It all started on my way back from Krabi, a beach city down in the south. I was on a short trip with my uncle who had a meeting and did not want to go alone. On the way back I could see signs of warfare, checkpoints, blocked off routes etc… The war was already beginning.

This morning I reached home, got myself ready for class (I study with a tutor as opposed to regular schooling). I made special preparations in case I was attacked. I gave my bike chain some oil, and pumped the tyres up.

On the way I could see sorties happening all around town, I keep my head down low. I’m just an innocent kid going to school. I carefully avoid all confrontation by taking back routes.

Upon arrival I found the gate to the education centre locked. I called out to see what was going on. Eventually a maid explained to me that the teacher had gone away while I was down south.

I turn to get on my bike, when I saw the terrible sight. The enemy was coming, many men all riding on a big red truck. All of them were smiling with excitement. I quickly grabbed up my bike. I knew a route that only I would be able to fit down, and no truck could follow. I paddled like I never paddled before. Yet I was futile against the power of a truck.

In a last ditch attempt, I slammed on my brakes, brought the handle bars quickly around. I was then meant with the spray of enemy fire. I slammed into the ground, to the sound of twenty men cheering in victory.

Oh how humiliating

You’re probably asking, how is it that you were in a war zone, got shot, and then logged on to the internet? Well things are quite as they seem. The truck didn’t have soldiers on it; in fact I knew most of these men. The red truck wasn’t some personnel carrier from China. In fact it was a fire truck.

Right now in Thailand is the Songkran festival. The whole nation turns into a water fight. In fact it’s not even Songkran yet; people are too damn excited to wait. Assholes.

None of this has actually happened today, but rather has happened over about two weeks ago.

Between the 25th of March and the 3rd of April I stayed, along with many friends, in the Buddhist Monastery Samye Ling, which is near Lockerbie, in Scotland. It's surrounded by many rolling hills and the darkest pine forests I've ever seen. Completely black and lifeless between the huge trees. The surrounding countryside is covered in mist, and the air is jam-packed with ions. With the car windows wound down, it was one of the best smelling journeys I've ever had.

I had approached this trip with a growing sense of trepidation. The whole point of this retreat was to get a specific empowerment from one of the resident Lamas in order to begin the ngondro - the preliminary practices carried out before any serious study of topics such as Mahamudra or Dzogchen or even vipassana can be carried out. It's not easy, and can take many years. I wasn't sure I really wanted to do this, and I was beginning to think that my love of the Tibetan Buddhism view of Buddhism was on the wane - I am more enamoured with the sutra-level Buddhist philosophy such as that practiced at the famous, and now destroyed, ancient Buddhist university called Nalanda (which also practiced the tantras, though). Vajrayana just wasn't for me, as I felt no connection to it at all.

The week, however, was life-changing in the way few things are. The week-long practice, which was related to the tantric buddha, Guru Rinpoche was a deeply intense experience. The chanting, meditation and visualisation dredged up many emotions and feelings from the depth of the unconscious, and I often moved from rage to bliss to complete equanimity simply over the course of a day. At the end of every session I knew myself a little better, and I felt I had become noticably more compasionate and open in my attitude.

I also learnt how to work. In order not to go off the edge, we carried out menial tasks such as cooking, cleaning etc. This was very useful in becoming grounded - and completely necessary. I discovered that single-mindedly working until a task was complete, and completed perfectly, was meditation. By avoiding any distractions, and never thinking about how to slack off early or to do a job that was just 'good enough'. I try to do this at work, and it's like magic. Although my job's tedious, I am now sincerely glad. It's harder to pay attention to, and that is the best point. An obstacle becomes a friend.

There were several things that happened that were... a bit more than ‘mundane’ that happened that week. Here's one I'm happy to be open about.

One night I left the temple, a truly amazing building, after an hour meditating on my own, and quietly slipped on my shoes. Then one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had happened. I guy, not much older than me, shouted hello. Asking me if I was “on silent” (ie, not speaking during my retreat) I replied in the negative. Then he asked if there were any teachings on in the evening, as I was carrying a load of books, as always. I explained that there were no teachings being held at all, as far as I knew, since all the time was being taken up with the Guru Rinpoche prayers and meditations.

At this, he thanked me. And that was it - and I have never had anyone, ever, say thank you the way he did. It was in a completely open and completely genuine way.

And I mean completely and mindblowingly. The way a buddha would thank someone. As he walked off, I almost felt like crying.

After this retreat, my world’s very different now. I no longer have any doubts. Not a single one.

Shovel blade pins worm
Will the two halves be reborn?
All will be revealed

There comes a certain point, while jobhunting, that you start to wonder what the hell you've been doing. Case in point: I've worked primarily in bookstores over the last few years, barring horrible side jobs that pay badly and go nowhere. It's been my one fallback - I was all for something better (like that job at MoMA that fizzled) but I've really been keeping my eyes open for more bookstore gigs. It got to the point where I was, after being rejected from stuff left and right, assuming myself to be unemployable outside of the book market.

I also knew that The Strand, New York City's most well-known used bookstore (the phrase "18 miles of books" ring a bell?) hires without fail every year in April - the winter is a bad time for bookstores and April is when things start to loosen up and breathe again. Sure enough, an ad was posted in the Village Voice last week. So I dropped by last Tuesday, dropped off a resume and filled out an application.

The Strand has its ups and downs as far as employers go - it's a union shop, meaning it pays decently, and it's in the heart of the village, two blocks from Union Square and a stone's throw away from, well, everything, but it's dangerous - the place is a mess and those of us with anal-retentive tendencies would be thoroughly overwhelmed by their inability to find anything they were specifically looking for. It's also not air conditioned and extremely hot in the summer. Some have likened working in the basement during July and August to taking a protracted schvitz. At this point, that sounds wonderful. I'm a beggar, and I'm certainly not choosing.

And I waited. I was fairly certain that they would collect applications for a week and conduct interviews the week after, but I didn't KNOW that. For all I knew, they would've hired me on the spot if I was awesome enough. It was, without a doubt, the most nerve-wracking week I've had in a long time, and when you're living off of handouts and friends you're life is filled with extremely sucky weeks.

And I started to think, like I do, about what it would mean if a bookstore wouldn't hire me. And I started to think about that whole skill set that would once again prove to be utterly worthless. I started second-guessing myself, and getting extremely annoyed and worried. I started thinking about all the other shit I'd need to do (primarily being applying for jobs I REALLY didn't want - Starbucks springs to mind) to make a living wage. And things really, really started to suck.

Got a call today. Interview tomorrow at 3:30. Time to not blow this. here goes nothin'.

Previous

Saturday

I slipped out of his hotel room to get us coffee and tea and called my sister from my cell. I had to tell her a lie about where I was the night before. She can’t know that I am with a married man. It hurts to lie to her. I came back to the hotel room - we drank, read the paper and touched each other gently. It was fun. Then he dropped me off at swimming and we talked in the car sweetly before I jumped out. He really is a kind man. We thought about meeting again that night – but figured it would be better to just do our own things instead. School, work, exercise... things like that.

Sunday

I went to yoga. The instructor said that it is best to push your body as far as possible – but it is also important to understand your limits. I can feel the great weight of limits pushing hard against me lately. I want to push beyond so badly but somehow I can’t find the energy. But that will change. As for the rest of the day - I read half of a book in the sun and I talked to him for a few hours through Skype.

Monday

I got in to work at 8:30. The girls came in at 9:00. I’m tired. I hate being pushed around. I hate limits. I have to push against everything – even if I feel tired. I have to remember that it won’t be this way forever. I have to remember that I am the only one who can change my situation.

Previous

So there we were, in Oncology, wishing for Star Trek technology

"We're going to take a big bat and hit it as hard as we can" - Dr. Rosenberg


It's so easy - "Bones" (or that nice Beverly Crusher) waves a bleeping thing over your body to diagnose you, then they put you into a machine that passes a beam of light down your body, and you're Fixed Up Real Quick. You lie on those odd beds in the medical bay, and you're back on the bridge in no time. Unless you're Security, of course. Security guys never have minor injuries, they just get vaporised.

Thank The Deity that Christine isn't Security #3, then.

On the other hand, chemotherapy sucks. We'd thought that mastectomy was a dreadful way of treating breast cancer "Can't they do better than this, lopping bits off, in the 21st Century?", but chemo is worse by far. The basic theory is this: cancer cells are basically dividing out of control, and need to be knocked out. Also in the firing line are any other quickly-dividing cells - your skin (inside and out!) and hair follicles among other things. So you're sore, bald and with no lining to yer intestines. That's chemo for you - no wonder Christine's oncologist said that he'd take a "big bat" to it...

Cytoxan ("CyTOXIN - could they have thought of a worse name?") and Adriamycin are first up - both to be administered intravenously, both drugs "disrupt and destroy cancer cells", both have a similar list of side effects, both short-term and long-term. There are the usual suspects: decreased white blood cell count with increased risk of infection, hair loss, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, sores in mouth...

Then the Adriamycin, which is so bloody toxic that they have a cupboard in the treatment room marked "Chemo Spill Kits", and the nurses wear protective gear to handle and inject the stuff. Basically, if you get this stuff on your skin, it causes necrosis. That is so clearly Not A Good Thing, and yet they are putting this stuff in her bloodstream to make her better.

Finally, there's a drug she's taking at home, Dexamethasone. This increases the effectiveness of the other chemo drugs, and again the list of side-effects is fairly scary, this time including an immuno-suppresive capability. Yes, part of the treatment is to hit your immune system to a degree, so the very thing that normally protects your body against infections is hobbled. That's a hard thing to grok - that to treat cancer, they have to employ methods that are so medieval and harsh that they come within a whisker of killing you.

My advice - do what you can to avoid getting cancer, do it NOW.

So, How Are You?

Very Well, Thank You. Seriously, we are. Notwithstanding that Chris is by turns fatigued and nauseous (and occasionally tearful), and that I'm stressed (and occasionally tearful) from being away from home and my usual support matrix, we're doing well. Tess is doing what she can to help, we're all a little tired and strung out, but you know something? We are all going to survive this.

We're still hoping that a few of you will knit, make, send some silly soft hats for those bald days we know are coming in a week or so, and although Christine isn't up to long phone calls that often, we both love to hear from you.

This particular chemo regimen will last for eight weeks (four fortnightly sessions), followed by another eight weeks of different drugs, follwed by some radiation therapy. In the meantime, all we need to do is get married, get my application for immigration change of status started, get a work permit and permission to re-enter the US so I can go back to UK and sort out my affairs there.

After that, we'll all deserve a break, and hopefully, we'll get one in August, damnit, Jim.

In Other News, Mythological Creatures Spotted in California!

I spent much of yesterday in the delightful Capay Valley, alternating between a friend's farm and the home of other friends. Did you know that hummingbirds actually, really, do exist? And that they are tiny, pretty and wonderful, and that they really do hum? And can fly backwards? And they do get most of their energy from sipping nectar?

Christine is so lucky to have the friends she has, both in real life, and online. Thank you all.




(R) breast and (R) axilla - Caught in the medical machine - Going Amazonian - When the Breast Fairy Comes - So there we were, in Oncology, wishing for Star Trek technology - Weddings, and other Sundrie Diversions - Support the Amazons: A Dual-Function Ninjagirls Bakesale for Boobies - Seven Down, One to Go - 1950s technology meets 21st-century woman. - Getting better, but cancer SUCKS - An Open Letter to Macy's regarding Tits

How has it come to this? My life, crumbling about me in such a painfully slow dance that it settles like silt in water about my feet. I can reach down and stir it up again, but if I do, will it remain swirling about me or will it simply settle again, requiring me to reach out again, in a neverending pattern of dance and decay?

She is all that I want, yet all that I want is more than I can do. My own image of myself has become warped, and each day it twists and mutates into something subtly different from the day before. When will it change back into a clear image, when will I once again live my life the way I want it to?

It has been so long.

The lines flow from my fingers, scratching the surface of how I feel, yet never actually saying what I pretend to say. A catharsis, a release without actually releasing. A play, a farce. And I know it, and yet knowing it changes nothing.

Self-image, self-confidence, self-perception, self-love, self-hate. I seek to right the wrongs, but I run myself into a brick wall, again and again. The wall must be broken down, but when my knuckles bloody themselves each time I try, and the wall simply seems to become stronger for it... I realize, I am not capable of breaking it down on my own.

I need help.

Others have broken down the same wall before I. I must overcome my shame, my withdrawal, my lethargy and loathing and introverted nature, in order to overcome this one thing. In order to live how I feel I should, how I need to in order for my dreams to come true. There is a path that I see, that I can take, and the other direction... It is unknown, dark. Frightening, because I do not see it. But the path I know is behind the wall. And my knuckles are already split and bleeding. Who will help me break it down?

Who will help me find myself?


Thank you for allowing me this time to vent. I needed it.

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