Friday, May 13, 2016

What's Up with My Cat

Cancer is a learning experience, even in a cat. I heard the diagnosis a month ago, and thereby entered cancer college.

Squamous cell carcimoma is common in cats. In humans, it usually arises on the skin from overexposure to the sun, or in the lungs from smoking. In fact, my response to hearing that the lump on my cat's chin was probably cancer was to ask him if he'd been smoking on the sly. Turns out, cats probably get this cancer from carcinogens in cat food cans. Since I never gave him canned food, though, some other cause seems indicated.

I learned from the vets that this cancer was aggressive, and that cats didn't respond well to treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or all three. Palliative care is the best option. After a few weeks to a few months, he would "decline," and it would be up to me to decide when to have him put out of his suffering.

I bought him luscious prescription canned food, food that would tempt any cat not actually within death's door. And he was prescribed pain-killing drops that I am supposed to wrestle into his mouth three times a day or "as needed for the pain." As if any cat is going to admit to being in pain. Au contraire. Cats are driven as a survival mechanism to hide any distress.

Drooling may be the most obvious sign of pain in a cat. Dogs drool as a matter or course. But cats usually drool only when they are in severe pain or are deathly ill.

I'm cheered whenever he finishes eating a can of food. And I applaud when he seems to enjoy lying in the sunny back yard, or sitting in my lap, on his recliner, or on the filing cabinet next to the window overlooking the backyard - which I call "kitty TV."

Short of interspecies telepathy, however, I can't know precisely when his life becomes more of a burden than a pleasure. But if he stops eating, that'll be a pretty big clue that the time has come to release him to the elements.

I worry a bit that he may go outside, tuck himself into a dark corner somewhere, and quietly pass on. But keeping him inside would remove a major source of his pleasure. If he becomes too feeble to navigate the two flights of stairs leading down to the backyard, that would be another clue that the time may have come.

It's a puzzlement to me. An ex of mine had a cancerous cat, and regrets that she let him live and suffer as long as she did. I don't want to act too soon or too late. But there's no way to be precise about this. I might as well admit that I won't be ale to make the perfect decision, ask the cat and myself to forgive me in advance, and do the best I can. As if there's any other choice.

I'm in cancer college now, and the final exam is a killer.

Friday, April 1, 2016

More Intense Editing

I've started working on my book, Tales of a Seeker, with Calla and LauRose, two friends of mine who also write. Once a week, we spend an hour or so working separately on our projects, then come together and read bits to each other for comment. Besides copy-editing and bringing a fresh, if befuddled, ear to their words, I'm not sure how I'm helping them.

But I do know what they are contributing to my project, and it's to recognize what's good in it and to demand my very best.

I've imagined the book as an anthology of my various spiritual writings, with a little introduction to put my travels in order and some interstitial bits to add context. My friends, however, want to see where my travels have brought me. What has stayed with me and how has it affected my life. Are there any themes running through the various pieces. What hangs together and what sticks out.
Questions like that.

If those are the questions that come to them on hearing some of my pieces, then similar questions will probably come to at least some other readers. In which case, I should make a stab at answering them.

So I've printed out the current version of the manuscript so I can spread out the pages and make notes in the margins, and see what comes of it.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 14, 2016

I Love Me Some Greens and Blues

I didn't know that I loved all things that are green and blue. The plastic pendant I've had since junior high school that's blue in front and green in back. The blue and green rubber bracelet that says "inspiring civility." Any book cover or patterned cloth or nature photograph that mixes greens and blues. Greens of plants and grass, and blues of sky and water. Greens and blues in Monet's water lilies, and in a poster I bought in the 70's of a ship with green sails on a blue sea.

Greens and blues are the colors of growth and spirit, of the printed flannel cloth I bought when 12 years old and sewed into pajamas, making and correcting every possible error. My green and blue spring ensemble - light green lightweight corduroy pants, a royallish blue corduroy overshirt, and a blouse of palest green with a blue floral print. And don't forget my blackwatch plaid flannel pjs and blouse.

Even my eyes are green and blue. For most of my life, the DMV, friends, and I believed them to be blue. On close examination, they had hints of gray at the outer edge of the iris and flecks of yellow at the inner edge. But for the last five years or so, my mirror and friends tell me that my eyes are green. I didn't know that eyes could change color. Maybe they just appear to be more green than blue now that my hair is more silver than brown?

Anyway, I liked my blue eyes, and I really like my green eyes. And I love looking at anything that has greens and blues together. Like a latchhook mat I made of a dolphin against a background of greens and blues. Like nearly any nature documentary on TV, like fabulous necklaces and Christmas ornaments I'll never buy but love drooling over.

I've been thinking about the cover design for my first self-published book, Not sure whether to use a photograph of nature's greens and blues, or an abstract design of some sort, but those will definitely be the colors I choose. Green for growth and blue for spirit, intertwined in life-giving motion.

Pain versus Suffering

My mother believed that, although pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. I try to live by this rule, but often break it - usually in the context of emotional pain, but also in cases of physical pain that I believe I could or should have avoided.

There are at least two levels of avoidable suffering. The first is the kind I add myself. Say I'm feeling lonely or bored, for example. That's a kind of pain. But I don't have to add suffering to the situation by blaming myself for feeling that way, by beating myself up for not taking better care of myself, or by slumping into depression because all I can remember and all I can imagine is feeling that painful way - eternally.

The means of avoiding this added suffering is to notice that I'm adding it and to choose not to. This requires stepping out of the pain enough to distinguish it from the added suffering. But that's not impossible - however hard it may seem.

Let's pretend I've mastered not making the pain worse. It is also possible to respond to pain in a way that makes it less painful. A friend of mine who is 81 years old said this morning that, although she's started noticing aches and pains in places she'd never noticed before, she's trying to view them as signs that she's still alive. Thinking about great wrongs and injustices in the world can also help put personal pains in a perspective that lessens their smart.

Regrettably, my first response to pain is either to try to stop it or to tell myself I can last until it quits. Because the vast majority of physical and emotional pains will subside with time.

This is a fact that serious meditators learn. The goal when experiencing pain while meditating is simply to observe it - neither clinging to it nor pushing it away, but simply noticing its location, shape, and character with a kindly curiosity. And also noting how swiftly it changes in some way or degree - because it will change.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Capricious Universe?

A story I told myself was that something bad would happen to me if I let loose and fully enjoyed being in my body. I don't remember when it started, but I have a long history of having physical fun that is halted or followed by injury.

Fun on a skateboard ending with a skinned knee. Fun at the beach ends with near drowning, or a grain of sand scratching my eyeball, or a major sunburn leading to skin cancer.

The occasion I remember most clearly, I was at a retreat out of town, and we got to signing together. I banged joyfully on bongo drums and my thighs, and soared into an altered state of consiousness. The result of my heedless pleasure didn't appear until the next day, when we took a walk and I saw some rabbits in a hutch. I stuck a finger though the wire cage, and the bunny nibbled at my finger. It tickled a little and was strangely sensuous. Then the beast bit down on my finger, drawing blood.

I felt foolish and punished. That my mindless pursuit of pleasure then and the night before had somehow racked up a debbt that the universe had to repay with pain. Like I'd strayed beyond the safety of self-control into a hazardous world. Like my life traversed perilous depths that only self-control keeps me out of. maybe there's a bit of logic in this story I tell myself, but not a whole lot.

Sometimes I wonder if there's a way to inhabit my body without drawing retribution. Surely there are places and occasions where ecstatic pleasure is not followed by pain. Surely there is room for some pleasures that don't court punishment. Maybe there are ways to accept gifts of joy with enough gratitude and thanks that the universe will hold the books to be balanced, and I won't get clobbered again.

I have a similar dread of counting chickens before they hatch, because on several long-ago occasions (I learned this lesson early and have followed it assiduously) I rejoiced in some apparent or approaching victory or gift, only to have it snatched away before I could grasp it.

This dread probably started in elementary school, when some friends played an April Fool's joke on my by lying to me that I'd been chosen to be on the school's safety patrol - to wear a belt of white straps and guard a crosswak. I got all excited before they told me that they'd lied. The letdown hurt unbearable, and I felt stupid for letting them fool me. I didn't plan to be that foolish ever again. So ever since, I have held off rejoicing until I have taken possession of the cause.

Things You Learn

Things you learn through the dark times, the disruption, the transplanting. Things you learn when you have to start anew--in a new city, with a new guardian. WHen the only constants are your 11-year-old self or your 15-year-old self and the brother whose major role in your life has been as your sparring partner.

What do you learn from such times? Not to rely on what has gone before, not to rely on parent or grandparent, or friends, or uncles or aunts. You learn to walk a tightrope -- with longing for what is now gone on one side, and fear of the unknown on the other; each side descending to an invisible abyss.

You learn to root yourself in yourself, and in the present, and in whatever belongings have accompanied you in the latest move.

You rely on your intellect and your musical talent, and on your ability to just keep on going. Even if the world looks so bleak that bedtime is the brightest part of the day, or when you start crying for no clear reason and cannot stop.

And books are always your friends; a source of beauty, companionship, adventure, and escape. Escape into worlds where challenges are resolved and kids belong securely where they are. The adults in your life aren't cruel, mostly, just distracted and immature themselves.

It sucks when the teenages is the most responsible member of the household. You become more serious and less light-hearted. More cautious and less adventuresome. You look to the future with more dread than hope.

How I Want to Be Remembered

If I were to tell you how I want to be remembered, I'd start with, "as a kind person." I'd want no one to remember any cruelty of mine or at least not many of then, or at least not mentioning them aloud.

I'd want people to remember me as smart and funny, as a clear and moving writer, as a pleasant singer, and as a compelling actor.

I'd want people to remember my efforts to improve health care in our benighted country, with some success at least at the local and federal levels.

I'd want people to remember that I spent many years buying my home, so I could leave it in trust for poor lesbians to live in.

I'd want people to remember that I survived a childhood of deaths and disruptions to become a relatively sane, relatively useful person.