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As always, I’m going to put my disclaimer here. My cancer isn’t your cancer. My experience isn’t yours, or hers, or theirs, and this isn’t definitive or about anyone but me. I’m speaking for Kate only, here. I have full, total respect for every person’s approach to their difficult shit, cancer or otherwise, and respect for people dealing with it secondhand however they have to, which might actually be harder.

So this is about me. Me, alone.

*

I’m just not that adversarial about it.

Cancer came on pretty quietly in my case.  It wasn’t a TV-movie, camera-ready kind of cancer and now that it’s all more or less over I wonder if my experience “counts,” in much the same way I used to second guess my abuse, like if TV movie things didn’t happen, then maybe the experience wasn’t real, somehow.

But I think that’s a fallacy, a dangerous one.

*

Look, I had that lump for years. Thyroid cancer is wicked slow growing and I’d wondered and dithered, and finally my doc said “you know, normally I wouldn’t be so worried, but you play hockey. And if someone who plays hockey tells me something is wrong, then maybe they’re dying or something.”

She was Russian, and both of her sons play hockey in Russia. She knew a lot of the Massachusetts players, including Orr.

I got a couple of scans. A lump or two showed up as being the wrong size, the wrong temperature. It was probably nothing. Everyone said it. And then I got a biopsy, which showed up as “well, maybe. Sort of. Maybe not. But probably.”

Which is more or less what my doctor told me over the phone, and added that to be safe, best to have the thyroid out. “Or maybe just half,” she said.

*

I’m not saying there wasn’t anger. There was definitely anger. The day I got the phone call I was at work and I went back into the employee lounge and shut the door and took every cheap paperback off the bookshelf in there, and hurled it as hard as I could into the opposite wall.

Under the anger, though?

Mostly stark terror.

And I guess that’s part of what I don’t like about it, it’s sort of this sense of snarling and yapping into the wind, “FUCK YOU CANCER,” like it’s somehow going to suddenly roll over in a ball and piss itself and be all “oh, shit, my bad, never mind, sorry,” and disappear. If somehow we just puff up and make Big Cat and convince it we’re scary enough, like it’s some big TV bully in an alley.

But it’s not. Really. It’s a thing, not a person, and like it or not it was part of me, probably for a long time.

The anger was fear, in my case. I didn’t want the surgery. I didn’t want the diagnosis. I didn’t want to die.

It wasn’t anything valiant. Or ferocious.

In fact, I didn’t feel valiant or ferocious at any point in the process. It was a shitty, painful, terrifying thing and the first time I felt even remotely strong or okay or human again was when Ron did the only right thing and red-jerseyed me and let me get on the ice again, with a stern admonition to the others to give me a wide berth and to me, to not have my head fall off, please, while I was out there.

I think I still had a couple dozen staples in my neck at that point. I looked like some crazy kid’s movie, Hockey Frankenstein.

*

I guess too that… said to me, about cancer, “fuck cancer!” feels almost dismissive.

“So I was seeing this guy and he broke up with me,”

“Fuck that guy,” you say. And then we change the subject. Because after that, after that conclusive judgment as an answer, what else is there to say?

And maybe there’s something to that. “Forget it and move on.” “Don’t let it affect you.” “I’ve always hated that asshole.”

But there’s… there’s this whole other complicated experience there.

Yes, it sucked. Yes, it’s bad.

But I need and want to acknowledge that the whole process is a complicated one, start to finish, where I didn’t know that I had cancer until after the surgery, when the cold slice was sent to the clinic and it turned out that three tumors on that side were in fact cancer, papillary carcinoma. And… that’s another thing. Every cancer is so very different. Different stories. Different processes. Different ramifications.

My cancer was a couple of scans, a biopsy, a really shitty surgery that went three times as long as it should have, and then I was offered and refused radiation because no one could really give me a straight up reason why radiation was a good idea except “that’s what we always do,” which wasn’t good enough and frankly radiation scared me about as much as the cancer did.

And I didn’t know going in if I had cancer for sure, and what do you say, to people, exactly?  “Please support me because I might sort of probably could might have cancer, I’ll know for sure after it’s all over?” Yeah. No. That happens in no movie or TV show ever. And so I basically told no one and except for my wife and a coworker wound up feeling really isolated and alone.

Fuck… well, which cancer, exactly? Whose?

You know?

*

Finally, this.

After the fact, I wrestle with fear every time I go in for the obligatory scans. I’m down to one a year.

It’s terrifying, still. I hate the process, I hate the way it makes me feel. I hate how out of control the possibility of finding cancer again makes me feel, and who knows, maybe “fuck cancer” helps that, expresses that hate and fear but in my case, it just sounds like more panicked, strident yapping.

Because if it’s there the cancer, it’s part of me. It’s my cells, it came from me. And at some point, I have to both accept and reconcile that. That it’s a thing to be watchful for, it’s a thing to make rational, good decisions about, it’s a thing to embrace now as part of my past and something that’s shaped me.

In profoundly good ways, as well as bad ways.

I’ve become stronger.

I’ve learned to start talking sooner, rather than wait for TV sensibilities, TV, moments.

I’ve learned to draw people out to talk about it, not to shut them down with platitudes. But to ask… hey. What was your experience? How did it change you? How are you feeling now?

I have a vivid scar across my throat. I don’t cover it. Half the time I love it, half the time I forget about it.

I’ll carry that.

And so it’s pointless to hate it.

 

I was just reading some stuff about white knighting and it got me thinking.

I mean, I’m into self-rescue, right? I’m big on that.

I’m also big on defending others. This is kind of my core thing. Like that time I almost got into a fistfight with most of a gay Vancouver hockey team in a bar in New York. In French. Drunk.

Anyway.

I had to go look up White Knight to remind myself what one was. Because on the surface it’s kind of a good thing, right? Woman gets attacked, guy steps in and helps her out. How’s that a problem?

Well, the main thrust of this Know Your Meme article says it’s because the knight in question wants to get laid. Or in more knightly terms, let’s say… curry favor for his own merit and gain. You know. Cough.

According to Reddit, a white knight is a guy who “treats women as goddesses and does nothing but shower them in compliments on how wonderful and beautiful and special they are.”

Hm.

So… both definitions seem fairly tame, right?  So the one guy’s selfish, he’s still doing good acts, the other is just… being nice?  Surely?  Ish?

Over at Geek Feminism we get this definition:

White Knighting is an attempt at being a feminist ally that assumes that men are better feminists than women are.

Ah.  Right, okay.

So the problem with this whole white knight business is that we assume the dude can protect and the woman can’t and no one actually asked the woman if she needed help or how she wanted to be rescued.  More or less.

There’s a great moment in Lair of the White Worm

– no, seriously, bear with me –

Where it’s pointed out that while George is really into saving the woman in Uccello’s painting from the dragon [above], the fact of the matter is that the lovely maiden has the damned dragon on a leash.

*

Let me tell you a story.

One night I was hanging out alone at Power Exchange, which at the time was a fairly delightfully seedy public BDSM dungeon in San Francisco.  At the time, women were totally outnumbered by men in the place, and generally the only women there… were there with men.

In fact the numbers were so skewed that women got in free, men had to pay and were only allowed to wear towels around their waists, or if they wanted to pay more, could wear clothes.

It was fairly fantastic.

Anyway, in that sort of space I’m top all the way, and I have a good sense of myself and never feel threatened, in general. Men tend to give me room and heed the death glare if they don’t, and I can certainly back up whatever that look says with the physical if I have to, and that’s all fine and good.

This one particular night, though, the space had a kind of frantic, off feel to it. There was an enormous sort of… river of towel-clad men in all directions.  Some of them were attractive sure, but it was just me, and them, and the men felt pushy and insistent and I still could handle it, but it was getting tiring.

I wanted to observe, and if I wanted to engage with anyone, in any way, I wanted it in my time, in my way.  So, like, if I were a bear, I didn’t want salmon to leap up and slap me in the face every second, I wanted to watch, watch, watch, dip my paw into the stream and

GRAB

my perfect fish.

See the metaphor?

So finally I perched up on a stool and tried to watch the stream but salmon kept… you know. Slapping me.

And finally a guy walked up a short distance away, and put his hand on a stool and from that distance asked if I’d like him to sit with me.

I said “sure,” because, you know, just the sheer pleasant relief of being asked, rather than just, you know… slapped in the face with a wet fish.  So he dragged his stool over and he sat.

And the constant haranguing stopped.

Just.

Like.

That.

And he didn’t make conversation.  And for a few seconds just because I wasn’t quite grokking what he was doing, I didn’t make conversation either, and so we sat there quietly and I just sort of… caught my breath and got my guard down. And I had some time to just enjoy the salmon, the swimming, the whole sort of… pastoral river-salmon-bear scene thing there.

And the guy still didn’t make conversation and neither did I, in fact he was just sitting quietly, pleasantly by.  Not really even making eye contact.

And I started to realize something.

And I got up.

And he got up, and put his stool away.

And to test a theory I walked off, and didn’t look back.  And he didn’t follow me.

*

In general, I don’t think any intent of being an ally is bad, really. Even if motives are selfish, or patriarchal. I mean, or… look, it’s better than the alternative.

I do believe that.

It’s better than the alternative.

*

Later I found the guy.

“Thank you,” I said.

And sure enough he smiled and said “you’re welcome,” and I introduced myself and he did the same and we chatted pleasantly and whatnot for most of the rest of the evening.

*

How we use the power we have is really fucking important.

Defense is great.

But make it mindful, selfless defense.

Truly for someone else.

That’s knightly.

That’s the thing.

I’m not so impressed with this apocalypse.

This bloody disarray of bodies is… unconvincing
a little overdone a little heavy on the
— where did that blood come from exactly? –
scatter effect;
the mechanism of injury isn’t clear particularly given the big picture.
(What was the big picture?  Blast? Tremblor? Laser strafing runs or just a single big
Incoming wave?)

 

By this I mean, the buildings are just gone, bare dirt and rocks except for the spot where We Woke Up or
Our Story Began,
In the distance futuristic spires rise out of place,
supporting a theory of something like aliens and lasers
but
then why is this balcony littered with bodies and one
slid a long distance, streaking blood?

 

If I walk long enough through this wasteland
the landscape forgets itself and I come across an elephant making her way
trunk cheerfully lifted,
head swinging,
along a path.
Consider the fact of a path, a worn path through brand new desolation.
Consider it, for a second.

 

Or consider a hallway leading off a ruined hockey rink
with a bare powder blue floor where the ice once was,
now melted,
and when did the air have time to take on
a musty moldy quality if the tidal wave
invasion
earthquake
just happened? –
and cheerful vendors down that hall sell everything from
paper lanterns to
gulab jamun to
comic books.

 

If I want a better view, to try and reconcile the inconsistencies,
or find survivors
then I push off hard from the ground.
And it’s effort, but I can feel resistance
like the kind you get when you put the backs of two magnets together
pressure
like that under my arms and as with a magnet all I need to do is just keep that stable
and maintain forward momentum using that to get high up over the disconcertingly unexplained ruin of a city
in bare dirt surrounds;

 

chagrined to enjoy the realization that I can finally fly,
possibly at the cost of millions of lives
to better survey a disaster
I’m not sure I buy anymore.

The Ugly Thing

Image

 

Sometimes at the gym when I deadlift I look down at the floor and there’s a pattern of droplets there on the rubber mat. I have no idea how they got there. I don’t remember sweat rolling down my face, or any other part of me.

Maybe I drooled.

Maybe I peed.

I was lifting; who knows.

*

I have, in the past, gotten the bar almost up to height on a bench press and hollered “SON OF A BITCH” because I’m about to drop it on my face and I really don’t want to and a moment of rage at the very possibility of failure is what gets the bar that precious inch and a half higher.

Then I rack it.

The guys lifting around me don’t blink.

Mostly they don’t yell either although it does happen once in a while.

*

I’ve been annoyed when some jackass repeatedly, for every rep of his every set, does his Oly lift and then basically drops the bar from nipple height, causing most of the gym to shudder with the impact.

On the other hand, once I got 285 up on a dead, and about halfway down my shins that was it. I was done. Hands, arms, everything. I dropped the bar.  It bounced. It was loud. Sometimes lifting to failure means that you fail. Gravity being what it is, weights tend to fall down.

I’ve slammed the bar so hard onto the power rack after a squat I swore I was going to knock the power rack over.

*

The guy in the nice polo shirt shook his head when I asked if they were getting bumpers along with the other new free weights the gym signs said they were getting. “No, we’re not.”

It was a weird tone of voice.

“How come?” I asked, mostly to find out what the tone was and he finally looked up from the paperwork he’d been doing while he talked to me. I wasn’t a member of his gym. I was there helping a friend lift.

“Because frankly, that kind of lifting attracts a certain… element,” he said.

I blinked. “But I’m that element,” I told him.

*

So this is what I’m told.  As I look into other gyms they say “no chalk.” “No bumpers.” I’m given vague, nonsensical reasons why, like “that’s our policy,” or “we don’t want to clean up chalk,” or once in a while someone is up front with me. They don’t like this… “element” in their gym.

Or as one guy said “we feel that kind of thing intimidates our gym clientele.”

*

I intimidate you. With lifting.

Let me get this straight. I am 5’4″ of strawberry blonde perky tits and chubby ass doing my sets of 5×5 deadlifts with a smile on my face because goddammit deadlifting is FUN and when you need some chalk I loan it to you and if you need a spot I’ll jump over there, and pretty much every other guy in the gym would do the same with some encouraging “do it, you can do it, get it up there” patter on the side, and I’m intimidating?

I call bullshit.

Let’s catalogue what you find intimidating.

1. Big people

2. Big shouts and noises

3. Sweat and other bodily fluids

4. Grimaces and veins popping out

5. Chalk

Here’s the reality.  People are intimidated with people who are being other than acceptable standards of beauty. They’re intimidated by hurt, by struggle, by someone around them pushing their absolute limit and they’re intimidated by the signs and sounds of human failure.

They’re intimidated by pudgy chicks lifting heavy and sweating — or whatever it is I’m doing — on the floor.

By mess.

By ugly, real stuff.

*

Dear Gym People:

I say this with love and affection.

If you are intimidated by people lifting weights, by sounds of struggle or victory or effort, if you’re intimidated by sweat flying and people who are loud, powerful, and who don’t fit some standard issue notion of sleek “normal…”

You got a lot more to worry about in life than us.

Kate

Image

I actually never wrote about the Spartan I ran year before last.

I guess in part because I didn’t feel like I had to say what I was supposed to say about it.

*

First off, I say “ran,” like I actually ran any of it, which I didn’t.

I did get through it.  Sort of.  For a while I had a medical truck following me like some kind of EMS vulture. Like I was going to go down any second and maybe I was.

Folks, I wanted that empowering moment. I really wanted that TV moment, that video moment of HELLS YES I AM DOING THIS. I wanted… what do they say?  “You’ll know at the finish line,” like somehow I was going to have some huge revelation about myself.

*

Okay, here’s my revelation:

Shit talking myself as I’m trying to do something kills me. Kills. Ends. Finishes.

I caught it way too late in the race. Because I was fat and slow and did some stuff really strong but mostly stumbled through it, burpees on burpees. I was alone the whole time, which totally sucked. I mean, I was alone except when people kept pace with me for a while then passed me. I think I was one of the last couple of dozen people in.

Anyway, I was on the top of this major hill, and I came out of the trees fucking aching, hating myself for the terrible showing and having flashbacks of failing firefighter agilities, and looking bad in my clothes and fuck knows what else. And I heard my voice, this litany of how I was fatter than everyone else and slower than everyone else and how I probably didn’t do all the burpees and cheated or something at the spear throw jesus fucking christ I thought. Like the hill isn’t steep enough and the mud isn’t thick enough.  Like this isn’t hard enough without this constant soundtrack of you suck you suck you suck going through your head.

Like every time I failed it was some kind of sick, twisted, wrong triumph.  Hah, see, you suck. I knew it.

Up at the top of the hill, I shut that voice up. Like I just… I shut it up. I said shut the fuck up, voice.

Look around yourself. It’s a gorgeous fucking day, you’re covered in glorious mud and you’re hiking in the woods. You got this far. Even if you didn’t get any further you got this far. You came all this way, why not fucking enjoy it?

Look around yourself. Woods.  Grass.  Nature. Shut up. Have fun. The fuck.

*

Any one obstacle was doable. The race itself was doable; I did it. I did it in shape far worse than I’m in now, undermedicated, with none of the cardio prep I should have done.

What I carried away wasn’t some sudden insight about how awesome I was.

What I carried away was how much, just how much I stood in my own way.

*

In the end, knowing that is probably worth the price of admission. I know these days that in the gym I just… don’t allow that shit in my head. Anything about fat, anything about weak. Anything about how I’m not here enough or not trying hard enough. I say “I believe in victory” a bunch of times, I listen to my music or watch the guys around me lay everything out, draw my inspiration from them.

Clear my mind of anything but the task at hand.

Just you and the iron, I think.

That’s it. Nothing else.

Image

Johnny realizes it’s not just a simple run-in with the law…

So as we were singing Johnny of Brady’s Lea tonight, my daughter pointed out some rather disturbing math.

See, when the silly old man runs to the king’s foresters, and tells on Johnny?  Seven men hear him out, and they ride, and it’s seven men who show up to arrest Johnny there.

And our man Johnny?  Well…

Johnny shot six of them,
And the seventh he wounded sore.

Okay?  He was a badass.  A bona fide, poaching badass. Because “Monymusk” puts this ballad at around the mid-nineteenth century, and Johnny was a poacher, not a nobleman. Which means this one badass dude probably shot six and wounded a seventh forester with a muzzle-loading rifle and at best a couple of crappy pistols.

Badass. Just saying.

But here’s what Lili found troubling. Johnny shot six foresters and wounded the seventh, right?

So explain to us this verse:

Johnny rode his great grey mare to a thicket in the wood
H
e’s left behind a blood-red trail,
And they shot him where he stood, they shot him where he stood.

See the problem?  Six men down. Seventh wounded.

Who is, my daughter wants to know, this “they” the verse is talking about?  Which they?  Who they?  Even if that seventh forester managed to stagger up and ride after him, how is there a “they” shooting Johnny?  Right?

Anyway, we figured it out.  Zombies.  Zombie foresters. Which also explains the significance of the blood-red trail, we figure. I mean, at that point with blood everywhere, discovery by zombies was pretty much inevitable. Next time, cross a fucking river or something.

Meanwhile about this last line:

And they shot him where he stood…

Clearly there was no shooting.  There was dragging from his grey mare and devouring. Seriously. I don’t know, man.  Anyway, this is the lost last verse of Johnny of Brady’s Lea and the Zombie Foresters of Aberdeenshire:

Now Johnny’s great big bow is broke
And all his brains are et
The zombies gae to Monymusk
To sup on all they met, to sup on all they met.

Mid Term

So I look at it this way.

If I use a hopeful sort of math, I’m about midway through my life.

I have a fair amount of stuff I want to do, still. I have a sense of getting my shit together in an existential as well as practical way, and part of that was making a decision that probably has been too long in coming.

I got meds.

I’ve had depression that’s ranged from mild to life-threatening since I was in high school. It’s disrupted my life over and over, and although I’ve developed amazing coping mechanisms for dealing with it, got very good at arranging and maintaining my life around it, it’s been this huge, inconvenient elephant in my room for a while. A long while.

Don’t get me wrong, I like elephants. It’s just, as far as big creatures or big emotions go there’s a time and a place, and yes, I can live in a house with a huge enormous elephant in it and vacuum around it and things. But in terms of my life, as a house, in terms of who I am, doesn’t it sound nice to just have the whole of my life, my house to live in and maybe I can visit the elephant but not have to constantly fight my way around it as I go from room to room?

I wondered if I’d miss it. I got used to it, it was who I was.

I got used to the big emotions. I got used to rage and sadness, to a lot of things I assumed were simply as they should be, accepted them as part of my personality or fought them constantly to keep my relationships, life, work stable.

Sometimes I succeeded, a lot of the time I didn’t.

I worried about my art, I worried if I stopped feeling so much all the time I’d be a terrible writer. I worried I’d lose whatever spark my writing had that made it good, real, truthful.

Frankly?  I made a dozen excuses because I was used to something and having my shit together, the idea of being okay and whole and in control was a little scary.

*

So how is it?

It’s good. It’s a change.  There’s no elephant, I have a whole house to move around in, and suddenly my palette of emotions has opened up to include more options. I can be briefly annoyed, I can lose my temper, I can cry at a TV ad, I can choose a moderate lack of response without stuffing a whole lot of emotion under the surface that will explode in my face or someone else’s later.

Self destructive impulses are largely gone.

I don’t have a horror of being a bad person. I actually contemplated shoplifting because I didn’t care about being a terrible person if I did. I wound up not shoplifting because rationally I don’t want to live in a society where people do that and it’s just not the right thing to do. Logically, intellectually. You know? Without a lot of emotional crap attached.

Writing is different. I’m better mentally organized, and there is exponentially less emotional risk to the act itself. I don’t care about X reader. I don’t care if it sucks the first time around. I see organizational problems as they happen and sometimes I go back and edit now faster. There’s much less emotional baggage.  Writing is writing, and when it’s fine I leave it and when it needs fixing… I fix it. No big deal.

*

Is it that huge a change?

So, yeah. It is.

I held off writing about it in part because of the stigma, in part because ironically my impulses to overshare are diminished, and I wasn’t sure it was really anyone’s business or if anyone needed to know so much about me, or this thing, this struggle.

But for those of you thinking about it, particularly artists and writers, particularly those of you with high coping skills who have gone too many years with this big huge elephant standing around… it’s worth doing, if you can manage it.

I like the new living room.

 

 

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