I’ve always been a survivor.
I usually try to save these soul-searching posts for a weekend, and, as often as not, I’ve been simply deleting them or not even writing them these days. But, yesterday, I went to see my oncologist to get the results of the CT scan I had last week that I didn’t mention here, either. I guess it was part of my rationalization and hiding from something that still scares me, to not write about it. As if somehow not acknowleging it here would make it not matter to me or less frightening. Of course, that rationalization and avoidance cocktail did nothing to help me sleep for the past week. Nor, did it make me any less certain that I’ll die alone.
“That moment changes the way you see the world for the rest of your life.”
-Sheryl Crowe, on being diagnosed with cancer.
Cancer changed my life.
Cancer taught me both not to worry quite so much, but, at the same time, to be afraid. I’m terrified of missing something. Of not getting to participate in some vital experience that I absolutely need to feel or see or do. I don’t worry quite so much about my own life and my own needs, but, sadly, that’s often to my detriment. This entire week while waiting for both the scan and the results I’ve felt as if I’ve been missing something. As if there were something that I desperately needed to get done, but I was forgetting to do. I still don’t know what that might be.
One way that things have changed, in part, thanks to my cancer, is how much attention I pay to art and my creative side. Now, I’ve always loved art, but it always seemed like something that other people did.
When I was in treatment, an acquaintance of mine, Mark Flood, started coming to visit me in the hospital. We started talking and discovered that we had a lot in common, much to our mutual surprise. That led to spending more time hanging out, and more time getting to know Mark and his art. That led to weekly lunches and a rediscovery of my childhood desire to make art.
But, you see, I was told that you couldn’t make a living as an artist. Or a writer. I was encouraged to find more lucrative pursuits. That’s how I ended up with a degree in Marketing and getting into computers professionally. Both seemed like better career moves at the time. But, as I spent more and more time becoming a real network geek, I spent less and less time doing anything creative. And, I made money. Good money, actually. But, I wasn’t happy. Not really, not for long. These days, I’m mostly happy when I’m chasing one of the photographs I “see” in my head and trying to make it real. It’s just not enough, anymore, to simply survive.
“[Man] cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor.”
– Dr. Alexis Carret
But, thanks to Mark and some other things, I know you can do more than survive as a creative. I worry that I may be a little late coming to the realization that I’ve been lied to all these years by my family. For the best of reasons, to be sure, but a lie is still a lie and it tore a small hole in who I was when I didn’t pursue those creative urges back then. In fact, I can think of several people who we knew when I was growing up who made their living as a creative and did just fine.
But, the process of unmaking who I had become before treatment and creating a life that will let me become the person I want to become is difficult. Of course, it beats the alternative, which is not changing, staying the same forever, essentially, death. But it’s not easy unlearning everything your family taught you about life to reinvent yourself and become something new, especially if you want to keep a relationship with that family. And, all this change, in my perspective, in my priorities, in my very direction and mode of travel, was all brought about by that simple diagnosis of first, an unidentified mass, which later became cancer.
“It isn’t important to come out on top, what matters is to be the one who comes out alive.”
– Bertolt Brecht, Jungle of Cities
After spending almost eight months constantly wreslting with the possiblity of my own death, or, as I like to put it, French-kissing the Grim Reaper, has left me almost entirely unafraid of my own death. Oh, sure, the pain leading up to it might suck hard, but, when the lights finally go out for me, well, it’s beyond my control. And, don’t take that to mean that I wouldn’t fight for my life, because I would. In fact, I think I’d fight harder for it now than I would have ever before, because there are things that I want to do, things I need to acomplish before I finally leave and “shuffle off this mortal coil”.
In fact, you’d think I’d be fearless about everything, but that’s just not been the case.
Mostly, I’m afraid of the things I was afraid of as a kid. Social situations are especially terrifying. I get all caught up in appearing right to other people. Sometimes my ideas are, well, a little different. Different thinking frightens most folks and, by extension, people who think differently are sometimes frightening. I sometimes feel the burden of that social pressure to fit in and not make waves. My working at odd angles to the world makes people occasionally uncomfortable and I don’t like that, so I get hesitant about being open and honest and, sometimes, just being with people. It’s like regressing back to the Seventh Grade and all the social humiliation that goes along with that. It’s not a pretty picture in my head.
“Fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself.”
– Daniel Dafoe, Robinson Crusoe
So, with almost entirely good news from my scan results yesterday, I’m trying to overcome my smaller fears that have begun to rule me. I’m sure it will be a slow, ponderous process, and likely filled with fear and setbacks and imperfection, but that’s okay. Hell, that’s just life. But, in the end, I think I have to change. I don’t plan on dying any time soon, so change will happen eventually, but it’s time to do more than survive. I think it’s time I started steering my life more and improving and changing and truly living, not just surviving.
Advice from your Uncle Jim:
You don't have to be a genius to succeed. You just have to be the cleverest monkey in the cage.