It's the meeting with Barbara Burtness, the charming and literate oncologist. I have a book for her, it's Peace on Earth by Stanislas Lem. It's a funny book and a little silly. She says that she's coming down with a cold and so we shouldn't shake hands. Nice to worry about colds in the consulting room where we worried about cancer.
There is no evidence of cancer, she says. It begins to sound real, like I hadn't heard it before. There is an effervescence in her voice and I guess that this is as close as professional decorum lets an oncologist come to the end-zone victory dance.
Yeah, I guess a lot of her battles don't end like this so you probably learn not to over-celebrate the ones that do. Cancer teaches the Middle Way.
So we talk about follow-up and about tending to my radiation damage and she says goodbye and we shake hands and then laugh at this terrible breach of prophylaxis. I promise to wash, we laugh again and then she's gone.
So that's it. After a year, the cancer's gone. Actually, after a year of focussing on cancer, there's nothing left to think about. I'm no longer in the middle of Life-and-Death-Struggle-with-Relentless-Enemy. I'm reduced by a single conversation to mere living. Whatever will I do?
What will I do with the time and the consciousness? What will I do with this blog for which I have developed some curious feeling of attachment-something like love. Can I abandon it now that the raisin of its être is all dried up?
No, of course I can't. At the least, I have to answer the question about what I will do now that I'm reduced to mere living. Gotta justify just being, mere life: what's it all for?
• • •
There are two kinds of answers, a Lesser and a Greater Vehicle. The Lesser answer is that there are a bunch of fun things to pursue and there's some extra energy to pursue them. I am not at a loss for thoughts about fun.
One pursuit is this poetry obsession. A writing center called Muse House just opened in Chestnut Hill. As near as I can tell, it's the real deal. Actual, accomplished writers with experience in thoughtful coaching and teaching. The poetry teacher is a Kathleen Bonanno (what will I say to her at New Years? Buonanno, Bonanno? Probably.) Her book-Slamming Open the Door-is compact and powerful and dense with truth.
Class starts tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.