Well, I can tell you that her talent doesn’t come from her formal education. She dropped out of that as soon as she could, so she didn’t have many people telling her what she couldn’t do or say, and trying to squeeze her onto some shape she couldn’t fit in, which she wouldn’t have done anyway — but her going her own way saved everyone a lot of hassle. But she was a voracious reader, and a discerning one. And she was always happily juiced up. She would have been outrageous if she weren’t so good natured. That’s what gets her through the tough ones like this. She’s a lot like her mother, come to think of it. As one of my sons said, “I’m not sure I could even be a fraction of that upbeat, but that’s her and I’m me.”

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Grief and Gratitude

I am, shockingly, a member of a church. Old time religion.
 I say shocking because it seems so out of fashion among the people I hang out with. Most of my friends look serious and say something like "Oh , I'm spiritual, not religious", or "My religion was such bullshit when I was growing up that I rejected it and went out and shot heroin," something along those lines. I have more than a few friends who insist that we are here, and then gone, that our existence is nothing but an accident of cells banging together.

It's a choice we are each allowed to make, and since I'm too lazy to organize a whole church with its own songs and literature etc., for myself, I stick to the one I was raised in.
 I am aware of the mistakes and atrocities that have been, are being, made in the name of religion. I can't help you there. All I know is that in a situation like mine, I gotta have a Something to depend on. A Big Giant Something. I find comfort in the things I recognize from childhood, no matter where they may be found, so my reasons are neither holy or pure. Going to church reminds me of the days when my sister and I wore matching hats at Easter Time.

As far as my big Something goes, I don't treat him very well. I just want him to get me through this cancer. Period.
 Example: I am alive through a series of miracles, medical and otherwise. Right now my blood is cheerfully coursing through veins ( and so forth, you know how I am about anatomical language ) that once were running down my arm, my arm is being supplied by blood that once was running through my groin area. What's happening in my groin I don't know, perhaps the doctors thought it it was no longer a big deal to me, but whatever it is, it's working.
For two days after surgery, someone came in every other hour with a miniature doppler machine, much more powerful than a stethoscope, and gently ran it over the area of the skin graft. With it, both the nurse and I could hear the sound of the ocean, which was actually the sound of blood running through the successfully connected veins. Can you imagine? I gotta tell you, for me, it was hard not to feel a Big Giant Something at work there.

 However, and this is just between you and me and the internet. I hate my fucking life. I can't do the things I love to do, so what am I doing here? If I was talking to you, I would sound like one of those awful teenagers who has been watching too much of  the reality show in which the subject always receives a BMW as the high note of her sixteenth birthday party. The party is invariably on a yacht or in a circus tent, and starts with a day of professional hair and make up and mani/pedis for everyone she knows. Then there's the party with a celebrity band, and then she gets the BMW.  Can you hear her if she received the keys to a nice sensible Prius instead?
 " Oh gee, thanks a lot. What am I supposed to do with this? It's a Prius. All my friends have Land Rovers." 
  That's me.

I know how that sounds. Ungrateful. It sounds that way because it feels that way. I told you, I hate my fucking life. What? Are you surprised? Shocked? Do you want it?  My tongue hurts every minute of the day and I talk like I have my mouth full of rocks, and if I did,they would be falling down my shirt. Want it? Yeah, that's what I thought. And by the way, what is my Big Giant Something up to in the first place.

But I have a sign on my wall, where I post important sayings that immediately become invisible, that says "Smile. You don't own all the problems in the world"
I once read ( or heard, or possibly just decided ) that a human does not have the ability to conceive of a God larger than their relationship with their parents. Time has taught me how much more capable and interesting and loving and sometimes freakishly misguided my parents were. But on the subject of their ability to run the universe and count the hairs on my head and know when a sparrow has fallen out of a tree and whatnot, I'm quite clear. It would be a stretch. So that means  I have to have a bigger God than I am able to think of. Give that some thought. I can only meditate on it for a few minutes before it gets too big for me. I interpret it as meaning that if whatever I'm imagining isn't big enough. I gotta believe that God is bigger. That's where it gets outside my limits. I know that my having cancer is not a failure of thinking the right thoughts or having the right God, and I know that if I close my eyes and thing about wonderful things, Disney style, everything will be okay. Nope, it's just something that is outside the limits of my ability to conceive. So instead, I'm going to keep my eyes open.

In West Virginia, I rented a private tub for thirty minutes, filled with the spring water for which the resort is famous, heated to one hundred and four degrees and filled up with magic potions.The room, also completely private, was made of cedar , floor, walls, ceiling, and had a window in the far end that looked out on the sky. The tub was big enough to walk around in, and there was a shower in case you got too hot, and stacks of fat, soft, towels that made you hate the ones you have at home. It was lolling around in that tub and looking out the window, that blue sky, the clouds, the tops of spruce trees that really got me going down this sort of mystical trail. Life is hard for me right now, but there's still that window.

photo courtesy of Annie Campbell
     Perhaps I am too impatient. Less than five months ago there was a moment when I was attached to the feeding tube. The feeding tube was also supplying my hydration, as I was not allowed to get my mouth wet at all. My arm was in the cast. I hadn't had any kind of a drink of water in nine days.
The home nurse on duty that day suddenly brought a stool over, and an assortment of supplies. She sat down in front of me and, one q-tip at a time, one tooth at a time, scrubbed them. She did the same with the inside of my mouth, using tongue depressors wrapped in gauze and a spray bottle of disenfectant. That was the first time that even that much moisture had been allowed in my mouth, and when she got it clean, oh, I heard that choir of angels, let me tell you

And now I am writing to you about having the same kind of moment in a spa tub in West Virginia. Bruno always points out when I cry about spilling food while I eat that at least it's not coming out of the side of my neck.

Listen it sucks, it really does.I have more treatments, more doctors,more medicine,more blood tests, more trips in and out of the city, a giant sucking hole in my bank account and the best case scenario includes a lifetime of looking over my shoulder.That's me getting the keys to the Prius.

I gotta keep my eyes open though. The difference between rejoicing because someone brushed your teeth with a q-tip and rejoicing because you're in looking at clouds float by from a private tub in the mountains...well, what will come next? I get that it's going to come along with chemo, like a fab party favor with a terrible meal.I get that I may not have ordered it, because I've never even seen the menu it will come from.

Maybe it will be a Mercedes.


  1. HI Elliott :) -- Loved your old blog; this one? Inspired, humbled, encouraged and awed by your wit, writing and courage. We met a few times, but I'm sure you don't remember me, and that's ok. I wish you well, I wish you better and I wish I'd known you better. S.

  2. Hi Elliott. You don't know me other than some email correspondence years ago when we were thinking about living in Mexico for a while. I appreciated you then, and I appreciate you even more now. Those aren't rocks falling from your mouth--they are diamonds. OK, so they're flowing off of your keyboarding fingertips, but I imagine you speaking it as well. What you share here is thought provoking, funny, heartbreaking, motivating, scary as hell, and inspiring. We may never have met, but I know you are one strong woman, bravely sharing a hideous journey punctuated by amazing moments. So keep on. Don't give up. We silent readers are pulling for you and yes, as cheesy as it may sound, sending love and blessings your way. I figure that still fits into whatever church you choose. Take care and thank you.