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Reading, Writing, Remission

12 Mar Posted by in • Guest Writers | 2 comments
Reading, Writing, Remission

Two weeks before our current so called president was inaugurated, I began a sequence of chemotherapy treatments, my second in two years, for a new, transformed bout of aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

I couldn’t even think about going to the Women’s March in DC or the spin off version here in the Twin Cities. During the last week of January last year when folks were gathering at the Minneapolis/Saint Paul International Airport to protest our president yahoo’s edict preventing people from predominantly Muslim countries from entering this country, I really really wanted to. The cruelty of this proposal was so undeniable that I would have been waiting at the baggage claim with a welcome home sign in the 10 minutes it takes to get to the airport from my house.

I dearly wanted to demonstrate. But along with chemo as too many of us know, comes exhaustion from standing and a weakened immune system which makes crowds dangerous.

I managed to get to my day job on the weeks I wasn’t doing chemo, and when I could bare it I continued to watch our clown president and his minions do their dreadful work. I called my congress people and signed petitions but I continued to feel weak and useless.

There were other things I couldn’t do while having chemo:

• Read

• Write

• Remember Christine Baranski’s name

 • Remember entire conversations with my partner or where I put the Bite Squad gift certificate from my colleagues at work

But by the end of May, I was done with chemo. I began to walk a little faster, I began to read texts a little more challenging than Entertainment Weekly, and then about 6 months ago I got the word from my oncologist that I was in remission, and I started to wish myself well.

I remembered that Diane from The Good Wife was Christine Baranski. I went out to the movies and out to dinner.  My hair grew back. Little by little I began to examine the ways in which I could participate and resist the raging wickedness that has shown itself under this administration.

The first book I tackled when I could keep whole paragraphs in my head was Masha Gessen’s book about Pussy Riot, Words Will Break Cement. I challenged myself with essays by Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde. Most importantly, a book I had been carrying around for years, partly read and now nearly finished, Maxine Hong-Kingston’s magnificent Fifth Book of Peace,  which lead me back to The First Women’s Pentagon Action’s 1980 unity statement, and with that these memories of resistance:

  1. Walking behind Grace Paley and Bella Abzug in our march from Arlington National Cemetery toward the Pentagon, Abzug trying to convince Paley not to get arrested (good luck with that)
  2. Enough women holding hands to surround the Pentagon; workers in the windows waving and yelling down their support
  3. Dykes from Vermont wearing variegated beanies weaving yarn across one of the entrances of the Pentagon; a tight looking woman in full officer’s uniform stepping gingerly over them saying, you have your fun until January when Reagan gets in; big cops in white helmets trying to cut the yarn apart with wire cutters (good luck with that)

Lots of women got arrested that day, it was part of the planned civil disobedience part of the action. I was told that the guards in the holding facility had a hard time keeping the women from sleeping in each other’s beds. I myself didn’t get arrested but it was an excellent lesson in the pleasure and danger of resistance.

It’s important for me to remember this, to hold the writings of activist women from 20, 30, 40 years ago close to my slowly opening heart when Mick Mulvaney, an ashen cross on his forehead, proposes replacing SNAP with American Harvest Food Boxes or NRA guy Wayne LaPierre and his spokeswoman Dana Loesch double down on their deadly positions and blame rich Jews for resistance to their cause.

As I recover and remit, I keep in front of me a photograph of the women from Northampton I traveled to the Pentagon with in 1980, and a picture of Grace Paley being carried off by 3 large cops after she blocked the Pentagon steps, in spite of Abzug’s advice.  I have a picture in my office of the late poets Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Meridel Le Sueur from 30 years ago, smiling—Rich is actually laughing(!)—and somehow, I feel even better, and begin to have some idea of what I am supposed to do.

Judith Katz is the author of two novels, The Escape Artist and Running Fiercely Toward a High Thin Sound, which won the 1992 Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction. She has received grants from the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts, as well as two Minnesota State Arts Board Grants. She has taught cultural studies and literature courses for both the University of Minnesota’s Center for Jewish Studies and the department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, and has also taught creative writing courses for the Hamline University MFA program.

She has worked as a janitor, a terrible waitress, a college instructor and is now an academic adviser at the University of Minnesota.  She is currently working on sequels to both novels, and is still meditating on her novel in a drawer, The Atomic Age.

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  • Frieda GArdner says:

    Judles! Great and admirable memories. We NEED
    these circulating, tho lots of Youngers w/o
    these memories are right out there on the streets,
    and in meetings, and so on! Plus, there was a DJ Rockaway
    Valentine Cruise. xoxoF