Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jangle Bells

Readers please note: In this post, I express a number of minority, and perhaps heretical, opinions. If you disagree with me, that's fine, but please don't flame me for having a different take on things.

Okay, so: The last few days have been a bit stressful. Yesterday my sister called to talk to me about closing out Mom's estate before the end of the calendar year, which the lawyer had recommmended. I hadn't seen this coming, and although the procedures she outlined on the phone weren't that complicated, they sent me into a tizzy. I went totally into scarcity space: hyperventilating oh-my-god-I'm-gonna-starve-to-death-in-a-cardboard-box mode.

On the face of it, this makes no sense. Why would one feel a sudden surge of panic on learning that one's acquiring several thousand unexpected dollars? At the time, I couldn't analyze it past the point of recognizing that financial matters always send me into a cold sweat. To calm my nerves, I went to the gym and swam for an hour. That sort of worked, although the perky Christmas music in the lockerroom left me with the strong and un-Christian urge to take a flamethrower to Frosty the Snowman. (I heard two other women complaining about the music, so I wasn't alone in my reaction.)

After the swim, I managed to get more of a handle on why I'd gone off the deep end, so to speak. After this, there will be no more estate. This is really the end, finis, the last money I'll get from my mother, and it's coming at the darkest time of the year, and on the heels of a conversation Gary and I had with a financial advisor who told us that I have to work for at least another fifteen years; I'd hoped for only ten. (And yes, I know: at least I have a job! And I'm indeed grateful!)

Once I'd figured that out, I started organizing my Christmas packages to the East Coast. It always amazes me how long wrapping takes; I'd economized -- probably unwisely -- by packing the wrapped gifts in old boxes we had in the garage, which meant that I had to wrap the boxes in plain brown wrapping paper to cover old Amazon labels and so forth.

I thought I had enough brown wrapping paper. I did, sort of, but only if I covered each box in two or three pieces of the stuff, which led to lots of fun with packing tape -- our only roll was playing "let's hide the end so you can't find it!" -- especially since Bali and Figgy had gotten into my study and were prancing through boxes and wrapping paper, getting themselves stuck to the tape, and so forth. The upshot of this ridiculous situation was that I spent all night wrapping two frigging boxes and went to sleep in a really bad mood.

I woke up this morning, feeling only marginally less cranky, to find the promised e-mailed documents from the attorney. I printed them out, ran around getting stuff notarized and mailed (the post office lines were shorter than I expected, and the boxes should arrive next week), and dashed home for lunch. I called my sister to tell her that I'd mailed the legal stuff, and discovered that she'd just been in a minor car accident -- she'd skidded into another car in snow -- and was very shaken up, despite no damage to people and only minor damage to cars.

That conversation made me a few minutes late for my beloved annual mammogram, which I've been superstitiously nervous about because my mother's breast cancer was diagnosed the Christmas after her father died. (This was in 1987; obviously she survived it, although the cancer was far advanced even though the mammogram supposedly caught it early.) No one I know enjoys these procedures, anyway: a friend who refuses to undergo them says, "I'll let them do that to me when men start having annual cancer screenings in which their testicles are smashed between two plates."

I don't agree with this sentiment, but I sympathize. Even for modestly endowed women like me, mammograms hurt. Also, I recently taught Barbara Ehrenreich's scathing and brilliant Welcome to Cancerland to my freshman-comp class, so her critiques of breast-cancer culture were fresh in my mind. Ehrenreich is deeply alarmed by the consumerization of breast cancer, which normalizes it and helps transform it into a rite of passage rather than a huge injustice perpetrated upon women's bodies by environmental toxins. (My completely non-activist mother's first words, after her diagnosis, were, "Well, that's what I get for living in New Jersey all these years." Even she got the environmental connection.) Ehrenreich cites studies that call into serious question the efficacy both of current screening methods and current treatments, and points out that if people gave their money directly to cancer research -- rather than supporting runs, walks and rallies with large overhead costs, or buying pink-beribboned teddy bears, jewelry, etc. and so forth -- we might make more headway against the disease. She's especially withering on how the rhetoric of breast cancer, with its pink everything, infantilizes women. In short, she thinks women are being lulled into complacency, whereas anger at the situation might result in more effective action (think Act Up).

Ehrenreich dislikes the color pink. So do I. So does my friend who refuses to get mammograms, who was ecstatic when I told her about the Ehrenreich essay. She hadn't known that anyone else felt the same way.

So I was thinking about all of that while sitting in the very crowded waiting room. I waited over thirty minutes, and finally all of us in the outer waiting room were summoned into the inner waiting room, which was warmer and more comfortable. There we found a large bin of hideous pink plastic Christmas ornaments in shiny purple mesh gift bags. A beaming hospital employee invited each of us to take one home.

I saw pink. Channeling Ehrenreich, I said to the beaming hospital employee, "I have a question. Wouldn't the money that went into manufacturing these ornaments be better spent on actual cancer research?"

She didn't even blink. "Yes. Yes, it would." (Good for you, lady!)

I gave her a brief overview of Ehrenreich. A woman at the other end of the room looked interested and asked me some questions as she cradled her pink ornament. Everyone else ignored us. ("If we don't look at her, maybe she'll go away.")

The hospital employee told me about various hospital projects that do contribute directly to research. Good for them! She and the patient with the ornament decided, between them, that the point of the ornaments was to "give people hope." Hey, if a tacky plastic ornament gives them hope, good for them. I, personally, don't find Christmas trees festooned with kitschy reminders of serious illnesses profoundly hopeful, but we all know how weird I am.

Finally they called me in. I got squashed. The tech was very deft; everyone was very nice. This is the place I always go, because they're very deft and very nice, and the one time I got called back for further scrutiny of an "area of concern" (which turned out to be a shadow), the male doctor was immensely kind and spent much more time talking to me than the situation actually warranted. That interpersonal skill is worth dumptrucks of plastic ornaments.

I went from the mammo place to the gym, where I worked out for forty-five minutes on the elliptical, traveling 3.3 miles and burning 350 calories. I was very pleased with myself, but leaving the gym, I discovered the lobby festooned with pink and white balloons and "See Pink!" banners, as more and more people (including musicians with instrument cases) piled into the building. Some kind of breast-cancer fundraiser was underway. The club staff assured me the money would go to research, which makes me wonder if the refreshments and music were donated.

I blew my workout on three yummy cookies from the tables piled high with treats. I went home to find more treats from my sister: a box of chocolate-dipped fruit. Yum. Goodbye, workout.

At least, thank God, my sister's okay after her accident. And Gary and I will now have a slightly larger financial cushion during my sabbatical. And -- this is the really exciting news -- I just performed my first felted join in a knitting project, and am thoroughly enchanted. No ends to weave in! Yay!


  1. I nearly fell off my chair laughing at the image of those two cats, figgy the curious and bali the beautiful romping around in packing paper and tape and having a wonderful, helpful, kitty cat time. You really didn't mind at all did you?
    I am with you 100% with all the pink pink pink everywhere....we even saw a transport truck the other day all tricked out in pink. Barbie (or should I say Barfie) bubble gum pink. They spend a fortune on the pink when they could indeed just give it to cancer reasearch.
    I used to get just as annoyed at work with the annual fund raisers for our Christmas families...if they all just coughed up $50.00 we would have had the same result, but no, they had to donote items and raffle them off, do bake sales, do silent auctions etc etc....we could have saved ourselves time and money.
    If everyone who bought pink items and paid to enter marathons or backed people who ran marathons just gave the money directly to cancer research everyone could get on with their lives.
    I wonder if the issue is that we all know it is out there but we don't want to think about it. If we don't think about it we don't donate. The pink makes us think. (maybe they can use that as a slogan) It forces the issue on us which then forces us to unloose our wallet and if forces us to take action in our own lives toward prevention and diagnosis which may be the biggest and most important reason for the pink.
    I'm not sticking up for the pink...I'm not...and I don't have mammograms either.
    Now...on a more serious note...I know what felting is....but please enlarge on how you acoomplish a felted join. I am currently knitting a hat and I would love to know how to do this.
    If we don't chat again before Christmas, I hope your day is peaceful and the New Year holds adventure.

  2. Anonymous6:36 AM

    felted join sounds so much better than "spit join", doesn't it? Do you know how to Russian join, as well?

    I'm sorry you're so stressed right now. For what it's worth on a tiny detail, I never brown-paper-wrap boxes (amazon boxes, shoe boxes, etc.) and the post office always takes them. Of course, I'm cheap AND lazy.

  3. This is a wonderful post! The combination of righteous fury and humor was just what I needed today. Thank you so much for sharing.

    While it doesn't compare with your friend's description of a mammogram, I will say that the annual hernia exam (consisting of "pressure" preciously close to the prostate), and actual prostate exams (which aren't yet annual for me thank goodness) are far from pleasant experiences.

    I can understand ad campaigns giving out ornaments, the hope being that the return on investment will be greater than the expense and that the return will be used on actual research, but the thought of pink ornaments at the oncologist seems a bit morbid and out of place.

    The light rituals of the season are supposed to cast the darkness from our lives and not add to it.

    Speaking of light rituals...Nora and Clio put their first decorations on their first Christmas tree this year. It is amazing watching the experience through their eyes, and Jody is filled with Joy that our home looks like Christmas again. We hadn't put decorations out the past two years due to fear that the girls might eat an ornament or some other catastrophe would occur.

  4. mjb: Felted join instructions here. Note that it will only work on animal fibers like wool; for nonfeltable yarns, including superwash, you'd have to use the Russian join.

    Inez: I haven't tried the Russian yet, but look forward to doing so soon, as I usually work with machine-washable yarns these days (I'm knitting down my stash and trying to use all the pure wool, which is why I used the felted join yesterday). And by the way, I use water, not spit. Call me a wuss, but I'm just more comfortable with it!

  5. Christian: Glad you enjoyed it! And that's really neat about the girls. I hope they (and you and Jody!) have a wonderful Christmas!

  6. I hadn't thought much about the cancer awareness tactics, but I will now!

    I never wrap boxes in brown paper. Instead, I keep a bottle of black poster paint on hand along with a cheapo foam paintbrush and just paint over the old labels and such. So easy.

  7. Anonymous10:38 AM

    Congratulations on getting your parcels in the post in spite of everything, Susan!

    I just finished wrapping and sending mine today, caloo calay! - and now I can return to my grading.


  8. Amen to the rant about pink ribbons and giving directly to the research/cause. I have a similar rant about St. Jude's.


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