Good Narrative Principles

Just Desserts


I had this image of going snorkeling as a reward for getting through this cancer ordeal. In Hawaii or someplace spectacular. Where beautiful fish, iridescent, incandescent, blue, yellow orange stripes always in motion are at first thrilling, then calming, then as ordinary as breathing.

Snorkel until your jaw hurts and then you pop up and marvel how far from shore or the boat you are.

Just the feel of water rushing past. A vague awareness that  you’re moving quickly, that the ocean is breathing and everything is in motion.

When I first gave myself this gift of a thought, the next thing I pictured was water heaving into my air tube. Popping up and seeing dark clouds massing where before there was sun and blue sky.

Maybe even lightening. Yeah, that would be good. A real catastrophe. So this sunny vacation image refuses to play out as a counterweight to the horrible winter.

It still feels so personal. So unique to me.

I’ve finished The Wire. All five seasons. As I rounded the corner on Season 5 I panicked a bit because tucking in with The Wire was my strategy to get through recovery. I had no problem picturing myself a mass of stitched together body parts, fuzzy on pain-killers but able to work the remote. I’d sit back and let the story unfold. It washes over me, a bit like snorkeling with no fish, no water, just endless story. Unreliable in that events in the show never go the way I think they should — like in the end when McNulty is cornered I was sure he would kill himself. In other words, I was confident that this world as defined by the creators of The Wire is in fact a tragic place. A bit like mine.

I was burning through the seasons at a fast clip. Mailing each disk back was stealing a bit from my post-op strategy during the lengthy three month wait.

I also took up knitting. A friend of mine taught me, or rather re-taught me how to knit and purl. It was a quick lesson and she laid out an easy pattern. Four of each for a block and then alternate. I was sure I was following her. That is until she left. I realized I couldn’t tell a knit from a purl and so I flubbed my way for a few rows and then ripped. And then flubbed and knit until I finally could recognize one from the other. Slipping the delicate loops back onto the needles and watching The Wire was how I got through the waiting.

I read in the Times a piece about a wife accompanying her husband through his third round of chemo for lymphoma and they too plugged into The Wire.

Somehow another couple were doing exactly what we did probably around the same time. Simultaneously I feel that we are all part of the human race and that’s comforting. But I’m also just another brick in the wall and that’s not such a great feeling.

I got cancer. So do other people. We aren’t all that unique. It’s personal to us but at the same time maybe there is only a finite number of ways the machine will break down.

Friends have been endlessly comforting and generous and attentive since my diagnoses. I think part of it is that pre-logic, gut awareness that we are all here now together. It goes something like this: people have lived before us and died. And people will be born and live their lives after we are gone. But right now? This is our time. We are all pulling together.

And carrying each other along.

Bobbing. Breathing.  Momentarily, our attention is diverted by a pretty person.

I pop up. Suddenly I’m are aware of where I am and then I take a big gulp of air and dive back in.

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