Writing, Lessons on Greatness, and What’s Up With Those Tumor Markers, Anyway?
Ah, the great juggling act of life. Attempting to keep all of those pesky balls up in the air at once, simultaneously and perpetually, can discourage even the most practiced, talented, energetic, and coordinated of jugglers. Career, family, health, love, finances, spiritual concerns, creative needs, chores, and countless obligations ranging from the mundane to the apocalyptic are all whirling about in the space above our heads at any given moment, threatening to come crashing down upon us, either crushing us or breaking themselves into irreparable pieces. None of it good.
My doctor doesn’t understand why I don’t walk with my husband and my dogs in the beautiful forest that surrounds my home. My granddaughter doesn’t understand why I don’t want to get cleaned up and go to the pumpkin patch on Saturday morning, or in fact, that I don’t want to get cleaned up that day at all. Not at 9 am, or 11 am, or at three in the afternoon. I listlessly lounge on the sofa as the clocks ticks past the hour of the Octoberfest-style party I had planned to attend, and had truly wanted to attend. I can’t will myself to get up. Pajamas and heating pads, those are the things I long for, my sweet, sweet candy.
I am a teacher, a writer, a cancer survivor, a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—and I am also that person always on the verge of dropping the ball. Or balls. Maybe all of them. And maybe good riddance to some of them, anyway. You know? Why do I find it so tiring these days? I suspect that some of the balls have gotten heavier over time and therefore the whole system is wobbling, so to speak. Some of the balls are light, frothy as whipped cream, and require very little effort to keep afloat. Others are more dense and multilayered than Spaulding golf balls, heavier than lead. Synchronize that? How?
Part of the problem is the absence of consistent, thoughtful, and well-organized training. A personal trainer for life, that’s what I need.
Enter applicant number one: Writing. Cleansing, mostly rewarding, personal, intimate even, demanding, elusive. Yes, writing is a good candidate.
Number two is teaching, and in particular an aspect of teaching that I love, and hate, and think is exciting, and boring… It’s always changing. New kids, new curriculum, no curriculum, state curriculum, national curriculum, testing, training…lawyering up. Yes, teaching is a great training ground. Just this week a group of middle school teachers in Southern California were trained in ERWC, that’s the expository reading and writing course developed by the California State University system to facilitate teacher learning aligned to Common Core Standards, which in turn will be used to “train” our youth for college and career readiness. Good stuff! One of our sample modules is based on the article by Geoff Colvin published in Fortune magazine in 2006, “What it Takes to be Great.” Apparently, with “deliberate practice” and years of hard work, any one of us can achieve greatness in any endeavor, regardless of any notion of natural or inborn talent. This is one example of the kind of critical, evaluative, soul-searching thought and discovery that teaching engenders. Teachers experience the world through the innocent, (or callow) souls of youth, but also through the texts of the ages. Yes, teaching is a good candidate.
How about cancer? Cancer, in it’s very essence, implies, no, that is not precision language, there is no implication involved, it dictates loss of control. It is mysterious multiplications metastasizing. It is sneaky, quiet, and, at its most powerful, deadly. Millions of lives are changed forever by its power. How does that train anyone? Well, okay, maybe a juggler needs to relax a bit, let go of the idea of constant surveillance and personal power over the balls. Cancer can certainly teach those skills. In the beginning, when first diagnosed, constant surveillance is often the defining feature for the patient. The internet has made this understandably more overwhelming and addictive than ever. Log on to any cancer website and you’ll see what I mean. We’re talking plethora. And how about all of that pink? Talk about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses! I’ll never look at another pair of ribbon-adorned baby girl pajamas the same way again. Pink ribbons mean breast cancer, not baby girls. Get it through your head, America! Still, if you’re going to give up control, free yourself of the notions of immortality, strength, and planning your own calendar… you can’t do better than to hire cancer. And, by the way, it comes in all colors, for all races, creeds, ages, and genders. Cancer is an equal opportunity trainer.
Writing, I’m keeping you on. Teaching, I think I can give you a couple more years. Cancer… if you give me a year of clear scans and lower those darn tumor markers on my blood and urine tests… (as if I can bargain with you), I guess I have no choice but to keep you on.
Wishing you luck in keeping your balls up!
(Summary: Loma Linda scans: clear. Tumor markers: elevated. News that isn’t news. More juggling predicted!)