Why is it so difficult to pick up writing when we've been away from it for a while? There are times that words seem to flow out endlessly, that I can't find enough hours in the day to put pen to paper (or less romantically, fingers to keyboard). And then there are days, weeks, months, when the spring dries up, and when confronted with that endless blank white paper, I run screaming. I knit, I draw, I cook, I arrange the sliced tomatoes beautifully on the plate, fresh basil, green olive oil and brown vinegar, but I have no words.
In Something in Season, Brendon talks about the fallow time for writing - perhaps we all need a winter, for the overtaxed soil of our wordminds to just absorb the world around us, but not attempt to put anything out. People ask me why Jim's salad is so good - my answer is often that his farm has been organic for over 30 years. The soil is happy, which I realize is ridiculous anthropomorphism. But places always have a tangible feeling to me - happy, dry, ancient, fierce. One of the reasons I love walking around on the Laurentian shield - this ancient piece of rock, even the trees seem young when compared to the bare rock bones of the earth where they emerge.
I know, I know, I'm hopping all over the place. One of the hazards of not writing for a while, I have too many loose and feathery ideas floating around in my head, and they are all interconnected, but I have trouble sticking with one theme.
Have you noticed that even though it's still summer, it's a new season? Remember, my year has five - summer is ending, harvest season has begun. That sneaky tang in the air, the promise of crisp apples and cooler nights.
So how am I going to connect a fallow wordmind, overtaxed soil, and the granite underneath the great lakes? I'm probably not - I know you will fill in the interstices.
It's odd being a cancer survivor. There was a time that I literally felt as though I was most of the way on the other side of the veil. I know it sounds odd, but there were times that I felt closer to dead than alive.
There was a day I remember, in the middle of chemotherapy. We were visiting friends up in the Capay Valley, enjoying their new pool. Wertperch and the imp were cavorting in the pool... I was looking out from the porch. I couldn't have been more than 100 feet away. But it was as though there was a scrim in between us. I stood there, unable to walk the distance to the pool, and I wondered to myself if I would ever get to be alive again, like they were.
This is the walking death of cancer treatment. The euphemism is "quality of life", but you know what I mean. The treatment kills you part of the way, just hopefully not all of the way.
It's only within the last few months that I realize that I have come back to the living. I was down visiting a very old friend, Therese. (Our Tess is named for her.) Well, visiting might not be the right word. She was at the beginning of an extremely hard labor, which eventually produced the fabulous Eigel Marcus, but that's another story.
Her house is perched on a steep hillside in Berkeley, and cell phones don't like it. I had walked upstairs and outside to give wertperch an update, and it was a gorgeous Berkeley day - it had been kiln hot in Davis, but Berkeley has perfect summers - seventy, clear, breezy. I leaned back and closed my eyes, soaking in the sun and the wind fingers caressing my face and arms. After I was done on the phone, I just sat there, pure lizard on a rock pleasure. And I realized, my friend, that this was the first time I had just felt good to be in my body in as long as I can remember.
This might sound small or trivial - it is not. Cancer is a breeze - it's the treatment that feels like hell. I had staggered along for long with side effects, and side effects of the side effects, that it was a real revelation to just feel…normal. I had gotten used to things like, oh, yes, you have fibrosis in your shoulder from the radiation, and did you know that you are going to be more prone to carpal tunnel in your right wrist, because of lymphedema? No, and I wish someone had told me this before I began a marathon drafting session that made my hand swell up like a balloon.
The difference between health and not-health ...'ease and dis-ease', if you will... is fairly subjective. I'm starting to whomp this excuse for a body back into shape - swimming and tromping around barefoot in the woods helps.
But I also understand the urge to leave the body behind that must come to everyone at a certain point during this sort of treatment. Robertson Davies refers to the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. At some point it's not only that, but the foul rag and bone shop that makes up a body, that is this organic miasma that still takes breath and weeps and loves, and that I longed to leave behind. It's burned and scarred and sliced to pieces, yes, I'll confess, I am a witch, please drown me!
On the other hand, and this is where I was convolutedly leading to, I've had this early promotion to crone. Chemotherapy mostly put paid to menses, and tamoxifen has shorted it out the rest of the way. So I get to be a crone, at 43.
Granted, you know that any woman worth her salt is all three: mother, maiden and crone, but there are certain benefits to cronedom that mothers don't seem to get to share. Name me a female archetype that gets to have a trickster side. Crones are much more likely to have a Coyote aspect than moms. Young girls can have a trickster element (Pippi Longstocking, say), but not "matrons" (and isn't THAT an awful word?). I get to be wise and scary and eccentric and fierce and witchy instead of only nurturing and charming and mothery. Kevin has always been perfectly aware of my witchy side, but it seems to be becoming more visible. I don't remember 10 years ago wanting to be slightly scary - now I understand where that scary old lady thing comes from. It's FUN to be the witch next door.