Written on the Body #3 — May 17, 2019

My mother’s birthday today — she would have been 101. She died 10 years ago, at 91 — in her 90s like her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandfather. I always thought I would reach my 90s, too — clear-minded as my relatives were. Now — ??? but my mother was convinced she would die at 50 (until her birthdays moved beyond that), so who ever knows?

Getting to the end of the first round of chemo. I have a CT scan today to monitor progress and provide a new “base line.” As Patti Smith writes in “M Train,” a writer is a “visualization detective…. who sees not only blood but the spattering of words”… and tries to find a pattern, find some meaning there. So writing here is helping make sense of this strange experience.. or at least note the spatter of impressions in words.

I am thinking today of the ritual involved in treatment: First, there is simply washing my hands before and after the pills, taking them at approximately the same time of day, after eating, then taking other meds to ward off side-effects. Then, for procedures like CT scans and radiation, there is the journey to the hospital, undressing (at least partially), lying on a table, staying still in a prescribed manner, the actions of the technicians as they check the equipment, ask me for my birthday and my address (the answers never change, but the questions have to be asked), then start the precision timing of the procedure itself. And there are small, voluntary rituals — sitting in the hospital quiet area, with its stained class and mural of a water lily, for a few moments after a clinic visit or procedure, just to give thanks for still being here and alive, and for the beauty of the day. Greeting my flowers in the garden (as I have always done). Writing poems. Writing this blog. Coffee in the morning, hot baths, walks around the neighbourhood, and a late-night comedy show, just to make the news of the day (not my own news) seem less dire — even as the comedians are becoming more like “real-news” commentators, giving us perspective on the spattering.

Have a safe and springlike weekend!

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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