All about my circuitous navigation, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, through conventional Western medicine, alternatives to conventional Western medicine, and the ensuing mind/body/spirit explorations and epiphanies (plus numerous digressions).
The content of most days can be predicted. Even so, the man beside you in the dining room, the man poking at his ham with his fork, this soberingly boring stranger, will eventually give you a starry night and three fine children.
During a brief intermission, inside a perfectly ordinary bathroom, the acquaintance bothers you, wants to speak to you. Despite your chilly demeanor, she exudes warmth, speaks of tomato bisque and the power of miracles. This intrusion provokes you into an insight and a realization about the nature of your marriage, a realization that will, in fact, be the very thing that saves it.
Every day, moving through life’s humble domesticity — the washing machine, the jacket draped across the back of the chair, a bunch of ripening bananas — you are all that he ever wanted, nothing he ever wanted, and more . . . and less . . . than he (the man poking at his ham with his fork) ever wanted.
Chances are good that the roof will not be blown off the top of the house. Chances are good you will never get fat. Or starve. Or move to the coast of Greece. . . unless someone wanders through a door that should not have been left ajar . . . unless, while rummaging through a box looking for six blue beads, you hit an icy patch of unname-able emotion that sends you skidding wildly off to the left, into the ditch.
Chances are good that he will finish painting the exterior, and that you will take your darling terrier to the vet. The content of most days can be predicted. Even so. . .
An image forms in the camera’s viewfinder. You’ve been interviewing shadows today. The trees make you euphoric, the air smells of jasmine, you could be walking in the sunshine or the rain . . . either one, doesn’t matter. Beneath the image, to your vast surprise, lies a flood of images yet to come — the unexpected future.
You have, at times, passed the time thinking about all that has been unexpected: The man in the tree, or the one at the party. The mysterious voice in your head, with its undeniably absolute decree. The guy at the auto repair shop. The house around the corner where you would someday go to live with the man from the tree.
Fueled by the denials and desires of youth, you often wore these men as if they were your skin. Now you lean forward, aiming to capture the image. You know that this thing happens and then that thing happens — all of it perfectly random yet perfectly planned.
You are in a constant state of mild suffering, photograph after photograph, walking through the smells of the street, surprisingly content, bent on doing exactly what you are doing, knowing that you don’t know what is coming even as you so carefully frame the next composition.
I fell asleep last night thinking about how old I felt in comparison to all the twenty and thirtysomethings (and even a few fortysomethings) around me, who I keep thinking are clueless teenagers until I realize that no, of course they're not. They're grownups. But why don't they SEEM like grownups to me? Why do they seem like children so much of the time?
I came up with a little bedtime analysis of the ingredients (the three Cs) required to become a certified, bonified adult:
Common sense, courtesy, and commitment.
The first two require no further interpretation (at least not to other grownups). The last may require just a bit. By commitment, I mean: Someone who understands and honors agreements, contracts, and promises. In other words, someone who knows how to stick to their commitments (and how to not make those commitments in the first place, if they know damn well that they have no idea whether or not they'll be able -- or willing -- to stick to them).
Actually, there is also a fourth ingredient, although I couldn't think of a C word for it. That ingredient is:
Ability to read and follow the instructions.
Mark my words, children. Mark my words.
That said, do I claim to be a bonified grownup?
Answer: Yes, when in the company of a bevy of clueless twenty and thirtysomethings. Not as much when in the company of my peers or grandpeers. Then I feel clueless, too.
(Oh, and if you feel inclined to poke a dozen holes in my theoretical equation, that's okay. Just do it with courteously, please.)
Yes, I'm still here with the doggie. The past week has been work work work. All work and no play makes Jane a dull but responsible girl. Utility bills paid? Check. Roof over head? Check. Food on table? Check, yum. Medical bills paid? Check. Health insurance paid? Fuck yes, check. New walking shoes? Check. New wardrobe? NOT. New car? NOT. Facelift? NOT. Laser gum surgery? NOT. Trip to Europe? NOT. Etc. etc.
Biggest breakthrough last week: I finally GOT, on some new and different level, that I can't make everyone like me or approve of me. Of course I already knew this intellectually, but the gap between intellectual and emotional is oh so large.
Who knows why these breakthroughs come when they do? I was merely dealing with a Writing Salon client who said with fury that I was an incredibly selfish, money-driven, uncompassionate, rude human being, not to mention an appallingly bad businesswoman. Normally, this would have depressed me for days. I would have felt compelled to walk around having an imaginary conversation with this person, defending and explaining myself ad nauseum, trying to get my foe to SEE that I am really a nice person. Really!
But finally, finally I got it. I can't make everyone like me! No matter how hard I try, no matter what I say or do. Borrowing from good old Abe Lincoln:
"You can please some of the people all of the time, and you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time."
It was weird to be able to think that to myself, and feel comforted. I never felt comforted before; I still felt bad. But this time I thought, You know what, Jane? You're doing the best you can. There's no right or wrong, there's just that: Doing the best you can.
So don't start second-guessing yourself every time someone questions or criticizes you. Sure, you can always improve. Sure, you can consider every question and criticism. But once you've done that, you can stop doing it -- and simply accept that someone(s) out there in the world is mad at you and is most likely going to stay mad at you. And that's okay. You've gotta let it go and move on.
Whew. I hope I can hold on to this "epiphany" longer than three days (I read somewhere that three days is about how long most people can hang on to useful epiphanies, and then they slide back into their old habitual and unenlightened ways.) Still, I'm going to do the best I can to hold on to it for longer than that.
My armpit aches, and the accompanying puffiness (a feeling of padding, a swelling) preoccupies me every day. It scares me. I worry.
But work takes up a big chunk of my life, so I try to focus on that. I try to think up ways to keep it meaningful, interesting, new. Especially meaningful. Meaning is everything. I strive for it. I can either figure out how to make it meaningful, or I can grouse and kvetch.
I want my work to be my vocation or, as the Buddhists say, my right livelihood. I want it to be a practice, a sort of spiritual discipline. A meditation. A nurturing of the souI. I think a lot these days about what it means to have a practice. Do I have one? More than one? I guess I do. Sure.
Example: Walking the dog. I try to walk the dog every day and succeed at it about every other day. Writing is another one. Has been for almost the last forty years, although recently I’ve slacked off in order to pursue a new practice: photography. Actually, I have combined the two practices of dog walking and photography into just one practice.
Yoga is another practice. I don’t do it, but I think about doing it constantly. Thinking about someday practicing yoga is one of my practices. Sometimes I do stretches, which I perceive as a precursor to yoga, but if I stretch the wrong way my armpit starts to ache.
Maybe, I think, my life itself should be my practice. Every second, every minute of every day.
This morning at 6 a.m., my practice consisted of lying in bed in the dark, sweating all the usual small stuff, such as bills, death, and various other deadlines. I was also worrying about what to write for my writing group today, which is why I’m writing this. The problem is that I have nothing to say. My life is a daily repetition of the mundane as I attempt to ferret out dribs and drabs of meaning from within days filled with things like dish sponges, toilet bowl brushes, hard drives, vitamin supplements. smog inspections, tumor marker tests, and empty cartons of half and half still sitting in the refrigerator.
Mostly I just want to be out walking. That’s what I realized yesterday when I found myself beginning to pine, at 10 a.m., for a sidewalk and some fresh air. This is a relatively new development in my life. It shocks but also delights me.
Did I forget to mention that, as I was lying in the dark, I was also feeling resentful of my friends Tom and Ruth, who are both now retired? They have pension money, savings, and a house they own outright, a house in one of the most coveted neighborhoods of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. While I spend my day stressing about how to live a meaningful life while still working full time, they will be out and about today, looking for a new door for their latest house remodel. I know they worked hard to get to where they are. I know we have all made our choices. They clearly made some good ones. I clearly made some not so good ones. Still, I think, “Oh poor me, poor me.”
All I really have to tell you about today is the short tale of my other friend who has three very ill daughters, one with breast and liver cancer, one with spinal meningitis, and one who just had what may have been a brain aneurysm. It’s freaky, horrible, and wonderfully dramatic. I myself have nothing but the usual nothing stuff to drone on about, such as “Yesterday I walked the dog, today I will walk the dog, tomorrow I will walk the dog.” Or: We were running out of tea; I bought more. Or: “What’s wrong with my armpit? It aches.”
This longing for a practice probably stems from all my recent thoughts about death. The latest thing I’ve been trying to convince myself of is that death is really birth. I tell myself that my human adult life is analogous to the life of a fetus in its mother’s belly. The fetus doesn’t know that it’s not a “real” person yet; as far as It knows, it has a perfectly fine life floating around in there all warm and cozy and well fed. And it doesn’t want to die, which is undoubtedly what it thinks is happening when its entire world begins to convulse, and Its mother’s uterus begins to push It, painfully I might add, toward some uncomfortably skinny tunnel with a light at the end that really hurts Its eyes….eyes that don’t want to open, eyes that want to stay blissfully and peacefully closed.
So...I’ll travel down this dark, skinny, uncomfortable tunnel, possibly with a fair amount of pain, as the uterus of this life pushes and squishes me out, but then, once my eyes get accustomed to the weird new world I’ve entered, I’ll embark upon a lovely new journey, maybe as a leaf or a bird or a grain of sand. Or maybe all three. Or maybe something else that I can’t even begin to imagine.
In the meantime I must work on fortifying my chi. I will rub fragrant oil of chi into my breasts. I will take photographs of trash bins that exude their own special brand of chi, and turn these photos into a series, a series that I will call Trash Bin Chi.
My son is traveling the world; his life as a circus performer is wildly exotic, or so it seems from here in the kitchen where I stand at the counter sorting pills into a special blue plastic pill container for the week.
Another friend of mine has fascinating stories to tell of gray water, toilet mechanisms, fruit trees, raccoons, and a well that goes deep into his back yard. Oh, and did I say that Tom sees his door-buying project as a chore? I order my resentment to go away. Where is my enlightenment? What about my practice?
Soon I will be in a car on a freeway, heading — in yet another determined and hopeful stab at meaningfulnes — toward the next meeting of my writing group. This, despite my tendency to be a dark and pessimistic person. I even wrote an essay about that once. Rupert, my boyfriend at the time, was absurdly optimistic and light. Not a dark bone could be found in his body. I compared us and made a funny essay. I think it is still floating around out there somewhere on the Internet.
Mostly, though, I have but little to say. So I take photos of reflections that appear in windows and whirligigs. I capture tree leaves shimmering down into the metal hoods of cars. I’ve been working on abstracts, visual images of the void.
My armpit aches all the way down to my wrists and thumb. This distracts me from my practice. Could it be that the severed nerves are finally coming back to life, are being re-born? Yes, I believe that could be. Life is teeming with wonderful possibilities. Constantly. The trick is to be open to them. (Or might it be an excess of lymph fluids building up? Or could it be an inflammation?)
A friend of mine called to chat on the phone the other day. We hadn’t spoken in several weeks. She was just beginning to recover from a case of laryngitis, and said, “You’ll have to do most of the talking today.” But she was the one who had just gotten back from a two-week trip where she stayed in a cabin with nine other women, fed llamas, climbed mountains, played mahjong, and was cooked for on a farm by an old friend who is also retired like Ruth and Tom. Soon my friend will be leaving for Paris. She is unemployed but recently came into an inheritance and has money enough to live on for a while. She even found someone to take care of dear Fluffy while she is gone.
“Whisper if you must,” I said, “but you’re the one who ought to be doing all the talking. I really don’t have much to say.”
My latest reading material (I'm re-reading it) is the book Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. I'm starting all over, because it's so full of fascinatingly unpopular information about how to eat healthily...no way could I remember it all from just one reading.
Her introductory chapter includes sections devoted to the following topics: Fats; Carbohydrates; Proteins; Milk & Milk Products; Vitamins; Minerals; Enzymes; Salt, Spices & Additives; Beverages; and more. I never thought I'd be entranced by a book about such things, but oh well, never say never.
I will probably have to read each section over several times before I'll ever be able to remember and repeat/pontificate. But it seems worthwhile to do this, because what Fallon says makes so much sense. I should add that the tag line to the title of this book is: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.
I wish I could talk more people into buying this wonderful book -- and actually reading it. Here's how the section on Fats begins:
Fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet; they also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. Fat as part of a meal slows down nutrient absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitains A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and for a host of other processes.
Politically Correct Nutrition is based on the assumption that we should reduce our intake of fats, particularly saturated fats from animal sources. Fats from animal sources also contain cholesterol, presented as the twin villain of the civilized diet.
The theory—called the lipid hypothesis—that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease was proposed by a researcher named Ancel Keys in the late 1950s. Numerous subsequent researchers have pointed out the flaws in his data and conclusions. Neverthless, Keys received far more publicity than those presenting alternative views. The vegetable oil and food processing industries, the main beneficiaries of any research that could be used to demonize competing traditional foods, worked behind the scenes to promote further research that would support the lipid hypothesis...
The section goes on for another 16 single-spaced pages, full of information about, yep, FATS! And I swear to you, it's really interesting, and you learn all sorts of stuff about how the body works, health/disease, history, science, medicine, the media, culture, etc.
It's surreal. I can't believe it's been nine days since I last posted here. Oy vey. I read somewhere that if you don't do a post every day...or at least in some regularly predictable way, such as every Saturday for sure, your readership will soon plummet. Given that my readership was never that huge to begin with, I'm sure, I wonder what it's at now.... two?
Hey You Two, how ya doin'? I'm back! But only barely. That's becaue I'm BEHIND on life. Bit off more than I could chew again (what else is new?). One bite I'm still chomping on: the new Writing Salon online publication that I boldly announced I'd begun, and which I said would be out by August 1st.
Well, here it is August 8th, and it's not out. I've worked on it some, but some is not enough. Some has to become DONE. So.... I'm spending the main portion of my Friday night reading submissions. . . and thus trying to keep this post short.
10 Things I wish I had more time to blog about:
1. All the stuff I've been re-reading/re-absorbing about nutrition, from Sally Fallon's "cookbook" (but so much more than a cookbook, really), Nourishing Traditions. This is one of those MUST HAVE, MUST OWN books. 2. My two visits with an osteopathic doctor, a woman I think is great 3. What I'm doing or planning to do about my swollen underarm lymph glands, and why 4. Olivia's play date today with her sister June 5. All the stuff I've been re-reading/re-absorbing about health, from Andrew Weil's classic, Spontaneous Healing. Another book that is a keeper. 6. Progress on the "improve the lighting at both Writing Salon classrooms" project 7. Playing with my new Canon Powershot G9 camera 8. Ongoing thoughts about all life's wondrous mysteries, big and small...for example, the souls of trees, or how the universe bestows so many of its blessings in the form of what initially seem to be problems or even disasters 9. My Zapper (but only after I've used it and had time to think about how to defend my use of it, if I come to the conclusion that it's worth defending) 10. The impending arrival of my "custom oil blend" from Dr. Bruce Berkowsky, which has been on order for several months and should be arriving next week. I can't wait to smell it.
I'd add a #11 saying "my son," but first I need to play catch up with him; we really haven't had much chance to talk over the summer. I guess if I really want to know what my sweet boy/man is up to, I'll have to become a more active Facebook participant, even though I'm about a thousand years older than the average Facebook user. I mean yeah, I have a Facebook account, but it's bare bones. I use none of its gajillion bells and whistles. Last I heard, though, he was doing great.
#12 would have to be "Jack," and I'd simply reiterate what a great guy he is and list a few more of the reasons why I am so lucky/fortunate/glad/blessed to be with him.
I know this is a sucky post. Sorry! Nutshells and lists are never all that great, are they? Ah well, onward into the depths of another Friday night.
A friend of mine is taking the Round Robin class that I teach at the Writing Salon. A couple of days ago I sent out this "trash bin" photo as the daily prompt for the class. Every student has to look at the photo and write for 10 minutes; they can write ANYTHING they want to write. Whatever the photo makes them feel like writing about, they can write about it.
This is what my friend wrote, which I love:
The Way It Is
I love the thingy thingness of things, the way they exist
in a world about which we know nothing,
like that green garbage bin upended
in front of a violet wall: the bin doesn't see itself
as comic, lacking in dignity, upended,
or composed in an upside down world
in a lovely contrast to the violet stucco wall
lined with sunlight. It just thinks empty empty
empty empty empty empty empty empty. No,
it doesn’t even think that; it doesn’t think, not empty
or upside upside upside down or sun sun sun sun
sidewalk sun. No, it thinks nothing. It is empty empty
empty empty empty and yet full full full, filled
with its own essence, of which it has no concept.
It simply and only exists, upside down, right side up,
it is not considering whether to vote for Obama,
it doesn’t know the Giants’ score, it doesn’t know
it doesn’t know, it doesn’t know it’s green, upended
in front of the violet wall, it doesn’t know
someone has stopped to take a photo of it,
it doesn’t know it looks like a strange African animal
at a watering hole on the veldt, it doesn’t know
about the large German Shepherd that almost peed
on its cover. It is just as it is, without knowing it,
though we will never be able to see it just the way it is.