The First Day of Summer

Today I went skiing for the first time this winter.  On what was actually the first day of summer.  A late start, but it happened.

And the fact that it did is kind of a big deal for me.  Here’s why…

Three months ago, I could barely climb up my stairs.  My legs were so withered and weak from a year of Cancerful brutalization, that it was difficult for me to even just put shoes on, let alone walk or run or do anything to get my legs back to where they were a year ago.  When I used to go two steps at a time.

I’ve worked through it and gotten my legs back a bit, but even now my feet and knees are so sore every day (from another mysterious Cancerful side effect) that I have a hard time walking down my stairs. It hurts.  A lot.

But I’ve been doing it anyway.  I mean, I have to walk down my stairs just to get outside.  To do anything.  And as you might know, I like doing things.  Especially if they’re fun.

For example: I’d been really, really wanting to go skiing this year, before the season was over. Just one day. Just a couple of runs. If I didn’t, it would be my first year not in the snow in a loooooong time. I’ve had a solid ski streak going for probably 20 years. Even through the first few years of cancer.  I skied all those years.

I just really like it.  I enjoy the actual skiing parts of skiing, but what I really love is being outside, in the snow and the sun. On a mountain.  Breathing that ultra crisp, thin air.  And sometimes flying through it at 55 mph.  It’s pretty great.  Just doing that every once in awhile, as I have now for some three decades,  kinda keeps me going in a way.  Always has.

Maybe even more since I got sick.

Two years ago, even though I was all brain cancered-up and barely had any money, I went skiing one day, and it felt f’in great.  I enjoyed it so much that I decided to buy myself a season pass for the next year.

I didn’t use that pass much, but I did use it.  And even though I didn’t use it enough to make it technically financially worth it, I’m glad I bought it. Just having that thing in my wallet, wanting me and reminding me to use it, gave me little flashes of hope– little dreams of me out there on the mountain, living it up and breathing it in.  That barely-used pass gave me something to look forward to.  And actually, that in itself made it totally financially worth it.

Last year, I did something similar.  I managed to go skiing once, and despite the fact that I was still poor and even more cancered up, I bought a pair of ski boots.

This was a big deal for me– it was the first pair of ski boots I’ve ever had that actually fit my weird, wide hobbit feet.  (I realize now that an indication of how much I like skiing is how much pain I’ve put myself through to do it.)

So I got those boots that finally fit my feet.  And I got to use them– once.  And they were great. They didn’t hurt!  (As much as normal, at least.)

I loved those boots.  And I loved that I got them, despite all the reasons not to.  They were a symbol of something.  They were a promise to myself, of more fun to come.

But then, ski season ended.   As it does. And then last summer came, and suddenly things started getting worse for me, health-wise.  Suddenly it wasn’t just cancer, it was all this other bullshit as a result of the cancer that started pulling me down.  It was bad.   Things got so shitty, in fact, that I started to wonder when i’d be able to use those boots again.  I wouldn’t let myself think “if” I’d be able to use them again.  I knew I would.  I promised myself I would.

And even if I wasn’t using them as the winter started (since I was mostly in a hospital bed) I liked imagining using them. And I was still glad I had bought them.  Like the ski pass, they were a symbol of something.  Of Hope.

That shit is powerful.  It has kept me skiing through cancer.  And even when I couldn’t, it has kept me dreaming that I would again.  Hopefully.

Hope has gotten me through this.  It got me to go ice climbing, for some reason.  And in the form of a one-legged Canadian guy named Terry Fox, Hope actually got me to run 27 miles.  In a row.  In Newfoundland.  In an effort to get myself to write a movie that could cure cancer.

Like I said: powerful shit, Hope.  Without it, I wouldn’t have done any of that stuff.     (I can barely believe I did any of that stuff, even with something as powerful as a mountain of hope.)

But after this last year, in which I experienced more of the bad side of being Cancerful than in the first three years combined, my hope was starting to dwindle.

In the very least, it was becoming a little less ambitious.  I mean– ice climbing?  Marathons?  Cancer-curing movies?  Who the hell thinks they can do that shit??  Not me!  I was so sick and weak I was just hoping I could stand up and put my pants on.

But for some reason, I did keep hoping I’d get to use those ski boots again.  Even when I could barely walk.  And somehow, that didn’t seem stupid.

Turns out, it wasn’t. Turns out, I got better.  (Well, a little better.)

Recently, I not only started walking and hiking again– I also started to think I might be able to ski again.  Just one day.  Please.  Just let me have that.  I really hoped I could do it.  I damn well knew I could try.

But winter was over.  It was well into spring now– most ski places had closed. But since who the hell knows if I’ll be around for the next season, I kept checking if any places were still open NOW.  And it turns out one was– Mammoth Mountain.  They had gotten enough snow over the winter that they were still open.  In June.

That’s all I needed to know.  I already had my skis, and my only-used-once brand new boots.

And so, on a day when it was 106 degrees at my home in LA, I just went skiing.  In a t shirt.   On the first day of summer.

I’m glad I hoped that I would.

Because I did.

And I’m so happy that I did.

Granted, I feel like my legs might fall off at the thigh when I’m sleeping tonight, but it was worth it.

Today, I confirmed Hope.

And thank hope for that.

Ruminating

There’s an odd tonality to a life spent primarily in the pursuit of maintaining life: where your main occupation is “fixing yourself,” on a day-to-day basis (eating pills, visiting doctors, etc.), so that you can continue that process again tomorrow, and hopefully (hopefully?)  for many days to come.

It seems rather solipsistic.  Perhaps even selfish.  Just living your life, spending your days, trying to stay alive.

One thing it definitely is (for the most part at least) is a bit boring.  It gets to be a little bit of a drag, trying to stay alive.  Or maybe it’s just that I have cancer.   Or maybe it’s just that the sky is cloudy this morning and my tummy hurts.  I don’t know.

But then when I get thinking like this, what I realize (which I’ve been realizing a lot lately about a lot of the seemingly peculiar things I’m dealing with) is this:

Hey, man– this is what everybody is dealing with.

The primary occupation of every living thing, for the vast majority of their life, is simply working to stay alive.

It’s why we breathe, and why we eat.  It’s why we try not to go crazy.  (This latter activity is a twist generally accepted to be exclusive to the human species, although the behavior of zoo animals leads me to suspect otherwise.)

But that doesn’t seem like much fun!

Just trying stay alive?!  That doesn’t seem like a reason for living!

Unless, of course, life is FUN.  (Or “rewarding,” or “satisfying,” or “interesting,” or ______ [fill in your own favorite adjective])

Because if life is ________, then it is worth working your ass off to get more of it.
When life is _____, it’s the best!

But what if it’s not?  What if life is not ______?  (I choose the adjective “fun,” because for me “fun” also includes things like “interesting” and “rewarding,” “enjoyable” and “beautiful.”)

Well, if life is not ______, then one of two things is probably happening:

1) You’re just not paying attention.

Or, (more likely…)

2) The amount of effort you’re having to put in just to survive, in addition to the amount of pain or hardship you are currently experiencing, is outweighing the positive things (fun) that life is giving you.

It’s a simple mathematical equation, really:

if   FUN  <  SURVIVAL EFFORT + PAIN/HARDSHIP,   then…  LIFE SUCKS.
but…
if   FUN >   SURVIVAL EFFORT + PAIN/HARDSHIP   then…    LIFE IS GREAT!  (or at least OK.  Hooray!)

Pretty obvious, right?  At least if you remember your < and > signs.  To put it in other words:  If the good outweighs the bad, then life is good!  And if the bad outweighs the good, then life is bad.

Duh.

But considering the above, one thing that really jumps out at me is that you can seriously tip the balance of the good/bad life scales if you actually enjoy some of the effort required to stay alive.

Eating, for example, is a required life activity that can be extremely enjoyable.  But even working (“making a living”) can be great– especially if your work is doing something you love to do: like playing music to stadiums full of adoring fans, or building beautiful things, or creating art, or saving people’s lives, or whatever it may be that you find fulfilling.

In other words, if your SURVIVAL EFFORT is actually for the most part FUN for your, then you’re totally tipping the life-scales!  Life, for you, is very likely good.  It may even be great.  In the very least, it’s OK.  And that (trust me) is OK.  It could be much, much worse.


All of the above has made me realize a few things about my own life.  And at the risk of getting even more solipsistic, here they are:

• I have dealt with a lot of PAIN and HARDSHIP in the last four years.  So I have worked like hell not only to survive, but to find (and create) FUN.  To keep my life balance on the good side of the good/bad equation.

•  It hasn’t always been easy.  Sometimes, it’s been really fucking hard.  Especially when, for example, my stomach hurts so much that it’s not even fun to eat.  Or when my body aches so much that I can’t get up and go outside to get some fresh air, and smell some roses.  Or when my mind is so fuzzy that it’s difficult to read.  Or write.  Or even watch a goddamn movie.
Because if you can’t do any of those things, then… well, sitting on the couch or lying in bed all day is NOT as much great as it might sound.
Even going to the hospital is more fun.

• Speaking of which– one of my best (and luckiest) Secret Tricks For Enjoying the Cancerful Life has been finding FUN in the EFFORT to stay alive.  This not only adds to the FUN (positive) side of the life scale, it also takes away from the EFFORT (negative) side.  It turns the effort into fun!  Good into bad!  Like magic!

• All the doctors appointments, for example–  I kind of love them.  Part of that is definitely just from having a reason to get my ass off the couch– but it’s not just that.  I am lucky enough to be deeply and endlessly fascinated by all the whiz-bang technology and intelligence we have amassed in a collective and concerted effort just to keep other people alive.  (Other people!  Imagine that!  While we’re all already super busy just trying to keep ourselves alive.  That’s pretty damn cool.)

• And all of that effort and intelligence and technology and energy dedicated to maintaining life reminds me of something else:  that there is an inherent assumption among all of us living things that life is worth maintaining.
Sometimes, you need reminding of that.  Especially when it’s hard, doing all this maintaining, and not having that much fun.


And oddly enough, just talking about stuff like this suddenly has made things easier for me today.   Magically, the bad is turning into good, and here I am starting to have a good time.  Even despite the cloudy morning and the achey tummy.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  The sun has actually started to come out, and my stomach hurts less than when I started this post.  So maybe it’s not magical.  Maybe it’s logical.  And/or biological.

Whatever it is, feeling better now than I did a few hours ago reminds me that life can be fun.  That there are laughs to be had.  That it won’t always be bad.

Sometimes, it’ll can be really, really good.

I know that this is true.  I just need to be reminded of it, from time to time.   I suspect a lot of other people do too.

And now I’ve done it.  I’ve reminded myself, and you!  And just like that, I feel a lot better.  I mean, I don’t feel fucking AMAZING or anything, but I feel a lot better.  (Which is slightly amazing.)

Point is, what started as something bad has turned into something good.  Suddenly, today is better than yesterday.  Suddenly this afternoon is better than this morning.

Things were cloudy, and tummy-achey, and they kind of sucked.

But I tried, and it worked.

And now I’m smiling.  (Literally.  Not just on the inside.)

And now I’m laughing.

And I’m sure glad I was around to make that happen.