Bad news day.

[CONTENT NOTE: racist police violence, f-bombs.]

I awoke today, as many did, to news of more widespread protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by white police, and the murder of Breonna Taylor, a black woman, by white police, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, by white racist thugs, and, and, and, and…

I want to say this here as unequivocally as I can (and have said before): I stand in solidarity with communities of color around the country and around the world, in opposition to state violence and murder, militarized policing, unprecedented mass imprisonment and surveillance, social and economic and environmental injustice, and imperial wars.

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
Emma Lazarus

I also want to cosign Jacob Frey, the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, who said this:

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I have become a global trendsetter/lifestyle guru/influencer!

[CONTENT NOTE: anti-LBGTQi bigotry and harassment; language most foul.]

You know, I really hate to toot my own horn, people. But it remains a simple fact that I was housebound, taking paranoia-level precautions against infection risk, gorging myself on Netflix, hoarding unconscionable amounts of toilet paper, following the news and shitting myself* long before damn near everyone** on the planet recently decided to live exactly as I do!

You might think that by now, I’d have some timely wisdom to impart to you, hard won over these past few years while I’ve been consigned to countless stretches of involuntary isolation. Maybe I’d be servin’ up some pithy, practical tips-’n-tricks to help you navigate these perilous, life-changing, life-threatening times within the context of a “healthcare system” deliberately designed to generate wealth, in direct opposition to health.

Alas, nope. I got nuthin’. Except:

WELCOME TO MY WORLD, EVERYONE.

Also: good luck with that.__________

*What?! No! I am not going to admit publicly on my blog to literally shitting myself after my (second) ileostomy reversal! I used that phrase only figuratively…yep.

**Oh, I am exquisitely aware that not “everyone” is following my groundbreaking life choices. Just look at these @$$holes popping up today in my morning news scan:

“People filled bars like one in Appleton, Wis., on Wednesday night after the state’s Supreme Court struck down the governor’s stay-at-home restrictions.” (William Glasheen/Post-Crescent/AP)

And by “people,” I think it’s fair to say that The Washington Post editors mean “white dudes” because of course they do. (And because of course they are.)

But there are @$$holes a lot closer to home, too. Take this @$$hole for instance, as seen through my fire escape:

“@$$hole on Hudson Street, 5.13.20”
©Iris Vander Pluym

Now you may have heard that every night at 7pm New Yorkers collectively gather at their windows to make an enormous racket, banging pots and whooping it up, just like when it’s midnight on New Years but waaaaay too cold to leave the apartment. In fact you may have actually heard the noise yourself, because that shit is motherfucking loud. The cacophonous chaos is my beloved city’s daily ritual in appreciation of nurses, doctors, first responders and essential workers of all kinds. No one else here may know what day it is, but we sure as shit know what time it is.

Apparently so does the @$$hole. (And his @$$hole friends, too, who stood on the near corner out of range of my shot). Right on cue at 7 last night, the Maskless Minion of Mindless Misery began waving around his “TRUMP 2020 – KEEP AMERICA GREAT” sign 40 feet from my window.

As the raucous din died down, thence began his spittle-flecked shouting of this message in every direction for all to hear, whilst shoving his sign at the faces of passing people and at the windows of passing vehicles. My neighbors were shouting back things like “Go home!” and “You don’t belong here!” This last, of course, is not only a reference to the infamously liberal borough of Manhattan as a whole, but to the West Village in particular – you know: home of the 1969 Stonewall uprising and the world’s undisputed epicenter of LGBTQi culture and civil rights activism before AIDS decimated the local population and then a monsoon of straight white rich yuppies and super-rich absentee “residents” flooded the neighborhood and drove real estate prices right through the fucking stratosphere.

But this being New York and all, the neighborhood still stubbornly maintains its gritty grip on queerness, which is precisely why the @$$hole brigade was here in the first place – and not pulling this shit in…oh, say, Brownsville. If this were not plainly obvious already, it became crystal clear once their feckless leader began taunting my neighbors with “SISSY BOYS!!!” and “LOSER SOY BOYS, ALL Y’ALL!!!” and “YEAH I’M NOT LIVING HERE WHERE THE SOY BOYS LIVE, LITTLE GIRL!!! LITTLE GIRLY MEN!!! NEIGHBORHOOD FULL OF GIRLY-GIRLS!!!” (I do apologize to readers, but the man was speaking entirely in all caps and with multiple, non-ironic exclamation points.)

The rhetorical heat had risen, though not nearly to the high voltage I prefer when I fuck with conservatives. That’s when I decided to contribute my $0.02 to the verbal volleys and began shouting “Run him over!” at the passing cars and buses, and whining loudly with bitter disappointment as they missed him. Up until this point during his one-man troll show he seemed to be enjoying the back-and-forth jabbing and jeering, but at that he shut up for a moment, lowered his sign and spun around in my direction. “RUN ME OVER, THAT’S NICE,” he harrumphed. Well if anyone would know about “nice” it would be this dude amirite?

There were many, many witty and original zingers like:

“YOU’RE LOSERS!!! LOSER!!! LOSER!!! LOSER!!! LOSER!!! LOSER!!! YOU’RE AAAAALLLLL LOSERS!!!”

“WINNING!!! ALWAYS WINNING!!!”

“LOSERS KEEP WALKING!!! WINNERS CAN STOP HERE AND SHAKE MY [ungloved] HAND!!!”

He did get awfully quiet when a large black man on a bicycle stopped to engage him. Gosh, I wonder why that is?

“Do something else,” I heard someone say. “We’re getting bored.”

As we all know, conservatives are nothing if not boring, and so I would soon turn my attention back to my current Netflix binge.

Today I learned via my upstairs neighbor that these tools also made an appearance at the liquor store around the corner. That’s right: my liquor store. Not to buy booze though, just to taunt the extremely essential worker running the register with more tedious and unoriginal anti-queer barbs. And one of the @$$holes got himself arrested for spitting on a woman who told him to put on a mask.

Good times.

My first thought was I’m so happy these particular people are doing exactly the right things to catch COVID-19. Obviously our world would be a far better place without them in it. Unfortunately, that’s not how the virus or conservatives work. They cannot help but do their worst damage to the most vulnerable and defenseless among us. Kovid Karrying Konservatives are bound to infect not just each other at their junior fascist circle jerks, but other people upon whom they inflict themselves, many of whom have no choice in the matter.

Have a nice day.

IMNSHO: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s finest speech.

Before I got sick, I would post every year on this occasion my favorite speech of King’s, that I know of or have ever heard, in its entirety. It was delivered by Dr. King in my much loved, adopted home town at Manhattan’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, and entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. When I last wrote about it here in 2017 I said this:

It has become my tradition on this day of remembrance to post the text of a speech delivered by Dr. King on April 4, 1967 at Manhattan’s Riverside Church entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence (audio recording here), along with a short commentary about why I believe these words are so important. The speech is truly magnificent, yet it tends to be given short shrift relative to other works of the slain civil rights leader.

King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is of course his most well-known and celebrated. He gave it from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, at the closing of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and major television networks broadcast it live. The text is short (by King’s standards) and is notable for, among other things, painting a vivid picture of what racial justice looks like.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is also frequently cited. He wrote it in response to an April 12, 1963 open letter by eight white Alabama clergymen, who took issue with King and his tactics. Its central focus is a beautiful, powerful defense of non-violent activism. But what always strikes me most about it is King’s crushing disappointment upon learning that the greatest enemies to social progress are not, in fact, those who are openly and hatefully opposed to it, but those “allies” who rend their garments and advocate moderation, patience and gradualism in the face of immediate, deadly and enduring injustice. King held up a mirror, and in doing so, he showed us what ally-ship looks like.

Four years later, he spoke the words of Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Here, he showed us exactly how inextricably linked are the battles against discrimination, oppression, poverty, injustice, and many other social ills to the evils of war. This is a broader, much more sweeping vision; in my opinion, these are his finest words. Yes, there are religious references. Yet King tethers these to his eloquent defenses of secular ideas of justice, compassion and love to make the same case; in this way they function to bolster his arguments (for the religious-minded) instead of standing in for them.

As King said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We have a lot of work to do.

PEACE.

__________

I have nothing to add to that today (nor, apparently, the energy and focus to do so even if I had wanted to. *sigh*). Speech below the cut. [Source.]

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Mah spiritual needz!

Since this came up in comments on my previous post, I thought I’d regale readers with the tale of that one time I had a so-called nondenominational cleric and self-proclaimed “spiritual counselor” approach me during chemo.

Yes, some pasty-faced white d00d in a somber black suit and white collar straight out of central casting came by my station, introduced himself as a “spiritual counselor” and handed me his business card:

Yes that’s right: an official Staff Chaplain was here to help me with aaaaall mah spiritual counseling needz! Whoo-hoo!

Now, contrary to my fearsome reputation as a raging, fire-breathing, anti-theist terrorist*, I do not generally begrudge my free fellow Americans their own personal supernatural fantasies and frivolities, except for when I do absolutely and unequivocally begrudge them. For instance, when they see fit to inflict said fantasies and frivolities upon myself or others by force of law or otherwise. And I have a particularly dismal opinion of clergy, whom I hold in the very lowest esteem for many reasons, including the fact that they are either primary vectors for spreading all manner of hellish evils and deadly nonsense here in the US and around the world, or at best apologists therefor. Also, in my experience clergy are, without exception, all. flaming. narcissists.

And yet, believe it or not, I was SUPER NICE to the Staff Chaplain! We had a looong chat wherein I pretended to be interested in his theological education and its flavor of supernaturalism: some kind of Protestant Christian (*omg yawn*). Then I asked him about his chaplaining philosophy and experience: “oh, it’s non-denominational,” he answered. Why, he could provide me with Buddhist spiritual counseling, even! He said so when I pressed, and I pretended to be impressed.

This “conversation,” if we can call it that, went on and on AND ON, more or less in the form of a monologue, with just a few little prompts and prods here and there from me: his utterly captive audience, attached at the chest to slowly draining IV bags via a one-inch needle recently pierced into a surgically implanted port.

But this part was expected. Just ask any run-of-the-mill narcissist to talk about themselves, then sit back and behold the MEEEEEE that pours forth without end.

Once I was sure he was enjoying himself thoroughly, I pounced. I asked him ever so sweetly about, you know, his actual counseling qualifications. Any certifications? None. Academic degrees in psychology? None. Clinical social work? None. Perhaps institutional internships or residencies as a counselor? None. Any actual license to practice counseling in New York State? None.

NONE.

“Huh,” I said cooly, and pretended to be disappointed. Hurt, even.

By this point his hackles were visibly rising, but yet he looked torn. I mean, I had only moments ago been such a delightful, rapt and eager listener, so generous with my encouraging wide eyes, “uh-huhs” and a few tactical “wows.”

I waited a beat – and yes, I admit I enjoyed watching him squirm – then casually dropped the “Well, I’m atheist” bomb. “But I am sooo interested in discussing religion and spirituality with you! I’ve got nothing but time to kill here!”

The Staff Chaplain seemed taken aback for a second, maybe two. Then he very quickly offered up some banal farewell pleasantries, and oh man, this d00d was out the door of the chemo suite in a streaky black blur. Oh well. I guess nobody else locked up to hideous poisons drip drip dripping into their fragile veins was in need of spiritual counseling that day?**

Listen, as far as I’m concerned, amusing myself by toying with a clergyperson while I’m quite literally stuck getting chemo? Now that is addressing mah spiritual needz!

I never once saw him again at the hospital, despite being a frequent flyer. Or maybe he just saw me first.

__________
*Okay, so maybe I am a hopeless raging, fire-breathing, anti-theist terrorist. But I prefer to think of myself, at least in this instance, as a raging, fire-breathing, anti-theist Cheshire Cat.

Sir John Tenniel's hand-colored proof of Cheshire Cat in the Tree Above Alice for The Nursery "Alice"

**Yes I know, there were religious/spiritual/nondenominational/whatever patients lining the long wall of the chemo suite right along with me. But Iris, don’t they deserve access to an official Staff Chaplain to comfort them if they so desire? HOW COULD YOU BE SO AWFUL?!!! Indeed, I myself have said before, not coincidentally to my therapist, and also to my much-missed dear friend and FtB colleague Caine, cancer treatments are trauma. Full stop.

But no. No, my fellow patients most certainly do not deserve this. And I’ll tell you why in my next post.

My esteemed colleague is asking…

How are you treated as an atheist? [Via From the Ashes of Faith.]

I saw the question/post on the sidebar and felt like flexing Ye Olde Writing Muscle and answering it. Unfortunately for ashes, my answer turned into a rambling rant more suitable to inflict on you people, by which of course I mean my people: Squirrel Haters. Here’s my answer. (My comment, followed by my apology therefor, are still awaiting moderation there as of this posting.)

Reporting from NYC here, that infamous bastion of moral turpitude: feminists, POC, AOC, leftists, queer people, Muslims, godless heathens and all those other notorious devils your mother warned you about. Especially those godless heathens!

Even for me, it’s an interesting and timely question, it turns out. Soooo…I’ve recently had multiple surgeries followed by hospital admissions at an enormous, sprawling, nominally Jewish hospital-and-medical-school complex in Manhattan. It’s the kind of place where the intake forms in nearly every doctor’s office – and I’ve been to a LOT of ’em – ask for “preferred name” and “preferred pronoun,” and the various departments proudly display a rainbow flag or two with messages of welcoming and inclusivity. The staff, from renowned surgeons to janitors, is probably as diverse as the U.N.’s. You get the picture.

Now I don’t know if it’s an effect of cancer and its treatments or just a typical case of don’t-give-a-fuck-itis, but if someone who is responsible for some aspect of my medical care is going to ask me about my religion, and the physician practices all do, I say “atheist” without skipping a beat. I have that privilege here.

Or do I? Two surgeries ago back in November, I remember filling out some form or answering some questioner as usual with “athiest.” I get up to pre-op holding, and various people and teams keep dropping by to introduce themselves, then examine and interrogate me (anesthesia docs, O.R. nurses, surgical residents, etc.). I instantly forget all of their names, faces and roles. As I was being wheeled away to the O.R., one of these people, a woman perhaps in her thirties, leans over and says to me almost conspiratorially, “It was nice to see ‘atheist’ in your chart. I wish more people were so open about it.” Huh?! Okay…

As an aside here, yes yes this is a “Jewish” hospital, but nearly every single Jewish person in my circle of friends is at least agnostic, and some are quite openly atheist. And also Jewish, in the cultural sense. They celebrate and honor Jewish holidays with family and friends, just like other atheists might celebrate Christmas.

FF to my most recent surgery and admission, about a week ago. It’s 6:00am and I’m at the very first gatekeeper: the insurance coverage and your copay’s due now person. She takes my credit card and asks me the usual litany of basic biographical questions, including religion. “Atheist,” I say. She doesn’t blink, but after a few seconds appears puzzled at her screen. A supervisor type behind her apparently overheard me, and comes over to assist. It’s apparently no longer a fill-in-the-blank space, and it’s not on the (new?) drop-down menu. I mean it should be right there after Adventist, Seventh Day. Or whatever. I helpfully pitch all sorts of euphemisms like “godless?” “how about heathen?” “None?” “Listen I can take agnostic, just for today?” They’re both mystified that it’s not there. I say, “Come on, I can’t be the only one here today, there are lots of us!” They sort of mumble agreement and apologies and a “Yeah, I know some…”

I don’t know what religion they finally decided to choose on my behalf. Pretty sure the credit card part was the only real key to getting past them.

Some interesting answers are already there – maybe go have a read and answer for yourself?

Tuesday Premonitions.

CONTENT NOTE: Graphic image. No, seriously: g-r-a-p-h-i-c. Contains a partial photographic image of an open wound with medical-level detail of a laparoscopic procedure; female frontal nudity.

__________

Hey, so whatcha doing Tuesday? Nothing nearly as fucking strange as I am, I’ll bet. As I mentioned in my last post, September kicks off Surgery Season here in New York City, and we’re about to kickoff on Tuesday with a laparoscopic exploration under anesthesia (“EUA”). At least two surgeons and possibly three will be having themselves a really close-up look-see at the tissues they would need to construct what radiation has destroyed – namely, a functioning colon as well as a sparkling new vagina. I call this aspiration “Plan A.”

My colorectal ladysurgeon is running the show, along with the gynecological oncology d00d, tho I’m not yet sure whether this mysterious”plastics” person I’ve heard so much about will also be in attendance. Regardless, there will no doubt be biopsies and good times galore. Which, ideally, I will sleep right through.

Back before my first surgery, i.e. the initial colon resection plus bonus ileostomy in February of 2018, I found myself working with my therapist, my original colorectal surgeon and his Physician Assistant to help me visualize exactly what would be done to me. I had started with some Google image searches, but what I found didn’t seem to line up with what had been explained to me. Also, most images I found, whether photos or drawings, were of men, and I was having a hard time relating those bodies to my own. I ended up creating this:

…wherein the dotted line represents the outline of an ostomy pouch, the oval is the stoma itself and the rest of the marks are incisions. It turned out not to be entirely accurate due to various issues and considerations during the operation, but for my “trying to get my head around this shit” purposes, it was close enough. As un-ugly as I could possibly conceive of it, anyway. I remember the night before the surgery lying in bed, running my hands over the soft, smooth, unblemished skin of my belly, and deeply grieving that it would never, ever feel like this again.

So now there’s this fuckin’ EUA on Tuesday. And I’ve had one before, performed by the very same colorectal ladysurgeon back in March when she gave me an(other) ileostomy. I already know what the recovery is like, and it isn’t terrible: it’s like the deep soreness from a couple hard punches to the gut, that gradually fades over a week or so.

Why, then, am I having so. much. anxiety. over this? Lard knows I’ve been through worse – a lot worse. And there is much worse to come, for sure.

Well, I have a theory. I think it’s because I’m terrified of what they will find, or more precisely, of what they will not find. That the radiation damage has kept right on blooming for all these months, and now there is not enough healthy tissue left to re-do a colon resection. That the blood supply to critical areas has deteriorated to the point where successful healing will be practically impossible. That Plan A gets scrapped. There is no Plan B, at least not one discussed in any detail, because Plan A is the only one with any potential for a good outcome. And it has been impressed upon me, many times, that we only have one shot at fixing this.

So I took to drawing again. Only this time I wasn’t trying to create anything approximating medical accuracy, although it would turn out to embody exactly that, at least in part. I made what envisioning this procedure feels like to me – if that even makes any fucking sense. And once again, I made it as un-ugly as I can possibly conceive of it.

Before you proceed, I just want to remind you again of the content note at the top of this post. I mean, this stuff is triggering to me, which is why I’m doing it in the first place: to help me process it in a healthy way.

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CONFESSIONS OF A DEADBEAT BLOGGER.

[CONTENT NOTE: disgusting bodily functions and fluids are discussed and drawn (poorly).]

To my beloved Many Tens of Loyal Readers:

As you may know, in August 2018, our colleague Caine lost her battle with colon cancer. I was and still am devastated to lose my longtime (Pharyngula/SciBlogs-era) friend, FTB comrade-in-arms and sister trauma survivor.

What you probably didn’t know is that Caine and I shared something else in common: the exact same colon cancer diagnosis. She had that bomb dropped on her just a few months after I did. Unlike Caine, however, I am reticent – or chickenshit? take your pick – about exposing much of my personal life online. As much as I admire it, I do not possess even a fraction of the courage Caine did to write so openly about her life and her illness.

By December 2017, after my first four cycles of chemo and 28 doses of radiation, I was still blogging regularly. But cancer treatments had begun to take more (and more important) pieces of my life and myself away from me. Where writing used to “flow” for me, I was now finding myself blinking back at a blinking cursor. Ideas became jumbled, everyday words escaped me, my focus and concentration kept slipping. Writing coherently about anything of substance was (and still is) an often tedious and frustrating process for me. I naturally drifted away from blogging, and from social media too.

When Caine first wrote about her cancer, I reached out to her immediately and shared with her what was going on with me. We stayed tightly connected (privately). When we lost her, I lost my source of so much comfort and strength from the only person in my life who truly understood what I was going through. (I hope that I gave her some strength and comfort, too. I know I made her laugh at least once or twice.)

As the 1-year anniversary of her death is upon us, I find I would like to start blogging again. Not so much “in Caine’s honor,” but more like…in her footsteps? I mean that I would like to be more open about my health and my life. And yes, this is waaaaay out of my comfort zone.

To be honest, these new blogging endeavors of mine may turn out to be a total bust: nothing more than a bunch of cutting-&-pasting items of interest I find on the ‘net, maybe calling attention to worthy candidates, causes and clicktivism, perhaps keeping readers informed of nefarious squirrel activities. Or, you know, I might fizzle out completely (again). Like many things about my future, I don’t really know. I do know that I miss being a part of this community, and I would like to contribute again to the extent I am able.

So I then I got to thinking: what better way to tell the story of the past two years of my life than…a webcomic! Yes! Having never done one before, indeed having rarely even read one unless PZ or someone posts one? PERFECT.

Enjoy?

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I don’t understand their objection to “shithole countries.”

Trump attacks protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries in Oval Office meeting

President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they floated restoring protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to two people briefed on the meeting.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to African countries and Haiti. He then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met yesterday.

…and whose population is overwhelmingly Nordic/North German white?

Naaaaaaah. A US President could never mean something that so blatantly disqualifies him from holding public office, amirite?

Anyway, I really don’t understand how Republicans could possibly object to “shithole countries,” when they are so very committed and determined to turning the country into one.

Let’s see: destroying the safety net at every opportunity, unleashing Big Polluters on our air and water, increasing maternal and infant mortality rates, increasing the devastating effects of the climate crisis, militarizing police forces, increasing extreme wealth inequality, squeezing the poor and middle class to fund tax cuts for their benefactors, running prisons for profit, eviscerating health care access for millions of people, undermining quality public education [I could go on all day but I already have a fucking headache]… Seriously, the only conclusion that can be drawn from their actions is that Republicans fucking LOVE “shithole counties” so much that they are eagerly remaking the US into one.