Just back from the Skagit River Poetry Festival up in La Conner, Washington, where I got to see tons of poet friends and visit the quaint town. Some wonderful featured readers, including Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Natalie Diaz and Naomi Shahib Nye. The best part of this thing is just seeing so many of your friends all in one place, which happens so rarely. (Sometimes just at AWP!) Even my local friends kind of live all over the place, so it’s hard to get us all together – except at events like this. Sadly, the town that just three weeks ago was covered in tulips was almost flower-free this time around! Saw lots of goldfinches and several bald eagles and herons up close, which made up for it.
Trying to get back into the swing of things – including editing the Dwarf Stars Awards with Lesley Wheeler, writing poems, sending out work and getting things ready for the next book’s launch. I’m just taking it a little at a time right now, as I have doc’s appointments for the next two weeks almost every day – holdover from things the last three months cancer-scare crisis, like “how do we treat those rare liver tumors now?” and “what about your brain lesions” and such. I’m just trying to balance things the best I can for now. The iris are blooming near the rivers, in the Japanese garden, the water lilies are blooming. It seems much later in the season, flower-rise, than the date would indicate. Our lilacs and wisteria are already gone. Baby bunnies are appearing in the grass at the parks, and ducklings in the ponds. Despite our recent chilly rain, late spring has arrived, and summer is around the corner…
I’ve been trying to process all my news, including the fact that (yay!) I don’t most likely have metastatic cancer (this, according to a conference of liver tumor specialists including radiologists and hematologists and oncologists) which is good! But I do have a bunch of irregular and rare kinds of liver tumors which they are calling adenomatosis – basically a rare/irregular presentation of an already rare kind of tumor. The bad news is they want to keep monitoring them every three months – because they can burst or turn into cancer sometimes – and they want me off the medication that’s been controlling my rare bleeding disorder for the last twenty years. Yikes! On top of that, I’m investigating (again) more stuff about the brain lesions, because of the new one that looks like it could be one of several bad things, so, more radiation second and third readings and second opinions from neurologists are ahead. Can’t I ever be just average or anything? I was joking with my friends that I’ve become “the most interesting woman in the world” – but only medically speaking. (My liver specialist said they did my case first at the conference, because it was so interesting and difficult!)
So, in the meantime, I’m once again trying to manage and balance all the health stuff with an ACTUAL life, like, writing and friends and doing things other than sitting in doctor’s offices and getting tests. It’s been unseasonably warm here in the Northwest, so, even though I would never wear shorts after 40, yes, I gave in and bought three pair. I’ve been out walking through parks and the woods almost very single day, and so far so good on the ankles and tripping/falling issues. I’m trying to get my strength back after back-to-back ankle injuries earlier this year. I’ve been eating tons of fresh veggies and fruits (cherries on the side of the road!) and bringing home flowers every week. This whole health crisis has made me even more aware of the necessity of being good to your body as much as possible.
And everywhere there are signs of spring – in the deep woods the trillium, ducklings along the Sammamish river, baby bunnies, yellow iris along the waterfront and our quarterly pilgrimage to Snoqualmie Falls and Ollalie State Park. It’s a reminder – life goes on, nature is ruffling itself with blossoms. It’s hard to be depressed with so much sunshine!
Now I want – despite upcoming doctor’s appointments, stresses, and even more tests – to move myself out of crisis mode and into writer mode again. I haven’t been writing or sending out as much as I usually do this whole year so far, and of course we’re still looking for a house in our insane East Side/Seattle market (record high prices! record low inventory! record..sigh.) I’m ready for my next chapters, with the whole “dying of cancer” scenario off the table, at least temporarily. (Everything is temporary, you remind yourself. Often.)
I’d love to know how you have moved yourself out of a tough time back into your regular creative routines. I know there’s an adjustment period, a kind of getting back into not just a “normalized” state of mind, but I want to start to look forward again, instead of having a fear that you shouldn’t even plan for a future that might not come true.
Thought I’d post a little update since my last post, though sadly I don’t have as much definite news as I’d like at this point. I also want to report on a pretty terrible week with a bright side – my birthday!
Yes, the day of the test came and went, the tests themselves weren’t super fun but no crazy reactions, and pretty much the two days straight afterwards, I was tense, waiting for reports, then doctors to give me insight into reports. I was getting about twenty messages from different specialists a day for a couple of days in a row. They gave me tentative diagnoses, made plans, then other test results came in, and then they decided to scrap their plans and diagnoses. So for now, I’m still waiting, until an “Interdisciplinary Board” reviews all my results on May 11. It is a stressful process. I didn’t have an anaphylactic reaction to the test itself, which the docs were worried about – so that’s good, right?
Anyway, I didn’t plan much for my birthday because I didn’t know what state of mind I’d be in, which turned out to allow me to do multiple fun things. Glenn went out in the morning and got me flowers (peonies! In April!) and made brunch, then we went down to the Seattle Japanese Garden where I ran into an old friend and great poet, Kathleen Flenniken, and got to admire the beautiful wisteria, which smelled exactly the way it looked. After a quick walk around the park, we drove down to Seattle’s International District and the very cool Wing Luke Museum, where Michael Schmeltzer was launching his first full-length book, Blood Song (and my friend Natasha Moni was reading), and got to say hi to Annette and Kelli from Two Sylvias as well as other poets I don’t get to see as often as I like. Natasha and I got to go to the famous tea house at the Panama Hotel down the street and catch up. It was far better than sitting at home listening to sad music and crying (which, um, was probably what I would have done if my husband hadn’t encouraged me to go and get out of the house) – I’ve been having nightmares about cobras and radiation (nothing to do with those scary medical tests, I’m sure) and basically thinking about all the BAD stuff the doctors have been presenting to me as options.
I was thinking about the mythical curse of the cyclops. The cyclopses (cyclopses? cyclopsi?) were super angry, mostly because they were cursed with knowing the exact time and circumstances of their deaths. You know, you never actually want to know the way you’re gonna die. Let it be a surprise, you know? The more info I get about my weird malfunctioning human self, the more I want to be an android, or at least a slightly more ignorant human, who didn’t have the information.
Anyway, I’m determined to look forward, not sit around chewing my nails until I have all the answers. I want to focus on the positive – the blooms around us appearing and fading (hello and goodbye, cherry blossoms! lilacs!), my upcoming poetry book, sending out and writing new poems. Saying hello to my 43rd year, saying goodbye to April and National Poetry Month and hopefully less time in hospital rooms and specialists’ offices. Focusing on each day and embracing the good things around me.
PS: Check out my entry on Orion Magazine’s Poetry in the Wild feature on Tumblr here.
Hi all! Survived the latest round of medical testing (no results yet) and came home from the hospital to a flurry of literary news!
First of all, you can now pre-order my latest book, Field Guide to the End of the World, from Moon City Press (and distributed through University of Arkansas Press.) It’s also on Amazon already, squeee!
The other news was that the finalists for the 2016 Montaigne Medal have been publicly announced and The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is on the list, along with poet-friend Maggie Smith’s latest book. It’s nice to have poetry books in a list of finalists for a prize on “thought-provoking books” of any genre.
The third is to keep an eye on Orion’s social media feed this week for a post from me on their visual series “Poetry in the Wild,” curated by their poetry editor Aimee Nezhukumatathil.
Part of how I survive so many medical tests is a plan to have good things going on right before (also, the doctors wisely gave me a generous portion this time of pre-medications to prevent any allergic reactions – good work, doctors!) A few days before the test, we had an early birthday celebration with my little brother and his wife, which was a lot of fun, and Glenn took me to an Aimee Mann/Billy Collins concert down in Tacoma’s beautiful antique Pantages theatre.
Here’s a picture of Aimee laughing at Billy Collins’ reading and check out this little bit of video of Aimee turning one of Billy Collins’ poems into a melancholy breakup tune:
If Billy Collins and Aimee Mann can’t cheer you up, I don’t know what will!
I’ve had to get used, lately, whether I like it or not, to living in the liminal spaces – in other words, the in-between. We have sold our house, but haven’t yet found a new one (lost the 18th or 19th bid – I’m starting to forget how many we’ve lost in this crazy market.) I’m turning 43 at the end of the month, a month which has gone mad with flowers – cherry trees, iris, dogwood, rhododendrons, azaleas and lilacs all blooming at the same time – and with heat – three days above 85 out here in the supposedly chilly and damp Pacific Northwest has made us all wilt a bit, even the sunlovers. And I’m getting another (hopefully definitive but slightly dangerous) test next week, a couple of days before my birthday, that hopefully will give us more answers in the mysterious world of the scary health stuff. I am trying not to talk as much about the cancer scare going on, but I notice when I don’t talk about it when I’m awake, it shows up when I’m asleep. I literally had a dream in which I spoke the line “I can’t do that, I might have cancer” – an unspoken background in my mind right now that’s leading me to only making tentative future plans, because…well, we don’t know yet.
Except I AM thinking of the future in a positive way – visiting the Skagit River Poetry Festival in May, making our annual pilgrimage this summer up to Port Townsend, even thinking about AWP 2019 in Portland. I’m thinking of my book launch in September, at least a little, already (Where would it be fun to read this time? Should we have a party?)
But I notice I’m pickier about what I commit to. I’m quicker to throw down a book if it tries my patience, if I’m not really enjoying it. I’m conserving my energies each week for one outing that’s good for my spirits – a visit to Open Books to talk poetry, or down to the Japanese gardens to watch the different trees and shrubs open up to bloom.
I spend more time photographing light and color, especially birds and flowers.
I’m making small efforts to be healthy, too – eating the most beautiful produce in the stores – asparagus, strawberries and blueberries, new lettuces. I’ve been making a tremendously delicious soup out of barely-cooked fresh peas, fennel, and a little honey and salt thrown together and immersion-blended into a bright green shot of spring flavor and eating (drinking) it almost every night with dinner. (So different than the dim brownish split-pea soups of our seventies childhoods.) I’m reading old poetry books I loved in the past at night, finding the poems I loved the most when I first started writing.
Is this how you live within limits, within a space where your end goal is no longer clearly defined? You throw yourself into the things that make you feel the most alive, not just happy, but the most “you.” What would you miss if everything were going to be taken away? That’s what I’m trying to hold onto right now.