Friday, March 29, 2013

“...Afraid, Brave, and Very, Very Alive.”

These are the words that close Brene Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection. The last “guidepost” to what she calls Wholehearted living is “Laughter, Song, and Dance.”

It's funny; she spends a lot of time saying how most people feel really vulnerable when dancing, concerned with what people think of how they look, or scared they'll be told to “dial it down.” That's not my experience of dancing; it's my experience of singing.

I continue to have a few moments of contact with those folks in bands who I reached out to about practicing with them. And I'm not letting the thread drop, but it is getting very long. Then again, there's certainly been a lot going on. Then again, 5 hours of netflix isn't “a lot going on.” So, self-compassion while moving in the direction in which I want to move.

I imagine this weekend will bring me several moments of the above guideposts, as my mom is coming into town this weekend. We tend to laugh, sing, and maybe do a little shimy if the song is right. This will likely be one of the last times I see her in the near future, as her visit is still part of the “visiting Molly while she's sick” series.

I actually feel a little strange about it. Because I'm starting to move out of the phase of active treatment and being actively faced with cancer every day, and into the phase that includes coordinating going back to work on Monday(!!) and restructuring the repayment of my student loans, basically, into the phase of “normal life” again. It feels strange to have my mom come now, because it's a reminder of the abnormality of this whole time. Cancer: Abnormal. Mom visiting: Abnormal.

Which isn't to say she hasn't before, when I've been healthy, but I am usually the one flying East instead of my family flying West.

That said, the other thing on my mind about her visit is the vitriol that's arisen about my father this week... well, I can't help but have a few overflow feelings toward my mom about not stopping his behavior, or even seeing it. I don't know if I'm going to bring up the dad stuff this weekend with her, but if I notice that I'm either withdrawing or being snarky (my defense/offense mechanisms), then I'll have to say something, even if it's a benign statement like, “I'm doing work around dad, and it's bringing up a lot of anger, which has put me a little on edge.” I mean, that sounds pretty honest and fair to me!

But we'll see. If I say/have to say that, and/or if I have to say something around my feelings of abandonment and betrayal by her during that time. She and I have talked a lot about what happened when I grew up, and she's apologized to me for not being there as she could have been. I don't want to continue to hold her feet to the flame, but of course, I don't want to repress what I'm feeling either. So, there's got to be a middle way, where I get to feel like my feelings are valid (perhaps by sharing them with another person) and I get to build upon the relationship of equanimity that we have been and are working so hard to have. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I swear my way is working.

There is a crossroads at which stands a sign post. Nailed to it are any manner of faded wooden arrows pointing in as many directions they can. On each is carved the word “Joy.”

There is a woman in the center of the road. Her hair has become long and whitely grizzled, and what energy brought her here has long since left. Her rheumy eyes stare at the sign, all she is able to do.

* * *

Frantic, manic, fingernails splintered, dirt encrusted, she digs. Somewhere in this earth is the answer, the balm, the solution. Just keep digging. There was a promise, a legend that said the key to your happiness and serenity is just beyond where you are, just beyond this layer of sediment and refuse. Keep digging.

* * *

I went to the cemetery to walk yesterday. I usually don't like to walk there, as I believe the dead have earned their rest, and this is not a theme park or a gym. But, I wanted the silence.

I walked in the Jewish section, where stones were etched with names like Saul and Drosser and Abraham. I thought about my grandparents, my mom's folks, many years dead now. About how my mom still harbors anger toward him, toward them, and about how I've felt somehow cheated from good memories of them because of her ire. That if she could only forgive them, she would be better; I would be better.

I thought about the therapy session I had on Monday, and the deep, serated, bilous anger and betrayal that boiled up about my own father. Probing into the memory of a particular series of fights when I was young, and how inappropriate and diminishing it was – to us both – for a grown man to bellow at and shame a child.

I felt how unready I am to forgive him. I saw how my refusal to do my dishes is a continuation of a fight that is long past. That my bating him as a child, in order to prove once again what a shitty man he was, has become a habit, a battle I'm still playing out. To put dishes away is to lose the battle, is to fall into line with him and his way of thinking, and, as I interpreted it, is to lose my individuality and sense of self.

Many dots connected as a result of making these discoveries Monday. It makes a lot of sense that I've been reluctant, if not refusing, to grow up and take responsibility for my life. If I have felt that to be responsible is to fall in line with his, as he self-described, "Dudley Do-Right" manner of being (which, is a laughable self-assessment), then of course I don't want to give him any inch of ground. I don't want to let him win.

The problem is. … My dirty dishes are 3,000 miles from him.

My choices only, ONLY, ONLY harm or benefit me. How I choose to live my life harms or benefits only me.

These are not his dishes. Doing them or not doing them neither invokes his anger, nor placates his desperate need for order. He has no idea I'm butchering myself in order to win.

And, really, does anyone win?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Parsing it Out.

I have a number of things on my mind this morning – the 90-days of responsible tasks challenge; expectations, dependency, forgiveness; and lust.

But I'm a bit jammed up this morning, and although I have begun this blog three times, addressing each of these issues, I'm just not feeling it; I have too many emotions happening, which are gumming up the flow, and I will need some time and conversations today in order to get back to center.

Therefore, let's do something different.

It was impossible to know when she opened her eyes that morning what she would find. The argument from last night awoke before she did, and the tangle of sheets next to her concealed if there was indeed a person there or not.

Tentatively, she moved her hand under the still-warm sheets of her side, and felt into the coolness of his. Okay, she sighed, he's still in it too.

Stretching her feet out far below her, which caused a cramp in the sole of her foot, she looked toward the clock to calculate how much time she had before she'd have to confront the issue. Was there time for a shower before he returned to the bedroom and used it himself to get ready for work? Or should she suck it up, and pad down the hallway to the kitchen where she knew to find him with an iPad, a plate of eggs, his coffee?

Was she wrong last night? Yes/no. Did it matter if she was? Yes/no. He was, too, for sure, but was it worth this? Dancing around each other this morning, making small talk like strangers, leaving out into the large swath of day in which they wouldn't be sure if they were people in love anymore?

The shower could wait.

In the bathroom, she rinsed her mouth, ran water over her face, and rubbed the last of her sleep into the towel. Looking into the mirror, she held her own gaze, and relived the words she'd said, feeling again, the entitlement, justification, and shame for having gotten so argumentative over such a small thing. Leaning into her reflection, she resolved to be more aware when she assumed things from him he'd never actually said.

The sound of the coffee grinder sailed down the hall, and she knew he was making this second batch for her.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Holding It Lightly.

A writerly friend came by yesterday for a chat/visit. It was, like last weekend, lovely to talk about things of that world, to remind ourselves who we are, what we have to offer, to exchange thoughts on the same wavelength.

Also, she asked me an interesting question, the exact wording of which, I forget, but went something like: Do you now feel like a badass?

She described her vision of how I’ve faced cancer as someone who simply saw what was, rolled up her sleeves, and walked through. This is what’s happening, Okay, here we go.

It touched on the thing people have often said to me during this time: You’re so brave. But, as I told my friend yesterday, it doesn’t feel like that. It doesn’t and hasn’t felt like I’ve saddled up, holstered up, and said, Okay Cancer, Let’s Dance with the Devil. I told her, it’s simply felt like the only road available to me. Following down the only path you see isn’t exactly brave, it just is. I told her it would be like people saying, You’re so brave to have brown hair, when that’s not any of my doing – it just is.

I can accept that my seeing this one and only option, to walk through this, can be construed as brave. But it’s hard for me to take on that mantle. It reminds me of how I see myself, and some of my friends, as people who climb to the top of a mountain, and then, instead of turning around, and acknowledging the climb and the feat it took to get there, simply look forward and attack the next mountain – that self-congratulations, or acknowledgement isn’t quite part of my make-up. But, perhaps it should be. That’s a component of self-esteem, isn’t it? Acknowledging what is worthy about ourselves; acknowledging our strengths.

So, I suppose, Yes. I suppose it was pretty badass of me. Even though, as I told her and as I’ve written here, it hasn’t been perfect; there have been breakdowns, tears, complaints, despair, anger, numbing. But, even so, like a person with a leg in a bear trap, I’ve kept limping forward.

I mentioned to her that, as I was prepping for the literary agent meeting last week, it was strange to read this blog closely from where it began to be about cancer in October. That as I went back to read it through, the thing that struck me the most was how I was asking the same exact questions at the beginning as I am now “at the end.” Who am I, What am I doing with my life, How do I engage more in it, What are the qualities of responsibility and perseverance, Will I/Do I have more of them?

She said something novel: That it was a relief that, in my coming through this event, I still asked the same questions. ??! I pushed further. She said that perhaps these questions could be held as comforts, as old friends, instead of as desperate, aching mindfucks. That perhaps I could see them not as points of self-derision and failure, but simply as questions that accompany me – not follow, hunt, or stalk me. Can I see this cacophony of questions as comforts?


Well! I’d never ever thought of that before, so let’s sit with it for a minute. Maybe. It certainly would be relieving!! Instead of beating myself with the existential questions of my life, perhaps I could greet them, sit with them. Maybe even invite them.

Maybe I can turn the volume down, if they’re not attacking me anymore. Maybe they retreat and resolve into the ether, and I become aware of them, but only vaguely and serenely.


“Who am I?” “What am I doing or to do with my life?” are questions which have haunted me. And maybe I don’t need to answer them. At least, not in the way I've been desperate to. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rescuing The Fat Kid.

See, here’s the thing about not taking responsibility for myself: I end up the fat, smelly kid. If I allow myself free reign to buy lunch out when I have plenty at home; if I allow myself to watch 5 hours of Netflix deep into the night when I have to be up early; if I allow myself to eat 2 trays of frozen mac and cheese in a row, because at least I’m not eating sugar; if I leave dishes in the sink and garbage to be taken out when it’s long past due – then I end up the fat, smelly, broke kid.

And that sucks. I mean, I remember being called Smolly in 6th grade, so perhaps we can leave out a repeat performance twenty years later.

As you know, I’ve been thinking about (and wrestling with) responsibility, adulthood, the idea that, Hey! Guess what! No one is going to grow up for you. I am seeing places where my resistance and fear to taking on responsibility doesn’t just keep me stuck, it keeps me separate. What happens in relationships with others when I don’t take responsibility for myself? Well, I ask you to do it for me. I heap it all on you, and say, there, you take care of it, you fix it. Most people aren’t willing to do that! (Unless they’re codependent, which… well, most of us are.) But in general, if that person/relationship isn't available to me, which it usually isn’t (even though I keep wishing it will be, and therefore just flail around waiting for that person to show up and “rescue” me from myself), if that person isn’t around, then I hide away all the mess and dysfunction out of shame that I’m such a mess, and you never get to see the whole of me, because I end up hiding the good parts too. So either I’m looking to depend on you or retreat from you, neither of which is a formula for a balanced relationship.

What am I scared of? Why have I run from taking responsibility for my life and myself for so long? I’m scared that I’ll lose my freedom. It’s freeing to buy shit you can’t afford, isn’t it? It’s freeing to stay in administrative jobs when you’re overqualified for them, isn’t it?

Uh. No.

It is momentarily satisfying, however. If I buy something I don’t need or can’t afford, I have a moment’s relief of, Whew, I’m worthy, I can be a member of society, purchasing things in the world like other “normal” people do. If I accept and continue in jobs that are below my skill and pay level, well, I don’t have to use all my mental faculties, so surely that’s a relief, isn’t it?

So, I’m giving myself an assignment. Some structure, so that the internal kid who’s mashing paste into her hair and hopped up on way too much sugar and TV can be washed up, straightened up, and perhaps cared for in a way that is consistent, accountable, and in the end, appropriate.

I’m going to do at least one responsible thing a day for 90 days. Whether that’s doing the dishes, writing down and tallying my expenditures each day (as I'd done for over a year), filing my taxes, doing my laundry, changing the cat litter. Whatever the item of the day is, I’m going to do one responsible thing for 90 days, and see how and if things shift.

I don’t want to be the fat kid anymore, I don’t want to be flailing in my life any more, I don’t want to be dependent on or hiding from you any more. I think these things all add up to growing up, being a grown up – and in 90 days, we’ll see if that isn't more freeing after all. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Safety Guaranteed(?)

I was with a friend yesterday, and we began to talk about money, and for me, it’s relation to safety. Why is it so important to me that I get my head around my finances, and have savings in the bank, and spend money that I don’t have? Because I believe that it makes me safe. If I know how to do this, I can be independent. I don’t have to depend on others’ (read: My dad) to rescue me from my financial disasters, or feel like a child when I end up in financially precarious times.

The money stuff is a place of shame, basically. And somehow, by keeping on the surface of all of it, instead of diving in, examining, and exorcising it, I remain skating in circles above the problem, as I have for years.

I don’t want to look at not feeling safe. I don’t want to acknowledge that I’ve bought into the “American Ideal” that a 401(k), a savings account, a house, a 4-star blender make me safe; but I have.

Last year, friend told me when I began to look more intently at my money “stuff” (aka ending up broke every year or so, living paycheck to paycheck constantly) that I am like a sieve, and until I close the holes, I’ll never be able to hold abundance, or even stasis around my finances. I believe her. I believe that being asked questions that make me uncomfortable about this compulsion will help me to close those holes, as it’s not just about money, is it?

Feeling safe, isn’t about money. It doesn’t just show up there; it shows up in other areas of my life. Like the sex/relationship “stuff” (aka being serially single) that I’ve been looking at again recently. I’ve always said that I think romance and finance are related, and I’m beginning to see a bit why.

If I’m single, I don’t have to be intimately vulnerable. If I continue to perpetuate patterns of financial chaos, I don’t have to be vulnerable. It certainly gives me something else to focus on, besides what might bring me joy or peace. I don’t know that it’s an exact apples-to-apples comparison that I’ve got here yet, but there’s something to it.

I have a friend who recently started drinking after a period of sobriety, a conscious choice she made, feeling that perhaps she wasn’t an alcoholic, having gotten sober so young, maybe she just wasn’t one. So, I’ve heard about her latest experiences, which have included the phrase, I was so drunk, and reports of near-rape. Great. Talk about not feeling or being safe.

My friend asked me yesterday if I felt safe, and I told him, No. Honestly. When I thought about it, I have the superficial feelings of it, sure – I know that sitting in that cafĂ©, I was clothed, fed, unattacked, I was safe on a physical level, but, actually when he asked, and I really searched myself about it, the answer was No.

That’s an interesting response!

But, the truth is just that. I feel precarious. I feel cautious. On guard, most of the time. And it’s these feelings that keep me trapped behind putting myself and my writing and my art and my “valuable at work”ness out there. I have a list of qualities that I want to bring to my work which I wrote in response to some one of those “What color is your parachute”-type book exercises. I realize that each of them requires that I be more visible. That I put myself out into the world more.

Who would do that if they don’t feel safe? No wonder I haven't done it, and no wonder when I do float a test balloon into the world of myself, that I pull it back nearly immediately.

I’m doing work around this, therapies; and I think it would be worth my while to write some of this fear out, and see if I can’t get more clarity. What does safety mean to me? What would I need to do or change in my life to feel safe? Can I let go of the thought-habit that I’m not?

Certainly cancer is one of those massive fuckers that says, HEY GUESS WHAT? YOU’RE NOT SAFE AFTER ALL!!! But it’s not all there is. It’s not the whole truth or picture. Yes, as a human, I am vulnerable to the failings of my body. I am vulnerable to the texting-while-driving person who doesn’t see me in the cross-walk. I’m vulnerable to any number of things in this world – but – so what? Am I going to become an agoraphobic, and hide away? I’ve been hiding away for years, and it still hasn’t kept me "safe." So, perhaps it’s time to test the theory that occurred to me recently: I am not in control, and I am safe. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Writers Writers Everywhere …

This has been a literary and artistic weekend. On Friday night, I went with my friend to a reading he was participating in. There were stories and poems, some better some not. I went in with editing brain, as I’d been working on my blog pitch for Saturday’s event, so I was perhaps a little more attuned to exact wording and working than I might have been. But it whetted my appetite. I could taste the lead of the pencil, slicing lines, words, structure. I remembered I know how to do this.

Saturday, I went to the writing conference, with panels about publishing and teaching, and then had to leave to go get platelets at the ER (normal and expected, just always shitty timing on the weekends). But, getting the call from my doctor telling me I had to be there asap, I pulled aside the agent I was going to meet with, and sat with him as he ate lunch.

Basically, he said he liked my writing, but not my project. And honestly, I was relieved. I don’t want to change this blog. I like this blog. I was starting to get concerned about having to change it to make it more marketable or take it down if there was a book based on it. He said I could use it as raw material, but he more liked when I was talking about the content aspect of the “Failure to Launch” generation that we 30somethings are – a sort of “burden of potential” generation. He said that could be a worthy project, I could be a “voice of your generation.”

Well, who knows. I don’t really have much more to say on it, except that I am it. He asked what I’d write after a book was sold, what would be my next project. I said, Uh… I’d just keep blogging, I guess. Which I would. This is a mainstay for me, and whatever else I decide to do, I want to be here.

I was inspired to look at my poetry again. To submit things to literary magazines, etc. I mean, I have a lot of work – it must belong somewhere!

Today, I spent some time searching through my hard drive for my poems around sex. I realized, a little while ago now, that I’ve been writing about issues of sex and intimacy for years. I’ve been writing about the oscillation between wanting and rejecting, having and withdrawing. Most of my work, in fact, is about this. When I look at it.

So? What’s there? Maybe there’s a collection. Maybe a few of the poems have a place with a journal or magazine. Maybe it’s time to look at them objectively, and see if there’s an answer that I’ve been pointing toward, like some deus ex machina that will “solve the problem” of being serially single. … Maybe not. But the work is worth looking at again. Stitching it together to see what comes – if these patches may become a quilt.

Plus, one of the literary agents I met was cute. So there’s that ;)

And then, this morning. I spent breakfast with a disparate group of Oaklandites (Oaklanders?), each with a creative bent, and we talked craft and marketing and drive and practice and verve and projects and invites to each others' events and theater and gallery trips.

There was something to this morning – an underlining of the world of art and artists I belong in.

And, there was something to yesterday morning as well – an underlining of the world I don’t belong in.

I had a very strange few minutes, trying to listen to the panel talk about adjunct teaching and lesson planning, and the thought kept intruding creating sound-canceling headphones: I have had cancer, and you have not.

I felt apart from for a good little while, seeing old classmates who compliment the hair cut, not knowing it fell out from chemo. I felt like they and their plans and designs are so damn small compared to what just happened.

And then. Luckily, I got over it, over myself, over the separation. Each of us has “stuff.” I read in a memoir the other day (divorce, not cancer memoir, cuz you gotta mix it up) the woman tell another that all our pain weighs the same. There isn’t a pain contest so, Ha ha, I win.

I was reading Caroline Myss’s book before I returned it overdue, and she talked about not identifying with our trauma. Not overidentifying with it. Not using it as a weapon or a shield. Not having to tell people why my hair is short. Not having to back away from your joy or the markings of others’ “normal” lives using cancer as deflection from connecting.

Connection is really what all this weekend boils down to. I got to feel connected to my writing again, to my eye as a writer again. I got to feel connected to the writing community at the reading and the artist community at breakfast – and that “community” is composed of my friends. I feel like I am coming to establish a familiarity in the creative world … and I. Want. More.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Burn It Down.

Over last summer, when I was frantically and pleadingly looking for work, following my graduation, I was on the phone with a friend. I told him that if something didn’t change soon, I was going to simply burn it all down.

He asked me what I meant by that, and in my frustration and desperation, I could only reply that I would just fuck everything up. If it was shit anyway, what would more shit matter? Who knows, maybe I’d relapse, sleep with a bunch of people, get into hard drugs, leave California with no plan and no net. Whatever it was, my grinding ache for change would catalyze the burning down of the bridges to safety and identity I’d built for myself. – Fuck it.

Luckily, a) I could hear myself, and how ludicrous it would be to do anything to jeopardize the few scraggs of stability I had, and b) I got a job soon thereafter.

However, I have some of the same feelings coming up at the moment.

And some of the same perspective, but sometimes, Fuck perspective.

When I was in the hospital last week, and they’re monitoring the recurring eye infection, the eye doctor reported to me that the right pupil of my long harangued right eye was slightly smaller than my left. He said, That’s strange. … And that’s it. He didn’t have an explanation, and said he hoped it would simply correct itself. Like these eye things have done in the past.

Then yesterday, I noticed that the vision in my right eye had become slightly weaker than my left. And again, I feel like I’m being … tested? Not given a break? Harassed?


If this doesn’t change, if something doesn’t let up, I’m going to burn it down.

Is how the thought went this morning. More a repetition of words, echoes of last year than actual current emotion, but the tears of exhaustion and relentless “bucking up” were real and current enough.

I’m reading Brene Brown’s book on resilience, and I have all the markers of someone who is. And I’m TIRED of being resilient. And yet, what else is there? You buck up, you show up. You do what’s asked of you, because in this life that’s all and only the thing that we can do.

What else is there?

Well, sure, I could burn it down. I could make my life harder than it is now by making decisions that cut at my self-esteem and relationships. But, I know that won’t and doesn’t help. Creating more chaos to distract from other chaos doesn’t actually solve the original chaos. It simply compounds it.

Making a knot into a bigger knot so you don’t have to see the original knot isn’t a strategy for untangling or serenity.

So, what? What then, what now?

One of the tools of resilience is spirituality, which she defines, and I paraphrase loosely as the belief that things can change. Pretty much, a belief in hope and the common bond of humanity. One thing I can hold onto from her definitions is the idea of believing in change. The power of things to change. That perhaps that’s a “Higher Power” – things will change. It’s the seed of hope, and the antidote to hopelessness and powerlessness.

Will I go blind in my right eye? I don’t know. But something will change, or this will become the natural state of my eye, in which case I’ll adjust to that, and that will be the change.

Another quality of resilience is perspective. Regaining our footholds of self, something I’ve talked about often here, about reminding myself who I am, instead of falling down the rabbit hole of despair of everything bad happens to me. Sure, bad shit is and has happened to me. But that’s not the whole of the story. I may not get to day one of the professional development day today (spending an hour on Oakland city bus with a compromised immune system is probably not the best thing for my health), but I am borrowing my friend’s car for tomorrow, and will certainly be able to meet with the literary agent I signed up to meet. I have work to do today. Functional, parametered things to do. I have a blog to edit, a proposal to finish, pages to print. My whole life is not defined by this episode, the eye, or the cancer. That’s resilience.

I still lick the delicious pop of evil, and square my jaw with the taste of destroying what I’ve built simply so I don’t have to feel what I am feeling.

But, for this week at least, I’ve simply eaten my feelings “away,” which I guess is better than drinking them. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Why Not.

One year ago, I was preparing my blog to be pitched to a literary agent at a professional development event at my school.

This year, same time, guess what I’m doing?

Obviously, the content has changed, but I don’t think the voice has. Someone asked me yesterday, as I fretted about editing and the limited time I have to throw something together that’s passable, whether my writing has improved from the time I began blogging about cancer.

I don’t think it has. I mean, I read back to the first entry, and I can see complete and utter ways that it needs tightening, but I think my writing is pretty much the same. Sort of the way I speak, commas where there are breaks in my head, but not necessarily where they should officially go. Beginning sentences with “And” a lot.

I think perhaps my style has crystallized since the beginning of the blog at all, but that’s I suppose what happens after two years. I’m not sure what any of this will mean for this blog right here, the one I’m writing to you now if there’s any interest whatsoever, this weekend, or at another time. Do I take all these down? All those you have read already? Is there a narrative arc at all, besides the timeline of chemo? What about the loose ends of my relationship with my father, or the sex trauma healing? Do I even write about that at all, or take it out, since it’s work in progress and a squishy subject most people don’t want to know about anyway, or so I assume/interpret?

Obviously, this is a nice nut for my monkey mind to try to crack, and so I’ll do what I think I ought to, and what’s been proscribed for me to do – put together a proposal to the best of my ability using their parameters, edit the shit out of a few of my more stellar entries, and say, Hey, I came, I saw, I submitted.

I had a really bad dream last night. I was trying to help an old high school friend with his cancer, telling him about eating right, and his family began to swarm and attack me, in that traumatic way I mentioned above. It was truly terrifying, and I woke up crying. I’ve had nightmares before, and I usually stack them in a category of, “You must be on the path to healing, because your subconscious is pulling out all the stops to keep you stuck,” and I feel shaken, but heartened that I’m on the right track. This one could be like that, too; it also felt, however, like what my dad did to me: Hey, look you’re still really messed up in this area, you can’t possibly move forward; you have too much work to do to be healed.

I think it’s true that I still have work to do in that area. I want to connect with the somatic therapist again, who I said I’d contact when my treatment was done. But, I also think that action is the best thing too. There is no “fixed.” There is no “better enough.” As I’ve said before, there is no starting gun for me to begin my life, or living my life, or trying to put together a proposal, or emailing an online journal about writing a column for them.

I don’t know how to do that stuff. I don’t know how to be fixed, or propose, or query; but I can try with small actions, can’t I? I can believe that it’s worth the effort – that I’m worth the effort, right?

I don’t want to be broken anymore, and I don’t know how to be or if there is a fixed, so I guess the best thing I can ever hope for myself is to try. Which is lightyears from where I’d begun. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

And She Returneth to the Earth, Changed and Yet Un-.

Just Kidding.

Sort of.

This morning, I awoke in my own bed, jauntily off the floor, thanks to my new adult bedframe. My cat prowling around me, with a mewling, Are you up? You up now? [head butt] You up?

I lay in the last moments of a dream where G-d came to dinner at my house, and I greeted him like a loved Uncle, and he literally wore a buttoned sweater vest.

A friend sent me a text last night to continue a conversation on adulthood we’d been having, and she reported a quote she’d heard that Adulthood is a continuum, and usually we’re the last to know where we are on it.

I considered the event of “CANCER,” and what changes have occurred in and around me since this began in the middle of last September. My friend who sprung me from the hospital yesterday morning reminded me over brunch that perhaps “20/20 vision” didn’t mean twenty minutes. That perhaps the lessons or changes that may or may not have occurred are going to be a little more subtle, and lotus-like, if I see them at all.

I have the beginnings/endings of the normal – ahem, if you can call this normal – side-effects and routines of post-chemo treatment: My taste for water sours, and I drink enough fizzy flavored water to make me feel bad about the environment (but it’s better than getting dehydrated because water tastes like a fetid pond). My taste for coffee sours too, which would make this a great time to quit the sucker, but as the line goes, “I can’t quit you.”

My muscles begin to ache as if I’d done an intense work out, a soreness that permeates down close to the bone, so I know that whatever it is they dripped into me this past week is working somehow to search and destroy any lingering leukemic cells.

And, I get the typical fatigue, needing more rest and naps, but feeling more restless as well and wanting to get back out into the world. A desire I will temper, considering the fall-out from last chemo round’s adventures.

I begin to think about a party, hosting something to say thank you to everyone, to think about a trip to the Great America theme park, to compile a list of everything that’s happened in the last year, in the last 7 months. I start to think about a closing.

And yet. It is of course unknown if it is or not. Like anything. A continuum.

I get to talk with others about my writing and the viability of trying to “do something” with it. I get to talk about how I want to be different, but also how I want to stop trying so hard to be different.

I get to hear others reflect that my writing has inspired them to change x, or confront y.

I get to recognize that no matter what is “NEXT,” I have faced cancer. Cancer, people. That thing that says, Hey, you lug, guess what? You might die soon. Surprise!

I get to reflect on how well I’ve done, whatever that actually means to me. I get to see that I didn’t fall apart and never return, or regress to childhood (for any length of time). I wasn’t destroyed by this.

Does that make me stronger? I don’t know. More perseverant? I don’t know.

These are the questions I asked my friend over brunch yesterday, and so, I’ll leave myself with the thought: Relax. Whatever it is, whatever it’s done, this part, this phase is done.

And even if it should come back, I never, ever have to do this part again. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Perfection is an Illusion. Really.

“Tell me how” implies that there is a right way, and that you know how to do it.

“Show me how” implies that there is a guideline to follow, and I can learn according to my own humanity, with mistakes and triumphs.

Tell me how means that I don’t trust myself, and that I am better off letting you figure things out for me, leading the way so that I don’t fuck it up.

Show me how means that we are collaborators, each learning from one another, and there is no expert or right way.

Tell, versus discover. Tell, there is a certainty in this world; discover, nothing is certain.

Maybe there is no reason for this cancer, except that my cells mutated. Period, the end.

Maybe there is no vault combination to happiness in life, and it’s all a trial and error.

Maybe I can let go of the throttle-hold on how to live properly, my strict code and belief that the world will “open up to me,” “fall into place” if I just learn how to live properly.

I brought a certain notebook with me to the hospital this time. I use it mainly for recording my shamanic journey meditations, or work that I do with others around that realm of my practice. I read through some of it during my stay, and came across a meditation I’d forgotten, one where I’d come to meet my grandfather, my mom’s dad, who died when I was about 11.

I’d dreamt of him before, had memories of him, with his blue v-neck sweater, tall as anything. In this meditation, his advice to me was, “Live … And don’t worry so much.”

Good advice.

I’ve been thinking about living, how I’ve been doing it, and wrestling with it, and flaying in it and struggling against it, and demanding it reveal its secrets to me, so that I can finally relax.

When, in fact, the relaxing is when the revelations occur.

An example I heard recently was about the Dead Sea in Israel, or really any salt body of water – if you flail and struggle, you’ll drown; if you let yourself relax, you’ll float.

I’ve been thinking about the intersection perhaps of the two gods I’ve been struggling with – the one that is the calm center of the Universe, and allows for glimpses of what can only be called love; and the one that might be personal to me, and actually interested in my living a life worth living.

My friend said perhaps there’s both; and perhaps I’ll never know.

I’ve been thinking about relaxing. About putting an end to my frantic digging. Digging for answers, for a new life, for one that looks more secure and accomplished than my own. Digging for peace – frenetically. I’ve been thinking about the possibility that a power greater than myself might be able to care for me, in a partnership.

I’ve been thinking about how much less worry I’d have if I didn’t demand so much of myself; so much of myself to be different than I am – to be published perhaps, a good pianist, gainfully employed in meaningful work, partnered, happy. To wrestle myself into happiness.

I don’t think it works that way.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase from my friend, that it is our responsibility to make our lives one worth living; that we’re the only ones who can do that for ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we are alone in doing it.

I’ve been thinking about the words mystery, paradox, wonder. Words given to me by a friend this morning in her own expression of what god might be to her.

We don’t get to know, and we don’t have to know. I don’t have to know the answer. I don’t have to know the outcome. I don’t have to change what you think of me. I don’t have to change how I am around you. I don't even have to change how well I play the piano.

The only thing I have to change is simple: I have to open my palm, and allow myself to live. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Because in the end, Wendy leaves Neverland.

Alice awakens from Wonderland, and even Audrey Hepburn returns to her princess duties at the end of Roman Holiday.

There is a pervasive idea, in me, and I suspect in many of my generation, that if we hold out long enough, things will “fall into place.” That, like a combination safe, if we only knew the correct combination, just the right number for the one that’s marked Career, Romance, Family, all the cylinders would fall into place with that magic clicking sound, the vault would unlock -- *angelic voices sing “Ahh!”* -- and Oz would open to us.

Unfortunately, Dorothy also awakens from Oz.

I met with my friend who’s a depth hypnotherapist yesterday, and we plumbed such psychic depths that I poured out a gallon of tears, and not paltry breakthroughs.

One said breakthrough was about this Adulthood thing again. About taking responsibility, which is the opposite of the belief that things will “fall into place.” Instead, I am told, I’m going to have to become willing to re-parent myself. To take responsibility to care for myself – which apparently doesn’t just mean trips to the spa, and that nice new pair of earrings.

Apparently, caring for myself, parenting myself, becoming a responsible homosapien adult in the 21st century means what it means to any parent: rules, discipline, boundaries, support, encouragement, love. It means sending the kid to school even though they don’t want to go, but you, as the parent, know it’s what’s best for them. It means not feeding them junk, even though that’s the quicker, easier thing to do, but taking the time to prepare something healthy, and washing the dishes when you’re done, because it’s simply your job as the grown-up.

I means encouraging the 30 minutes of music practice a day, the two hours of solid homework, because you know that after a month or a year, those half hours will add to something more, even though it is not instant gratification.

Adulthood means giving up the illusion of instant gratification, letting go of the idea that Oz will appear if you hold your breath as you pass cemeteries and let someone cut in front of you on the highway. There is no “tit for tat” here. There is no Cosmic Score Board, where my good deeds are ranked, and my bad deeds are demerits. The payoff of the good deed is the thing itself. The payoff of doing the dishes is the ease with which to cook on them again. There may not be a pat on the back for this; but that doesn't mean it's not worth doing. 

This may all seem like elementary to you (and I use that term with purpose), but to me, it’s not. I did not learn these things in elementary school, or at any other grade or age I’ve been.

I learned yesterday in this meditation/therapy session that my magical thinking must end. That I’m going to have to accumulate new experiences for the Experience Bank that will provide evidence that hard work is worth the effort -- just for its own sake. Because I’ve never tried hard work, I have no idea if that’s true.

But, I deserve better “parents” than the one I’ve been being to myself. I deserve better than ice cream for dinner and wide television eyes. Children need boundaries, structure, predictability, stability. No one can offer these to me. Not a job, a boyfriend, even a “god.” I can have, or ask for help from Sources within/without me, but, in the end, I’m the only one who can give myself what I need.

And I need to grow up.

I need to wake up.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Countdown

Yesterday, I went to the symphony. As I sat in the rotunda, with floating silver sheets suspended over the orchestra like god had dropped a sheaf of silken paper, and hundreds of brushed pipes aligned against the wall, people dotting and shifting, but mainly holding still and being lifted or rapt into their own experience, I had a moment.

I’ve had them before during this time. And I’ve tried to sort them as gratitude, but it’s not quite that. It’s something more than gratitude or being present, more than being alive or sensing grace – it’s something transcendent, a few radiant seconds in a row where you are reminded that this doesn’t exist on any other plane of existence that you know of, and yet, you, yourself are here to experience it. You understand for a moment the aching pressure of beauty, the sharply finite gift of life, and you feel like a quote from American Beauty. ...

I teared up a little in my velvet fold-down seat, trying not to let the person I was with see me. And brief as it was, it is precisely those moments that make this life one worth living. To not be taken from this, is what I begged among the pieces of my half-built bedframe.

I go into the hospital on Monday for the fifth round of chemo. The final round of chemo. The round that, according to statistics, raises to 40 per cent my chances of living. This is the protocol the medical community has studied, the course of treatment and sum total of what they know to do for me. Anything thereafter is a crap shoot.

Every time I’ve had to go in, I have a few days beforehand that begin to feel like a countdown to a guillotine, even though in this case, it approximates a countdown to a “cure.” I start to collect what I’ll pack in my head, compiling the list of where things are, and what I’ll need.

By this point, it’s down to a science, and I still overpack, thinking that my stuff, the comfort of my stuff will keep the fear at bay, and maintain an illusion of normality.

No. It’s not easy. Yes. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. 

But, I had another moment yesterday, too.

I realized that, collectively, we’re facing cancer. Me; my mom; my brother; you, my friends. Together, we’re getting through this. That’s pretty amazing to me.

This fifth round is not the end. There are months and years when I know that a headache will immediately make me question if the clot they found in my brain is moving and about to cause a stroke. I will question if a few nights of sleeplessness or days of fatigue mean there’s something wrong with my blood. Or if, like a shitty day in September, what I think is strep throat will turn out to be cancer.

I know that this will happen; and I know that this is normal. I know that like someone who’s been mugged on a certain block, my blood pressure will go up as I pass it again. I know I won’t feel like a “normal” person for a while, and will forever be on the side of the river labeled “Cancer Survivor,” while most people I know and love are on the other bank.

But even though you don’t stand with me here, I know you do. Even though there are nights I experience alone, and surgeries that tuck into my skin and not yours, I know that there is a “we” in what has faced this, and what will win.

I know, too, that I often darkly smirk at myself (often on buses, for whatever reason) as I think how ironic it will be if I’m wrong, and have all these blogs about how it won’t be me, and it is.

But, that’s the truth of this: both/and. Still and always.

So, if the truth is so big that it can encompass delusion, faith, love, uncertainty, life and death, then let me share with you what I wrote in my journal yesterday morning:

The enormity of this – we’re facing cancer. Not perfectly, as there is no perfect, but we are. We have. We are facing it & are prevailing. What does it mean to prevail here? To not slit my wrists. To still breathe, talk, engage, even a little. To have my heart intact. To not lose it & never find it.  That’s prevail.