Sunday, May 25, 2014

Still here and still writing

I just wanted to let everyone know that despite that I have been absent from the blog, I have been writing just as much as usual. For some reason, in May, I became obsessed with writing the Introduction to the book and finding the perfect title, both of which I believe I have now done. I cannot wait to share so stay tuned. Thank you all for your never ending support.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Book (Part One)

Earlier this week, I finished the first draft of my book—three hundred and forty seven pages of real life; of new stories, and of stories born from this blog. Despite the perfect fonts that I found for the chapter headings, those 347 pages need work, lots of work, and even after the upcoming months of editing, there’s a very good chance that I collect enough rejection letters from publishing houses to decide to self-publish. Nevertheless, which company prints and binds that book does not matter to me. Because what I made and how I made it already feels like one of the proudest accomplishments of my life.

Writing the draft of the book was, at times simultaneously, an extremely painful and deeply fulfilling experience. It was hard for many reasons, including that I am a loyal member of a generation that much prefers the immediate kind of gratification to the delayed kind. More than that, however, was the challenge of not only revisiting some of the most difficult times in my life, but also reliving them. I couldn’t help but become entrenched in the memories, many of them scary and painful, and some of them wonderfully precious, as I described them in more (or less) detail and reflected on them with a more developed and informed perspective. A few times, the recollections caused me so much anxiety that I needed to stop and walk away, but I was always able to return and finish the chapter, even if it was totally crappy, and even if my hands still felt shaky on the surface of my keyboard.

Another great challenge of writing that draft is that life didn’t pause for me to do it. Lots of stuff, both good and bad, happened in the ten months that I have been working on the book and many of those events shaped a new understanding of experiences that I had already put down on paper. Should I go back and edit my earlier thoughts on a topic considering what I think about it now? Or should the book be transparent about how those understandings developed? These types of decisions weren’t, and still aren’t, easy ones.

I first conceived of writing the book after several people told me that the blog had helped them process a difficult time in their own life. They emailed me with messages about how they had come across the blog and read hundreds of posts from it, like it was a book. They told me that my story gave them hope. I loved that my story had somehow given them hope because I knew that when others gave me hope, it was the most precious gift I had ever received.

At the same time, I knew the blog is often a rambling mess. It jumps around in time and in theme and I know there are still grammar and spelling mistakes all over it (gasp). When I write in the blog, it is for my own emotional therapy, and I can never predict when I will feel like telling a certain part of my story. Therefore, the blog tells a story out of chronological order and I knew that whoever tried to read it like a book could eventually despise its organization or lack thereof. There was no doubt—I needed to reshape the story, and in other parts, tell it for the first time. The blog was raw, and as far as blogs go, that was fine, but last year, I started to want to create something more refined; something cleaner, even if it addressed topics that often felt like heaps of a big shitty mess.

In the end, I wanted to create something that my loved ones and strangers alike could hold in their hands—a place to find even just a glimmer of hope in the face of cancer or any other life challenge.

Over time, however, my motivations evolved into something quite different than all of that.

I still cherish the concept of hope, but I’ve arrived at an issue with it—it’s innately forward-looking. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but looking forward is pretty complicated, particularly in the world of aggressive forms of cancer, and particularly when I have, in the last few months, come face to face with several stories of metastatic disease and with my own deep-seeded fear that my own cancer had returned. By no means am I saying that these experiences have caused me to give up hope for my own future or for that of others because indeed, they have not. Rather, these experiences have started to help me learn how to relax my somewhat-toned hope muscles. And in a way, relaxing those muscles is just as important, and as difficult, as flexing them.

Part of what lead me to this evolution in my relationship with hope is a newfound interest in meditation. A good friend and I have been taking a class during our Wednesday lunch breaks on "mindfulness based stress reduction" and what I have learned there has changed me in a good, solid, balanced sort of way. Granted, I don't stop to listen to my meditation tapes often (a few times a week if I'm lucky), but I love that short time when I find it. I totally suck at meditating because just a few minutes into following the instructions to observe my breath or relax the muscles in my face, without fail, I fall asleep for the rest of the time. I've gathered that it's hard to meditate well when you can't stay awake for it, but still, I love the principles of the practice. In fact, the “I am here now” perspective that I clung to in my darkest times is at the core of those principles. Thus, in a way, I had a solid head start.

Perhaps the biggest lesson that the class has taught me is that my mind and my body are so very often in two completely different places. I'm trying to learn to keep them in the same place at the same time—to live, in good and bad times, by the idea that I am here now, and to see, hear, smell, and feel more of that now.

This practice at first made me wonder if hope is innately at odds with the idea of living in the present moment. When we hope, aren't we really just wishing for something in the future? If so, are we wasting valuable energy hoping—energy that could be used observing and maybe even appreciating the present? Sometimes, yes, I may waste energy that way. But I've come to realize that hoping and being present are not necessarily at odds.

To Be Continued…