Amy Sherald Painting Behind the McDonald’s at Maryland & North Avenue

IMG_20180912_215513_986 Wednesday’s ride was incredibly ordinary. I spent the first few blocks deciding whether to go south on Guilford, west on Lombard, or to go west on 27th, south on Maryland Avenue. I decided on the second so I could spend the bulk of my morning in the safety of the cycletrack, even though M. got hit by a car there on Tuesday, a reminder that nowhere is safe when car drivers are around. It was a quick ride, downhill most of the way, the uphills easier every week since I started weight training earlier this summer. It has been amazing, getting back inside a body that can move, that I can start to trust a bit more, since that whole cancer business. I made my way to Lombard, took a right, and locked up next the the UMD Med Center ER doors before walking back to Greene to catch the shuttle to work.

It was the most ordinary morning commute since I’ve had since last November, and it was amazing, like time traveling to the past, but in the right here and now. My ride home was much the same–got off the shuttle at MLK, walked over to my bike, chatted with the folks sitting outside the ER, and then on my bike, weaving through the hospital back parking lots, a right on Baltimore Street, a left on Paca, up to Druid Hill Avenue, a right, a left, a right, a left, and back in the cycletrack to home. I was exhausted after a full day of teaching, being on, putting on a show, negotiating the needs of beginners and students who I know can be harmed by the words of beginners as they begin to learn. Teaching gender and women’s studies is hard. I didn’t want to make this bike ride home, wished I could blink and be there, but as soon as I was on my bike, I felt better. It’s still true, ten years of regular riding on–I never regret a bicycle ride.

I took this picture at a red light at North Avenue, because I love this recent addition to my view. I’ve seen it a bunch of times–I haven’t been blogging or riding to work, but I’ve still been riding my bike almost every day. But today it was particularly lovely, the layering of the buildings, the McDonald’s, this exquisite work by Amy Sherald. She’s best known outside of Baltimore for her portrait of Michelle Obama. I have to admit I was a bit meh at first when I saw that picture on the internet. And then I saw it in person, and I burst into tears. Sherald’s work is incredible, but I can’t put into words why. Art, you know? I can’t believe I get to see this piece on my morning and afternoon commutes now. What a gift to live in this city and to be back on my bike, back to feeling like myself.

Cancer is still a part of my everyday. My sister is just over halfway through chemo, and I walked a few blocks of my ride home to talk to her on the phone. She just had her first round of Taxol, a taxane-based chemo. My chemo included one of those taxanes, and I had incredible bone and muscle pain during it. It felt like someone put me in a bag and beat it with baseball bats, and then dumped me out and told me to go to work. It was so hard. And I heard that hardness in her voice, and I knew there was nothing I could do or say except to say that it’ll be over someday, but until then, there you are. She’s my identical twin sister–cancer is still in my everyday.

And even if she weren’t going through this right now, my life would still have cancer in it. Because I know that with my genetic mutation, I have at least a 50% chance of a recurrence in my other breast. Last week I got screened for skin and thyroid cancer. And in November I’ll be back to breast screenings. And I know that 30% of early stage cancers recur as stage IV cancers–and those can’t be cured. For those, treatment is forever, and that might be in my future. I don’t dwell on it, because I don’t have cancer today, and today is the day I’m living, but it’s there, a sneaky bit of my brain reminding me that “beating” cancer isn’t really something I’ve got any control over.

I snapped the picture, got back on my bike, and finished my way home, grateful, so grateful. I’m so lucky to have these days, to have this spectacular ordinary.

6 thoughts on “Amy Sherald Painting Behind the McDonald’s at Maryland & North Avenue

  1. Hi,been following your blog for some time,I like the way you point out things in the city that most of us overlook. I’m coming down from York for some urban exploring this Tuesday,the 9th. I like to start off with breakfast at the Handlebar Cafe,care to join me,my treat.

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