Metaphorically Speaking

A friend and fellow AIDS activist from my Philadelphia days has just learned that she has lung cancer. Symptomless, she had an X-ray done for a swimming rotator cuff injury, and an alert technician spotted the tangerine-sized mass where none should be. She is starting down the road to treatment, and, as all those with cancer (and AIDS) do, receives encouragement to “fight this disease.” Susan Sontag wrote a prescient piece on this in the seventies (“Illness As Metaphor”) and then a companion piece (“AIDS and Its Metaphors”) in the eighties, and I wonder if, following her own diagnosis, she received the “Fight, fight, fight” message.

What really offends me is when a memorial piece or obituary notes that “s/he lost her/his battle with cancer.” Now I know that we also use the metaphor for “fighting a cold” or “fighting off the flu”, but why is that? The question has bothered me since my own involvement in AIDS research and education in the nineties. I made a futile attempt then in my public speaking to change the terms of engagement. I would try to talk of a ship that we were all sailing on (Noah’s Ark?). Not sure now where I was going with that, but that ship never got out of the harbor.

Does it make us feel that fighting these diseases gives us more power over them? What would the alternative be? Lying back and taking your medicine, like what? Showing up for your radiation appointment on time, rather than late? Smiling through the nausea?

Somewhere implicit in all this is the desire not to be a victim. So very often the societal judgment immediately shifts to questions: “Did you smoke, drink, have unprotected sex, not wear a seatbelt?” I see these queries as an evocation of magical thinking, charms to ward off the evil eye, or the toxic breath, or the curse of the illness. If I don’t smoke, drink too much, mostly wear protection, usually buckle up, I will be spared.

And I won’t even begin to address the proffered advice: a vegan diet, this herb, that healer. It is well meant, usually, but again creates a victim- one who ate meat, or didn’t use the proper nostrums or enchantments.

I had a brush with this at a college reunion, maybe twenty years out. Most of us were starting to pork out somewhat, and then Sharon arrived, as stunning and slim as she had been lo those many years ago. At lunch, she refused the meal served, and from her bag produced a variety of containers with a melange of “healthy” foods. She then revealed to us that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Twenty years of living with an abusive smoker and two years with a loving partner, and now the diagnosis. We all but crawled under the tables, to realize that our petty envy was for a woman struggling with so much more than her weight.

And here I have done it again; the metaphor of struggle rears its ugly head. So maybe it is a struggle. A struggle to survive under difficult circumstances, to bear up under a death sentence, to give as well as receive. But what else is life?

We are here for so short a time, as the astronomers gleefully point out. What should a life be? A struggle against ignorance, and a reaching out to others, finding love and sharing love, making a mark, being remembered.

But it is a battle that you do not lose if you embrace life wholeheartedly and love with a will. It is all up to you in the beginning and the end.

Things I Spied IV: Writing Apps


Some of my best writing takes place in motion, on or waiting for the subway. It is funny, because I used to closet myself in reverential silence whenever I had to put pen, then key, then pixel to paper. But now I have My Writing Spot on my iPhone, iPad and computer, and whatever I write gets synced on all three sites. It is a very simple app, with none of the bells and whistles of Word or even Pages, but I find it very appealing. It was designed by a mystery man, who is an Email away for excellent support. He asks in a very low key way for a donation for his work. I know I sent one in already, but I am so pleased with the app, I am planning to send another.

When you open a new document (the +sign), a blank page appears and you type. In a wireless environment, everything is saved immediately and you can color code each document listed in the left-hand panel. My blogs go from a green dot while in preparation, to a published in pink one. Offline, on the iPhone, you have to intentionally shift to that panel to save your work by touching the upper left corner. When you are connected wirelessly again, you can sync it to the computer and iPad. So I walk the subway platform, typing on my iPhone, then shift from side to side in the rocking train, writing, writing.

I often write the blog on My Writing Spot wherever I am, then copy it into WordPress on my computer for formatting, addition of pictures, and publication. I also used it to write parts of  “Tainted Biology,” my new novel. Writing 1700 words a day is a challenge, so once again I took every opportunity to compose; on the subway on my iPhone, waiting in an office on the iPad, or finally standing at my computer at home.

Then I transferred what I had written to Scrivener.

Ah, Scrivener, the joy of my writing life! And the complete opposite of My Writing Spot!

Writing a novel, a script, a grant proposal? Scrivener can accommodate you. Separate your work into chapters, scenes, segments? Add pictures? They are right there at your fingertips on the left sidebar, having been imported in. References? They are there in the left-hand bar as well. Need to keep track of your characters? Templates are at hand. Need a split screen? At your fingertips!

Instead of having to flip back and forth through files or programs, everything is there on one page.

I used Scrivener in writing my first novel, “Bad Chemistry,” and for writing grant proposals, and have found it to be infinitely flexible and useful. Best of all, once the work is done, Scrivener will format it into Word or other writing apps in an instant! There is extensive tutorial support, most of which I have not used, because the basic steps are highly intuitive.

The cost at $45 is well worth it in terms of the quality of writing life it provides.

Now if only it would find me an editor and publish my books for me!

Speed Bumps

In Buffalo we live two blocks from Delaware Park, a lovely Olmsted-Vaux creation. In the 1970s a benighted group of city Fathers (surely not Mothers) launched an effort to slice the Park in half with an expressway, named The Scajaqada, presumably to honor some Native American speedsters. Think Central Park with a high speed expressway from 59th Street right up to 110th.

We walk to the park most summer evenings and do a two mile loop there, but to get there, we have to cross Parkside Avenue, which serves as an exit from the Scajaqada. Despite it being a city street,much of the traffic seems to consider it an extension of the highway, and barrel along, ignoring the houses on the right, and every so often a car crashes into that sad house on the curve.

Recently some of those flashing speed readers were installed, and as we wait, and wait, and wait to cross, it is mesmerizing to see how few cars even approach the 30 mph limit. Will this reminder work? We will see. The Department of Transportation is fighting every effort by the local citizens to curb traffic on the Scajaqada, and make it crossable on foot.

Once again the car is King.

In Brooklyn, my other home, bike lanes are being installed, as they are throughout New York City. Thank you, Major Bloomberg. You may have a tin ear regarding many middle class concerns, but I love your biking initiatives.

Sadly, along with the increase in bicyclists is an increase in bike deaths, memorialized by the white “ghost bikes” adorned with flowers and chained at the fatal sites. A young girl was killed on our corner. A driver “doored” her ( my autocorrect was insisting on “doomed” there) and as she swerved to avoid the open door, she was hit by a bus. Up the street is another ghost bike, though I don’t know the story on that one.

I have also seen reckless bicyclists, the bane of drivers and pedestrians. They should be ticketed, fined, and banned if necessary. But there should be some accountability for drivers who strike and kill pedestrians and bicyclists, and that is currently lacking.

Apparently our current Police Commissioner insists that these deaths are “accidents” and nothing much is done in the way of investigation or prosecution unless a police officer actually witnesses the encounter. With a new Mayor there will be a new Police Commissioner. I am hoping for one who values two legs as much as four wheels. One current contender, ex-Commissioner Bratton, has said he will make pedestrian and bike safety a priority, installing cameras to catch cars running red lights and speeding, and actively following up on deaths. He also wants more speed bumps. There are some up the street from us now, and a favorite spectator sport is watching the cars that fly over at unseemly speeds, and then crushingly bottom out.

But overall now I am reminded of “Animal Farm” and “Four legs good, two legs bad”. though in New York it is “Four wheels good, two wheels (legs) bad,.”