What Makes You Brave?

Bea’s skin puckers from the sutures that are still holding onto her newly formed chest.  She’s excited to wear the t-shirt, when she’s done with all her hospital stays that says, “these ones are fake cause the real ones tried to kill me.” Her green eyes dance around her pale face as she smiles, holding strong, holding fast to the fact she knows she’s going to make it through her final and fourth surgery.  

Her parents moved from Colorado to Germany to help her when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.  After a double masectomy and hysterectomy she declared she would be back to work the next week.  I shook my head, “Bea, it’s gonna take longer than that.”  

I didn’t want my words to ring true.  I didn’t want my instinctual hold to all things real to break her bubble.  The bubble that makes Bea, Bea.  Her infectious vibe fills everyone around her.  I feel like a sarcastic biznatch when I’m around her. (Maybe that’s because I am a sarcastic biznatch).  I want to believe in everything Bea believes in.  But, I can’t because I’m not Bea and I haven’t trod where she has.

When Bea called me up, every two weeks since her first surgery to let me know she was back in the hospital, I felt terrible for her.  Unthinkable, because she’s a nurse.  Because Bea is indomitable.  I joked with her when she was discharged a month ago with the first surgery that I was happy she was getting out of “jail” but sad that I couldn’t just take a five minute walk to go sit and socialise with her.  I couldn’t be of service to someone else and get that ebullient feeling of “doing good” that I always felt as a child bandaging my fellow classmates wounds in elementary school.

This last stay sobered me to the reality of cancer, something I have never experienced.  Two of Bea’s siblings died of cancer (one in childhood, the other in his late twenties).  I could see the look on her Mum’s face when Bea was readmitted.  And this last time, I tried to distract her from the sadness that now encased Bea’s aura.  Sadness hung on her every word.  There was no wishing it away.  She was starting to give up.  I felt a strange relief that Bea, was indeed, human.  But, I also wanted to somehow distract her.  To not be myself, the forever pragmatist.  I felt the need to do a merry dance, sing a catchy tune.  Anything that might take away the pain of not knowing what was coming next.

Over the course of the last five days, I’ve seen the various stages of healing that take place when one has multiple surgeries of their mammary glands.  It isn’t pretty. (I don’t know how women actually elect to get breast augmentation).  It is horrifically painful.  Bea hasn’t had just one major surgery, but three in the period of four weeks.  One wound is open but healing.  The other wound is completely stitched up.  There is the constant battle with gravity and her body, praying that everything will stay together and that the stitches won’t pull open and that she won’t become infected again.

When I was driving her home from the hospital today and we took in the Bavarian landscape, I couldn’t help ask her.  “If men had to go through what we women have to go through, would they actually elect to stay alive?”

I have to ask this, because I have endometriosis, which affects almost every aspect of my life, lately and is a completely unpredictable disease that they can’t just cut out of me or radiate (wouldn’t that be nice)?  But, I also don’t have to worry that it will kill me, because it won’t.  I couldn’t help wondering though, if men had to endure these large scars and invasions into their bodies and reproductive organs (as I do know many men do with testicular cancer) would they be as calm as Bea?  Or accepting as I have tried to be, of the limits of medical science?

I can’t help wondering if women are asked to do more with our bodies and endure more just because it’s expected?  I’m not talking about inherent gender biases, but the fact that just because I’m a woman I’m expected to be okay with having twelve dozen people poking and proding and taping and untaping my real and not real breasts?  Or, having all sorts of hormonal experiments, diets, surgeries in the name of trying to diagnose my endometriosis and control it?  Would a man bleed from his nether-regions for six months straight and just pass it off as “man problems?”

I am surrounded by some of the most compassionate and kind men I know.  I cannot blame them for the world being as it is, or for women’s bodies being as they are.  However, I sometimes wonder if there isn’t another way.  

I am an idealist at heart.  Like Bea, I want to believe that the world can be better than it is.  I want to believe that a positive attitude can clear the cobwebs away (and it can, from time to time).  I can’t help but feel my heart breaking when those around me suffer.  What can I say that will magically take the pain away?  How can I comfort and heal the downtrodden?  

I dedicate this to Bea, for inspiring me to keep working beyond my body’s limits (if only in my mind when I can’t really move at all).  She is a jewel, a treasure, and a woman of mighty strength.  God bless Bea.  She has made me brave for what’s ahead.

What does it mean to be a boy?

by J. Robby

Being a guy means you’re always competing to see who’s better than who. It means you have to be number one.

It means you compete at saying who’s the fastest runner or who’s the best at football or basketball. You’re looking good for the girls or playing tough to be the dominant one. You gotta stay strong and be the best you can be and not get broken inside:  if you do, don’t let it show.

 When you’re a guy, you are taking on more responsibilities and more actions to keep you, friends, and family in line. It means you can’t be afraid of something you know you are.

Up until stuff goes wrong: you lose your friends or a relationship goes bad or family passes away, then you don’t know what to do. You stay so strong for so long and think you can’t be broken until you are. Once you are, its the end of the world. It seems like it, at least.

I believe personally that being a guy or boy means to just stay strong, even in hard times

 

The Dark Side of Being a Girl

 I asked my teens (all 120 of them): what does it mean to be a guy or girl (pick your gender only)?  What do you want authors to write about you, that they aren’t right now? Here is one of the responses from Celina S.

                                                     BEING A GIRL, THE DARK EDITION

                                                                           by Celina S.

To be a girl, it means to be everything. I honestly believe guys couldn’t exist without us girls. Being a girl also means to be a pro at personal hygiene.

                What it means to be a girl is that fear of being regarded badly. It means being very fragile but oh-so-strong. It means that hardened shell with the weeping girl inside. Pretending to be stronger that you really are.

                That need for praise because you can’t convince yourself of your worth. It means having to be that stereotypical girl for people to like you, and to live yourself in secret.

                That unique thing about you everyone hates because it makes you different, better even, so they try to destroy that seed of true beauty. It means having to nourish that seed secretly and not being able to show it, otherwise that beautiful flower it’s become will be torn apart by people.

                Being a girl means getting destroyed piece by piece and having to endure verbal abuse, because of course, most of the time girls are viewed more critically that guys judging by looks and weight.

                It means being taken advantage of, not being overly smart (its unattractive) or overly nice (its faked). It means doing everything but no one gives. It means being “useless” and underestimated.

                Being a girl means having to live in hiding, hiding not only from everyone else but from yourself, too. Because you’ll constantly be pulling yourself down. You’re not like the others: pretty enough, liked enough, kind enough. Perfect enough.

                You’re not perfect. Being a girl means that need to be. That trying to be what you are not for the sake of not having to deal with the sneers, laughs, pointing fingers. Those whispers, too.

                “Did’ya see her clothes?”

                “Her hair, ewww.”

                “She’s so mean!”

Those whispers. Girls like to be perfect. Don’t treat them that way because they’ll remember. Forever.

                You don’t ever want to be a girl. Because it’s not just rainbows and smiling faces.

 There’s a dark side to being a girl.

Why macho men don’t read: the alarming decline in action thrillers

An excellent post on male reading tastes by Isabel Rogers. How I love reading her writing!

isabelrogers.org

There is a blog on the Bookseller website today, apparently written by a “UK-based agent”. Literary agent, I imagine, though from the tone and cloak’n’dagger anonymity one might assume he (and there, dear reader, is another silly assumption of mine) is a secret agent. Perhaps he’s plotting the overthrow of publishing, like some James Bond villain. Even now he could be stroking a cat.

It was brought to my attention on Twitter by Chris McVeigh, whose exact words when tweeting the link were “Oh do fuck off. So much to deride here it’s difficult to know where to start.” He’s right. Sorry this isn’t the shortest blogpost. Read it at your own blood pressure peril.

In summary: this agent thinks men are short-changed with the kind of books they are offered. It’s all just too damned female these days. You can read his pompous ramble here, but I’ve…

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The Literary Guilt and Inferiority Quiz

If you haven’t read this wonderful post of Isabel Costello’s you really must!

The Literary Sofa

GuiltMany of you book-lovers will have seen this very interesting, possibly funnier than intended article by the supremely erudite Will Self in The Guardian, lamenting the death of the serious literary novel (again). Now, serious and literary are two of my favourite words but this piece contained one or two (dozen) others which challenged my view of myself as an articulate and well-read Literary Sofa proprietor.

This week’s post isn’t serious but it is literary. Kind of. If you’ve ever had a complex about your reading habits, have a crack at these deeply revealing questions. I’m giving my own answers to make you feel better. Maybe.

Answers below.

1. Do you have an English degree?

No, and it’s a really handy justification for all the books I haven’t read whilst simultaneously implying that I’ve devoured the entire canon of French and German literature.

2. How many lines of the…

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