King of the hill

It’s a kid game. Pick a high spot and shove everyone else off that pinnacle. Get to the high point! Be the one on top and triumph in the victory.  Be the king!

Until someone pushes me off and then I am no longer king. The top position changes so rapidly.

I’m in the position I longed for more than a year, undisputed victor in the war over cancer.

I Won!

Until the next thing comes along. And I am jockeying for the top position in another contest.

As uncomfortable as surgeries and chemo have been, at least I didn’t wonder if I was doing the right thing. I was very clear on my priorities.

Now that I’m on the other side, that clarity got a lot fuzzier.

I am thinking of a TV show I watched for a while “the Riches” had a scene. In a complicated case of mistaken identity, the main character in the head of a corporation. He is a swindler, but he asks the employees what their dreams are. In comparison to his unearned fortune, their requests are tiny. “My own parking place.”

What are my priorities now? I want to spend this hard-earned life well.

It’s worth a re-evaluation. What did I go through all that pain for? 

I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into Values

 This is the second reading of this amazing book and I can’t sum it up. But I can talk about this part:


The narrator is trying to find a method of scientifically capturing quality.

Also known as goodness or excellence.

How can you tell what is of good quality? Is there an objective measure?

He’s wrestling with the disparaging evaluation of quality.  “It’s just whatever you like.”

This bumps into my personal style guide: avoid the word just.

And Pirsig (the author) corrects that almost immediately. 

What if quality is whatever one likes?

It’s a mashup of science and hippie ethos. I can almost smell the vegan chili at the potluck.

Since I fought for this life I’ve been given, do I really get to decide what is worth my time based on what I like?

My perspective has changed, and I am willing to make greater space in my life for what I like just because—no—I will make greater space for what I like without needing additional reasons. 

I climbed the hill.

memories of the wild

I live in the suburbs. It’s very ordinary to me now, and it is the only thing my daughter has ever known.

But I grew up in the forest. Yes, a house with electricity, water and a road for us to drive on. It was even next to other houses. But across the street was the deep woods—the deep woods that didn’t have any houses in it.

This was Alaska after all, so they didn’t have to call it anything. It could just be the woods. Since we were on a road and therefore close to civilization, I think they did call it a forest preserve or some such.

We called it the woods. I spent time in the woods every day, so I knew a little bit about it. I knew how shallow my knowledge of it went. There was a lot more I knew I didn’t know.

When we drove to anchorage we crossed the rivers. In salmon spawning season the bald eagles would join the bears and eat the salmon that were dying in the water.  The eagles were impressive and rare.

But the ravens were not rare. They didn’t wait for salmon season. Now I think of them as huge. When I lived amoang them, they were just ravens. They were perched on the lightpoles in the grocery store parking lot, sometime speaking with their own caw or sometimes making eerie mimicking sounds.

They were smart and greedy. They’d find food and dive in. Or they might work together to get at what they wanted.

I’d seen the ravens on totem poles. It wasn’t until later that I learned to revere the sagas telling stories of the ravens and their wisdom.

It’s been a very long time since I lived close to ravens. 

I live in the suburbs.

Last week I saw a crow. Like a tiny raven, he hopped along the tame green lawn, poking at fallen tree branches—sticks—and keeping his eyes out for possibilities.

I wondered if he remembered his choices, and thought about his chances.

The suburbs have a thinner veneer of wild nature. But there is still a lot I don’t know.

how the story goes

The days have run out. 

I finished. I’m done with all the big cancer treatments. 

I am remembering the story of Jonah. He’s famous for being swallowed by a whale. But the whale wasn’t the end of the story. It was an interstitial adventure that happened while he was on his MISSION to go talk to Nineveh about how God was going to destroy them if they did not repent.

I’ve spend a year with very short horizons. Get through a surgery…Get through 4 doses of chemo…No, just this one dose. 

Ok, just this one day.

And then…

Jonah was in the whale for three nights. He didn’t know how long it would be. 

I was told how long my treatment would be. 

And now it’s over. I am cancer free.

Barfed up on the beach by my former prison, the whale.

What was I doing again? What was it that was so important that I lost sleep and plotted and planned? What were my dreams again?

That’s one story.

Then there was that other story, the one where Joshua got his army to march around the walls of Jericho. There was a formula for that one. He was supposed to march his army around the walls once a day, and on the seventh day go around seven times, blow the trumpet and THEN the walls would fall down.

I wonder if Joshua and his army were thinking about after the walls fell?

It’s a lot of tension. 

Will they fall? After seven days of nothing, and THEN they fall?

As the story goes, they walls fell down and they took the city. It was a bloody scene of victory.

I am now standing in the rubble of the wall. 

I don’t know if I’m the army or the rubble. Truly, I would like to be the victorious army. But I feel like a rubble.

When I was counting the days that remained I was imagining the feeling of victory. 

I knew I’d still be weak, but I was hoping I could shake it off. 

If I’m the rubble, I’ll have to have patience as I rebuild myself. If I’m the army, I can start yelling.

I really am both, so I’ll do both as best I can. It’s my story now.

hero’s journey

Since Friday I’ve ben radioactive. Truly all the way radioactive. They read me on a Geiger counter. I was disappointed that it didn’t click like it does in the movies.

Now I’m a sci fi action hero—on the hero’s journey like J. Campbell talks about. Leaving the nest…Kicked out to go find the magic I can bring back to save everyone.

Passed so many fairy tale tests along the way. Is this the last one? There is always another straw, so I dare not say it is the last. But I anticipate recovering my strength and capacity. Wise women who went before have told me it will return.

I miss being able to think. My mind is weak. Sci fi is a great genre for this experience. An old short story Flowers for Algernon. It’s a dark problematic story of how a mentally challenged young man gets some drugs that worked on a rat named Algernon to make him smarter. He gets genius level and then loses it.

He once understood things. Once upon a time he was extraordinary.

And I feel it. I feel the weight I am carrying I as I try to remember and think clearly. I can’t. I can’t yet.  

Some things yes. 

It also depends on whether things line up. How much pain am I in? Will I get a good night’s sleep? Will I have the right size of task to warm up on? Will I get the right food and also not be upset in a way that saps my energy?

I started to read a beautiful book Zen and the art of Motorcycle maintenance again, and the writing was so painfully beautiful I had to stop.  I can’t bear it right now.

Is this part of what it’s like to be 80? What I talked about here?

So I’m re-reading The Expanse, and I started in on the second book Caliban’s War.  Sci fi novel made into a TV show, categorically easy reading.

In the first parts of the book, Praxidike Meng joins Holden’s crew on the broken Ganymede landscape after a desperate, starved  and unfruitful search for his daughter. They feed him. And this bit of the story is written out:

Over the course of hours, his mind started coming back. It felt like waking up over and over without falling asleep in between. Sitting in the hold of Holden’s ship, he’d find himself noticing the shift in his cognition—how much more clearly he could think and how good it felt to come back to himself. And then a few minutes later, some set of sugar deprived ganglia would struggle back to function and it would all happen again. And with every step back toward real consciousness he felt the drive growing

I know I am not myself right now. I am more tired than I was during chemo. I have flashes of clear thinking capacity that quiver and collapse under the load.

The man/boy in Flowers for Algernon and my circumstances also remind me of John Stuart Mill’s pig. Do you remember John Stuart Mill’s pig? In his classic age-of-enlightenment essay Utilitarianism ?


“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question.” 

I am not a child. I know both sides of it. I am a human being dissastified. And I worry that maybe I’ll never get it back

Updike’s Rabbt Run comes to mind:

“after you’re first-rate at something, no matter what, it kind of takes the kick out of being second-rate.”

Now that I’ve found that quote I remember how I dislike that character. There was nothing about him I wanted to emulate, except how he crafted words around his complaints. And that was the author anyway.

I’ll go back and get it right..This maudlin isn’t helping. Alfred Lord Tennyson has what I need:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

That I can do.. I shall not yield.

science non fiction

Just finished reading A Brave New World. I haven’t talked about books in a while, but they are still with me.

Here’s the list of books I read last year. These medical treatments are suppressing my thinking skills, so my books are a lot fluffier this year. I read vampire and werewolf books for the first time this year, for example.

But there was this online book club part of the phetasy community, and we chose Huxley so I read it. 

During the book discussion, someone was wondering if this book counted as Science Fiction. OOOH! Literary theory?! Strap in! we are going there

Science fiction can be a lot of things, but one trend in the sci fi novel is universe building where at a rule is changed. Then the events of the novel proceeds from that change. There is a famous short story where time travel is invented, and the traveller goes back in time and accidentally steps on the first and only butterfly. He returns to his present time to discover that his action has prevented the future (his present) from including butterflies. The culture has morphed in ways only the time traveller sees. 

IF the world has no butterflies, what else would be true?

I remember that game in my improve classes. In the book club, Bridget Phetasy is a stand up comedian and she said that’s part of developing stand up.

If this is true, what else is true?


And what else is not true?

Brave New World seems to be exploring the idea of a world in which reproduction is asexual. Many people find the world Huxley created to be compelling.

In my world, it is true that I am impaired in a medically induced way.

What else is true?

What are the borders of my science non fiction?

I am weak. I am tired. I remember things with an effort (..what was the name of that one person I’m supposed to call?)

Today, I sit in the limbo of my last thyroid medical treatment being scheduled. It was planned for last Friday, but that had to be pushed into the future because the numbers weren’t high enough. The numbers might still be too low. Which means I may have to remain in this medically impaired state for even longer.

I cried when it was rescheduled the first time. It may be rescheduled again.

Ok.

What else is true?

How weak am I? can I walk around the block? Sometimes. 

Can I still think enough to write my weekly substack?

It appears I can today, if I have a nap beforehand.

Towards the end of the day, I am weaker and less able.

What else is true?

It is true that I don’t know when that treatment will take place. But it will take place and it will be done at some point.

It is also true that I get to explore the borders of my universe with an eye towards adventure and see what the possibilities could be.

motion

I’m done here, so I put my phone down and stand up.

There it is–that push up through my head and the throb in my legs.

Whoa. Stop, bend my knee and put my arms out to keep my balance.

This time my vision goes black around the edges.

Should I sit down again?

Is my head clearing? Do the black edges clear out.

No, I didn’t have to sit down yet. I take a step and start going to where I was thinking when I needed to get up in the first place.

I could sit. I could always sit. Rest is there for me. I have that privilege.

And if I wait for my blood, breath and strength to catch up to my ideas movement is there for also.

I want to go. I was done with resting. Movement is the key to what I want next.

Every moment it’s a choice. What motion could I make now? 

Ooh…Not yet. Don’t fall over. Wait a moment. Vision needs to clear.

I stand still, holding faith that the next step will open up.

It almost always does. The way is before me.

I’m not yearning for rest. Those who long for rest should have it.

I want that step, that movement, like it’s my breath. 

Pause. 

And pause again.

Hanging in the balance, with the fiath that the next step will appear when it’s right.

I’ll save the rest for a rainy day. I’ll save it for something special.

My motion pulls me, even if I can’t keep up with it. 

I’m on my way…I’ll be there as soon as I can.

News from the front

NEWS WIRE:

Jan 16th, I had my last radiation treatment. That day I got the results of my PET scan. My body shows no sign of any more breast cancer. Treatments are done, and I can move into maintenance. I’ll go in for regular checkups and move past the breast cancer.

There is still the second thyroid cancer. That treatment is scheduled for February 2nd, and I will have to stay 3 feet away from people for a week, as well as take some precautions not to radiate others. But I will be able to put on bow on it on February 9th and get on with the efforts to get strong and have stamina again.


Back to Regular Programming:

It was a year ago. It was just a regularly scheduled mammogram.

No problem.

Then it was a closer look.

A little worry and dread slowed my steps

Then it was a biopsy and a diagnosis.

Fear walked with me. And death came out of the mist and waited with me for what was next.

Fear has a camp follower:

Shame

The dread made me want to cover it up. Nothing to see here; I can handle this.

It’s embarrassing to have something be WRONG with me. Cover it up, move along.

Maybe if I can fake it, it will go away.
Maybe if I show I am the slow one, the predators will come.

Shame and fear feed on each other. Because I was afraid I tried to hide it. I didn’t talk about the diagnosis until April, when I was headed into surgery. I hoped it would go away

This was live fire coming at me. I wasn’t sure where to turn.

I can see that shame has been with me as well as fear.

I know more about defending against it. Cancer was only one of the enemies.

it is safe out there?

All the chemotherapy—medical poisoning—has come to an end. Radiation is done this week, and although my skin is red and needs to recover I’m looking forward to getting into life without doctor visits.

It’s a good thing because life is coming at me with demands for my attention.  I’m nervous. My mind is clearing up enough to be able to imagine what could go wrong. What if I can’t do it? 

Will I be able to go out in the world again? Can I handle it? My impulse in this change is fear.

But I don’t want to stay hidden. I want to go out into the wide world of adventures again. But I’m scared!

There are a chorus of voices who tell me to watch out. Take it easy!  This was serious. I should act like it. They are loud and nearly constant, like a tinnitus hum.

I don’t want to hear it. I definitely don’t want to give it attention.

What I want it to go out and have adventures and do exciting things. How am I supposed to get past those voices and the scared I feel?

I do feel scared. And those voices are not silent. I can’t get past them.

What am I to do? I am hungry for experiences.

My adventures will have to include the fear. Scared can come on the ride with me. And those voices that say I shouldn’t or can’t will be in the back seat. 

There are some things to be afraid of, for sure. Those voices want me to consider every possible threat. 

Once I start off though, I’m feeling like it is not so threatening. If I can start the fear is quieter.  It doesn’t go away. I’ll have to make room for it because I’m going places. This new year is the phoenix’s rebirth.

Books i read in 2024

  1. brave new world
  2. never finished
  3. magic bleeds
  4. ruby fever
  5. emerald blaze
  6. the bookworm
  7. Broken mate
  8. shattered wolf
  9. warrior fae princess
  10. warrior fae trapped
  11. nstural dual mage
  12. silver moon
  13. fated hearts
  14. zen and the art of motor maintenance
  15. prometheus bound
  16. kilt trip
  17. women of good fortune
  18. the saad book of happiness
  19. magic tides and mAgicclaims
  20. kasher in the Rye
  21. the maidesn NF
  22. shadow city
  23. the boyfriend effect
  24. my brothers roommate
  25. the stud next door
  26. the emerald storm
  27. nyphron rising
  28. avampartha
  29. wintertide
  30. the crown conspiracy
  31. stand up guy
  32. the last days of lilac goodluck
  33. revealed in fire
  34. catch 22
  35. America’s cultural revolution
  36. never finished

imagine the path to victory

The year is spread out against the sky, and I want to put my face among the thousands of heroes that have come before me. I want to leave this safe space and have an adventure.

I am tired of being spread like a patient etherized upon a table. I’m ready to leave the safety of this known safe—safe-ish?—place I’ve been in and go on a quest for adventure.

The desire to conquer a new year is shared, it would seem. Lots of people talk about the new year and how they will achieve new heights. Many minds turn to heroic deeds.

What will it take to conquer new territory? I’m imagining what I’ll do, picturing the finish line and how great it will feel to cross it.

That’s the prize. The victory march.

Heroism isn’t a walk in the garden. If I were flitting from one delight to another, I would be a child and not a hero.


The struggle is a big part of what creates the value. The victory is not as sweet if it were a gift.

A great hero has a powerful enemy. 

Of course, I don’t wish for a struggle. But at the same time, I do want to do hard things and get stronger and more skilled.

That takes striving. That thing I wish I didn’t have to do. Strive with my own weakness to overcome it and turn it into strength. 

Less weakness means I can face the powerful enemies outside myself with better success. I’m going to need to be ready to conquer those enemies when they appear.

I had best start with myself.