It’s been a very long time since I posted. A lot has happened that I have been tempted to write about. Elections, mass shootings, natural disasters, fiscal cliffs, Taylor Swift … lots of messy, juicy, complicated stuff (surely, there’s no argument about the complexity of the subtext in Ms. Swift’s “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together“).
But I have been mute. Overwhelmed by the holidays and the velocity of life perhaps. I didn’t even get my annual Christmas letter out, although I did try. Yes, I’m one of those people – I write a form letter for the holidays. It started when I moved to Chicago in 1988 and with the exception of a year here and there, I have faithfully digested, in a page or two, the banality of my year and then mailed it off to friends and family. I know. Lucky them.
Here’s what I started to write this year. Updates and commentary are in red:
Dear Friends & Family: [yes, it's always this personal]
Here we are: the season of light, hope, anticipation. In my world, however, the weeks after Thanksgiving frequently dissolve into a season of anxiety and dread [they did, with a cold and flu adding to the misery]. Too much to do. Too many places to go. Too many things to prepare for. This year has been especially overwhelming. I am not sure why. I am surrounded by family and friends, I have been off chemo for six months, I have a job, food, a home … I have so much to be grateful for.
I chalk up some of my ennui to an impending 50th birthday but for some reason, this year I am also deeply aware of the contrast between holiday abundance and celebration and real world need and uncertainty. It seems impossible, this year, to celebrate the good stuff without also acknowledging what’s difficult and complex.
I stopped chemo in June. While I haven’t achieved a desired complete response (CR), the treatment I’ve received has gotten me to very good partial response (VGPR). Since continued treatments weren’t moving the needle towards CR, we consulted Mayo and decided to “go commando” – stop treatment and just monitor the disease. So far, my numbers have held steady and decreases in protein indicate that my kidneys are recovering. Six months off the chemo teat feels great. I hold my breath and hope for a chemo-free 2013 [And so far, so good. I saw Dr. Singhal last week and my numbers are okay so I have another 3 month reprieve. Woot!].
[Here's the travel roundup, an annual feature of the letter] We had some great journeys this year, including a trip to the Turks & Caicos for Spring Break. It’s always nice to return to a place and discover that it’s as beautiful as you remember and that you’d go back again (and again). We also made our annual trek to Martha’s Vineyard and celebrated my Mom’s 80th in Minnesota in June. Later in the summer, David and I got away to Vegas and I continued on to Seattle to spend some time with college friends there. Delightful. A week after returning from Seattle, we drove to Canada for a week of unplugged bliss before school.
I was pleased with the results of the election this fall, though I know many weren’t. And while I’m glad of Obama’s win, I’m not nearly as optimistic as I was the first time around. The divisions in this country are monumental and will take more than a term or two to mend.
I’m also buoyed by the slow but forward march towards federal marriage equality. It’s great that more and more states are acknowledging civil marriage for gays and lesbians but the struggle won’t be over until there is federal parity. It’s time. I never thought I’d say this, but maybe it will happen in my lifetime [I can get on a soapbox, even in a Christmas letter!].
Not So Good Stuff
Calvin was officially diagnosed with autism this summer. While this wasn’t a real surprise, it was the end of my magical thinking that Cal would “grow out of it” and would suddenly become a typical kid. Oddly, it feels a bit like coming out all over again, finally acknowledging this thing that’s always been true. So our journey continues, now just openly, as we try to help Cal become independent, confident, successful and less frustrated by the unique obstacles he faces. I also remind myself that he is still a beautiful eight year old boy: swimming, TV, bowling, the iPad, beach time and pizza are his passions. Not so atypical, I guess. And the fact that he is surrounded by understanding teachers, loving family and friends means far more than any treatment or therapy ever can [We are seeing a behavioral therapist now who is helping alleviate some of the frustration for all of us].
While my health has been improving, some of my friends have begun or continue to wrestle with serious health issues. I suppose it’s good that I am able to be the chemo cheerleader, but it sucks (there’s no other word) to see friends and their caregivers struggle with the pain and the uncertainty of bad news. At times, I have felt guilty for my own recent good news and ashamed of my fear that bad news will return. [Our friend Chris passed away on January 12 after more than three years living with colon cancer - in addition to missing his humor and straightforwardness, I am sad that there will be no more Linda & Chris at the poker table and backyard barbecues. I will also miss having a buddy to commiserate with about shitty, life-threatening diseases, equally shitty treatment options and doctors who don't always get it.]
David and I both struggle with a lack of creativity in our lives. Happenstance has led to jobs that are financially rewarding but don’t allow the time or freedom to pursue much artistically. I know … poor us. Anyway, while we are thankful for stability, for money, health insurance and the like, there’s still an creative need that’s not being filled. Hopefully, there will be some change in the near future that will give us creative outlet and let us be more artistically adventurous [Ugh, this sounds like Courtney from "Dances to Songs I Hate" wrote this - someone please slap me hard ... or send me to a gulag and make me do Aesthletics. Apologies to David for dragging him into the mix].
I’m certainly not alone in feeling gloomy about the world today. I’m less worried about a fiscal cliff than I am about a social cliff. People are so disconnected from one another these days, less interested in authentic interaction than in virtual distraction. Now that we’re able to filter out opposing points of view and unpleasantness and have limitless, on-demand access to only the information we want, life is becoming completely subjective and gated: narrow, brittle, predictable and unoriginal. [Mercifully, this is where I stopped]
Merry Christmas! Not. It’s no wonder why I gave up and just sent a picture this year. And in a way, the image of Calvin dancing on the rocks near the water in Canada says exactly what I couldn’t say in the letter. Life is precarious, joyful. Dance near the edge even if it means you need to wear a life jacket.