WEEKLY WRITING CHALLENGE: SNAPSHOT OF LIVING POOR

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Should I buy it? Do I need it?

I sit here a mass of nerves, stomach jumping, head spinning. What’s the problem?

My Kindle isn’t working like it should anymore. It has served me well for more than two years. Now, things that didn’t work perfectly at the start work even less well. It’s beginning to die. So what’s the problem? Get a new one, right?

Poverty. I can buy it cheaper now — on credit — than will be possible for months (years?) to come. I depend on my Kindle. I don’t buy paper books. No room. I have to make a decision. Today.

My hands are shaky. I should use what I’ve got until it dies then buy something. But that won’t work well. I’ll wind up paying full price. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

You wouldn’t think I’d get into such a stomach-churning lather over spending $200 — especially when it’s something I use constantly, on which I depend. You wouldn’t think so. You’d think, at my age, this decision would be simple, obvious. But never having enough money means nothing is obvious or simple.

My moment in time. Sitting on the edge of a razor, ready to slide downward. I feel myself about to be cut in two. I see us losing the house, living in our car, no place to go. The moment is pure panic worry, anxiety, insecurity. Caught doubting myself, my motives, my reasons. Gut-wrenching fear, because the ever-hungry demons of poverty shadow me, make me second-guess each purchase, no matter how tiny.

Should I have bought the cheaper spaghetti? The generic rice? Not bought the fish that wasn’t on sale? Skipped the better dog food? Never mind a Kindle. I don’t deserve it. The other one still works, sort of. What’s wrong with me?

There’s no fun in this. No fun, no reward. I’ll be sorry no matter what I do.

I hate being poor. Right now, I hate being me.

Daily Prompt: Rocks, boulders, life

Asking for help is easy. Getting it may not be.

I don’t mean getting someone to review your post or help you carry a heavy box up the stairs. Those are easy things, no big deal. You’ll happily do such things for anyone, even a near stranger … and they for you.

What about when you can’t manage the basic stuff of life on your own anymore? When a bag of groceries is too heavy? When the stairs to your apartment loom like Mount Everest?

Ask you family for help? Think about that. When was the last time one of them offered to help? When have your kids volunteered to lend a hand when they weren’t looking for some cash? They’re busy. Maybe they can find a little time around Thanksgiving. Or New Year’s.

“But I need help today! I need to do some cleaning. I can’t do it myself.” The silence is deafening.

Who will offer to help? The people who can barely take care of themselves, who have lives full of caring for the needs of others. They will find time. People who give because it’s in their nature to give. The rest? It’s painful enough to have to ask … much worse to be told “no.”

Growing older has nasty psychological components and plenty of good, solid reasons for fear. Real issues of being left to the care of unfriendly strangers, unable to physically manage the day-to-day tasks of life are terrifying. There’s nothing psychological about them. No amount of thinking them through is going to make them disappear. The tasks they represent are not optional.

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Everyone needs food, medicine, trips to doctors. Sometimes, we even need to just get out of the house and see that there’s still a world out there.

Everyone would rather not need help. Universally, people prefer to be self-sufficient. The problem arises when that’s no longer an option and suddenly, the world has a frozen, dark look. It’s not your world any more.

The realities you’ve always managed on your own, automatically, without assistance are real rocks. Boulders in the middle of your life, immovable. Huge, heavy, solid. Waiting. And there is no simple solution. Maybe, there is no solution at all.

Daily Prompt: Do over and over and over?

Do I think it’s ever possible to get life “right”?

In a word? No.

And how dull would it be if we did?

RepetitionSigned

Watch Out for the Pod People!

Everything and everybody changes. Most of my family and friends have changed relatively gradually over the years. Recently a couple of people I’ve known for a long time have changed suddenly and dramatically. Overnight, they became dry and humorless.

It appears they had a humorectomy. While they slept, their sense of humor was removed. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it’s deeply disturbing. I think it’s possible they have been replaced by pods, like the  “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

I could not survive if I did not see how ridiculous my life is. If the absurdity of it didn’t make me laugh, I would do nothing buy cry and bewail my state. Laughter heals me. It’s better than sex. Better than yoga, meditation, medication, or street drugs. It’s free, unrestricted by laws, available to anyone who is not yet dead and is acceptable behavior under almost all religious systems.

Many friends are going through rough times. Their problems vary, but the results are the same. Stress, anguish, fear, worry, insomnia. You worry, try to keep it together until you’re ready to explode.

What can you do? If the light at the end of the tunnel is indeed the headlight of an oncoming train, I say: “Buckle up and let your hair blow in the wind. It’s going to be a Hell of a ride.”

Laughing at the craziness, insanity, ludicrousness, the utter absurdity of my life — and the demented world in which I live it — is my first line of defense against despair. Take away laughter, strip away my sense of humor and I’m a goner.

At our wedding — 22 years ago — my cousin and I danced the hora. What makes the dance so memorable  – other than discovering that she was in great shape and I wasn’t — was feeling like I was going to spin out of control.  That feeling of being grabbed by something stronger than me and being twirled and spun with no ability to control what happens has become an allegory for life.

I laugh any time I can, at anything that strikes me as even a little bit funny. It helps me remember why I bother to keep living.

My friends make me laugh. I make then laugh. When our lives are in tatters and everything around us is collapsing, we laugh. Then, we take a deep breath, and laugh some more. The more awful the situation, the more dreadful and intractable the problems, the funnier it is. We are not laughing at tragedy … we are laughing at life.

The difference between tragedy and comedy is how you look at it. Laugher is the universal cure for griefs of life.

If the moccasins pinch, wear them

I just read another post on the power of positive thinking. I was glad to hear again how I can conquer pain and make my problems go away by believing they will.  Does God really reserve his blessing for those with a positive attitude?

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I don’t think there’s a malevolent deity or evil destiny stalking me or anyone else. Life just is. It’s not omens and portents: it’s stuff that happens.

Positive thinking is not bad.  It’s just that positive thinkers have a way of forgetting how suffering people don’t necessarily want a pep talk. They want to be in less, preferably no, pain. They want love, comfort and sympathy. My suggestion? Listen to them, find out what they want and do your best to give it to them. Your positivity may cure your problems and you are welcome to use it to make yourself feel better. Just don’t impose it on me or anyone else. Don’t force people to smile when they want to cry so you can feel okay.

I’ve got more than a few physical problems that are difficult to manage. There are bad days. I want to avoid dragging others down, but I have given up trying to make everyone else feel better by internalizing everything.

It’s unfair to tell people to relax, be happy, smile and that will make everything fine. It’s not true. Internalizing pain and sadness increases stress and makes problems worse. Don’t stop believing, but quit imposing. If you can make your own pain go away by force of will, good for you. In the meantime, remember: only you are you. The rest of us are different. A single solution, attitude or way of thinking does not fit everyone.

It is said you cannot know anyone until you’ve walked in their moccasins. Be careful: those moccasins can pinch something fierce.

Make Mine Maroon

I have come to dislike pink. It was never my favorite color. Too little girly for my taste and not a color that ever looked good on me. Very dark pink, hot pink is okay, but that rosebud pink always seems to suit other people, not me. Then, I had breast cancer. Since then, I am besieged by pink … not only the color, but an attitude.

I lost both breasts and got, in return, two nice fake breasts. Implants are not real breasts. They are vastly better than nothing, but they aren’t flesh. They have little or no sensation and I’m not sure how long it will be until they stop feeling like alien invaders.  The implants look fine under clothing but somehow aren’t me.

I am tired of being told my attitude is the critical issue rather than the disease. A lot of people seem to want me to be upbeat because if I’m happy, it makes them feel safer; these people do not want to hear if I am at sometimes besieged by feelings of sadness and loss. Considering the prevalence of breast cancer … of cancer in general … that’s sad. We really should have long since improved our ability to understand. But cancer scares the bejeezus out of everyone and no one wants to deal with that.

Walking around grim and full of impending doom is not necessarily a good choice, but each of us should be allowed to feel how we feel even if it’s bad. We’ve taken a major loss. Telling us we shouldn’t feel unhappy, that we should stay positive is unfair and infuriating. It ought to be acceptable to be fearful, worried, to mourn losses, to wonder “why me?” People complain about a lot less. They moan and complain about their bosses, their love life, their cars, traffic and the weather, but if I complain I had cancer … that’s not okay? Really?

Fake breastsI come from a family where cancer has taken a lot of lives. Getting it wasn’t exactly a bolt out of the blue. The closeness of these losses is not reassuring. It will be too late for me, but I’m sure there are many undiscovered genetic links to be found. They are evident in family histories, including mine. Eventually, these connections will be discovered and I hope research money is being spent on this type of genetic research. Being able to predict and prevent cancer would be much better than trying to make it go away.

I hate the “Pink” culture. I resent it. Glorifying breast cancer as if it were a kind of gift — which it isn’t — is unfair. Treating it as if it’s a “test” that if we pass, makes us heroines is equally ridiculous.

I am entitled to be pissed off. Frustrated with endless round of ill-health. I can’t afford denial. That’s a direct route to early death, or at least earlier than need be. Denying reality and pretending everything is fine when everything is NOT fine is unhealthy. No one with a serious illness can afford it. One way or the other, the problem is not my (or anyone’s) attitude, positive or otherwise. The problem is cancer.

Absolutely no evidence of any kind exists to confirm the widespread belief that a positive attitude results in a higher survival rate.

That’s a myth perpetuated by people who are threatened by your cancer. If you have a positive attitude, maybe it means that the boogie man won’t get them.

Reality bites. Cancer is sinister and sneaky. It profoundly changes your life, even if it doesn’t kill you. It casts a long shadow under which you will always live.

I resent sappy postings on Facebook telling me that all cancer patients care about is living another day, that we have abjured selfish desires like money. Really? Personally, I would be delighted to get an infusion of money. I’d love to have a new car. Pay down the mortgage. Fix the driveway. So, please feel free to send your checks. Cash, personal checks and money orders are all accepted and if you want information for direct transfer into my account, I’m sure we can work it out. No donation is too small. Please encourage friends and family to donate too. Unlike regular charities, I promise to send you a personalized thank you note.

Cancer is a financial disaster for many, if not most people. Depending on what insurance you have and where you live, it can deplete your resources and leave you with nothing. It’s part of why maintaining that smiling face everyone wants to see can be so hard. Bad enough you’re sick. Bad enough they’re removing body parts. But you’re also broke and may never recover.

I remind myself that all of us are here on a temporary guest permit, that no one gets out of this world alive. Any one of us could be felled by a speeding car or hit by a meteor. No one gets a guarantee. Cancer adds another layer, a ticking clock you hear inside your head. You know that the odds of  getting cancer again are high, even if your surgery went perfectly and everything looks clean. As one of my more realistic oncologists said: “It just take one cell. Just one.”

One single undetectable cell finding a compatible place to land and grow is all it takes. You won’t find it until it’s big enough to produce symptoms. If the original organ(s) has been removed, the cell will have to find a new home in a different organ and no one can predict where that might be. Or how long in the future it may become large enough to notice. It could be a long time, long enough to give you a full life … and it could have already started somewhere and you just don’t know. Not knowing, wondering, alternating ups and down of hope and fear are damaging to your mental health and esprit de corps.

You want to be fine, you plan to be fine yet you find yourself always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

A positive attitude will not alter the course of the disease in any way, though it will make you more fun to have around. Pretending to be positive makes others less afraid. It will make your family and friends feel better. To some degree, we do it because what’s the point of spreading gloom? If it doesn’t help you, maybe will help them. The “acquaintances” and other people who impose the obligation to smile regardless of your real feelings are not concerned with your welfare. Most of them could care less how you feel. They just  don’t want to deal with your pain or the threat you represent to their peace of mind. They want you to be okay so they can feel okay.

The culture of positivity that has developed around a bad and painful experience is phony and unfair. Living a lie is not solving any problems. Forcing women to smile when they want to scream is an old, old story: we’ve been doing it for centuries. It’s another version of the Happy Face … housewives with fake smiles taking care of everything while no one considers how they feel. It’s the 1950s redux.

The offensive pink trash bin.

I do not buy into it .

There a reason you can never get a straight answer from an oncologist. Ask them if taking tamoxifen or whatever nasty concoction they are giving you will improve your long-term survival and they will quote statistics. You know and they know a statistic is a numerical average built on a volume of data. It has nothing to do with you as an individual, nor with your history, or genetic package.

When big bright pink trash bins imprinted with that infernal pink ribbon began showing up around town, I blew a small gasket. PINK TRASH BINS? We are celebrating breast cancer with trash bins? You’re kidding, right?

I understand people think they are doing the right thing by telling you how lucky you are to have “caught it in time,” to be alive. Not dying isn’t lucky. If I were lucky, I would still have breasts. Not getting cancer would be lucky. Mostly, just be nice. Unless you’ve been there, you don’t get to offer advice. If you’ve been there, you can share. Otherwise, say something polite, then shut up.

Surviving is grueling and exhausting. We get tired, we have good days and bad. If we are suffering, we want commiseration. If we aren’t in physical distress, laughter is a great medicine. I don’t need friends to tell me not to worry — I know I shouldn’t and we all know I will — but humor is the best gift you can give. It’s free, too. I love to laugh. On the other hand, if this is one of those days during which I want to bitch at the unfairness of life, that should be okay. Friends don’t tell friends how to feel. Cancer is scary: if I have to cope with it, so do you.

If you want my address to send your check or money order, let me know!

Here’s a link that might help give perspective and maybe give someone a chuckle, too. Laughter is good for the soul. It isn’t going to cure anything, but it feels so good!

Everybody dies, but not today

Today was beautiful. Bright and shiny as a new penny, the trees are in the first stages of color change, with scarlet and brilliant yellow patches against the dark green of late summer foliage.

I went out to get my annual flu shot that ought to be the “Avoid The Flu” shot. I have begun to always carry my little Canon point and shoot camera in my bag so if something catches my eye, I capture it and take it home with me. I’d prefer using the Olympus, but I don’t feel comfortable just dropping it into my bag. I’m enough of a klutz these days that I’d probably drop it.

Thus the truism: The best camera is the one you have with you. Ironic really. My high quality lens is home and my modest little Canon is taking the pictures. Tomorrow I’ll bring the good camera. Unless it rains.

The color is coming fast now. September is ending. In less than two weeks, we’ll be at the peak of whatever color we’ll get this season. By the end of October, most of the leaves will be stripped off the trees, hip deep in our yard.

That’s the normal cycle in New England, if there is any such thing as “normal” here. If we get a storm with heavy rain, Autumn can wash away in an afternoon. This year, I’m trying to not miss anything. I’ve already missed too much.

My sense of urgency is exacerbated by having been sick and losing years of my life while recuperating. Last time, it was breast cancer. It wasn’t my first  fight for life and it obviously won’t be the last. We are all going to die: it’s only a matter of when and from what cause.

Cancer is a game changer. No one gets it and walks away unchanged. It certainly did a number on me.

I don’t like talking about cancer. I hate that I lost both breasts to two simultaneous tumors, one per breast. The odds against that are astronomically huge. It doesn’t happen. One in three million or something like that. But, there is always that “one” and apparently I am she.

I tell folks the Faulkner was having a two-for-one sale on implants and I couldn’t turn down a bargain. But really, I got mentally bludgeoned twice in two weeks. It blew out all my circuitry. As much as surgery weakened and hurt my body, learning I had cancer twice was worse. It damaged my soul and left me in a wilderness that was dark, strange and full of monsters.

Cancer is sinister. There you are feeling okay. You have no symptoms, Nothing is bothering you. Then you discover you not only have cancer, but you have had it for who-knows-how-long. While you were doing your everyday things and time was calmly passing, something was eating you from the inside and you didn’t even know it. How could I not know or even suspect?

It was just this time of year, two years ago. My surgery was two weeks away: October 10, 2010. Both breasts would be gone, replaced by “filler” that in turn would be replaced by silicon implants.

My body took longer to heal than I thought it should. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I didn’t think the surgery would be a big deal. I’d survived so much surgery and nearly died multiple times. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to die this time, so I figured anything that wasn’t going to kill me couldn’t be serious.

The surgery was nasty, but pain is an old friend and all I had to do was wait it out. The emotional hit was something else. I had lost my breasts which was bad, but I had lost me and that was worse. Whatever that particular thing was that made me, “me” was gone.

I hated the way I felt. I hated being dependent. I wondered why I was alive, except I knew that I had to keep going. If not for my best friend and my husband, I don’t know what would have become of me.

For them, I fought darkness. I couldn’t do it for myself because I had no self, but love is a strange thing. It poked and prodded at me. They were trying so hard for me, I had to try for them. So when I felt I couldn’t breathe, I did anything I could to keep my mind away from the dark places. I read relentlessly. I talked to no one and went nowhere. Healing for me is very private. Sleep was dangerous because bizarre images left me with a head full of twisted images, which, it turned out, were the result of the medication they were feeding me.

I hated my body. It hurt. Everywhere. The drugs that were supposed to prevent a recurrence left me in constant pain, bloated and looking like a parody of the Pillsbury dough boy. My fake breasts look normal to the world, but they feel alien to me.

Then it was autumn. Again. For a full year, I had not left the house except to go to a doctor or hospital. The lure of the autumn reached me … the changing light and bright leaves made me restless. I listened to the wind and went out to play.

I was better. My good days were as common as bad ones and I was not so sad. I wanted to see friends. I bought a new camera and started to shoot, learn new techniques. I began to write again. I was back. It wasn’t the old me, but it was someone I recognized.

I’m not the person I was before. Serious illness, lethal illness, changes you. I’ve fought my way back again. I’ve lost body parts and the damage to my self-image seems to be permanent. But who knows? Time changes everything. It’s slow and relentless. Incremental little alterations that carve a canyon where once a mountain stood.

Please don’t tell me I am lucky or brave. If I were lucky I would not have gotten cancer. Survival is an instinct, not valor. No pink ribbons either. The whole “put on a happy face, cancer doesn’t bother us” is bullshit. If you aren’t bothered by cancer, you have some serious psychological issues you need to address. Pronto. Or you are getting better medication than I am.

Today, blogging is my drug of choice. I write about whatever I feel like writing about. I spent a lot of years following instructions. Now I do it for fun.

Another year has rolled around. My New Year begins with the full moon tomorrow. Autumn is back. The circle is complete. Trees are gold and red and I’m alive. These days, that’s good enough.