joys of working with people on the edge of life. The view from the edge of life is so much clearer than the view that most of us have, that what seems to be important is much more simple and accessible for everybody, which is who you’ve touched on your way through life, who’s touched you. 

From my recent walk around London. Have you had poutine? IMG_0818[1]



It’s Taco Tuesday, y’all. Also, the Instant Pot

The vicissitudes of life are many and are unpredictable. But one constant is that Tuesday is Taco Tuesday. Unless it’s Taco Tuesday on a Wednesday, which happens. And for Hanukkah, I even got metal taco holders, thanks to one LL.  This party is going to be off the hook, to quote Arrested Development.

If we’re honest, no one is sorry that Hanukkah is over because the work involved is not proportional to its spiritual import. I’m busy tapering off of dexamethasone, so I may have been up in the early hours gloating over my Hanukkah haul of chocolate, metal taco holders, a new Canadian wallet, twee movies, a fashion memoir, a Happy Lite.

The kids are now past the toy stage, and I’m pretty sure that all they want for the holidays is a fluffy hoodie and all the books that they can read. The fluffy hoodie is the big item this holiday season, it seems.

I also got organic cotton pjs for both kids and accessories, with an owl and narwhals, respectively. The Prophet got Star Wars underwear so that I don’t feel like I have to wash the same pair over and over. A few months ago I was like, “I like the tie-fighters on your underwear,” and he said, “Those aren’t tie-fighters. They’re x-wings and Millennium Falcons, Mommy.”  I guess he told me. Obviously, I have fully embraced my status as the annoying/awkward mom who bothers you while you are getting dressed.

In important family news, we have started Frankenstein. Much as it is a brilliant novel, Mary Shelley had a vision that she then subjected to the byzantine requirements of Victorian fiction. So we’re reading, like, letters-within-letters, in order to get to the bottom of the hubris of modern science.

This weekend I broke up with my Instant Pot. That was the worst thing that happened.

It was a Saturday like any other. I got up early, made breakfast, and went to the market. I made a lovely breakfast for myself and The Prophet of corn tortillas, sharp cheddar, cannellini beans, cilantro, and salsa, which might be much better than it sounds.

(A little digression: cannellini beans are THE BEST. They are creamy and flavorful, and you can add them to anything.)

When I got back from the market I put chicken wings in the Instant Pot Mini to make bone broth. A few minutes later I heard a “woosh” from the kitchen, and that was the sound of the Instant Pot overloading the fuse and then releasing all of its pressure and my broth in a hurry. Annoyed, I wiped everything up with a mop, refilled the pot with water and apple cider vinegar, unplugged it, and plugged it back in again.

Then it happened again!

The fuse, the pressure release, all the liquid everywhere. I went downstairs and got all the rags I could find, wiped and mopped, put the broth ingredients on a pot on the stove, and swore to myself over and over. The Historian then mopped and wiped down the inside of nearby kitchen drawers because they had broth in them.

The Instant Pot is about a year old, and I like it so much that I have given it as a gift. But no more. Annoyed as The Historian was to find the kitchen covered in chicken broth, he did not want me to have to give up a beloved appliance, but there is nothing that thing can do that a pot won’t do. It seems like nothing lasts much more than a year these days. Consider yourself warned.

So my brain is still a bit fuzzy. I can read for short periods of time, but I have been listening to a lot of podcasts. Here are my podcast recommendations:


Seeing Thestrals

I found this lovely write-up on Pottermore, when I wanted to find out how to spell thestrals the other day:

Manifesting as black, skeletal, bat-winged horses, but invisible to all who have never been truly touched by death, Thestrals have a somewhat macabre reputation. In centuries past the sight of them was regarded as unlucky; they have been hunted and ill treated for many years, their true nature (which is kindly and gentle) being widely misunderstood. Thestrals are not marks of ill omen, nor (their spooky appearance notwithstanding) are they in any way threatening to humans, always allowing for the fright that the first sight of them tends to give the observer.

Being able to see Thestrals is a sign that the beholder has witnessed death, and gained an emotional understanding of what death means. It is unsurprising that it took a long time for their significance to be properly understood, because the precise moment when such knowledge dawns varies greatly from person to person. Harry Potter was unable to see Thestrals for years after his mother was killed in front of him, because he was barely out of babyhood when the murder happened, and he had been unable to comprehend his own loss. Even after the death of Cedric Diggory, weeks elapsed before the full import of death’s finality was borne upon him. Only at this point did the Thestrals that pull the carriages from Hogsmeade Station to Hogwarts castle become visible to him. On the other hand, Luna Lovegood, who lost her own mother when she was young, saw Thestrals very soon afterwards because she is intuitive, spiritual and unafraid of the afterlife.

We finished the Harry Potter books as a family earlier this fall. It was great, and hats off to Rowling’s tremendous world-building, and to The Historian’s amazing reading aloud talents. A few days later our local bookstore announced that it was having a Harry Potter event. I didn’t know if it would be a big deal, but then I walked in the door to find the store full of little kids in black capes with Griffindor scarves, round glasses, and drawn on lightning scars. We got a free Lego Snitch. It was the cutest thing ever, you guys.

The Thestrals, and the books in general, show us that kids are drawn to darkness. Probably we all are, since it reminds us that we are all so resilient and capable of handling so much. It’s something I wonder about–is it fair to bring so much uncertainty to my children? As a parent, you’re supposed to be a constant source of strength, not a source of weakness and uncertainty. Much as I don’t feel like the best mother in the world, I do my best to be there for the people that I want to take care of, and it is an honor to do so.

I’m still on this kick of thinking of Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour. I grew up in a pedagogy that says that the more critical you are, the smarter you are. I have been trying to fight this my whole life, so let’s push back on this together. The fact that I have anything critical at all to say about Riggs’ beautiful work is astounding to me. There’s this line that people love and respond to. Of her two boys, she wrote, “Their very existence is the one dark piece I cannot get right with in all this. I can let go of a lot of things: plans, friends, career goals, places in the world I want to see, maybe even the love of my life. But I cannot figure out how to let go of mothering them.” Isn’t that an amazing line? And yet. I have a love-hate relationship with that line because Nina was clearly so much more than a mother. It is a beautiful paradox that she saw herself this way. Reducing women to their existence as mothers is one of the modern gender problems that we just haven’t solved yet.

My children got to see me at my most vulnerable, waiting for the paramedics and being hospitalized; and that is probably okay. When I got home from the hospital, I was able to say to each kid separately, “I’m sorry you had to see how unwell I am. I don’t know what it’s like to live with the stress that you live with. But if you want to tell me about it, I want to hear what it’s like.” I’m still waiting.

Before I got so sick I was reading Malignant Metaphors by Alanna Mitchell, a Canadian science journalist who was confronting her own fascination with cancer when her brother-in-law was diagnosed with melanoma. The book was brought to my attention by K, a helpful doctor friend. You know how I’m always looking for metaphors? Well, so is Mitchell. Near the end she writes,

So, cancer as an ecosystem. Cancer as a chemistry experiment. Cancer as a creative cooking recipe, or as a complex video game. I don’t mean this to be comprehensive, but simply the spark to a conversation. The point is that meaphors can evolve. We just need to give them permission.

I wonder what it would feel like if cnacer were a dance, like the example of the argument Lakoff and Johnson write about in their book on metaphor. What would it feel like then? The person with cancer would be a dancer, creating art and maybe beauty and maybe life. Dances take different forms. Some are anarchic. Some dissonant. But they are always radically personal. It’s hard to feel polluted when you dance. Hard to feel as though your very self has been erased.

What’s next for books, you ask? The next family book will be …


because Victorian proto-feminists!

Also, for a recipe, La Neige and I made spaghetti and meatballs last night. It was not at all kosher, since I used some pork and buttermilk in the mix, but it was delicious. I used this easy marinara sauce recipe, and I can and did eat the leftover marinara sauce with a spoon.