For Patricia Yaeger

“I wanted to fill my elegy with light of all kinds. But death makes us stingy. There is nothing more to be expended on that, we think, he’s dead. Love cannot alter it. Words cannot add to it. No matter how I try…it remains a plain, odd history.” So writes Anne Carson at the beginning of Nox, as she creates an epitaph on paper for her brother. Elegy and eulogy do not share a root but they share the difficult task of remembering what is lost, as I do here for my friend Patsy. You can read it here: For Patricia Yaeger: A Modified Eulogy (pdf) (from the Feminist Friendship Archive)IMG_0001

A friend commits suicide

“We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each piece, each moment, plays its own game,” Montaigne writes. “And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.” Here is one of those pieces.

Download the essay “A Friend Commits Suicide” (from Feminist Friendship Archive)

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Chemo Renoir

If only we lived in another century. Our rolls of fat would make us desirable and happy. You might think, as I did, that chemo would lead to weight loss, the one plus for some of us: haven’t we all seen images of cancer patients looking skeletal? Indeed, some do, notably the ones very thin to begin with. For those heavier to begin with, it means irresistible weight gain. No one seems to understand why, but when asked the answer is that they like us fat.

When I decided to stop smoking in 1980, I went to a group held at the 92nd Street Y. It wasn’t the more famous “Smokenders,” but the method was the same: ranking, counting and wrapping cigarettes, cutting back as you went along. At the beginning of the first meeting, the leader announced the following in response to questions about what to expect: Some people will lose weight (eye roll), some will gain, and some will stay the same. I knew immediately to which category I’d belong. Within a week of stopping, I had guessed right: twelve lifelong pounds. Thanks to chemo, I’m now subject to the same karma, and learning to dress like a tent.

When I see slender young women smoking in the street, or smell smoke on my students’ papers, I want to urge them to stop. I want to hand out little note cards with typed messages, the way feminist artist Adrian Piper used to, in relation to racism, with lines that say something like: “Dear Friend/You may not realize this but smoking often causes life-threatening disease.” But I know they will shrug and think as I did when their age: “It won’t happen to me. And besides, I don’t want to dress like a tent.”

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