Remembrance of Words Past

Monday, July 03, 2006


The body, when we are young, and if we have the luck to be healthy, runs on its own. We ignore it, feed it what we choose to feed it. Ignore it. Smoke too much, drink, and perhaps other more illicit things. We are learning, at this point, the things of the mind, the things of society, so that we may gain our portion of it. So that we will be employed, marry, have children, contribute to the others who surround us. But the body is not to be ignored it has a way of creeping along, to remind us that we are after all just frail creatures. So we become sick, and we have to turn away from the education of the society(ies) in which live. Instead, we must turn towards the society inside that contains whatever is truest about ourselves. Life has crept up to us, and we must be subsumed by ITS needs. And so we come down from the mountains we have built for ouselves, colliding with the glaciers of our own bodies, hoping that these encounters won't kill us. And we are stuck beneath these mountains on the rocky valleys of our own health, wondering what we are to do. We become stuck with our bodies and minds and the outside world, the education(s) of the past seem more distant, atop the peaks from which we have been thrown down. This new education must train the body and the mind. The body must be kept healthy and the mind must be trained to tos aside the notions of the past - the education of the future life. We become ourselves, edging forward and flingin out our minds. To discover what is truest for us. "Free human dialogue" with ourselves, "wandering wherever the agility of the mind allows, lies at the heart of education." (Postman, 1996). We descend into ourselves thrown down from the lives we have created and which have been created for us.

Illness takes away the security of our mountain-top chalets. The lives we have built. The lives that we think we have chosen. All is lost on these rocky valley floors. We must stare around us and get our bearings. And then we can begin to see what has become of our lives and what we must wrench away from the illness and that which we must discard. Security has vanished into a mist and fog of choice, clinging to the rocky sides of the mountains which surround us. "Security is mortal's chiefest enemy." (MacBeth, Act III Sc. V) and so we are led from its grasp to rediscover what we mean to ourselves. What our lives mean to us. To stop living in our chalet and make the entire range of mountains our home. We can only find security now in those things that are most important to us. We cannot take health for granted, nor can we entirely trust the education that came before us. We are creatures searching for ourselves and for the lives that we think we have lost but which have merely been replaced by an existence more free and more difficult. One which will truly be ours.

We do not forget those around us, but our relations to them are changed, they merely travel down to see us from their own chalets. It is a visit for them, a test of compassion. While we inhabit these cold, misty and rocky valleys. They must find themselves in their own time, if they are to be happy and content when they come to see their own deaths. We are confronted with ours in what we hope to be the middle of our lives. This changes us, re-educates us, sets us on different paths and to different homes.

"For by the death-blow of my Hope/My memory immortal grew," writes Byron. We are reformed in memory and let the former education fall away, remembering what we may once have known, as infants. That the world is important in what we make of it, when we were learning what it was meant to have a separate body. To learn to use it and to learn to see the wonders that were then nameless around us. We are connecting body and mind with the filter of the memory and the lens of education. "'Education,' he said meditatively, 'I know enough latin to know that the word must come from educere, to lead out...'" (Morris, 1966). and so we are led out. Past former lives, guilts, memories, to the passions and insecurities of the present. Something that burns away the past like a cold moon trying to burn away the sun. Impossible you say. Perhaps. But the hope and the new life are built on the trying. Whatever becomes of it we are re-formed. And the world(s) we discover are renewed each day by the mere act of trying. What we are, what we have discovered of ourselves, we can forgive. We must. Otherwise the fall has meant nothing, and the pain must be avenged.


Morris, William. News from Nowhere in The Collected Works of William Morris. Vol. XVI. Russell and Russell, London. 1966.

Postman, Neil. The End of Education. Knopf, New York. 1996.

Shakespeare, William. MacBeth.

Photo References(from top to bottom):

1) Can be found at this link.

2) Copyright Roger Perman. This and many others can be found here.

Worrying about the Future

When you have cancer, all is subsumed beneath it. Then, when you wonder if it is gone or not, you worry about if it will return and whether you can live out a whole life without its reoccurance. I've stated that before, but as I lurge back in fits and starts to some sort of health, it is becoming more and more of a concern. Looking back at the past year or so, it is hard not to think that something MUST be wrought from pain and fatigue. But is it to be, and what's the point if the disease is to return. What is the point of getting better if there is only a return to illness. The point - if there is one - is re-examination, survival, another look at the world, before the eyes go blank and the skin grows tight and useless. It is to find some hope in the mere act of survival and the actions of daily life. Ritual is what we fail to see when we see through healthy eyes and strong bodies. The rituals of daily life, the first cup of coffee in the morning, watching children in the park down the street, sitting for a cup of green tea or - gasp - yet another moccacino in a cafe, while you write or watch people from behind the glass, or in the chair across from you. These rituals, the spaces of our lives, the cracks in the sidewalks of activities of the healthy. We do not realize or notice them. They escape the atention of the healthy. Or if they capture the attention of those so blessed it is only as a moment of relaxation, or a place to gather energy for the rest of the day or the week to come. But these cracks where daily concerns slip away ARE our real life. Work, is a mere economic engine to keep us alive. Our children will grow and capture lives of their own from the air as we have before they lived. The only true permanance is in the rituals themselves, not in the people which inhabit them.

"How very nice," writes Nikos Kazantzakis, "it was to be alive with all five senses - the five doors through which the world enters - working well. How very nice to say, The world is fine, I like it." (Kazantzakis 1965, 343). Whether the world is fine or not, it is better to see it through healthy eyes than it is to see it through sick ones. It is better to feel it through strong fingers that grasp tightly the branches of spring trees re-emerging with leaves, than it is with skeletal hands that can only grab weakly and must let go because of the pain of the grasping. To grasp is to remind oneself of life, and to be alive. So we grasp rituals, for they centre us. We can be ourselves and though the cast of our lives may change the ritual, the feeling the inhabits the mind and the actions of the hand remains the same. We feel through our senses, and our sense exchange something of themselves to the world and together they produce memory and ritual. Ritual which is the outward face of memory for it grasps us with its fingers and reminds us of the many occasions of the past and gives us hopre for the many rituals to come. We fade in its grasp and come to ourselves at the same time.

Balzac writes, "The she went back to her room, gathered together, as it were, into a single thought, all the thousand and one delights of that day; and after long contemplation of the picture she had made of her memories, she fell asleep, the happiest creature in Paris." (Balzac 1962, 207). We are each our own artists, draing together the paintings of the day and of our life outward onto larger canvases. These are our lives and when we concentrate we can see the smallest detail of our existence. And we paint with the minutest strokes and with the greatest precision in those time between memory and the future, when we grasp daily lives with the hands of ritual and relax and are. Each day is a lifetime, a painting, painted with action and tears and pain and love and voices. Each day passes us by and we pass by it. And capture it in the paintings we draw at night with the brushes that our parent gave us and the brushes we have created for ourselves. Ritual is that moment when we stand back and stare at what we have painted and consider how we will continue later. It is this moment, standing back that conncets our lives. There is no Language for ritual, only action and being. It is pure spirit. The one thing all matter contains. Eli Mandel, the Canadian poet, states, "The m0on has no language." (Mandel, 2000). There is no language for existence but ritual and being. The ritual of daily rising. The rituals that are threatened by illness and gain more power and significance because of these threats. They signify our lives. Our failures. Our victories. Our glory. Our weakness. Our Pain. And the pains we give to others. They are a symbol for our lives.

Alice Munro has a character state, "What I need is a rest. A deliberate state of rest, with new definitions of luck." (Munro, 1982, 128). Luck, it seems to have passed the ill by. It seems that its threats have killed the idea of luck. We have been cast from Eden, to live lives of OUR choosing; of OUR design, to grow up from the innocence of garden life, to the beauty of the adult world, where pasions and pain reside. We can remember Eden with pleasure, but know that freedom to choose is what makes humans human. "The world was before them, where to choose their place of rest..." is what Milton writes of Adam and Eve (Milton, 2005). Luck is living and still having those choices and in not worrying about the wisdom of the choce but reveling in the choosing itself. We are artistic creations, created by ourselves and the sick know that William Morris was right when he spoke of choosing for your home nothing "...which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." (Morris 1880). The wisdom is the choosing, for your home and for yourself. For the artistic creation which bears your name and your face and is composed of your memores and desire and wishes and loves and your past. We should choose wisely and choose for ourselves.


Balzac, Honore de. Old Goriot. Translated by M. A. Crawford. Penguin Classics, 1962.

Kazantzakis, Nikos. Report to Greco. Translation by Bruno Cassirer Ltd. Faber and Faber, London. 1989.

Mandel, Eli. "The Mad Woman of the Plaza de Mayo," in The Other Harmony: The Collected Poetry of Eli Mandel. Ed. by Andrew Stubbs and Judy Chapman. Canadian Plains Research Centre. Regina, 2000.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. by Godon Teskey. Norton Critical Editions. W. W. Norton and Co. New York, 2005.

Morris, William. "On Simplicity," (1880) in William Morris on Art and Design. Ed. by Christine Poulson. Sheffield Academic Press. 1996.

Munro, Alice. "Bardon Bus" in The Moons of Jupiter. MacMillian of Canada. Toronto, 1982.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

WELL another day, another nap. I seem to be sleeping my life away. Productivity, in any real sense of the word, has gone away. But at least, for a while, I spent a somewhat productive few hours reading. Got some exercise in also. Half-an-hour of walking. But my life seems to be a torment of low energy or only median energy. Real life has descended into a dream-state. I'm fully awake, but life is just a series of images, some more meaningful than others. A hand has descended into the labyrinth of my mind, pulling at neuron and synapse with the grip of fatigue and boredom.

This hand is the dream. The dream of illness on our shoulder. The dream of survival. The dream of dying. Like Dali's Dream places a Hand of Man's Shoulder(1936). The world of dream and 'reality' become blurred. The wall becomes cracked, plaster crumbling beneath the heat of illness. The world becomes a dream, casting red shadows onto a dry land where the arid hopes come to rest until our fate is decided. Our faces, like those of the painting, become obscured. Only the visions of day and the dream of night become reality. We are lost in a world where hope is merely hope for survival all other hope is subsumed, because all hope lays in the future, and that is uncertain - even in the short term. The dry wind of illness blows over us, and we smile and weep at the same time.

Our shadows are cast in the dry land where the yellow light casts shadows of blood over our realities. Both those of waking and those of sleep. The yellow light dry and monotonous as a life of pain. The yellow light that obscures the water shining in the morning. The yellow fogs that are dry as rice paper. We hate this light, for it is hot, arid and dry, and seems to suck the energy from our bodies. It becomes ordinary. And this is the saddest part, living our yellow-tinged lives, we find it hard to see through the mists and remember the clarity of health. The only thing to do is fight. "I challenge the stale yellow light to a duel," writes Jeanette Winterson (1996, p. 63). We fight as adverseries, those who are mutually insulted. Those whose honour is at stake. The honour of living and enjoying this planet. It is a daily fight. No intermission, no referees, no rules. Just a bloody fight fought in the yellow light of pain and fatigue.

The line of sleep and wake blurred, where are we? In the world of instinct, of magic, of illness, and hoped-for survival. Our lives are mired in survival. Our lives are blood-ridden and pain-soaked, but we hope. We dream. We wake. Even if we can't tell the difference. In the land of instinct only the lifting of lids tell us we wake. "And," Writes John Keats, "he's awake who thinks himself asleep." (Keats 1818). Life becomes a dream, where everything sems unreal, yet too real. meaningless but cherished. Everything fits into its opposite. Symmetry is never as common as when we are sick. Our eyes open and yet we dream our days. The illness that eats away at us both awakens and makes drowsy. We awake to mortality and sleep away our lives.

But the strange thing is that we come, in some ways, to embrace our illnesses. It is our constant companion. And like a lover, its spurning tears a hole in us, for we fear its return and loathe its leaving, for it may return. Auguste Klimt shows us in our embrace. The woman almost asleep beneath the faceless man. We are in its embrace and should he leave we awake in confusion, the complex colours and shades of our blanket strewn about our naked bodies. The blanket comforts us and is where we are wrapt together. Hoping. Dreaming. Loving. Hating. All of these things. Its complexity, is the complexity of any relationship and particulaly the relationship of oneself to one's body. And like the lamb in Rilke's Sonnets, the noise is all we have. The noise of our thoughts and fears.

"to us only noise is offered.

And out of a more quiet instinct

The lamb begs for its bell."

We, as we grow healthy, beg for the bell. The noise of crisis versus the silence of health. It is an addiction, cancer. For it involves survival and fear and love and hate and sorrow. All we are is rolled into a mass of poisoned cells. "My spectre," writes William Blake, "around me night & day/Like a wild beast guards my way." even death and fear of death and suffering can be ordinary and so the spectre and its wild beast of ill-health guard our passages. And we fear its leaving. We do not know how to be alone. Without disease.

This may seem morbid, but it is true. We fear health as we fear loneliness, because they show us our independence as well as our strength. We want to be children. But are afraid of our vulnerability. We remember the pain and the anguish and the embrace of the illness and the fight. If it leaves it may return. Worse. We acknowledge what we know. We embrace it. For all else is shadowed in fear.


Blake, William. "The Little Girl Found" in Songs of Innocence and Experience.

Keats, John. "What the Thrush said..." 1818.

Rilke, Rainer M. Sonnets to Orpheus Second Series XVI. Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus. Translated by A. Paulin, Jr. Houghton-Mifflin Co. Boston. 1977.

Winterson, Jeanette. Art and Lies. Vintage Books, New York. 1996.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Testing yourself

We test ourselves everyday, but the sick test their wills and their bodies everyday. As we are tested by them. We do not what the day will bring, what new pains, or old sorrows will re-emerge from livers or brains, arms or legs. We do not know where we will be at the end of the day. We know only that the struggle is there before us, as the sunrise is. It can be met with drawn shades or its light on our faces, it is up to us. The last scene of DH Lawrence's Sons and Lovers has Paul Morel staring at the dark of the night and into the lights of the city. He chooses light and walks back to the city. We choose our paths, though not always well, and some of them are chosen for us, and we must survive their passages and struggle the rocky slopes and muddy depths that they offer to us. We may emerge at a road of our choosing afterwards. Roads offer both choices and destinies.

Cancer is a destiny, though not in a good way. The gravel and stone that cut our feet along that path, offer us their scars after. We may accept their offerings as we choose. We may choose to never look at our soles again, to turn away from the bright scars, and toss aside the memories of trodden paths. We may also learn to admire our scars as we sit on the edges of our beds in the evening, not worrying, as we once did, what pains the next day will bring. Hrothgar, in the great epic Beowulf tells the hero, "If you emerge alive from this undertaking you will want for nothing." (Beowulf, p. 42) We may emerge alive, we may not. We forget the pain, but remember the scars. We cannot choose this destiny, only stare at the path ahead and tread the stones, hoping the cuts will not pain us too much.

We test ourselves with our lives. At sunrise we yawn and wonder what will hurt today, and maybe even hoping that today will be pain-free. Cancer is life magnified, cells that give life slowly taking it away.

Well the test continues. We write this test with blood and tears in pens made with our marrow. Hopefully we will pass. Hopefully, tomorrow will bring summer vacations with friends on beaches. Until then we write our illness in our memories and with our pain in diaries of perhaps shortened lives, closing the covers until tomorrow.


The photo here can be found at

Beowulf translated by David Wright. Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth. 1960.

Monday, June 26, 2006

For a jaundiced view of modern, ideological religion try this site: The Libertarian Defender. A bit too atheistic, but still good.

Leisure is not all its cut out to be

I have become increasingly disinterested in leisure. When I wasn't sick, leisure was something to which I looked forward. Now it is a nuisance, another symptom, something I need, but something that isn't wanted. Fatigue gives me leisure. Chemo gives me a break from responsibility. So even leisure is eaten away by tumours. When you work, you work forty hours, more or less, cancer is full-time, day-time/night-time, like an infant. There are no breaks. Only sleep. You become a Dickensian workhouse child. Cancer requires full payment, full-time labour.

We cancer patients are full-time workers. We are married to our diseases, as if they were our spouses. Even if we are truly married, it fills up the space netween husband and wife. It punctuates our sentences. It is a condiment spread over shared meals. The energy required to fight, requires us to give something up, and requires those who love us also to give. But we go on, like unpaid labourers, just for the free meal. The meal, when it comes, will lead to either to extinction or life. It is only partially up to us to choose. And sometimes it is entirely out of our hands.

In King Lear Cordelia tells her father that she will not marry to love her father all, but that half her love would go to her husband. Half her love is not much to give Lear thinks and accuses her, "So Young and so unkind." "So young, my Lord," she replies, "and true."

It is her unwillingness to love her father all that condemns both of them to death. It is what comes between them, as cancer comes between sufferer and loved one. Only mutual understanding can bridge the canyon between sufferer and loved one. The bridge must be built from love, hope and shared lives. But when we disappear into our illness, it is not through lack of love, or lack of desire to do so, only the willingness to survive and continue another day. Pain must be suffered by only one, but it must be endured by all. Pain trumps love, if only for a moment, an hour or a day. It is temporary. Thankfully. But we do not forget love, only have it pushed aside by survival.

Leisure - the ability to put aside all but what is most important and revel in that - is what disappears most and first. While we do not work, we work. While we are sick, we survive. While we rest, we are fighting. A boxer in a ring, running to steal second, a marathoner bursting past fatigue to continue on. Leisure is sacrificed to survival, because cancer does not allow us to work, it also does not allow us to not work.

"Freedom," Writes Camus in The Rebel, "is the motivating principle of all revolutions. Without it, Justice seems inconceivable..." (Camus, 1991, 105). Equally, is the motivating priciple behind all disease. Without it there is no justice, only despair. There is no hope, only grief. I do not believe that we can throw away hope, because it helps us to survive. Survival, against all odds, is our greatest triumph. We march to victory on a path of dead cells. Our loved ones beside us, helping us to regain our strength. Our victory arches our are protruding ribs. They remind us of the struggle. They remind us of our fear and what we have gained.

"The apples emerge, in the sun's black shade, among/stricken trees,/A straggle of survivors, nearly all ailing." Ted Hughes writes in Apple Dumps (Hughes, 1995, 134). We are the trees, bringing forth the apples of our lives. We asre leaving the edens of previous lives, for the knowledge of new, perhaps better, but certainly different, land. We have escaped. Survived. And at the end of a bitter race fall to the ground.


Camus, Albert. The Rebel. Translated by Anthony Bower. Vintage Inernational, New York. 1991.

Hughes, Ted. New Selected Poems, 1957-1994. Faber and Faber, London. 1995.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

This is an interesting (if semi-commercial, what the hell) site. Not much content yet, but showing promise. If you like the American SouthWest, visit here. NEW MEXICO & MORE

I am Tired.... of doctors and hospitals. Tired of needles and scans and flashlights waking you in the middle of the night. I am tired - particularly - of bone biopsies (After all how many samples of my marrow does anyone need?). Someday it may all be over, meanwhile I try to relax and think of the past. I do not (or try not to) consider the future too often. The problem is my past is too muddled and uncertain, the only thing I have are words. Words that have flowed into me and become a part of my existence. In fact (as sad or great as it may be) they define me, without them I do not exist, except in form. My form is only sinew and cell, but myself is grammer and syllable - word and sentence. So I write and think of previous words. Words I have formed and words that have been formed for me. I think back to words and how they have formed me.

One of the books that has formed me the most was Shelley's Frankenstein. I am, I think now, something like frankenstein, a role that I was, perhaps, always meant to play. I am risen from both beds and books. Like a shadow, I am emerging. Doctors have saved me literally from death, but not all of me. Something else died, and that was a sense of myself. One that I have not quite found again. I wander around, like frankenstein, not understanding the images which lay before me. I was expelled from a previous eden and am lost in the wilderness of my body and my mind.

"Did I ask thee maker..." begins the novel. The hardest thing is being your own maker and so I rise once again from the shadowy figures of words that scatter like blood or raindrops across my body, that has been saved for everyone else but not for me. It doesn't even seem a part of me anymore. So I think of past words, of the shadowy Creature - for his name is not Frankenstein - in the hills of Switzerland listening to the family read and speak. Here he learns, but doesn't entirely understand. Concepts he can grasp, but relations elude him. He is a shadow rising from the words and ideas which he hears. So, I think, am I.

Perhaps this is the fate of those still suffering. To be a shadow searching for themselves again. It is, at least, for me.

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