As I looked down at the dashboard on my treadmill last night, I noticed that without even realizing it I had just broken the two mile mark, arms pumping and my head reeling with thoughts and emotions. Usually I am checking every little bit to see how far I’ve gone and calculating how long it will be before I am finished. Also, I never walk on a treadmill without holding on. My balance, especially since chemo, is not that great and I have never been comfortable with the idea of face planting myself onto the belt before slamming into the concrete wall behind me. But, last night, the adrenaline was so powerful that, without even thinking, I walked the entire two miles without grabbing the rails. l had just completed Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and it was as if the fog had suddenly lifted. The uncertainty had been replaced by a manic enthusiasm. It feels as if I now have a clear picture of what I need to do and why I need to do it.
In one of the closing paragraphs of the book she said, “No matter what happens in terms of fame and fortune, dedication to writing is a marching-step forward from where you were before, when you didn’t care about reaching out to the world, when you weren’t hoping to contribute, when you were just standing there doing some job into which you had fallen.” Those of you who follow my Facebook business page may also recall this quote. “I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” **
I realized that I had become paralyzed by the pressure to get published. I have long wanted to write this story. I have talked about it for years. But, it was much easier to talk about when I was not really in a position to do so…when I was “standing there doing some job into which I had fallen.” But, once I left that job – once retirement made this challenge a real possibility, I found myself silenced by insecurity, laden with excuses and totally unable to shake that “deer in the headlights” feeling.
What I have now come to grips with, though, is that I have never said that I want to publish a book (though it would be nice). I have always said that I want to WRITE a book. And, I need to write this particular book for ME. If it would turn out that, once completed, I felt it might be worthy of publication and that ended up happening, it would be great. But, I have given myself permission to remove that pressure. And, this is why.
Two weeks from today, on October 22, it will be six years since I received my cancer diagnosis. And, I am just now admitting to myself that from the moment Ken told me of the diagnosis (yes, he was the one who gave me the news) through the entire 2+ years of surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, diagnostic procedure after diagnostic procedure, the emotions, the terror, the uncertainties, I never allowed myself to truly feel. I never allowed myself to grieve. I put up a brick wall between myself and what was happening to me. I woke up every morning and just put one foot in front of the other, doing whatever I needed to do that day. I never questioned God, never blamed God, but never turned to God either. I was totally removed from the experience in my mind. I was playing a role. I documented everything in a blog – Cathy’s Tunnel. It was a means of keeping family and friends informed of all that was going on. But, I realize now, that it was also a way to record what was happening to me without having to actually experience all of the raw emotion. It was something I could go back to later when the fear had diminished, to remind myself of the journey and to thank God for bringing me through it. It is time now for me to face the demons that I didn’t face during those years and, I believe that re-writing my story in book format will allow me to do that. It’s funny, but I have never gone back and re-read that blog. It’s still out there in bloggerspace, but I have never gone back except to grab the above photo. It was taken in California on a family trip to celebrate my birthday in 2007 and subsequently became the face, so to speak, of Cathy’s Tunnel
When setting up my new office space, I selected that same photo, different view, for my wall. It allows me to stay focused on just how far I’ve come in the past six years. I’m a different person now, I know that. So many people have told me how strong I am. Of course – a brick wall is very strong. But, the wall is coming down and it is with that manic enthusiasm mentioned earlier that I will now re-visit Cathy’s Tunnel. I have no idea where that visit will lead. And, I have no idea whether or not I will someday write other books. But, I do know that starting now, I WILL write this book. Who knows, maybe portions of this very blog post will become the “shitty first draft” (see the October 3 post on my Facebook business page) of the Introduction or Forward to that book. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
** Bird to Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott 1994