Sunday, May 30, 2010

The C Word

Well, yes, there is that C-Word. The one that is awful and horrible and grounds for divorce—(unless it is said in bed in the absolutely right moment of passion, heat and disinhibition.)

And then there is the other C-Word: Cancer. The one we talk about here.

There is a new Showtime TV series premièring August 16th referring cleverly to both of those words.

“The C Word” will star Laura Linney (John Adams, The Truman Show) as a suburban Mom with Metastatic Melanoma.

“If someone told you that you had two years to live, how would you change your life?” is what “C Word” producer Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City)-- herself a cancer survivor—wants to ask viewers of this comedy series to consider.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mary's Cancer

In a community meeting today a colleague named Mary told us that cancer has returned to her body. It’s the third recurrence. She had just come from her oncologist and was celebrating that she had found a great doctor, a woman, someone she liked and felt was easy to talk to. Three occurrences, three kinds of cancer in eight years. “I’m proof”, Mary joked, “that you don’t need all your organs.”

I heard her talk about her faith. Not in a pabulum, saccharine way but hard won faith. Won in Cancer Land. I could feel everyone in the room –me too--shift in their assessment of their own day. Bad bosses, too many bills and even minor mishaps in marriage pale at comparison with three kinds of cancer.

Mary knows that her story has that effect. “I tell my friends” she said, “hang out with me and your life will seem really, really good to you; you’ll be so much happier.”

And she’s right.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Laurel's Blog

Here is the link to my friend Laurel's blog--in real time--as she undergoes cancer treatment. She's a fabulous writer in her non-cancer life so she brings that gift to this adventure and she adds a bit of spice as well.

Read on:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Yes, jealousy. One of the most universal human emotions that we cannot speak about. It’s gross and miserable and beyond uncomfortable and it strikes us mute. We sputter and spit and stumble in trying to express it without sounding insane or weak and yet—and yet—jealousy is a powerful emotion which taps directly into our bodies.

I have stumbled through this territory all of my life, and perhaps that is the clue. It’s old. Jealousy is always old. I’d like to think it is about this man or that woman but at heart it never is.

It is also never this: Jealousy is never about love, it’s never about sex, it’s never about attractiveness even though those may be the cards we play in trying ever so hard to explain our predicament when trapped in jealousy’s swamp.

It’s also—and I am slowly coming to get this—never about him.

My recent tutor is French analyst Marcianne Blevis in her book “Jealousy: true stories of love’s favorite decoy.” She makes the powerful and iconoclastic case that jealousy exists to help us and to free us. Yes, I know it never feels anything like that, does it? She’s onto something though. (Yeah duh, she’s a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist and brilliant so I’ll concede that she’s “onto something”).

But look at this thing she says: Jealousy is a response to anxiety. (jealousy is not the anxiety but a response to a preexisting anxiety) and she says the anxiety arose early in our lives: “If an impulse in childhood is struck down by a prohibition, it transforms itself into a terror and anguish” Ok, that makes sense I will be jealous of one whom I perceive to be the thing I was never allowed to be. But then she says this: “Jealousy not only tangles our memories, but also puts us in contact with those unconscious forces of childhood that are struggling to free themselves from the realm of the incommunicable.”

I did mention that she’s brilliant right?

Jealousy is not bad no matter how bad it feels. It is built in as a gift to save us. It is as if it is the antidote taped to the side of the poison bottle. It comes to free us from the thing that was prohibited, the thing we transformed into terror long before we had words.

Here’s a simple way to get at this in yourself: What were you not allowed to do that you did naturally and freely as a child? What did your mother or father prohibit? What were you shamed for? Was there something you did or liked to do for which affection or love was withdrawn?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gail Sheehy Caregiving Book

I’m reading Gail Sheehy’s new book: Passages in Caregiving. It is very good. It may be the best book available on caregiving. It’s heavy on specific advice and true—brutally true—stories and very light on the platitudes. Nowhere in this book does she talk about putting on your own oxygen first. Bless you Gail Sheehy for knowing that the “oxygen in the plane” thing is a stupid metaphor. For most of us caregivers the plane has already crashed

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tony's Wisdom

My friend Tony died of lung cancer a year ago. He was a charming and witty guy and he had the gift of seeing quickly and deeply into people and situations. His comments could sting but he was the one to go to for an honest and helpful assessment of any situation. He continued to tell the truth when he had cancer.

Last week I ran into a mutual friend and we talked about how Tony lived and died with cancer. She told me that he said to her, “You can’t have cancer in the midst of an orgasm or a belly laugh.”

Sunday, May 9, 2010


We are writing our wedding invitation. We each write a draft and compare notes. They are almost identical. We both used the word Joy. It is the perfect word and has been from the start. Not happiness, not peace. But it is Joy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Home Wrecker

Thank you Oprah and Rielle Hunter for re-framing the feminist discussion: “Are women property?” Most people would say that women are not, but when we enter this discussion it turns out that men are.

Hence language like: home wrecker and a husband stealer. But notice that in these discussions—on the air and all the next day at the water cooler—it’s always the women getting bashed—and mostly by women.

Infidelity brings out the most anti-woman beliefs in the most feminist women. We blame a woman or both women in the social construction of infidelity.

The “other woman” is a thief, home wrecker and man stealer. On the other hand if we determine that she’s not the bad one then certainly the wife is because she didn’t “hold onto her man”. In either case the man is just a piece of valuable property to be kept, owned, held or stolen. Kind of like a check book with a penis.

Oprah for all her big talking and her embracing of the pseudo-psychological and the empowerment of women still misses the basic geometry: Infidelity is a triangle. Three human beings, equally flawed, equally trying, equally noble, equally victims, equally responsible.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Women Writing About Women

“If a woman writes about herself, she’s a narcissist. If a man does the same thing, he’s describing the human condition.”

That’s from Emily Gould in the May 3 New York Magazine. Gould’s new book, “And the Heart Says Whatever” will be published this week. Her statement hits home as I struggle to write about cancer and caregiving and love and sex –and work and clothes and money and fear and thinking and therapy and food and writing.

Is it one woman’s story and/or the human condition?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Home Again, Home Again

I’m home from Orlando. A week of conferences, teaching, sunshine and a hotel room all to myself. One million people visit Orlando every year. That’s what the taxi driver told me on my way to the airport yesterday. They come for Disney and the other attractions. But my vacation this week was totally inside the Florida Hotel and Conference Center. It was Goldilocks’ perfection: not too big, not too small, with a nice restaurant on premises and a great swimming pool. If you love to swim you’ll get this: most hotel pools are too short for real laps, you have to begin your turn after a few strokes but this hotel had a pool that was looooong so great, luxurious long laps with a real deep end so I could play mermaid and practice dives.

I loved having a week away. It was mostly work; I was teaching and speaking to a national caregivers group and I loved the people. But each day after the last session I was so happy to decline dinner invitations and have a swim and then dinner alone in the lobby and then go to my room to watch junk TV and read my book.

Home last night to John grinning at me from the airport gate. Then showing off my new tan--real and faux—for him and having a proper and wicked welcome home on the dining room floor.