Saturday, July 29, 2006

7.29.06, The Faulkner Wall

Another day appears and moves, with or without choice, as if it were a simple keystroke command. Open, new, begin, move. You will move with or without me. Me, choice. I am choice, or like a keystroke; you move, on we go. A funky day today (equally funky post possibly) with the Franky Scale somewhere around a flat six, 6. Certain days higher, certain days lower. Seattle at least has cooled so today’s high has been about 70, a nice reprieve. Thank you, Cheebus.

A few odd thoughts have been swimming around my head today and relate to yesterday’s short post. To its shortness and postness. I feel like once I sit down to write I don’t ever find myself at a loss, necessarily, although at times I wonder how relevant is what I’m typing or thinking of putting down. The other day the overwhelming question post was apparently fine, despite being written with no audience, in the wee hours. Curious to note, then, which passages stand out: like the issue / question of being forgotten. Telling. And I suppose I’m glad to learn, by accident, what it tells. Related there is a Faulkner post, unbelievably quotable but I not right in front of me and I don’t want to mis-state, so just wait. But imagine the Faulkner wall . . .

The gist of what’s upstairs today is simply about the writing itself. All that I want to say is too limited or rather it feels like the chance/s to say it are, even with this daily soapbox, even with the web, even with friends telling friends, and I start to wonder how can I reach you, and even though I know there are some reached and there is, despite the sentimental side of telling it, all this love and it’s proof that I am not alone in the universe, but still a part of keeps revolving around a different question how can I reach you now with all of it? How can I tell all, all that I desire to speak, or maybe that’s not it, it’s rather how can I say what I want in any limited timeframe?

Perhaps it extends farther than the edges of this experience, too.

An example that comes to mind after hearing someone on NPR discuss a “diarist.” A word I rarely if ever use. When I turn to look, it seems for twenty years I’ve been a diarist, doesn’t that seem like an elaborate title, and there is an appropriate amount of “material” to go with that time. Still everything I’ve written remains, some way some how, it is accurate and it is true, if you will, but not fully satisfying when I go back and read the pages. It did happen but not to me; or no, it did happen to me, but it wasn’t as I wish it would be on paper, is that more accurate? That’s the idea, as Bob Marley puts it “So much things to say.” But the form, the goddam form. And to, the goddam time.

Apart from the writing, today has been not quite colossal in size but still somewhat of a chore in the physiology department, the issues of GI function, managing pain not quite so well (odd how that “becomes” the issue — not pain per se but rather the issue of management, then some odd sweats, perhaps no more than normal, but enough to shrink me down. Some. Still, this shouldn’t be over read and probably all has to do with the normal ups and downs of chemo side effects. Just some days my “management” skills are better than others. Skills that now spill over to quality of life and to writing and everything else, if there is “else” besides the former. Ideally.

And then, now, look at this use of space and time. It’s difficult to get out all I want, so I say, and then I spend today’s space writing nothing but that. More than the obvious. Another day plus of the weekend I hope everyone spends well.

Friday, July 28, 2006

7.28.06, Longish Day

Franky Scale: 6, or 5, but it's hard to tell after such a late night last night.

Apparently I'm not too skilled at "later nighters" now, unless the cause is insomnia. The Disenchanted Princess arrived in town, but on a flight that was about four hours late and didn't arrive at Sea-Tac until near 3 a.m. So today was trying to catch up on some sleep, add up on calories — found a new smoothy store where they have a 1000-calorie and a 1500-calrorie option, and in the early evening picking up new book cases. Future be damned, new bookshelves! (Another line in the will :-) I still seem to keep acquiring books — more Dante, several Fuentes, a random few on Buddhism, one Tibetan Book of the Dead for the hell of it, a couple of cancer books, more Zizek, Badiou, Sarte on Genet, etc. — and I've been walking around these spontaneous stacks of books like a very senior citizen of late. Voila, two new book shelves, a little frosted trim on the glass doors, and tomorrow my apartment will be immaculate.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

7.27.06, Changed Treatment Plan Update

*N.B. I screwed up in the post yesterday, on scheduling: I'm only doing the rest of the current GTX cycle and then switching to T-GX immediately after that. There might be something to gain, nothing to lose.

* Also, note that I forgot the article title last time, see below for it. -Mr. J

Franky Scale: 5. It’s nausea day. We celebrate it once a week at least. Not much more worth saying about that. Carlos Fuentes is a great help; I’m almost depressed that I never started reading him until now. Alas.

I was reading some new pamphlets and booklets from PanCan today (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Nat’l HQ, 2141 Rosecrans Ave, STE 7000, El Segundo, CA 90245; 800.272.6226; Fax 310.725.0029 — their website has been added to links, up top, right). (Notice they practically stole my cat’s name for their street!) “Get more rest,” the little guidebooks remind me, so now I can eliminate some of my daytime guilt if I sleep, or the late morning guilt after sleeping in. Still, nights are not smooth and without transition, they’re broken up and start late these days so sleeping in seems more acceptable.

My treatment plan is changing, a bit ahead of schedule. The change in schedule is due to possible benefits, not to negative disease progress. I wanted to lay out what’s coming up by way of changes. For those who pay close attention you’ll recall the overview of what-next treatment plan ideas from the restaging, at which Dr. Whiting and I discussed

— Change the order of the drugs G, T, and X.

— Try new drugs: The total number of drugs for pancreatic cancer is limited, and once I use one, it’s effectively exhausted. Like a little store of silver bullets — we just don’t know which, if any, are really made of silver . . . Tom Wait's and Wm Burroughs . . . The Black Rider.

— Clinical trials: I believe there are 171 clinical trials I could be part of (thanks to the Disenchanted Princess Information Service), though Whiting has one in mind, one I have paperwork for. More on that when it’s time.

These are all options, and we were going to do the remainder of the present three weeks (one cycle) of GTX chemo, restage after the T-GX cycle of four weeks, and go from there. Now, the plan has shifted based on some checking Whiting did with Dr. Fine, the GTX guy in NY. It turns out the results currently seen from changing the GTX order to T-GX have been encouraging — i.e., increased longevity (we’re not working with an increase of years here, by the way, but maybe weeks, maybe a bit more). Accordingly, we’re off to chase that dragon. After this cycle of the GTX regimen, which finishes in two weeks (one more of drugs with an IV session included and then one week to recover), we will switch to T-GX and cross some fingers. It’s not experimental, but it is a relatively new technique and there is little published data on results. That’s why Whiting wanted to contact Fine before this decision.

For the anal and / or the science-oriented, here are some sources and links you can follow to familiarize yourself with the studies:

Citation: "Effective Salvage Therapy (T-GX) for Pancreatic Cancer Patients after Treatment with GTX." Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2004 ASCO Annual Meeting Proceedings (Post-Meeting Edition). Vol. 22, No. 14S (July 15 Supplement), 2004: 4268.

Author(s): D. R. Fogelman, S. Schreibman, R. L. Fine; Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY; Morristown Memorial Hospital, Morristown, NJ

Link w/ Summary Presentation: (click, or cut and paste in your browser; this is good)

* If anyone wants more technical info like that above, please email or send a comment to the blog saying so; I have lots more, I just never know who might want what. … desire being so difficult to plumb. ☺ *

Finally, to Spacely, et al.: If you are serious about trying to introduce me to “alternative” approaches for treatment, as I said before, you need to do some homework and send me information and research on whatever it is. I can do the research if you can’t, although getting results up front would help. Either way send email, articles, URL’s, links, whatever you can. Problem is, if I have no research, no info, nothing to go on, then I’m not going to stick whatever it is in my body and especially am not going to forego working with a known-quantity — that is, chemotherapy. Once I stop that, I die, and soon. Under my current treatment the cancer is being held in check to some degree, I’m buying a little time with every side-effect. The cold economy of death by cancer. Big point being that any viable alternatives can’t be sketchy.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

7.26.06, The Overwhelming Question

26 July 2006, Pile of Shit Award -
Goes to the Washington State Supreme Court for upholding the so-called “’Defense of Marriage Act” today. Very large pile.

[N.B. The following is just sit-up-and-write material from late, late last night. Not really intended for the blog, which means it might come across as another heavy or at least brutally honest entry. Just so you know. --And a P.S. My chemo regimen is the same as it has been, the last post was only about a changed attitude, not treatment. -Mr. J]

"The Overwhelming Question"

It’s the middle of the night, once again. This time and I are becoming very familiar, reacquainted you might say, since for years these were often the hours when I would work fiendishly or I would cut loose and prepare myself to work more later. To work more, soon as possible. That’s all my life was about, not about the release and the cutting loose — do not be mistaken. It was all about work, hundreds of hours during the weeks. I was always living for the future, for some time other than the Present or the Now. We discussed this, Hala and Joaqin and I at Salty’s for dinner Sunday. Mostly it picked up with Joaqin while Hala was away from the table, then it returned on the ride home, as I was starting to fade as seems to be my wont these days after even a little social interaction. Three of us talking, it fascinated me to see one of us so driven and to see how that drive can battle for if not occlude the possibility of a space where being is present. There is no new age connotation here, this is simply about living more now. Eradicate the jargon from the mind. Though it could be termed half-Hegelian. Fascinating, too, to see another one of us, more aligned with this thinking than I’ve been before. So it was like sitting in between two handmade mirrors, my image appears in both but in different versions, different times, different possibles according to the mirror maker.

These hours and I, it turns out, are forming a new and hapless bond. Unwanted really, but unavoidable too. There don’t even seem to be pharmacological remedies for this, it’s insomniac tendencies which I had already developed fully in my adult life — and in my earlier years, my twenties, how I naively wished for that, for being unable to sleep because “I could get so much done, write all the books, read everything, be so productive!” — Ha! my blindness — now these tendencies come back from their physiological base and it’s not so much a haunting as a “Well, here we are again, what’s best to do?” Good question. What is best to do and what is to be done in this circumstance?

It happens that I feel fatigued or tired at the end of the day, though I’ve become more immune to the fatigue of chemotherapy just like the cancer in my body is becoming immune to it fucking too, and then I’ll snap off the bedside lamp, slide the books aside and hope sleep comes. I wait, a conscious waiting, which is the whole problem. Thoughts race or simply move languidly rather, like a day that’s too hot, a day in the life of the poor with no AC in the car, none in the house, no where to go to be relieved. It’s that heat of pace at which my mind begins to revolve and wonder what the three months will be like. What will I really get done? What do I really want to get done? Does any of it matter? Do my survivors care? Do they say so now and then they will forget? Granted, I have great supporters and loved ones, but let’s not kid ourselves, everyone will be forgotten, why not me too. Of course I will, and it’s healthy that I should. The megalomaniacal thoughts that say anything otherwise are just that, little phantasies of the self that some of us need, some of us have needed to continue on in a life where the only meaning we “get” is what we “make.” Thus poetry.

Don’t kid yourself on this point either. Of course it’s not just verse and lineated lines of economically executed language — no, it’s the creations of the self, it’s the systems and theories, the critique, the art, the work or piece whatever genre, without the bonds of genre. It could be a house, an addition. A sketch. Even a poem perhaps. But only the making means shit, only the making will last, if even that does. That, too, explains my profession. I don’t do poetry in any traditional sense, though I do know how and speak it when I have too; I do making, I do human creativity and expression, and I’m concerned with the why and how it might improve this world. Otherwise, it’s just not worth the time it takes to express it, hear it, or see it. The personal is political, you’re god damn right it is. The rest are poseurs.

I don’t want to import more meaning into what’s happening to me than is due, into the fact that I’m dying now, quickly in terms relative to most people I know. Still, what I’ve said above is one way to describe what I’m doing now. Forget the pain, or “you’ll have to loan me pain,” but that is not the point. The myriad symptoms, the private shame-ridden moments, the invisible weakness, the lows, that’s bullshit. What’s left even for myself might be affected and colored and symptomatized in reverse, by all that, but what I have left is some kind of making. Every day is performance art. And that is not a line to bring a grin to anyone’s lips; nor is it one to bring a smirk. If that’s happened then you’ve misunderstood. What’s at stake here is the Real Thing, it’s For Keeps. Not to absolve myself from fuck-up’s, denial, laziness, and the rest of what isn’t laudable. It is merely to say that every good bit of energy is turned into something that will last, somehow. It is also used therapeutically to keep myself going with some sense of style — I’ve never been picky, only concerned, perhaps overly, with style. (The truth will out. These are the remnants and growths of my coming of age during the Mod revival of the late 70s and early 80s; not so much the Punk, although that did have a lot to do with fertilizing the ground for my future politics.) This brings us to this moment, in the now familiar wee hours, into reflections on what is worth doing and why.

I don’t believe I will be conscious after death, I don’t believe, sorry to say, that I will see any of you whom I love, I don’t believe a “new” body is waiting for me. I won’t see your children grow. For what purpose would any of that be true, if not to comfort the living in their fear? Enough of that. Without those beliefs, those leaps of faith that unconditionally require the suspension of one’s critical faculties, you are left with yourself, your loved ones, and what you can or might do. Let us say that hypothetical one of you wonders why I’m up at night. Again, it isn’t fear. Can you believe me? I’m not worried about the fears of death traditionally conceived. The process of dying, as in Epicurus’ fourth fear that I’ve explained elsewhere, that does bring me pause sometimes because (1) I hate to be too reliant on others and don’t want to inconvenience people, (2) because physical pain is truly distracting and disallows other activity, and (3) because I do not want to take up time or space in this world when I am worthless and cannot offer anything any longer. To “live” as a vegetable is bullshit, a curse worse that what Dante ever saw, worse than the self-righteously blinded and religiously deluded could ever imagine for their enemies. Their neighbors, remember?

With that said, I come back around to doing and to how much unknowable time there is for me to do. So far I’ve been able to so something, who knows how important; but through the blog, for example, and through my regular meetings with friends I’ve seen genuine concern and heard that something worthwhile is in the offing. I hope people who’ve had their vision occluded by a few unfortunate name-brand experiences or school names will realize that if there’s anything good coming out of my existence right now, it’s not from being a professor, from having a Ph.D., formal schooling, or any of that. It might more accurately be said to come in spite of all that. Having a keen eye on the world, feeling experiences with an open sensitivity, if at times with too much sensitivity, caring about people (not all, I’m neither saint nor altruist), having the good or ill fortune to be placed in some odd experiences, and also at times having the stones to walk head first into others. Those, I think, make something good of a life.

This is all unplanned, like my death, there is no outline to guide me through this piece, there is no map despite my fondness for maps, literal and metaphorical. (I picked up a great copy of a newish translation of Dante’s Inferno recently, translated as Hell, and it was not the quality of the words I wanted, it was the maps and diagrams. It’s laid out graphically, not scenes of torture, not Blakean drawings of the mystic, but nearly architectural sketches of what is where, what one might expect in the space of experience. (It explains in part why one of my only published essays deals with "cartographies of utopia.") This is extemporaneous. What do you make of that? I too don’t know. It’s an anti-eulogy. It’s an anti-systematic handbook. If so, then for what? It’s simply what I have. All I have.

In the poesis, then, what is it that feels good? What kind of making brings you pleasure in addition to warding off the unpleasure that naturally comes to us all? In doing what are you lost? Truly, beautifully lost? Where are those doings? And now, too late, I only start to see how crucial it is to find them. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of questions put to me since my diagnosis, and more accurately my prognosis, was made public, many of them have been posted on Do Not Go Gentle, many discussed there. Most elsewhere. Many are repeats, many, candidly speaking, are uninsightful — but how many of us know just what to say or ask? I don’t begrudge any of them really. Some just seem to have cut to the heart of the things: what will you do that matters? And why do those things? No doubt I’ll have a pretty good sense of this in about three months or so, when the clock really steps up its pace, when my timeline starts to deviate radically from most all of yours. Then I’ll know something more concretely. Pause for thought.

One thing of which I’m sure, it’s not distraction. Travel is fine, fun is fine, shopping fine, responsible debauchery too. There is an amazing book to be written on Distraction Theory, I haven’t gotten to it though I have notes everywhere, it hasn’t been written, but it’s out there in the future. I do know, however, that distraction is almost an insult to dying consciously, dare I use the cliché, of dying with dignity. Again, I see nothing wrong with travel, fun, debauchery, but they are not it. Not for me, and I’m not sure that I can offer any further explanation of why, they just miss the point, by definition.

Distraction is the activity that averts your eyes from seeing what is really happening. There might be no outside of ideology, but distraction is the indulgence in ideology. (e.g., Think fascism.) Just as faith, in my view, is the escape from critical thinking. Certain dispositions require these, so be it, it’s not something we have much control of: it’s what highlights the crucial difference between Jung and Freud. The former believes too much in a voluntarist psychology, he must explain the psyche and twist it so as to leave a possible space for the I to act freely; the latter knows the determinist web we find ourselves caught in, if we're lucky we find ourselves. Marx saw it with political economy and history, faults aside. Boils on his backside keeping him from sitting to finish Capital. Nietzsche saw it with society’s morals and values, faults and all. Arms wrapped around a beaten horse in madness.

So that is the base, the substructure if you will, for how to think of doing. In the doing the key aspect I keep seeing is a degree of choice within the circumstances I find myself in. That is, what will I do with what I have? What will I be able to do? What are my desires and where do they mesh with the doing? It’s still hard to believe that Old Man Eliot could write this, at age 24: “To have squeezed the universe into a ball / To roll it toward some overwhelming question,” and then, in fact, earlier in the poem, the question itself. In short, “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” That is the overwhelming question. How to begin? How should I presume? Yes. Yes. Worse and more overwhelming still, however, is to ask and only to ask and to leave it at that, and that is Prufrock’s curse.

. . . The curse of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

7.25.06, A Whole New Brand of Chemo, Sort Of

Chemo begins at 10 A.M. today. When you read this I'll be lying on my little bed, with a book I probably won't be reading.

Chemo has taken on new meaning now — starting today, there are no more healing hopes involved, it's merely palliative (or at least that is the one hope that remains, how long will it keep the cancer slow, slow, slower?). Part of me thinks "we knew this," we did know this, didn't we; but did we really know this in our hearts? Did I know it? Did I believe it?

As long as you fight part of you must remain in ignorance.

It is also the 25th of July and I was told I have pancreatic cancer on the 21st of March, four solid months. Though of course it was more like the first of April when I was told the really good news: "It's metastacized." Three months, three and a half. That one exercise, where you sit down with a calendar, and a pen, or pencil preferably, and Really Figure Things Out. Never done that.

Also, today's post, humble though it is, is the 100th post the blog. Congratulations to your eyes for making it this long.

If I have a chance later on I'll post a Franky Scale number but no guarantees. Tuesday is always a strange beast, on which I might feel rather functional later on in the day, or simply not. Tuesday is a day with no promises.

[Posted after 10 pm: It's difficult to pull a reliable Franky Scale 3 out of, a hat, say, when you've been sleeping most of the day, but I'll just say about 5.3 for the hell of it. There is also some news about changing my chemotherapy regimen to another order of the same three drugs, as I mentioned in one of the posts on the seond restaging, to an order which holds some promise for "increased longevity", the euhpemism we're searching for now. More on that later, perhaps tomorrow. Thanks to all of you for continued reading and support.]

Monday, July 24, 2006

7.24.06, Fear of Death, Pt. 2 Rejoinder

[A desire to get high enough to escape is genuine, but like some of you know, the ability has been snatched away from me. Standing there looking at the cool beaded glass of water in your thirst, and yet. High like that is mere memory.]

Part 1. The Phys Report: Franky Scale, it’s fine, not stellar but doing basically well. You can imagine a 6 if you’re conservative, or think a 7 if it helps you. Today is the third chemo day of the 6th cycle, little peach-colored pills, pills, pills, & tomorrow will be IV chemo in the hospital again, then another week, another IV session, and so on.

Part 2. Back to Death: Today’s post is comforting, you’ll be glad to know. Yesterday’s post was not meant to be so unsettling, so perhaps this further explanation will ease some minds. Although frankly speaking I cannot see much advantage to skirting any of the issues that are uncomfortable in this experience; if there were such advantage, why write any of this? Why would you be reading it? Anyone can lie to you about the end of life and an “afterlife.” It happens at least once a week or five times a day all over the world. Here we’re engaged in more experiential project.

Therefore we come to this reminder about fear and death, or rather a rejoinder of sorts to comments made and unmade related to yesterday’s post. The Epicurean line of thinking, remember half of what I put up is just summary of that position, is that “Death means nothing to us” (this is treated in numerous places in Warren’s book, for those who want more). First, it’s that a person’s consciousness ceases at death so there is no more anxiety, fear, desire, remorse, and so on ad infinitum, to be concerned with. There are, literally, no worries. There is, then, no harm in death. Second is that with death the “atoms of the soul” — even for those who believe in Soul — are scattered, depart, go elsewhere, vacation; thus there are no sensations of the body and mind and soul. It’s the eternal disconnect, the cell phone battery dies for the last time, you do not have your cord for recharging it. Fini. With no sensations there can be no pains. Again, no harm in death.

Does this sound flippant? I want to stress though that if there is no sentient being left and there are no sensations within the body, then there is no worry, no fear, and no pain. Some might want to argue for a state of bliss, explained with various psychological need reasons; my point, however, and this is meant as comfort to everyone here, even the good old fashioned materialists (myself included in both groups), that there is no reason to fear it. To fear It, very large “I.” It is simply nothing, no-thing, no-experience, no-phenomenon, and thus cannot harm us in any way. In coldly logical terms, the Epicurean “Key Doctrine” puts it like this:

“Death is nothing to us; for what is disperses does not perceive, and what does not perceive is nothing to us” (qtd in Warren 17).

Moving on to my observations about the mine and yours of fear: What’s above forms the backdrop logic that made me point out the dialectical chronological nature of fear, based on its being Self or Other centered — that becomes more paramount, it seems, because while I am sentient and feel so much physically the chance for fear is greatly increased. Thus fear number four was / is perhaps the most daunting. The rest, I spit on them. Two and three I feel I’ve already gone through, and fear number one is simply too much of a void to be comprehended. Fairy tales, scary movies, irrational fears, curses, anthropomorphic fates, harpies, ghosts, and gods — it’s all part of the same stuff. And the Other-based fear, while existing now too, truly takes hold when the reality of the situation sets in, when the physical nature of things changes so that my person, my “I,” is gone and there’s nothing left but narrative, knick knacks, and memory.

Someone in a private email even pointed out an unexpected upside to “the knowing” (i.e., of premature death, related to fear #3) which is having the time, at least theoretically, to say what you want and do what you want before you go. This is only partly correct; I’ve tried to convey this before but until you actually find yourself in this position the mere imagining of it is rather vague and incomprehensible. Some comforts might be had, but there are also an unyielding anxiety and pressure that come with the erasure of fear three (not knowing when you’ll die). Difficult sleeping each night as symptom of this. Recently I gave words to that: I am so bone tired today all I want to do is go over there, lie down, forget in sleep, but there is no forgetting, and if I do it, that just means one less night to sleep, one less time to close the books and turn out the lights. A genuinely melancholy thought. Thanks to the emailer, but too, please try to see both sides at least, or even the third, since there are always at least three sides to every story. (Right, Frank?)

I’ll offer the most forceful counter-argument myself, to save time: it hinges on belief in post mortem consciousness. Just like all of Christianity or Islam hinge on a conscious choice of faith (Abraham, Isaac, Kierkegaard). The edifice of the argument stands or falls on that, a cornerstone, regardless of how rigorously logical the system might be qua (closed) total system. For this author, then, no p.m. consciousness, ergo, no fear, no pain.

For those who are really engaged in this practice of thinking through the problem, and those who know me already know this, but my favorite and, I think, by far the most profound thinking along these lines (of “life and death” and what it means to do both) is found in the first few pages of Albert Camus’ book The Myth of Sisyphus. I’ve held back from exploring that here, since I thing it would truly push the envelope. Still hold back.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

7.23.06, Fear of Death, Pt. 1 Breaking It Down

“Fear of Death”

[If I get high enough I can push the pain away, just a thought I had.]

One’s first thought of death is fear. One gets scared, of necessity. For numerous reasons, too deep to delve today, fear of death has been carefully, complexly, and socially constructed for millennia; very sophisticated and plausible (for many) systems of belief have been established to assuage this fear. As if it were hardwired into our thinking. But. One critical question, from a genuinely open mind, cuts to the heart of it all: what is it we’re afraid of? Why fear death?

Among the books I’ve found on death, some of which I noted and commented on earlier, perhaps the best of them has been Facing Death: Epicurus and His Critics, by James Warren. It's genuinely insightful, a dry but very good book. Epicurus worked out logical reasons for fearing death, or rather for why we should not fear death, based on extrapolations from common questions about what we might fear about death. They fall into that oddly mystical grouping of “four” — have you ever noticed these groups of four? Buddhism’s noble truths; the Biblical heart-might-mind-strength; four Christian gospels; the Mormon Temple ceremony (don’t worry I won’t let out any secrets) has four big lessons to learn, four covenants you enter into, four signs, four tokens of these signs; etc.

When facing death one’s primary task is to determine what is the fear of death, and then realize that is not a singular but rather complex fear that is generalized when we speak of it. Epicurus’ analysis brings him to see four types of fear concerning death (these are summarized from Warren):

1 – The fear of being dead.
2 – The fear that one will die, that one’s life is going to end.
3 – The fear of premature death.
4 – The fear of the process of dying.

So the commonplace “fear of death” is more accurately composed of, potentially, four more specific fears. Number one and number two don’t seem to be issues for me. The possibility of experiencing number three has been pulled out from under me. At the end of March, early April the diagnosis I was given made turned my world upside down. I think that fear number three is one you experience while going through the process of “normal” life, while in the back of your mind you also assume that you’ll live another 30 years. What you fear is that someday someone, some doctor, will walk into the exam room and tell you what Dr. Whiting told me. Since it’s already happened, no more fear.

That leaves number four. This one does frighten me, what can I say? Even if they tell you “We will do everything in our power to make sure you are totally free from pain in this process.” There’s that word, “process,” even they used it. Euphemism for “dying.” Perhaps the pain can be avoided. But what of people? Will we be closer, split apart, fight, simply drift, bond tightly, what? What of my cats? It looks like, now, they will outlive me. The job, I guess it just goes away. The… the… and so on. You can see what the thinking is like. When you know the egg timer will buzz and you’re supposed to go on puttering around the kitchen pretending it’s not there. Is that what you do? You can also see the whole “process” is odd, unexpected, surprising, and taxing. That’s the fear to analyze further.

Along these lines, I’ve realized already how the nature of this “fear,” singular for shorthand but referring to all four as “fear of death,” is really of a dual or even dialectical nature. There is my fear and then others’ fear. These can be distinguished chronologically: I can experience fear in the time between now and when I die; after that, it’s time for the fear of others takes over. True, others can fear it now also, but the personal fear lasts only a short time, then I’m done; the collective or other fear has the quality of possibly existing now but really kicking in once I die. When others see me, despite what they know about my disease, my appearance largely deceives them. So the fear is allayed somewhat. That later time, when it kicks in. (I’m prognosticating here…) It might turn to memory, remorse, fondness (I can hope), relief, trauma, or a myriad of other feelings. I think the moment of my death, particularly clearly, marks off the difference in whose fear has primacy.

This fear analysis has made a lot of sense to me; and the self / other divide is what developed in my mind very soon after I was given my prognosis and began seeing people’s reactions. At times even those closest to me have surprised me, some times in the extreme, often subtly. Some have been rock solid, on the outside at least. The devoutly religious, for whom there should theoretically be little to no fear, have demonstrated the profoundly human side of their nature. I don’t know what any of this really means, whether there are conclusions to be drawn, snappy closers to be tacked on. All I know is there is ineluctable movement, and we all exist within it.

Here would be a nice place for a poignant line of poetry to cap it all off, instead, I’m just stuck. . . in the movement, in the analysis of fears, in thinking through it, feeling through it. No big answers for this day. Any brilliant thoughts?

Franky Scale: 6-7, up higher but with the heat and some poor pain management on my part earlier, took a wee dive.