28 July »
Photo: Reuters, at Stanford’s convocation in 1997. I was also there.
I ran out of things to complain about — at least for now — so I decided to write about interesting things I have done despite my illness. This is a true story.
The short version is that Chelsea Clinton hit on me, and — had I played my cards better — I might have been the son-in-law to one, possibly two U.S. presidents. But, as it turns out, I’m kind of a jerk. Before we get there, you’ll need context.
So: when I was in high school, the only colleges I wanted to apply to were the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy. Finding out I had an incurable chronic illness ended that dream, and left me with zero ambition.
I spent most of my senior year dragging my heels, telling my parents I didn’t want to go to college. They told me I had to leave the house in any case. I applied to and enrolled in one of the state universities — which I hated.
Actually, that’s not fair: I loved most of the classes. I just hated my classmates, the student health system, my off-campus doctors, the housing, and nearly everything else about the school. Because I really enjoyed my classes, I was getting killer grades.
By my sophomore year of college, I was ready to transfer — as in, get the hell out of there. If not transfer, then drop out. I decide to apply to Stanford and another school, because they both had strong programs in my major.
But, also my sophomore year, I had a serious abscess that ended up requiring surgery. Dealing with that delayed my application process. In fact, I had surgery a few days before Christmas, and the applications were due in early January.
So while recuperating — and, incidentally, high out of my mind on Darvocet — I decided to start my applications. This was before computers did everything, so I borrowed my grandmother’s typewriter and began hammering away. While recuperating from surgery. While high on pain meds.
You can imagine how my applications turned out. It wasn’t until a week or two later, when I went to finish them, that I realized what a horrible mess I had made. And it was too late to send away for new applications. With no hope whatsoever, I patched them up and sent them away.
To my extreme astonishment, I was accepted to both schools. I chose Stanford, and started telling my friends. I was fantastically happy, and also probably the proudest I have ever been.
This was June of 1997 — a few months after Chelsea Clinton, only child of the sitting President of the United States, had decided to attend Stanford. I did not know she was applying when I sent in my application, and didn’t care either way.
But everybody I told had the same reaction: “Oh, that’s where Chelsea Clinton is going.” Some of my friends had reactions that were more graphic: “Oh, man, you could f— Chelsea Clinton.” My mom — my mother — said, “Think of what great hair your children would have.” It was ridiculous.
So when I left for Stanford, I was determined to have nothing to do with Chelsea Clinton at all. I saw her around every now and then, but I spoke to her maybe once the entire year.
The trick to avoiding her was that you could usually spot her Secret Service from a distance: they looked like they had been given a Wal-Mart allowance and told to buy J. Crew clothes. Lots of cargo shorts and polyester polos, and also the only people on campus wearing fanny packs or safari vests (which hid guns).
Skip to a year or so later: I still mostly avoided Chelsea Clinton. But a friend of mine, named Molly, was house manager for one of the dorms on campus, and she asked me to serve at their ‘special dinner’. For one night’s work, I could earn $50 and a couple bottles of wine.
It also meant I was serving dinner to Chelsea Clinton; she lived in the house, where her room had been retrofitted with bulletproof glass. There were 50 other people in the house, so she was just one of the diners — not a big deal. She had the vegetarian plate with no cheese; I think I asked her whether she was allergic, and she told me she just didn’t like cheese.
Also that year, I got a job teaching a public speaking class on campus. One of the requirements for the job was that I had to dress professionally. I bought a suit.
One evening I was in my suit and a bit early for class, and decided to stop by the campus store for a new coffee mug. Somehow I missed the cargo shorts and fanny packs near the entrance. I entered the store oblivious, and went about looking for a mug.
When I took my chosen mug to the cash register at the back of the store, I realized that Chelsea Clinton was standing next to me. The girl working the cash register was a friend of hers, and they were having a conversation when I rolled in. The three of us were the only people in the store.
As I handed my mug over to get scanned, Chelsea Clinton eyeballed me. “You look nice,” she said. One thing I should mention is that Chelsea Clinton is super intense in person, like she’s reading your soul just making small talk. I had heard similar things about her dad.
“Thanks,” I said. “I teach a class, and they make me wear this monkey suit for it.”
“Oh,” she said. “You know, you look really familiar.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’m friends with Molly; I served you at the special dinner.” I think I blushed at this point. I looked away, I’m pretty sure.
Her friend was taking forever to ring up my purchase. There was this long moment of dead air. Then Chelsea Clinton says, “I didn’t mean to be rude — about you looking familiar.”
“Oh, no, of course not,” I said. I did not want to talk her, but I didn’t want to make her think it was her fault. “Actually, I get that a lot.”
And then I said: “People say I look like Brad Pitt. Only, you know, thinner. And handsomer.”
I thought it was funny, but… crickets. Suddenly, her friend had rung up my purchase and had her hands outstretched with my mug and my change, without making eye contact. Chelsea Clinton was looking the other direction — at nothing. It was dead silent. It was still just the three of us, and neither of them was looking at me.
I took my mug and left — and honestly, I felt pretty good about the whole thing. I had come face to face with the most powerful daughter in the world, and kept my wits. I wasn’t sure why my joke had bombed, but I shrugged it off.
Then I told a friend about the encounter, and asked whether Chelsea Clinton had hit on me. “Yes,” she said, “but if I didn’t know you, and you said that to me, I would think you were the most arrogant jerk ever.”
Which is when Chelsea Clinton’s reaction suddenly made sense. I did not feel so good about myself then.
And every time I saw Chelsea after that, she would give me this awful look — not angry, not quite pity, but just like, “oh… you”. Did I mention she’s intense? It was massively embarrassing.
Somehow, I started seeing her two or three times a week. We started going to the same gym at the same time the next quarter, and I would run into her every time I was visiting my friend at her dorm. So crushing embarrassment just became a thing in my life, like flossing or study group. This went on for the rest of the year.
The following summer we were both in DC — her at home, me at an internship — and ended up waiting outside the Air & Space Museum for a group of Stanford people who were going to see the IMAX. She recognized me and gave me that look, from like twenty yards away, and I couldn’t get any closer. I paced alone until my friends showed up — just me, her, and her Secret Service, for maybe ten minutes, separated by twenty yards of humiliation.
I took an extra year at Stanford, because some of my credits didn’t transfer. I hardly ever saw her that year. I honestly couldn’t think of how to explain myself at that point. It would have been brutally awkward, and I was fine sticking to plan A: avoid Chelsea Clinton.
But I sometimes wonder if I had been a little more suave, a little less prickly, and maybe opened up a little, then maybe things could have gone differently for us.
Well… for me, anyway. She was always going to be famous: she’s Chelsea Clinton. Point is, she hit on me.
21 July »
Tig is a film about Tig Notaro, a comedian whose standup set about breast cancer shot her to fame. In part one of my review, I wrote that the film implies her fame is due to unique talent and vulnerability — but once you get past the idea that Notaro is exceptional, the film avoids asking how her cancer set became the phenomenon it is.
So I want to use part two, right here, to try to explain the popularity of the cancer set.
For starters, I think Notaro had the best audience possible. The film tells us the show was a regular gig, called “Tig Has Friends”, and the cancer set was her last show. For many people in the audience, Tig Notaro was the draw that night, someone to whom they probably felt connected. Her set were personal for them, in a degree unlikely if she were in some random club. And when it was over, that audience and the other comedians — especially Louis CK — blew it up on social media. This led to articles, news interviews, and lots more publicity. After months of hype, Louis CK released the set through his website, and it became a smash hit.*
So part of the explanation is that Notaro owes her fame to her audience’s enthusiasm on social media. But even without the technology, there is something to the particular social moment in which Notaro performed the set, and it concerns our narrative of cancer.
That narrative is the story that we tell about cancer, namely that cancer is an awful disease that leaves people either heroic survivors or tragic memories. It is the story that sells run-walk miles and pink blenders and yellow bracelets; it is how our society understands the disease.
Notaro’s cancer set is possible — and funny — because she plays with that narrative. Her jokes work because everyone knows the narrative. But while we usually think of that narrative as a thing that has happened, Notaro presents it to her audience as a thing that has only started to happen. She turns the narrative into oncoming traffic.
Without that narrative, her set would not have the impact it did. Also relevant is that the vast majority of women now survive breast cancer; while Notaro may yet die from cancer, she can joke about it knowing she probably won’t. One might imagine the set being much thornier twenty years ago, when the narrative was less advanced and mortality higher.
Actually, you don’t have to imagine. Almost twenty years earlier, comedian Julia Sweeney did a set — a series of sets, really — about getting cancer. The parallels are uncanny: Like Notaro, Sweeney had lady cancer (cervical vs. breast) that affected her ability to have kids, joked about it in an LA comedy club right after her diagnosis, and got on This American Life. One difference is that when Sweeney did her sets in early 1995, she was more famous than Notaro was in 2012.**
Another crucial difference is that Sweeney had to spend a ton of time explaining her illness. She couldn’t assume the audience knew the narrative, and there’s a discomfort — even a despair — in Sweeney’s set that doesn’t happen in Notaro’s. And in fact, that lack of despair is the ironic detachment that makes Notaro’s style work. But that wasn’t where comedy was in 1995, and it wasn’t where cancer was, either.
Sweeney was, if anything, more vulnerable and more brave than Notaro. So it’s almost criminal that Tig ignores Julia Sweeney’s work, not to mention any deeper questions about society and cancer. For a film about a woman whose subversion of the cancer narrative made her famous, it’s baffling why the filmmakers take that narrative as given.
Along those lines, my favorite scene in Tig by far had Notaro in an exam room learning that her cancer means she probably can’t have children. It’s just a shot of the room door with audio and captions, as a woman docsplains in a voice normal people would save for sulking tweens: “You know, sometimes in life we don’t always get what we want.”
But the filmmakers — and Notaro herself — seem to miss how hilariously offensive this is. They just let it slide by. There is stuff like that throughout the film, that nobody wants to look at too closely — and that’s the basic problem with the film.
Tig Notaro’s cancer set raised important and interesting questions — about cancer, comedy, and our popular understanding of illness. Unfortunately, Tig doesn’t look at those questions, focusing instead of her romantic and family life — which is a perfectly reasonable decision on the part of the filmmakers.
But because I went into the film hoping for those questions, I was disappointed.
Tig. 2015, Beachside Films.
* You can hear free chunks in an episode of This American Life called — grrrr — “What Doesn’t Kill You”, or stream the whole thing through Amazon Prime.
**Sweeney later turned her sets into a stage monologue called God Said ‘Ha’! — produced by Quentin Tarantino, which you could almost explain by the fact that Sweeney’s former husband played The Gimp in Pulp Fiction, but still… Anyway, I recommend skipping the film version and listening instead to the original recordings in the TAL episode, which are much rawer and more graphic.
20 July »
Tig Notaro is a lesbian who had breast cancer. If you think her sexuality should be irrelevant, well… so do I, honestly. But with that attitude, you may find Tig — the new documentary from Netflix — disappointing.
This review spun out of control, so I broke it into two parts. This is part one. I also wrote about Tig Notaro in 2012, when she was newly famous for a standup set she performed right after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She covered other ground — pnuemonia, C. Diff., her mom dying, etc. — but the show launched Notaro to national fame as ‘the cancer set’. My point then was that cancer got all the attention because it has the stronger narrative.
Tig, alas, offers little insight into that narrative, because that is not what the film is about. Instead, it is mostly about the fact that Tig Notaro is a lesbian in love. Netflix even puts the film in “Gay/Lesbian” — not, you know, ‘Comedy’.
Seriously: like a third of the movie is Notaro wooing a straight woman. It explains how they met, shows them on dates, et cetera. There’s a shot of them snuggling in a horse-drawn carriage, to prove lesbians can be cornballs, too. By the end of the film, the happy couple is looking to start a family.
Another third of the movie is Notaro’s attempts to have a child. You meet her sperm donor. You meet her fertility doctor, who seems to be in the film for the free advertising. You meet her surrogate, a nice lady who named her own kid Harpo (only a nickname, God willing).
But — sigh — I don’t care about Notaro’s sexuality or fertility, and not in the bigotry-feigning-ignorance sense, but in the sincere ‘it matters not’ sense. Sex is not what made Notaro funny or famous. In a movie built on that fame, the lesbian scenes seem like filler. And there is an independent clause I might never write again.
What I wanted was more cancer — more of the cancer set, and the phenomenon it became. For starters, they could have just run the whole set, instead of peppering the film with excerpts. But more to the point, they could have unpacked the set and talked about its meaning for the audience and pop culture.
The movie never questions the audience’s reaction, never asks, ‘why this response?’ The film instead suggests Notaro is a exceptional comedian who was singularly vulnerable. For my money, Notaro is funny, but not exceptionally so. Her style of ironic detachment hits center mass of highbrow comedy these days, but her jokes aren’t that great.
To wit: in the film, she spends months working on a joke blaming her cancer on vengeful breasts. The first time she does the bit, she calls them ‘her chest’, and says it decided to ‘get out of here’. It dies. The film has some process scenes of her working on it, until by the end of the film the joke is that her ‘boobs’ were ‘trying to kill’ her. It gets laughs, yes, but it wasn’t that tricky in the first place.
Once you get past the idea that Notaro is an exceptional standup, the film leaves you with no account of the Tig Notaro phenomenon. Granted, that’s not the filmmakers’ goal, but why not? Incidentally, there was another Tig Notaro documentary released this year, Showtime’s Knock, Knock – It’s Tig Notaro. Notaro is funnier there, but both films trade on the Tig Notaro Phenomenon without really asking any questions.
In Tig, cancer is simply a character quirk of an otherwise hard-working girl looking for love. That’s a decent rom-com maybe, but also drably conventional and trope-y. For 2015, it’s not even ground-breaking insight into the lives of lesbians. Ten years from now, this film will seem flimsy and frustrating for anyone trying to understand Tig Notaro’s place in pop culture.
And that’s really too bad, because there is something important and interesting going on there. I will explore that more in part two.
Tig. 2015, Beachside Films.
9 July »
Yes: I earned it. Before I got sick.
I fell into this Buzzfeed listicle – 21 Things Only People Living With A Health Problem Know – which is pretty much the clickbait it says it is, so don’t bother.
I was pleasantly surprised that the author used quotes and pics of actual patients with a wide variety of diseases, so… yay. But then this, at the end of the listicle:
But, despite all of the challenges, you still manage to come out a stronger, better person.
…complete with a quote from a 23-year-old. So, clearly: softcore inspiration porn.
I don’t blame a 23-year-old who is probably still on her parents’ insurance for parroting that nonsense. I mean, maybe she really believes it, or maybe it’s something she tells herself, but she didn’t invent the idea. It’s a giant lie healthy people tell sick people.
The lie goes like this: you have this awful problem, but… you are going to come out of it better, so the problem is its own reward. Which means we don’t owe you — not respect, not compassion, not a functioning healthcare system. In fact, we’re maybe even a little jealous!
Let me puncture that balloon. Let me give it to you raw. Let me be the only person to say this: my illness makes me worse. It makes me weak. It makes me a bad person.
Click here: “Idealistic Kid Gets Chronic Illness… But Nothing Prepared Him For What Happens Next!”
I was a good kid. I was smart and athletic and eager to live my life helping others. The year I was diagnosed, I was student body president, earned my Eagle Scout, and was my school’s leading gay rights activist. I wanted to serve in the military, or maybe work in government.
And for a while, I pretended that nothing had changed — even though I could no longer join the military. Even though my rudderless drift through my senior year landed me in a shit-hole state school that made me miserable. Even though I nearly killed myself from prednisone and malpractice.
I kept telling myself I would get better, I would be better, stronger, transcendent. I kept trying to take charge of my illness. I kept trying to work in public service. When that didn’t happen — because of my disease — I decided I wanted to teach. When that didn’t happen — because disease — it nearly killed me. I nearly killed myself. Again.
Click here: “Man Plans Elaborate Suicide… You Won’t Believe What Happens!”
To get through that period in my life, I had to come to terms with the fact that I am not transcendent. I am not better. I am not stronger.
I am weak. I am afraid. I am selfish. I am bitter. I am mean. I am so incredibly, thoroughly angry.
I didn’t choose to be those things. My illness made me so.
I was a deacon in my church for a while — because I keep trying, and failing, to be better than what I am — and was sent to check on a developmentally-disabled member who had health troubles. I had known this guy for ten years, saw him at church, hugged him and shook his hand many Sundays. And as we sat in his apartment, with him going on and on about the two whole nights he spent in the hospital, I realized: I don’t care. I can’t make myself care. I barely have the energy to pretend to care. I quit being a deacon.
In fact, not caring is one of my few luxuries. When the checkout clerk at my grocery asks if I want to donate money to children’s cancer research, I take pleasure in telling her, “I do not care about children with cancer.” Because screw kids with cancer; everybody cares about kids with cancer. Do kids with cancer care about thirty-something burnouts with a ton of student debt? No. So it’s mutual. I care about me, because I have to.
Click here: “Guy Looks In Mirror… You Won’t Believe What He Sees!”
And I’m okay with the fact that I don’t care. Not proud, sure, but okay with it. I have come to terms with who I am. I’d be someone else if I could, but until science invents the personality transplant, I have to stop torturing myself. I don’t have the energy or the money or the friends I need to make myself a better person — all thanks to my illness.
And meanwhile, I don’t owe anyone a mote of pretense that I am better than I am. To the extent I do good — you’d need a powerful microscope to measure it, most days — it certainly isn’t because of my disease. What minimal good I have accomplished in this world absolutely cannot serve as inspiration porn.
I expect I’ll do a lot more bad before those health problems finally kill me. Then what will I be? Maybe that is the better, stronger me: dead. I suppose if I honestly thought I was the only person illness made worse and weaker, I would go ahead and kill myself.
But I’m not. So for fuck’s sake: let’s stop pretending like I am.
7 July »
Carly at ChroniCarly has her review of my novel, League of Mortals. I know we (authors) are only supposed to excerpt the most flattering parts of reviews, so there’s this…
Wesley is not a saint, he is not redeemed through his illness, he does not die in the end so his organs can save his girlfriend, nor does his life serve as the inspiration for national health care policy reform. He’s an average guy who has a pretty crappy year and then learns to get on with his life as best as he can. He uses dark humor to cope and does not have much sympathy for people who try to mold him into inspiration porn. In this way, the book offers the most realistic depiction of the first year of chronic illness that I can remember reading.
But I will admit that my favorite part of the review was this:
That is to say, reading during my daily Metro commute was difficult because of the many graphically realistic scenes of main character Wesley having stomach cramps and diarrhea.
Not sure why; it is what it is. My thanks to Carly for reading the book and writing the review. If you follow the link to her page, Carly has a coupon code for $2 off a download from Smashwords.
30 June »
(Note: this is not real medical information)
MARIJUANA – ORAL
COMMON BRAND NAME(S): 1 Eyed Jamaican, Acapulco Gold, Accidental Tourist, Afghan Kush, Afgooey, Agent Orange, AK47, Alaskan Thunder Bolt, Alien Blues, Arizonan Western Light Purp, Australian Blue, Big Buddha Cheese, Black Rhino OG Kush, Blue Dynamite, Blue Satellite #2, Blueberry Haze, Brainstorm Haze, Buddahs Love, Cali Big Bud, California Dream, Cat Piss, Charlie Sheen, Dankey Doodle, Dr. Grinspoon, Dream Queen, Dutch Treat Haze, Fraggle Rock, Fruity Pebbles, Girl Scout Cookies, Golden Goat, Grand Daddy Purple, Green -O- Matic, Harvard Haze, Hawaiian Snow, Holy Ghost, Hong Kong Star, Ice Queen, Incrediberry, Island Sweet Skunk, Jack Flash, Jack The Ripper, Jorees Diamond, Jurassic Haze, Kandy Kush, Killa Crip Kush, Knock Out, Lamb’s Breath, Lemon Diesel, Lil Afghani, Louisiana Swamp Moss, Mandala #1, Maui Wowie, MK Ultra, Moonlight OG Kush, New Willies, Northern Lights, Orange Widow, Pakistan Chitral Kush, Perma Frost, Pineapple Express, Pink Lady, Plane Crash, Purple Bubba Kush, Purple Monkey Balls, Purple Urkle, Queen Green, Razzle Dazzle, Romulan Cotton Candy, Sticky Icky OG Kush, Sweet Cheese, The Palin, Tsunami Crush, Twilight Indica, White Widow, Yuckleberry Wow. No lie, this is like maybe .0001% of the brand names we found researching for the important drug facts.
USES: Marijuana is used to treat
- anorexia in patients with AIDS,
- nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy,
- glaucoma (pressure in your eyeballs),
- multiple sclerosis (MS),
- or like whatever the doctor on the Internet says is wrong with me, bro, ’cause, like I got it real, real bad you know. I’ve got like AIDS in my glaucoma, swear to God,
- For real, marijuana is good for everything. Everything. Like maybe if you were a firefighter and ran into a burning building to rescue orphans and got real bad smoke inhalation and your lungs were filling with fluid. Okay, so maybe marijuana is not good for that. But everything else. It’s the wonderweed that works wonders.
HOW TO USE: When taking marijuana, closely follow your physician’s instructions. You may take marijuana with or without food, before bedtime, when you wake up in the morning, on break at work washing dishes at Shoney’s, or like whenever, ’cause that job is hella boring and the only way you are getting through a shift without totally killing Tiffani is with some prescription strength, for real.
Do not take marijuana before or while driving. Marijuana may cause drowsiness or confusion like this one time we were baking in Andy’s sister’s VW Golf and got crazy lost before he asks this guy trying to change a tire which way is Krispy Kreme, and then we fell asleep and Andy left us in the Golf in like a thousand degree sunshine in the middle of summer with the windows rolled up and we woke up because we thought our shit was for real on fire. And like, he didn’t even save us a donut. Ha ha funny Andy you douchebag.
Contact your doctor if your condition persists or worsens, so he can write you a prescription for totally more marijuana. Marijuana is good for that.
Tell your physician or pharmacist if you have ever had an allergic reaction to marijuana, because oh hey — we forgot to say that marijuana is totally good for allergies, too. Here cut this part out and paste it up there with the AIDS and the glaucoma: also allergies.
Do not use marijuana if:
- You are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- You have heart problems or hypertension (high blood pressure).
- You have lung problems from being a hero firefighter.
- You have seizures (epilepsy).
- You are bogarting that joint.
- You have immune system problems, except AIDS, because we already said marijuana is good for AIDS.
SIDE EFFECTS: Some for real side effects that can happen when you take marijuana include asthenia. Get it? Ass. Thenia. Ass. Thenia. It’s like when you get weak or lazy or couchlock or whatever.
Another side effects you can get are palpitations, tachycardia, vasodilation and facial flush. Palpitations is totally the name of the Emperor in Star Wars. It is. Yes it is. It is. Bro, it totally is. It totally is. Totally is. Yes, it is. Totally is. That’s totally the dude’s name. For real. Look it up. Look it up. Look it up. Look it up. Look it up. Look it up. Look it up.
What was I saying just now? Oh, yeah. You can get abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, too, while taking marijuana — but mostly that only happens to people who are on chemo already so maybe, it’s, you know, maybe the CHEMO. Just sayin’.
Marijuana may also cause slacking, slack-lining, slacktivism, hackey-slack, and sixth-year senioritis. Marijuana may also definitely cause the guitar solo in Creedence’s cover of “Heard It Through the Grapevine” where they just play the same thing over and over for like an hour. Great tune.
Some other side effects include amnesia, anxiety, ataxia, confusion, depersonalization, dizziness, euphoria IS FOR REAL THE WHOLE POINT, hallucination, paranoid reaction, somnolence, and thinking abnormal but what is normal, right? Like what was normal for dinosaurs was just walking around naked and then the comet hits and it gets really cold and maybe this one dinosaur is like ‘yo, there’s totally all these warm little fuzzy creatures running around – we should make shirts and hats’ but the other dinosaurs were like ‘whoa, Nerdceratops, that’s abnormal thinking’ and so the one dinosaur was all alone wearing his shirt made out of tiny mammals and he felt super smart but then the other dinosaurs all died and he was like OH MY GOD I’M THE ONLY ONE LEFT OH NO OH NO OH NO and then at his funeral it’s just this one angry lemur whose mom the dinosaur wore as a poncho and the lemur pees all over the dinosaur’s grave and then later evolves into a caveman and that’s why humans rule the Earth, right? What I’m saying is ‘abnormal thinking’ is just what BIG BROTHER calls your imagination, for real. Abnormal thinking is what keeps you from being just another froze-ass dinosaur wondering why there’s so many furry animals running around throwing snowballs. Don’t be a frozen dinosaur. Minds only work like parachutes. Think about it.
Oh, hey — look what’s not on this list of side effects: death. Like nobody ever OD’d from too much marijuana. It’s like impossible to kill yourself with marijuana. Like the only way you could die from marijuana is if you smoked so much weed that your mom and her boyfriend staged an intervention and got you signed up in the Army and you got sent to Afghanistan but guess what THERE’S TONS OF WEED IN AFGHANISTAN HA HA so you go Operation Enduring Freebase on your buddy’s Talibong and you’re so high you have no idea what the sirens mean anymore when the for real Talibong starts RPGing your camp and then MAYBE you could die from marijuana. But maybe maybe maybe also you survive and get diagnosed with PTSD and guess what’s good for PTSD? Marijuana. Hells yeah. Totally happened to my friend’s cousin. So death is NOT a side effect, bro.
Other possible side effects that occur in less than 1% of burners including conjunctivitis, fecal incontinence (HA HA ANDY HOW YOU LIKE THEM DONUTS NOW!), myalgia, depression, nightmares, speeth diccifulties, tinnitus, vision difficulties.
Side effects other than those listed here may also occur. Talk to your doctor about any side effect that seems unusual or that is especially bothersome, because you know what’s good for side effects….? That’s right, bro: marijuana.
(Note: this is not real medical information. Drug information adapted from RXList. Graphic adapted from The Daily Chronic. Consult your doctor, for real.)
17 June »
Iris at Sometimes, It Is Lupus reviews the greatest novel ever written about me getting sick…
It’s a highly believable, highly readable story, with some pain, some humour, and a lot of poo.
I loved this book. I had trouble putting it down – in the end I read it in two sessions. It would have been one, but I needed to sleep.
Thanks, Iris! You know, it’s interesting to me that I wrote it to be easily read in short stretches, but so many people are taking it down in a couple or so sittings.
17 June »
In and amongst our illness communities, we talk all the time about ‘awareness’ – but what does that word even mean? How does it get us closer to a cure?
Skim off the slogans and the ribbons, and ‘awareness’ boils down to a claim about, well… justice: that our disease does not get its fair share of attention, money, and other resources. The problem is that ‘awareness’ then becomes a popularity contest for diseases, which is a terrible way to decide what’s fair or just.
The idea of ‘awareness’ with respect to diseases started with AIDS in the 1980s. Back then, AIDS affected mostly gay men and IV drug users — and both groups were heavily stigmatized. As a result, the growing AIDS epidemic was met with a slow response from public health and government officials.
‘Awareness’ for the AIDS movement was a plea for justice: a demand that patients with AIDS be treated fairly and proportionately. Awareness sought to close the gap between how AIDS patients were being treated, and how they should be treated. It was not so much that AIDS advocates expected a cure: it’s that the President of the United States could pretend AIDS didn’t exist, that made awareness so vital.
Seeing the success of the AIDS movement – especially the red ribbon – the breast cancer movement adopted similar tactics in the early 1990s. Breast cancer also suffered unfair stigma, and the movement emerged from advocates involved in women’s health and feminism. Again, awareness involved a basic claim to justice: that women’s health issues be treated fairly and proportionately. But the breast cancer movement also pushed the idea that awareness could and should lead to a cure, implying that the only just outcome is the complete eradication of the disease.
Today, many people worry that breast cancer awareness is out of control: the social stigma against breast cancer is almost completely gone, research for the disease gets billions of dollars, and there are real problems with over-awareness. The movement that won so many victories shows no signs of stopping, and the result is that breast cancer dominates women’s health to an extent that’s harmful to women who will die of something else – and statistically, that’s a large majority of women.
Meanwhile, many other disease groups have adopted the AIDS/BC model, and now awareness and the disease-specific advocacy drives a fierce competition for public attention and research dollars. Several years ago Harold Varmus, former director of the NIH, appeared on The Daily Show to explain that this competition is actually bad for science: advocacy for disease-specific research often ends up taking money from other diseases, or from basic research, and not increasing the overall amount of money for disease research. (Even when groups raise money, what they spend on research is usually about 1/10th of government spending on the disease.)
So whenever we talk about the need for awareness — especially when we link it to the goal of a ‘cure’ — we have to ask: “awareness compared to what?” Is our disease really that unknown? Are the resources we are asking for really best spent on our disease? If we think ‘awareness’ is going to lead to a cure, the missing step in between the two might be that some other disease is not getting cured in the meantime.
Granted: most people probably don’t see this baggage when they use the word. They probably mean ‘awareness’ in the sense of ‘I wish more people knew about my problems’ – which is fine, and even important to say.
But we should be careful that our awareness campaigns generate the right kind of attention for our disease. Many people with IBD will remember the CCFA’s terrible bathroom ads. Along similar lines, Sara at Inflamed & Untamed has a great post on an awareness project done well. The ‘Ice Bucket’ challenge, for all its apparent success, taught most people nothing useful about ALS. Awareness campaigns can and often do minimize the painful and tragic aspects of our illnesses — the very things we want and need other people to recognize.
In that sense, what we really want is not awareness, but knowledge. ‘Awareness’ is a car commercial; knowledge is a Consumer Reports‘ review. Awareness is a blurb; knowledge is reading the book. ‘Awareness’ is flirting; knowledge is a relationship. And the best way to generate knowledge is to talk about our experiences with illness – openly and honestly – to anyone who will listen. With awareness-as-knowledge, we’re no longer insisting that the only helpful response to our disease is a cure.
We want other people to know what we’re going through: we want them to recognize our suffering and acknowledge our humanity. That’s what AIDS awareness efforts did so incredibly well. That’s what I see most people asking for when they beg for ‘awareness’.
That’s just not what the word means anymore.
9 June »
If you are sharing Ehoow posts about IBD, Crohn’s, UC, whatever – stop. It’s bullshit. The whole site is a content mill designed to drive ads. This photo right here: it’s the view you get when your head is up your ass. Pull out already – and stop sharing Ehoow articles.
When you share an article from Ehoow, I know you didn’t read the whole thing. Ehoow doesn’t write any articles: they copy/steal them from other pages. They at least usually put a URL – but not, you know, an active link – to the source article. So for the brain article in the picture, the link is to Livestrong.com. If you read the whole thing, you would have gone to the URL to figure out what it said.
But wait, there’s more: Livestrong.com is a commercial website licensed by the Livestrong Foundation (livestrong.org) to use the Livestrong name. It’s a for-profit site using a cancer non-profit’s name to sell ads; their mission is to make patients “empowered through food, fitness, and inspiration to pursue their best life because eating well and staying active are critical components in preventing cancer and fighting other illnesses.” If you have IBD, that should piss you off. Lance Armstrong is an asshole for a million reasons, and Livestrong.com is high up on the list.
But wait, there’s more: the Livestrong article at least lists sources for its research. When you read through the actual articles, you discover that the author is misrepresenting the research. Here’s the article:
A study published in the March 2014 “European Journal of Internal Medicine” noted that individuals with Crohn disease show an increased risk of mini-strokes compared to those without the disease.
That study actually says: “CD was not associated with an overall increased risk of ischemic stroke”. Here’s the LS article again:
People with Crohn [sic!] disease exhibit increased anxiety and depression compared to those without the disease, according to a September 2014 report published in “PLoS One.”
That study had 21 subjects with CD – which is not enough to make a valid conclusion – and also looked at people with IBS (who had worse anxiety and depression) and wasn’t really about anxiety and depression in the first place. Here’s the LS article again:
Compared to healthy patients, as described in the January 2013 issue of “Neurogastroenterology & Motility,” patients with Crohn disease show reductions in gray matter volume in many regions of the brain.
That study actually does say as much, but it also says the researchers can’t tell whether the disease came first, or the brain changes were pre-existing; it also “does not take into account other important factors such as the number and severity of relapses, the kind and the duration of treatments.” So – and this is extremely likely – it could be the treatments we take (e.g. prednisone) that are permanently messing up our brains, and not the disease itself. That’s a huge distinction to make.
I could do this all day – except that I have better uses for my time. The point is, the Ehoow article is bullshit copied from a Livestrong article that is bullshit. The people doing this don’t care about us, our diseases, or the research on that disease. They are using our curiosity about those diseases to sell ads. Please stop rewarding them by sharing those articles.
5 June »
Jamie Dithers reports from New York City that sister Beta Gammas Rachel Albrey and Stacey Speck visited for a long weekend. They painted the town BeeGee pink even though Jamie had to work on Monday and bought all her own drinks, but Jamie says she is always glad to be a free hotel for her friends.
Kacey Winterberry and David Pirk finally tied the knot last June in a beautiful wedding in sunny Kiribati in the South Pacific. Classmates Adam Kirschfield, Laura Broggs, and Darian Galp ʻ04 were there to represent Firmback Hall. Kacey writes, “I invited lots of ʻBackers, but only three made it. I guess folks were busy. It would have been great to share the best day of my life with more of my best friends from college, but it was fine.”
Michael Kanderschmid published his second novel, What Fire We Bring, and is now on a cross-country book tour. Mike says it is great to see classmates at his events but donʼt buy the book only just because he worked really hard and put his heart and soul into it, if you donʼt want to.
Samantha Robowski MA ʻ05 finished her Ph.D in anthropology at U. of North Florida, and is looking for adjunct jobs in the Chicago area. Says Samantha, “Finally… UNF was my eighth choice, but I am so grateful to the professors who wrote recommendation letters that were sealed so I couldnʼt read them. Iʼm just glad to be done.”
In real doctor news, after a two-year fellowship in Baltimore Robert Lippercut is now a practicing anesthesiologist in Des Moines. Robert says he looks forward to sharing some laughs with junior-year roomies Kyle Wanger and Tyler Peridot at the next reunion even though they never shared their pot or Adderall with him when they wanted to get high in the room.
Jane (Alterbrook) Myersby JD ʻ06 MBA ʻ08 and husband Randall ʻ02 MFA ʻ08 recently celebrated the birth of their first child, Elden Heathcliff Myersby. Jane took three weeks off from her job in corporate litigation for the birth and Randall is busy as ever running his experimental non-profit art gallery J-Vois, so if they donʼt find a nanny soon they will probably just give up the baby for adoption or whatever.