I began writing this two weeks ago, but have been in semi-hibernation mode: a combination of fatigue from chemotherapy and increasing concern about the corona virus, which would be especially dangerous for me to get given my weakened immune system (from the chemotherapy working to reduce the cancer — a catch-22). I am now on a break from chemo (and have been given a birthday present of an extra week off, so Roger and I can celebrate our birthdays (March 9 and 15 respectively) with family and friends — without an IV treatment only a few days earlier. In light of the spreading corona virus, however, we have decided to postpone the large party we planned, and just have a small gathering with Roger’s kids and a few friends; my son will be visiting at the end of March, so we will see him, too, in our “birthday month.” I am still feeling well, now into this second year “after the diagnosis.”
What I do want to write about here is a return to imaginative thinking and more writing. In early February, I read Patti Smith’s memoir, The Year of the Monkey, beginning on the Gregorian New Year’s Day, January. 1, 2016, and continuing through the Lunar Year of the Monkey to the end of January 2017. This was the year of Donald Trump’s candidacy and election (Smith calls him the “April Fool” at one point), and some of the book deals with his strange rise to power; in a moment of synchronicity, I read this book on the day he was found not guilty of the impeachment charges. Smith also, however, talks about imaginative trips to other places, in dream, fantasy, the mixture of the “strange and familiar” (in Coleridge’s words) that sometimes hits us like a meteor in the midst of daily life.
This book opened a door that had been temporarily shut by medical routines, politics, and this winter’s greyness. I followed Smith through southwest deserts, to concerts and music played at home, to the illness and death of two of her close friends, to unusual costumes, foods, and billboards that speak in human voices. Somehow, her stories have helped my spirit open to this wider world of mystery and to feel more empowered.
Several new poems came out of this (including one about my great-aunt Zelda, which I have thought about for a while). I even did a short reading at the Draft reading series on Feb. 23, a lovely reading series hosted by Maria Meindl which takes place more-or-less monthly on Sunday afternoons near my home. See https://draftreadings.com/ As I write today, the sky is blue outside my window, and the trees, still bare, are beginning to hint of greening. I am grateful to see this birthday — 75, three-quarters of a century — and grateful I feel well enough to celebrate. Also thanks to Roger for the red roses on Valentine’s Day — something else which lifted and brightened my spirits.
I hope all of you reading this stay well through the current corona virus crisis, and that the virus itself will eventually mutate and abate into something more like ordinary flu. In Game of Thrones, the dire threat was that “Winter is coming…” Now, despite all the difficulties and uncertainties in the world and in our personal lives, we can look forward to “Spring is coming.” And hope.
Finally, special good wishes, Mazel Tov (congratulations) and L’Chaim (to life) to my friend, wise and beloved mentor to so many people, Rabbi Bernard Baskin, who turns 100 on March 9, still in good health and clear mind. Blessed Be.