Cancer at midlife offers a rare vantage point—so much of life lived, and with any luck, a chunk yet to go. So here I am, taking in the view, determined to write about it while the jalapeño sting of my own mortality still lingers in my mouth.
Initially I thought I would write a book. But working up a marketable “spin” for breast cancer felt terribly forced. I had nothing to say. I had too much to say. I didn’t want to be saddled with cancer as a topic any more than I wanted it to define the rest of my life. So the book idea died–a fated boob of a project. I needed the greater latitude of a blog. Something more living, more fresh, more flesh.
“Practice losing farther, losing faster,” Elizabeth Bishop writes in her poem “One Art.” “Accept the fluster/ of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.” I see my writing as that very “practice”: my own efforts to get “used” to loss by hammering out its many guises in my life as I grow older. We let go of so much as we age, willingly or not. Our losses multiply, spanning the gamut of trivial to tragic: socks, nouns, the bodies we loved only fitfully, places, people. But losing, not winning, makes us human. By writing, I hope to get more rooted in my conditional life, which is the only life I—we—have.
There is no practicing loss, as Bishop knows: there is only the living of it and then, all too often, the staggering from it. In our culture, growing older tends to be obscured by a thick swirl of myths cooked up in a meth lab of positivity: You get a handle on your problems. You become more at peace. You develop self-assurance. You have a thriving sex life well into your eighties. Or even beyond fifty.
Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong—at least by my lights. Which leads to the real spur of my writing and the most consuming ache of all: desire. Our bodies may fail us, but longing outreaches us all. We never stop wanting. It’s part of that larger hurt/art defining our species. And because Desire, with a capital “D”, encompasses so much else, that, finally, is why I write.