Please Take

On my walk home from my chiropractor session yesterday, I came across this bag of apples that a neighbour had left on the wall outside their house.

‘Please take’, the note said.

It was a delightful surprise. A wonderful kind of generosity – no explanations or expectations, no strings attached, no effort. Just an anonymous desire to share the bounty with others.

I slipped one in my pocket to take home, as a treat for Rosie with her lunch.

As I finished walking home, I wondered: both about giving and taking.

What am I putting out into the world with the simple offer of ‘Please take’? Is there more I can give in this way – not with effort or control, but with the simple gesture of releasing it into the world.

What am I taking with the simple gratitude and openness that let me take this apple? So much has been offered to me, and it’s wonderful to take a moment to honour those gifts. Can I accept these with the same grace; without apology or self-denial?

I find it so easy to assume that I am taking too much. Particularly from the people I care about. I am unfamiliar with uncomplicated acceptance. For much of my life, I branded myself a thief for the act of taking – even whtn the gift was offered – and push gifts away.

Yet the more I can inhabit a place of open gratitude, and accept with open arms what is being given, the richer my life is, and the stronger my bonds are to the source of the gift – be that a friend, a stranger, or life itself.

Please take.

What other treasures is the world offering that are simply there for the taking?

Am I walking slowly enough to notice them, or am I simply zipping by?

Can I see these moments without needing a sign?

Nothing you are feeling is wrong

Today, I had a session with Ben Bridger. These sessions of McTimoney Chiropractic work not only make my body feel better; he always sends me out the door thinking as well.

Today, there were two wonderful and timely insights.

One: Sometimes it’s really useful and good to feel lazy. No one can be stimulated all the time, it’s not healthy.

This feeling can be a wonderful reminder from our bodies to stop, slow down, rest a bit. (Something I have been finding it very difficult to do as I am adjusting back to ‘normal’ life.)

Two: “Nothing you are feeling is wrong.” Post-treatment life involves a heady mix of emotions/sensations. It’s hard not to judge these feelings or want to change them.

This was exactly what I needed to hear. And still true for the phase of my life that awaits beyond today.

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Petals

First: red
A soft, silken coin
Pressed to the lips
Clenched in the fist
Your private treasure
Found fallen
No less precious for that

Then: white
Like a feather
Dropped in flight
Stolen
Reclaimed
Cast into a puddle
Crushed by playground hands

Found: Pink
Perfect, pristine petal
An offered consolation
Lost in your tailwinds
How could I forget?
The petals we are given
Pale next to those we find

Photo by A.C. Smith

Writing for an invisible audience

“Is it worth it to speak your mind and your truth, in fiction or otherwise, if an audience, even if it is an audience of one, is never promised? Does it matter?” – Ocean Vuong

The MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ fellows were announced this week. I always find it a treat tolearn about these extraordinary individuals making a difference in the world.

I’ve only dipped a toe in so far, but today was wowed by the works of this amazing poet.

The quote above is from Ocean Vuong’s MacArthur video. He is talking about the driving question behind his book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

I had to stop the video to play this part again.

The first time I watched Ocean Vuong’s video it was on very low volume. Vuong’s voice drops near the end, which made the last phrase even harder to catch.

So I misheard. The quote I heard him say was ‘Is it worth it to speak your mind if an audience…is never promised? It doesn’t matter.’

So far, I have been writing this blog invisibly. Yes, it is publicly viewable, drifting in the open waters of the internet. But only one other person in the world knows where to find it.

With this blog, it has felt liberating to be able to create in open anonymity. There’s the thrill of hitting ‘publish’ and knowing the words are out there, but I’m still protected by obscurity.

But it doesn’t always feel this way.

Obscurity is only appealing when we choose it.

For my playwriting and other creative writing endeavours, the lack of an audience almost always feels lonely. I have written plays wondering, ‘Will anyone ever read this? Does it matter?’

So many times I have felt my work was selfish or impractical, because I was not working to a deadline or for money.

But that actually doesn’t mean I was doing it for only myself. I was writing for an audience – just one that hasn’t shown up yet.

To be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with writing for just ourselves or our own pleasure. But I’m writing to connect and to reach out into the world with words. I’m thinking of others when I’m writing – and I know I’m not alone in approaching this way.

Vuong’s real quote focused on the question, but my mind created its own answer. That’s a lovely thing, I think. This misheard quote made me feel seen, and comforted. ‘Yes,’ I thought. ‘These are the questions I have asked myself a million times. And this is the answer I need.’

I’m not making work for no one. Or making work for myself alone. I’m making work for an audience who has not been promised, but is out there somewhere.

For all artists, there is no guarantee that anyone will ever find our work, or at least not the people we intend it for.

But it doesn’t matter.

There is beauty in the act of making art, regardless of the outcome. There is a solidity to imagining creating for that ‘someday audience’, rather than our own empty archive boxes.

It is a powerful and generous thing to share our truth. It is not frivolous to devote resources to these creations.

Our work is still a gift to the world, as long as it is created with that intention. Even if the world isn’t quite ready to receive it.

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

This is how you keep lilies from staining everything

Lilies are beautiful. There is something magical about the unparalleled optimism of watching those big star-shaped flowers throw themselves open to the world.

However, they can also be a big old mess as they start to age and the pollen falls – or if you accidentally bump one!

If you’ve been unlucky enough to have this pollen stain your clothing – or even worse, your furniture – you will know exactly what I’m talking about.

For me, the real trigger to takc action was not too long ago, when we got some beautiful flowers that triggered Zach’s allergies. (Why? Yet again, pollen! And lots of allergy-prone folks can have issues with these.)

The bouquet was a lovely gift and we didn’t want to throw it out. That’s when I heard about this…

You can simply remove these bits of the stamens!

Martha Stewart does an excellent demo video, though to be honest, it is so simple, you almost don’t need a video.

Basically, you just reach in, give a gentle tug, and the pollen carrying parts of the plant come right out.

I’ve sometimes found this easier to do little piece at a time rather than grabbing them all in one go – it’s less efficient, but also less likely I will drop pollen on the table in the process!

I also discovered recently that you can usually do this even with lilies that haven’t completely opened yet. Just grip the protruding stamens and give a tug.

And just a word of warning, it might stain your fingers a bit, so make sure you’re got very dry hands before you start, and get in quick with the soap and water once you’re done.

Photo by Doug Kelley on Unsplash

The best yoga classes on the internet – DoYogaWithMe.com

I first discovered DoYogaWithMe.com through the magic of Google. I was looking for online yoga videos, and this popped up. There was no looking back. 🙂

This post is going to sound like an advertisement, but it’s actually not – just a tribute to a wonderful website that I have really enjoyed over the years.

They have a huge archive of free videos targeted at all levels of practice, and have seen me through many life changes.

You can sort the videos by difficulty, length and style, so it’s really easy to find something that suits your needs on any given day.

When I was more active and had a regular yoga practice, I enjoyed the more challenging videos. (They have a teacher with the brilliant name Fiji McAlpine, and her classes are fab.)

When I was pregnant, I bookmarked my favourite prenatal videos (like this one and this one).

After giving birth, this 20 minute video with Ron Stewart provided just the right balance of energy and gentleness I needed. His unapologetically positive attitude was just the pick me up I needed, and helped me get excited about starting to move again. (At least, during the moments where I wasn’t so sleep deprived that every spare moment was spent in bed.)

More recently, I’ve been really excited by their programmes, like a 7-day or 30-day challenge that combine classes to give you a programme or goal to work towards. (This beginner one is free!)

As I begin the process of trying to rebuild my fitness, I’ve found this to be a wonderful resource. Mostly, I’ve just been focusing on doing a one-off easy video when I can. But I’m hoping to be able to tackle one of these challenges in the next couple of months.

After so many years of using their videos, I decided to sign up for an annual subscription. Partly this was because it felt like a lovely thank you for the hours of fitness support I had gotten from them; and part of it was pure self-interest, as there are some fantastic sessions you need to pay to unlock.

That said, you don’t need any experience or any cash to get started with them – just an internet connection and a willingness to set aside enough time to do a video.

Bonus: they have a weekly newsletter that gives you the run down on all the new stuff, and also serves as a little reminder to make room in your schedule for Yoga. (There’s a box in the sidebar that lets you sign up.) It’s wonderful to have their bulletin arrive in my inbox once a week.

This week, they opened with this wonderful quote:

“Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth.” 
– Ludwig Borne

Isn’t that lovely?

Whether you’re a devoted practitioner or just yoga-curious, I highly recommend DoYogaWithMe.com. It’s a great way to bring a bit more fitness and mindfulness into our lives, no matter the circumstances.

How you spend your time is how you spend your life

I can’t remember where I first heard or read this advice. But I have been thinking about it quite a bit recently as I try to get to grips with rebuilding my life post-chemo.

It’s so easy to feel like there is never time or energy to accomplish everything.

And I have felt how much energy levels can make a difference on what gets done in our lives.

But in anther sense time is the greta equaliser. We all have 24 hours in a day, and there is great power in being intentional about how we spend them.

How we spend our time is how we spend our lives.

This is true for what we spend our time doing. These tasks gradually come to make up the tapestry of a life.

Spend most time sitting on the couch? Practicing piano? Adventuring across the world? Whittling spoons? Whatever you choose, it will show.

But I find it’s easy to forget that this is also true of how we spend our time.

Do you spend most of your time enjoying yourself? Stressed out? Thinking about money? Worrying about other people?

That is how you will have spent your life.

Over the weekend, we had one of those days where everything went wrong. We were trying to do things in a hurry. We were exhausted.

We working on something that we were technically excited about: continuing to settle into our new home. But our approach didn’t feel full of excitement.

When we took a brief moment to reconnect (i.e. collapse together in exhaustion on the sofa), it was clear things had gone off the rails.

We asked ourselves:

Why aren’t we having fun?

What is the point if we’re not?

Following on from that…

What energy will the space have if we unpack with frustration under a sense of time pressure?

Would things feel differently if we made it a point to enjoy the process (even if it took a little bit longer)?

Emotionally, we switched gears. We brought in the humour. We brought in the fun.

Our tasks didn’t change, but the experience felt entirely different.

All it needed was to take a moment to remind ourselves of what truly feels important.

Today, take a moment to think about what you want your life to be made of.

When you look back, what activities do you want to have filled your days?

But perhaps more importantly, how do you want your life to feel? What energy and perspective do you want to have brought to these tasks?

Even when it is not in your power to choose the tasks that life demands, you can still choose the mindset you bring to them.

What do you choose today?

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

The three little words that keep a marriage going (hint: not ‘I love you’)

There is a magic phrase – three little words – that can help keep a marriage alive. They give us an extra spring in our step, an extra zest for life, and a feeling of connection with our life’s partner. It’s one of life’s magic gifts that feels wonderful, but costs nothing.

It’s not ‘I love you’. Those words are beautiful, necessary – and obvious. We need to hear this; but also, try saying this:

‘You were right.’

Aaaaaaahhh, it’s so goooood.

In a life partnership, we get a front row seat to the gifts and foibles of our partners. We try to help and support them, even when we know they are wrong. (Especially when they are wrong.)

Sometimes they listen, often they don’t. That’s when we find ourselves sitting in the passenger seat as they drive off the metaphorical cliff of crazy in ways big or small.

Sometimes these are tiny things – whether the lid of a ketchup bottle needs to be held down while shaking it is an ongoing bone of contention in our house. (Guess which side I am on? :-)) Sometimes these are much bigger things, where we watch the person we love make life choices that leave them exhausted, stressed, or unhappy – completely ignoring our brilliant advice.

In any partnership, disagreement is inevitable. (Otherwise it’s not a partnership. It’s customer service.) We will and should find ourselves on both sides of the equation.

It’s whether we can handle that disagreement with grace – and the realisation that we have been wrong with humility – that sets apart the really connected relationships.

Earlier today, we invited some colleagues of Zach’s over to the house. They are wonderful people and I had the loveliest day with them. The party prep was mostly fun, but there was a brief moment where things got a little carried away.

Zach is a creative, passionate cook, and they day before the party I found myself in a conversation where he was contemplating scrapping the menu we had mapped out (which involved a heavy portion of purchasing prepared food) to throw together something more ‘exciting’.

While in our pre-baby, pre-cancer, moved-int-our-house days, the idea of ‘just throwing something together’ that actually involves hours of prep would have been a doable thing, that is not the reality we are living in.

It came from a wonderful place of wanting to make sure everyone had a good time, and is also I suspect partially genetically inherited, because when his parents throw a party they go all out!

So yesterday, it was my job to talk him off the ledge and convince him that the lemon garlic chicken he dismissed as too simple would actually be a big hit, and we can whip up something more exotic for next time. (And more importantly, that it was bonkers to try to make this happen with no childcare during available prep time and the chaotic state of our lives at this given moment.)

It was such a wonderful feeling when he looked me in the eye today and said ‘you were right’

And you know why it was easy for him to say it?

Because I needed to say that exact same thing to him yesterday.

And again tonight.

It’s more fun to focus on the times when we are right. But often, we are wrong.

I certainly was earlier this evening.

There was a giant plastic bin I was sure wouldn’t fit on the bookcase, it would be too heavy, it would be a hazard for Rose, etc. Zach said ‘let me try’.

Unsurprisingly, his instincts were spot=on. It wasn’t too wide, it wasn’t too heavy, and it was actually a brilliant solution to free up our cramped kitchen. I was delighted to give him a big smile and say ‘you were right’.

It’s obviously nice to hear these words, but the surprising bit is that it can feel great to say them as well.

It’s a time to bear witness to our partner’s cleverness, forward-thinking, or practicality. It’s a time to acknowledge the ways they look out for us, course-correct for the path we have chosen, and just generally use their different perspective to enrich our shared lives. It’s a chance to be vulnerable, admitting our own shortsightedness, and be met with love.

A caveat: tone is very important. On both sides.

For the person hearing the words, gloating is strictly off limits. Visible pleasure in one’s own ‘rightness’ is allowed, but rubbing it in or saying ‘I told you so’ is bad taste and mean-spirited to boot. Likewise, while a moment of celebration is certainly called for, but then they need to let it g0 – not hoard the mistake as something to be brought up repeatedly to rub into the other person’s face.

It’s perhaps even more important to be mindful about how we say the phrase ‘you were right’.

These words should be a gift, given with humour and humility. Saying it with resentment, embarrassment at being in the wrong, or grudgingly is pointless. Better to just keep quiet.

Before you utter these words – take a moment to yourself. It’s important to be in a place where you can laugh and shrug, rather than fixate or get bogged down in self-recriminations.

Remember that we all make mistakes, and that you are lovable even without being perfect.

And then take a deep breath, and smile. You are about to make your partner’s day.

Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash

Today, there is sunshine

This morning, I awoke to this beautiful view outside my window.

Yesterday was not easy, but it’s hard not to feel optimistic when the world beckons with green possibility.

Sometimes, I think there is nothing as beautiful as London on a sunny day.

Today is the birthday of one of my favourite people (you know who you are), and it was wonderful to feel like the world is smiling. I certainly am, thinking about the light this person brings into the world.

I found myself reflecting on the many wonderful things I inherited from my parents – habits and wisdom, worldview and quirks.

But one of the fun things of marraige is that you also gain access to these magical details from another family.

As I looked out, with a wide open day ahead and a fresh sense of possibility and hope, I was reminded of a wonderful quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that my mother-in-law used to say with my husband when he was growing up. (If you ever have the good fortune to meet my mother-in-law, you will soon realise that this steady optimism and quoting Emerson are very ‘on brand’ for her!)

Even when I find myself unable to remember the words exactly – which is nearly always – the sentiment echoes just as powerfully:


“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

What beautiful words to live by. Here’s to today’s new day, and a bit of new nonsense!

Everyone is celebrating, but I can’t stop crying

It’s official: chemo is done.

I didn’t expect to feel like a leaky faucet that can’t turn off.

The message is: you did it!

How I feel is: my body couldn’t take any more. And there is a long road still to go.

That is the reality I am still living in.

The neuropathy is better, but not better enough. In the last two days, I’ve seen a marked improvement, feeling like I’ve gone from about 50% sensation in my feet to more like 75%, which is fantastic.

I’ve been able to carry Rose up and down the stairs again confidently, which is a huge benefit.

But I do still really need a cane for public transport, crowded places, or uneven surfaces. I just can’t feel the ground well enough. And my fingers are still feeling the motor deficit effects as well.

I thought this might be a grey area, but as soon as my oncologist heard this, she said with absolutely clarity: ‘We’re stopping’.

She was very clearly that the harm outweighs the benefit of proceeding in these circumstances.

My body simply can’t tolerate any more. And to push past this point carries a serious risk of long term damage.

I do think stopping is the right decision. But there are a lot of complicated emotions present.

To risk serious disability for a marginal increase in lack of recurrence is not a reasonable trade off. Especially given that there are things besides chemotherapy open to me to manage my cancer risk.

The nurse specialist who sat in on the appointment walked me out. (She has been a wonderful comfort and hand to hold since the beginning of this journey.) made a comment about quality of life: without use of my hands and my feet, ‘what kind of life would that be?’

My answer: not ideal, but a liveable one. A year ago, I probably would have agree with her. Not anymore.

While I don’t want to risk nerve damage I could carry with me for the rest of my life, there is no question in my mind that it would be a life worth living. The key word remains: ‘alive’.

I told my oncologist I was relieved to be done, would need to meditate of the feelings around this. I’m finding it hard to let go of the fear of missing out on those final two Taxol treatments. (Not to mention, the two additional cycles of TCHP that will never be.)

My doctor told me: ‘Go throw a party! Have a good time, celebrate, get drunk! That’s what we do here!’ (While this might sound a bit callous written down, in the moment it was touching, warm, and funny.) Given the short notice, we settled for delicious coconut curry sent by a new friend who stocked our freezer in an act of unbelievable kindness, and root beer floats on the patio. Which felt about right.

My oncologist rightfully wants to recognise how much I have gone through, and give me the chance to get back to normal life.

But this actually feels terrifying to me. Between the exhaustion, my malfunctioning hands and feet, the brain fog, the fact that I still have chemo drugs actively working in my system, I am absolutely shellshocked. I’ll also be starting years of hormonal therapy in a couple of weeks on top of the immunotherapy I’ll need to carry on with for an additional nine months.

It feels like I’ve only completed leg 2 of a pentathalon. Even if the next stages are easier, I need to keep going.

And that stamina got tested today.

This morning, while I was getting lovely congratulations text from my wonderful family about being done, I was also packing my bag to go to the chemo suite.

Because even though yesterday I was christened ‘done’, today I had to go in for my immunotherapy infusion of Herceptin.

You know what? The process of getting it feels exactly like chemo.

I still got pre-meds that made me woozy and sleepy. I still had to go through the process of having port access and dragging a pole with me to use the bathroom. I still felt the vague sense of panic I have never been able to shake when sitting in that chair, even though things like good friends, food, and knitting can take my mind off of it.

I know that from here forward I will likely avoid the unpleasant merry-go-round of side effects that accompanies drugs classed as ‘chemotherapy’. That is indeed a blessing. But I will be on serious enough treatment that I need to go for a heart scan every three months to make sure I am not incurring permanent damage.

At every turn there have been surprises. As I step into something new, I can’t help but be nervous about what lurks around the corner.

I’m also scared that now I need to step back into daily life. I am not really up to that yet. So many things got swept to the side or fell through the cracks when I was ill. It becomes an even more daunting task.

There is a deep feeling that now it is time to pull my own weight again.

I’m scared that I don’t deserve any more support because I’m not technically ‘on chemo’ any more.

My family, friends and community have rallied around me. It has been mind boggling and unbelievably touching to see who shows up, and the incredible creativity and generosity people have in sharing themselves and their gifts.

I feel like I still need support to put my life back together. Does this change meaning chemo is ‘done’ mean that I am no longer entitled to it?

It is only in these last few weeks that I managed to turn chemo into a process that doesn’t completely devastate my body and my life. I was hoping to start gradually putting the pieces together bit by bit during these last 3 cycles. I was planning to start laying the groundwork so I could move gently back into normal life.

Now I feel like I’ve been thrown into the deep end.

I don’t remember how to swim.

There are so many people who have gone above and beyond for me. I want to return that favour and prove my worth. But in my brain, assuming the responsibilities of my previous reality calls up images of trauma – avalanches, crushing waterfalls, deep undertows.

Today, I have cried and cried. My wonderful husband pulled me together, and went back to the house for the pills I forgot to take, because I cried so long this morning I didn’t have enough time to eat breakfast, which is the normal routine where I take them. He called me from work to take five deep breaths together.

I am grateful to be done.

I want to be celebrating.

But the reality that feels most truthful to me is the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

My body has given out, and I cannot take any more.

I want to have a party, but maybe at the point when I actually feel done.

That is the time to celebrate.

I will know when it comes.

Photo by Matheus Frade on Unsplash