Thursday, May 30, 2013

Who Am I?

I came out of St. Marks Market today, with a bagel in one hand and coffee in the other.  I crossed to the south sidewalk and passed a group of punkish-looking fellows.  One of them wore a black hood with the eyes cut out, and was eyeing my approach eagerly.  I was fully aware that I was about to have an interesting story to tell.

Sure enough, the man began walking backwards, gesturing wildly.  "I am famous for chopping off people's heads in the 1800's," he yelled, excitedly.  "What is my name!?"  I felt like it was a riddle straight out of a video game.  If I got the right answer, I thought, maybe he'd give me a special sword because it's dangerous to go alone.  My first inkling was actually to stop in my tracks and respond to the inaccuracies of his riddle.  "Well, actually buddy, you're a few centuries off," I would start, proceeding to launch into a chronological analysis of the tradition of western capital punishment.  It took a lot of willpower, but I simply mumbled "executioner," and went on with my day.  

This could be a fun story about how I view life in the city, and the availability of bizarre and thought-provoking material at every turn.  In a way, I think it is.  For me though, I operate upon the connections I forge during daily life, and this called upon an idea I'd had for some time.  It made me think right away about death, of course.  And how everyone is basically very cool with the idea, in the abstract.  When it has a face, and is a symbol, and categorized.  Here's a man with a hood, inaccurately riddling people in the streets to get his jollies.  He represents an idea, and as long as it remains within certain social confines, most people will probably not think twice about it.  Maybe one or two people he solicits will be uncomfortable and leave with a bad taste in their mouths, but for the most part, I imagine a lot of folks will be thoroughly entertained by the man's shenanigans.  

What is it about death that makes it so easy to deal with as a clear symbol, something brutally and often inaccurately portrayed in mainstream culture?  And what is it about death that makes it so easy to symbolize, so easy to make into a caricature and focal point of such intense negativity?  Death is a man in a black hood. That's good -- this man is a symbol and an automatic enemy.  Death can be a disease.  Even better -- you can fight a disease, engage in a battle, and come out triumphant.  It's often easier to fight a disease as a concept than a man in a black hood as a concept.  Because an executioner is state-sanctioned, and he's still a person, and we can identify with aspects of his nature.  We absolutely cannot identify with a disease, a ruthless and unflinching organism or state of malfunction within our own bodies, that has no personification, and simply doesn't care, because it doesn't think or reason, and it has no sympathy, and is not state-sanctioned, or sanctioned by any force that human beings can readily comprehend.  As a symbol, it can be broken down into polarizing and unrealistic interpretations and handled more clearly.  

Because it's easier to make a symbolic fight out of something than to face the full extent of its terror.  Cancer is very much a symbolic battle these days, much to the chagrin of anyone diagnosed with the disease.  We are not fighting a symbolic enemy, but attempting to survive with a condition that doesn't have motives.  That's a paralyzingly scary thought.  Death is a scary concept to most of us, and I firmly believe in Irvin Yalom's existential psychology -- I believe the man is 100% accurate in his conclusion that the highest motivating factor in anyone's life is the conscious or unconscious anxiety spawning from the fact that someday life will end.  I don't know that it isn't okay to create symbols that serve as focal points for certain emotions and fears, but it does seem a bit juvenile after my own experience with the real facts of death and dying.  

It's possible that there's a way to bridge the gap.  I believe the bridge will be built firmly from education and genuine awareness.  Self-analysis is of huge importance in matters relating to such extreme finality.  It's very difficult to be comfortable with thoughts that you believe by extension will threaten your very existence.  But if these thoughts allow you to improve your circumstances and that of others going forward, then it might be time to deal with your fears, because not doing so would be selfish.  It's okay to be afraid.  It's not okay to create limitations revolving around your fears that prevent you from dealing with reality, and force others to go along with that.  Soon there will have to be a real conversation about the ethics of death and dying.  I feel fortunate that I was raised by a family that was abnormally comfortable with the subject, due to the fact that my mother is a hospice social worker.  I've been addressing the idea in one way or another my whole life, mostly in an analytic and observational way, and then suddenly in a very practical way.  I feel that it's important to assemble the collective powers on this one, and find the sense of duty possessed by those of us who have faced the issue in a practical way.  We hold certain keys that can succeed in opening doors that are sealed with the utmost apprehension.  There's so much wisdom and hope that comes arm-in-arm with facing these issues in a practical way, and that needs to be expanded upon and shared.  It's a top priority of mine to find a way to do this that will succeed, and will benefit the baseline happiness and self-awareness of the human condition for generations to come.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Wilderness Within

Sometimes you need the wilderness, other times you need to emerge from it.

I have been wandering around with such an awful resolve and sense of purpose for so long, that embracing new realities is something I'm very exited about, but it's also something scary.  Until recently, I have been braced against horrible things, and that's been my normal mode of operation.  Since 2011, there was a constant struggle in my heart and mind to return to the way things used to be; I struggled for a sense of normalcy, that slice of contentment we dream of obtaining and take for granted when we find it.  Recently, I picked up my trembling hands and I shook the sky, the covering that held in my self-limiting reality, and I took back my sense of ownership over my life.  From that sprung several things for which I can be thankful, and potentially much more.  Part of it was luck, and part of it was my decision to stop living like I had been, constantly subjugated and controlled by my developed fears and weaknesses, paralyzed by my dwindling hopes for the future and anything I'd once considered a possible outcome in my life.

I'm not sure what my message is this time.  Because I'm not sure what I'm taking from this just yet.  I think I'm starting to understand the miraculous people in the world who live through terrible things and yet still remain fully equipped to lead a fulfilling life, filled with joy and love.  Although I fundamentally needed the time I took to commit to pursuits related to my diagnosis and treatment, and solidify my plans for the foreseeable future, and I'm extremely proud of what I accomplished during that time, all of it served a particular purpose during a particular period.  The hardest part of that is letting it fuse naturally into the fibers of my heart, so that it mingles with my soul and so that I will always remember.  And then being able to let it go.  So that I retain control of myself and my direction, as opposed to following a prescribed direction based on my circumstances.  I am writing my own prescriptions now.  Certain people help, and certain events, too, but the signature at the bottom is my own.  I could fail, or be forcefully torn from my direction once again, but I refuse to let negativity define how I forge on.

I hope that everyone is as lucky as I am.  And that you all experience the revelation that you're the only qualified guide to the wilderness within you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Return

Every setback is minor
Unless you're dead
Check out that depth
My words cut deep, like a deep-cutting thing
This is my attempt at writing free-form poetry
About the events of the last few days
I think it's a bit unreasonable to assume this will go well
That would be crazy
So I've given up already

Here I am, back in the city, feeling at this point like I've never left.  Although, there are new undertones, some of experience and perspective, others of urgency and love.  I now see the city through the filter I'd always wanted to have.  That can only get better over time.  That isn't true, but I hope that it does get better.

I've finally injected myself into the survivor community, and while that's wonderful and I very much needed it, it serves as a flashback to memories that I'd much rather forget.  But I know I can't forget.  I have met wonderful people recently, people who make me feel welcome and understood.  But that "understanding" comes at the cost of gazing into the dark cloud surrounding all of us.

I'm terrified that I've gotten to a point in my life where I'm happier to be "normal" again than I am to pursue the goals I set for myself after my diagnosis.  The desperation I once felt had been fading for a long while, until just now, when I hung out with these fellow survivors who made me remember what it was I promised I'd never forget.  Even writing these posts reflects that -- I don't feel the same vulnerable honesty coming through in my words, and instead there's a natural tendency geared toward avoidance that's doing the rounds in my mind, sweeping aside any painful thought.  But those painful thoughts are necessary to process, for the life that I'm committed to lead.  And right now I'm feeling very uncertain about how my mindset will take shape in the future, and afraid that I'll lose something that's been so important to me, even if that something is very negative.  Should you let go of negativity?  Even if it's a driving force in your life?  I think it's better to incorporate its lessons, and move forward as a more complete person.  And that is my hope for myself.

I wonder if any of this is actually readable.  I'll sum up.  Letting happiness define the future, as opposed to what I'd been doing, is troubling right now.  Because I had forged ahead using certain tools for so long, that were made completely out of the emotions revolving around so much negativity.  And now I have to mingle the two, and hope I can craft an emotional cocktail that plays well with my soul.

If you've had a similar experience, I'd like to hear from you.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Do you have any happy endings?"

So, Astral Imperium And Other Stories is out, and available on Amazon.  It was a great relief to get that published, and now I can focus my energy on getting the memoir ready for print.  But, of course, my family is reading the collection and quoting the whole thing back to me on a daily basis at this point.  Which is... disturbing.  Not that I don't like my own work -- I think it's great and I'm certainly proud of it.  But sometimes you need to distance yourself from something you've worked so hard on, in order to regain perspective.

My mother asked me today why none of my stories had happy endings.  I'd honestly never thought about it, until now.  "Do any of your stories have happy endings?" she asked.

"Uh..." I was stumped.  I tried to run through the checklist in my head... "No... no... well, umm... not quite?  Then, umm... maybe?  Probably not though... And I guess not.  Hmm... definitely no, there... Oh man."  So it's a dark collection, even in its lighter moments.  But that was sort of the point, I feel -- getting the darkness out of my head and onto the page.  Writing involves at least a partial transmutation of the psyche, and I think I've definitely accomplished that with this collection.  It represents the period of darkness in which I wrote it.  All of this is entirely possible.  It's also possible that I am a sick, sick individual who will never ever write a story with a happy ending.

But why should endings need to be happy?  Life isn't happy, exactly.  We go through it drearily, for the most part, grasping at moments.  These moments could be perceived happiness, or they could be fairy tale certainties, but in general we stumble around in pursuit of them, while ignoring where our pursuits are actually leading us.  More often than not, the greatest things in life are the ones we stumble onto while pursuing something else.  And it takes guts to reach out and grab the thing before it leaves you, stumbling toward the next great thing you might miss.  The stories that I like the best, and the ones I like to write, mirror that pursuit, and amplify the flaws in the collective character of the human race.  That innate search for something powerful that distracts us from what's actually important.

If that sort of thing interests you, you just might enjoy the stories I've written -- the ones that apparently don't have happy endings.  That isn't true exactly... I think some of the endings, although they can't be called "happy" exactly, are possibly hopeful, or reflective, or maybe even refreshing.  But some of them are indeed -- simply not happy.

You can find a description of the book on the Find My Books tab of my website, and follow the "Buy It" button to purchase it on Amazon.  Or, follow the link on the sidebar of this blog.

And if you think one of the endings is actually more happy than not, please let me know, and I will throw it in my mother's face.  I'm kidding, I'd never do that (Yes I would, but she reads this blog so let's pretend).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Free Life

"I was supposed to die, and I just didn't.  And it kinda felt like I had a free life, an extra life."
        - Bukowski

I watched a documentary about Charles Bukowski recently.  I've always been interested in the man's words.  Although tortured and hard-earned, his views and expressions are primal, unrelenting, and pure.  He exhibits a fascinating reality, one that is unfamiliar to me in most regards, which probably accounts for my fascination.  However, I did not expect to hear him say those words, and it opened up an entirely new perspective on his life.

Because this is how I feel.  So I understand more fully where he came from now.  Obviously, this is one chunk of the man's personality, and while I identify with certain aspects of his character, I don't claim to understand the rest.  I, too, should have died, and I didn't.

There is no cure for what I have.

Typing those words is one of the hardest things I've ever done.  I literally had to take a minute to brace myself.  What else could possibly be worth worrying about?  Well, turns out, a lot of things.  Because we are not as isolated as we would like to think.  Those pesky people, all of the rest of them that live here with us -- they always get in the way of our plans.  No matter how hard we try, with our five-year plans and our ten-year plans, there are always things that derail us.  Organic, living, loving things.

For a long time I thought I was alone.  A very, very long time.  I had resigned myself to several things, none of which I'm ready to publicly admit.  But there is a strange power in hardening your resolve, and preparing yourself for a certain future that you have planned for, absurdly, without any thought as to how easily you might be swayed from it.  The reason this power is strange, is because it isn't real.  Because you don't have any power over your future.  It will happen 100% without you, if it has to.  Ride with it, or deny yourself the experience.  But there is no in-between.

My point was that worst of these concerns, the ones that cause us the most grief, are for the first life.  The free life is for remembering how absurd it is to obsess over these things, and to let yourself be caught up in the winds of fate, and taken wherever you will yourself to go, and some places that you don't.  Some people never have cause to own their free life.  Others go back and forth between the two.  For my own life, I hope there's a balance to be found between the two; between caring about the day-to-day, and remembering how superfluous most things are.  There is no question that I must remember the wisdom I etched into my heart the day I was diagnosed.  But as much as I'd like to have my effervescent transformation solidify and hold for the rest of my days, I'm only human, and the wisdom of the free life fades.

I'd like to delve deeper into the free life and what it means to me at another time.  For now, though, I believe 2 a.m. is threatening to swallow me whole and resurrect me into another day.