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Archive for April, 2018


with 2 comments

This is number 5 in a series. If you want to start at the beginning, scroll down until you find number 1.

I am having a very odd day.

A little while ago, I posted a status on Facebook that went like this:

“Somebody should send me 3 extra large pizzas, 3 orders of garlic bread with cheese, and a large garden salad with blue cheese dressing.

That would make this a better day.”

The weird thing about this is that it’s literally true. If that stuff showed up at my door an hour from now, my day would be so vastly improved that it would be hard to exaggerate the difference from what this day is going to be like instead.

If I could get it sent from my local hole in the wall family owned pizza place, it would be even better.

The reasons why I can’t do this for myself today are complicated, and more self revelatory than I’m willing to be at the moment.

And that brings up an issue I hadn’t really considered when I decided to restart this blog.

Given the cancer, and the vast number of issues that trail along with it, I find myself running into a wall that is the fact that this blog is public.

Anything I put up here will be seen not just by me and mine, and not just by the people who already know about everything that is going on, but by dozens of people who know nothing about me at all.

And that brings me to a dilemma.

On the one hand, there’s not a lot of point to this blog if I don’t tell the truth, and the whole truth, about what I am living through.

On the other hand, I hate the feeling of being overexposed, and I REALLY hate the idea of presenting myself as Poor Little Me.

If there’s one thing my situation has brought home to me, it’s that no matter how bad this all has gotten—and some of it, including today, has been really, really bad—taken as a life as a whole, it’s been much better than a lot of other people’s.

This is true in a worldwide perspective. I’m not being gassed in Syria. I haven’t been kidnapped by Book Harum. I’m not being executed for blasphemy in Pakistan or subjected to female genital mutilation in the Ivory Coast.

But this is also true if I only compare myself to other more or less middle class Americans.

After all, neither of my children died at Parkland or Sandy Hook.  I haven’t descended into dementia. The cancer is mine and not Matt’s or Greg’s.

But even though I can point to all those things, I’m also sure that I’m not the only one who is working very hard not to sound like Poor Little Me. There are lots of us out there, and certainly on my Facebook feed, being careful not to give out information about how bad things get.

There’s a part of me, though, that wishes some other people would be more explicit,  if only so I could know if the things that happen to me are normal,  or such ridiculous outliers that I have a right to an emotional meltdown.

And there’s a part of me that thinks I should stop vaguebooking, or concealing things altogether, so that people who read what I write can get the same information.

I’m going to go off now and dream about all that pizza I can’t get.



Written by janeh

April 28th, 2018 at 11:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Imaginary Friends

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This is the 4th in a series. If you want to start at the beginning, scroll down until you get to number 1.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought this blog post was going to be about  my bucket list—once I figured out what was supposed to be on it. For some reason, the whole idea of a bucket list never caught on with me. There are always lots of things I want to do, and new ones all the time. Mostly, if there’s something I want to do, I get fairly single minded about doing it. I am sometimes so single minded, I scare even myself.

And right now, the only item I can think of that would fit the traditional idea of a bucket list would be to learn to play the harpsichord. That one, I don’t think I’m going to do. I’m bad at musical instruments in general. Learning to play would require a great deal of time and practice. And a really decent harpsichord would cost a year’s income of the ordinary sort, and with cancer expenses it would just be ridiculous.

But in general, I don’t think I have too much to complain about. I first decided I wanted to go to Vassar when I was 3. My father had a complete set of the Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia, and there was a black and white picture of girls parking their bikes in front of Thompson Library. And I knew, as soon as I saw it, that I had to grow up to be in that place.

I graduated in 1973. When I was a student, I would go into the main reading room and just sit, looking up at “the great window.” If I’d never heard of the place before my college tour, that window would have made up my mind.

Most of the other things I wanted to do as a child I managed to do over time. I wanted to write what I wanted to write the way I wanted to write it and have a “real” publisher bring it out in hardcover. I did that. I wanted to live in Paris at least for a while. I did that. I wanted to get married and have children.

A good friend of mine always warns me that I shouldn’t say things like this, because people will resent it. Most people do not do what they set out to do in life. They take the existence if people who do as a kind of implied criticism.

I’ve lived long enough to know that criticizing the way other people have lived their lives is a dangerous pastime. Lives are full if variables, and luck makes far too much of a difference.


Part of the problem is that I am always aware that in the matter of the most important item on my childhood list, I failed.

Worse, I failed in a way I could not fix. I failed for the sane reason I would have failed at capturing a unicorn.

I was looking for something that did not exist, and that certainly does not exist now.

To make this a little clearer, you have to understand that I spent most of my childhood and adolescence as a person out of place. I just didn’t fit, with anybody. I was absolutely the wrong kind of daughter for my mother. She needed a daughter who loved dolls and make-up. She got me a doll every Christmas, and I discarded it as soon as I opened the box. She was one of the most intellectually insecure people I have ever met. Her parents responded to the Great Depression by yanking the girls out of school so the boys could finish, which meant she never graduated from high school. All I ever wanted was to read books and write them.

The fit with my classmates and my relatives wasn’t very good, either, although the classmates thing got better when I was sent to an all girls high school.

What’s more, around junior high I discovered two things: philosophy, and the Yale Co-op.

Philosophy turned out to be what I imagined people read and talked about in places like that black and white Funk and Wagnalls picture. It was the core meaning of “the life of the mind,” which was a phrase I’d come across in a novel by Mary McCarthy (Vassar girl!). There were, I concluded, places where people cared most about reading and thinking, and if I could just get out and away to one of those places, I could be happy.

What’s more, people had been doing this thing for thousands of years. It wasn’t something out of the way, or unusual, or odd. People thought and read about life and art and destiny and then they wrote down what they thought about it all, and that was “philosophy.”

What’s more, the entire point of the enterprise was to think and to know. That was it. Not to know in order to put the knowledge to use, but just to know, because knowing itself was the important part.

Without realizing it, I had stumbled over the entire rationale for education in Western Civilization. This was why Socrates taught in Athens, why Plato founded the Academy, why one medieval city after another established universities.

And, as I said, about this time, I discovered the Yale Co-op. My mother’s people were from New Haven, so we went down there fairly regularly. And the Co-op was open to the public. And, best of all, the Co-op sold books of philosophy, history, classical literature, and everything else, very, very cheaply.

From that point on, my focus was in finding a way to get to one of these places. It was , I was sure, just a matter of time. I would suffer through the nonsense I had to, and then I would get to one of these places, and then I would fit.

I don’t know when I first began to realize that these places I had imagined didn’t exist, or at least didn’t exist any more.

It’s hard to know whether something in the past ever “really” existed. Time tends to strip away complexities and contradictions. Put 500 years between yourself and Roger Bacon, and you can manage not to notice that there is a huge gulf between what he wrote and the way he lived. The man may have founded modern science, but he was an opportunistic, traitorous little shit.

Still, something like what I imagined must have existed, at least partially, somewhere. I had professors at Vassar who were just the kind of people I was thinking of, men and women who lost themselves in the problem of evil, or the metaphysical poets, had or the way in which Loves politics lead to Mill’s.

And there were other indications. There was, for instance, one of my favorite books on the planet, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. That was a portrait of exactly what I wanted, of the university—and the life of the kind—ands I had imagined them to be.


By the time I got to college, the thing I was looking for was already dying, if it had ever existed at all.

Of course, there were still individuals out there who did the kind of thing I was thinking of. I got really good at finding their books.

But the enterprise itself seems to have largely committed suicide. Rather than being dedicated to knowledge for its own sake, the people who claim to be engaged in the life of the mind seem to care only for what they can use to prosecute an agenda. To that end, they allow themselves to know as little as possible.

I don’t understand what to do with “professors” of political science who don’t know what a right is, or “experts” in moral philosophy who advocate infanticide for children born with disabilities and don’t seem to realize that that idea has a history, I don’t know what to do with literature “professionals” who think that railing about Shakespeare’s “misogyny” says anything about Shakespeare.

I do know that I never got to that place where I thought I would fit, and never will.

I thought the world I was aiming for was a goal.

It turned out to be the homeland of imaginary friends.


Written by janeh

April 26th, 2018 at 11:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Atheists in Foxholes

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This is part 3 in a series. If you want to start at the beginning, scroll down.

It’s Sunday, and traditionally on Sunday I have a Day of Rest. I listen to my favorite music on the planet—a two CD set called Bach: Harpsichord Concertos, by the Academy of Ancient Music, Andrew Manze director, with Richard Egarr on the harpsichord.

Bach composed for the harpsichord. Playing his harpsichord concertos on the piano is really wrong of you. I mean—

Never mind.

Because of the present situation, I’m not going to quite get my day of rest, because—forms! forms!

But I did listen to my Bach, and that got me thinking about…


God is what most people in my position seem to be thinking of. I know lots if believers, and lots of people who pray constantly. Some of them pray for me.

A lot of these people are convinced that people who say they don’t believe in God are kying, to themselves as well as the rest of the world. Faced with death, they will find their lies stripped away, and they will acknowledge what they should have acknowledged all along.

But I know a lot of people who don’t believe, and I don’t think they’re lying to themselves or anybody else.

And I think that both atheists and believers are to be envied. Somehow or the other, they just know.

But for me, the problem is a lot more complicated.

I don’t just know. I don’t know that God exists. I don’t know that God doesn’t exist.

When I feel the universe around me, I don’t detect a Presence—but I also don’t detect an Absence.

The universe does not feel empty, but it also doesn’t feel as if a consciousness capable of communicating with my own is out there.

This kind of thing is often called “agnosticism,” but that doesn’t feel accurate with me either.

Agnosticism is an intellectual position, and I’m not talking about an intellectual exercise.

If you’ve ever been alone in an absolutely empty house, you know what I mean about the quality of the silence. It’s different, and emptier, than it would be even if the only other person on site was someone out of sight and silently asleep in a bedroom upstairs.

The universe around me doesn’t feel like that.  The problem is that it doesn’t feel like anybody is home, either.

I have never heard of anybody talk about this like this. I have heard arguments from atheists, and from believers, and both kinds of people seem to just know.

Even now, though, I don’t just know anything.



Written by janeh

April 22nd, 2018 at 10:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Out of Time and Space

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This is Part 2 in a series. If you want to start at the beginning, scroll down.

It’s taken a few days to get to this, and that may happen again over time.

I have a regular routine, and now that I’m out of the hospital and physical rehab, I’m trying to stick to it. Routines work well for me. For a long time in my life, I was doing far too much in far too many pkaces. Without a routine, I wouldn’t have gotten it all done. I may not have survived it.

These days, the routine helps, but I keep running put of gas.

I try to start the day working on fiction. Then I go to the practical matters that this situation makes necessary. Powers of attorney. Copyright assignments. Paperwork having to do with the treatments my body might just be able to handle. Whatever.

The blog should be the third thing, but sometimes I get there and have no energy keft.

So instead of the blog, I eat lunch and cons out for a while.

But still.

In a way, my routine has a tinge of the surreal.

For decades now, that routine has been unvarying.

I make myself a 48 ounce cup of Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey tea, two tea bags steeped for at least 15 minutes (sometimes 20).

Then I sit down and read for half an hour to an hour.

Then I apply myself to fiction.

Then I apply myself to other things—including, hopefully, this blog.

Then I break for lunch.

If I’m teaching—I’m not, this term—I may have to break before lunch, to go do that.

But there it is, my day, which starts at 6 on the days I’m not teaching and at 4:30 on the days I am.

One of the reasons I landed in the hospital a couple of weeks ago was that I became incapable of doing much of anything in this routine except drinking the tea, and even that I made it only halfway through.

For years now, I’ve been keeping a composition book listing all the books I’ve read, month by month and year by year.

Unless I’m reading something very long and complicated—a history of the Protestant Reformation was one—I average about 5 books a month.

In January of this year, I read one. It was a short genre mystery, and I forgot to write it down. Which means that at the moment, I can’t remember what it was.

In February and March, I read nothing.

I was a mess in so many ways, I won’t even try to list them.

I was sleeping most of the day. I had incredible pain in my legs, so bad that I couldn’t walk at all without help, and even then I screamed out loud every time I had to put weight on my kept leg.

Hell, forget putting weight on it. If I sat in a way that the leg dangled, where I couldn’t put my foot flat on the floor, that made me scream, too.

I couldn’t concentrate. On anything. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t eat much, and when I did eat everything tasted like sand.

But although the time in the hospital landed me with a terminal cancer diagnosis, it—and the weeks of physical rehab—cleared up or significantly ameliorated a lot of the subsidiary problems.

I am definitely in a debilitated state in some ways. I need a walker to get around the ground floor of my house, and the stairs are really difficult. And, as I said above, I tire out faster than I used to.

But the most obvious thing is that I actually feel pretty much normal. My routine is back. I just finished an 800+ page book on the American Revolution and its aftermath. The plot of this book I’m working on is—okay, I really like it. And food tastes great, and I want a lot of it.

I feel so normal, when I’m inside the schedule I often find myself forgetting the situation I’m in.

When I was so sick earlier in the year, a part of me thought that if I was dying, it might not be the worst idea.

God only knows I couldn’t have lived like that for very long.

But right now, I am living the way I’ve always lived, and I find myself increasingly unwilling to give it up.

Not that my will has much to do with it.


Written by janeh

April 21st, 2018 at 11:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

1 The Beginning of the End

with 5 comments

I have spent considerable time over the last few weeks trying to make up my mind whether to restart this blog.

I finally decided that I would restart it, but that I wouldn’t advertise the restart. If you’re one of those people who check this space  periodically to see if I’ve  decided to say something, you’ll catch it, and you can tell anyone you like.

In the meantime, I will write what I want to write and say what I want to say, and whoever reads it can think what they want to think.

So what is it that I want to say?

Well, first, to cut to the chase, a couple of months ago I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and told that, assuming I can be treated at all, I had about 2 years left to go.

The actual situation is considerably more complicated than that, and in many ways worse—it’s truly astounding the numbers of medications I have bad side effect reactions to—but I don’t understand enough about medical things to explain it.

It also sort of bores me silly. Doctors may be interested in why I can’t handle Letrozole. I’m only interested in the fact that I can’t.

But I am interested in other things, and the other things are why I have restarted this blog.

Some of those things are essentially petty. I saw my late husband through terminal cancer, and I can tell you that the process is a war, and not just in the ways you think.

Yes, the money and the resources are constantly draining. You run out of cash and food and God only knows what else.

But the emotional stuff is far worse. It is completely astounding to me how many people in the “helping professions” will lie straight to your face, will pull every passive-aggressive manipulation in the book, will outright bully knowing that you’re too emotionally (and often physically) weak to fight back.

So, okay. There may be some stuff about what’s in that last paragraph.

I sometimes get beaten down and then, when I have a chance to collect myself, absolutely furious.

But some of the things I’ve been thinking about are not so petty.

We all know, from the beginning, that life will end eventually. I don’t know why it takes a time limit to make that feel real.

But it does. Or at least it does for me.

So part of what I want to talk about is that kind of thing. God, maybe. Meaning, if there is any such thing. Why the easiest way to get me angry is to tell me everything happens for a reason.

I’ll get to it. I’ll try to number each of the blog posts in this series.

Well see what I wander into.

Written by janeh

April 17th, 2018 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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