Monthly Archives: August 2015

Rising and falling, inevitable as breath

Today a friend with breast cancer is entering the hospital for a mastectomy. This is a cruel development in her life, as it would be in anyone’s, though it is precisely a development. Our bodies change as we grow older — aging, augmenting, strengthening, declining. And illnesses and setbacks are part of the process, too, however unwelcome they might be. Seems we cannot rise without a fall, in our little corporeal empires as in ancient Rome (sorry, Edward Gibbon), no matter how much we might cry out in protest and sorrow.

Which is not to diminish the terrible costs to anyone suffering from a disease like cancer (think Jimmy Carter, think your friends and relatives). As old as we are, we don’t want to exit this life through excision, whether the surgeon’s knife or a switch blade in a dark alley. And how do we learn, in this fraught time and place, to resign ourselves to our fate? We are a youth culture, and will live forever, won’t we? That’s the message of the pop media, anyway.

Technology and medicine have many gifts to bestow, and we are happy beneficiaries, but even these quasi-religious powers can’t bestow miracles or overnight transformations. (See, for example, “Quyen Nguyen demonstrates how a molecular marker can make tumors light up in neon green, showing surgeons exactly where to cut.” Dr. Nguyen explicitly acknowledges that scientists are not gods.)

What we can do as we go along, mere mortals rising and falling, is help each other up. It’s a hike, after all, isn’t it, this via dolorosa et jocundissima? And if one falls, we help her up. Gather her up, in our arms and help her stumble on and straighten up.

So here’s to you, brave friend and fellow sufferer. (Raising a cup of wine red as blood.) We’re with you, don’t you know, all the way?


So I have asked my tutees, or students, to keep journals — and I figure I’d better do so too. Better resume my journaling, or blogging, that is, for the sake of the practice if not perfection it might lead to.

In fact, if practice makes perfect, that’s certainly not the aim of journaling. It’s, rather, the achievement of fluidity or fluency, making a daily habit of writing as if you were water flowing and could no more help flowing than a river can.

This journaling is a habit I used to keep back in the day — way back in the day, say, as long ago as 45 years, when I was starting out teaching English in Detroit (Wayne State University). I can plunge now into my closet and find dusty journals from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. To me these records have historical and sentimental value, and may have utilitarian properties too, as I’ve thought often enough of mining them for story (fiction) or art (collage) ideas.

The downside of keeping a purely private journal is obviously that it’s private — written in the dark with no audience besides yourself and your carping conscience or niggling vanity. And we all know that performing in the dark, however much practice squints toward perfection, soon palls.

Journaling is fluidity, fluency, yes. Practice makes if not perfect then flowing and going toward some sort of outcome and delta. Writing becomes not something to shirk or avoid, but precisely to pursue, no matter how much in the dark you may find yourself, no matter how trickling the effort may seem some days.

And if my tutees must do it — go, and go with the flow — so must I.