Wednesday, November 11, 2015

You are here

November 9, 2009. November 9, 2015.
When you get diagnosed with cancer, you get a map. A cancer map has only two landmarks: an X marking beginning of the path (when you first find out) and another X marking wherever you are now. The map comes with a little flag, stapled onto a pointy stick. As you walk through time, you make an X and plant the flag into the ground now and then. You look around and announce the mark to yourself: "Welp, here I am. I've come this far since the first X." That's about all there is to say, except for the i hope-i hope-i hope voice that whines on and on in the background. I want to spotlight the melodious thank you thank you voice, but it does not, truth be told, tug on your sleeve nearly as insistently as the i hope part does. I really wish I could say otherwise.
In those moments when you've scratched a mark at now, you study the map once again, in case something has appeared that you didn't see before. But the map doesn't change; it's just got those two Xs. You can always see the beginning X nice and clearly, and all the other things that have happened on the trail seem foggy or washed out. Whatever lies ahead disappears as soon as you look at it. You are just hoping for a clear path, any clear path. Is that so much to ask?
In those moments, as you notice where you are, and notice that you are, you think, if you're me: "Do I deserve to be this lucky? This comfortable? How come I don't pull my weight in this world?"
Even if you want to toss the map and the raggedy flag aside -- because good lord, what use are they really? -- you can't seem to. You wonder if you are just lazy, because, if you're me, you have a hard time finding the path and you spend a lot of time thinking about just that. You're reluctant to pin yourself down to anything that's going to infringe on your freedom, and you feel awful about that.
You're better at helping other people see and follow their paths -- that's easy. Figuring out your own path, if you're me, is a constant puzzle. You sit down a lot and study the worn, blank map. You try to make out your next destination, but there's no sign of the trail after today's X. All you can think is that you hope the trail you follow is long.
Laura's map is 3D, for chrissake. It's illustrated in detail and color and peppered with exciting landmarks. On those occasions when she needs a navigator, I step in effortlessly. Because her path -- her destiny -- is all so clear and obvious, like you've pulled the letters H, E, A, D, S, H, and I in Scrabble. In that order, and there's a P that's wide open on the board. Can't you see it? It's fun to support her -- the task is so clear: to believe in her and to be on the side of her success as a leader. To help her think things through, to notice her blindspots or errors in her form, but also to say "that's right. that's great. i'm so proud of you," which I am, especially when she does something courageous or brilliant. I'm like a coach that knows this kid can go all the way, a campaign manager that believes that her candidate can change the world.
I'm very glad to be here (just a sec while I scratch an X riiiight here) for this era, with Laura in a job where she can find her stride. It's not easy, what she's doing now, but she's finally at that sweet place where great ability meets great challenge.
Finding peace of mind is my great challenge, and, alas, I lack the great ability to meet it. The predominant distress, if you are me, arises from a sense that you are getting away with something, that you are not contributing enough to the world. But that feeling is counterbalanced -- just perfectly enough to hold everything together in a nice, taut tension -- by the me-ness of me...if you are me. All along my path, even before the first X, I recognize this need for freedom, tied in a knot to a chronic feeling of being a taker
I take out the map, make another X, plant the flag, and study the map yet again. Welp, here I am.

Friday, April 4, 2014

welcome and goodbye

Hello, dear followers and dear stumblers-upon:

I began taotechu in November of 2009 in the turbulent wake of my diagnosis of breast cancer. Navigating through double mastectomies, the swamp of chemotherapy, the rapids of BRCA2, and the general current of life, this little blog has helped me keep my nose above water. It has offered me a place to reflect, to rest, to play. I've poured my quirky little heart into this blog, and I am grateful to have had your company.

I know through the years a good number of people have been referred to this blog following their own cancer diagnosis. You will always be welcome here. You might want to start here in 2009, where I began with surgery. January 2010 marks the beginning of several months of ACT chemotherapy for triple negative cancer. Some of the toughest times were after treatment, when people expect you to feel great, but you feel exhausted and more vulnerable without chemical weaponry. It is not until March of 2012 that we learned about my genetic glitch of BRCA2, which led to immediate oophorectomies (ooph is a good term for this) and a hysterectomy while we were in the neighborhood.

It was difficult not to talk about it for the months after BRCA2, but we were in the thick of getting the kids and my siblings tested for quite awhile. It did not feel like I could share about that until 6 spiky shoes had dropped, each with their own excruciating bit of suspense. Tests were negative for one, two, three, four, then five of my beloved family members. We felt crazy lucky each time someone's results came in. But the last one bopped us all on the head, hard, when my sister came up positive for BRCA2. I note that with sadness here, but again, it has not been my story to tell.

Throughout the taotechu blog, you can read some pretty intimate stuff. You can see the guts of my mind and the veins of my heart; it's not for the squeamish, unless you kind of like that feeling.

Some of my favorite posts have been about my life with Laura. For those you need to scrounge. I must publicly mention here how much I appreciate Laura's willingness to serve amuse, bemuse, and be muse.

I am going to suspend taotechu for the foreseeable future. I may post something at the 5-year mark of my cancer diagnosis, some 8 months from now, since I imagine at that point I might feel the need to pipe up, much as you would check in with an old friend on an important occasion.

I appreciate your listening. Special thanks to those who have expressed encouragement and support.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

sometimes the Universe listens REALLY closely

I've been hesitating to tell you this, but...I think I killed the blog. I didn't mean to! It was just a draft I made -- the same night I posted about the carn-sarn meditating cat. Just writing about the end of taotechu in draft form made it happen.  I'm telling you: be careful where you point your minds, gentlefolk.

Ever since I wrote a closing, I haven't been able to write in the blog. The "dinner conversation" I posted yesterday wasn't writing as much as it was transcribing my thoughts. I wanted to see if the blog could be resuscitated. Apparently not.

"Keyboard mightier than cannon." I dictated that into my phone in the middle of the night not long ago as I pondered the power of my draft to bring this blog to a halt. It was a sleepy, half-baked update (cannons not being tremendously du jour) about the pen being mightier than the sword. In the morning I check my notes, and the phone's autocorrect has written "Keyboard mightier than Canon."

For a moment the English major within me stirs. I muse on the meaning of this auto-misconstrual in the context of the literary Canon. Since the keyboard (pen, typewriter, whatever) created the Canon, isn't there something true in there -- that the individual's written truth is mightier than the collective whole of the Canon?

It takes a moment to realize my phone is not being witty or erudite. It is thinking of its buddy -- Canon. Like the printer or the camera. Its fellow technological device. Comrade in arms. Partner in crime. BFF.

What I meant about the mighty keyboard was this: Even though I didn't post it, when I wrote that I was ending the blog, the Universe heard. That's mighty. It's possibly mightier than the cannon.

I'll revisit the draft and see if it still speaks truth. If it does, I will post it sometime soon.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

dinner conversation

     So I says to myself as I massage the kale with the olive oil, "It's so great. I actually like this shit. Yay. Yay for that."
     I continue to massage and tear, massage and tear.

"I mean...pretty much."
"Yeah. I guess it's not always the best tasting stuff in the world."
"And it takes a lot of work -- cooking food that's good for you."
"That's true."
     I load up the pan.
"But that's okay. 'Cause it's a good thing that I am willing to go to the extra effort to put good food into my body."
"I know, right?"
"Yup. It's cool that I really do think in terms of what my body wants in order to stay healthy. It really matters to me. It'd be so hard if that weren't the case; so depressing. You'd feel kind of meh all the time. Tired. And you'd be eating shit that's really bad for your body."
"And the earth, for chrissake."
"Yeah, it's cool that I really am guided by what's best for my body."
"Most of the time."
     I scrape out the seeds of an acorn squash.
"But not in a weird way."
"Right! Not in a weird way."
"Pretty much."
"Anyway, it's so good! It's so cool that I really want to do what I can to live. To not die of cancer."
"Yeah, well, to not die of cancer."
"Or something."
"Not because I'm scared of dying, but because I really want to live this life well and long."
"So cool. So lucky! Lucky to want to."
"Mm. Needs salt."
"Argh, these Himalayan salt crystals are too big for this salt grinder."
"Why don't I just throw out those last few gigantic crystals?"
"That'd be a waste of good, pink salt crystals."
"Shit. They've come all the way from the other side of the world."
     I arm wrestle with the salt grinder and get out a few pink crumbs.
"Ach. What a gigantic carbon footprint I have. Salt from the other side of the world. Jiminy cricket."
     I peek at the kale in the oven and stir.
"It'll be good for my footprint when I'm dead. No more guilt about these kale chips being a ridiculous amount of carbon, just to end up with this." I pull out what had been a huge pile of kale and now is a crisp tuft of dark green on a cookie sheet.
"Mm. It sucks to have to feel bad about these. They're so good and good for you."
"Yay. How happy am I that I want to take good care of my body?"
"Happy. Lucky."
"So lucky."
"But my footprint! Gee."
"I know. Ugh."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

buddha in a fur coat

     The cat and I have become best buds now that it's just the two of us during the week, and especially since she lost that back leg in late summer. Juniper's always been very sweet -- but reserved, like someone who is on the formal side no matter how long you've known them. They would really rather we all shake hands instead of hug. They make a little sound like "ehhhhh" when you squeeze them, even a bit, in an embrace. My ex-mother-in-law, so formal you wondered if it might be a joke (that would be a no) would, in an attempt to keep children at bay, call out as the kids ran up to greet her: "Now, which hand shall I shake first?" Cats can be like that.
     But since Laura, Juni's more attentive (not to actually say the word "co-dependent") owner, is gone most of the time, and since I am the one who gave the okay to remove her leg (the cat's, not Laura's), Juni sees that the stakes are pretty high. People and limbs can actually disappear, and one is left with what? Three legs and one surgery-happy person who occasionally remembers to feed you. It's not much. Best strategy may be solidarity, the cat seems to think. She is at this moment, as is often the case of late, under the laptop -- or cattop, I should say.
     In the mornings, Juni follows me, staring or glaring -- sometimes it's hard to tell with cats -- until I sit to meditate. When I get on my zafu or zamboni, or whatever that meditation cushion is called, she sits in front of me and immediately starts her mantra. She has mastered her monkey mind, and is freaking buddha in fur. On the mornings when I've decided to skip meditating and instead move straight into the day, her cat-stare is decidedly accusatory. The danged cat has the discipline to meditate this morning, I scold myself.
     This morning I "meditated" about my breathing (I won't say how long that lasted), my to-do list, last night's dreams, my connection to the Source (this for a nanosecond), the Oneness of us all (ditto), and then, for a long time, whether I should have a green smoothie or eggs and kale for breakfast. I opened one eye and spoke to the chanting cat.
     "Very impressive, smartypants," I muttered. Juni did not stop chanting; not for a moment.
     I felt even worse after that -- it negates your meditation session if you peek, I think -- not to mention mutter, for god's sake. It can't be good to make a snarky comment and then go back to contemplating the oneness of us all. But I only opened one eye, so...points for that.

Friday, February 21, 2014

oh my, Pollyanna

     I believe it's after you have said it one hundred times yourself and have heard it for the one thousandth* time, that you decide it's time to look up the reference. In this case it began with a quick glance at Wikipedia: Pollyanna is a best-selling 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter that is now considered a classic of children's literature, with the title character's name becoming a popular term for someone with the same optimistic outlook.
     Hmm. Wonder if it's good. What if we put all the people who are reading Pollyanna right now into the same room? It would probably be a pretty small (but cheery) room.
     I download Pollyanna for free, and then I spring for the Audible version for 99 cents. Why not.
     The excruciating timbre of the narrator's voice is why not, but despite that, I listen to all five and a half hours -- while I cook, while I do email, even practicing some ukulele. It's Pollyanna, for god's sake; it's not like it's hard to follow. When the book ends, at the point when most people would have had more than they wanted of Pollyanna and her story, I, naturally, order the DVD from Netflix. When a book is fresh in your mind sometimes you want to see how closely the movie follows it. You want to see how they mess with the plot, how true they stay to the original dialogue. 
     The next night, because that's how ridiculously quickly the Netflix elves deliver Pollyanna, I watch the Masterpiece Theatre version as I cook, do email, and practice ukulele. With quiet delight, I recognize some dialogue, but they insist upon making Nancy and Tim fall in love, fight, then (spoiler alert) reconcile, when Nancy and Tim didn't have to go through all that in the book. They were just friends. And in the book there was no scene of handsome Tim chopping wood, shirtless and in his suspenders. Perhaps I should have put a spoiler alert in front of that, too.
     Today the original version of Pollyanna should arrive, Elves willing, because the British rendition wasn't enough weirdness. No, now I am going to put myself through the 136-minute American movie, produced before they edited dialogue for our collective ADHD. With this molasses-on-film version, I might even be able to read along. 
     At least in the film adaptations they don't ejaculate, thank god. In 1913, people apparently ejaculated in the middle of conversations all the time. It wasn't even embarrassing to them back then; they all seemed quite comfortable with it. "'This is sheer nonsense!' ejaculated the man, decisively." Or "'Your--aunt!' he ejaculated." By the time someone had ejaculated for the tenth** time in the middle of the story I was otherwise enjoying, I couldn't hear "again that spasm crossed his face" or read that someone had stiffened, moaned, or gasped without feeling kind of mortified. 
     I have to hand it to Pollyanna, though. Even with all of that going on around her, she was a really, really good sport. 

*Here I have inserted the word I find the most difficult to pronounce without a running start, with apologies.
**At least it wasn't the thouthanth.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

in the interest of research

     I'm still trying to digest the recent discovery that you don't think about piles of things. Everyone who commented on that post raised their hand and said, no. No, they don't think about piles.
      I think about my accumulated piles of things all the time. It's why I panic when the CVS cashier tries to put my tube of toothpaste into a plastic bag, thereby adding to the gigantic, hideous pile of all the plastic bags I've used in my life. No! God, no. Please; no bag.
     Or the fantasy about gathering people who have one particular thing in common, and watching them try to figure out what it is. Anybody with me on that?
     I'm feeling the need for a survey (wait a second -- do you ever feel the need for a survey?). Here is (page 1 of) a survey I conducted at a conference several years ago. I left it on the registration desk for two days and people quietly filled it in when they spotted it. Does this same surveying impulse sometimes overtake you?
Regardless, below is today's survey, part of my ongoing research on how other people think and don't think.

Question 1:  Do you have a question in your head (perhaps every week or so) that goes like this: Is there anyone else in the world who has ever this exact load of groceries? (e.g., an eggplant, goat cheese, five pounds of cashews, toothpicks, rubber gloves, and a sunflower?) An acceptable variation: has anyone else ever carried this exact load of items? (The image below documents the moment when I told Ting: "Let me get the camera. I think this may be the first time ever in the course of human history that someone has carried this very combination of things: a French press, a wilted daikon radish, and some mud from the Dead Sea.")

     Question 2. If you do have these thoughts, does it ever lead to the following: 
     If this is the very first time this has happened, what an amazing moment this is!
     If it has happened before: What if those people met? Would they ever figure it out? (e.g., "Stop right there! I once carried a French press, a wilted daikon radish, and a container of mud from the Dead Sea!")
     Do you then imagine their delight?