TRANSCRIPTIONS OF VOICE MEMOS FROM FEBRUARY 2020
Part of the THIS IS THE MOMENT series
Note to readers: in the same way as the Branches blog post, this isn’t actually written text: it’s transcribed speaking (into my Iphone, to be precise). It thus has a different cadence, and comes together the way speech does, that is, not always in perfectly structured sentences and paragraphs. Rather, it loops back on itself now and then. It’s a bit of an experiment that I hope connects us more intimately.
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One of the challenges that cancer has placed in front of me is figuring out what my worth is…what’s my value now that really, all I do is … draw resources out of the medical system and give very little back to society…
It’s hard to explain the value of some of the things that are important to me.
The first one is writing. Without work, the work that I used to do teaching, and without being able to actually take care of people in any significant way without becoming very tired or risking getting some infection, writing and reading are the two things that give real value to my days.
When I think of the quotidian, you know, the everyday life that I have, aside from cleaning and picking up and doing a bit of cooking: what do I do? What do I create? And I think that the writing really, really matters.
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So I guess that there’s a wheel that turns and the reading expands my life—there’s a density of content that comes into my life through reading all kinds of things. I’ve been reading Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot. I was afraid to read it, originally, because I was afraid of the pain in her memoir. I bought it right away when it was first published, and then I thought oh my gosh I don’t know—this is a while back, too—and I’m just finishing it now but it could be read 5 times and each time you would draw out more and more, and I love that books can do that for me—for everyone—but for me, NOW, they can make me think and feel; they can make me puzzle out human quandaries and they can make me see other people’s pain and that helps to create perspective beyond my own life. They fill me. They are nourishing.
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It’s strange, you know, I’m dictating this from the bath tub, and it occurs to me every time I take a bath how vulnerable I am. I’m alone in this house. I’m not very strong (laugh), and I don’t see myself as very strong: the mirror throws that back at me…And I think maybe that plays with a person’s mind—makes me less aggressive anyway—and I think if someone came into the house (the front door is locked, I check before I take my bath, but there was a time when I had forgotten to), if someone found me right now, here, with no clothes on lying in the water, cornered in this tiny room …
It was funny when I had that thought about a half an hour ago, and what went through my mind is that I’d let them kill me easily, I would let go easily. That’s the thought that I had. I wouldn’t fight too hard…and I’m puzzling over that. Maybe faced with the horror of being beaten or hurt or killed by some terrible, violent person, maybe, no, of course I would react; the will to survive would override everything, but…Tssh! Suddenly, I had a doubt and I thought—here I am thinking this right now—that the appeal that I might be able to make to anyone trying to harm me is: “The harm is done. Look at me!” You know, with my white hair and thinner body (which I’m not unhappy about) and the catheter port under the skin of my chest and…my vulnerability and the fact that tick-tock-tick-tock—you know, time is not my best ally—so…um…go ahead!
And that’s a very strange thought, but I may not be the first person to have a stage 4 diagnosis who has these thoughts when they’re alone (laugh) during the day.
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There’s this endless cycle of questioning the value of my being alive and What is my purpose? What is my purpose?, that somehow, human beings, when you lose that sense of being plugged into the world that’s moving and changing, you lose your grasp of your worth. I have to figure out a way to express that more clearly, but … I suppose that’s also the case for people who live in residences/care facilities, shut away from society; and people who are hospitalized for prolonged periods of time; or people who have become isolated through mental illness or through the circumstances of their lives. Some of them have been abandoned by society—God knows that’s not what I’m trying to say about my own life—Oh my God! Not at all!—but when you ARE more apart from the active world it does something to your mind.
I woke up at 5:30 this morning, but I only really got out of bed at 7:30 and let myself fall back into weird dreams, which doesn’t happen very often—and as soon as I’m up, then I’m thinking okay, I have to justify my day. And so I emptied the dishwasher and put everything away and cleaned things up and…then I sat in front of my laptop, which is invariably in the dining room near the morning light (which I really like), and I started scrolling through some of the news, and then I listened to an older interview that Shelagh Rogers did with Terese Marie Mailhot, because I’m preparing a blog about the book. And then, Christian’s ad came up—the ad that he shot just a few weeks ago for Bell—it popped up on TV. And both he and I found out it was on air because a friend of mine who lives on Vancouver Island messaged me to say that she had seen Christian on television, and so Whoop! all of a sudden, there’s this bright sunshine and this beautiful clear PING! in my day, and I could focus on something that makes me feel very, very happy which is anything good happening to any of my sons. It’s a short internet and TV ad, I guess 30 seconds, but it’s funny as hell, and that was a good start.
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I cycled through that, and put it on Facebook and started tagging people who might enjoy it and got a good half hour of life just blooming in that fleeting little bit of joy. But then the guilt came back and I thought “Okay, what am I doing to justify just sitting here?”, and so I went back to taking quotes from the book, Therese Marie’s book, and then I emptied the dryer of a load and I…but I…there was this listlessness. I sat and I tried to focus and I felt guilty for not doing something more useful with my time.
I can’t go out too far because the car is at the garage right now, and maybe that’s part of it, but why is it that I feel this need to account for what I’m doing when I’m here at home, which I actually enjoy, and look forward to the quiet time? Not too much of it; there’s just enough of it, and maybe every now and then I could use a bit more when I get on a tear and I’ve got some momentum going trying to write a blog or trying to write some kind of an essay either for the library or for THIS IS THE MOMENT. I have to think more about that.
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Cindy was here this weekend. Cindy is both friend and family, and she’ll be moving in here within the year, A lot of our get-together this time had to do with the planning, and taking measurements, and getting a designer involved in transforming the double-garage into a living space, and all these different things that have to happen fairly soon. What her plans would be for the house, and Simon and Cindy’s visions coming together—which they did quite easily and I think will continue to do quite easily.
We waxed poetic. Cindy is a builder, and she’s a nature lover and so the gardens will be expanded—there will be a stream and there will be fish, and there will be all these wonderful alterations: all the things that we can do in the future, and the fact that we can share expenses three ways. It was a fun conversation. It always makes me feel better to know that someone is coming into this house to extend the family—to make the family bigger—while I wait for Vickie and Christian to come live in Hudson (which is their plan) and while I wait for maybe Jeremy and his family to one day join everyone here because it’s so beautiful (there is pull that people feel as soon as they arrive in the town). This wanting an expanded family is very much tied to what I fear lies ahead—with climate change and the stormy, disrupted, incoherent life that awaits everyone. I would like to leave this endangered world knowing that those I love and care deeply about will be bound by the strength and safety of love, friendship and family.
There was also this fleeting moment, while Cindy was talking about things we’ll do, like travelling! Going to different parts of England, maybe going back to certain parts of Scotland or Ireland—I’ve never been to Scotland or Ireland but I’ve been to England, and I would gladly go back. And there was talk of the lake district and Cornwall…
…This fleeting moment when Cindy looked at me and I’m pretty sure she was thinking what I was thinking which is: Will you still be here? We were making plans and we were smiling and we were being optimistic, but the deeper current was: will time allow this for me?
Who knows? And it’s NOT DEPRESSING. It is what it is. It’s called reality and I HAVE TO think on both plains: I have to think: what can the future bring? What small joys, what big joys, what character-testing moments can tomorrow bring? But also what part of tomorrow may I not be there to witness…may I miss out on? Not twenty years from now because that’s obvious, but in a closer future, when will I cease to be there? What part of the “ near future” will I begin to be erased out of? And it was just the most fleeting moment but I’m almost sure she had the same thought at the same time. Maybe Simon did too, but I wasn’t looking at him, he was probably beside me, and he would be more used to those moments anyway.
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People in my position who are not able to be out in the world and productive and interactive on a daily basis in ways that most of us take for granted, do have to consider where the value comes from, in our continuing to be alive. Not just for others, but for OURSELVES, there has to be meaning to getting up and going through all the motions of having a life. And I think that people in my position who KNOW almost with certainty that their horizon is very short, that they won’t have 20 or 25 more years to blunder around and figure it all out, I think we have to be KINDER, I think we have to make EVERY SINGLE CONTACT genuine, and whenever possible KIND. I think we have to spread kindness, because time is running out for us, and what else IS there…in this life, that you can give besides your love and kindness. It has many forms, but in the end, that really is all that we can do and yes, it can be spread over a whole, long lifetime, and the whole planet, but when you get to the ending part of those years, I think there should be a higher dosage, a higher concentration.
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And that’s not easy. I do find that my conscience has grown a greater capacity to demand better behaviour, and I’m well aware of every time I’ve been a lesser Michelle. Those times are frequent, and I think about them after. They’re not monstrous behaviours, just petty, small, judgemental, self-centred, envious…not being the best person I could be. Those failures matter.
It’s that simple. I’m not letting myself get away with anything or setting myself up as some kind of guide—that’s not it at all!— I’m just being very honest with you, whoever you are.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
I feel the imminence of death and am moved by such strong forces. One says leave something eloquent behind–something of substance: a book, a collection of written work; a piece of you that will live a little beyond your own body.
But another knows that this is misguided. It knows that I should strive to become lighter and “of light”. That I was always just passing through and that I am not Rumi, nor Tolstoy nor Emily Dickinson. That I should leave just the gentlest, ephemeral footprint. Traces of Love.
Photo by Michelle Payette-Daoust, Snow heart on the car window