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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Why I "Liked" Schooner Creek Farm

Photo Credit: Schooner Creek Farm 
In August, 2019, I read an article in the New York Times entitled, "Amid the Kale and Corn, Fears of White Supremacy at the Farmers’ Market." I used to shop at that farmers market. It's in Bloomington, Indiana, where I got my PhD.

Back in 1994, I hadn't been in Bloomington long when I was told of the 1968 murder, in nearby Martinsville, of Carol Jenkins, a young African American woman who was selling encyclopedias door-to-door. Jenkins was stabbed through the heart with a screwdriver. My new neighbors told me of her murder with what struck me as an unhealthy fascination, if not freakish pride. At that time, no one had yet been convicted of Jenkins' murder, and no one will ever be.

My first month in Bloomington, I was riding in the front seat with a fellow graduate student, an African American man. We were run off the road. I would come to meet Hoosiers who made a big deal about my name, about my Catholicism, about my being the child of immigrants. Once, at a social function, I conversed with a man who studied me closely and finally said, "There's a strong Jew vibe about you." (I'm not Jewish.)

One day a pamphlet appeared in my driveway. It declared that not only blacks and Jews, but also immigrants and Christians, needed to be wiped out in a holy race war. Not long after, on July 4, 1999, I was walking past the Korean United Methodist Church, a church I had passed hundreds of times. I was stopped by a police officer. Korean grad student, immigrant and Christian Won-Joon Yoon had been murdered there hours before. I attended his funeral, where his sister was a monument to stoic strength. His father recited the 23rd psalm from memory. I joined local groups united against white supremacy, and I broadcast support via my radio essays. 

For my dissertation, I studied prejudices against my own people, Eastern European immigrants. I met and spoke to people who had crosses burned on their lawns. When people like my parents entered the US, during the mass migration of Eastern and Southern Europeans, c. 1880-1924, KKK membership surged. "KKK" was sometimes interpreted to mean "Koons Kikes and Katholics." Two of my family members were harmed by anti-immigrant racists in ways too horrible to detail here. During this immigration period, Indiana had the largest KKK in the US.

My father told me that his mother's Polish family had been wiped out by Nazis in WW II. I met my mother's traumatized relatives who survived Nazism. I'm all too aware of what Nazis think of Slavic people like me, and I'm also aware of Nazism's roots in Paganism (see here, here and here.) I'm a childless feminist, I'm handicapped, I'm Catholic and the child of "Untermensch" immigrants. I'm not black or Jewish, so I'm not first on the hit list, but I am on the hit list.

People who insinuated to me that they were KKK members were not the only racists I met in Indiana. As I've written elsewhere, my first semester at IUB I was harassed by the professor for whom I worked for taking off four workdays to attend my father's funeral. I was asked to testify against this professor. I was told that this professor "had ruined many," was "psychotic," had "almost killed someone," but no one was willing to risk speaking out against her because she was black and female. I was assigned the task of bringing her down through my testimony because I had "nothing to lose," "no pension, no tenure, no financial support." The casual contempt that IU elites showed poor white grad students dogged me every second I spent on that campus. Several of my professors made direct, contemptuous comments to me about my ethnicity, my religion, and my economic class.

So, I read with interest the August, 2019, New York Times article alleging fears of white supremacy at the farmers market.

According to the article, "activists and online sleuths used federal court records and the leaked archives of a far-right message board to uncover a digital trail they say connects the couple who own Schooner Creek Farm [Sarah Dye and Douglas Mackey] to an organization that promotes white nationalism and white American identity."

After this document leak, Bloomingtonians began debating whether or not they should bring guns to the market in self-defense. Other Bloomingtonians stopped bringing their children. Activists began handing out buttons that say, "Don't buy veggies from Nazis." The mayor suspended the market.

Sarah Dye, it is alleged, is a member of the American Identity Movement. The American Identity Movement's homepage is here. The Forward discusses AIM's anti-Semitism here. What AIM members call "The Jewish Question" is discussed here. The Southern Poverty Law Center offers information on AIM here. The Anti-Defamation League page on AIM is here.

Bloomingtonians began to march in protest in front of the Schooner Creek farmstand in the farmers market. On October 26, 2019, Dye posted on Facebook that Antifa and No Space for Hate Bloomington protesters have significantly reduced her sales, and also the sales of all vendors at that market. The Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement Antifa Support page, on December, 1, 2019, featured an image of a hand gripping a switchblade. The caption: "Every Day is Trans Day of Vengeance." Clearly this is a group that supports change through violence.

I approached The Purple Shirt Brigade, another of the several Bloomington groups protesting the Schooner Creek farmstand, and requested information. They sent me a link to an information page. It says, "People should be allowed to believe whatever they want. However, some beliefs – such as that white people are naturally superior to others – are inherently harmful to society."

The Purple Shirt Brigade accuses Dye, through her hard work and back-to-the-land ethos, of putting an attractive face on white supremacy. "The idea of working hard and bettering yourself is central to this particular iteration of Neo-Nazism … Her gardening, cooking, and herbal remedies are all an important facet of her white supremacist identity."

In the past few months of monitoring the Schooner Creek Farm Facebook page, I did not encounter white supremacist material. What I did encounter were posts about homeschooling, weaving, herbal sachets, and celebrating the arrival of a deer struck by a car. The deer was euthanized. Dye posted photos of the carcass before butchering. She reported that she'd be tanning the hide with the deer's own brains. Brain tanning is a favored activity of back-to-the-landers.

I also encountered a rune carved into the top of a homemade pie. I asked about the rune. Dye responded to my query, explaining that the rune symbolizes family.

A stranger sent me a private message. "Don't let them fool you," the message said. The sender included a link describing how some Neo-Nazis use runes. I responded that runes are a Neo-Pagan religious element, and not all Neo-Pagans are Neo-Nazis. It was a bit unnerving to receive a private message from a stranger in response to my posting on the Schooner Creek Farm page.

After I read the New York Times article about protests against Schooner Creek Farm at the Bloomington, Indiana, Farmers Market, I did something that might seem incomprehensible for someone whose own flesh and blood has been harmed by various incarnations of racists, white supremacists, Nativists and the original Nazis. I went to the Facebook page for Schooner Creek Farms and I "liked" it.  

Sarah Dye is different from me. She celebrates Pagan runes; I'm Catholic. She upholds racial identity as central; I uphold my Christian faith and understanding of the US as diverse at its birth as central. I think commitment to the Constitution, not our skin color or when we arrived, is what unites Americans and defines our national identity.

But Sarah Dye is like me in the following ways. Like me, she is an American citizen who has a right to her own private thoughts, no matter how alien those thoughts are to my own. She and I also have a right to free speech and freedom of assembly. She has a right, in a free, capitalist country, to make a living, and to profit from her own labor. While visiting relatives in the old Soviet empire, I met relations who had been turned into nonpersons. Their right to work was taken away from them. Taking away someone's right to support themselves through their own work is a totalitarian strategy.

Sarah Dye is being punished for thought crimes. I did not encounter allegations that Dye has taken action against non-white persons, immigrants, or Jews. The protesters marching in front of her farmstand, harassing her on Facebook, dousing her car with fake blood, and demanding that she be ejected from the famers market, are doing all this because of what is in Sarah Dye's head.

Yes, what is in Sarah Dye's head is wrong. Ethnonationalism is based on flawed science. Further, European Americans acquired territories from France, Spain and Native Americans, and French, Spanish, and Native American people lived on that land. Americans imported black Africans to this continent. We imported Japanese and Chinese to work fields and build railroads. No matter what the allurements of a "Nordic" America may be, that train left the station long ago and we have to learn to live with diversity.

But Sarah Dye, as an American citizen, is allowed to think and say and post what she wants, short of incitement to violence. She's an American citizen in America, not a Uighur in China. The effort to destroy Dye economically is fueled by the seductive, totalitarian urge to wield the power of telling other people what they may and may not think.

Diversity doesn't just mean skin color. It also means thought. The protesters want a diverse Bloomington? They have a diverse Bloomington in the person of Sarah Dye, and they are trying to crush, homogenize, brainwash, or nonperson her.

On its Facebook page, the group No Space for Hate Bloomington features a simple watercolor painting of five apples in a row. Four of the five apples are round and red. One is brown and a sickly yellow-green. It is misshapen. "One rotten apple spoils the barrel," an old saying goes. Selecting one member of a community and representing that member as a discordant source of rot that is destroying the pure community is the very definition of intolerance and indeed, dehumanization.

Protesters acknowledge that they are targeting Dye because of private posts she made to a private discussion board, posts that were leaked. The surveillance aspect of their protest doesn't seem to bother them. It bothers me tremendously. Using surreptitiously surveilled private conversations to nonperson a thinker of taboo thoughts is exactly what totalitarian states do.

Like all pushes for elusive purity, the harassment of Sarah Dye is selective. Is Dye really the only farmer who thinks dirty thoughts? Let's investigate all the vendors. Let's rifle through all their private internet activity and release all their passwords. What about Bread and Roses Gardens? Does the staff ever visit S&M porn sites? How about Driftwood Organics? Does anyone on their staff litter or beat their kids or drive while intoxicated? How about this stand named "Fairywood"? What's up with that name?

Let's up the ante with another litmus test. How many of the employees at other farmstands have ever said that white men are evil, that America is fascist, that Christianity should be eliminated? If we are rooting out prejudice and hate, should we not root it all out all prejudices and hatreds, including "woke" hatreds?

Abby Ang has protested Schooner Creek Farms. On Ang's Facebook page, you can find overtly Christophobic material. Evidently hatred of Christians is okay. Ang is proud to be a member of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. "My soul was replenished" one poster says about the forum. No doubt Sarah Dye would be pilloried if she reported that her "soul was replenished" by meeting with the White Women's Forum. Ang praises IU's celebration of Puerto Rican identity. Ang is free to celebrate some identities to the exclusion of others. She denies Sarah Dye the same privilege. That is rank hypocrisy and selective outrage. And it's more. The anti-white, anti-Judeo-Christian, anti-Western extremism on the left, that I encountered so sharply on the IU campus and other campuses as well, is directly responsible for encouraging extremism on the right.

If our friends on the left were to open dialogue with white supremacists, one thing they'd discover is how their own rhetoric is recruitment material for white supremacist groups.

Today's white supremacist groups are not direct descendants of the white supremacist groups of a hundred years ago. Witness the name of a prominent former white supremist leader: Christian Picciolini. A hundred years ago nativists were lynching Italian immigrants, not making their sons leaders of white supremacist groups. Classic white supremacist theorists like Madison Grant, Kenneth Roberts and Henry Fairfield Osborn did not grant Eastern and Southern Europeans membership in the superior "Nordic" race. If today's white supremacists are not direct descendants of the white supremacists of the past, where did they come from?

The Btown Antifa Facebook page offers a clue to the origins of the appeal of contemporary white supremacy. The page features a flier that its members found in public places in Bloomington in September, 2019. The flier's headline: "NO WHITE GUILT." The flier features an image of a white baby with the words "sexist" and "racist" written on its body. The flier alleges that "People who push 'white guilt' Marxist propaganda on white children are child abusers who hate white people and seek their demise … We wish no ill will on any race … we seek only white well being."

In response to this flier, one poster on the Btown Antifa Facebook page wrote, "I'm white and Irish most my family came here in between WW1 and 2 well after slavery ended. Should I still be ashamed for what white people did here before I was born or my blood line was even in this country?"

This exchange reminded me of a post I came across on Facebook six years ago. A 20-something man named Ross posted about a course about racism and sexism that he was required to take in college. Ross said that the class was "the single biggest load of crap ever … The class did however teach me the most important skill in life, just say what people want to hear at all times, contain all actual feelings and you will be fine … Essentially the readings were: If you aren't white, you suck at life and should basically kill yourself because there is nothing you can do in life to improve tomorrow. If you are white, go kill yourself you dirty capitalist pig Nazi and try not to rape any women before you do it."

Ross, who is Jewish, reported that when he was in high school, he found a swastika drawn on his locker. He did not report it, or even tell anyone about it. As a white male, he assumed his concerns would be dismissed as unimportant.

Ross is not alone. Millions of young, white, heterosexual American men have been insulted and indoctrinated on American campuses. They are frustrated. Former hate group leader Christian Picciolini says that young men require community, identity, and purpose, and white supremacist groups provide those to them. "When we're searching for identity, community and purpose, there is somebody waiting for us on the fringes to give us a narrative."

What does the left prescribe for young Americans seeking "community, identity, and purpose"? The left tells them that being white is an ineradicable stain, that they should live their lives in shame, that if they don't like that shame they are suffering from "white fragility," and that everything they, their parents or their ancestors have accomplished is not a reflection of their own hard work but rather of "white privilege." "You didn't build that," as Obama once said.

Even as leftists condemn hatred of blacks and immigrants, leftists let pass hatred against white men, America, Christianity, and Israel. Further, Leftist protesters emphasize the word "community." News flash: in real community, you don't get to cohabit only with the pure. You have to live next door to people who think and act differently than you do, often in ways you find profoundly offensive. I live in a state where imams have called for killing of Jews, intolerance toward homosexuals, and have spoken against freedom of speech and women's rights. Can you imagine left-wing protesters marching around the Muslim-owned restaurants, convenience stores, and gas stations of congregants who listen to those sermons and share those beliefs? We know this will never happen. For the left, some hate is just fine. Outrage against Sarah Dye is selective.

In any case, the drive for purity, from Khmer Rouge killing fields to Nazi race laws to the French Terror, never ends well. Jacques Mallet du Pan famously observed that, "Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children." After the protesters purge Sarah Dye from the Bloomington farmers market, and eliminate all the transgressors staffing other stands, they will, as the pure always do, turn on each other. The push for purity is never satisfied, and it never will be. We are an impure species living in a post-fall dispensation and we will always live with stench, our own and others'.

Do we, then, not contest the assertions of the American Identity Movement? No! The Founding Fathers enshrined free speech in the first amendment. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1927 that discussion exposes falsehoods and fallacies, and that the solution to bad speech is not less speech but better speech.  

Cancel culture selects human sacrifices and tells us that that victim can never be any more than their worst act. Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, Dave Chappelle, Roseanne Barr, Roman Polanski, Chick-Fil-A, Covington Catholic schoolboys, Schooner Creek Farm, the list is endless. It's also simplistic. Chick-Fil-A is delicious. "The Pianist," directed by Roman Polanski, a rapist, is a great movie. Kevin Spacey is a compelling actor. Roseanne Barr is funny as hell. Love "White Christmas"? So do I, and I love Bing Crosby, the Bing Crosby I encounter in songs and films. His son accused him of child abuse. I can love Bing the entertainer, and not condone the alleged child-abusing dad. Life is complicated and purity is not an option.

So, yes, if I lived in Bloomington today, I would buy Schooner Creek Farm produce, and I'd do so for several reasons. One, I am intelligent enough to differentiate between a ripe tomato and the grower's opinions, and I know that the tomato grown by a perfectly pure person has never existed. Two, I believe that interactions within a diverse community, including economic interactions, keep a community healthy and more tolerant – see Thomas Friedman's rule that two countries who have a McDonald's are less likely to go to war with each other. When I handed Sarah Dye my money, I might mention that I'm a proud child of immigrants, immigrants who were themselves gardeners and weavers, hunters and trappers. See? We have much in common. I'd smile my most winning smile. Black? Jewish? An immigrant? Don't boycott Dye – girlcott her. Make it a point to patronize her stand. Chat with her. Smile at her. Give her money. That's what people in community do. You win over your neighbor with neighborliness, not with nonpersoning. Nonpersoning is the totalitarian way. Quarantining Sarah Dye so that she can interact only with other identitarians might only serve to harden her views.

Three, I'd shop at Schooner Creek Farms because I don't think that Dye's thought crimes condemn her to not being able to make a living. Those protesting her farmstand want to drive her stand out of the market, to shut down her sales, to drive her into poverty, and for her, her husband and kids, to starve or go on the public dole. That's not a victory against white supremacy. It's pointless, petty vengeance, an exercise of power for power's sake, a dead-end with no positive outcome for anyone.

I ask the protesters, do you ever interact with the black underclass, with Jews or immigrants who have been targeted for abuse? I do, on a daily basis. I live in a majority-minority city and I am surrounded by heartbreak. What do my neighbors need? They don't need Bloomingtonians marching around a farmstand. My disadvantaged neighbors need to be able to walk on streets not strewn with garbage. They need to go to sleep at night at a normal hour and not wait for the blasting car stereos, fistfights, and drug-deals and drug-trips gone wrong to quiet down outside the window. The kids need fathers. They need nutritious food. Do you really think that your protest does a damn thing for my neighbors? Get over yourselves. We in the inner city are not grateful to you. You are accomplishing nothing for us.

Derek Black is the son of a KKK grand wizard. Black founded KidsStormFront, a companion site to Stormfront, founded by his father, Don Black. Derek has rejected white supremacy. How did he change? He mingled with people unlike himself, specifically Jews he met at college. They repeatedly invited him to Sabbath dinners. These students, Matthew Stevenson and Moshe Ash, "invited Derek over week after week after week, not to build the case against him but to build their relationship." Two Jews treated Derek Black like a human being. And Derek Black changed.

In September, 2019, Dye spoke at a public library in Indiana. Rather than engaging in intelligent dialogue with Dye, "protesters banged on the window panes." Dye soldiered on. Her talk is on YouTube. Dye says, "Many of these Antifa activists are actually former acquaintances of mine, from my younger days of having been one of them. I voted for Obama in both elections. I considered myself a feminist. I embraced … Communism because that's what all the cool kids in Bloomington were doing during my late teens and early twenties. I was supportive of WTO protests in Seattle … I believed that climate change was going to end the world in 2024. I decided against having more than one child at that time.

"During 2015 things changed, and I began to waken from the liberal, leftist, mind control cult. I also began to realize that liberalism wasn't what I thought it was. I find that today many of my principles have not changed, such as being pro-environmentalism, and anti-globalism, and so on. But what has changed is the mainstream. I'm still doing what I've always done. Living close to the land, growing healthy food, being involved in my community, and honoring nature, and that is what I am going to continue doing."

Dye used to be an Obama voter. Something changed her mind in 2015. Shouldn't protesters ask her what changed her mind, and try to understand how to change her mind again? Isn't the solution here speech, not boycotts? Brandeis wrote that the Founding Fathers insisted on free speech, not just as a gift of democracy, but as the very exercise necessary to build democratic muscles in both individuals and societies. 

"Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that, in its government, the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end, and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness, and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government."

Contrast this emphasis on free speech, public debate and dialogue with the values of Antifa, one of the groups protesting Schooner Creek Farms. "People in the streets fighting for each other works" reads a post on the Indiana Antifa Support page. The post is accompanied by photos of violent street clashes.

Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery

This first appeared at FrontPageMagazine here

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Small Miracle / Chronic Illness Essay

I think I wrote this essay about 20 years ago. It used to be on the website of the Screamonline but it appears to have been taken down.

Warning: it's not an upbeat essay.

A Small Miracle

Monday morning I had to excuse myself to vomit during a conference with my boss. Skyelar was gracious and cut our meeting short. "Take care of yourself," she said, her brows knit. "You know," Skyelar remarked, "You could quit right now, and you'd still have indexed more articles than the girl last year."

This job was an assistantship, a means to an end. It paid my ten thousand dollar tuition. It brought me one year closer to a Ph.D. But it was not enough. I, who have never in my life been described as "ingratiating," had to ingratiate myself to the gods of funding and their minions in the marathon money-grub that is graduate school for a working class student.

And so I stared at Skyelar as if her every word were encrypted, my assignment, to break her code. Was she saying, "We see your dedication. We appreciate it. Take a rest before you kill yourself;" and was my job to relax and celebrate? Or was she saying, "You push too hard; lay off?" and was my job to back off, lighten up, be less the parvenu? Or was she saying, "Yeah, you work harder than anyone. And, no matter what you do, it will never count." I knew what my behavior would have meant in my New Jersey hometown: "She's good, a rock. Even when she's sick, you can rely on her." Here, the assessment was out of my hands. A first generation American alone behind enemy lines in the Ivory Tower, I was writing the codebook as I stumbled along.

As Skyelar suggested, I left work early. I teetered toward my rented room, obsessing: what if I couldn't make it this time? What if the paralysis set in now? Would I curl up in the briars along the path, to be assaulted by Hoosiers with pitchforks? "What do yew mean, yew cain't move? We're gown call the poe lees!" Okay, I confess, I've never seen a Hoosier carry a pitchfork. But my reception in this town had hammered fear into me.

…My reception in this town … Stop right there. That was the past, two years ago now. It didn't do any good to think about it. No one wanted to hear about it. And I couldn't do anything to change any of it, anyway.

I reached my rental. By now it had become a drill. To survive the wild ride my neurons were taking I assumed the requisite posture: an immobile fetal curl. Even so much as a too enthusiastically recalled memory, or an ambitious hope, might pitch me hard against agonizing sensations. I burrowed in. I needed as much of my body's surface as possible to touch something yielding in order to convince my malfunctioning neurons of where I was in space. I lay on my right side to relieve some of the pressure on the left side of my skull.

That was Monday. And Tuesday. And this year. And last year. And I didn't know how many years into the future.

On Wednesday, the phone rang.

"Hello," I said, in a child-sized voice.

"It's that thing again. You're making small sounds." It was Larry, calling from back home.

"Yeah. I–" bit my tongue. I was about to apologize.

Larry didn't hesitate. He launched into a lecture: beware of formaldehyde in new carpets, aflatoxin in peanut butter, and mercury in fillings. I should have all my old fillings replaced, as he has, with gold and platinum. He'd heard a report about abominably high levels of salmonella and e. coli in kitchen sponges; I should buy the new kind, with disinfectant built right in. Then, maybe, if I followed his advice, I'd spare my friends all this sturm und drang and get better.

It can't be easy to witness a friend suddenly, dramatically, living a medical mystery. My friends purchased and invested in a woman who could run ten miles and party all night. I hear their discomfort in hesitations before reports of triumphs. Gretchen was describing the fun she'd had at a wonderfully baroque bar mitzvah; she was rolling right along and then, when she came to the four figure price tag on the ice sculpture, she, abruptly, stopped.

I can't do this for them. I have my own work. Years ago, I had read naturalist Annie Dillard's description of a frog's collapse. A predatory water beetle had sucked its innards out. I was suddenly understanding this unforgettable passage in a whole new way. My work: fighting the fear that I am, like Dillard's frog, the empty sack of my former self. I feel fingers prodding; as if I'm a puppet, they want to move in and animate me in foreign ways, in their ways. I've told Larry that I'm at peace with my fillings; my small sounds alert him that he need not heed. Gretchen casually commands me to throw my life away: "Come home. You hate Indiana. Forget the Ph.D." And why not; my life is so worn and apparently irredeemable. One mustn't pour new wine into old skins. Amanda dispatches homeopathic directives. "Homeopathy is poppycock," I protest. Suddenly the substance of our contact becomes, not my illness, or her reaction, but a hostile debate on the merits of her education v. mine. This debate is so compelling we need never confront her loss of a friend to mysterious disease.

I wanted to protest Larry's prejudices against my kitchen sponges. But, with no diagnosis, I had no ammunition. Maybe it was all my fault. Maybe if I hadn't been so stubborn, and had just listened to him, just changed my sponges. But I didn't care. This new person, this sick maker of small sounds, couldn't wait for the conversation to end, so she could get back to the business of burrowing her head as thoroughly as possible into butterscotch plaid upholstery, to working out each breath, to concentrating hard enough to convince her body that it isn't flying into a million bits.

"They have something for this," Larry insisted.

I knew the belief. I held it once, too. Two years ago, when I was still well, I sailed like a clipper ship past homeless beggars, convinced they were doing it all wrong; that I was doing it all right, that I owed nothing. I knew this belief: that the waters buoying my ship were justice, enterprise, Providence and my own rectitude, rather than, simply, the blind tides of chance.

I knew the belief: that there is a "they" out there, efficient, compassionate, at least sane, who had been taking my social security and tax dollars and student health fees all these years out of beneficent motives, and would return these dollars to me, in the unlikely event that I were downed by a meteor of chance.

I knew the belief: that if my appeals for justice or even health care were to fall on deaf ears, I would write enough letters, honestly and carefully composed; I would find someone, someone with power and conscience, who would, without catastrophic delay, open the necessary door, and restore me to being a clipper ship sailing past those doing it wrong.

"Larry," I whispered, out of exhaustion, not intent, "I have made hundreds of calls, written hundreds of letters. In return, I now have an archive of high rag content, gold embossed stationary signed by local and national luminaries, all saying, 'Sorry.' There is no 'they,' and they have nothing for this."

"I just want to be sure you've done everything you possibly can," he said. If I didn't thank him for this announcement of effort, then I would be the bad guy.

There was a time when I would have rushed in and fixed this rent in our warmth. Not any more. The thing that had to devote a masturbatory fascination to monitoring each breath was taking up the space where I had formerly lived and moved and had my being.

Larry sensed something. "You sound tired. I'll let you go..." he said.

Again I wished that Americans ended conversations without letting go. "Trzymaj sie," "Hold on," how conversations ended in my father's Polish.

"I love you..." I found it important to say.

I wondered, as I always did now, if that would be the last call. No, friends you've had for years, you've supported through identifiable crises: abortions, adulteries, career moves, don't suddenly announce to you: "Oh, so you've got a mystery disease, eh? Well then! I don't want to be your friend any more!" It's never anything you could report to Amnesty International. Instead community announces with silence and distance: "Unclean! Unclean! Be ye cast out!"

Determined to replenish lost stock, I made a concerted effort to chat up the locals. Perhaps self conscious because dependence on it was new to me, I couldn't escape the impression that they addressed my cane. I already accepted that everyone stared at it. Cool teenagers, Asian exchange students, blue haired grandmothers, farmers in pickemup trucks, babies in strollers – yes, babies; it's quite remarkable, really, to be the subject of their concentrated study – gay couples, Rasta dreads, college professors; everyone stared at the cane. Strange men attempted jokes. "Are you going to beat me with that?"

Before my friends' departures, their appropriately Hallmark card sentiments began to shimmer with anger. Their anger taught me that to the non-afflicted, disease is primarily a performance, and chronic, mysterious disease commits the unforgivable sin of letting its audience down. Medical narratives must never be experimental. They must never play postmodern games. They must be scrupulously sterile, predictable as primetime: symptoms, diagnosis, cure, or beautiful death. I thwarted all these expectations.

I begrudged descriptions of my symptoms, for a variety of reasons. At first, I had no words. Equipment and abilities I had never considered were malfunctioning. Even a seed could do what I often no longer could – differentiate between up and down. This particular hell is far enough outside of common human experience that no vocabulary had been developed to describe it.

Pressed, I reported anecdotes: "Yesterday I was walking to a new class. The room was at the end of a long, low, hall. The hall's tile had been freshly laid, a crisp staircase design of black on white. There were no windows in the hall whose light or shadow might have mitigated the severity of the pattern. My body stopped as if a mime's against an invisible wall. It could not walk down that hallway, no matter how insistently I told it to. The hall was emptying. Classes were beginning. Quelling panic, intuiting that the sight of the tile was linked to my paralysis, I closed my eyes and felt my way along the cinder block wall."

That was a mild day. That was not a day, or a week, in which a gigantic ogre whirled me in a mesh sack over his head, around and around and around. That was not a day, or a week, when the tremor in my eyes never stopped and everything jerked and conspired to make me vomit until I feared these spasms would gouge out my most tender tissues and hollow me.

Later I didn't describe my symptoms because I had never wanted to be anyone's anatomy class lab frog. Displays of compassion did not follow on my self-exposure, but rather a teenage fascination with gore. The audience demanded the self-testing thrill a horror film provides: "How gross can a human body get? Could I take it?" People wanted to be able to say, "Oh, I could imagine that. I could deal with it." But as a formerly able-bodied person, I knew. If they thought someone well could imagine these symptoms, they were wrong, and if they thought they could deal with them, they were more wrong still.

Lance and Marsha taught me new reasons to censor my symptoms. I met them in a discussion group. Lance was ignoring everything I had to say. This didn't ruffle me; as an articulate female, I was used to being ignored by a certain percentage of men. With enviable vigor and focus, Marsha was working her crippling depression into every discussion, no matter the topic. After two semesters, I would never learn Marsha's favorite color, her greatest joy, even what she thought of Monica Lewinsky. Instead, Marsha supplied enough data that I could recount her symptoms more readily than my own.

One day, asked to account for my unpredictable absences, I "outted" myself. My disability was invisible, a beautiful movie disease; I might pass as able-bodied. I did use a cane, but many read that as a fashion statement. Even at my worst, vomiting and crashing into walls, I was understood as drunk and disorderly more often than ill.

Lance began paying intense attention to me after my self-outing. Feeling abandoned by old friends, I supped greedily. He made nightly long distance phone calls during my out of town forays to experts. He relayed minute details of my condition to his friends with a clinician's accuracy. Further, Lance urged Marsha to bond with me. Marsha introduced herself by announcing that her parents had bequeathed her so many goodies not out of love, but to pressure her; "They're why I'm clinically depressed." My codebook was useless in providing a comeback to that icebreaker.

Lance and I were different. He had grown up with maids; I had been a maid. Addictive, though, were our epic discussions of mutual obsessions: politics, movies, family, food, and our competition for the best words to vivify our visions. Lance reassured me that unlike most men, he didn't find my intellect or independence "repulsive." The richness of our dialogue, and my terror of further abandonment, inspired me to forgive or attempt to work through the constant tension between us. "I'll just put your MRI on my plastic," he said, casually. We'd known each other only two weeks at that point; as yet ignorant of the rate of exchange in this new economy, I demurred. But he did step in, uninvited, and "help" in scores of other ways that I found humiliating and invasive. I had to say, more harshly and more often than I wanted: "Stop. I am not the infant your 'help' makes me out to be." But I hung in. I thought this tension and our differences, like my illness, were incidental to our contact, not central, that they were the thing to be overcome, not our telos, not our fated, defining end.

Finally, abruptly, hot on the heels of his confession of love for me, Lance broke off all contact. Marsha would be Lance's new project. I was shocked. "She's just using me, but what can I do? She needs me so much," Lance had once said of her. I had never learned to couple such assessments with the erotic. Apparently I was wrong; Marsha's invitation: 'Love me. I will never burden you with my autonomy; I will never breathe a hint of that reviled quality, personal power,' was more successful at retaining place in community, with Lance, anyway, than my own had been: 'Let's touch. And let's touch our cores; not just our disease.'

After Lance and Marsha, I developed a new suspicion of others who showed too much curiosity about my symptoms. Shelby Steele argues that the Civil Rights movement deprived white Americans of innocence, and elevated victimhood to virtue. Marsha's disproportionate share in America's sugarplum stock market in a world of war and famine might have caused her grief. She did not equalize these burdens by sharing her wealth or joy. Rather, through disease, Marsha appropriated a Third World aura of victimization. When someone asked for my symptoms, I wondered: was he demanding that I strip and pose for medi-porn; was he a disease groupie? Would he, like Lance, exploit association with the afflicted as a negative number that brought down his own too high score for having been born rich, lucky, and ethnically correct? Did she want to play hospital with me as did Marsha, who, sick with good fortune, clung to symptoms as antidote against cursed privilege and power?

I could not play that game. I was an outsider who fought disease tooth and nail, the same way I fought every obstacle keeping me and mine from the table. I feared medi-porn fetishists who needed me to be my crippling symptoms, who "loved" me as long as I was limited to the prison cell of what I could not do. I came to resist those who foisted on me virtue denied me as an able-bodied, striving, politicized female. I came to detest the much longed for warmth and companionship that was withdrawn as soon as I revealed that I was still my own woman.

"What's it called?" my audience demanded, with the urgency of God demanding logos of Adam. Several doctors suggested a brain tumor. As time went on and I never earned the funds for the MRI, but remained alive, I scratched that off the list. MS was frequently suggested, but I didn't experience the double vision typical of MS. Cerebral syphilis was ruled out with blood tests. My own best guess, based on paperback dictionaries of symptoms I researched in the public library, was that I had a vestibular disorder. These are malfunctions in the site of hearing and balance equipment, the inner ear, a marble-sized membranous labyrinth packed into the temporal bone, the hardest bone in the body. I displayed the signature symptoms: nystagmus, a spasmodic, involuntary jerking of the eyes; tinnitus, the maddening mechanical siren unceasing in my ear. Again typical, I was, suddenly, stone deaf to rainfall, birdsong, summer night cicadas, crickets, and katydids. I could make out her words, but I had lost the timbre that once transformed the voice of my friend Amanda, a singer, from tool to art.

"Vestibular disorder? I've never heard of them. What's their cause?" I was asked.

"Accidents. Injury. Drugs. Viruses. Bacteria. Autoimmune reactions. Allergies. Heredity. Aging. Surgical complications. Scuba diving. Plane travel. Loud noises. Strokes. Weightlifting. Childbirth. Much of this has to be theory. Even MRIs can't see what's going on in there."

"Wow," they'd say, as if I had revealed some essential clue. "So, did you do any scuba diving two years ago right before you got sick?"

"No," I'd reply. The mystery remained. Why, two years before, had I suddenly been felled? My story lacked medical symmetry, the scientific logic of cause and effect.

"How do you cure those vestibular disorders, anyway?" In short, what happy ending may we anticipate before we decide whether or not to buy a ticket?

"I haven't found anybody who's got a sure cure, yet," I would reply. "There are surgeries, drugs, rehabilitation. But I'm still fighting with the Health Center to get adequate attention."

And so I further frustrated my audience; George Clooney did not star in this episode. Oh, I could tell of doctors, all right. I had visited the campus Health Center several times in just one semester. I could talk about the doctor who said it was all caused by sex problems, and he could cure me if I just kept coming back to him. There was the nurse practitioner who pushed Prozac with a Willy Loman stridency. When I reported a static-like sound in my ear and that my eyes would not stop racing back and forth, she assured me that the invention of outlandish symptoms was a sign of mental disease. Then there was the Health Center's director. When told that I'd lost twenty pounds from vomiting and couldn't bare so much as an ice cube on my tongue, he suggested an oral anti vomiting medication as cure-all.

I'd collected enough doctor stories to paper Kafka's hell. But I would collect no more. My life savings were rapidly running out, and the government washed its hands of me. The Social Security Administration, in the person of its subcontractor, "Besco Medical Services," temporarily set up in a strip mall, had examined me for a full ten minutes, and found nothing wrong. My perfect health was communicated in government documents that misspelled medical terms so badly as to make them unrecognizable.

It was more than postmodern illness that shattered my old friendships, I know. The anger in my friends' voices informed me that though medical science could not provide me with a cause for my body's collapse, the cause was obvious.

There was a time when Gretchen, an school buddy, could call and say, "Let's go to the mall, the beach, or Suriname," and I was so assiduously void of ambition, that I'd say, "Okay, fine, let's." Low expectations are an adaptation that has served have-nots well. Gretchen's apathy was her greatest gift. She was one of the lucky ones who achieved the American dream by marrying the richest suitor, taking the highest paying job for the most amoral corporation, and never losing a night's sleep over absent love or meaning.

This disease, my friends suggested, when they told me to just quit and come home, was punishment for unseemly desires. I was a working class woman. I was a Polak, for Christ's sake! Just who was I trying to kid? I was rushing things. My mother had cleaned houses for a living. I was supposed to have become a secretary, or a grade school teacher. Eventually, my children or grandchild could be Ph.D.s. Time to quit it. Time to come on home. To lay in bed for a while, and then, when I'd recovered from my improper appetites, I could get that job at the mall.

I didn't know how to tell them without sounding like a fundamentalist, like a martyr wanna-be. Grad school was the fruit of a conversion experience. I wasn't just killing time until the whistle blew and I could return to my real life of beer and TV. I would do whatever I could do to drag marginalized people's words and bodies into the Ivory Tower. I didn't know how to communicate to my old friends: I care about this so much, I am willing to suffer for it. If it takes me a year, working around puking and paralysis, to research and write one article, I will take the year, but I will complete the article. I certainly didn't know how to communicate that I would rather die than return to intellectual surrender.

In long distance phone calls, Gretchen and I traded updates of accomplishments. During Gretchen's turn, she reported: "I scored a raise … I went to a party and met Mick Jagger … I gave birth."

I would coo and commiserate and praise. This was not hard; we all know birth announcements are applause lines. Then I would respond with my own milestones hoping Gretchen could share some of my joy, understand some of my dream: "I've been learning stuff I never knew about conditions for immigrants in the coal mines. I found this amazing out-of-print book about Slovak steelworkers. I wrote an article that I am pretty sure says stuff that's not getting said anyplace else." Gretchen's silence was my reward. Increasingly, the life I had chosen seemed to be invisible to her. Not just peculiar disease, but also my own peculiar joy found after a lifetime of empty search, stretched to breaking words' capacity to carry meaning between us.

I achieved intimacy with the back of the couch. The assertive brass of Wednesday's midday had traveled ceiling-ward and turned spare threads to jewels; then the plaid became a daguerreotype; finally silver from a waning moon sifted over me. I knew I should close the curtains. That's what a good woman does, my mother had taught me; she closes the curtains at sundown. I thought I should pee; I could feel pressure on my kidneys. I thought I should sip some water to rehydrate. I didn't dare risk any of these adventures. My shattered sense of bodily integrity would interpret a trip to the bathroom as space travel.

I craved a human being. Whatever it is that a human being brings into a room. Smell. The least measurable rise in room temperature. A change in the flow of air, otherwise dictated by unliving things: a radiator kicking on at night, the upstairs warming with midday. The transport of maybe a bit of leaf mold on the heel of a shoe. Sound that is something other than the refrigerator spasmodically growling into life; beams creaking and sighing; my keys sliding down the shoulder strap of my pack and gently crashing into the back of the kitchen chair. I wanted some sameness. Of my species. I wanted someone to take the risk of being present with disease without a game plan. Not knowing the cause. Not knowing the cure. Not knowing anything. I risk this, always. I am here, present with disease, not knowing anything.

"I was sick, and you visited me." Jesus didn't say, "I was sick, and you diagnosed me; you provided medical cause and effect; you rode to the rescue." Just: I was sick; you showed up; you stayed.

Once, a long time ago, I was dying in Nepal. Later, when I could make it in to Kathmandu, the Peace Corps doctor sent a sample of my blood to the Centers for Disease Control. Tests would reveal I'd been fighting erysipelas. At the time I had no such diagnosis. All I had was a thermometer reading a hundred and five, a red, cellophane-skinned leg swollen to twice its normal size, and the sensation of being on fire. My neighbors had no diagnosis, either. A girl heard a whimper in the dead of the night; next the whole village was in my room. Women kept up a bucket brigade of rice; they knew I couldn't eat. Inedible pigments and flowers were scattered over these platters, as over the food offered to idols. The shaman rang, banged and chanted interminably. I fooled them and myself and quickly and completely recovered. My neighbors made me prove this by walking around outside. If I ever spent too much time in my hut, even just to sleep late or prepare lessons, there would be the knock at the door. "Miss? There is no smoke coming from your kitchen fire. Come and sit with us."

My Bloomington walls are not whimper-permeable. No smoke proceeds from my chimney, and I have not left my house in three days. My Bloomington neighbors do not satisfy me. I need a small girl. A small Nepali girl.

Thursday I called a neighbor at her work number. I knew full well that she was working on big, important issues, as I had once hoped to do. Her issues had names: racism, sexism, educational equity. I squirmed with shame to impinge on her time. I was not gay, this was not AIDS and my suffering, and attending to it, would strike no resonant blow. I was not old and my puking in a bucket and inability to empty it or earn a living was not a story about the direction Family Values were taking. Slaking my thirst would mean: water against a very dry throat. It would not cast anyone as hero in any wider epic. There would be no film at eleven.

"Vivian?" I tried not to sound sick, to "make small sounds" because I know that is so melodramatic. But I couldn't help it. I didn't have the energy to sound normal.

"Yes, this is Vivian."

I knew to ask for something both specific and concrete. I knew just asking for her would overwhelm. "If you're going to go by the store, could you pick me up some seltzer?" Each group of words came clustered in a pant, and I panted between for air.

"I could do that."

She was there in half an hour. "Can I pour you some?"

"I can't move. But if you put it in the fridge, I'll drink it as soon as I can."

"Would you like a light? TV? Radio?"

"Not really."

"Well, I guess there's nothing I can do for you then. I wish there were something I could do." Find the crank shaft and oil it. Kick the tires. Reset the gauge. "Well, I guess there's nothing I can do for you then. I hope you feel better–"

"Yeah, me too."

That long ago far away Nepali village had not yet evolved to mechanical excellence. They knew that there was nothing they could "do." I don't think that "doing" – fixing, jiggling, whacking, taking charge of – anything ever entered their minds.

They entered my bedroom, without knocking. They squatted on the floor. They shook their heads. They made small sounds. They stated the obvious, "Oh, Miss, our Miss is sick. Oh, oh, oh." They looked as scared as I felt. Some of them, the old women, looked as sure and calm and yet aware as I wanted to be. They never left until I was well.

I had wanted Vivian to touch my back, between my shoulder blades. At least, I wanted her to pull the curtains; the flooding moonlight shamed me. I didn't want it to be an asked for touch. I didn't want her to say, "Is this the spot? Am I doing it right? Are we achieving the desired result?" I just wanted it to happen, like the traverse of light up the back of the couch.

Sometime the next day, guess it was day – guess it was next, there had been a pattern of light and darkness and light again on the back of the couch – the phone rang. I had lost the assistantship. Next year's ten thousand dollar tuition bill would be mine to pay.

I decided that a gun would be best. I wanted to do this right: no waste, no mess, and something good for somebody. I would, to the end, live up to the best of working class Polish values. I didn't want finding my corpse in a stream: water puckered, duckweed wreathed, my finger tips all pruney, or me, smashed like a raspberry under some very tall building, to provide the more fortunate with one final opportunity to feel superior. I would have to find a way to make my corpse attractive to the forces that control sidewalk hoses and the wheels that ritually transport the dead. I could be an organ donor.

If I did it with pills, my organs would be poisoned. If I jumped off a building, they would be pancakes. Unacceptable. So I decided to shoot myself in the roof of the mouth. That way my corneas could be transplanted. I loved the idea of someone once blind suddenly entering a world of color and light.

I scanned the yellow pages for a picture ad and chose the nearest shop. It was at the corner of Courthouse Square. Near the staging ground for the Fourth of July parade in which World War II veterans had marched under lightening and hail for the fiftieth anniversary of their victory, and brought tears to my eyes – Daddy was a veteran. Near The Bake House and the best, if prohibitively expensive, bread in Bloomington, and a chocolate desert called "BĂȘte Noire." Near corners you'd feel safe sending your kid on an errand, one could buy: handguns; phone calls in the night; riderless black horses; irrational and inconsolable sobbing; a door marked, "Exit;" and an end to waste.

A woman answered. All I have to do, she explained in the shrill and brittle timbre my New York metro sensibilities could identify only as "fake smile" voice, is fill out a form and wait ten days. Ethel Mae, or Bobby Sue, or whatever her name was, sounded like a cricket on Dexedrine; not just "Howdy, stranger," but "We're gooood people and here's some more corn syrup for the topping of your persimmon pie."

"Are you a felon?" she asked.

I laughed. "No."

"Well then it'll be dead easy. It's easy to buy a handgun. We have a complete s'lection. The forms aren't difficult and we can help you fill 'em out. We have all the proper forms. We do it all up, just like you're s'posed to, and then you can take your gun out and shoot it, you know, cause it's fun to do that, take it out to the range and shoot it. Our customers like that just so much..." I hated to admit this: I liked her; I wanted her. She had such a cheery easy vitality. She made her living selling something that people will fight for. She would never have to struggle, like me, conniving her customers into agreeing that her wares were desirable. Who doesn't want red flashes of flame and smoke and undeniable power? To be able to separate the good guys from the bad with snap, crackle, and pop?

Organ donation, oddly, was harder.

"You just have to make sure your family members approve–"

"I have no family–" I said quickly, to abort discussion of the taboo.

"Your doctor then–"

"Look, if I could afford another doctor – C'mon, isn't there just some form?"

"You must have somebody–"

I would not think about what she was, perversely, sadistically, trying to force me to think about. "No. I'll repeat my question…"

Finally we figured out that signing the back of my driver's license was enough.

I hung up. I was ready. Clearing the last hurdle had an unexpected effect.

'Did you really survive so much crap just to end up like this? What about that ready black and white girl, in stiff old snapshots, in her brothers' hand-me-downs, smiling and spreading her arms wide to eye-squint bright four petaled forsythia? You made so many promises to her. Remember your heroes: Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Helen Keller –'

'Had amandla, Had Olga, Had Annie Sullivan pouring words into the palm of her hand. I have the back of a plaid butterscotch couch. I'll end up on the street. I don't wanna have to do this on the street.'

I decided to kill time reading until I could make the trip to the gun shop. My eyesight was slowly returning but still imperfect. I needed a friendly paperback that wanted to be read, with big type, not big words, and a flexible cover I could wrap up in bed with. My landlady's bookshelves were pews of inspiration. I reached behind my head and grabbed: Love, Medicine, and Miracles, by Bernie Siegel.

I thought I'd read a page or two and then break to puke or faint, as usual. But as I cajoled my vibrating eyeballs into the blessed act of reading, I felt as if the sun, progressing up the back of the couch, had suddenly reached out and grabbed me.

The book's cast of characters: people whom I'd worked the hardest to get away from the quickest, people in wheelchairs, people who smell bad, people who drool; these people were suddenly sirens inviting me to life. There were people who spoke the same language I now did. Here they were, using that language. I felt a rush of forgiveness for my disappeared friends. Before I got sick, I wouldn't have understood, either. My plunge into this new community, the stories in this book, demanded that I retell my own story, no matter how taboo its themes; here was an audience that might understand.

In seeking a cause to the effect of my illness, MDs had urged me to confess that two years ago I had gone scuba diving or given birth or received a severe blow to the head, and that it had just slipped my mind. I could provide no such data. I could report that two years ago, in the semester before my brain's fluids exploded into my inner ear, I moved to Bloomington to begin my Ph.D., I read over a hundred books, I wrote five reports, on which I received the necessary As, I attended twelve credit hours worth of lectures, and I schmoozed through vats of wine and wheels of cheese. That semester's other event was deemed immaterial. I had been requested by my Bloomington housemate, another graduate student, not to cry about it, as he had important papers to write. I had been informed by my professors that it was not cause enough to request an extension on assignment deadlines.

"Daddy's dying." That answering machine message was the first time I had heard my sister's voice in years. I had just arrived in Bloomington, but, through hard scrabble and ass kissing, I had gotten myself the necessary assistantship. "You can't leave," my boss, a powerful professor, said. "I need you to do some typing. And I know how much you need this assistantship, and how much you want to stay in this school." Her memory was accurate. I had told her that this university's Folklore department offered me a unique opportunity to study the artistic creations of common people. I had thought my dedication, desperation and focus might be strong selling points that would snag me the needed assistantship. I had never suspected that they would come back to haunt me in this way.

My ability to transfuse the marginalized voices and people I so loved into the academy depended on my refusal to visit the deathbed of my father – a real life, marginalized person. An immigrant, a coal miner, the kind of man who was the subject of the kinds of books I was paying so dearly to read. And my presence back home would be an empty gesture, in any case, unwelcome by my family. I was an outlaw. I committed defiant transgressions like going to grad school when I should be settled down.

"You have to do what you have to do," my parents used to explain when I was a child and their life choices seemed unbearably, inexplicably hard and harsh to me. "You have to do what you have to do:" it repeated in my head as I rode the train back to New Jersey and considered all I was losing, and what I would soon confront. I began to drift off, and suddenly I was cradling my father's head in my arms and saying, "I love you, Daddy."

And then I'd wake up. Daddy had mined the bridges that could have carried my love. I hated him, thinking hatred might exorcise everything. I'd drift off to sleep... "I love you, Daddy." At eleven p.m., just as my train was pulling into New York's Penn station, back home in New Jersey, my father breathed his last.

After the funeral and hearing relatives say, "Surprised to see you here," I rode the train back to a job and a dream I might no longer have. I meditated: "You must become very hard. Your lungs are hornblende; your liver a ruby; your heart a giant diamond..." up the Moh's scale.

At first I assessed the professor's response to my having missed four workdays to attend my father's funeral as the bad mood of someone with power interacting with someone who has none. With each day her vengeful punishments and humiliations spiraled out of the range of the sane. I began to understand that what was happening was very ugly and very bad, and that for me, there was no way out. First, I packed my cardboard boxes. Then, in solidarity with whomever would next be assigned to that professor, I approached a dean. "Your impressions are correct," I was told. "She's been ruining people for years. You can't leave. We need someone to testify against her. You see, she's an African American female, and this won't be easy. We've been waiting for someone like you. Someone with nothing to lose."

"Nothing to lose?" I asked.

"No pension, no tenure, no position."

"Oh," I said. Perhaps they had not read my statement of purpose. Thus I was recruited by strangers, Americans, WASP males in suits, to do my part to undermine their expedient perversion of campus diversity, and to dance precipitously close to betraying the life's goal for which I had sacrificed everything. "Thank you, miss, you've been very helpful" was all they said at the end of each interrogation.

About this time pundits were announcing that America was too clean to get embroiled in the "primitive cauldron" of Bosnia. All the forces that made that war: blood, feud, family, men with power drawing lines to either cheat or reward others who had none, were being fought by university officials over my live body, through my aspirations, and my grief. At night I had dreams of being rolled over by giant waves. And then I got a disease, perhaps a "vestibular disorder," that took away my ability to stand up straight.

My medical mystery made sudden sense, within the frame offered by this book, in this new language. I was imposing one story on my body and my body was responding with a story of its own. My neurons were not betraying me; they were alerting me: there is a crisis; respond. To heal, to get what suddenly seemed possible and above all else desirable, I had to come up with a new story, and to find a new community of audience and performers.

Before I drifted off to exhausted sleep I asked myself if I were using this happy book about cancer and AIDS and multiple sclerosis as an excuse to successfully delay the inevitable. I hoped so.