Happy Valentine’s During an Apocalypse! And More Disturbing Things: AWP Disability, Politics, V-Day Bronchitis, and Fighting For the Right Mindset
Hey kids! Does it feel like the apocalypse yet? How do I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day today? How about a poem, “Post-Apocalypse Postcard (with Love Note,)” from Field Guide to the End of the World?
My playlist today? “We Found Love (in a Hopeless Place)” by Rihanna. “Love Love Love” by Avalanche City. “Wish That You Were Here” by Florence & the Machine. I recommend you play all three while reading this post!
Struggling with Mindset, Mid-February
I’m feeling a little down lately. Partly because I am really sick again, this time with pretty bad bronchitis and a sinus thing, and it’s hard to be cheerful when you’re sick. Partly because 1. I missed AWP (by the way, if you picked up either Field Guide to the End of the World or The Robot Scientist’s Daughter at AWP and post a picture for me, I’d be really grateful and mail you some swag if you want!) and 2. I heard from so many friends with disabilities that this AWP did a terrible job with accessibility (a disability caucus that required stairs? Non-accessible Accessibility Desk? Power doors that didn’t work? A lukewarm response to these problems from those in charge?) and that makes me very nervous about attending in the future, as I am mildly disabled due to those pesky neural lesions I sometimes talk about. (Sandra Beasley has a more encompassing post about this issue here.) It’s just a reminder that some things should change, but don’t. Speaking of that…
Then, you know, politics has invaded my dreams. I have actual nightmares about it almost every night. A person in charge of national security stepped down today because of possible treasonous dealings with Russia,and Trump blithely does his nuclear strategy talks in front of tourists at Mar-a-Lago. This President and his dirty team are sure unfun to watch, and I am ashamed of the Congressional Republicans unwilling to do anything about it. I used to be proud of my country. Now I feel less so, and this does not make me happy. Meanwhile, a dam actually burst in northern CA yesterday, a literal symbol of our country’s crumbling infrastructure (don’t worry, I’m sure a ton of stuff built in the sixties and seventies is in great shape! But a lot maybe isn’t! Including a lot of important stuff, like nuclear waste storage. Concrete fails after a certain amount of time…)
I also lost a beloved Uncle this week, and won’t be able to travel for the funeral – it’s on the East Coast and I’ve been given strict orders for some bedrest til I’m better so this bronchitis doesn’t turn to pneumonia again, as it did last September. He was really a lovely guy and his wife, my Aunt Charlotte, is one of my favorite people. I’m very sorry not to be there for them right now.
So I’m struggling to keep up a cheerful mindset on today, this pink-tinged holiday. I’m also attempting to write two articles, working on the edits of PR for Poets book draft that’s going way more slowly than I was hoping, and worrying that Field Guide to the End of the World isn’t selling well enough or I’m not doing enough for it because I’ve been sick pretty much the entire winter or that it hasn’t gotten enough reviews. (By the way, if you’re interested in reviewing, even just on Amazon, please let me know! PDFs are available!)
As far as writing, I’ve been writing up a storm, it seems – that day of the superbowl, I put together a first draft of my sixth poetry manuscript, and was surprised to find 50 pages there. The poems are pretty stark – cancer, of course, and death are pretty consistent themes, since those are pretty much what I was thinking about for the last year. I remember, too, it was last February around this time Glenn took me to the ER for what turned out to be food poisoning but could have been appendicitis, and then the scans turned up the liver tumors that were diagnosed then and there as terminal metastasized cancer. I got an MRA (a kind of specialized MRI) for my brain lesions last week and am awaiting more blood work for cancer markers this week (or whenever I’m up to a trip to the lab!) This kind of thing does not, just FYI, make you feel better or more cheerful. Spending a lot of time in medical offices lately – always a recipe for less cheerfulness. I tell people that having chronic health issues is a full-time job, and I am not kidding – it literally takes all the energy, time, planning, intellectual and social skills that a job does.
Meanwhile, Glenn is making a fancy Valentine’s dinner for us tonight (despite the fact that I can only sort of taste food right now) and my kitten Sylvia is snuggling fluffy by my side in bed. When I get better I’ll get to planting some blueberries and roses now that the snow (!) has melted and the weather has gotten back to somewhat normal temperatures for this time of year. I have things to be thankful for. But I’ll admit to struggling a bit with mindset and keeping a mind that isn’t filled with catastrophe. I try not to watch the news – I literally absorb too much of it without even trying, on Facebook and Twitter, and when I glance at BBC’s site each morning. “I can’t fix everything, I can’t even fix myself” says my internal voice. I try to do things that feel like they might have a positive effect on the world, on the people around me. Maybe right now that’s the best I can do: rest, restore, do what I can. So here’s wishing you Love in a Hopeless Place this Valentine’s Day. (Thanks Rihanna!)
Snow Days, AWP madness – tips for surviving AWP and surviving NOT going to AWP, TAB literary journal. and More
I’m writing to you from snowy – yes, snowy Seattle!
It’s AWP week and that means madness for many writers! I’m missing this year’s conference, but since this is the first AWP appearance for my latest book…here’s where to find it!
Field Guide to the End of the World at Moon City Press at AWP – 125-T
And my previous book from Mayapple Press:
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter will be at the SPD/CLMP table at 616/618
Tips for Surviving and Thriving at AWP:
DC is an amazing beautiful city, so I hope you guys will enjoy the city and enjoy hanging out with each other in the scramble. My tips include: leaving the conference at least once to check out DC’s amazing museums (most of them free!), shops, and restaurants. Also, drink more water than you think you need to. Pack for emergencies (extra medications, cold/stomach meds, maybe one of those instant ice packs) and leave space for packing books (unless you plan to ship them home – if you carry USPS priority boxes with you, with the printed out labels of your home/office, you can ship books straight back from the hotel instead of lugging them.) Extra lip balm. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous – if you get invited out with great writers, go! Go to the party you happen to be invited to. Take a break if you need to (and I know a lot of us introvert/extrovert writer types need breaks to stay sane!) Don’t schedule out too much stuff, so you can have room for the surprises. Remember you have a responsibility to tell all of us who weren’t able to go all the best anecdotes when you get back!
Sandra Beasley has some good tips for you if you’re attending the DC AWP here.
I received the beautiful, design-intensive contributor’s copy of the literary journal TAB, edited by Dr. Anna Leahy (which you can also pick up at AWP!) I have two poems in one of the smaller booklets – and there are multiple booklets in this issue. Here’s what a sample page looks like, to give you an idea of the intense design elements of this journal:
Tips for Surviving NOT Going to AWP
I always like to have tips for people not attending AWP so they don’t feel like they’re entirely missing out. Of course you can follow #awp17 on Twitter or your friends on Facebook who are attending. But don’t sit around wistfully following social media. Here are some ways to build up your literary, community, wherever you are:
–Subscribe to a literary journal that’s new to you and read Poets & Writers or The Writer’s Chronicle all the way through.
–Go to your local bookstore with a decent poetry section and pick up a book just because you like the cover. Bonus points if it’s from a publisher you haven’t heard of yet. I’m planning a visit to our local poetry-only bookstore, Open Books, to get my new book fix.
–Go to a reading. Call a literary friend on the phone or arrange to get coffee. Actual physical interaction for writers can be a wonderful thing! (I was lucky enough to get together with a couple of writer friends over the last week or so, and it was immeasurably cheering!)
–Be a little bit more of a literary activist than usual. It’s easy to get stuck in our routines, but dedicate some extra time this week. Write, submit, research, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads or for a literary magazine, and network. Write an enthusiastic e-mail to a writer you admire but have never met. Many of us could be WAY more active in our literary worlds than we are, and make a difference.
And just remember: you can practice eating too little, drinking too much and getting sleep deprived right in the comfort of your own home. and see how it affects your writing 😉 Seriously though, keep up your writing and submitting while you’re missing the big conference. You will feel more accomplished at the end of three days!
Thanks to Diode for publishing three of my poems in their excellent and apocalypse-tinged 10th Anniversary Issue. You’ll find great poets in the issue, including lots of my friends, so be sure to check out the whole thing!
Many items in the news today made me think about how we survive. How we humans have survived genocide, wars, mass shootings, nuclear accidents, dictators, plagues, and we will also survive the Ugly Man and his reign of idiocy and bigotry. America will survive. But it made me think that this thing, America, is partly made of us, so we must all do what we can do make it the best place possible, to not wipe out hopes for immigrants, or the downtrodden, or the poor. That we must reach out to others as much as possible. That we must participate in the political system, or the political system will make short work of us. It’s a grim time, I think, one that will go down in history as dark and hostile, adding the Ugly Man to the list of Presidents who committed terrible atrocities – like how FDR turned away the Jewish refugees during the Holocaust – including Anne Frank and family, who were denied refugee status – because of the claim that Jewish people were spies for the Germans, or how he also locked up innocent Japanese citizens in camps. or how Andrew Jackson mass murdered the original occupants of America. But when bad things happen in America – when a bad, stupid man runs the country without anyone stopping him – it takes ordinary human beings, like us, standing up and demanding justice. It’s hard to stay involved. I mean, protests are great, but writing and calling your Senators is great too, maybe more important, donating money to good charitable causes – environmental and women’s causes spring to mind, but there are many more that the Ugly Man will make important – and being sure to vote when you can vote. These are difficult times. But we can still make a difference, so don’t give up.
And here are some nature photos from this last bleak week of January in the Seattle area – a sunrise and a creek with a windmill.
With that in mind, here’s a little poem for the day from Field Guide to the End of the World, “Lessons in Emergency,” which first appeared in The Atticus Review.
Thanks to Fiction Southeast who published my flash fiction piece, “Post-Apocalypse Postcard from an Appalachian Chalet.”
AWP is coming! I’m not able to attend in DC this year, but if you are, keep an eye out for Moon City Press/Moon City Review’s table (they will have copies of Field Guide to the End of the World for sale) and for Mayapple Press who will be carrying copies of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. I’ll be with you all in spirit! It’s a weird time for a trip to DC in some ways, isn’t it? This is the first time in some years I’ve called Senators offices and spoke to people in the different departments of my own government. Which is something important to remember – this is still OUR government. We still have a voice, and we have to insist on making it heard. We can still vote people in and out in two years. Are you going to AWP this year? If so, what are you looking forward to? Are you going to do anything political while you’re there? Besides politics, DC has lovely museums (many of which are free!) and parks, great restaurants, although the mood these days may be gloomier than it was when I lived nearby in Northern VA in the old Clinton days. Try to get away from the conference for a bit. There are waterfalls and horse-friendly mountains not that far from the city, and Georgetown and Dupont Circle are (I hope) still fun to browse around and check out. Busboys & Poets is a famous DC hangout for the literary-minded.
I just read an interesting book on writers and money called Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, with essays from Jonathon Franzen, Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, and a bunch of others. Not many poets in the collection, of course (what would we talk about in terms of money, I wonder?) It’s interesting to learn how people put together a living, or conversely, blow through 100K advances. (Those essays sort of made me grind my teeth.) Unsurprisingly, the most inspiring essay was by Roxane Gay, but they all had something to learn from.
I’m still not completely well, and the weather’s been colder than usual, which I’m sure has affected my outlook. Or maybe it’s just all the apocalyptic news we’ve had so far this year. January in the NW can have its own beauties – the sudden brief sunshine, the deer and rabbits (nibbling at my carefully planted tulips!), the flashes of bird wings, but mostly it’s a grey and gloomy time. I hope you guys will bring me all the good news from AWP when you get back!
A Political Poem for the Day up at Nice Cage, Field Guide on the Bram Stoker Preliminary Ballot, Alternative Viewing Suggestions, and Gratuitous Kitten Pictures
It’s a rough day for a lot of us, so I’m starting out with gratuitous pictures of cute kittens and a family of deer, both courtesy of my “cheering myself up while I’m home sick” photography yesterday. Notice the kitten cheerfully ensconced on my pillow with my box of tissues at her feet; the mother deer was giving her two babies a bath in the rain when I took this picture.
A Little Good News and a Political Poem :
I mentioned in a previous post that I rarely write political poetry. But this is the day for it if there ever was. The Future/Tense issue of Nice Cage went up today, and with it three of my poems, including “Failure, 2016,” which specifically calls out a few ways 2016 really sucked, mentions the election, and kind of ends on a hopeful note.
In positive news, the Horror Writers Association Preliminary Ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards went live today, and Field Guide to the End of the World was on the list for poetry books. If you’re an HWA member and want to read Field Guide to the End of the World (and possibly vote for it,) contact me at jeannine dot gailey at live dot com.
Alternative Viewing Suggestions for a Few Laughs on Inauguration Day:
For at least a little laugh today, you may want to watch the very prescient episode of 90’s animated The Critic, in which the main character is hired to be a speechwriter for a Trump-esque Southern Billionaire named Duke. (Here it is on YouTube.)
Another recommendation is the Futurama episode, “A Head in the Polls,” in which an evil robotic Nixon runs for President of Earth. Available on Netflix.
On another, more serious note: Thank you to those who are doing things to make the world better, who are reaching out to help the less fortunate, who are buying poetry books and art. Who are creating messages of hope. Thank you to those who refuse the ugly man’s messages of bigotry, sexism, and hate. We will be safe as long as we all stand together. I hope.
We live in uncertain times. I can’t stop writing about the end of the world. Or maybe I choose not to. In some ways, biologically speaking, I’m forced to live with uncertainty. Will I die from the 14 tumors in my liver, or not? I could die from something completely different, but I have to go get blood drawn to check for tumor markers and get a scan done every six months to find out. It seems, at almost a whole year since I was told last February I had six months to live due to metastasized cancer, they still don’t really know what’s going to happen. But I guess I’m okay, because certainty in this case is worse than uncertainty.
In uncertain times, is it okay to go ahead and keep thinking about poetry, about goals at all? While sneaky politicians repeal the ACA in the middle of the night, while Russia’s interference with our election, blackmailing our next President, I mean, all the things that could literally mess up our real everyday lives? Some of my friends are reading today at a Writers Resist protest. (I’m still staying mostly indoors, with this nasty long-lasting flu.) In the face of depressing daily news, in the face of health setbacks or personal setbacks, it’s tough to continue. But perhaps these days our need to write and publish is greater than ever.
So, let’s talk about our writing goals for 2017.
I got a pretty little Fitbit-type thing for Christmas that counts my steps, tracks my sleep, and allows you to program in the goals of your choice. I made it a goal to write something 3 times a week, and it’s so satisfying when I get my little “goal achieved” celebration on my phone app! It doesn’t have to be a great something, it just has to be something. And you know what? I’ve been writing more, despite being so sick I couldn’t get out of bed or read a magazine for a week! So, I recommend a version to this to anyone – give yourself a weekly writing goal. If you don’t hit it one week, don’t beat yourself up, but try to do a little more the next. I’ve been trying to submit a little more too. This type of goal is tricky, because not everyone has the same drive to publish, and publishing is really out of our hands. But maybe encouraging yourself to put your work out in the work a little more than you have been – if you’ve been submitting once a month, try two; if you’ve been submitting once a week, try submitting to more challenging markets. (And I just received my copy of Poet’s Market 2017: The Most Trusted Guide for Publishing Poetry, which I always think is a great way to inspire and start the new year – I love reading the hard copy about markets, about how to submit, etc! And I have three articles in the book this year! 🙂
Speaking of writing and uncertainty, I’m so excited to be part of this upcoming conference in March, “Bodies of Work: The Human Body in Various Forms,” from University of Southern Mississippi, where Beth Ann Fennelly will be the keynote speaker (she’s fantastic!) and I’ll be Skyping in as a featured speaker. http://egousm.wixsite.com/conference/speakers They’re still taking papers (http://egousm.wixsite.com/conference/call-for-papers) and applications, so check it out! This is a subject close to my heart – and I hope some of you with “different” bodies – that don’t always feel heard in a world that values perfection and health over all – will send something in!
But, does it make a difference? Does it make any sense to read and write poetry right now? What does poetry really do for anyone, anyway? Well, did it make sense for Martin Luther King Jr to get arrested for standing up for civil rights, or for Jesus to go around telling Pharisees they were wrong? I mean, logic can only get you so far. I guess a lot of us artist-types are idealistic. I’m probably more cynical than most of my artist friends, but still, I believe there is some good to be achieved in lifting your voice in protest, in making space for art in a world increasingly hostile to learning, books, art, etc. In gathering with friends, in volunteering, in celebrating good things in the world. If the last year has taught me anything, it’s that life is short and the time you devote to – whatever – better be worth it. So, I continue to write poetry, review poetry, and try to publish, without really knowing if it makes the world a better place, if it makes anyone think about things in a different way, if it builds empathy. I hope it does.
First, I’m a bit behind on things, but thanks to Unnerving Magazine and Stephanie M. Wytovich for including Field Guide to the End of the World on their “Read This!” List at the beginning of the year: http://www.unnervingmagazine.com/single-post/2017/01/03/Read-This-With-Author-of-The-Eighth-Stephanie-M-Wytovich
How’s your 2017 been so far? I’ve been mostly in bed with a really nasty flu since January 1, which means I haven’t gotten much done except 1. discovered the clever comedy “People of Earth,” like The X-Files (the main character is both skeptic and experiencer of alien abduction) but funny, and 2. experimented with many, many soups of various kinds (since that was all I could swallow for about four days!) I think our favorite soup discovery was how easy it was to make a delicious from-scratch mushroom soup (just saute a little bit of cubed fennel, carrot, and potato, because they take a while to soften, then brown a mess of mushrooms in a skillet, then toss all together with a bunch of broth or even water, cook a little bit, delicious! Glenn added a little Greek yogurt to make his creamy – I took mine brothy and straight.) I also haven’t slept the night since the new year started – not something I recommend. Like, an hour of sleep a night for six nights is not enough. Plus I haven’t had a voice AND I haven’t even been with it enough to read, write, etc. Drag! Not how I was hoping the year would start.
Now, if you read my poetry much, you know I don’t often write explicitly political poetry, but I’m very proud to have yes, a political poem coming out in the “Inauguration Day” issue of Nice Cage. Look for it on, yep, inauguration day, when the issue goes live, a day a lot of us will probably need to read some poetry. The poem is called “Failure, 2016,” and I’m pretty proud of it.
But the good news is I was actually well enough to go out on New Year’s Eve, so Glenn and I glammed up and took advantage of living in the middle of many swanky wine places by going out to a party with live music. It was romantic and fun – and it was nice to remember that I have legs (it’s been super cold, so it’s been a steady diet of pants and boots for me) and how handsome Glenn looks when he dresses up! Hey, after 22 years of marriage, you have to take advantage of romantic occasions when you can! (Especially since he was going to be seeing me all disheveled and sniffling in pjs for the next six days!)
Here’s hoping the rest of the year gets better from here, for you and for me! Next time I’ll talk about 2017 writing and publishing goals!
Happy New Year’s Eve-Eve to you! A nice pre-New-Year’s Gift: thanks to Serena and Savvy Verse and Wit for putting Field Guide to the End of the World on their “Best of 2016” list! And I’m sharing the “best of” poetry slot with my friend Jessica Piazza. Go check it out!
In the last few days, I’ve been sick with some evil things that involves chills and fever among other exciting elements, but this has given me time to play catch-up.
In that time I:
–judged a poetry contest
–read over two manuscripts and wrote two blurbs
–wrote a poem or two
–sent out a handful of submissions, including two for solicitations
–read a book of essays that had been on my “to-read” pile for six months or more. (Megan Stielstra’s Once I Was Cool. It was good!)
–Contemplated the evils of all that 2016 has offered/considered how to prepare for 2017, or, as I call it, the apocalypse year. Making a playlist was of course part of this preparation. Inside the playlist: Avalanche City, Florence and the Machine’s “Wish That You Were Here,” some other stuff. After two years straight of listening to “apocalypse” playlists, I tried to make it a bit more upbeat.
I wish I could say I was feeling upbeat. But honestly, I’m so knocked out by the deaths of so many of my childhood icons – and George Michael and Carrie Fisher were among my top-rated in my teen years – and by the political climate and everything else I’ve been dealing with (health stuff) I’m barely keeping my head above water. Then, the New York Times declared today that “feminism had failed.” Hey, fellas, it’s not like my right to vote and own property were taken away! It’s just, feminism is a long and arduous fight. I mean, 200 years ago our great-grandmothers were being taken to jail to get the right to vote. So, now we don’t have to drag our husbands with us to open a bank account. It’s progress. I mean, I wish the man becoming president wasn’t a proud sexual assaulter, and I wish there was equal pay for equal work, and a woman running for president wasn’t continually assaulted for her clothes and hair and voice and husband’s actions etc, but hey! It’s not like “feminism has failed.” It’s just that we have to keep fighting the good fight.
Instead of New Year’s resolutions, destined to fail, I like to make New Year’s wishes. I like to eat grapes and black-eyed peas and greens (I’m probably culturally confusing my traditions, but all are supposed to lead to good luck in the new year…and maybe noodles are part of this too?) and celebrate and if I’m able, go out to see sparkly fireworks wearing a sparkly dress. This upcoming year will hopefully be less traumatic than 2016. I try to think positive (even if I’m not necessarily feeling upbeat!) So here are my non-resolution wishes/goals/celebrations:
–I’m going to devote more time and energy to my health (um, being given six months to live will shift your perspectives on this stuff – see all my posts since Feb 2016 for more on this)
–Spend more time writing
–Prioritize having more fun.
Those are my goals – not punitive, but celebratory! I give you all permission to decide to celebrate the good things in your life in 2017 rather than trying to “fix” all the things are broken. It turns out, feeling happy about those good things – your health, your friends and family, your art, your pets and garden, whatever gives you joy – might turn out to be a lot more important than ten pounds or an organized closet!
Happy Boxing Day! A blog post on Light and Dark up at North American Review’s blog, Aimee and The Millions, and celebrating holiday brightness
Happy Boxing Day! I hope you all had a good holiday! We had Christmas dinner last night (Glenn’s Christmas tamales, duck, endive salad, cranberry meringue pie, you know, the usual 😉 with my little brother and his wife, went out to see the Woodinville Wonderland house (an insane but fun amount of lights with things like Santa on motorcycles and polar bears next to mangers…) I have been battling one virus or another since Thanksgiving it seems, but was happy to have a little respite to celebrate. Ended the night by watching an MST3K episode in which giant grasshoppers destroyed Chicago. Sometimes a little silliness and apocalypse is exactly what you need to sleep.
Below are some pictures that celebrate the light – Christmas boats, Winter Wonderlands, Santa-cap kittens and typewriter ornaments, these are a few of my favorite things.
Happy to have a blog post up at North American Review on the importance of balancing darkness and light, in our lives as well as our writing – that I wrote before getting the news in my previous blog post. 2016 has been pretty difficult about a lot of things, but it has given me the gift of perspective. Go check it out! 🙂
I was also very thankful that Field Guide to the End of the World was included in Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s A Year in Reading list on The Millions! Thanks Aimee!
Congrats to Melanie Teabird who won the tote challenge earlier this month! We mailed it out today so hope you’ll receive it soon!
I hope you all are finding a way to celebrate the light during the darkest time of year. Now let’s celebrate like Icelanders and curl up with a book and some chocolate. Wishing you all a wonderful New Year!
A few years ago I started writing the book that became Field Guide to the End of the World – poems about coming to grips not just with death, but the end of all the things that we’ve become accustomed to – civilization, running water, grocery stores, telephone systems, mail.
Back in February of this year, I was diagnosed (surprise!) after finding 14 tumors in my liver – with metastatic cancer. This is NOT the kind of thing you want as a surprise diagnosis. I was told that I probably had six months to live. I made the decision to put off a dangerous and possibly life-threatening liver biopsy and go to AWP instead. When I got back, I took myself to a bunch of specialists who thought maybe I didn’t have cancer after all, just a bunch of benign tumors that might rupture, or turn into cancer. Then I was found to have a super high tumor marker for a rare slow-moving cancer called carcinoid (or neuroendocrine tumors) which also matched a lot of my symptoms, and I got a diagnosis for that. It was official, on all my charts and medical records and everything. My book came out and I immediately caught pneumonia. This meant I had to postpone the chemo I was supposed to start in September.
While I was too sick to get chemo, I visited some endocrinologists (multiple) encouraged me to be cautious and wait to get more tests and scans before I did. I started getting ‘cancer insurance’ offers in my mailbox. As I tried to trade in a six-month life expectancy for one that looked closer to a couple of years, I made some changes in my life. We bought a home. I adopted a kitten (almost always a good choice.) I said no to lots and lots of things that I was asked to do. I tried to reduce my stress levels, exercise, eat better, take medicines that doctors recommended for my symptom control, and try to enjoy life and avoid things that made life worse for me. I bought a piece of art that brightens my day every time I look at it. I reconnected with old friends, told people I loved them. Tried to make hard choices about how to spend my remaining time. I thought to myself “I probably don’t have time to write another book of poetry.” That last thing made me pretty sad. I spent a lot more time outdoors. I smelled every flower I could. I planted lavender in my new front yard, and when I did that, I didn’t know if I’d live to see it bloom next summer.
So now it’s winter, I’m still here, and besides the unexplained hives/stomach problems and the more banal flu sessions, I mostly feel…fine! And here’s my latest news…I just met with the head of a liver center to go over my latest MRI, a scan of my abdomen that indicated the tumors hadn’t grown, changed, or spread, which in cancer language is pretty positive news, with a “wait and watch” message from the liver specialist for now. It’s questionable now – though I have to wait for some more tumor marker tests to know for sure – if carcinoid syndrome is even my correct diagnosis. So it’s goodish news from my end of the world – I just wanted to let everyone who’s been on this journey with me know this – what I think of “as good as you get with 14 tumors in your liver” – update. Though I manage to walk a balance daily between skeptically pessimistic and cautiously optimistic, as I feel pretty battered in terms of my emotions and my overall perception of my health. Yeah, I mean, sure, in the last twenty years, I’d learned to manage – having been born with one kidney, having a primary immune deficiency, messed up joints, unexplained neural lesions (still under investigation) and a heritable bleeding disorder, among other weirdness – all of which put you on a precarious tightrope of “any little thing COULD kill you at any time” that I had pretty much lived with by ignoring and wearing one of those medical-jewelry bracelets – but the cancer thing this year has probably been the most eye-opening world-spinner I’ve encountered.
If it’s the end of your world, weird things take on more significance, and other things take on less. You feel less inclined to put up with bullshit of any kind, and more inclined to put things that satisfy your inner self – in my case, books, art, animals, nature, and inspiring people – on your priority list. You notice who loves you and who makes the effort, and who doesn’t. I also found to my surprise that I was not super unhappy or anxious in terms of my life – I mean, I didn’t really have much of a bucket list left, which means I’ve either really lost my ambition or I’ve accomplished the things that were important to me to accomplish.
And notice – I still post on Twitter, and Facebook, and on this blog. I still read the news, which FYI, has seemed to be a non-stop crapfest during the whole of 2016 – environmental, personal, political, you name it – and try to participate in the world, even as I might be teetering as if it were ending, at least for me. I still write poems, even if they may not ever make it into a book. What does the end of the world really mean? Who or what would you regret saying goodbye to, and who or what could you lose without any regret? What makes you laugh? What makes you feel like you connect to a larger purpose? For me, I’ve learned to say no, to admit more weakness and be more honest, to really enthusiastically enjoy the things that I can while I can. I’ve learned that even staring at the end, you can still capitalize on each moment of meaning, pleasure, love, poetry, sunshine, hummingbird wings. You can learn that the world’s spinning is so beautiful because at any moment it might stop.