Tonight, I sat in a Callanish circle, and Janie The Wise said “I think one of the biggest myths in life is that we can write, control, know our scripts.”  She went on to talk about how the scripts we cling to for dear life, the ones that guide our decisions and upon which we chart our lives can be ripped from us at a moments notice, can be smudged or erased or obliterated all together, and how we so often cling even afterwards, how we cling so deeply, with such fervour to a script that no longer exists.

For me, that script was about babies, a pregnancy written into post-PhD life. From me, cancer tore that script into a million pieces.

And here I sit, piecing together another script. One born out of pain, out of buckets of tears for the babies my oncologist forbid, out of a body that forgot how to function with estrogen in it. It isn’t the script I imagined, and for that I grieve. For those characters, those scenes, those intermissions.

It’s not any kind of gift. But I”m writing another script. It’s broken and burned and incomplete. I don’t know where it ends and where it begins or how it turns out. But I do know there are twins written into my script, twins another woman is writing into my play, a merging of our scenes. I do know there are incredible friends who write songs with me, dream with me, sit with me, wonder at the world with me. I do know that this script will unravel.

I can’t yet know how. A year ago, it was still wound tight, this pieced together, good enough script. I screamed into the forest and bawled my eyes out to Janie about the babies I thought I’d never have, because my script was torn from my hands. But it came. I unraveled. I pieced together a new script.

We’re still writing. I’m in awe of this new script. This one that isn’t entirely unfurled, that’s filled with “that’s not what I imagined,” that doesn’t match up with where I always knew I’d be, but that one that is still mine. The one I’ll keep writing, because what else is there, but onward?

I keep thinking of this camp song, Oh I want to be strong… to be strong as the land around me/ I want a heart that’s as WIDE as the sky! I want a spirit like a moving mountain stream…./I want to look people straight in the eye! 

I want that song in my script. That song and babies, and art and old friends, and theory and meaningful work and yoga and summer afternoons and fizzy water. And so I’m pricing it together, one piece at a time, unwieldy, unbelievable, yet so unknowable. Not what I thought. Something else. But mine, all of it, the good and the ugly and the hard and the weird. It’s all mine. I get this life, every inch of it, every moment in it, every surprise and hurdle and pain and laughter. It’s not the script I imagined, but it is all of it, my own.

Is This Life?

Is this just life? Am I not being realistic?

Lately, I find myself grading papers on Saturdays and writing proposals late into the night and answering student emails that appear in my inbox at every hour, at every second, all the time. Last night I had to leave the rockin’ band performance of my bestie Ariana because I was exhausted, and because I had to get up early this morning to work. What the hell?

What is normal? Is this it? I want to have time to make random little art pieces. I want time to write on this blog. I want time to make worry dolls and to paint greeting cards and to go on hikes. And I want that time without having to run through theoretical frameworks in my head or add up how many stop motions I still have to grade or consider pending grant deadlines.

Do normal people have hours on end, to do these things? Do they have time, a little, at least? Do they make time, and f*ck the rest? Do they schedule it in, an hour a day, a jumble of minutes that are only for colouring outside the lines? What does a life look like, one with pockets of time for creative expression that is only that, expression that is just expression, expression that won’t be analyzed or written about or discussed in a meeting or even hung on the wall.

I don’t have an excuse anymore. When I was in treatment, I couldn’t do jack sh*t because I was in treatment. I mean I wrote my dissertation, but I also slept a lot and cried a lot and spent a lot of time trying to paste fake eyebrows to my eyelids. I was teaching when I was diagnosed, so I finished out the semester but I didn’t teach the following semester, except for a TA-ship in an online grad course. So now that my tit is gone and my cancer shrivelled and poisoned (thank you, chemotherapy) and my dissertation is defended, I don’t have an excuse to not dive in head first into utterly scheduled afternoons? What? I definitely don’t crave being in treatment, but I do crave being able to write off stuff I don’t want to do because I’d rather take a nap, go to yoga, or make a friendship bracelet.

How do I get that? How do I finance that? How do I find that?

“it’s your broken heart, your broken sternum.”

Today began with a big, giant needle stuck into my belly fat, inserting tiny pellets of hormone blocker that will release over the next few weeks. A needle so big that the doctor who administers it reminds me to close my eyes each time, so I don’t see the needle.

And so I went to yoga. My safe place. My warm place. The place where my body knows just what to do, where everything is familiar, where everything is always the same and that is so comforting. My sternum though, began to tantrum. In small bursts that took my breath away, the pain radiated through my chest bones, bringing me to my knees. We got through the standing series and then my body joined my protesting sternum. My tummy ached. I actually got up and walked out because I thought I was going to throw up. I looked in the mirror and saw the colour drain from my face, my freckles popping out of my pale cheeks like someone splashed paint across my face. But there was no barfing, so I hauled myself back into the hot room. The teacher knew something was up.

When you’re an experienced practitioner, and things aren’t going how you want them to go, it’s more mental than physical almost always. And its OK to sit out of postures. 

I knew she was talking to me. And sit out I did. My belly. My sternum. The tears behind my eyes. What. The. Fuck.

It’s your broken heart….. Your broken sternum. 

As soon as she said it, I knew she was right. As soon as she said it, my body relaxed. No wonder. My broken heart, my broken sternum. No one knows why my sternum radiates pain. Test after scan after test after scan, and we come up with nothing. And just like that, the yoga teacher tells me what’s wrong. It’s your broken heart, your broken sternum. The tears came then, from behind my eyes and from inside my broken heart.

My heart is broken because they have to shoot me up with anti-hormones, and it hurts, and it stops my period, and I miss my period.

My heart is broken because I miss my period, and I miss my period because it meant I was healthy, it meant all was well, it meant I was functioning. It meant I could get pregnant, if I wanted to.

My heart is broken because my babies are in someone else’s body, because the cancer stole my ability to give them the very first thing they needed from their mama: a place to grow big enough to withstand the harshness of the world.

My heart is broken because I sit and listen to my friends tell their cancer stories, and I love them so much that I am overcome with the desire to make it all go away, to wrap my arms around them until it is OK, even though I know it is useless to tell them it’s all going to be alright, even though I know it’s more meaningful to just listen and be together, I still so badly wish I had a magic wand.

My heart is broken for what could have been, for the carefree way I related to my health, pre-cancer.

My heart is broken because my babies are in someone else’s belly, and I miss them more deeply than I could have ever known I could miss someone I’ve never met.

A million reasons, my heart is broken. I am OK, though. One can be OK with a broken heart. A shattered heart, even. And love is like glue, and I’ve got lots of that. One can settle into a broken heart, see the light reflected through the shards, know the world this way, be wise from inside a broken heart. My heart is broken, and my sternum aches, reminding me, again and again, how broken it feels, how badly the centre of me has been burned, how much I need to attend to that trauma, how urgent it is to heal. My heart is broken, and it is reminding me, to peer at the world from this place, from this vantage point, from where I stand. For it’s all I’ve got.

Sometimes doctor’s don’t have the answer. Sometimes yoga teachers do. Sometimes our hearts knew all along. It’s your broken heart…. your broken sternum.” 

remembering, and righting our selves

Sometimes it seems like we are all tiny sail boats, tossed about in a viscous sea storm, caught in wind going the wrong direction, stranded with invisibility. Sometimes it seems like I offer tiny stories out into the world, my own words bound up with my feelings, and they get lost in the wind, blown away, misread because it’s so damn foggy, forgotten when the waves crash between us and your tiny sail boat flips upside-down, and I don’t even know that you’re upside down, all I know is that the story bound with feelings, the tender offering between us is lost, and the wind is icy and cold, and the storm continues to brew, and we all just feel so not together.

But then I remember.

I remember that there is you. You three, my cohort, you who get it, you who know when to send a text message, you who’s stories collide with my own, you who know exactly what to say and when to say it. You who show me, again and again, that we can right our selves after scans and after appointments and after nightmares and after insensitive comments. I am so insanely grateful to call you my little cohort, all four of us diagnosed in a fifteen month span, all four of us charting the post-treatment waters, all four of us texting like mad and ordering fancy juices at dinner and filling out the circle at Callanish. I remember that I am part of this tribe, and we are in this together.

And you, I remember what you taught me. I remember that you told me to be in the present, that you showed me how to ground myself in what I know to be true. I remember when you sat and talked with me though words were never said, I remember when you made with me, creating something new, something pulled from deep inside my heart. I remember that I feel well, that the air tastes good to breathe, that what I know right now about my life is real, and good, and true. I remember how you showed me to surround myself with comforting things, to feel the hard parts and wrap myself up in warm fuzzy blankets and hot baths and good friends’ arms. I remember when you taught me that. I remember that I am whole, and that I know how to right myself.

I remember we can right our selves. I remember when we sang together, and when another we before this we, when that we sang together, and the we before that, and the we before that. I remember when we cried underneath the stars, and watched the sunrise turn the sky completely red, and I remember when we surrounded each other with love on our special days, and when we helped each other right our selves on hard days. And I remember that we are whole together, and that we know how to right our selves.

I am so grateful that I can remember.