Category Archives: Pink noise

Classy Cancer

Screenshot 2017-07-20 09.11.39

There’s a lot going around about how “classy” [sic] President Obama’s tweet about Senator McCain’s cancer diagnosis is. With a heavy heart, I dissent. As much as I love Obama, and although I trust that he speaks in good faith, I find this tweet hurtful and triggering. It traffics in the mythology that “tough” people are less susceptible to cancer and that having attitude is enough to beat it. (So what happens when cancer *does* know “what it’s up against,” and which cases are those?)

President Obama’s statement perpetuates unhelpful habits of mind that insult cancer patients and survivors every day, as when people said to me, when I was diagnosed at age 41, “It’s a rite of passage, like menopause!” Or, as I waited for the results of my biopsy, knowing that 4 of 7 in my family of origin, including my father, had been treated for breast cancer, “I’m sure you’re fine!” (I wasn’t.  And now we are up to 6 out of 7 having been treated for breast cancer. Breast cancer is what my family of origin does best, and we have a good showing with colon, brain, bone, lung, and liver too.)

Cancer is not sentient; it cannot know (or not know) what it is “up against.”  It is a virulent disease, without consciousness. A patient’s attitude and toughness, if they play a role at all, are much less important than other factors, including ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE. So for Obama to invoke this heroic mythology, however well intentioned, is careless.  And, given what the citizenry is confronted with on the very same day regarding health care access, unseemly.

Senator McCain may well appreciate such sentiments, and if so, that may well be helpful to him.  But I am not alone in feeling re-injured when cancer is presented as a video game with good guys facing off against bad—almost a cause for celebration of the battle.

Hearing constantly about battles, with unrealistic predictions of success, and feeling pressure to think my fight against a life-threatening illness will ensure my survival, just makes me tired.  For me, experience cancer is cause for humility, not chutzpah.  And guess what?  I am still here anyway, heroism or not.

—Rosie Untied

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Filed under Impermanence, Pink noise

Regrounding on Komen’s Karate

“I’m thrilled Maura appears to be doing well and feeling strong, but this isn’t about Maura. This is about the fact that  Komen has yet again launched a fundraising campaign that lays blame for cancer deaths squarely at the feet of those who have died. It’s convenient that the dead can’t complain. They can’t come back to talk about their fierce will to live, their end of life struggles, the many treatments they endured, or how much they and their loved ones have lost. The dead are an easy target, and Komen takes a cheap shot.”

“Only the Weak Die of Cancer,” by Lori at regrounding

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March 1, 2015 · 10:08 pm

Cancer Goalie

I will survive!   (Until I don’t.)

In a recent A Way With Words segment, Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett considered the words “cancer survivor.”  I know survivorhood well; we have been circling one another for some time.  But our days together are numbered.

Following my initiation into the cancer club, I referred to myself as a “survivor” a couple of times, and it always felt artificial, forced.  I was alive, but sore and scarred, and I couldn’t lift my arms above my head for some time.  The high-octane s-word did not fit: it has a tinge of wishful thinking or hubris, maybe chutzpah—not to mention an unacknowledged disdain for those who perish. Anyone who has had cancer knows she can’t be sure how many days lie ahead.  And we all stop surviving eventually, cancer or no cancer.

Even more, I resisted referring to myself with a noun that described just one facet of my identity.  It was too essentializing.  Instead I described myself as “someone who has experienced cancer,” or “who has been treated for cancer,” or, sometimes, “who has to be aware of the possibility of more cancer in her future.” (Catchy, eh?)  Think of “cripple” becoming “crippled,” then “disabled.”  And later moving on to “differently abled,” or “someone who uses a wheelchair,” or “who has physical limitations.”  If you resist such rewording and fine-tuning, imagine being diagnosed with cancer.  Might your emotional or psychological response be influenced by these terms, which identify the tumor-laden as either losers or winners?

A few months ago, I polled  members of a Facebook group, Flat and Fabulous, about this very term.  The variety of responses synced up pretty closely with those noted in the A Way With Words discussion.  Some were fierce: “Goddammit; I sure am surviving this beast,”  or, “I have been through three cancers, and I am still here.”  Others felt they were not “entitled” to say they were surviving, since the oncological jury was still out.  Still others, in the midst of treatment, were feeling more nauseated and weakened than triumphant.  And, perhaps, irked by the pressure to triumph.

Sometimes I describe myself as “half flat,” which makes a musical pun.  When I do on occasion use a noun, it is “Amazon,” to describe my body shape, not any warrior status.  The word “warrior,” mentioned in the A Way With Words discussion, is another that may feel alternately inspiring or overbearing. (And as I have pointed out elsewhere, “real” women warriors are not always honored for their service.)  If this fighting were more like tai ji fencing, where one learns to yield to impact and redirect it, all the while honoring one’s opponent and seeking balance, I would eagerly take up my sword again.

It’s interesting how words like this can be affirming or off-putting, welcoming or perplexing.  They can honor shared experience or ignore individual stories.  Or, more likely, both.   And the words used to described those of us who have hosted malignancies are part of a wider complement of cancer lingo.  Some find this shared vocabulary meaningful.  There is a Facebook group that calls itself “My Pink Sisters.”  Some women have pink-ribbon tattoos.  Curiously, there are also pink drill bits used for tracking.  (I am not making this up.)  The Susan G. Komen Foundation even colonized the universe recently when they launched a pink space probe into the final frontier.  (I am not making this up either.  The Onion did.  Not surprisingly, some people believed it.  For good reason.)  For my part, thanks to the commodification of breast cancer that proliferates like . . . like a cancer, I often choose to excise the word “breast” from my “status,” not wanting to be tied up in ribbons or to field others’ rose-colored thoughts.  Of course I speak for myself only.  My own preferences notwithstanding, it is important to appreciate  individual experiences, responses, and strategies for—yes, survival.  There is no wrong way to do cancer.

The all-or-nothing sensibility of  survivorhood seems to reflect the black-and-white thinking that seeps through many discussions about cancer.  As Martha mentions, we used to say “victim,” and we have moved on to “survivor.”  Is there nothing in between?  It’s like being forced to think oneself a prisoner or an escape artist, when living after cancer feels more like being a fugitive. Maybe a refugee. Interestingly, the older term “remission,” which Susan Gubar recalls in her  “Don’t call me a cancer survivor,” sounds more realistic. Whether victim, survivor, warrior, or wimp, the word “patient” never gets dropped.  Please remember that when you demand to be reassured by asking, “But you’re fine now, right?  It’s behind you?”—as if cancer is a box to be checked on a to-do list.  A friend recently described me as having “beat” cancer, but that is not how I see it; I still have a hot date with my oncologist every spring.

What about “veteran,” or “alum”?  With the possibility of reenlistment or grad school in the future?

Who is all winner?  Or all loser?  Who stays in first place, and for how long?  Grant points out that the term “survivor” can instill superstition.  Understandably.  So, can one be a semi-survivor?  A sometime survivor?  A suffering survivor?  An aspiring survivor?  A post-survivor?  A part-time or temporary worker in the mutation factory?  So-so?  B-list?  Has-been?  Perhaps we are all senior rookies, or fledgling masters.

One can strive to survive, but is one ever “a survivor?”  Survival is a desire, an ambition, a goal.  Attaining that goal is a stroke of good fortune.  Whatever I call myself, I may live to an old age or die ahead of schedule.  Either way, survival is a momentary experience, not a fixed identity.

One of my tumors was said to be invasive, the other more domestic, resting contentedly “in situ.”  I did not see either growth as aberrant or intrusive.  They were  part of my physiology, and likely part of my DNA.  I accepted that they crashed the party, even though I did not invite them to stick around.  But I know my body is transient, and that impermanence is part of every life story.

How about being an “initiate?”  A “traveler?”  A “maven,” or “doyenne?”  Is there such a thing as a “cancer dancer?”  Indeed, could one conceive of  partnering one’s wayward insides rather than battling an alien attacker?  (Perhaps the shapeshifting cells think they are in the right.  “Occupy Rosie!”)  Can one be a cancer yogi, or a cancer bodhisattva?   Can the experience of being dismembered engender a sense of humility and belonging rather than a struggle for dominance and separation?

Clarissa Pinkola Estés refers, not specifically in regard to cancer but more generally, to the “scar clan.”  That seems a way to honor both what has been lost and what remains.

The arch  “vixen” is taken, as is the in-your-face “b**ch.”  (Not to worry.  The b-word horrifies me anyway.)  Maybe I could be a minx.  Or a high priestess.

Victim or survivor?  Bouncer or maître d’?

Cancer mouse, cancer cat?  Cancer shark?  Cancer rat!

Hmm.  While we’re fantasizing, maybe I can be a goalie, nimbly keeping the opponent at bay up until the second overtime period of the fifth game of the finals.

Jonathan Quick, L.A. Kings Photo by Kaz Andrew  Wikimedia Commons Click for original.

Jonathan Quick, L.A. Kings
Photo by Kaz Andrew
Wikimedia Commons
Click for original.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But it’s not all glory: let’s not forget the back story.  26 rounds of wind-up matches, and at last it’s opening night.  Game 1: a virtuosic refusal of the puck—but no, it ricochets off of footwear and gets by!  Missed signals,  32 deflections.  A setback, and then the longest game ever.  We prevail, but it could have gone the other way, couldn’t it?  Not even Gumby-like splits guarantee a win.

I know I am returning to the image of the champion fighting off the intruder, but at least there is a team involved, not just a lone hero hoarding the win. And the goalie’s goal is to fend off any goal.  (I can get with that; it sounds like Beckett.)  He does not seek an endpoint; he plants himself at yours and makes sure you don’t get in.  He’s a protector, not a colonizer: Mama Bear on ice.

Not to mention those extraordinary iliopsoas muscles.  If anything can keep cancer at bay, they can.

(I pause to feel grateful that I have lived long enough beyond cancer to discover hockey.  And to thank Martha and Grant for helping me find my inner goalie.)

A friend once used the term “cancer saint”  to describe the obligation she supposed I felt to be a perfect patient.  She was right, and I have aimed to to sin more ever since.  Another woman, a “breast friend,” asked, “Were you afraid you would flunk cancer?”  Actually, yes, I was.

As much as I resist the demarcation of carcinomatous identities, I have for efficiency’s sake coined (oops, maybe not) the term “cancer queen”: this is how I understand those who strive to ascend through the malignant ranks and reign supreme. To be the star, the “it girl”—to bask in admiration and preside over the club rather than seeking solace in sisterhood.  This is another result of commodification, I think; one has to produce the best-selling cancer characterization in order to ensure . . . survival?  But the celebration of the decked-out diva ensures our indifference to the humbly dressed second alto doing her own surviving in the back row of the chorus, not to mention the third-chair trombonist hiding beneath the stage and waiting patiently until the second act to play her lowly three notes.

Whom does the cancer queen serve?  Does she feed her subjects, or feed off of them?  Is there such a thing as a cancer vampire?  Probably.  After all, there are “real” cancer princesses, of the Disney persuasion. (I am not making this up.)

Let’s hope that the lifespans of Disney-derived mastectomy-scar cartoons prove short and that the women who have been asked to buy, or buy into, the fetish of the carved-up princess will persevere for a while.  And let’s hope that the next generation, already swimming in pink products, will see less cancer and less cancer swag.  Maybe these young ones will be shrewd and cunning, able to harness global warming to scorch rogue cells or reroute military drones to zap warriors’ tumors without being seen.  Maybe these soon-to-be women will be artful dodgers, mischievous tricksters, or fearless mavericks, and they will not have to use the term “cancer” at all.

Yes, I did say we’re all impermanent.

But there are better ways to stop surviving.

—Rosie Untied

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Filed under Buddha, Cancer™, Impermanence, Pink noise, Scrub it P$#k, Unreconstructed

What Color Is Your Warrior?

There is a lot of discussion about the “Breast Cancer Warrior.”  Women who have been diagnosed are often lauded for fighting a battle and for refusing to give up.  And others raise questions about this archetype or model.

There is a pink image, “Keep Calm and Fight Like a Girl”; perhaps the mid-century British provenance has something to do with the subtler shade of rose, a color I can take in without sunglasses.   Thank you!  That alone helps me to be calmer.  There is what looks like a wine glass with the slogan “Breast Cancer Warrior.”  That is interesting too. I kind of like the idea of being an oenowarrior.  (When I was auditioning oncologists, one said I should drink only on the weekends; the other reminded me of the research about a glass of wine a day being beneficial.  I liked them both, but it was the latter I hired.)  A few years back, when I totaled my Focus, so to speak, I saw this somewhat jarring image at the Ford repair shop:

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is also an endearing-looking tee-shirt that seems to have a tree branch, antlers, or a tribal tattoo image, surrounding a burgundy heart.  It is shown on a flat-chested body, identified as a men’s shirt, but I like to pretend it is a woman in the picture.

There is something intriguing, too, about tee-shirts being adopted as warrior gear—displaying, deliberately or inadvertently, the vulnerability of the body.  Unlike tough battle armor designed to protect the body, this slight piece of cotton sits lightly on the chest, tenderly covering the susceptible spot.  It signifies that this battle directed not outward, but inward—not protecting the skin from puncture, but breaking the skin to excise the offending intruder.

Certainly some breast cancer patients find these images useful, and others prefer to view ourselves in other roles.  For my part, I am simply intrigued by the this vocabulary and its accompanying imagery.  As someone who has been overly self-effacing and accommodating at times, but who has gradually learned about enlightened warriorship and practiced tai ji sword for a time, I recognize that welcoming the unwelcome can be counterproductive.  But the thought of gearing myself up for war against my own insides also feels harsh, a little too close to self-harm.  It is not easy to navigate this territory, when the offender lies within.  And it asks us to summon superhero strength when our bodies are already weakened.  Perhaps that is what is necessary.

There are other images of women warriors floating around.  I’ve witnessed some interesting discussions and debates over the costuming of female characters in fantasy literature and film, though this aspect comprises my sole contact with that material.  I’m more familiar with powerful and determined women (and men) who have advocated equality for women, for people of color, for trans individuals, for economic justice and for the eradication of sexualized violence, and other things I probably do not know to worry about yet.  While there is significant energy around these issues these days, much of it on social media, there is also a lot of resistance, even aggression, toward these efforts.  There is also denial and naiveté, which place us all in danger.  When Elliot Rodger murdered several people earlier this year, there was a reflexive script that was recited and regurgitated: “This is not about misogyny; he was mentally ill.”  But few pointed out that his pathology was shaped by damaging notions of gender, by a deadly cocktail of a gun, a mind, and a culture  wherein men are told they are entitled to women’s attentions.  The fact that men were “well represented” among the victims showed, not so much that it was men he focused on, but that the fury of a man rejected can mutate to kill men too.

Of necessity, some advocates, under siege, have adopted the role of warrior in order to persevere under such inhospitable circumstances.  My own fight, undertaken reluctantly, has concerned equity in the workplace, and I have encountered not only hostility, but outright aggression and retaliation, and perhaps—though I cannot know others’ intentions—deliberate, concerted efforts to ruin my career.  It is clear to me that I am expected to accept second-class status, to undermine my, um, prowess—which, I daresay, is considerable—in order to soothe others’ egos.  (Sadly, they have chosen to battle my excellence, even though they themselves could benefit from my wisdom and expertise.  What abundance of antipathy must one nurse to get to the point of harming another who, if unimpeded, could benefit oneself?  I suspect it weighs heavily.) I have learned much and have gradually learned to accept the unfortunate reality that I too must embrace the role of warrior.  I have fashioned myself as a warrior for peace, but, also sadly, I have received  more aggression, exclusion, and intimidation, and I have witnessed some outlandish, circus-like antics in the process.  Of course, I am not immune to going simian myself when under pressure.

So, as I did my laundry yesterday, I was dreaming: what if women were raised to be, and celebrated for, standing in our integrity, not just just in the face of life-threatening illness, but in the face of social injustice, gender discrimination, and economic inequity?  What if something other than our ability to withstand suffering were used to sell bagels, tissues, and beer?  What if we were acclaimed for demanding respectful treatment, which in turn would allow us to collaborate more fully in cultivating better circumstances for all?  Can you imagine a world wherein we would see Ford™ trucks sprouting ribbons supporting Rehtaeh Parsons’s fight against bullying?  And decrying those who violated her and even publicized their acts?  Can you imagine a day when Chelsea Manning’s coming out about gender transitioning is viewed with more compassion than ridicule?  Where I am praised for my wisdom and integrity, for making my workplace better for all, rather than ostracized, bullied, and perhaps forced out?

There is evidence of such support, but the boos and hisses continue to drown out the appreciation and gratitude.

Inspired by taiji, I prefer to ward off my cancer gently, and with respect.  And I support those who choose to do battle instead.  But when I consider how the passion for the pink soldier sits alongside the denigration of other women warriors, I grieve that women who serve in the US military cannot trust that they will remain safe from attack perpetrated by their fellow soldiers.  How can it be that those they are trained to fight with choose instead to fight against them, to humiliate, intimidate,  violate and degrade?  How can they, in a manner akin to that of my non-military colleagues, treat women as the enemy?  I cannot but wonder if the appeal of the breast-cancer warrior model—often, literally, a model—lies in part in its giving license to fight against women’s bodies rather than to honor these same women’s sovereignty over those same bodies.  Cell mutation intrudes into an often-sexualized part of the body, and so do human assailants.

Are women who wear this shirt cheered on as energetically as those who wear pink warrior princess garb?  I have one of these; I’ll report back.  (I chose the color deliberately.)

2001orgpom-w484h484z1-38197-smashing-the-patriarchy-is-my-cardio

From look human.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I dream a world where we women who fight for ourselves, for others, and who demand that our value be recognized and honored, are met with more applause than recrimination and ridicule.  Whatever color we choose for our warrior costumes, whatever adversary we confront, we are all fighting for our lives.

To close, bell hooks’s insights on domestic violence:

“If you go door to door in our nation and talk to citizens about domestic violence, almost everyone will insist that they do not support male violence against women, that they believe it to be morally and ethically wrong. However, if you then explain that we can only end male violence against women by challenging patriarchy, and that means no longer accepting the notion that men should have more rights and privileges than women because of biological differences or that men should have the power to rule over women, that is when the agreement stops. There is a gap between the values they claim to hold and their willingness to do the work of connecting thought and action, theory and practice to realize these values and thus create a more just society.”
—bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions (via thechocolatebrigade)

—Posted by Rosie Untied

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Filed under Pink noise, What Color Is Pink?

All Rosé Today—Or, Men in P$#k

Photo by Matt, via Flickr Used with permission. Click for original.

Photo by Matt, via Flickr
Used with permission.
Click for original.

In search of a mature red characterized by phenomenal richness and incredible longevity,  I strode through the door, startled by an ocean, not of red, but of rosé.  Every single sales consultant in a pale shirt, clashing loudly with the red color scheme of the store.  At the customer service desk was a huddle of three managers, all apink.  It was too much to digest! In order to continue on my quest, I was obliged to don my sunglasses.

I wondered at the mass paling of the usual uniforms: they’re a bright cherry, with a notable black pepper finish.  Where had they gone?  Did someone mismanage the laundry?  Could they be attempting to “reclaim the rosé?”  I have heard that there is a campaign afoot to rescue the poor blush wine, “derided by winemakers, p***ed on by wine judges, revered by the public.”  And at last, it donned on me: October.

I summoned the courage to approach the ever-helpful Brandon, who once congratulated me on my choice of an economical shiraz for mulling, and I asked whether he might like some customer input.  We had a friendly exchange; I explained that I did not want him to be offended, but that some of us who have experienced breast cancer find the staining of October troubling.  “I know it’s for a good reason, and I know you’ll continue, but the store has no way of knowing some of us have misgivings unless we tell you.”  He was receptive and said he would pass on my comment.  Then we compared notes on the stunning Gigondas.  Bold, explosive, stunningly evocative garrigues flavors careen from the glass, blaring their stamp of origin like a neon sign. These are old-styled, powerful wines of enormous fruit amplitude and irresistible personality.  Plus there is the longevity!  All the more poignant in the face of rose-colored t-shirts.

Heartened by Brandon’s good will—and blushing, for I am shy—I sauntered in search of an intense, ruby rosso ready to be released—after all, life is short, or can be—and found one promising classic aromas of blackberry and raspberry, well integrated with notes of vanilla and tobacco. And more, the structure was guaranteed to be ample, very concentrated and harmonious, supported by a good acidity.  How I would love to see acid and harmony support one another more often!

Making my way to exchange lucre for terroir, I mused to myself, “I sense just a hint of strawberries nestled amongst what could almost be virginal yeast development. I can almost smell the acid. This is following nicely into the very fresh and acid driven palate, again the odd nuance of musk stick and strawberry in amongst all that acidity, with just a tinge of greenness on the back palate.”  I dug in my wallet for a few bills.

Looking around again, I saw that, indeed, the gentlemen (yes, they were all gentlemen, to a one) looked serene and tender in their rose-colored shirts.  To my surprise, I started to wish they’d discard the usual red shirts and wear these all year—or least bring them back for Gentle Men’s Month?

Will the rosé’s subtle finish be persistent?  Or will it perish?

Only time will tell.

—Rosie Untied

 

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Filed under Impermanence, Pink noise, What Color Is Pink?

Losing Decline

Monta

Montauk Daisy, October

I always feel a twinge of disappointment when October arrives.  It’s not because the temperatures begin to fall or because the nights lengthen.  On the contrary, autumn has long been my—well, I would not want to play favorites with the seasons, but if I did have a favorite time of year, autumn would be it.  I love the glow of the sun through the cooler air; I relish the warm colors of the changing leaves; and I enjoy the escape from air conditioning to open windows and hear the crickets as I await (and await, and await) the night’s slumber. I happily anticipate the season’s call for pumpkin oatmeal, apple cobbler, and split-pea soup.

Whether I actually get around to making any of these delights is another story, though they are all long-established culinary rituals that I try to make time for and share with friends.  Later on, winter brings spicy solstice cookies, which require a hammer to smash whole peppercorns, cloves, and star anise.  (This is done lovingly, in the service of alchemy.)  The slow cooker, an inheritance from my mother, comes out to simmer with broths and sauces.  When the days lengthen once more, Pasta Caprese announces spring.  There’s always a lot of Pasta Caprese, straight through summer.  And in August, it’s blueberry pie, the recipe adopted from my mother’s Bible, Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook.  I’m pretty successful with pie crust, only because when I was a teenager with Crisco in hand, no one told me that rolling out the dough was difficult. Thus I did not know to fret. (No one warned me of the dangers of Crisco either; it was a different time.)  Each autumn I remember a friend proposing that we should meet up “as gin-and-tonic season gives way to Scotch season,” and I now extend the same  invitation to him.  Indeed, I am pleased think of mulled wine and sangria perching at opposite ends of the wheel of the year.  In October, I have lovely reminiscences of taking my tricolor beagle, Shiloh, to the woods; he perked up as the weather cooled, nearly camouflaged by the trees.

PumpkinsThere is the abundance of the harvest, coupled with the knowledge that it will not last forever: I’d better get to the farmers’ market these next few weeks, before it closes for the year.  The corn, already, is gone, but there are apples for my cobbler.  There are asters in my garden, and the myrtle I planted months ago has begun to fill in.  I’ve always been cheered and calmed by the waning of the sun, for it cannot but bring acknowledgment that all is impermanent.  This reminds me to cherish what I am given while I am able.  Spring, with its promiscuous, bursting blossoms—well, it is beautiful, to be sure, but it always seems a bit manic, overdone, urging me to forget how brief the life span of those bright colors will be.

Why, then, does my secretly favorite season—okay, I might as well admit it—bring such feelings of disappointment?  Is it because I remember three anniversaries in a row?  My mother died in 1995, two days before my fourth wedding anniversary, as my then-mate and I were on our way to a luxurious—I was a proverbially starving graduate student—weekend in Philly, occasioned by a once-in-a-lifetime Brancusi exhibit.  As I passed by the museum for the funeral home, my family members expressed sympathy that I would henceforth experience these two anniversaries in tandem.  Then, five years and two days later, my father died, on the wedding anniversary.  And a few years later, at the same time of year, my spouse and I began living apart, though we continued, for a time, to visit; the dog had died a few months before that, so our walks lacked Shiloh’s baying at squirrels and struggling to evade his leash.

No, the confluence of all these losses fails to dampen my enthusiasm for the shifting colors, sounds, and sensations, though for years it felled me.  Instead, the advent of autumn feels reassuring.  It underscores the way joys and treasures visit for a time, only to elude my grasp in the end.  Long ago I learned to accept, even welcome, these reminders of transience, and I feel more soothed than deflated at the turning of the wheel of the year, at the inexorable movement toward the longest night of the winter solstice and back around again.

What dismays me in October is not the departure of summer or the reminders of other sorts of leave-takings.  It is, rather, the overbearing presence of the color p$#k.  Just as autumn begins to make herself felt,—and heard, in the crunching of leaves and the blasting of marching bands at football games—Breast Cancer Awareness Month enters the stage, draping and drowning this sweet and tender time of year in garish p$#k ribbons.  They festoon ham sandwiches, manila file folders, candies, hair-care supplies.  It seems an ill-mannered intrusion: just as things are winding down and entering the quiet, my surroundings get painted brightly and incongruously with an aggressively cheery hue.  P$#k obstructs my autumn.

5AutumnWindGirlFall can offer a gentle invitation to surrender, to sink, to reflect, just as choosing to stay with any loss may cultivate serenity.  Pema Chödron, ever constant in her wisdom about inconstancy, says of the desire to evade discomfort and run elsewhere:Because we escape, we keep missing being right here, being right on the dot. We keep missing the moment we’re in. Yet if we can experience the moment we’re in, we discover that it is unique, precious, and completely fresh. It never happens twice.”  In a post titled “The Importance of Sadness,” Susan Piver asks questions that reflect gracefully on our autumn leaves: “What if I told you that the way to change the world was not to be bold, resolute, brilliant, or even compassionate? What if I told you that the way to change the world was to be sad?”  She muses that denying sadness may cause despair and blocks one’s own compassion.  Parker Palmer wrote last week about “The Complementary Natures of Beauty and Melancholy“: the way that gratitude may arise—or, one might say, might descend—at this time of year.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, though, encourages one, at least in part, to turn away from difficulty and loss.  Such resistance and dodging is more unsettling than grounding, and I cannot but question a call for “awareness” of a grueling illness that saturates itself with p#$k.  The ribbons promise to lift my spirits in the face of a deadly disease, a disease that entails great suffering, that reminds me daily, through the cycle of the year, of the cycle of life, of my impermanence.  It seems, well, ghoulish to stain this time of year with lurid p$#k trinkets.  So I turn away less from the illness than from the rose-colored glasses offered by Breast Cancer Awareness.  I guess that’s another form of resisting the moment—or is it?  What does it mean to resist resistance?

I want to ease into the quiet, to enter a hard-won peace in the shadows, not to be disturbed by simplistic statements, as empty as the branches of the trees will soon be, about awareness.  Awareness: of all but decay and decline.

So, bring on the pesky p$#k pumpkin. October is here.

I’ll take mine straight, though.  Orange works just fine for me.

—Posted by Rosie Untied

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The Legendary Hope Pumpkin

“It’s the P$#k Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
Click here for full-color version.  (Currently sold out.)
Three hours, ten minutes until October . . .

Pink Pumpkin—Grey

The Legendary Hope Pumpkin

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Katie Rose Guest Pryal on “Inspiration Porn”

William Murphy, Setanta – The Story via Flickr

William Murphy,
Setanta – The Story
via Flickr

 

From Katie Rose Guest Pryal’s September 25 post in her Chronicle Vitae series on psychiatric disability:

People who call you brave for disclosing a disability often feel “inspired” by you as well. Like this: “Your bravery in sharing your psychiatric disability with the world is so inspiring.” (That’s not an actual quotation from a message I received. Not exactly.) “Brave” plus “Inspiration” is a double-whammy of terrible. As the brilliant Stella Young has so nicely put it, “We’re not here for your inspiration.”

See more of Katie Rose Pryal’s “I’m Not Brave.”

 


How does the notion of “bravery” affect the dialogue surrounding breast cancer? Here is one example:

And a Brave Day™ Pink §emonade Project

 

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Self-Portrait Through Mammogram

Mammogram and Me Rays

Self-Portrait Through Mammogram • Barbara White, August 28, 2014

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August 29, 2014 · 11:40 am

When Life-Saving Turns Life-Threatening

On cancer, medication, side effects, depression, and risk.
By Barbara White. Reblogged from iamnotmakingup.com.

The wound and the eye are one and the same. From the psyche’s viewpoint, pathology and insight are not opposites—as if we hurt because we have no insight and when we gain insight we shall no longer hurt.
—James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, 1975.

First, a recollection:

About seven years ago, I began taking an anti-cancer medication, Tamoxifen, after months of fretting about whether or not to do so. I had learned that in a very small percentage of patients, it could kindle or worsen depression. Although it was very rare for that to happen,—my surgeon had never seen a single case, my oncologist maybe one or two—I was indeed one of the “small percentage” to be felled. It took me some time to identify what was happening, but it really hit me that January when I caught a bad cold and had to stop my vigorous daily exercise routine. That habit was likely what had been keeping me afloat, and the sudden need to forgo it was devastating. After a period of perilous despair, during which I felt increasingly disinterested in the next week, day, and hour, I realized that the medication I was taking in the hope of staving off a life-threatening illness was itself life-threatening. For me. (Those last two words are crucial.) Fortunately, my doctors understood this and supported my choice to discontinue the medication. Any doubts I had ever had about the chemical aspect of mood were dispelled that January. There are so many debates and opinions in the offing about whether medication is necessary, helpful, virtuous, and so on. Having had such a severe depressive episode instigated by medication—the inverse of the usual—proved once and for all to my bodymind that chemistry can drive mood. I was not as in charge as I would have liked to think. I could not just repair my mental state with talk, toughness, or the right course of action. Sometimes there is no best course of action available. Sometimes one engages in revivifying exercise and finds it helps. And sometimes one gets a cold and realizes that the bank of endorphins has been used up for the time being. Sometimes Whole Foods runs out of fish oil.

think what you are

Next, a reflection:

It’s easy to think we know what depression is and to think we have wisdom about what is best for another who has experienced despair and anguish. But we know little. As many point out, the casual of the use of the d-word,—“Maleficent isn’t playing any more?! I am so depressed!”—hinders understanding. The mysterious and “yin” nature of the disease does too. Its darkness is powerful and seductive. It’s resistant to illumination. Even those who spend their lives experiencing mood challenges, and treating them, acknowledge the limits of their understanding. Some say that those who die of suicide are selfish, or that they failed to ask for help. Some say that pharmaceutical companies are agents of the State, that their medications are designed to break down the body’s natural chemicals, and that they will inevitably lead to a cure worse than the disease. (Tell that to someone who’s planning to take her life this week. A decline down the road might not be a bad alternative.) That one may eschew the word “suffering” and choose spiritual practice over medication, as long as one meditates in the “right way.” These are all things I have read this week, and I have been especially disheartened to hear some who identify themselves as spiritual practitioners reveal such self-satisfaction, such a lack of humility and compassion. I remember when I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer, dealing with (some) others’ responses was infinitely more difficult than accepting my own morbidity and eventual mortality. I’ve felt similarly pained by much of what I have read this week.

I cannot help but think that the persistent misunderstanding of depression and other mental health conditions relates closely to the fear of decline and death that is so evident in US culture. There are so many claims about superfoods and antioxidants and kale. (Oh, right, kale has been dethroned; is that right? Oops!) However, such apparently “positive” possibilities to engineer über-health inevitably reveal a dark side: all too often, such a desire to be well conspires with a similarly American rush to judge others and to express opinions that arise less from knowledge than from unconsidered attitudes—and, I suspect, from fears. Why else would one police another’s kale consumption? I see this in the discussion about cancer as well: the notion that one can outrun it in one way or another, that it can be cured. I have yet to hear anyone besides me ask in response, “And then what? No death? A better one? Worse?”

I find it hard to imagine that such a “police state of mind” is good for anyone’s mental or physical health. Yet there continues to be a cultural emphasis on the transaction: do this, and you’ll get this. Thing is, there is not always a thing to do, and if there is, it is sometimes comes with a heavy tax. Risk more cancer? Or risk suicide with a drug designed to fend it off? Fortunately, I had a reasonable alternative available. But not everyone does.

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.
—Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill (1926)

An invitation:

For those who have not had the “opportunity” to experience depression personally, or to look into its eyes in some other way, might you consider acknowledging your unknown knowns? Might you be able to tolerate the not knowing, as in Keats’s notion of negative capability? Might you emulate my doctors, who understood that their vast experience did not grant them omniscience, and who were able to accept that, even though it was statistically improbable, a life-saving medication could cause life-threatening side effects? Had they not, I might not be here to be wondering about this.

Here is the invitation, should you choose to accept it: For every opinion you express about depression, or other mental-health issue, read one article or essay about it. Or better yet, talk to someone who has lived with mental-health challenges, and instead of nursing your own opinion about how they should handle it, ask them about their experience, choices, and outcomes. It might be good for your own mental health too.

There’s No Map, But—

Below are some links that regarding mental health, depression, and well-being. They do not all agree with one another or with what I write above. I don’t always agree with myself either.

These two posts from The Belle Jar are especially informative:

When Getting Better Is No Longer An Option

Life as a Mountain Hike (Guest Post)

HuffPo Canada Living has had some good articles this week:

Arti Patel, Robin Williams’ Death Reminds Us Of The Impact Of Words Like ‘Sadness’ And ‘Depressed'”

Shannon Fisher, “Suicide Isn’t A Product Of Not Trying”

Spiritual Practitioners Discuss Depression

Lodro Rinzler, Meditation Isn’t Enough: A Buddhist Perspective on Suicide

Krista Tippett discusses her experience of depression (among many other things) on The One You Feed” (podcast)

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

Stephen Fry

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