All posts by Mary Anne Mohanraj


Report back from two hours sans internet — last night, I asked Kev to turn off the router for my computer and phone from 8 – 10 a.m. every day.

Well, the first thing I did when the internet turned off is go log in on the kids’ computer, which is a little embarrassing. In my defense, I’d just written and posted a long thing, and wanted to check it a couple time to fine-tune the language, and see if there were any comments indicating I’d not said things the way I wanted to say them, so it was actually writing-related, and I didn’t then fall down a Facebooking rabbit hole. But still. I told Kev, and he’s now added that to the list of machines that will be off from 8 – 10 a.m.

Then I read for an hour, re-reading an old novel I loved, sheer comfort reading, which I haven’t done in a while. But I think I do need to read more regularly, to feed that part of my brain.
And then, about an hour and a half in, I finally, actually, opened up the novel file and moved a couple things around, and then wrote about 500 new words.
I feel dumb that it takes forcibly removing my internet access to get me to write; it is a blow to my self-image and pride that I am apparently not currently capable of willing myself to stay away. Kev and I were talking about it, and we’re hopeful that, like exercise, it’ll be easier once I’ve gotten into a regular routine of it.
When I was in grad school, working on Bodies in Motion, I set my alarm for 4 a.m. every morning. I got up while the world was sleeping, made tea, lit a candle, and opened the file for the book. Of course, I also basically had no other life and went to bed at 8 p.m., so that would be hard to recreate now. But I’d like to tip my life a little more in that direction. It’s also more serene, overall, than the often-frantic whirl of the rest of my life. Serenity good.
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Cancer log 195: How Cancer Made Me Lose All My Friends

Not really. But kind of? Almost?

I was diagnosed in February 2015, and treatment ended in October 2016. When I was diagnosed, people rallied round — family, close friends, casual friends and acquaintances, strangers. I live a very public life, and one consequence was that I was lucky enough to have a ton of support, which was, frankly, priceless. Cancer would’ve been a much more miserable experience without it.

But I’ve slowly figured out something about myself in the last decades. (Maybe if I were in regular therapy I would have figured it out sooner and saved myself some grief?) When I’m having a really hard time, for whatever reason, I retreat. I turtle. I pull back from as much of the world as possible, go pretty silent about anything important, and hide until I feel better. Which can be months. And it’s not obvious to me or to others, because I have little trouble maintaining superficial connections — posting blog entries or chatting on FB. The volume might go down a bit from normal, but the normal volume is so high that people don’t notice that.

So the weird effect of it is that I’m miserable, I’m dealing with it by retreating to heal and reset, but my close friends and family don’t feel that — what they feel is that I’ve withdrawn, intensely, from them. And if they know what’s going on with me, that’s hard, because they want to be helpful. And sometimes they don’t know what’s going on with me, and that’s harder, because it probably seems inexplicable, and they often take it personally. From their point of view, I’ve pulled back specifically from them — gone silent, stopped taking phone calls, etc. It’s not so visible that I’ve pulled back from the world.

It happened a few times before cancer. The first time I can pinpoint was in a poly situation, when I was super-stressed by the relationship dynamics, and I pulled back from both of them. As she put it at the time, ‘it was as if the sun had gone out.’ The romantic relationships didn’t survive, but I’m still friends with her, thankfully. Time helps. I think another friendship ended because Kevin and I had broken up, I was shattered, but I completely failed to articulate that, and a friend thought it was a problem with how I felt about her. I’m still sad about that one, though we’ve come back to friendly, at least.

And all my close friends and family held on through the first year of cancer, but by the end of that year, cracks were starting to show. People started expressing to me that they felt unloved. Sometimes pretty forcefully, after a long time holding it in and trying to endure and wait for things to get better on their own because, y’know, cancer. When you don’t return phone calls for months on end, it hurts people.

I think social media really masked that from my end, too, because I felt like I was being super-social, spending time with all these people. The campaigning aggravated that too — I met *so* many people, cool and interesting and friendly people whom I’d like to get to know better, that my friendship buffer kind of filled up? And I somehow didn’t notice how little I was engaging with old friends and family, some of whom were going through their own hard things.

So I’m in this period right now when I’m trying to slow the hell down, and repair some relationships that were pushed to the breaking point. Stupid cancer. I can blame cancer for that, right? At least a little? It’s much easier than admitting to character flaws…

I think the relationships are mostly going to be all right, although I should still call people more often, and visit if I can. The attenuated ‘presence’ of social media has its own value, but it’s just not the same.

Two other, only sort-of related thoughts. I was noticing this past weekend (high-stress weekend) that I desperately wanted a bath. I am not actually a bath person, but when things are hard in my life, suddenly I become one — all through both pregnancies and through cancer, I was taking frequent baths. I’ve started to think of it like the canary in the coal mine — when I start taking a lot of baths, something is probably wrong, and I should slow down and try to address it.

Similarly, when I’m happy, I sing. I sing all the time, in the car, doing chores, whatever. I have a vast repertoire of show tunes, etc. When I stop singing, it’s a good sign that something is wrong, and there’s been very little singing in my life, the last three years. I’m still trying to reset after cancer, I think, come back to myself. Getting there.

Self-knowledge is hard. But valuable. Communication skills, ditto.

“Make new friends, but keep the old;
The one is silver, the other gold.”

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Soup-er satisfying swapping. It was a small soup swap, just five participants, but that still meant I got a bunch of interesting soup to try — my curried squash and my Vietnamese chicken noodle have been joined by a kale-sausage, a barley-mushroom, a chicken tortilla-squash, and a carrot-ginger. Yay.

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A few pics from the Minority Monologues on Saturday. Great event, raising $2000 towards the production of _Blues for Mister Charlie_ by Echo Theater Collective. Woot! So wonderful having community coming together like this, and the performances were moving and powerful. Wish I’d gotten more pics of the performers, but they were just great. Particularly happy to be sharing a stage with Sharmili Majmudar.


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I did a couple semi-terrifying things this weekend. One of them was presenting a piece where I sing a tiny bit, between the spoken parts.

Honestly, I’m not entirely happy with the piece overall — I first wrote it eight years ago, when I was really struggling with America’s citizenship process. When I was asked to do a monologue about ethnicity and America, it jumped immediately to mind.

I looked at it briefly before presenting it, and I did change the ending, to one that felt more appropriate to this time. But in retrospect, I wish I’d gone through the whole thing more closely; I’d like to rephrase a variety of things.

I have a better understanding now than eight years ago of historical details I mention in the piece; the framing of Japanese internment, for example, referenced in one sentence, I think is not as clear as it could be. I hesitated to even put this up, given that. But on the other hand, there is a lot I like about this piece, about where it ends up, in this moment. So take it with some grains of salt.

But hey. I sang, in public, by myself, and I don’t think I sound terrible. That’s a milestone worth marking. Thanks to Maui Jones, Echo Theater Collective, and the Minority Monologues for the opportunity, and to Anjali Asokan Karia for being so encouraging about singing in public.


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Meet and Greet

Okay, so I’m going to make a pitch for coming to my tea tomorrow, but it’s not really about the tea. Here’s the thing — before last November’s election, I had never been to a candidate meet-and-greet. I’d never even been invited to one.

I sort of vaguely knew they existed, mostly because I watched West Wing obsessively, and they had a whole sequence in the last season where the candidate didn’t want to waste his time going to local volunteers’ houses to talk to the people; he wanted to make big speeches in front of a crowd of thousands. And his campaign committee was mad at him about that, because they knew that those meet-and-greets in peoples’ living rooms were the first step to winning elections.

You meet ten people in a living room; you impress some of them, hopefully. They get energized, and they convince ten of their friends to canvass for you. Now you’ve got twenty people dividing up the village into precincts and knocking on doors for you; apparently 50 percent of people will vote for a candidate if asked to do so in person by one of their volunteers. Multiply that out by a dozen meet-and-greets, and suddenly you’ve got a thousand people voting for you, or more, and you’re in the running to actually win this thing. They’re a powerful element of our democracy, these casual conversations in people’s living rooms.

But it all starts with going to the meet-and-greets. And as I said, they weren’t on my radar before. So how do you hear about them? Well, if you attend a Democratic Party meeting, you may meet people hosting them. If you start going to local political events, like candidate forums and school board meetings, you’re going to meet the people who are already very engaged in local politics. If you join a local progressive women’s mailing lists, invites may be posted there. Before long, you’ll be plugged in.

And once you get an invite, you’re thinking — my life is busy, I don’t know anything about this candidate or this race, I don’t know why I should go, or what it’ll be like. Well, you go to learn exactly those things — what the race is about, why it matters, who this candidate is.

As for what it’ll be like, there’ll be some awkward milling around (although after you’ve done it once or twice, you’ll probably know people there, because the pool of people active in local politics is actually tiny). There’ll be some low-key food and drinks. The candidate may just chat with the group, or they may take 10-15 minutes to make a little speech about who they are and why they’re running for office. That’s pretty much it. You don’t need to stay for the whole time — you can duck in for 15 minutes, if that’s what you have to spare that day. You can usually bring your kids.

Sometimes there’ll be fundraising, but if it’s a fundraiser, that’ll usually be explicitly said, and that’s generally geared towards people who are already committed to the candidate or Party; you shouldn’t worry about being pressured to donate otherwise.

Mostly, it’s a great way to start getting more involved in and aware of what’s happening in local (and state, and national) politics.

To that end, local folks, if you’re free between 3-5 tomorrow (Sunday), I’m hosting a meet-and-greet for Oak Parker Fritz Kaegi, who’s going up against the incumbent Cook County property tax assessor, because Frtiz thinks (based on plenty of research) that property taxes are unfairly assessed. I met Fritz at a petition-signing party a few weeks ago; I still don’t know him that well, but he impressed me, and I’m looking forward to getting to know him better, and learn more about his campaign. We’ll also be raffling off some award-winning pies, that can be picked up in perfect time for your Thanksgiving table.

I’ll have snacks and drinks (RSVP’s help me make sure I have enough), and kids are welcome. We’re in an old Victorian, so there are some steps up to the front door, and we have a small dog. Would love to meet some more neighbors — hope you can stop by!

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Green Tomato Chutney

(1 hr, makes about a quart)

This is an end-of-season chutney, using up the tomatoes that didn’t have a chance to ripen, along with other fall flavors. It’d be delicious at the Thanksgiving table, alongside a honey ham, and also yummy in a sandwich on a crescent roll slathered with a little bitter, with ham or leftover roast turkey. Serve with a little green salad for a nice light lunch.

2 small onions, chopped
2 T butter
1 tsp black mustard seed
2 green tomatoes, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
2 green apples, chopped
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped
1 c. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp jaggery
2 tsp crushed red pepper
3 star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 stick cinnamon

1. Sauté onions in butter with black mustard seed in a saucepan on medium-high high until onions are golden-translucent, stirring regularly.


2. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook 45 minutes.

Will keep refrigerated for a week or two in the fridge; follow proper canning instructions to store safely for months in the pantry.


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Cover Cover

Thinking about the semiotics of book covers. Leaving aside the actual design (I had a harder time doing the layout with the sari photo, because of where there was available space, but try to ignore that for now), these two covers send very different messages, I think. It’d make a good exercise for my students:

– who is each cover marketing towards (audience)?
– what are they trying to say?
– which is more appealing, and why?
– which one makes you want to cook?
– don’t forget to consider the cultural elements…

I wish Barthes had done one of his little semiotics essays on book covers…

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Winter blooms

It’s time to plant your paperwhites and amaryllises, if you haven’t yet. Fifteen minutes with some rocks (or soil, if you prefer), and you’ll have flowers in December, January, February, March.

You can find them at big hardware stores, like Home Depot, some big grocery stores, or via mail order. I usually get my paperwhites from White Flower Farm, because I like the Ziva a little better than the ones I find at a hardware store — they tend to give double-blooms on strong stems, and don’t get quite as leggy and floppy.

I succession plant my paperwhites, planting a few more (usually in odd-number clumps, three or five, for a more natural look) every two weeks, so I have blooms all spring. (They do have a strong scent, which I like, but not everyone does.) Paperwhites don’t generally re-bloom. I absolutely adore the tall green shoots and delicate white flowers; a note of freshness in the midst of a long winter. And they mix beautifully with traditional Christmas festive decor, especially when held upright with bright copper stakes.


I also do both South African amaryllis (which blooms in December-January), and Dutch amaryllis (which blooms in February-March). In theory, you can get them to re-bloom year after year if you plant them in soil and follow the right process; this is the first year I’ll be trying that. They usually will need staking too. Glorious on a holiday table; they also make a great gift.

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