Wednesday, June 24, 2015

You Don't Have to Fight Any More

After an epic, multi-year battle with cancer, a friend of mine finally passed away last week.
She put up a good fight, but it was a fight she was never going to win. It was a fight to squeeze every minute, every hour out of a life that would be shorter than the average.
Nobody wanted her to die, of course. But as her body shut down, the simplest activities exhausted her. She couldn't eat. There were drugs--lots of drugs--to try to mitigate the pain. Her life consisted mainly of doctor's visits, each prognosis more alarming than the last.
People said, don't give up! I wanted to say, no, it's okay, you don't have to fight any more. But I didn't, because maybe my friend wanted to go down snarling and cursing.
She was so determined. She had defied expectations many times. She had survived again and again. And even though we all knew it was hopeless, there was still a kind of hope. Self-delusion, maybe.
But what is life without hope?
What is a life of pain and exhaustion?
What is the point at which  the suffering becomes too much? The point at which you decide to cast yourself into the other world or to give up and just fall? When is this cowardice and when is it noble or just plain sensible?
The answer might be in its affect on those we love.
Too many people use suicide as a weapon. It is the ultimate weapon, after all. Once you are dead nothing can hurt you, but the pain you cause to others may reverberate for years. It is a way to tell a loved one, "you are not good enough," and to drag a piece of their heart into the grave.
I do believe that every individual is the best judge of his or her pain. But when you have had enough, how do you express that to the ones who love you without wounding them more?
We have a duty, don't we, to complete our lives, to squeeze every lesson we can from them?
The problem is, we act as though death is avoidable, unnatural, shocking. We act as though cautious living, good medical care and helmets will save us all.
When someone close to us dies, we mourn. But we don't really mourn for the dead. They have crossed through. They are safe from pain and have no need of drugs or food or comfort. We mourn for ourselves, because we are left behind, lonely, afraid. We may have regrets that can never be made right.
It may feel like the world has gone wrong. But it is not the whole world that has tilted off its axis, just our view of the world: our plans and dreams, our hopes.
This is what we really lose.
So we go on with our lives, sadder for awhile, but knowing that we are still complete and that we still have work to do, lessons to learn. We make new plans, new hopes, new dreams, and we live them until the time (maybe near, maybe far) when we join our loved one in the place beyond suffering.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Real Enemies

Villainous characters in real life (Is this stuff obvious to everyone?).
ZOMBIES: The masses of humanity who go through the motions of life without really living.
VAMPIRE: The charming boyfriend who sucks the life out of you.
TROLL: Bludgeons others for the pleasure of it, usually online.
WEREWOLF: You think there’re a friend until they turn on you and rip you to shreds.
POLTERGEIST: Teenager. Like, duh.
GHOST: The thing that you are refusing to see.
ALIEN ABDUCTION: No, I do not remember what I did last night, and here's why.
MASS MURDERER: This character plays himself, actually.
FAIRY: Miss perfect-body-matching-outfit at your health club. And she's probably rich and happy, too.
TIME BOMB: That big secret you were trying to keep.
CURSE: The legitimate fear that the dogged pursuit of your goal will destroy you.
DRAGON: Someone who collects antiques.
GOOD GUY: The guy you wish you were.
BAD GUY: You as a preschooler.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015


(Warning: this piece uses the word "barf" twice. Oops, three times.)
As an annoyingly perfectionist little kid, I obsessed over my shortcomings, and went to great lengths to hide them (I probably wasn't fooling anyone). Flaws were mistakes, and mistakes were shameful. Hard work and constant self-improvement would win me the love and admiration of everyone, I was sure. I just had to keep pushing myself.  Not many children pull all-nighters in fifth grade, or obsess for years (okay, decades) about that mortifying day in kindergarten when they accidentally barfed on the little boy from down the street. All that hard work and self-flagellation, and I still didn't have any friends. So sad.
Many years passed, and the mistakes piled up. Eventually I could not function under their weight. So as an adult, I reformed. No, I did not finally achieve perfection. Or maybe I did, in a way.
I flirted with imperfection: arriving late, for example. Saying no. It felt dangerous and exhilarating. Gradually I realized that life did not have to be drudgery. I learned to smile. People seemed to kind of like the new me. Strange. I decided to embrace imperfection, to own it, to revel in it (okay, that's an exaggeration. Old habits die hard).
I reframed my idea of perfection, to think of myself not as imperfect but as fabulously flawed, like the antique with the crackled veneer or Johnny Cash, or the curry that looks like barf, but tastes delicious.
Am I only fooling myself? Maybe, but life sure is better this way.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


I have a method for making myself do things that I don't really want to do: it involves white lies and bribery.
First, the White Lie: "This could be fun!"/ "We're almost there!"/ "Just one more page!" Note the exclamation points. Enthusiasm helps.
Phase Two is the reward: "Afterward, you can have ice cream/sit and stare into space/clean the bathroom (see how sometimes the reward itself is actually more work? It's a trick!).
This method works pretty well because: A) You don't usually know for sure that you're lying, and B) Ice cream is very motivating.
However, it can backfire if your lie is really outrageous or if you decide at the last minute that you don't deserve your reward. This is called being an asshole to yourself.
The trick is to be semi-upfront with yourself, and to keep those rewards coming. As a bonus, it makes you like yourself better, too.