i’ll take words that begin with ‘c’ for five hundred, alex


last i posted, my grandmother had just passed away.  the days that followed were filled with family piled upon family piled upon friends piled upon some more family – our extended people could fill a small city. of course, there were some tears, perhaps a few moments here and there of head butting, but mostly it was joyful. i dug up a bunch of old photos of my grandma and put them on display, and there was a moment when i looked over at the smiling face of this absolute knockout on her wedding day and thought, ‘yeah, she’d want this.’

wouldn’t we all? that at the very least, our death should allow all of the people we love and who loved us to nurture bonds, to share laughter… scene: my 70 something, incredibly sophisticated great uncle reading out the card ‘two midgets shitting in a bucket,’ during a game of cards against humanity, laughing so hard he could barely get the words out.

i think that sitting shiva is the thing i’ve appreciated the most about having grown up jewish. having a huge extended family means you experience more loss – quantitatively speaking, anyway. having those few days or that week to constantly be with your people, getting through it together, is so necessary and deserved by both you and the deceased. a celebration of life, as my aunt susan says.


i’m going to see a chekov play tomorrow night with a friend. coincidentally, she and i met in busan three weeks after i arrived and both being ‘jens from new york’ forged an instant bond. she moved back here after only a year, so i actually think of her more as a new york friend. she joined me as my cancer buddy for my last infusion. the snow had backed up appointments by an hour or so, and we filled the time with gut splitting laughter, totally inappropriate for the setting, but whatever. i offer no apologies for laughter.

for my sister’s birthday, she, our cousin and i went to see ‘sleep no more’. if you don’t know what it is, check out the website here. and if you can, go. it’s a really unique experience. it’s an experimental theater production loosely based on macbeth, where the audience is left to explore the hundred rooms of a hotel, each of which provides a different ‘set’ and the actors’ story arcs are captured in glimpses during chance encounters or by chasing them when their story takes them from one room to another. the aesthetic of the show is wonderfully dark, twisty and intelligent.

i’ve got my eye on a few dates on brooklyn bowl’s calendar. and, in two weeks, i’m going to see north mississippi allstars and anders osborne with a close college friend i haven’t seen in over a decade. say it with me… yay concerts!


i woke up this morning thinking i had two surgeries ahead of me and am going to go to sleep with that weight lifted. now that i have my cancer treatment under control, i can turn my attention to the two other medical issues that i had temporarily pushed aside.

the first is trigger finger. trigger thumb, to be more precise. it started just before the summer and its a pain in the friggin’ ass. it’s kind of like lockjaw, but on your finger. i was told in korea that if it didn’t resolve itself after wearing a splint, i would likely need surgery. not the case. had a cortisone shot today and i’m able to bend my thumb for the first time in six months. halleh-fuckin-lujah!

the other is a basal cell carcinoma on my back. after my radiation last year, i had my dermatologist in korea freeze off all the scary moles on my body and biopsy most of the rest. at 30 bucks a pop, why not be safe? one of them came back as a basal cell, non metastasizing and not life threatening, but something that needs to be gotten rid of all the same. i actually had a basal cell on my nose years ago, and had MOHS surgery. My Korean dermatologist suggested the same this time around.

When the doctor entered my exam room today and asked about the reason for my visit, i first explained the whole picture, then said, ‘anyway, i have a basal cell on my back. i need MOHS surgery.’ he cocked his head and said, ‘ i don’t do MOHS surgery. who told you that you need MOHS surgery?’ He did a thorough exam and a biopsy, though there’s the chance that all of the basal cell tissue was removed during the initial biopsy. we shall see.

both of the doctors by whom i was treated today spoke to me with so much respect for both my intelligence and for the gravity of my current medical condition. and there was banter, to boot.  i always hated going to the doctor. as strange as this sounds, i quite enjoy doctors visits these days. and, as my sister remarked on today, it really is such a blessing to be fully covered for all of my medical needs.


actually, affirmation is the appropriate word, but it doesn’t start with a ‘c’. my short film, identity theft, just got accepted into its first film festival. i wrote/produced/directed this short last april with the help of an incredible cast and crew representing seven different countries. i was crestfallen that i didn’t get into the busan international film festival but in reality, it’s my first film and although it has been very well received by the people who have viewed it, it has its flaws.

i actually got some really solid notes from two austin based producers (thanks, s), and my editor and i have been working to recut it, incorporating some of these notes. so this festival may be the only one where it’s shown in it’s current form and with it’s current title. it’s a small indie fest called ‘independent days’ with a focus on low and no budget films in the southwest of germany. i’m so. fkn. excited. the dates happen to fall conveniently between treatments and there’s a good chance i’m going. i can’t post the film publicly yet as it could disqualify me from certain festivals, but if you really want to watch it, send me a message and i’ll send along a link and password.


i can say this out loud now that i no longer live in a country where it could jeopardize my livelihood. what can i say? i have a nice, healthy creativity-inducing relationship with mary jane, and i’m glad she’s back in my life. and let’s face it, it’s much healthier than the copious amounts of drinks that often accompanied a night out in busan.


a few weeks ago, a close relative asked me how my chemo went. ‘it’s not chemo,’ i corrected. she asked if i thought the word had a stigma, and i couldn’t explain to her at the time exactly why i had been so adamant. but i’ve since realized that it’s really out of acknowledgement of how lucky i am not to be going through chemo – like calling my treatment process chemo is an affront to the people who actually do have to cope with some really ugly side effects.

speaking of which, i’ve had none – virtually none, since my last infusion. i have to remind myself that i was told that they can come and go at any time, even after i’ve finished this course of therapy. i’m making plans like that’s not going to happen. i’m making plans on the way i feel now, which is pretty fantastic, physically and mentally speaking.


emotionally speaking is a whole other animal. when the topic of moving home comes up, which it does often, a lot of people say, ‘it must be so nice to be home.’ i usually just smile and nod, though a few of my closest have gotten a tearful earful (bust a rhyme – kapow).

it’s pretty dichotomous, the way i feel about being home.

part of me loves it. i really love my family and friends here. so much. i love reconnecting with them. i love the comfort of this home. i love how much space my dog has. i love preparing meals with an unlimited choice of ingredients. i love having a dozen hoppy IPAs to choose from in the supermarket. i love that if i find an exciting opportunity related to my career goals that requires me to be in new york, it is not just another craigslist ad that i stare at wistfully from ten thousand miles away. it is possibility. i love that i get to play poker with my ‘other mothers’ and the zany group of women that make up poker night every week. i love that my cousins’ children light up with familiarity when they see me.  that i love that my parents and i are all confronting synapses in our relationship which have long needed some work – sometimes in ways that lack in ‘softness,’ to put it mildly, but now, gradually, in ways that are more constructive and thoughtful. we are all learning and growing.

the things i’m not a fan of… sacrificing my independence, to a large degree. i have a lot of privacy in my parents home, and it’s not like they put any restrictions on me. in fact, my ‘flat’ on the second floor here could easily be the exact apartment i’d design for myself. but after having lived alone for so many years, so many years of not having to compromise, of being able to leave dishes in the sink overnight and a wet towel hanging on a chair for a day or two, coming and going as i wish without explanation, not needing a car to facilitate said comings and goings… well let’s just say that it requires a lot of compromise on my part and a lot patience on the part of my parents.

probably the hardest thing for me to cope with is the lack of community here. or the lack of my community, one i was lucky to help cultivate. don’t get me wrong – i’ve got aweome people to see and great places to go here in new york, but they are all separate from each other. until just under two months ago, i was living in a one of the central nightlife neighborhoods in a very large city. i could walk out the door and within five minutes on foot, i could land in a pub or cafe with a dozen friends to play music or board games or silly word games or have great conversation. my life was so social, ALL the time.

i had a rewarding job with a four day work week and four months of paid vacation (yes, you read that correctly).  i got to be a university professor, a magazine editor and columnist, a theater director, an activist, a radio host, a filmmaker, an event organizer, an avid traveler. having the time and disposable income to wear all of these hats was one of the major reasons i just shrugged when my stateside comrades and kinfolk would ask when i was coming ‘home.’ busan was my home.

the most prominent reason i stayed there for so long is because i was constantly surrounded by like minded people. when i met a new person in busan, we could instantly assume that the logistics of the other’s day to day were fairly similar to our own, and so we cut through the surface get to know you stuff quickly, got to the meat of things, often in a first meeting. and those with whom i forged close, deep relationships with became family. the following music video, ‘home’ is really the best way for all of you to understand why part of me feels broken, to understand what i gave up when i left busan. the gifted musicians, as well as all of the talented people who shot and starred in this video are my close group of friends (i’m even in the video – see if you can spot me). pay close attention to the settings/background. this is the apartment building in which i lived and the neighborhood that surrounded it.


still pretty much the same sentiment here… fuck off, cancer. i’ve got a life to live.

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4 Responses to i’ll take words that begin with ‘c’ for five hundred, alex

  1. liza levin says:

    jen…your morning words really rocked my wednesday! and …i am honored to have played “cards against humanity” with your amazing uncle!..i am so happy you are on a great track…and BTW…have you noticed? there is way more daylight…..more time for you to live and explore you amazing LIFE! lotsa love……liza..ronnie….levin


  2. as always you’ve eloquently verbalized your feelings and it’s a wonderful thing. I get the difference between your comparison between here and Busan and how you long for those people and places. I only hope that this part of your life finds new and more rewarding adventures and not that Busan should be a distant memory but only a part of who you are. You were fabulous Jen before Busan and don’t think that was the highlight of your life, but see every day is a new turn to be more fabulous than you ever were. You’re here to kick cancers ass and go on to bigger and better things. Go get ’em Jen…


  3. Hilaryful says:

    I am horrified to realize that somehow I missed your last blog post and completely missed that your gram passed…. I would totally have been sittin shiva with you an your mom!!!! Please send my regards I her… I can’t even begin to imagine what she is going through….I am however delighted to learn that you’re not experiencing the adverse affects if the meds like a first and hello SURGERY!!!! That is great news I presume!!!! So I miss you and love you and we should hang in the phone or I person ASAP….xoxoox Hils


  4. Jill says:

    So, so, SO excited for you for your film! I’m totally feeling you about being “Koreasick.” I still feel that way sometimes. I wish I was getting ready to make you dinner and play a million rounds of Crib and Monopoly Deal on my patio tonight. Thanks for the update. Keep them coming. Love you! xo


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