China gets broken
And it will never be the same
Boats on the ocean
Find their way back again
I am weaving
Like a drunkard
Like a balloon up in the air
I’m needing a puncture and someone
To point me somewhere
— All lyrics from “Steady On,”
by Shawn Colvin & J. Leventhal
Sometimes I can’t believe it was two years ago today that I created The Accidental Amazon. Creating this blog has been a blessing in so many ways, not the least of which has been you, dear reader, for being there, willing to embark on this journey with me. The act of writing may be solitary, but ultimately, once it finds a reader, it becomes an act of communion, a prayer, a plea, a laugh, or a sorrow that resonates in the sharing. Each and every reader brings herself to whatever she reads, owning it for herself, and thereby expanding it beyond its original boundaries. It may start as one lonely star, but as it is read and reread, it becomes an entire cosmos. That magic, the way in which the personal becomes universal, is one of the most reassuring manifestations of our humanity.
I’ve been writing longer than almost anything, except breathing perhaps, and writing for me is a lot like breathing. It’s a way to inhale my life, pluck the oxygen from it, and exhale it out again, transformed. The only other creative thing I’ve done longer than writing is making pictures, first with crayons, and then with everything I could get my hands on. I might be able to live without doing either, but I would probably not be sane, and I would certainly not be who I am. And making pictures for this blog has been another blessing, an opportunity to keep making art, on a different scale perhaps than I made it before cancer, but in ways that have brought me many moments of sheer joy.
One of the other blessings that has come from making this blog is being able to gain perspective. A year ago, when my blog was a year old, I was still desperately clawing my way out of the ditch of fifteen months worth of cancer-related fatigue, hoping I’d turned the corner and could finally begin to clear the considerable detritus that cancer and its treatment had left in its wake, and regain the portions of my life I’d had to set aside. I had a lot of hopes for 2010, and many of them have not been realized. It has, in the first place, taken much, much longer to recover from the fatigue than I could ever have anticipated. It seems to be largely behind me now, but only just. And the odd thing about recovering from fatigue is that it leaves you, well, tired. But I have learned a lot about patience. And because I have the written evidence of this blog, I can reassure myself that there is indeed a difference between the way I feel now and the way I felt a year ago, or two years ago, on the first New Year’s Day after my diagnosis, which was the day I started this blog. And although this passage has unfolded in a slow, frequently agonizing continuum, I know that it is a continuum, and looking back, I can tell the difference between feeling tired and being utterly slammed with fatigue. A year ago, I would not have considered that to be acceptable progress. But acceptance seems to be the overriding lesson of 2010.
It’s like ten miles of a two-lane
On a South Dakota wheat plain
In the middle of a hard rain
A slow boat or a fast train
I’m gonna keep my head on straight
I’m gonna keep my head on straight
I’m gonna keep my head on straight
I have no real resolutions for this new year. For me, making resolutions has always implied the assumption that one has some control over one’s circumstances, enough to predict the future course of one’s life. One of the things I’ve learned from having cancer and enduring its treatment is the futility of predicting the future. It’s not that I don’t believe in setting goals for myself anymore, but I’ve long realized that I can only live in the present. I can bring a great deal to that present, but this past year has taught me, rather harshly, not to quantify what I can bring to it, to appreciate what I am capable of today, and not tear myself apart bemoaning what I can no longer do. It is not a lesson I like particularly — and I don’t have to like it — but it is one I am still having to learn every day, every minute. And it is a lesson that has brought me the opportunity to appreciate the grace to be found in slowing down and to enjoy the peace of ordinary stillness.
When it comes down to it, what choice does any of us have anyway, but to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how quickly or slowly we go? One thing that is for certain is that life changes, and we are going to change with it, even if we don’t know what our destination is. If I can manage, on any given day, to laugh, that’s a good day. If I can manage to listen, really listen, to my patients, I always learn something, and often, I learn how I can better help them. If I can just pay attention and be truly present for another person, that in itself can be an act of immeasurable kindness. If I can slow down enough to listen to myself, I can figure out that I have everything I really need. It’s good to realize that these small things are not so small. They are not mere moments, mere steps along the path. They are the path itself. The rest is window dressing.
Years ago, I finished my undergraduate degree in a special adult degree program. It was a program of independent, interdisciplinary study in which we corresponded with the adviser we had picked out during our two-week on-campus residency, which took place twice a year. The program was ahead of its time, a precursor to today’s online education. We were also allowed to write a substantive article, with bibliography, about a life experience, and submit it in hopes of gaining college credits to apply to our degree. I wrote about my experience working as an administrator to the director of Physicians for Social Responsibility in the early 80’s. I submitted it to the history/political science adviser in the program and was awarded a whole semester’s credit for it. When I went to the campus for my next two-week residency, he sought me out and told me how much he enjoyed my article, how perceptive and interesting my analysis was. I thanked him, saying that really I had only scratched the surface of the topic. “Ah, but, Kathi,” he intoned, “your scratch is better than other people’s swaths.”
I have often thought of his words to me when, as I so often do these days, I feel unequal to the myriad tasks of daily life, when I feel like my best just isn’t cutting it. And when I’m convinced that I haven’t gotten anywhere, I think of his kind approbation, and I look back here, at this blog, and see how far I’ve come, and I’m able to give myself credit for scratching my way a little closer to the light.
I’m gonna keep my head on straight…
Open up the gate
I go straight on, steady on
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