The universe nailed it these last 24 hours. The universe did exactly what I needed, threw exactly who I needed into my path exactly when I needed them. I’m not into religion, and I don’t put much stock into something bigger looking after us or some premeditated design of the world. I do think we are all part of something larger- something we might call the universe- and that our actions are networked in such ways that mean sometimes what we do vibrates into places, spaces, bodies, and ideas we never imagined. And I do believe that maybe sometimes, that vibrating energy has a way of caring that exists only because we are networked beings, bodies and things in the world. That’s what I mean when I say that the universe nailed it: in the last 24 hours, the right vibrations shook me at the right moments more than once.
Yesterday I was in the middle of pushing what one of my mentors would call “the panic button.” I was exhausted. I was frustrated. I hated cancer (and will always). I felt woefully misunderstood, horribly overburdened, and totally inept at articulating why. And in the middle of this “panic button” meltdown, somebody called. That somebody was from Callanish (cancer support organization that runs the young adult group I’ve mentioned) and she was just checking in, making sure my surgery went OK. Somehow, she called at the exact second that I needed her to call. She had no idea how badly I needed her to call at that exact second, and really, nor did I. But she called. I realized in an instant that she was the exactly right person to be talking to at exactly that moment in order to right things in my world. We talked and I knew it would be OK. I just knew. I knew, and somehow she knew to call. That’s the networked universe at work. Thank you, universe.
Yesterday’s panic was mostly about exhaustion piled with the decision about whether to wear or not wear a wig to teach in today. I’ve had a particularly strong aversion to wigs for the last several weeks, even though until only six weeks ago or so I kept my bald head covered with hats, a variety of wigs, scarves, and even henna. I don’t know exactly what happened. It started in yoga, the bearing of the bald head. When I was good and sure that was OK, it crept slowly into the rest of my life- first at home, then on Facetime, then at the cafe downstairs, then out to breakfast, then to karaoke. And then I hung up my wigs and decided I never wanted to wear them again. I thought maybe I should wear one to my cousins’ wedding, but was dissuaded when it was too hot and no fun- besides, who doesn’t need a weird relative to hang their wig on a chair at a wedding reception? I was that uncouth, to my mothers’ complete disbelief. I’m that cousin. But today the wig situation was different.
Today was the start of a new course I am teaching- a classroom full of thirty two fresh-faced teacher candidates, students with whom I will explore multi-literacies in the context of critical social justice education. I didn’t want to wear a wig. I didn’t want to talk to them about cancer. I wanted to deny their normal curiosity about difference, to pretend they wouldn’t wonder about their bald girl-teacher, to act like nothing happened, to wish my difference invisible. I wanted to go bald because it’s more comfortable, it feels more authentic, it seems more like “hey you, world, it’s me” right now, even though I had a blast with all those fun wigs before.
But I couldn’t. If I went to teach bald, I’d have to engage their questions. I want them to be the kinds of teachers that don’t ignore conversations about race or sex or other topics pushed under the rug in today’s schools. I want them to be the kinds of teachers that deal with reality head-on, that answer questions and that embody risky pedagogy. I want them to question, to wonder, to engage. And if I was bald, you know what I was going to have to do in order to model engaging questions, dealing head-on with difference, chancing risky pedagogy? I was going to have to talk to them about cancer. No thanks. So maybe my pedagogy’s not so risky after all. Or maybe I’m just focused on multi-literacies.
And so this morning I donned my platinum and pale blue wig. I remembered what fun it was to wear wigs. My head itched. I participated in the fantasy that no one gets cancer, not even your friendly graduate instructor. There’s really not a lot of space to take up cancer in your university course, even though we desperately need people who can consider the distribution of health, technology, knowledge, and information in how communities are created, structured and maintained. There are other spaces for cancer in academia, I think, and I hadn’t a clue how to even open the conversation about my baldness in between media literacy and textual analysis. And so I faked it. And you know what? It was kind of a relief. I didn’t get any of those looks from students that I get everyday, those something must be horribly wrong looks. I just got those looks of oh no, we have to make a media project and I don’t know a thing about technology looks. Those kind of looks are fine.
I promptly removed my costume as soon as I was at my next meeting, but then I almost wished I’d left it on. Suddenly, I felt naked. Exposed. Obvious. But it was too late. I’d already whipped that sucker off and stuck it in my purse. I was watching two people from my research group do a practice run-through of their presentations. Their cancer presentations. While I has just come from an academic space where there was no cancer, where I hid my cancer, suddenly I was in an academic space that shines the spotlight precisely on cancer. The first presentation was benign enough. It was the second presentation that got shook me, that left me speechless.
I knew this was going to be about cancer. I knew these were both cancer-researchers practicing their power points about critical cancer scholarship. I felt awesome going into the meeting, sure this would be interesting, easy, “fun.” I was, after all, sitting at a table of friends and I wasn’t even alone in being the only person who’d had cancer in the room.
There were videos. They were so real. Clips from the LuLu Sessions and Resisterectomy were both included, as were clips from Hitchcock’s very old tv series about cancer, Tactic. They were so real. They were so punch you in the gut real. They were cancer. They narrowed in exactly on what it feels like to have cancer, those perfect little moments of horror in which one can see reflected one’s own experience in someone elses’ narrative, and recognize the depth of connection in this shared horror. They were brilliantly chosen and assembled, painting a terrifyingly real picture of what it feels like to have cancer, a picture I wish I could not recognize.
The clips made me wish I was wearing a wig. I wanted to vanish into the floor, pull my wig on, run to the bathroom and sob, yet I was also weirdly riveted. It’s not often I get to hear smart people talk critically about cancer politics. I didn’t want to miss a single second. I wanted to soak it in, to feel it, to pull this knowledge being presented inside my body, to hold it tightly and carefully. But I felt so horribly obvious, even with the various layers covering my lobsided chest, and my bald head made it worse. Most everyone in the room knew I had cancer, but still, I wanted not to be obvious. I didn’t want them to know how heavy the stone in the bottom of my belly felt. I didn’t want anyone to know both how badly I needed to get closer to this knowledge, and also how blindsided I felt as I approached this knowing.
The first presenter- the only person in the room who didn’t know- must have wondered what on earth was wrong with me. I was speechless. Literally. I kicked myself for having taken the wig off. I crossed my legs and my arms, defiant. I would get through this. I refused to run to the bathroom, for fear of being even more obvious. I want to write about (young) breast cancer. It felt like a test. I was in my scholarly community, cancer was everywhere and I couldn’t lose it. I needed to prove- to myself- that I could be in a academic cancer space.
I sort of succeeded at being in the academic cancer space. I needed a giant hug afterwards, but it was in its own way, generative. It’s better to talk about it than to hide it. I needed to be grounded in and surrounded by such smart cancer scholarship. It’s enormously settling to know that this work happening at all, even though it was near impossible to stay in my chair and contain (most) of the tears to the place in my throat where no one can see them. Maybe the universe knew I needed to see these presentations on this day, and maybe the universe knew I needed to witness this act of absolute bravery in the face of cancer.
We need to talk about cancer thoughtfully, and in scholarly settings. I have so much to say, not about queer and gendered cancers, like these researchers, but about young and gendered cancers. They showed me today, how people who have had cancer can work with this most challenging of material and can bring together images, and ideas in such a way that powerfully intervenes in how cancer is thought about in the world. It is being done. It can be done. They will continue to do this important work. And soon enough, I can do it too. The universe knew, today, that I needed that model of cancer, cultural production, and scholarship. And so I am grateful to be part of this dynamic group of scholars, some of whom study cancer.
And the universe- the one we are all part of, the one that vibrates with all of our actions? She wasn’t done yet. You’ve all been sending sweet, good, positive, caring love vibes to the little purple nipple. Today I saw Dr. Yoga-Surgeon, who thinks the little purple nipple is actually the little train that could. She looks good. There was some scraping or cutting or I don’t even know what of the part that was once purpley-black, but I didn’t look and it’s definitely better that way, because when I looked again, that little nipple was pink and bruised and little oozy, but a whole lot closer to normal. Maybe it was all the protein I ate. Maybe it was the gentle exercise and increased circulation. Maybe it was the special nipple-saving cream. But maybe it was the good vibes you all sent through the networks. We’ll never know. But it doesn’t really matter, because the nipples’ back in the running, folks.
After writing this post, I hopped on my bike and rode down to City Square mall where I normally practice yoga. I haven’t been because, well.. mastectomy, and because I can’t lift my arm up high enough to actually do anything, but I’ll be back in there before you know it. Anyways, I was going to buy wine. As I locked up my bike, my yoga-cancer buddy J texted me, to say AWESOME about the nipple, and that she just did yoga! Next thing I knew, there I was, in the hot yoga locker room hugging my favorite yoga teacher and J and but of course, Dr. Yoga-Surgeon. It was so lovely to see them all in the hot place I miss so much, and to know I’ll be there soon. Community. It makes so much sense. I feel so much more energized, ready to take on the world and hopeful for something awesome.
Community is made in the universe. The universe provides networks, sensory points, connections, pathways. It’s our job to soak in the brilliance of the universe when our connections and pathways meet at a sensory point and produce electricity, buzz, warmth, knowledge. The universe might present us with possibility, but we humans need to make community. We need to reach out to each other and do the hard work of connecting. And soon enough, it becomes easy. It becomes three amazing women changing in the yoga studio when you bike down to get wine. It becomes just what you need.
I cannot WAIT to get back to yoga. I’m about to start willing my surgery wound to patch itself up, my arm to allow me to lift it, my body to be ready to stretch without hurting. I cannot wait. I biked for the first time today, which was entirely amazing, and I’m definitely headed to more movement. There’s so much I want to do with my body right now. So much. As soon as I integrate this little fake boob into my body, I plan on moving like crazy. You keep it up, universe. You’re awesome. You nailed it again today, when I thought it wasn’t more possible to get it even more right. You nailed it.
First, my cancer-buddy S who I so completely adore texted me at the same time I texted her. That’s got to be the universe, taking care. Now universe, please take care of both of us, so we can have a fuck-cancer drink in thirty years.
Second, my bestie said she’d help us plan our Hawaii vacation. Obviously, she read the cancer-tired blog post, but still, there’s no one better suited. She knows who we are, what we need, and how things will feel to us. And we now have the most ideal kind of help. There’s no one who knows me or who knows me and Sam better. Relief.