To you, she who was just diagnosed.

To you, she who was just diagnosed.

First of all, I am angry. I am livid you are joining me here. I am pissed off people are telling you to be positive and hopeful. I am astounded they continue to tell you you will be OK, when really, we don’t know if you’re going to be OK and mostly, what you need is for them to acknowledge you’re in the most unstable, unknown, unpredictable, absolutely terrifying land ever.

Second of all, I love you. Sure, we haven’t spoken in years. Maybe we never even really talked much back when we shared the same space. Maybe we were besties. Maybe our lockers were near each other. Maybe we knew someone in common. I don’t care. Somehow we knew each other. Somehow, you reached out. Somehow, we connected. And I know it wasn’t easy, to reach out, to connect, to ask for help and support and love. For that impulse you had, that tiny glimmer of knowledge you had that maybe your harrowing cancer news would be a teeny tiny bit less harrowing if you reached out, for that enormous risk you took in contacting me, I am eternally thankful.  I believe this earth holds a wisdom deep inside, and I think that you accessed our earths’ wisdom when you reached out, and I am glad you did. Glad isn’t even the word. I am heartened. I am hopeful. I cannot imagine you not having connected. We need each other. We do. Badly.

I’ve learned nothing from breast cancer, but from my cancer friends, I have learned we have to stick together. Together with a young adult here and there, I made it through treatment and I’m trying to make it through the aftermath. We lost our hair together, we cried about our fertility together, we lamented being the only young ones, together. Then there were the friends who I met who could relate, because they were diagnosed before me. There was one in particular, and she was steady. She was still vulnerable and she was still pissed off but she was real, she was present and she was able to show me what could be. It was different than getting it because you were losing your hair at the same time. And it was comforting. I hope I can be like that friend who was diagnosed before me, to you who was just diagnosed. I hope I can acknowledge and never diminish the wild fear, the never ending tears, the incredible misunderstanding.

So you, she who was just diagnosed. Barely 48 hours ago, you were diagnosed.

When you messaged me on Facebook, time stopped. Goosebumps rose. Tears filled my eyes, and my blood pulsed with anger. My heart broke in a million pieces. I had an incredible urge to hold you tighter than tight, to never let you go, to keep you safe and warm inside my arms.  All I could do was call.

Your voice was heavy with fear. In each question, each comment, each admission, I heard myself. I heard my own quavering voice, asking about radiation, mastectomy, hair loss, telling family. Each time another part of the story unfolded, I remembered the familiar creases in the fabric, the familiar not knowing, the familiar grasping at anything, something, anything that made sense.

I’m so glad you messaged me.

To you who was just diagnosed, I wanted to tell you. Advocate for yourself. Preserve your fertility. Ask a million questions. Stop googling. Stop google-scholar-ing. Take the ativan they offer. Stop researching. Trust your oncologist. Call the people you know, the ones who you aren’t sure about, but who maybe had something like this. You need a tribe. Don’t be ashamed to text like mad. Call all the time. Stop googling. Hydrate. Stop researching. Hydrate. Trust your oncologist. Ask questions. Reach out to any person who looks youngish. They are your tribe. We are your tribe.

I am so sorry.

People will say crazy things. They will bring you green powders and tell you to be positive. Fuck them.

People will come out of the woodwork. They will bring you dinners and movies. Love them.

Tell whoever you want. Don’t tell the rest.

Hide under the covers. Ignore phone calls. Only eat ice cream. Watch re-runs of the worst TV shows from your childhood.

Wear cowgirl boots, if they make you feel powerful.

Tell. Don’t tell. Tell part. Don’t tell the rest. You get to decide.

Find the colours the are comforting, and build them into your life. For me, it was aqua and warm, knit blankets.

Get a naturopath, if you like. Listen to their advice, sometimes.

Watch a lot of movies. Distract yourself. Distract, distract, distract.

Color. Draw. Make friendships bracelets.

Go to yoga. Lay out of all the postures, because, chemo. Go anyway.

Crawl under the blankets and cry. Demand your doctors tell you something about their lives before you show them your tits.

It’s a decision for you, and only you, the mastectomy or lumpectomy. Trust yourself. Its a decision, only for you.

Reach out. Keep reaching out. You already did it. It’s so important. It’s so hard. Keep doing it.

It’s not positive. It’s not pink. It’s not happy. It’s cancer. You don’t have to be any of those things. Promise. Fuck them.

So to you, she who was just diagnosed. Call me. I’m here. I want to shake you and tell you, I’m here. You’re taking all the space up in my heart and I can’t stop thinking of you, so please call, and please text. Don’t not contact because you think its too much. It’s too much to have breast cancer when you’re this old. It’s too much to be the only young one. It’s too much to consider mastectomy. It’s too much when every single person tells you to be positive and it’s too much when everyone tell you you’ll be fine. It’s too much to wait for more information. It’s all so fucking much, and it’s not too much to call or text. Promise.

To who, she who was just diagnosed. I’m here. All ways, and always.

Love you.

Me.

So, A Film.

So Callanish produced a film, about their retreats (one of which was so healing for me) and about six young women who have metastatic/recurrent cancer. Tonight, the film was screened. I went.

The film was beautiful. Shot in golden light. Edited carefully, with profiles of the young women portrayed with sunlight dancing on their cheeks and warm blurred moments and yellow daisies swaying in the wind and rose petals floating in a creek. The images were scrumptious, warm, and bathed in golden light. In many ways, these images reflected my own experience of the Callanish retreat: gorgeous, careful, golden, warm, full of heart.

The women told stories of times their doctors gave them weeks to live, they shared their decisions to get married and travel to India and do insane bike rides in the face of terminal diagnoses. They shared spirit, hope, and fears. They echoed the voices of other young adults I’ve known, and I felt many of their stories and worries and hopes deep inside my core. The film profiled a few of those professionals from Callanish who so beautifully receive spirits and bodies battered by cancer and who, through absolutely tender and amazing caregiving, heal the wounds the oncologists cannot see and awaken the souls of people who have been to hell and back. That part was so well-captured, and I could feel their care leaping out through the screen and enveloping us all. I know their care works, because it worked for me.

You know there’s a but coming though, don’t you? It’s a hesitant but. I don’t want to say anything critical about this wondrous place. I don’t want anyone to hear me utter a single word of not good-enough about these amazing people. But.

I could feel it in my chest, a tightening. I sat in a row of young adult cancer survivors, young people who have fast become close friends. We spent the afternoon together with lunch and lattes. We were stoic. Sometimes a tear escaped. Sometimes we held each others hands. Sometimes we nodded. Mostly we were stoic.

I could feel it in my belly, a stone sinking. This pain was real, but bathed in golden light. I yearned for sharp shadows and the harsh light of midday, for the hard angles of the sun that paint faces in black and white- angles and light that feel like cancer. I expected to see not only the loosening of the cancer knot wrapped around each person profiled- the loosening work so carefully done by Callanish- but also, how the knot was tied, how it was bound, how it left marks that yoga cannot soothe away. I know Callanish retreats are out-of-time, that they are out-of-the-rest-of-life, and I think that’s awesome and necessary. I wondered what it would look like to show the anger, to edit in the frustration, to account for the ongoing struggles around pain, medication, and loss. I know that the Callanish retreats are a sacred space that can expand to hold pain, ongoing struggle, and loss. Maybe Callanish retreats can hold so much pain because they are simply soaking in beauty.

But cancer isn’t all beautiful. It isn’t all retreat. And I think to really illuminate WHY that place must be, it needs to be grounded in what young adult cancer actually looks and feels like: grounded in veins that are totally shot from so many IVs, grounded in the humiliation of hair loss, grounded in feeling like the only one, grounded in a system built for older bodies, grounded in anger and pain and loathing and loneliness. Maybe some people know that, and maybe it doesn’t need to be explained and maybe it’s comforting and amazing for the audience to see the sacred space of healing. But I don’t know that people do know that. I actually think most people don’t know what cancer is like, and so they don’t get why the Callanish retreat space is so critical.

After the film, the six women talked about their experience. First, they introduced themselves and were asked to say a bit about how they are doing, now.

Every single woman smiled and said they were doing fantastically. Everyone used the word fantastic. Everyone. Each time, the feeling in my chest got tighter. My stomach flipped. Fantastic. Fantastic. I’m doing fantastic. I feel fantastic. Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic.

Come on.

But then I wondered what the other option was, sitting in front of a giant audience of people, everyone’s eyes on you. Is there discursive space to say anything after fantastic, after someone else has said fantastic? No one wants to be a killjoy. Fantastic. She’s fantastic. They’re fantastic.

It felt so out of synch with the sacred space for when things are not fantastic.

But really, what else can be said? How do you say, this sucks, to a group so large? How do you fail to respond to the question lobbed at cancer survivor after cancer survivor: “What did you learn?” How can you possibly speak anything but positive, happy cancer?

Do we even have the narrative building blocks to say anything but this story with a hopeful narrative arc, this story that resolves with defying the odds, this story that isn’t angry but is grateful, this story that isn’t crippling but is wings soaring? Isn’t it true, that we draw on the worlds we know to tell stories? Aren’t we just like children playing with building blocks, making castles out of squares and rectangles? What if the children need a lopsided octagon? What if their life feels more like a chartreuse squiggly oval, but they have to settle for a green rectangle instead, because the building blocks only come in rectangles and squares and primary colours?

Such are the building blocks of cancer storytelling. Those brilliant young women who shared their stories in the film got the standard set of building blocks, the same ones we all have: primary colours, shapes that fall easily into brick-like formations: squares, rectangles, and maybe a few long flat things. Maybe an octagon or a diamond. But those are the weirdest ones. Forget it if you want a chartreuse squiggly oval. Just forget it.

They were working with those discursive building blocks. But the restlessness in my legs and the ache in my chest and the knot in my belly, those feelings were chartreuse, squiggly, and oval. Anger has no place in these building blocks. There are not feminist building blocks. There are not queer building blocks. There are not sad building blocks. These are building blocks meant for public consumption. Building blocks palatable to the general public. These building blocks are language itself.

Sure, there can be anger at Callanish, because they’ve tried so beautifully to rid the space of discursive building blocks. You don’t have to talk. You don’t have to say anything. And sometimes cancer takes all the words and shoves them off the side of the cliff, so there’s nothing to say anyway.

But I was dying for someone to be honest. I texted my friend Catherine, hopeful her memoir will soon be ready for me to read, a memoir that she herself told me was too angry, too sad, and too queer for most people to like it. I am dying for her honesty. I am dying for her anger, written across the page. I am dying for her account of breast cancer.

I know these women know. I know the Callanish people know. We’ve talked about it. But what is the choice? How does one tell an impossible story, to a theatre full of waiting faces, a theatre filled with pairs of eyes staring down, expectant for something brilliant to be said? And also- aren’t we responsible to tear apart the happy narrative, don’t we have to change the world?

And then it happened.

Someone said cancer was a blessing.

Cue, my disengagement. I just can’t. “Cancer is a blessing” is probably one of the most popular blocks in the cancer-storytelling block set. It’s like a blue square. Hundreds of them. They are everywhere you turn. When you first get diagnosed, people dump “cancer is a gift” storytelling blocks on you like they are going out of style. If you’re me, you chuck them out the window. But then again, I’ve always like being a little oppositional. My mother says its the red hair. Whatever. But truly. A blessing? Why do we cloak it this way? To make others feel like it’s OK we got cancer so young? To placate? To brush away worry?

We needn’t placate. We need to incite. It isn’t OK. We need a revolution. Stat.

And then it happened again.Someone asked these young women what they could teach “us?”

OK, first of all. Us? Why us? And who is “us?” I knew right away I was not a part of the us. I wondered if this question-asker knew. Us- a discursive move that let everyone know that “us” were everyone else, not the aberration, the healthy people. The five of us, sitting in a row and digging our fingernails into each others’ palms- we were outside the us.

Second of all, really? Teach? People who have cancer are prophetic? Really, that was the question?

No one asked what they lost. No one asked what hurt the most. No one asked about a revolution. No one asked about channelling anger. How could they? There are very few building blocks available to ask these kinds of question. There are even fewer to answer with. And everyone knows it. I don’t think its conscious. I think it’s cultural. Political. How we do cancer. It was a pedagogical evening. Full of teachable moments.

I want to unteach though. I’m over pedagogical. I am angry. I am interested in telling a different story, though I know it’s extraordinarily difficult and in telling another story, we mostly fail out of green squiggly chartreuse ovals, and lean on blue squares. Like, with the song. We’ve tried to tell a story of the everyday, a story of the cancer-ed body, a story of anger and healing braided together. Were we successful in refusing the happy pink ribbon narrative? Sometimes I think so, sometimes not. But I’m proud of our effort. I’m proud of our insistence that we have to tell something else. I know that we told a little squiggly chartreuse oval, even we fell back on blue squares sometimes. Each attempt is imperfect, but necessary.

I think the film (which will soon be available on their website and you all should watch it!) was beautiful, but it was hard. It was not what I expected. My stomach was in knots. And you all know where I go when it gets hard- cultural theory! Feminist critique! Because theory always makes everything better. I feel kind of bad, because The Art Therapist Who Presides Over Acrylics and Feathers and Glitter asked me what I thought, and I didn’t want to burst into tears in the middle of the theatre so I started spouting off about discursive space instead, and how storytelling about cancer is im/possible, and how it’s different when people edit together their own stories- and she reminded me that one of the young women worked with the filmmaker. I didn’t mean to say it wasn’t beautiful or important or totally necessary or critical and real. Those are peoples’ stories and they should be held carefully and tenderly and hopefully. And that is all. Except we also have to be engaged and critical and our theories are inside our bodies, too. How could they not be? Embrained bodies. Embodied brains. It’s both.

So theory makes everything better. Or at least, it makes me feel a little less embodied sometimes, and more embrained, so I can get through the hard moments. Theory makes everything better. But then again, so does The Song. The song is, of course, theoretical. It’s deeply engaged with cultural theory and feminist criticism. It has to be- that’s why I love it so much. It lives in my body. But I need to see the anger painted in broad strokes, I need to know I’m not the only one who is sad, I need to hold up what still hurts and I need it to be witnessed. That is exactly what I have gotten at Callanish, but for some reason, the film as a media event also felt disjointed. Maybe that’s just who I am: maybe I should try to be less critical. Maybe I should just appreciate. Maybe I should be more like those young women, women who have worse cancer than me, if we’re comparing. Maybe I should say I’m fantastic more often. Maybe I should throw more rose petals in the creek. Maybe I should do more yoga (well, that is definitely true, isn’t it?). Maybe I should, maybe I should, maybe I should….

But fuck. I need a damn oval squiggly chartreuse building block. I guess I have to make my own. With the song. My friend Catherine is writing a book I’m pretty sure will fit in with my oval squiggly chartreuse building block, and a book I think will make another attempt at angry, queer, sad, feminist cancer, another attempt to keep my song company. Maybe we’ll fail. Definitely sometimes, we will fail. But maybe sometimes we’ll end up with something approximating an oval squiggly chartreuse building block.

Now why do I feel the need to end this post by saying how grateful I am for the film, by writing how beautiful and brave those young women are, by acknowledging that we all have our own processes and that each one is powerful and important and should be held carefully and loved. What is it, that makes me feel like I need to end on that note? A pull to the other kind of story? I’m ending it here. Time to go listen to my song.

A friend’s diagnosis

Imagine me saying “You know, I just thought you shaved your head. I mean, hehheh, your parents are hippies and everything.” That’s what my childhood BFF Rebecca said, yesterday when we talked on the phone for the first time in over a decade, as she reflected on having seen me bald without knowing I had cancer (I know there’s others of you out there, who assumed I’d just shaved my head bald….). She said it, but I could have said it. If I had said it, I would have placed the hehheh exactly as she had, and I would have used the same up turn  at the end of the sentence. Because you see, we sound exactly alike. Apparently, during all those years that were pretty much just an ongoing sleepover at each others’ homes, we developed identical speech patterns. Or so we discovered, twenty years after the fact. It was uncanny. In her words, “I feel like I’m talking to myself.”

We were talking because 24 hours earlier, another close friend from those years was diagnosed with cancer. How weird, right? I kind of thought everyone connected to me was safe, like I took one for the team and the statistics would just never allow for someone I know to also get cancer at this age. But, as a cancer friend once said, “Haven’t you learned we’re not statistics yet?” And so, here we found ourselves, on the phone after all this time, though she sounded exactly the same as she did on the phone twenty years ago. Which must also be how I sounded, and how I sound. But more to the point- we have someone else to support. Someone else, young, body contaminated, facing stats and scary surgeries and the dreadful chemo. And so we lapsed into our old patterns, into conversation that could only be described as the most familiar.

I am so heartbroken for the other friend, D. Rebecca is so speechless. She will make it through, but D will be lonely. Lonely. Cancer is lonely, I explained to the childhood BFF. No one understands, no one we know has had cancer (except, of course, me) and no one knows what to do. And as we talked about being alone and being lonely, about getting the other friend wigs, about how f*cked the environment is, about how our parents are just as weird as ever, about that one camp counsellor who turned us vegetarians as children, about cancer-lonely, I realized. I realized cancer sometimes has to be alone. I realized there are people, like Rebecca, making plans to visit the other friend and who care with all their hearts and souls, people like Rebka who would literally do anything to wipe it away, but still. Still, cancer is lonely, because there is no way to wipe it away. It is writing on the wall, writing with a permanent marker that can’t even be scrubbed off with sandpaper.

D is at the very beginning, the time when the words roll around in the mouth like they don’t belong, so big and awkward that they are unspeakable. Rebecca will love on her, I am sure of it. I will stay in touch. A childhood friend, turned cancer buddy. But I know, things will wane. D will get through treatment, and the meal train can’t go on forever. The visits can’t go on forever. Friends cannot support forever. They will get D through this chaos, this madness, this challenge. They will make sure she has chemo buddies and movies and meals. I know because Rebka told me so, in the same voice I would have told you so, and that voice is so close to my own I can do nothing but trust it. How fortunate I feel to have reconnected with this wondrous person, this person I spent most of my childhood with, this person who sounds just like me, this person who now must be protected from cancer, now that both her childhood friends have been diagnosed so young. But I also know, that this won’t be over for D when her hair starts to grow back soft and fuzzy, and I know it won’t be over when she returns to work, and I know it won’t be over when everyone else is breathing a sigh of relief because it’s over.

It likely seems pessimistic to you, reading this. But it’s real, the loneliness that is cancer, the solitude that is the aftermath, the heartfelt sadness and the physical pain that lingers are real. I know that afterwards, when she is looking aghast at the life that has crumbled, that the friends will be tired. They will want to keep giving, but at some point, they will be tired. And they will need to step away to nourish their own bodies and souls and spirits, and by definition cancer does not nourish, cancer taketh. And then D will be there, alone as she really is even when they’re there, and the din of distraction will wane. And that is cancer. D cannot step away. She can’t opt out of the heartache or the doctors appointments or the lingering side effects. I cat yet tell her this story, but that is why my heart is broken for her. That is why my eyes fill with tears for her. It is terrible to endure the treatment, of course. It is the worst when hair falls out, when skin turns dry, when the body aches. And the enduring solitude is expansive, even as the body heals.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to go down to the beach, where the water meets the forrest. I’m going to sit and think of D, and I’m going to ask the earth to take care of her, and I’m going to hope she feels the ways we are interconnected. Because, we must. We have friends, the best of friends, but they can only accompany, and they can only sometimes witness. We cherish them when they do, especially those old friends like Rebka who can pick up the phone and ask all the hard questions, and who can really listen and feel our responses. And sometimes we must be alone, sometimes there are no witnesses, sometimes we must be where the ocean meets the forest and where ultimately, we can heal.

the day we sang to cancer, fuck you

I sing often. By myself. In the car with the windows rolled down. While I cook when I’m the only one home. I can sing in a group, silly camp songs that have little or no melody and are mostly screamy-shouty-silly. And sometimes when in a large group around a campfire, but only when there’s lots of others to carry the tune and I can mumble along under my breath. And that is it. Never in public. And so when we talked about me and some cancer buddies singing the chorus of the cancer-song I wrote with my friend Kate, I was of course really worried about my never-in-public singing voice.

Except today, I sang loudly and you could hear me and it was awesome.  Today we recorded the song. It was complicated and generative and full of emotion and awesome. We left Vancouver early, and pulled up to a house by a creek out in Coquitlam. In the basement recording studio they were setting up drums. Bit by bit, they worked through each line, practicing. The guys on the drums and bass, Kate on her guitar and singing, me in total disbelief that these people were actually recording this story in music, giving voice to my experience, listening and carefully crafting sound so it can be shared. I mean seriously- when does that happen?

On our way over, we discussed the way some folks raised their eyebrows about the swearing in the song. “It takes away from the message,” they explained, “It will turn people off.” Others worried we might offend health care providers with the chorus, which goes “And they took my left tit away like they didn’t even give a shit/and I’m the brink of a fit of rage ’cause all I’m surrounded with is breast cancer pink.” You know what I think? I think people are responding to the voicing of breast cancer as angry more than the expletives or even the “they didn’t give a shit.” I think it’s uncomfortable because its too close to the skin. It cuts too close to the heart. It’s too painful to think about. And so people react.

It certainly is my experience that they didn’t give a shit- literally, they cannot, because it’s not their breast immobilized and cut off. It’s not their breast that becomes hospital trash. They didn’t save the majority of my breast, the parts they didn’t use for the pathology. They trashed it. A cancer-buddy informed me today of a scandal in which hospital trash was used to generate heat and air conditioning for Californian homes. I could maybe get on board with heat. But air conditioning? No. Even if the doc has the best bedside manner ever and even though I certainly feel so cared for by them- they still cut into my body and removed a part of me and it’s gone forever, and probably a lot of it got thrown in the trash, and maybe its in a landfill next to used computer screens and broken wine bottles, and maybe there’s seagulls eating it, and maybe it is being burned to heat some Northern Californian home. That is not caring.That is participating in a system that doesn’t care, and even if you’re participating because you want to cure breast cancer, its still horribly pathologizing and its still not giving a shit. If it was testicles we were talking about, they would have found a way to save them by now that actually works, not like the half-assed attempts at lumpectomies that result in lower survival rates among young women, and that provide no comfort at all, especially if you’re under 40 and have no way to access any kind of reliable screening. Giving a shit would be answering my question when I ask how much longer until they get the needle out of my breast, and giving a shit would be offering me a screening MRI because my cancer was undetectable without me having to ask. Giving a shit is almost impossible in the system.
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Anytime any of us says anything negative about our doctors, or anything that’s not “they’re amazing they saved my life” everyone gets up in arms. There’s such a need to glorify doctors, and patients are supposed to be grateful. It’s gendered. An angry man would be more appropriate. I should instead be grateful they saved my nipple, grateful they reconstructed a lump that kind of matches the other half of my chest, grateful grateful grateful. I am of course grateful to be alive, but the purpose of the song isn’t to make those doctors feel OK about their work. Their paychecks should take care of that. The song is supposed to give voice to something else, someone else. There’s not words for cancer-trauma, it is especially word-less, especially unable to be metabolized in language, especially deserving of a giant fuck you. When I asked a fellow young breast cancer buddy if the swearing was OK, ending the question by explaining that some people had reservations, she retorted, “These people with reservations have their left tit intact? Then they get no say. It’s totally appropriate.” Obviously. The song is supposed to shock you into rethinking your assumptions about breast cancer, its supposed to queer this exhausting happy-happy narrative, its supposed to make our experience visible.
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And yet something felt weird, a little raw, kind of embarrassing as we sat together in the dark basement studio, and the sounds came together in the most awesome of ways. They appreciated the words, these musician guys, I think. But they were guys, they haven’t had breast cancer- or any cancer- and I doubt they’d call themselves feminists. We slipped upstairs for some tea. Kate felt it too, acknowledging the challenges in doing feminist work in a studio full of men. The breast cancer narrative is so entrenched and so gendered. It’s hard to queer that pink-ribbon story, hard to weave a breast cancer experience defined by anger and frustration into public discourse. I took great comfort knowing Kate felt that too, and that she’s been doing this kind of queer and feminist work for a long time, and sometimes it’s hard, but it’s still insanely critical, so important, good and hard work. You gotta look up to someone who rocks out like that- both literally and metaphorically- so hard. And so we took a few breaks. She’s been close enough to breast cancer that she can grasp the horror, see through the bullshit, and laugh at the right moments. Being able to both grasp the horror and laugh at it is both totally unique and incredibly important.

And when it was time, us cancer girls gathered around the microphone, and tentatively at first, we sang the chorus. And then again. And then again. And then again. Until we sang it so many times there was no more tentative, there was just lyrics on a page and a fuck you cancer feeling and us singing. It was awesome. And I sang in public. Or public-ish, at least.

It was all of the emotions, today in the studio. I was excited to be part of the process, I was nervous to sing, I was intimidated by these amazing musicians, I was in awe of the music, I was sad about the cancer, I was giddy to hear my story sung, I was pissed off about patriarchal capitalism, I was reflective about this whole long year, I was grateful to have such creative-earth-shaking friends. As the music and the feelings filled the basement studio I cried because it was awkward and the boys didn’t get it; I cried because cancer sucks so hard; I cried because when I heard all of our voices together- my voice and Kate’s voice and Kara’s and Kristina’s voices in the second to last chorus- it sounded like an entire cancer-chorus and I felt so not alone; I cried because it’s such an incredible thing to have this story-song and I’m so intensely grateful to Kate and the boy musicians and Kristina and Kara for making it happen.

We did it. It was awesome. You will hear it soon. I love it. I will keep listening, and the song will continue to be a generative source of healing, comfort, and awesome. Here are the four of us, after singing our hearts out in the chorus. It was incredible, and it was healing, comforting, and awesome. Oh, and we’re fucking pissed off about breast cancer.

pissed off

On Being Read

I’ll begin by saying that I know I’ve written about Callanish often lately, most recently about Kathy’s all-too-soon parting with the earthly world. It’s only because they’ve made such a wild, and surprising difference for me. But tonight, I attended an event marking the turn of seasons, the equinox that happened today at 7:29 pm PST. When I walked into Callanish tonight, I was greeted by the most stunning of bouquets, a bouquet filled with orange and purple and red and deep jewel tones, a bouquet capable of taking my breath away, a bouquet in utter and total stunning beauty. And so went the evening of counsel: beautiful, breath-taking, heart-open, full. People remembered Kathy, and they shared their desire for a hopeful future, and they let us into their complete heartbreak surrounding her death, and they sang songs and trusted and listened and ate cookies.

Urged by J The Wise, the woman at the helm of Callanish, I tried to listen entirely, I tried to hang onto each word, I tried not to think about whether I would talk (no, I had already decided) and I tried to savour each word, each chord, each feeling, each tear, each nervous laughter, each moment of silence, each hand reaching into mine, each line of wisdom shared.

I did speak after all, and more than one person asked me, afterwards, if I was “the Chelsey that wrote the blog.” I was. indeed. How interesting to be told by others how much my tiny little corner of networked media means to them, how profound for so many people to tell me that my brief words about a woman I only knew to be great meant so much to them.

I almost didn’t know what to say. I giggled nervously. I thanked them for reading. It wasn’t until I was on my way out the door that I finally worked up the courage to say how I really felt- When  The Callanish Doc In Residence told me she read/watched again and again, I told the The Callanish Doc In Residence how honoured I was that something I wrote could touch her so much she cried. And it is true. It is so heartening to know that the writing that helped me to process news that shook me to the core- news that came with a sadness that surprised me- could also help someone else, could also be meaningful to someone else, could also touch someone else.

I think it is the quality of listening, the quality of hanging on words and ideas and emotions, the quality of being so present that nothing else exists, that is so precious and hopeful, this quality that draws us together, demands we be together even, in community.

Some people- OK, lots of people- would say this quality of listening is outside of technology, a quality of listening that manifests in circles without cellphones,a quality of listening achieved in community counsel circles with stunning bouquets and iPhones silenced (but still buzzing- I heard them). I beg to differ. As always, I love a good theoretical debate. But tonight, I’ve also got an emotional, embodied experience that makes me shake my head at claim that this quality of listening has something to do with/out technology.

Because you see, you’ve all given it to me. You’ve shown me that in this very digital space, there is a quality of listening to be had that is deep and profound. You’ve shown me I can be heard. You’ve shown me you listen (and I do know how many, many of you read this blog daily, and I am touched. I won’t pretend I don’t check the stats like, always. I love seeing the countries this blog makes it to!) and you’ve shown me you value these words, through your sheer consistency, and tonight, through your words and kind, kind, comments.

I am humbled. Humbled to be read, to be understood with a quality of listening that is rare and deep. Humbled that you read these words, because truth be told, I’m much more articulate in writing than I can ever be between silly laughs and awkward pauses in my speech.

And so I thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for continuing to listen. Sometimes I wonder if my “readership” will go down now that I’m cancer-free (or something- Dr. G never calls it that, but she does speak of hoping I’m “cured”) but amazingly,  you continue to read. How grateful I am to you, how generous of you to allow me this space to share what I know and what I wonder and mostly, what I don’t know; how kind of you to read with such attention, to comment with such open hearts, to love wholly and without expectations. How profound to experience a quality of listening so whole, so heartful, so wide that it jumps across the globe. It is amazing to imagine my community, my community reading my posts- and to know that my imagined community is so impactful it consistently, coherently, and relentlessly, in a hundred wild ways, makes material impact on the world.

Tonight, I am humbled. Because you listen with a quality I never anticipated, because this space has come to mean so very much to me, because I am certain I wouldn’t have gotten through the cancer without you reading this blog, because storytelling is part of who we are as humans, because you care, I am humbled.