Boxes with Bows
I have a very bad habit of trying to compartmentalize my life. I want everything settled, tied up in a pretty red bow, and organized neatly on the shelf. Running in one box, knitting in another, and cancer in that large box in the corner.
Apparently I do this with my blogs as well.
Rather than be happy with one all-encompassing blog, I periodically feel an overwhelming need to separate things out–kind of like when you don’t want the mashed potatoes touching the green beans on your plate. I felt like my cancer story took over this blog, so I started a new one–and then only wrote one post. And didn’t write anything here. Or on my running blog. And my knitting blog has also been severely neglected.
And that’s not to mention the gardening blog I tried out years ago, or the photography blog. I think I can still remember my husband suggesting that it might be difficult to keep up with all the different blogs . . .
Enough! Mind Margins has always been my home blog, the place where I can write my thoughts and experiences about anything I want. The byline “thoughts on being human” is there for a reason. The fact is, I can’t separate out anything that’s happened to me these past two years into separate little boxes. I think having all those boxes has actually kept me from writing–and I need to write. Running and writing are the best therapies, and God knows I need them both.
I will admit that I also needed this past year to process what I had gone through. Cancer didn’t end when I stopped chemo. In fact, in a way, that was the easy part. All I had to do was get through it. It was my 24 hr a day job for over six months. But once the chemo drugs worked their way out of my body (which took longer than I thought it would), I was left with a lot of what-if’s, whys, and what-nows. More than anything, I’ve spent the past two years learning to live with uncertainty. That’s something I’ve been working on my whole life, and will probably continue to do until the day I die.
Another reason I didn’t write was because I was embarrassed by the attention. You would think someone who shared every gory detail of having cancer, and who shares probably more than she ever should about everything else in her life, would love the attention. After all, no one made me write about any of it. Instead, I felt like a show off. And I have only myself to blame.
(Why did I never think of writing an anonymous blog??? Problem solved!)
My only intention in sharing so much about what I went through was to help other people who might be going through something similar. I found very few stories from other women who had ovarian cancer, and I felt the need to help someone else. That desire is still stronger than ever–and that’s why I keep writing about cancer. Life does go on, but it will never be the same again. And that big box in the corner, the one labeled Cancer? It’s getting smaller and smaller as the months go by.
Hitting the publish button is a scary thing. I cringe every single time I post something. The thoughts in my head range from Why would anyone care what I have to say to I sound like a complete idiot. Ultimately, I write for myself. I always have, since the day I first put my stubby pencil to a Big Chief pad. I write because I have to.
So I’m raising the white flag and calling a truce between me and my blogs. I’ll probably shut a few down. If surviving cancer has taught me anything, it’s to keep things as simple as possible, and to get rid of the stuff that’s not important.
Time to clean out some boxes.
(photo courtesy of petercui [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
This is What Happens When Cancer Takes Over Your Blog
Top searches that brought people to my blog this month:
– i’m 63 will i definitely lose my hair during chemotherapy?
– golytely not working kids
– i did my golytely prep but it feels like something is stuck
– chemo day 14
Well, I have only myself to blame.
It’s been awhile. I’ve been busy. Very busy. So busy I pretty much stopped writing for six months.
Let’s just say, life is good. Very good.
Last year was an incredible year. I got married, was in the best shape of my life, had just come back from a vacation in Utah (one of my top three places on earth) with my son and his girlfriend, and had enough finished knitted items to toy seriously with the idea of starting my own little business.
And then at the end of May I went to the ER. And quickly discovered I had cancer. Ovarian cancer.
I won’t go into detail about that year. I wrote extensively about the experience here on Mind Margins. After surgery and chemo, I was declared cancer-free by December 2013.
It was an incredible experience. I am so lucky to have caught it early and to have survived. Two friends I made during that time, and the majority of women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year (all years, in fact), weren’t so lucky.
Looking back at this past year post-cancer, I suppose I went through a modified version of the stages of grief. During treatment I was nothing but positive. I never, ever thought I wouldn’t survive. Post-chemo, however, was another story. Looking back on what I had gone through, and survived, I initially felt scared. I thought a lot about dying. That turned to anger. Then sadness. Then just plain depression. It didn’t last long, but these past few months I needed a break from all things cancer.
And every time I sat down to write, my fingers wanted to write about having cancer. My brain didn’t.
So I did everything but write–which means I got a lot of knitting done. I started running again. I spent a lot of time just sitting and thinking about what had happened and the things I learned from it. I put things in perspective and reorganized my life. My husband and I finally went on our honeymoon.
I grew my hair back.
And I knit. I knit a lot, sometimes for hours and hours. These past six months have been filled with family and love, appreciation for life, and learning to pick up where I left off. It sounds trite, but things that used to seem so important really aren’t anymore. When little things get to me now, it’s easier to see how unimportant they are. I don’t brood for days over them, like before.
I know how short life is, and how every moment is a choice. Either we embrace what we’re given and move forward, or we stay stagnant in resentments and feelings of injustice.
Relationships are important. Being kind is important. Never forgetting how short life can be is really important.
Though I haven’t been writing, I’ve been reading. I may not have commented on my friends’ blogs, but I have been keeping up.
I’m running again, and am up to 10 miles. I’m slower than I was before, but that’s okay. My oncologist says I’ve inspired her to run, and we’ve run two 5K’s together, both of them benefiting cancer. I even have my future daughter-in-law running with me. I’m also doing strength training and eating much healthier than before. Except for some residual chemo brain fog, I feel great. I’m not the same person I was before, and that’s a good thing.
I’ve learned a lot from cancer, but it’s time to release its hold on my blog. Here’s to more writing, more questions, and more thoughts on being human.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who liked and left comments on my last post. No one was more surprised than me to get the email that it was going to be Freshly Pressed. I am so honored to have been featured there, and even more humbled to see my little icon amongst such great blogs. You guys really kept me busy replying to all your lovely comments, and I look forward to checking out everyone’s blogs. It may take me awhile, but I can’t wait to see all the great writing and photography that’s out there.
Thanks also to those of you who signed up to follow Mind Margins. What a daunting task I have ahead of me to make it worth your while to continue reading and visiting. I especially look forward to discovering your own blogs and reading what you have to tell the world.
Most of all, a special thanks to those of you who’ve been reading my blog for the past year, which is when I really got serious about writing and keeping up with the posts. It took me awhile to slog through the changes and find my niche, from Walls with Doors, to chasing now, to Mind Margins, but you guys were patient with me! You are my blogging family, and I appreciate all the time you put into keeping up with my take on the world.
You guys rock!
Baby, You Were Born to Be Something
A couple of weeks ago I experienced some problems with procrastination and motivation, especially in the area of writing. It happens fairly often and tends to coincide with a random change in routine (like being out of town for a week). For inspiration, I downloaded the book The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, by Steven Pressfield. It’s a short, easy read on fighting Resistance.
I’m terrible about trying to get everything done in my day before sitting down to write. I like to save the best for last. Of course I never get everything done that I want to, and writing usually pays the price. And to be honest, there are many days when I question putting so much time and effort into writing posts that are sometimes very personal and that very few people actually read. Writing takes a lot out of a person, and sometimes I question why I spend so much time doing it.
I remind myself that Vincent van Gogh never sold a painting his entire life either, except to his brother, Theo. Obviously, he wasn’t doing it for the money.
So I turned to a book to help me out of my slump.
As these things often happen, the last part of the book synchronized with a post I had recently written on being who we are, as opposed to who we are meant to be.
We’re not born with unlimited choices.
We can’t be anything we want to be.
We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.
Um, I’m not so sure about that. Mostly, I just don’t believe in a “specific, personal destiny.” I don’t believe there’s that one, true thing everyone was meant to BE, kind of like I don’t believe in that one, true soul mate. He continues:
Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.
If we were born to paint, it’s our job to become a painter.
If we were born to raise and nurture children, it’s our job to become a mother.
If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.
Well, maybe I do agree with that.
I have two children. Both kids came into this world with distinct personalities, interests, and talents. Each have their individual strengths and weaknesses. One is very artistic and creative, the other very logical and mechanical minded. I could not have molded them to be otherwise. They were literally born that way.
Ironically, the creative one became a geologist. Her saving grace: she makes sure there’s enough time in her life for artistic, creative endeavors after work to be happy.
Getting my other child to read anything other than maps, cross-sections, or Tin Tin–and that’s if I could coerce him away from his Legos or video games–was like pulling him from the jaws of a grizzly bear. He now builds wind turbines and couldn’t be happier. And he still doesn’t really like to read.
(Remember, I’m a teacher. Having a child who hated to read was tough.)
In twenty years of teaching, some children’s natural talents were like billboards in the classroom. I’ll never forget third grade Madai and her incredible artistic talent. She made beautiful drawings in class (she was constantly drawing), and was also emotionally mature beyond her years. When I read a picture book aloud to the class about Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio as a child to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics in 1960, I looked up to see tears streaming down Madai’s face. She was absolutely born to be an artist. She felt everything so deeply.
I can honestly say that if she does anything other than something artistic, it will be a terrible shame for herself and the world. She was born to create art.
Other children were fantastic athletes, eloquent speakers, and gifted mathematicians. Most students didn’t display their talents as brightly as a select, dominant few. I was often surprised–and relieved–when the music teacher would tell me one of my academically struggling students was musically gifted. I suspect many quiet students had talents they chose to keep hidden after years of testing and being forced to conform in the classroom.
For me, I’ve always loved to write. From the time of my first lock-and-key five-year diary to journals in high school, to English Lit papers in college to this blog, writing is a natural love. I suspect almost everyone feels the need to express themselves in some manner, and for me writing always met that need.
I never had enough confidence or courage to make it a career, or never made enough time after earning a living to do something with it. I don’t feel like I’ve disappointed myself, or haven’t lived up to my potential, however, because the desire to write is not going to suddenly disappear.
It’s just there, like breathing. It always was and always will be. And as long as I respect the urge to write, and keep writing–even if it’s junk–I’m being true to myself and the person I was “meant to be.”
It might not pay the bills, but it will keep me happy.
Perhaps life is nothing more than figuring out what you were born to do (which to me is the same thing as figuring out who you were meant to be), even if you never make a penny doing it. You may put in the hours at a lackluster job to pay for the groceries and that great vacation you’ve been saving for, but hopefully there’s something else, something meaningful, that makes you feel like a whole person.
Make it your job to make it happen. Life is too short not to.
Creating Beauty for No Particular Reason
In keeping with my latest goal of creating beauty, I’m finishing up a wrap I started knitting during the Christmas season. The wool was ridiculously expensive, but I couldn’t resist the colors.
Sometimes spending a lot of money on something beautiful is worth it.
I originally bought the yarn for two pillows I wanted to knit for the sofa, but I decided those colors were meant to be worn and draped around someone’s shoulders.
I’m not sure if I’ll keep the wrap for myself, sell it, or give it away. It doesn’t really matter what I decide to do with it. It’s all about creating beauty.
Have you noticed, like me, that there isn’t enough beauty in our man-made world? When I look around the city where I live, I see a lot of generic sameness. I acknowledge that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but it seems too often today that if something doesn’t have a strictly utilitarian purpose it has no value.
I disagree wholeheartedly.
I love poetry. When I’m in the right mood, I love to curl up with my favorite poems and swim in the words. Reading poetry is such a visceral, emotional experience. Certain opera arias have the same effect and can bring me to tears.
The last time I took the train I noticed that poems had been posted on the walls. I loved it, and read the poem on the wall above me over and over.
What a great way to get to work, reading a poem instead of an advertisement. I loved that someone had the idea to post the poems, something that seems so frivolous, yet beautiful.
Children understand the need to create something beautiful. There were always certain kids in my classes who couldn’t stop themselves from constantly doodling, sketching, writing, folding, and making. It wasn’t boredom. Boredom is spitballs, talking, falling asleep, and knocking your book on the floor on purpose.
This was making and doing just because you can’t help yourself.
I understand those kids because I used to be just like them, only I usually saved it for the privacy of my bedroom where no one could see me. I generally like to keep my creative projects to myself, maybe because showing them to the world is showing a little too much of yourself.
Nothing exposes you more than poetry. I used to write a lot more, but rarely showed my work to anyone. Even if it’s unclear who or what the poem is about, you can’t hide the emotion, and showing others your deepest feelings in a poem is like standing naked in a snowstorm.
Knitting something is a little less gut wrenching and transparent. For some reason, I feel almost guilty when I take time to knit during the day. I feel the same way about reading a book. Maybe it comes from all those years of teaching and feeling like I had to stay “busy” every second of the day, but knitting doesn’t feel like real work.
And perhaps that’s the whole point of creating beauty, that it shouldn’t feel like work, that there shouldn’t be any point to it, other than bringing something beautiful to life.
My Writing Life: From Big Chief to Computer
I’m old enough to remember the days before computers. Anything I wrote was by hand. Nowadays the only time I ever pick up a pen is to add something to the grocery list. I’m guess I’m old school that way.
My writing life started with a little five year diary with a lock and two keys I got for Christmas one year. Each January 1st, while watching the Macy’s Day Parade on TV, I’d record the time and temperature and a New Year’s Resolution. The rest of the pages may have been sparsely written on, but January 1st had an entry for all five years in a row. The little five year diary had entries such as “Played Monopoly with Cindy and WON!!!!!” (I always had to win), or “Sick. Stayed home from school. YEAH!!!!!” Life was pretty simple back then.
When I got a little older I upgraded to a Big Chief tablet. On trips to visit my grandparents in Oklahoma, my Big Chief was always waiting for me. I know you could buy them anywhere, but Oklahomans are especially proud of their Indian heritage. I never took it home with me back to Texas–it would have seemed out of place. My grandmother always kept it on the top of the shelf in her kitchen. I loved spending hours rereading plays, poems, and silly things I’d written from past trips. I would sit on the front porch in the big wooden rocking chair, look up at the huge tree that dropped leaves shaped like helicopter wings, and write informational plays about saving the environment.Yes, I was granola even then.
I ran across the Walton’s Thanksgiving special on TV over the holidays, and of course John Boy, ever the diarist, was writing it all down in a Big Chief tablet. No wonder I always had the biggest crush on him . . .
And I always wondered what happened to my Big Chief tablet.
When I got to be a teenager I kept writing, but I moved on to spiral notebooks. They were certainly cooler than the five year diary. I had volumes and volumes of spirals. Each page was covered in frantic writing, front and back. When it was full, nothing was better than picking out a new spiral at Skillerns. The color had to be just right, and the paper and lines had to be worthy of being written on. Yes, I was a big dork. Life was tough for a skinny, uncool, late blooming, Save the Whales and Earth Shoes kind of girl, even in the late 70’s.
After I graduated from high school I spent one lonely Saturday night rereading them all. I was disgusted and aghast at the realization that I had wasted that much energy anguishing over boys and the unfairness of life. I promptly drove to a dumpster at the apartment complex nearest to my house and threw them all in. Every single one. I’ve never regretted it. It was like hitting the reset button.
Somehow I made it through college as an English major with only an IBM Selectric typewriter. Every revised paper I wrote had to be retyped, page after page–and I revise a lot when I write. Typos meant sticking a little tab of white correction paper over the mistake, hoping it would cover it up, and hoping your fingers wouldn’t slip off the keys. I thought I had died and gone to heaven when they invented a self-correcting typing ribbon, but you could still see the mistake.
After a year of college, I worked as a secretary in Switzerland for a company that made turbine generators for nuclear power plants. After all those years of being a closet hippie, and after Three Mile Island, I had an unsettling feeling I was working for the enemy. They needed my English and my typing skills, though, and it had great benefits. Also, I got to work on both a telex machine and a real computer, an IBM Office System 6.
The telex was terrifying. The keys had huge spaces between them and my fingers were always slipping off the keys. Every letter you typed made little holes on a long piece of tape, so if you made a mistake you had to start all over again. Horrors. After you finished you took the tape to a room filled with women who fed the tape into machines that sent the encoded message somewhere else. The machines were loud and obnoxious.
The IBM OS-6 was a behemoth. It had its very own room. Everything was saved on huge floppy disks that were labeled and cataloged. We even had some type of ancient transfer system between my computer and the one in the New Jersey office. I would pull up the written proposal on my computer, call the States late in the afternoon, hit a button, and three times out of 10 it would be received on the New Jersey OS-6. At least parts of it would be received. Sometimes.
We’ve come a long way. I can’t imagine going back to the days of writing twenty page English papers without a memory mechanism. Writing is so much easier with memory. And I’ve always had the worst handwriting.
As much as I loved my Big Chief, I love my computer way more.