Ten Questions, or stuff we want you to know about breast cancer

Nancy’s Point is a blog I’ve followed for years. Her summer challenge is a call to share. So I did. And if you’re so inclined (as a cancer veteran from the front or sidelines), please join in!

  1. Share anything you want about your cancer diagnosis. Share your age, cancer type, stage, when you were diagnosed, family history (if any), your reaction, how you learned the news, or whatever you’re comfortable sharing. 

I was 40. It was my first mammogram. They never said, “Hey, looks good! The radiologist will send the report in a few days.” In retrospect, I think I knew then. My husband, Bernie (a plastic surgeon who has treated over a thousand women like me) looked at my films before the radiologist ever called. I had a diagnosis of invasive cancer by the end of that week: stage 1, high grade, scary family history, but no damning genes. My maternal grandmother had had a radical mastectomy at my age; one of her sisters died from breast cancer before age 40. Mom and her twin sister always assumed it would be one of them. It wasn’t. It was me.

 

  1. What is the most outrageous thing someone has said to you about your cancer?

Probably we’ve all gotten the “Well, at least you got a boob job out of this! Ha ha ha! I hate my boobs. I would LOVE to have them done! Amiright?” But maybe not many of us have gotten this from her own primary care doctor.

 

  1. What is your biggest cancer pet peeve? I know it’s hard to choose, as there are many to pick from, right? But what irks you the most?

It’s the Facebook memes that drive me bonkers. The single heart emoji posted as a status IS AN AFFRONT TO ALL WOMEN WHO HAVE HAD BREAST CANCER. The latest one was a classic cut-and-paster message claiming that it was Breast Cancer Prevention Week, which was four months ago, and I’m not really sure is a thing. These often are accompanied by private messages to “feel your boobies” which is wildly insensitive when delivered to women who no longer have them. Otherwise lovely, supportive friends feel bullied to post these things and pass them along or… what… they don’t care about cancer? I wonder who starts these.

 

  1. What is something you want others to know specifically about breast cancer?

First, another truth about those fucking memes: they can be a jarring reminder. Occasionally, we’ll have entirely cancer-free moments. Maybe we’re still in jammies and didn’t shower so haven’t revisited our scars; maybe we haven’t taken the Tamoxifen yet and are still doing the normal things normal people do, like yelling at children that the bus is coming or cutting crusts off of sandwiches. Then… WHAM. Your fucking heart emoji. Oh yeah, cancer. Thanks for the reminder. We live with it on our minds and bodies every single day and have all of October to endure. Unless that heart is a link to donating money toward metastatic disease research, it isn’t doing a single thing for us but providing a bit of posttraumatic stress.

Most people also do not realize that there is no “remission” for breast cancer, only NED (no evidence of disease). Asking us if we are “in remission” or “all good now” or if it’s “all over” forces us to lie to you, or get into uncomfortable discussions about how we’re secretly sure this is the thing that is going to kill us. I know what you mean when you sort of quietly ask, “How are you?” And when I say, “Fine, thank you so much,” we’re good. When you ask a breast cancer veteran if it’s “all over,” we assume you need it to be “over” and that really isn’t about us, at all.

 

  1. If applicable, do you worry about recurrence rarely, from time to time or a lot? What is your biggest worry today, right now, this minute?

I worry about it all of the time, but in the past five years I’ve had only one, true freak-out that landed me in the scanner. I’m fine. I tell myself I’m fine. I remind myself of the statistics for Stage 1 and how grandma lived to 83 after her radical mastectomy and how long some of us are living with Stage 4 disease. But it’s the pink ribbon monster under the bed.

 

  1. Do you feel cancer has made you a better person? Yes, I know this a loaded question.

It has made me a different person, for sure. I already assumed I was pretty awesome before The Diagnosis. I think I care about little things even less than I did before. Just last week a gaggle of teen boys had a wrestling match in my guest bedroom and ran the doorknob right through the drywall. And I thought, “It’s just a wall.” I honestly could not muster any feeling other than, “ugh, boys.” Sometimes I think cancer contributed to that kind of nonchalance about non-life-threatening things like holes in walls.

 

  1. What is your favorite cancer book?

For sure, Hester Hill Schnipper’s After Breast Cancer. It was like food to me in the aftermath of chemo and surgery. I just kept reading and nodding. I still cannot believe how lucky I am that I could sit on her couch and bask in her wisdom during the scariest times.

 

  1. Besides your family, where do you turn for emotional support?

All of you: the cancer veterans. The blogging strangers and friends from real life who have walked this road—I call us the Shitty Sorority– you ladies are a life line. But in the day to day, it’s Steve, my writing partner and testicular cancer veteran who I text with, “Can you believe these fucking memes are going around again?” And he gets it.

 

  1. How many cancer blogs do you read and why do you read them?

 I follow quite a few. Nancy’s has always spoken to me because she heralds science and refuses to give into the Cancer Made Me a Better Person trope. Terri Coutee is doing fabulous work with her diepcfoundation.org and her Facebook group that connects patients with each other and really fabulous microsurgeons. And like many of you, I bet, I still miss Lisa Bonchek Adams.

 

  1. Do you call yourself an advocate? If so, what drives you?

You bet your ass I do. Just writing answers to these prompts is advocacy. Also, I will talk to ANYONE who is going through this. I was a surgical resident many moons ago, and my husband is a world expert in breast reconstruction. We know stuff. I’m happy to share information. Even more importantly, especially in the wee hours, I can text, “I’m here. I get it.”

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Dear Abby

Frequently this site gets a new visitor who is clicking on the old essays—the ones documenting the scary beginning and slog through a never-ending aftermath. Every week another bing on my phone asks me if I wouldn’t mind making a call, holding a hand, or answering questions for a friend. So I wrote a letter. This is to all of the Kates and Leighs and Laurens… and to Abby.

 

Dear Abby,

I heard. Or I guessed it from the cryptic posts and cried when your status confirmed the damning pathology. Telling people–saying it out loud– makes it more certain than the slides. I hope you had some Ativan for that.

Maybe it’s super early, maybe DCIS, maybe a quick lumpectomy and just-to-be-sure radiation will be curative. Maybe you’re exhausted from all of the tight smiling as people tell you how lucky you are– so lucky to be pushed out of the plane because there is a parachute that opens almost all of the time.

But maybe it’s not the lucky kind.

Maybe it’s the pink ribbon monster hiding under the bed. White-coated well-meaners tell you with practiced concern that it’s not curable but it’s still treatable. Maybe they can tame and starve it for years, turning it into a defeated Voldemort sort of cancer. Maybe they’ll optimistically cite future graduations and weddings and vacations and plans like you’re thinking about a time-share in Orlando right now. As if it didn’t take seven books and umpteen tragedies to turn Voldemort into a fetal worm. As if any of this can have a happy ending.

Maybe it was there all along. Maybe it just came back (why does it fucking come back?). Maybe surgery was years ago and your hair is amazing now but there is still this little hidden part of you that only the other Shitty Sorority members see. Maybe you fucking knew it would come back but didn’t tell anyone because the “lucky” people would whisper that you weren’t being “positive.” Maybe you are scared shitless and praying nonstop or for the first time in your life.

Maybe God is listening and sending warm assurances—not that it’ll be okay, exactly, but that He is there. Maybe it feels like God isn’t listening, or doesn’t bother with things like unrestrained mitosis. Maybe it was just too much begging for impossible things. Maybe prayer doesn’t work like that, or for you, or with any sort of speed… or at all.

Maybe. One thing is certain: no one knows anything. Here’s another: you’re not alone.

Probably you are reading everything you can: the cancer sites, the scary statistics, and the stories of a hundred breastless women, gauging the level of your unluckiness against blogging strangers. Probably one of them is like you. Look, she’s totally like you! Probably you’d be fast friends even if you never spoke a single word to each other. Probably.

No, definitely. Definitely that.

There’s no pledge period for the Shittiest Sorority. Sisterhood is immediate. I have yet to chat up a head-scarfed stranger without finding something to laugh or cry about. Usually both. Our hidden parts–our secret cancer selves–we save each other seats in the bleachers. We’ll watch this peculiar sport of losses and triumphs together. Come sit next to me. I brought snacks.

We have cheerleaders, too. It’s different, but they are absolutely vital. Their pom pom positivity, casserole-toting enthusiasm for health and healing, all that marching in your name for cures– it’s wonderful and adorable. Their cheers are prayers, and their prayers are medicine. They fill in for us when we don’t have the Go! Fight! Win! spunkiness people love to witness in the cancer-ed. But you and me, we know cheerleading is for the healthy. And their prayers are purer than ours with all of the distracted, terror-stricken pleading. Let them pray. Maybe it works. Probably?

I see you, Abby. I’m waving you over here. (I’m still here.) Come sit with me on the bleachers. Get under my blanket. You don’t have to do the wave or cheer the fight song. We’ll just see how this plays out. Together. With snacks. And Ativan. You are not alone.

Definitely. Definitely not alone.

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Because a stranger called me a prostitute

Occasionally, an odd message will come through the blog or even directly to my personal email. They don’t comment on the topic at hand (trivializing breast cancer, embarrassing myself, hating exercise). Instead, they want to use my small platform to peddle their own ideas or products. Probably most cancer bloggers have had at least one herbal-happy loon suggest we attack our tumors with green tea and meditation because chemotherapy is an evil scheme. I’ve only had to block a few weirdoes, which is saying something in this increasingly say-anything-at-all world.

One reader suggested that my willingness to stand naked before anyone but my husband and undergo life-saving surgery was a profound disobedience to God. We in the Shittiest Sorority should submit to His plan regarding our cancers, and die (or not) according divine whim instead of disrobing for surgeons. BLOCK. But it disturbed me enough that I still remember it three years later.

Today I received a bizarre email from a man trying to strike up a jokey relationship based on the conceit that I am being held in this marriage against my will as an “American Comfort Girl.” An actually creepy, deeply racist stranger found a picture of my family on line and wanted to ridicule the outlandish idea that I had married an Asian and birthed these two bastard half-breeds. He wanted to help me “escape.” I couldn’t delete and change all of my passwords to everything fast enough.

This screen-polluting email made me even angrier that there wasn’t a true apology for this. (I won’t link directly to the disgusting clip.) When something that ugly is laughed off as lighthearted fun, it can lead to other jokey offences, actual on-the-street, go-back-to-China shouting, and possibly prompt a message from a stranger suggesting I am a prostitute to the husband I adore.

Our current political climate has reminded us that we’ve only been putting makeup over our hate-filled pustules of racism and sexism. We’ve looked good enough for the school pictures, but it’s time to lance these boils. Maybe someday we’ll actually credit the billionaire bully for exposing what has obviously been simmering and spreading below the surface for too long: fear and misunderstanding of different skin, beliefs, and women in general. And you know, it’s not helpful to simply wag a judge-y Facebook finger at the orange ego-maniac who has been caught on tape, or the white man who made an actual video demeaning an entire town of Asians. We’re going to need to do more than that.

Only one generation ago, it was against the law for Bernie and me to be married in many states. Some of our parents, just 20-30 years ago, warned us not to date other races “because it would be difficult for your children.” And those were the thoughtful, modern parents who weren’t overtly racist. And you know what? They weren’t wrong. Last week, I had to explain to my boys why an entire “comedy” segment on a popular news program made fun of people that look like them… and why no one said, “sorry.”

Have you honestly never been complicit and quiet in the presence of downright rape-y language about women’s bits? Do you publicly chastise the jerk (maybe even a family member) who makes the offhand Asians-with-cameras or black-neighborhoods-where-you’ll-get-shot comments? No. No you don’t. Not every time. And you definitely didn’t ten or twenty years ago.

And that’s ok. Not sure you’re changing minds doing that, anyway. But I bet you make damn sure that the kids within earshot get schooled. Dinnertime discussion at the Lee home has been nothing but race relations (complicated and problematic) and rules for talking about girls (only ever say nice things). Exhausted, exasperated, and frankly kind of grossed out with the topic (God, aren’t we all?), Teddy pushed back from table exclaiming, “I’m still PRE-pubescent! My voice hasn’t even changed yet! Do we still have to keep talking about this weird stuff?” Well, Teddy, yes we do. But last night, this picture went viral, and gave me a glimmer of hope that future locker rooms will be filled with actual feminists.

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Young men at Centennial High School, showing us how to combat the overwhelming ickiness on the news.

Unlike other angry outbursts catalyzed by news reports of truly gross behavior, mine is not political. I don’t care about the election (this year). Vote, don’t vote. Whatever, dude. But I do care profoundly about how you and I treat each other, how we talk about and to each other, and how we raise our boys to be champions for women. It’s time to get our multi-colored asses into pews or temples or mosques or yoga studios or Soul Cycle. Where do you go to tap into your sincerest, We Are the World feelings? I need them. And so do our kids.

 

The Big Sister Solution

A decade ago, when I was largely alone all day with tiny, parasitic Bernie clones, I might have written something like Mrs. Rowe’s fed-up-to-here, open letter to her husband. In the moment, those feelings seem funny/true, but when read with a decade of hindsight (and larger children who don’t need pooping assistance), rants like this make me… sad. I want the whole family to race past these brutal years that inspire a meant-to-be-funny, but still quite public flogging of The Husband. I might have greatly benefitted from some part time help (and meds) as a Stay At Home Mom in those early years. Swapping a beeper and a real, outside-the-house job for never-ending days with crying children and Dawson’s Creek reruns led to a social, emotional, and intellectual whiplash for which I was unprepared. Because texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and all myriad outlets that keep us intimately tied to each other’s weird little worlds weren’t in existence, I did what you do when you’re at your wit’s end with small children and never-home husband. I called my big sister.

“One of them is always crying, and Bernie isn’t home, and then when he is, he’s ‘tired’ or wants to do things off of the napping schedule. He wants to sleep when they’re awake and have sex when they’re asleep, and these wailing succubae that look exactly like him are attached to me all day and all I want to do at 8pm is drink wine without anyone touching me.”

“Jesus, Britt. You need some mommy friends.”

Boy, did I. None of my besties in the area had started breeding, and absolutely no one I knew in the medical field ever quit their life-saving jobs to stay home with non-verbal bundles of sleep-averse, ever-hungry pant-shitters in embroidered onesies. I was lonely, exhausted, and prone to unattractive moods swinging narrowly between irritated and glum. In that moment, my Big Sister–staunch defender of all of my wants, needs, and beliefs, champion of All Things Britt— the Catholic, opinionated, occasionally scary Zealot Sister… sided with Bernie. Gently, and really quite beautifully, Paige refused to sing my Battle Cry Against The Ineffectual Husband. Instead, she shared some excellent advice, recommended a book, and insisted I get some mommy friends.

I was fabulously bad at the mommy friend thing. I scouted out the local playground and attempted to make nice with the ladies who corralled their strollers by the benches. I never got past a few awkward exchanges before I realized they were all wearing long skirts and head scarves and maybe the Orthodox Jewish Mommy Group wasn’t keen to take on a blonde shiska with the whiff of friendless desperation. I tried another park.

Lonely Mom with a small girl who insisted on wrong-footed shoes seemed like a good option. Surely, this was a pick-your-battles kind of mommy who also cozied to the idea of mid-afternoon wine? As it turned out, Lonely Mom picked absolutely no battles and was still breast-feeding her Dorito-munching toddler tyrant while defending the values of the Family Bed. She made me sadder than her husband I already was.

What I did have, however, was A-Ma. Bernie’s mom raced up to Boston on the Fung Wah any time I called. Honestly, any time. One particularly brutal day, I told her I couldn’t shower without hearing both boys wailing on the baby monitor, that my dreams were exclusively about the sounds of wailing on the baby monitor, that I hadn’t eaten anything but Blow Pops and Hot Pockets for a week, and that I didn’t know if the stains on my clothes were pre- or post-intestinal foods. She arrived that afternoon. A-Ma remembered the unholy, not-cute-at-all daily grind; and with only one foot in the door she’d say, “Go! Go to take nap!” I promised then and there to be that kind of grandma some day. She saved my life (and improved my marriage) more than once.

Perhaps what the author of Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children really needs is a nap and A-Ma. In fact, the first comment after her light-hearted rant against her husband was from the author’s mother:

Recommend you withdraw this blog. Can talk details later—- Love, Mom

I quite agreed with her, recalling the advice Paige recommended to me 10 years ago, when I was exasperated with the man I love the most. First, she reminded me that Bernie was no mind reader and that stewing silently and acting the martyr would lead more quickly to marital strife than to any sort of enjoyable co-parenting. She annoyingly insisted I plant myself in his loafers, and made me read The Bastard on the Couch—a fantastic collection of essays written by dads (and written in playful retaliation against The Bitch in the House, which largely described what I was becoming). Where Momma Rowe gets angry that her husband is allowed to poo behind closed doors apart from the toddler audience with demands, I’m now more apt to think, hey, why share the pain? Go ahead and lock the door. Lucky you! This stay-at-home blogger also, with great humor and exaggeration, suggests sex is off the table until the children are big enough to sit at it.

This is where Paige’s big sisterly advice might have sounded supportive:

“Fuck your husband.”

However, she didn’t offer this as a scatological slam on bathroom door-locking spouses; no, she meant it quite literally. (She also never, ever said this. Well, she said this, but not like this… because she’s classier than I am.) She waxed Catholic: the vows and sacraments and quaint ideas about contracts and promises and vaguely about the baser biological needs of boys in general… and she said all of this without making me throw feminist arguments at her, or throw up in general. In the end, she was really just suggesting that I act with greater kindness and love, and that I find some mommy friends who would understand why sometimes that seemed impossible.

GrandMomma Rowe is adorably protective of her son-in-law… much like Paige was for Bernie back in my days of Days (of Our Lives). Long hours with demanding children and soap operas will make anyone a little nutty. But without an Internet forum for irritated moms to publicly berate their constipated, celibate husbands, we had Big Sisters and A-Mas. The Big Sisters and A-Mas understand you, listen to you, and then tell you to take a nap and to shower and to quit it. They’ll keep reminding you that there is an end to it all, will never (ever!) tell you to “cherish” days of sleepless, messy torture, and they’ll make you feel warm, and loved, and heard.

Then again, having 100 strangers offer thumbs up, preach-it-sister encouragement probably works, too… as long as The Husband is in on the meant-to-be-funny part.

This was ridiculously useful to me back in those days that seemed like 54 hours apiece.

This was ridiculously useful to me… and reminded me why I love boys in general, and my own in particular.

Writing to be liked

My college application essay probably sucked. I cringe at what teenage Britt included on one sheet of dot matrix. No doubt I dragged my gymnastic and typing accomplishments into an argument for personal betterment. (And what prestigious university isn’t recruiting self absorbed, inter-office-memo-drafting cart-wheelers?) No doubt the essay was very serious and heroically boring. But at the blue eye-shadowed age of 17, nothing had happened yet. Anything worth recounting in five sassy paragraphs was far off in my mammogrammed future amongst Asians, so I probably typed the usual drivel that drives admissions staff to an early and generous pour of single malt. Recently, a lovely and accomplished high school senior asked me to take a crack at her college essay. And because it wasn’t me who needed to impress some faraway grownup with a red pen, I transformed into a charming, competitive-swimming diabetic fluent in French. Je suis tres amusant avec une pompe de insulin sous ma lingerie! It was super fun.

Sometimes this is how the best writing happens: ignore any assumptions about the audience, and write for the sheer joy of it. Jenny Polk, an old friend with thousands of Twitter followers, wrote to me, “I would never have the guts to say f**k in my posts!” Presumably, that’s because her mother-in-law is a follower. I think potty mouth has all but lost its shock value, and the f-bomb sometimes provides the perfect staccato for an angry sentence. I wouldn’t recommend incorporating it into the Harvard essay, but for a silly blog, no one cares a fig. And as soon as I start worrying about how my own mother-in-law is going to react to scatological word choices, any written missives about moon cakes (vile) or Chinese food preparation (arduous) or energy work (hilarious but effective) will suffer for authenticity. And after two years posting sassy paragraphs peppered with baser adjectives and exclamations, I’ve received nary a complaint… but quite a few editing gigs.

I’ve been doing rewrites for family and friends, scientists and students for a quarter century. Even though I’m certain my own admissions essay was met with groaning, future literary endeavors (inspired by the inimitable Professor Kuyk) landed me a paid job in the college Writing Center. Training to become a Writing Associate involved one semester at a roundtable with other faculty-endorsed “writers” writing about writing. This was before anyone used the word “meta.” Professor Beverly Wall was an enthusiast for something called “desktop publishing” and encouraged us to “post” our papers on a school-sponsored “intranet.” In effect, we were all contributing to a classroom blog, although that word hadn’t been invented yet, either. In the early ‘90s, we found this tedious: we wanted to discuss our work, not type criticisms with a blinking cursor. Also, there was no “like” button.

It’s impossible to imagine a gaggle of college kids loath to type opinions onto a shared server, since this form of communication now eclipses all others. But those were ancient times when writers feared more than welcomed an audience with the ability to disparage your five paragraphs with one calamitous (or anonymous) comment. Modern writers are cursed and blessed with ubiquitous readers. Everyone loves to be “liked,” but your most and least favorite Facebook status updaters are testimony to the influence of audience on the tone and quality of a sentence. As I wondered if an adolescence of misspelled texting and like-clicking critique is ruining the written word, I read that Tufts University is now accepting video submissions in place of the compulsory essay… and that article used the word “interestingly,” so you be the judge.

A handful of my old Writing Center relationships have endured and their work still gives me goose bumps: Nancy’s guffaw-inducing comedic rhythm and word choice, Julia’s pretty handwriting reflecting her outer beauty and inner complexity, Tony’s brilliantly fashioned lefty opinions devoid of lawyer-speak, and Ran’s latest series of stories that will make you hmmm and ahhh and hate him a bit for being so fucking eloquent. I still swoon for a beautiful sentence; but now I blog, email, instant message, and craft silly statuses, because that is the stage for contemporary writing. I also edit college essays to stifle the sort of schlock I wrote before I had the chutzpah to make an admissions officer giggle… before I had a voice… before I stopped writing to please an audience instead of marinating in the sheer delight of having one.

CALVIN AND HOBBS

Teachers

Professor Simmons (of Fromage fame) sent the perfect gift: a book! Selected from his favorite purveyor of pre-owned texts and wrapped up in plain brown paper, my darling Professor delivered the syllabus for our next bubbly reunion. If you, like me, are a writer who enjoys reading about writing, then Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers, by Jacques Barzun is Manchego on your apple, Devonshire cream on your scone, sherry by the fire. (And if you, like me, enjoy talking about reading about writing, then welcome to Britt’s Book Club, champagne included.) Although written words about the written word may have the city-slickest of you crying, “Meta!” Mr. Barzun will insist that you resist. After many elegant and witty chapters illustrating ways to sidestep common writing errors, the author reminds us not to take it all too seriously, either.

 Pedantry is a misplaced attention to trifles which then prides itself on its poor judgment.

I assume these beauties slide off of his brandied tongue at any given cocktail party. I want to fill his pipe, TA his class, and write (better). I read the entire text in two sittings and now I am savoring a second study to collect my favorite sentences for the pleasure of saying them aloud. Try it with the quote above and enjoy channeling your best Dowager Countess. Here is another little gem, equally applicable to braving the blank page, choosing a Halloween costume, and approaching the pretty girl at the bar:

Once committed to a cliché… you must not tamper with it.

Regarding the construction of a perfect sentence (or outfit, or one-liner), one may go whole hog (but not pan pig), and the key to success is a steadfast dedication to your point… even if your point is not having one. Here’s mine, tucked into third paragraph and written plain: I just love Professor Simmons and all of the Great Teachers with their easy eloquence, unsolicited gifts, and scholarly encouragement to write (better).

Earlier in the week, I found another treasure in the mail, sandwiched between the piles of glossy encouragements to buy rustic coffee tables and resort clothing. My elderly editor (of Pom Pom fame) sent an amused reply to my chatty letter… and requested a meeting! Luckily, I have the sort of husband who will surrender his wife to another man for a few stolen moments at Church coffee hour. The summons was printed on a thick card embossed with the university library that bears his name, and it directed me to look for him in a red jacket, green cap. I’m so excited to meet an outfit-planning, tryst-arranging, letter-writing, library-naming fellow. This man has ninety brag-worthy years of academic, business, and personal successes, so I feel compelled to bring more to the meeting than my silly, pom pon-wielding passion for the written word. I think baked goods are in order.

Thinking about these delightful Professors Emeriti recalls another: A Gong. I’ve written about my father-in-law oodles of times, so that regular readers know all about energy work and wasabi peas and the understated brilliance of this kind man. Bernie’s father is a student of Qi Gong, a Tai Chi master, a healer, and the former Chairman of the Psychology Department. His East Meets West philosophy elevates all of his pursuits– golf, photography, YouTube videos– to a search for their essence. We all believe that A Gong is a little bit magic. This is a man who can unknot your back, lessen the chemo pain, improve your putt, win the photo show, and introduce you to God. Over the past dozen years I’ve met, hosted, housed, and fed students of all ages who call A Gong, “teacher.” They come from all corners to sit at our table, drink many pots of tea, and pocket bits of A Gong wisdom that we take for granted. Like this:

The tall tree invites the wind.

In the bloggy brouhaha of weeks past, this was A Gong’s take on being so very… public. The image of a proud, towering tree laid flat by the forces of the universe is such a stark contrast to my sunny worldview. But A Gong’s concerns as The Family Patriarch trumped his consideration of these musings as Professor. This is understandable, honorable, expected: his job is to make certain no Evil Things slither into our God-fearing bubble. Unfortunately, Cancer already did… and these pages (and your words) kept that scary beast at bay. Also, these very posts prompted a welcome letter-exchange (a dying practice) with the Great Professor Simmons. It’s also possible that Pom Poms has inspired the beginning of a beautiful, new friendship! Good Things can come of shared writings… not the least of which was three hours of discussion about Love, Truth, and Internet Evils with my father-in-law. Writers must write… but psychologists must analyze.

And now, I leave you with the words of another teacher (Liberal Joe) who, because of what I was writing (and omitting), sensed I wasn’t my bubbly self. He inspired me to remember the point: why I began writing these little essays a year ago… and maybe even why the Great Professors are sending books and letters of encouragement.

On your last thought on the loss of peace: So find peace. Be peaceful. Beautiful, bright, thoughtful and well written go real well with peaceful.

Jacques Barzun wouldn’t say it any better.

That's me... still standing.

That’s me… still standing.

Leisure Boy

A-Ma is an artist. She picked up some pastels and began dabbling about seven years ago, but now has moved on to winning awards for her oil paintings. That A-Ma would be so gifted is no surprise to me. If Emily Lee is passionate about something, that shit gets done. And for my in-laws, this could never be a doodle-y amateurish pastime. Nope, they establish interest groups, create invitational exhibitions, solicit prizes, and make it all official sounding with names like International Taiwanese Artists Teacher’s Society. (Which totally exists.) Around the same time A-Ma started churning out fruit-on-table and beach scenes, A-Gong developed a love of photography. This aligned temporally with his love of Ebay and acquisition of many, many, many cameras. Again, my in-laws are not content to tool around collecting snapshots for the family albums. Nope, they arrange expensive tours to take sunrise and sunset pictures all over the planet, and then host elaborate photo exhibitions like a 21st century version of vacation slideshows our parent’s generation used to bore their neighbors with in the 70s. Only theirs has an awards ceremony. But no cheese cubes.

Both of my in-laws are really quite talented. Not that I have an artistic eye at all, but the portraits undoubtedly resemble the family members A-Ma is rendering, and A-Gong has captured some incredible rice paddy panoramas, birds-in-flight, fireworks, flowers, icicles, leaves, rocks, sky (as his hoarding tendencies spill over into photo editing). Occasionally I think we live in the Lee & Lee auxiliary gallery, but I love having these framed, beautiful paintings and photos on the walls. Sometimes I’ll find the art show tag on the corner, with teeny tiny Chinese figures I assume is a description or price. But if I’m really lucky, someone has translated the title into English.

I don’t know they are attempting some sort of poetry, but the titles are just fantastic. A picture of my toy-sharing toddlers is entitled, “Friendlines, Respectfulness.” And the latest addition to our walls is a really rather large painting of Teddy squatting atop a jungle gym. It’s A-Ma’s latest oil masterpiece and its submission to a Cape Cod art exhibition required her to choose a name and price for an almost-life-size rendering of my little boy. I still wonder if the judges giggled as much as Bernie and I have about “Leisure Boy, $5000.”

I figure displaying their artwork all over my houses gives me leave to poke all sorts of fun at them. But after three paragraphs of doing just that I realize there is a lesson to learn from the wacky and wonderful industry of my in-laws. They’d never wait for a faraway editor to find something worth publishing from a CarePage. Nope, they’d form their own International Society of Taiwanese Web Writers, invite guest authors, solicit prizes, and organize more cheese cube-less forums. The confidence, bravery, and commitment A-Ma and A-Gong bring to their artwork elevates it far beyond “hobby.” I kind of love that. Alternatively, it’s just another Asian thing:  why bother slapping paint on canvas unless there are prizes and someone wins?

Although writing these silly essays continues to be fun and therapeutic, the attempt at chronicling my life into a book feels vain (even for me) and forced and blah blah blah boring. But as I watched A-Gong design his own Chinese blog about Energy Work last weekend, I wondered if it’s time for me to get this show on the road. I still giggle over what Steve Safran wrote when I first announced the existence of these CarePages:

“Here are several problems I have with this.
1. It being “Care Pages” makes me feel I need to be sincere. As you know, this is a character defect of mine.
2. There will be caring, loving statements on this page.
3. While I care and love, I express those emotions in somewhat different ways. As in through a total lack of caring and loving.
4. Those who care and love are bound to see my statements and feel I am wishing terrible things upon you.
5. I am not. I am wishing terrible things upon most non-Jews, but not you, a TOTAL shiksa goddess.”

And now that I’m feeling so great, maybe my little ditties are ready for an audience that isn’t expressly asked and required to Care, at a site that doesn’t sensor my use-for-emphasis potty mouth, and isn’t so buggy with the logging in. As I toyed with blog design late last night I got stuck at the very first step: I need a title. Shiksagoddessbritt.com? (Which totally exists. And it’s me. Thanks, Steve.) Leisure Boy 5000? East Meets Breast? That every title embodying the scariest, faith-testing time in my life is somehow silly and funny says oodles about how much having an audience has helped me through it. Wherever these musings land, I hope you’ll find me there.

Leisure Boy, $5000

Leisure Boy, $5000