I feel I owe you an explanation.
I haven't been writing much these days. Lot on my mind, distracts me from this branch of creativity.
Not without major pangs of nostalgia - I come here to E2 and read some of my old nodes. It reminds me of how I used to view life. What amazed me about it. What scared me - fear a component of amazement. What moves I made and what moves I avoided. What I wrote about what really happened, and what really happened.
It seemed I had written everything I felt like writing about my life, and I needed to get to living it.
These days I watch a lot of youTube videos. I even made a bunch. What struck me about trying to be a YouTuber is that you get utterly caught up in the meta-living rather than the living. That is - you start worrying all the time about how to frame what you're doing than actually doing it.
When I went to Antarctica, my PI (e.g. boss) - kept accusing me of spending more time trying to take pictures of the place, than actually "being" in the place. I came to find that, as is true with most traits we criticize in others, he was a practitioner of the same thing. He spent most of his time "blogging" his Antarctic experience rather than experiencing it.
But you know - Antarctica was mostly just wrote stuff. Actually, dare I say, boring most of the time, between seriously intense events. Like the airplane pilots say - hours of boredom punctuated by minutes or sheer terror.
When it got boring, we took pictures and wrote. (Because most of the people in Antarctica are serious introverts - people tended to spend a lot of free time alone, unless there was a party.)
In those days I was happy taking pictures and writing.
And then I got back and the rest of my life started to happen.
People died. People were born.
I did something I swore I would never ever do - and that was to get a divorce. The pain of that still echoes through my head, and a lot of that is chronicled here. I find it hard to read that stuff, but I can't change the history I created. It taught me never to swear something will, or will never happen, or be done by you. Because now I know it is possible to create a circumstance in someone's life where they will absolutely reevaluate everything they thought was true of the universe and themselves.
And then I had two minor surgeries that went bad. Both times I should have been dead. Both times I beat the odds and lived.
I wrote some about those things - but they caused me to reevaluate everything I was doing in life, and I just never felt much like writing about it with any degree of seriousness except for a few paragraphs here and there.
When they tell you that you have leukemia - you go blank. You hear nothing else. The brain shuts off. You've just been killed. It's the "he was dead but he didn't know it" syndrome. The feet keep moving on the headless chicken.
They know this, the docs. They try not to say anything else of importance after that. They walk you through what you're going to do next: (Get in your car. Drive home. Tell your wife you have an appointment with me tomorrow and I will speak to both of you. Try to get some sleep. You're not going to die.)
When I told the blonde-haired girl I had leukemia she barraged me with reasonable questions. I would have asked the same questions if it was her telling that to me. In fact - I should have asked those questions of the medical staff but I was too busy being dead to think of anything. I literally don't remember how I got home - though I presume I drove because when I looked out the window my car was in the driveway and I was indeed in my own house in my own office seeing it there.
I had no answers because suddenly - questions and answers to them were utterly superficial. Artifice. Icing on a cake scarred by oven burns. Really - if I just shut up and stand here silently, eventually I'll be dead so why bother.
Well, ok. The job of the doc who gives you the prognosis is to snap you out of the daydream nightmare, stop the roller coaster of death clown ride and pull your ticket and tell you to get out of the park. Let the goth kids wallow in death. You got living to do.
They basically say: "notice that you are breathing? Notice your heart is beating? You're no deader now than you were 20 seconds ago, than you will be in a year. Let's be real about this disease, but let's also be real that you're not dying soon."
I asked: "How long do I got?"
And I swear - I hardly got out the word "...long..." before he stopped me cold.
"This is not going to shorten your life," he said. (Meaning, I presume, no shorter than other people with leukemia, but let's not go there. The man wants to bend words to make me live better. I'm self-sabotaging by insisting on a time-frame.)
I just shut up. I just moved on.
That was 2 years ago.
As things go I guess it's reasonable that I finally get something fatal. I've spent so much time risking my life, ruining my life and those of my most beloved, that God should step in and take the dare.
So I get leukemia. Cancer. Ok. There. At some point my name winds up among the list of noders who have passed - and I'm not going to recite the names, because mine will not be the most illustrious. I am neither the most venerated nor the widest read.
Story of my life, actually. Neither the best nor worst at anything I have ever tried. I'm most notable for having tried a lot of stuff - rather than mastering anything. Renaissance Man: a friend calls me.
That's super nice but it doesn't reflect the why of it in my head. The why of it is that I was never happy. At all. With anything. Because I think you should be the master of your own situation - I just swallowed my fear a lot of times and went against my deeply scarred introspective, introversion - and forced extroversion upon myself. If I am remembered for anything it should be this: He was terrified by everything but ran straight toward them. It should be said, "He was the right guy to storm machine gun nests, if there were any on the mountain biking hill."
It always seemed to me that death was better than living in fear. I still think that. And I gotta figure a more apropos title for me.
These days my memory isn't so great. My docs say its stress. I'm still working, full-time. Why not? What else would I do? As soon as they told me this leukemia was incurable and untreatable - I figured - so what do I do next?
I go to Stanford Oncology. I figure - Stanford - has to be good, right? I go there every couple of months and they do a blood test.
My cancer doc, whom I presume is a resident, usually comes in with a small gaggle of students and he says exactly the same thing to me: "You're the most difficult patient I have - because you have leukemia and there's literally nothing I can do for you."
Then he palpates my back, listens to my heart, squeezes my liver, asks me a couple questions, and then sends me off to have the rest of my life.
Being logical I can only presume that the reason I still go there is because I'm a control in some experiment they're doing. Literally - they do no treatment.
Unable to devise a strategy for beating this thing, I just figured I'd keep on with life, seeing as how I still have one.
There's a book I read called When Breath Becomes Air, written by a Stanford Neurosurgeon who died of Lung Cancer. It's a very poignant book, even more so to someone like me. He said so many quotable things I literally had to find a notebook and transcribe a bunch of them. (The one I remember best is that going to Yale Med school to study neurosurgery was like "trying to learn astronomy by staring into the sun.")
The main jist of the book, as I walk away from that, too, in this life, is this: People get incurable diseases and die. This is not due to being cursed by God. This is not because of some misstep, or misdeed. This just *is*.
Very existential. And somehow, quite soothing. Because we humans like to translate our bad luck into pain, and pain into hatred and blame. And the way Dr. Paul says it - This just *is*, like the distance between the earth and the moon.
There's nobody to blame for the coefficient of friction between steel and concrete. Nobody to blame for the acceleration of gravity. The fine structure constant. The fact humans can't breathe water.
Those were all true before we got here. And presumably will be true long after we're gone.
In my case, though, it does appear I got leukemia in 2014, when I was hospitalized for being bled to death by an errant stroke of a surgeon's knife. They did a lot of CAT scans, and XRAYS and something called Intervention Radiology. Apparently all that radiation is the likely cause of my leukemia.
The irony is that nothing they did saved my life, even though, the chances of my survival were quite low. If they had done absolutely nothing - the same outcome would have arrived, and I wouldn't have leukemia now.
As I am not a person to sit back and let fate run its course, every time a doc or nurse would come into my hospital room I would demand a next step in treatment...and they did their best. Honestly.
But they're just humans, too. On a job. Wanting to go home to the family for dinner.
And my fate was not theirs.
I'm about to lose my job. This is no surprise. I'm a guy with cancer, who is slowly losing his ability to perform at peak function. Nobody is a ghoul where I work - and so it's difficult for them to decide to jettison someone like me, who has been a hard working, loyal employee. But my cancer just *is*. And truth is they need someone in my spot who is fully capable.
It's truly painful to me. Another step toward that inevitable end. The termination of a 35-year career to which it's clear I will never return. My life's work, over.
I sent an e-mail ping to an old friend who is in my business (and who is a multi gazillion-aire now) and told him what was going on.
I said: "If you come across anyone who needs a damaged VP Engineering..."
He said: "Yeah. Sure. You know I got your back. But, Joe, you have to think of a few things now. First: What do you REALLY want to do next? You are very creative. Time to get to those projects you've been putting off. Second: Every day remember - People love you. They do. And Third: What do you need from me? Just ask.
I don't know what I want to do next. I haven't thought past the next work day, usually. And it's hard to think people love you when you look outside and see how the world needs to move and you're going to be subtracted from it. And third, honestly, there's nothing money could possibly help me with now.
But friendship. Yes. And to be reminded this wasn't all for nothing. I know that intellectually. But emotionally...geeze, it's pretty dark and cold in here.
My good friends remind me I have creativity. Frankly, I don't feel much like writing. Haven't in years.
My pal riverrun, a cancer survivor, came by and spent the weekend with me. He gave me the sheet music to the Bach Well Tempered Clavier. He thinks I should practice that.
My wife bought me a piano (upon which I could play Bach, if I could play Bach).
And the docs say this cancer isn't killing me all that quickly. In fact, it's entirely probable I could outlive E2. Or at least see a grandchild born.
The hardest thing to remember is that this isn't bad luck. It isn't "a cross I must bear."
It just is. Its the way this life needs to go, and I, as the guy behind the wheel, still have a lot of choices to make.
I live next to the Grand Canyon and I'm still capable of hiking it.
I live beside the holy mountain of the Navajo and the Hopi - and I can wait for the kachinas to come and pester me.
I can be a creative person - and there are stories left to tell.
When my dad was about to die he said, "I'm ready." When the Stanford Surgeon was about to go he said, "Ok, I'm ready."
Not me. Not yet.
Pass me another beer. I have to get back to writing about the sex lives of Antarctic science workers. (Why did I ever stop doing that??)