Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cancer, Coffee and 'What defines A Life?'

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Art of Living:

“There are moments in time that are meant to be held
Like fragile, breakable things.
There are others that pass us, you can't even tell
Such is their grace and their speed.
And this one is gone in the blink of an eye...
Do you ever jump in without closing your eyes...?”

---Mary Chapin Carpenter

Some thoughts, musings about Life and the purpose of Life. What ‘defines” a life, In the making, creating and living it?
And too, Are we really ‘Living’ given the choices we make every day -- Are we squandering our time; stagnating, unmovable, out of fear, grief, or past experiences? Indeed, are we allowing ‘something’ or ‘someone’ to steer our course and make our way, when we know we should be DOING our own steering and DOING more?
Are we following our dreams- living life to the fullest degree possible? Are we utilizing the tools necessary to
create, mold and shape our lives, our being, Into something worthwhile, purposeful and glorious,
even when the road before us seems ominous and ‘just too hard’ to change from that what we know, are familiar
and comfortable with? Also, are we making certain that we are not taking for granted this glorious Gift;
The Gift of Life, living and time?

A ton of questions... to be sure, but pertinent and the answers are as unique and individualized as are each of us.
No, Not a simple task but the alternative, not having and appreciating life and being open to all of it’s possibilities,
is more bleak, with far reaching implications of dying a little, every day, BY OUR CHOOSING. What does our future hold? Indeed, it does beg the question: “What defines our life, who we are and what we want and are doing with our time?
Are we willing and ready; “to jump full in” (without blinking an eye) when grand, healthy and life changing moments and people: The “fragile and breakable” ones present themselves and invite us to join?

It seems that whenever I get “stuck,” muddled in the spaces in between or find myself at a crossroads, as I do today,
I cannot search long and fast enough to find truth and crucial answers. For better or for worse, I usually find the best and most applicable answers in something that my deceased, younger brother, Scott has written.
For those who know me, this should not come as a surprise. For thirty-eight years I loved, listened to, cared for, adored, honored, appreciated and stood in awe of him;
His accomplishments, his beautiful and self reflective mind and even more expansive heart.
Scott was unique, complex, brilliant; a true genius of sorts. He was also loving, kind, gracious, wise, a good friend,
a beautiful son, a grand and favored brother, a person of balance, theories and an eloquent writer.
These words barely begin to describe and define him, Scott’s life and all that he taught and shared with me and hundreds of others. He was my best friend, my soulmate, the person I enjoyed being around the most.

Is it any wonder ‘why’ I would not continue to seek and learn from him? Yes, he is dead, his physical presence is gone.
I cannot call him on the phone spontaneously, to check and see how and what he is doing. If he has written a new poem? What and all he is thinking about and creating. A huge void, an emptiness remains in my soul and all that encompasses me. Scott has been dead and gone three years this December. Not much time, really, especially when I consider the amount and quality of time we shared; our silly rituals and traditions at Christmas time, when he would always come home. We watched the movie: “Home For The Holidays” at least twice every Christmas, laughing, to the point of almost passing out,
grinning from ear to ear, because the characters in the movie reminded us so much of our own family and similar quirks
and dysfunction.

The emptiness creeps up on me, when I travel to Southern Utah, a place Scott dearly loved and where he sought refuge
and inspiration. When I purchase a sparkly, new fountain pen because of our shared fondness and appreciation of them.
“The Mighty Pen” was one of his tools of creation and beauty. So many memories of my life, are, and will forever be, intertwined and linked with Scott. So as I began to write about life, it’s purpose and what defines a life, I chose Scott as my exemplar. I watched, waited and grieved for the nine months he suffered and fought against the beast of pancreatic cancer. The pain on his gray and often ashen face never left after his diagnosis. It was and remains, the most horrific, painful, heinous and darkest time of my life: Watching my younger, brighter, gifted, talented and beloved brother die, bit by bit, everyday,
as the cancer and chemotherapy ate away at his beautiful life, dreams and body.

This is not meant to be maudlin, except that it is and was. Hopefully it will serve as a basis from which I can begin to write
and express my feelings, thoughts and wonderings, in context, about “Life,” it’s meaning, purpose and definition.
Oh how I miss him- everyday. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, the fond memories, life lessons, the bond,
and great and wondrous love we shared as brother and sister and dear, beloved friends.
Sometimes I “get a catch in my throat and I just swallow hard until it leaves me,” Other times, I allow the tears that
are always close to the surface, to flow freely, uncontrollably down my face and neck, yes, a tear streaked salty face,
full of of love, missing and honor.

I will begin by sharing one of Scott’s posts from a journal he kept, a blog and daily account of what he was feeling and experiencing, what it was like for him to face death: “Head On” and continue to LIVE a life full of purpose and meaning, in-spite of, maybe even because of, his knowing that; “soon I die.” Scott lived more in his last nine months of mortality than I have lived in my entire 51 years. So, of course, his definition on “what defines and makes a life and a sense of purpose,
is overtly significant, important, descriptive and noteworthy.

And yes, Scott loved coffee.

---Sheri Swaner

Or, It’s All About Getting Started:

“It is all about Making coffee.” By Mr. Jones, Scott swaner

Revisiting Scott's blog, on July 22, 2006.
Do Not Go Gentle — Poetry & Cancer, Life & Death

[Some thoughts about pancreatic cancer, pancreatica, metastatic cancer, dying young, untimely death, quality of life, then poetry or "a making, a creation" — & what can be left of it while coping with fear and grief and dumb fate; trying to make a life, with what seems like little left. Family & friends, love & loss.]

Saturday, July 22, 2006

7.22.06, Brief Indecision
“Walked into the kitchen, which is still shaded out because of yesterday's heat — and what they say will come today as well, and took a left turn, walked about ten feet to the far wall where I stood facing the sink, coffee maker, coffee grinder, rice maker, dish rack. For a brief moment I thought about what Frank asked me once, or I thought rather the object of his question, at what point when you get up every morning do you think "Ah, fucking cancer"? Today I woke up and it was already woven into my thoughts from the left turn, the ten feet, the facing of the morning machines.
Cancer; cancer, schedule, calendar, how long, tasks, limited range of drugs, more cancer, less calendar . . . for a moment that's all I thought, not consciously but still that's what I woke up with. Then it hit me, "It's simple. Just make coffee. That is clearly the answer to everything." Just like in Home for the Holidays when Holly Hunter and Anne Bancroft are together talking ‘family talk’ in the kitchen at 3 in the morning, what does mom do? She puts on a pot of coffee. Every morning, then, too, that's got to be the same answer. It's Pascalian, ". . .kneel and move your lips as if you believe..." the same behaviorist principle. You'd be surprised at how much of life's routine will simply automatically begin its motion, just start to move by itself, once the beans are ground, cold water filled in, and the switch flipped. It all starts. It's all about making coffee.
This is how the terminal psychology seems to work, if I am in any way representative: News from the re-staging wasn't really news, in a sense it was information I was waiting for but already knew, information I knew would be coming, at some point; the only remaining question was precisely "when will it come?" "when does the cancer pick up and start to move again?" Those are the basic stakes, point being that it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. But the last re-staging brought unexpected good news, and so this week, we, I at least, thought "Hey, maybe we'll have one more piece of good news. Just one more."

The psychology: You receive the shittiest news, you absorb and process it, then you begin to live your new life with this knowledge. The finite amount of time ahead of you, the juggling of projects within the mind indefinitely, the procrastination with little consequence, and simply taking every day for granted and people for granted and the concept of "tomorrow" for granted, all of that is wrenched up, turned over or around, and slammed down in some disfigured form. You still have to make use of it, just that now this thing, it is misshapen and unfamiliar almost. Now, the re-staging restarts the whole process, but you've been through it once before so that this version is not quite so baffling, the tunnel vision, heavy crushing feeling descending on your skull, the inexplicably loud heartbeat, and the gradually collapsing vision of the whole room around you — all this happens again but not so severely. This time you know it won't beat you, you're not actually worried you'll pass out and wake, when your head cracks against the exam rooms white linoleum floor. This time there's more anger than surprise. This time you're faced with how cancer doesn't give two squirts about 8 weeks of rest or healing: it will move on. This is all just to inform you. An expensive way to inform you. You've been playing on your winnings already. The dice have been rolled in The Big Casino, is one message.
Second message: Your winnings are about gone. You realize, yes, that soon I die.”-- mr. jones
To illustrate, I’m including part of one of the poems that Scott wrote during his fight and life with terminal pancreatic cancer. It serves as the premise, the meaning of a well lived life of defined determination. It is also copyrighted. ; )

“Life, the Crash Course Version”

“Death opens vistas through its immanence. Widened
Vision and broadened possibility both result from the horror
Of the approach, the horror. Every possibility existing gossamer,
Hanging by delicate threads of if, comes to the fore of when-
Pain’s freedom is finally achieved.”


This particular post of Mr. Jones, was originally written and posted
On Friday, July 14, 2006.
He passed away a little over 5 months after writing this.
I am re-posting it for several reasons. First, because it is one of favored writings,
Second, Scott could have written the theme of this post at any given time in his 38 years.

Scott lived! Scott Lived, each day of his life was purposeful and determined.
A good lesson for all of us, no?
Certainly a lesson that I need to work on; a lesson he reminded me of,
Either in word or by how he lived his life; Honestly, with conviction,
and determination.

What Defines This Life, What defined Scott's life?
Most of the answers are found within this post.

I miss you, Scott.
Sometimes more than I can bear...but then I remember what you asked me to do;
And I try harder. The missing never goes away, though. Ever.



7.14.07, "What Defines This Life?" You Ask By Mr. Jones aka Scott Swaner

*Franky Scale: Why just one? Started about 6, dropped to a 5 for a while till I did some pharmacological adjustment. Ended up close to 7, the day was good, saying good bye to Ms. T over crumpets and books at the Left Bank, then with Mme. X for a dinner of bar food.

*Dearest Prof. Jeong, Yonsei University,

First, I wanted to let you know that this is the right blog. I was so glad to get news of you recently, or more accurately news that my fucked-up news had reached you. And I was moved by and can imagine your reaction. It's been too long since we've seen each other and I hope, as always, only the best for you. I miss being able to drop in and discuss aleatory Marxism, Althusser, and modern poetry. Whether the category "lyric" is salvageable let alone salutary . . . figuring out what Hwang Jiwoo is talking about . . . So much there left undiscussed. Also, I'm sorry if the pseudonym threw you off track, my nom de guerre, as it were. For professional reasons I withheld my real name initially and the "Mr. Jones" trope, though I haven't yet discussed its why's and where-fore's, has proven useful in unexpected ways. Let's talk soon, I'll try to email.

*There is a certain clarity I possess, or feel possessed of these days, only occasionally, usually around this hour of twilight — not meant to sound either Romantic or mystical, just noting the phenomenon — so at this time, when the combination of hunger / fullness, pain / non-pain, nausea / calm, etc. settles down below the most obvious level of consciousness, then I feel my fingers freed up (odd metaphor of the keyboard age), and a certain sense of vision accompanies this: not Blakean, or Ginsbergian (after Blake) but more Spinozist, it's almost scientific, that of a lens grinder, someone who is thinking of visual theory at the same time as rhetoric. I hope it combines to produce something lucid or pellucid even or even merely reflective of the clarity. Gibberish? Could be. Oxycotton? Could be.

*An Anonymous writer posted a few questions on the post called
"What Cannot be Said" from two days ago; it ran as follows:

"Question to consider (or not?)
[a] what if all questions are the wrong questions at this moment?
[b] it isn't as simple as what to do with your time;
[c] rather, what will you do regardless?
[d] not what to do in the time left, but what would you do anyway, given one week or one year?
[e] what defines the life you have chosen?" [I've added the letters for easier reference.]

The final question #e I can answer with some confidence, what defines a life, whether chosen or fallen into,
Is always the same it seems: it's action, the practices of everyday life, movement, activity.
All the talk and hyperbole, all the promises and the efforts, all the intentions and the apologies,
And finally, all the ideals and the general wishes or desires — none of it means more than a passing comment in a dark bar.
In the end it is part of a failed seduction. In the middle and the beginning, too, it's nearly meaningless, however, we can more easily kid ourselves, succumb to an ideology that allows us to remain productive.
In the end, after all is said and done: It is only the book that is published, printed, or passed around and read at least, is the book that counts. All the ideas for other books, all the drafts (in the mind) and sketchy notes, disorganized notes don't count.
The “Other” ideal profession doesn't count, only the one you actually did. Me, professor, modern Korean literature, poetry, aesthetic theory. Like it or not, that's what defines me, it's where I've come. It’s what I DO. Most simply put, I can't help but think more and more surely over recent years and especially now, that only what one does is what defines one's life.

As a brief interjection, these questions have all been covered on the blog before. In fact, they're nearly the primary philosophical or psychological reason for starting, for figuring it out. That said, I'm glad they're raised again since revisiting them now and then is always a good idea. Too, things change quickly in the Big Casino.
The roll of the dice, the hand you have been dealt...
(And too, also, it's good to have comments to engage with now and then on the blog.)

Question #d is, to put it rather directly, not relevant. Not anymore,
not to me during this period; the knowledge of a foreshortened life.
The meaning of all activity has radically changed for me since I was introduced to terminal cancer, except to the extent that I think of the act and action as described in the paragraph above.
To ask what "I" would do "regardless" (#c and #d) of this situation means to ignore this situation;
One would have to confront it ‘head on’ and then decide to live in defiance
of its reality.
I think that's somewhat counterproductive, especially considering the numerous epiphanies the experience affords.
So much new insight to be had from the “2x4-across-the-head” nature and thud of this new knowledge;
That not only am I mortal (of course) but that my mortality has been radically foreshortened into a number of months.
I'm supposed to be able to count them on both hands, if I’m lucky.
(The timeline now, based on admittedly less than ideal statistical averages, in fact puts down the number of months like this.) Finally and practically, I probably would not be concerned with writing a memoir currently without the news.
Life's obligations would push all that aside.

I suppose the latter two questions addressed would be quite on target for someone at home with eternal recurrence, someone unquestionably not possessed by the notion of "the grass is greener," someone who had made all the "perfect" life choices and was either in unquestionable love with her work or independently wealthy. Wouldn't it be nice — sorry, not be sarcastic toward anyone who's so comfortable in their skin (and / or loaded), it's just never been me.

On #b, looks like I screwed up my numbering.

On #a, I wonder the same frequently: do they need to be asked? The facile Socratic retort doesn't apply I think; and yet if there is ever a time to do perhaps this precisely is the time . . .?
One thing for sure, and no one every said I wasn't picky about language, but the logic of "at this moment"
Does miss the primary fact of what it means to be confronted "prematurely" with death.
The Moment becomes This one, for better or worse.
The next moment may never come.

And how can I resist the return to aleatory Marxism, above, to note again that
"The lonely moment of the last instance never comes"?
Perhaps it's time for me to reevaluate that proposition considering my new context . . .

Posted by Mr. Jones at 7:15 PM

8:25 PM, July 15, 2006