During this past week, as summer dwindles down and the pull of the upcoming academic year is getting stronger, I’ve been working on a “for-fun” writing project that has stemmed from a workshop that I asked (maybe even begged) a friend of mine to lead for our fabulous, intimate group of women friends. The piece could have been about anything, as long as it was non-fiction. No other parameters. I toyed around with a few ideas, but it didn’t take me long to decide to write about my experience of having cancer (there it is–the”C” word). I haven’t written anything about that time in my life and I took this workshop as a good opportunity to explore what I had to say.
I’ve drafted about half of the piece and it has felt good to write. Good to write something non-academic. Good to write about a very existential period. Good to write my own story. It isn’t great and needs a lot of editing, but I think it’s a decent start. What I’m reminded of as I’ve been writing the piece is how centered and focused I was during that time. And no, I’m not the first person to ever express this, but it is true that a crisis of health (or maybe of any kind) can bring about such gifts. I was astounded at how my life came into very sharp focus during that time. All of the unnecessary and tedious aspects of my every day just fell by the wayside. I wasn’t stressed about tenure. I wasn’t obsessing about losing 5 pounds. I wasn’t going over my to-do list. I wasn’t waking up in the middle of the night remembering an email I had forgotten to send. I wasn’t thinking about what I didn’t have or what I hadn’t achieved. No, I was focusing on my relationships. I was paying attention to my dog (we just had Ripken at the time; Parker wasn’t a glimmer in any–human or canine–eye). I was feeling immense gratitude for all I had in my life. I was grounded. Really grounded.
And then, as my health improved, my “old self” began to slowly re-emerge. I allowed, without even realizing it, the work stressors, comparisons with the Joneses, and self-criticisms to take root right where they had been before. I found myself not paying attention. I found myself becoming less and less grounded. . . But I’m starting to wake up again. I don’t want something like cancer, or a job loss, or a relationship ending to have to be what shakes me by the shoulders. I don’t want to live a life focused on what I do. I want to live a life focused on who I am. I want to really try to focus on “what matters” and practice gratitude each day. Grounded. I think this blog and my photography are helping me make my way back (which seems much better than the cancer-route).
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