An Immortal Cell Lives On

April 5, 2011

I recently read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot about cells taken from a black woman in 1950s. The cells, unlike any other, had an immortal quality where they kept multiplying and even infesting other sterilized scientific studies. The sample, as was practiced at the time, was taken without consent. As the cells grew, spawning an entirely new industry the family was never made aware. They have yet to be compensated by any of companies profiting from the cells and cannot even afford basic health care.

The story has stuck with me on several fronts.

The first was that horrible childhood of Henrietta, her children and even some of the grandchildren. Henrietta had, besides cancer, syphilis and HPV likely gifts from her philandering husband. One child was abused so, and I only know from the two antidotes in the story so I must fathom it was worse than what I read in a few pages, that the reader can almost forgive his unpleasant disposition. Another daughter was repeatedly raped by the husband of her father’s girlfriend, while the father turned a blind eye. All left school early.

Perhaps its a testament to my sheltered life, but it’s so hard to imagine such abuse existing even though I know it does. I have had my fair share of trauma and drama throughout my childhood. While I was raised in a privileged home with two siblings, I remember feeling extremely alone and often a burden to my parents. By the time I went away for high school most of my misery subsided. I have survived without physical abuse, sexual abuse or rape which must put me ahead of many, and light years ahead of the Lack’s family.

The other part of this book that I struggle to comprehend is that Ms. Lacks’ cells are still circulated and used for countless research including a cure for polio. I’m sure the family must grapple with part of their mother not being at rest. From a Jewish perspective, the immortal cells would cause many discomfort. Some rabbis collect all of the stray hair and fingernails of the deceased so the soul can rest without concern of the body.

When going through my mother’s bathroom shortly after she passed I found her hairbrush filled with stray hairs. Holding that brush, longing for my mom I briefly contemplated what to do. Without consulting my sister, as I had been doing for many decisions, I threw the hairs away. Now I cannot imagine my internal debate, but then it had been a big decision. Imagine if each of those hairs where in someone else’s hands, or laboratory, out of my control. Like the Lack’s I’d be happy they were being used for good, but I’d feel violated for not being consulted on their secondary life.

The final thing that I love about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is that it took the author ten years to write it! Sure she has a much better excuse than I have offered (The Lacks family initial reluctance to talk to her, and all of that scientific research) but it’s comforting to know that even talented writers have their obstacles.

I left the book at my hotel on vacation with the hopes that someone will find it and enjoy it as much as I did.

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Writer Competition

February 15, 2011

I get so jealous when I hear of another writer working. It’s unfortunate that I do not channel this competitiveness into writing my own story.

I have dusted off my tome and think about editing it but I have not done so.

I can rationalize and say that it is resistance stopping me, but it is not enough for me to sit down and work.

It’s a shame because I am happier when I write and feel productive.

I’m doing other things like working on my real estate business but I’m not writing.

Hitler had studied to be a painter. He found it easier to go to war and kill millions than continue to paint.

I want to be the person that is introduced as having just finished/published a book. I’ve talked long enough about being a writer and writing, it would be great to have something tangible to show for it.

Writer’s write. I lament.

I can’t use my previous excuses of having a newborn or losing my mom anymore. I have help and I cannot two years after the fact use the loss of my mom as an excuse.

I am building a bathroom in my apartment because I had gotten sick of talking about it and wanted to do it. I feel the same way about writing, but I just can’t hire someone to do the work for me. I suppose I could hire an editor or a mentor or even carve out time to do my work. I just haven’t yet Perhaps soon I will tire of excuses and get back to the thrill of writing. That would be nice.

Terrorist tendencies

January 12, 2011

In my vain attempt to find out why someone visited my non advertised discreet blog, I was able to track how a reader found my site.

There is the occasional cross post, an incentive when I first joined the now defunct NYC Moms Blog. Then there is the random blog that directed two people in one week. Some website that included me enough to entice two readers, however briefly, to read my work at my sister blog, Milf Alert.

So I clicked. The portal showed a car with a brick paint job. The black brick motif extended to th wheels and hubcaps. In the photo a woman with an umbrella observes the unusual car. The site fancies itself a portal, and other than “password” and “ebook” I did not recognize any words or the language. Among the tags, I only identified Israel twice.

At first I thought this could be a terrorist site that lures recruits by visiting their blogs, and given said fear, I closed the screen.
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Tina Fey Fantasy

November 11, 2010

I like Tina Fey. In fact I think she is brilliantly funny, talented and frankly I’m totally envious of her career. As great as she is, there is a narcissistic part of her that thinks I’m equally as funny and talented as she. Maybe not today, as she has honed her craft over the years, but perhaps we had the same skillful seeds within us.

And I have such an ache in my heart for the writing I am not doing and the success I do not have which I attribute to the fact that I am not disciplined enough. A liberal psychopharmacologist readily prescribed me Concerta, a medicine for ADHD which I would have downed by the fistful ten years ago, I think. Now it makes me slightly speedy and feels like cheating. But if it got me to where I wanted to be…But I have not taken it in months so I remain unqualified to speak to its verity and powers it may or may not have had on my once budding writing career a decade earlier.

Two nights ago I dreamt I left a dinner of preschool parents to tell Tina Fey of my passion for writing and how much I wanted to be a sitcom writer. “I know, I know,” I said when she asked me if I knew of the demands and the salary. In my dream the salary was paltry and I dismissed the demands not thinking of my husband and kids. She told me if I really wanted to write to prove it to her and she told me to write a spec script for what seemed like the Pamela Anderson sitcom but then evolved into 30 Rock.

I sat in her office or apartment which had an incredible view of the pyramid at Museum of Natural History and some bluffs (it was a dream) until three in the morning as she guided me on plot development. “Now write it for tomorrow,” she said scribbling her phone numbers.

I hesitated briefly then acknowledged that success required sacrifices, including but not limited to postponing sleep or hobnobbing with the class parents. I felt empowered, opportunity within my grasp.

And yet I still have not looked at the rough draft of my novel hibernating on my computer.

When I awoke in the middle of the night last night, I briefly debated if I should seize the quiet and fire up the laptop. That thought lasted but a minute.

Writing is like exercise, the more one does it, the easier it is to continue, the better one, or at least I, feel and then it becomes addictive. While I can satisfy my sugar cravings, I cannot satiate this one.

Room for Improvement

September 27, 2010


As part of the Left to Write blog, I was given a free copy of Room by Emma Donoghue. The book has generated some hype recently, but I suppose a write up cover of the New York Times Book Review section will do that. I began the book late this weekend but given some fervent opposition to the book by my fellow bloggers and the late arrival of said novel, I did not finish the story narrated by a five year old boy locked in a room with his mother.

I feel badly for not completing the book, or really reading more of it. When children are pulling off their diapers sitting in wet cribs and screaming bloody murder, a book must be engaging enough to maintain my attention. Of course, as part of the Left to Write blog, I don’t have to write a report, merely a blog inspired by the book. And if I don’t? I can’t imagine my imaginary mommy friends in the blogosphere will disown me. Will you?
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Cowboys and Wills

September 2, 2010

As part of the From Left to Write blog, I received a complimentary copy of Cowboys and Wills: A Love Story by Monica Holloway. The book follows a mother’s help to reach her son after he was diagnosed with autism.

I don’t know if autism is more prevalent today because doctors are more aware of it and thus children are getting diagnosed more frequently or if the expanded definition includes more ranges of disorders or if there is something in the environment contributing to more cases, but it is scary.
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One Day

August 23, 2010

I just finished One Day By David Nicholls. It was one of those delightful books that I was disappointed to finish, and slightly disappointed by a sudden event at the end. I’m struggling to find another book that I will enjoy as much.

It followed two friends over 20 years on the same day each year, a clever and challenging undertaking for a writer but it works surprisingly well.

I related to the character Emma in her disappointment for how her early 20s passed into less than she had hoped. A disappointment, rather with unfulfilled dreams, unrequited love and lack of direction. I look back on my early 20s with a pang that I did not achieve more success as a writer. I look at authors with such awe when I should focus that the only difference between me and them is discipline, and maybe some connections and education. There’s slight embarrassment that I do not have more to show for my attempts at writing.

Just as there is slight embarrassment that I have not read certain classical novels or ever embraced Shakespeare. I know regrets do not have a place in a productive life.

Emma found her focus when she returned to school and became a teacher, sharing her passion with kids. So, at 32 I have my life ahead of me and still time to do more. Which means I should probably return to that novel that I’m ignoring.

Cancer Edit

August 16, 2010

I survived my parents’ cancer. My mother did not survive her most recent bout, but through every doctor’s appointment and surgery I was by her side, that is before she went to India where she died.

Then my dad was diagnosed with his second cancer in as many years and I watched him cope with it differently than my mother. He went from controlling to morbid, to unfunny attempts at humor to annoying.

I know it is not fair to expect two people to handle disease and diagnosis the same way but my father’s narcissistic coping mechanism made him bland company. So it was with great hidden disgust that I agreed to help him edit an essay for his cancer survivor’s group.

Fortunately it was only two pages of narcissism and given that it lacked a cohesive theme I was able to offer a handful of notes. He wrote two things that particularly annoyed me; one was how when he had to go into Manhattan for an appointment he made plans so the trip would not be exclusively about the hospital. During this ordeal, he did not travel downtown to see me or his grandchildren. When my mom was seeking treatment, we made plan weeks in advance down to where we would eat and what we might order and how she would travel uptown. Perhaps for my dad, seeing his friends was more cathartic than his daughter. In which case, I reserve the same right not to be with him every day when we are in his hometown.

The second thing that irked me was that he wrote about his experience receiving the chemotherapy for the first time when a wave of chills overtook his body. *I was worried about my daughter seeing me and freaking out.*

I picked out wigs with my mom, shared her hospital bed for a hysterectomy and then when the stitches and then her organs fell out. I’ve seen my parents sick. Deathly sick. I’m not proud of it, but there is a part of me that knows, through my sister, that he was jealous of how I attended to my mom during her sickness.

Maybe he was really concerned and wanted to protect me. I just don’t see why of all of the things that experience has to be included in his 500 word essay. My husband tells me that I can politely decline helping him as I do not want to relive his cancer. Perhaps.

How To Read

July 16, 2010

I recently started The Liars Club by Mary Karr and am struggling to read it, not because she is a bad writer, but rather because she is a great writer. Each sentence, each paragraph is constructed so poetically and succinctly and grammatically correct, I want to focus on the words and the sentence structure. The memoir is proving to be so compelling and engaging that I want to discover what happens next. I’m torn between my desire to savor the writing and devour the story. Read the rest of this entry »

Zen and the Art of Prison

June 30, 2010

It was great curiosity and fear that I read Piper Kerman’s Orange is The New Black. We both came from nice New England families, graduated from the same college and made foolish mistakes after college. Piper’s mistake was transporting a suitcase full of cash to Europe for a drug dealer. Ten years after the ordeal she finds herself in a minimum security federal prison for a year.

Like the author, post college I was looking for an adventure and would have contemplated something as idiotic as participating in a drug cartel. I do not know if I would have done anything per se, but I certainly would have considered it.
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