I’ve been thinking about the women on the family tree, their circles blackened and crossed out. Elizabeth – Breast, 31. Elizabeth’s cousin (name unknown): Breast, 30s. Elizabeth’s cousin (also name unknown): Breast, 30s. Diane, Breast, 44. Brain mets. 46.
Circles signify women, and blackened circles signify cancer. Lines through them signify death.
I’ve been thinking about how we explain and classify these early deaths of four women in my family.
THE H1686R VARIANT HAS BEEN RECLASSIFIED TO ‘SUSPECTED DELETERIOUS’, MEANING IT IS SUSPECTED TO BE A SIGNIFICANT MUTATION AND IS LIKELY THE CAUSE OF THE BREAST CANCER IN DIANE’S FAMILY.
Letter to my father from Barbara Ann Karmanos Center Institute, Dated May 7, 2015, informing of newfound information on my late mother’s BRCA1 gene mutation known as H1686R.
I’ve been thinking about how names on a chart and genetic abnormalities deny a simple truth: cancer over and over again struck the symbol of feminine nurturing and sustenance–the breasts of young mothers–in my maternal lineage.
I’ve been thinking about the assault on women’s bodies–and male bodies too. To paraphrase Eve Ensler, how patriarchy kills men in their hearts…and women in their breasts. Hearts and breasts.
Photo of my grandmother Elizabeth
Certainly I’ve been thinking about my late mom (Diane), and the grandmother I never met (Elizabeth), and her cousins (names unknown) on the genetic chart, called a pedigree. I’ve been thinking about other women too. Debby and Angela, two women I knew and admired, both not much older than myself, who died recently of breast cancer. Circles blackened and crossed out.
I’ve been thinking about the assault on our bodies and our land. Blackened and crossed.
I’ve been thinking about how our vitality as women and mothers is wrapped in the vitality of the earth. That waiting any longer to confront this truth is a pathology.
We can no longer deny the destiny that is ours by becoming women who wait–waiting to love, waiting to speak, waiting to act. This is not patience, but pathology. We are sensual, sexual beings, intrinsically bound to both Heaven and Earth, our bodies a hologram. In our withholding of power, we abrogate power, and that creates war.
TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS, When Women Were Birds
Before there were synced calendars and day planners and even before there were trapper keepers, there was a little girl who sat in trees. She sat in the trees for what felt like hours, though it might have been mere minutes. She dreamed, journal-ed and sketched. She transported to a place of joy and bliss, cradled in the crooks of maples and oaks, conversing with imaginary beings.
Eventually the little girl grew up and as happens, she stopped sitting in trees. She loved her art and writing and singing, but she was so very good at accomplishing what was asked of her –grades, scores certificates and awards–that little by little the doing and achieving overtook the being and dreaming. Sure, there were times she held on tightly; she traded calculus for art class, she filled nearly three dozen personal journals, and she took an art class here or there even as an adult. But no doubt, over time she shifted. She was a girl with goals and one day even the art was remembered as the silly musings of a child; the dreaming became purely the intellectual kind.
Nobody told her to put down the paint brush. They didn’t need to. She was a good rule-follower and she understood the unspoken rules of a world that stood in direct opposition to the place in the trees.
And so it was that decades later she found herself at the finish line all burned out and dried up. Even then she didn’t understand why. She was doing her very best to practice self-care and find balance within the system. She followed her heart within this system. She defied norms within this very system! So why wasn’t it working? What she didn’t know then is that no system–even this artificial world dominated by deadlines, goals and outputs, where rest was seen as a means to at some point get more done–did not exist outside the laws of nature. As far removed as she was from those trees of her childhood, the moon still waxed and waned above her. The seasons turned. The oak rested in winter and sprouted leaves in spring. Try as she might to will herself to make it work–to power through as she had always done–simply no longer worked because the answers would never be found in the wasteland.
The Wasteland burns us up and burns us out. Instead of following your own instincts, instead of discovering what it is that gives us joy, what makes our heart sing, we spend most of our lives trying to make other people happy…living from our head rather than our instinct for what is good and healthy.
The Heroine’s Journey for these times is a journey out of the Wasteland. Each of us has our own unique set of stories to tell: the story of the years we spent in the Wasteland, the story of our awakening, and the story of the path we took out of it.
~Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted
Something in me cracked open.
It seemed to come out of nowhere. But let’s be real, it had been building for weeks. (Precisely three weeks and five days…if you get my drift.)
Like all fine Americans, I got angry reading something on Facebook. But it wasn’t the orange one who set me off, or the skinny-tied-one or the gum-chewing-one or any of the other underlings.
Yes, it wasn’t Trump per se that had me fired up. It was the response to the crazy. People I knew to otherwise be kind, loving individuals–it was their defending of Trump that seemed to be the final straw.
Something in me snapped. Actually, no. Snapped to seems to imply a reckless breaking. This was a crack. A crack like an egg hatching. A crack of shifting tectonic plates.
I’ve been fuming so much that I’ve written three draft posts in three days because there was SO MUCH FIRE in me that, well, I needed to let it simmer down a tad before I could hit publish.
We have this man (orange) who is the archetype of a predatory male. The embodiment of patriarchy. The creepy dude from the office who forwards racist, sexist conspiracy theories and is the guy whom we generally can all agree is unhinged.
But wait, maybe we can’t all agree on that fact. And there is the rub.
I’ m not different than so many other women whose body and psyche have been deeply harmed by someone who resembles Trump. To be a female in this world is to at some point feel unsafe in our bodies because of a predatory man.
Yes–this anger goes deep and is a fire breath I want to use to bring down the patriarchy! (Or something.)*
I understand that part of this anger is about my own deep wounds. My own story of harm by a mad man–and the perceived betrayal of the otherwise sane people who knew better than to believe a madman and ultimately align with a mad man.
This is also what I know about being wounded: there is no greater pain that not being seen. We don’t expect a mad man to see or understand our pain. He’s not capable of it. But the ones who we know are capable of empathy and love? We except better.
Yes, something cracked open in me the other day.
This anger feels deep.
Like the women of all the ages were standing as mountains within the earth, holding me up.
Who knows, maybe they are.
The question is, what to do with the fire-breath? We can’t keep it in–to do so will burn us from the inside out. No, this fire must be expelled. Unleashed. Art. Story. Dancing. Resisting with joy and humor and yes, righteous indignation too. Who knows? Maybe in the process we will burn down the patriarchy.
*(Huh, maybe my daughter does get some of her flair for the dramatic from me after all…)
Are you ready to roar? Breathe your fire-breath with me!