Written On the Body — August 24, 2019: “Both…And…”

Here we are, in the last half of August. The nights are turning cooler, sunset comes earlier, and there is a bit of “pre-autumn” feeling in the air, even on sunny days. I realised recently that I have passed the 6-month mark after my diagnosis…. and at first, I wasn’t sure I would be here in 6 months — let alone living a reasonably good and normal life: eating well, walking, not feeling pain, enjoying spending time with my partner, visiting friends, talking to my son, small-scale gardening, reading, writing, going to and giving poetry readings (though I have had to miss some of these readings and other events, due to fatigue.) So far, there has been no pain to deal with.

Of course, life has also changed in many ways: just being aware that there is cancer inside my body, and that its activity is internal and often beyond (or below) my awareness, has made life uncertain and led to some anxious thoughts. I am now in chemotherapy treatments, with an IV approximately every 3 weeks, that leads to several days of fatigue and some nausea. I am a week into my 5th round of chemo, and it is such a RELIEF when I begin to feel better after a treatment, and feel like myself again. I have to realise, mentally and physically, that I have less energy now and can do less — but I can still enjoy what I do (even if it is in lower-gear), and also enjoy the rest and relaxation I need.

In thinking about this situation, I am reminded of a workshop I took, years ago, with psychotherapist Yvonne Dolan. She told us about living with her grandmother when she was young; they lived near a lake and when Yvonne was quite young, she saw only the beauty of the water, the sky, the birds on the shore. Later, she saw oil tankers and pollution, and saw only the ugliness and danger. Her grandmother suggested she needed to see both sides — the beauty and the problems. That way, one could work on fixing the problems while not losing sight of the good things. A life-lesson that went beyond that particular body of water.

This does apply to me, now — and perhaps to many people faced with similar issues. Without sounding like “Pollyanna,” I am grateful for each day — being alive this moment, in the light and air, and held by a circle of people who love me. It is a liminal area — I could fall into despair, or I could deny my feelings of fear and anxiety and the “superstitious” thoughts that sometimes come (for example, a workshop in sound-healing that I wanted to take is full, and I first thought that was a bad omen — the disease would get worse!). It took thinking about this thought, and naming it to myself and to my partner Roger, that let this type of “magical thinking” lose its power.

It also is much easier and more relaxed to live in a world of “both…and…” rather than the binary thinking we are exposed to so much, in politics and ideology as well as everyday life. I have always tried to be inclusive in my life, not exclusive (us and them). This applies to one’s inner life of thoughts and emotions, as well as to dealing with the world outside.

Sometimes a situation is so bad, it is hard to see any good. And it can take courage to admit the problems in a situation that seems ideal. I think this can be true in larger, historical/cultural situations as well. Acts of kindness can happen, even in brutalizing situations; and people can create art — at the time and years, even generations later, that helps us empathize with those who have been hurt, displaced, imprisoned, or killed. And, perhaps, help us act in ways that prevent these oppressive situations in the future. No matter what, making art lets the artist express her thoughts and feelings through images, sounds, movement, and search for meaning in raw experience.

I will continue these thoughts in later posts. Enjoy the last week of August!

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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