Here is the list of BIG things I’m feeling thankful for:
5) my parents
6) my sister and her family
7) my extended family
8) my friends
9) my community
10) my oncology team
** I wish I could say my health, but that’s one of those noir jokes I like to make that make certain people freak out (T- I’m looking at you).
**Notice that everything on this list involves PEOPLE. From one previously future social psychologist to each of you: SOCIAL SUPPORT NETWORKS ARE IMPERATIVE WHEN FACING SUCH ISSUES. GO GET ONE. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THEM. I’M NOT YELLING-JUST SPEAKING EMPHATICALLY.
As I go into my last round of treatment tomorrow, I find myself reflecting on some of the small things I’m thankful for (these are not the BIG things, which is a whole other list). Here are my Top Ten:
1) Purple shampoo, which is making all the gray hair I’ve been working on these past six months more silver than yellow.
2) Hair at all. I still have some hair, albeit short and thin.
3) The three eyelashes I have left.
4) Eyeliner, which I haven’t used in 20 some years, that somewhat camouflages the fact that I only have three eyelashes.
5) Juicy Fruit gum, which is the only thing that relieves chemo-induced dry mouth that I have right now. Even the Biotene doesn’t work at this point.
6) Jokes about putting lemons in my bra, jokes about manboobs (Kory wanted me to clarify that I wasn’t specifically referring to HIS manboobs here), jokes about pineapple Halloween costumes, and jokes in general. I think with all of the brain cells that chemo has killed, my sense of humor has been reduced to Beavis and Butthead level.
7) Tickets that have been secured for both The Psychedelic Furs AND for the stage production of “Once.” Now I just need to get there.
8) Ethiopian food, which finally relieved the, “I keep eating the same five things OVER and OVER and OVER again because I can’t have anything else” feeling.
9) The fact that it happens to be the season for sundresses, maxi dresses, and tent dresses, since I can’t wear anything with a waistband right now.
10) My dream that one day, I’ll form a band made up of housewives (yes, I’m using that term on purpose, however degrading it is) who don’t know how to play instruments, and we’ll call ourselves “The Domestic Engineers,” and there will be a reality show about how ridiculous we are. Does anyone work for a network we can pitch this to?
I think I’ve mentioned once or twice before that I like to build: legos, art pieces, makeshift furniture, etc. Sadly, I don’t really have any true carpentry skills. I mean, I can hammer nails and glue things together, but in another dimension, I’d have already taken a “Women’s Guide to Power Tools” class (yes, this actually exists), or (gasp!) maybe even the regular, gender-non-specific one.
I have built a few things in my life (with some help): my relationship with Kory, my children so far, one-and-a-half dollhouses, many valuable friendships, a reputation as/for a few things (I can mention the Fairview PTA one), metaphorical walls sometimes, that sort of thing.
A very sage person (actually, it was only me) once said, “What are we building? What am I building? What are you building? Does it have purpose or is it just for show? What is the difference between being and doing? I am the architect of my life. Do the blocks I am using make sense? Are they telling the story I want to tell?” To be super clever, when I built it, I did so using recycled kids’ letter blocks.
I created this work two and a half years ago in response to the tragic event that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around what happened, and I took it personally, perhaps because at the time, Izzy was a six-year-old first grader, just like the 20 children who lost their lives that day. What I really wanted to do was paint a giant gun on a canvas made of children’s building blocks and send it to the gatekeepers of the laws on Capitol Hill, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead I questioned why it happened, and what building blocks went into creating the life that Adam Lanza lead.
As I’ve progressed in my cancer journey, as the masses like to call it (I’m actually trying to think of a more scintillating term for it, if anyone has any suggestions), I’ve obviously become not only MUCH more limited in what and how I can build, but more aware of what I HAVE built and what I am CONTINUING to build, despite my many limitations right now. I get frustrated because I look around my house, and all I see are projects to sink my hands and teeth into. My energy doesn’t match my desire, though, so I end up grinding my teeth and trying to figure out how to be productive within the confines of my body (please stop reading now and listen to Arcade Fire’s, “My Body Is a Cage,” because that’s how I feel.) Win Butler says, “My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love.” Susan Bockman says, “My body is a cage that keeps me from running, painting my house, refinishing furniture, BLOGGING, eating sushi, going to shows that I want to see, scurrying around the way I’m used to, and doing many things that I love.”
I am beginning to realize, though, that I’m still an architect. I’m still building my life, which is greater than any Lego Fallingwater kit. I really set out to try to make this post funny in the beginning, because I’ve been so MIA, but I’m not building humor right now. I’m building my life, which is composed of me, you, and all the blocks in between.
This is a quiz that you’ll be graded on at the end. Please name the band and song title. Try not to cheat by googling if you can resist the urge. I took a little license with changing some of the lyrics to make it more cancer-journey-friendly, so you’ll really have to put on your thinking caps and channel your retro song lyric mental archives. And, you’ll be really proud of me because I tried to cross genres and not just stick with everything that’s cozy to me.
1) Eight down, four to go, a few more rounds of more chemo
Downtown, I’d rather be at a Black Cat show…
2) It’s the final countdown, do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do-do-do-do, do-do-do, do-do-do-do-do-do-do, DO-DO!!!!!!!!!!
3) I’ve got cheekbones like geometry, and eyes with no lashes. I’m sexually enlightened by the fact that I’ve become a eunuch…
4) I know it’s late and I should go to bed, but I can’t tear away from Phil tonight. He holds the seed of my healing needs, it’s true, it’s true. When I first saw him, I realized, the chemo in him, it was the prize. I knew this drug would paralyze (temporarily, I hope), it’s true, from Phil. Awake in the night, to whisper his name, only silence replies, it’s answer is sleeping refrain (and some churning gears), the moments die, but memory stays, keeping me up like a carnival’s runaway ride, I sit, and I write, as my creative juices cry, and then, sometimes blogging, helps me to sleep, it’s true, of me. [Ok, I fully expect NO ONE to get this except for Liz- I’m looking at you on this one, because you were the one who introduced me to this band in 1985 in your room in the Annandale house, right before introducing me to Commander Salamanders. I wish I still had my t-shirt from there with the boob lipstick mark on it].
5) Don’t you, forget about me. I’ll be along, dancing, before you know it, baby. Tell me your troubles and doubts, cuz my cancer’s not the only thing that I’m all about.
6) Just a suburban girl, living in a PTA world, she took the midnight train goin’ to Cancerland. Just a city-commutin’ boy, born and raised in Hong Kong and Syracuse, New Yoyk, he took the midnight train goin’ to Wife Cancerland.
7) Her friends are NOT jealous, you know how nice girls get. Most times it’s not so easy, to be the Cancer Pet. Temptations, frustrations, so bad it makes him cry. Wet tennis court, he takes it. He needs his time to fly…
8) For all the warmth it feels so cold; for one so young I feel so old.
9) Gimme gimme gimme Adavan after midnight, won’t somebody help me take the shadows away. Gimme gimme gimme Adavan after midnight, take me through the darkness, through the break of the day…
10) I want sushi! Do-do-do-do, do-do, I want shellfish! Do-do-do-do, do-do, oh yeah!
Ok, get down to the quiz. Please reply in the comments if you dare.
And, The Winner Takes It All, The Loser Has To Fall…
So, once again, I’m not getting any sleep thanks to Phil. And no, I’m not going Fifty Shades of Debauchery and Marital Betrayal. For those of you who don’t know, Phil is my very unsexy, unappealing, uncooperative portable Chemo Buddy. He comes home with me every other Monday, and hangs out (literally, from my shoulder with a tube going directly into my aorta or something) until Wednesday, whereupon he beeps when he’s finished his business, gets disconnected and I breathe a huge sigh of relief.
I’m trying to be a trooper about Phil (the girls named him, BTW- Phil Giver Bockman, because he’s filling me up with and giving me the things I need) because honestly, for what it is, I couldn’t ask for a more ideal or less invasive chemo treatment, so I need to be thankful. If I haven’t already said so, and I probably haven’t because it doesn’t really flow with the rest of this blog, I LOVE my daughters. They are loving and kind, but creative and clever, too. It’s not a brag. Well, it is. I just think they’re cool human beings, and it’s not because they have a million trophies or get straight A’s, because they don’t do either of those things. They’re just groovy kids, in my humble opinion.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Phil sucks. He’s a pain in the ass to shower with, I can’t drive with him, he gets stuck on drawer handles all the time, and I CAN’T SLEEP with him. Maybe he’s a blessing, because I’m not ending up to be a terribly prolific blogger, which stresses me out because I was on such a roll in the beginning. I guess as I become more philosophical and less funny on my journey, it’s harder for me to write, because I really want to get through this with humor. So, when Phil keeps me up at night, my mind starts ticking and then I grab the laptop. Better to succumb to the sleeplessness than rage against it. I learned this the hard way with Sophie as a newborn. Did much better the second time around with Izzy, because I just realized that I wasn’t MEANT to sleep for those first three months, so why not embrace it? Pig out in the kitchen at 300am. Binge watch The Office at 400am.
So, now my version of embracing it is blogging at 1230am. So be it. As I was voxing (if you are unaware of this app, please look it up and download it to communicate with your friends on other continents. It doesn’t recognize time differences, cost anything at all, and is a line to each other’s souls where sometimes email and texting fall short. (You know, TONE, etc.) Oh, wait. I didn’t actually complete that previous sentence. As I was voxing to my Frenchies earlier today, I had a brain spasm that involved creating a pie chart of how cancer consumes your life. Obviously, this pie chart will look differently for everyone. I, for one, have tried desperately for cancer to consume only 5% of my time, energy, thoughts, etc. I’m trying to be me. As time and infusions progress, however, cancer is spreading (hopefully not literally), but metaphorically, for sure. I hate that I’ve become (or am becoming) that person who can’t think of anything more interesting to say other than how my side effects are treating me these days, or talk about the frog collection in the chemo suite. I’m determined for this thing not to define me, and yet, it’s one more thing I can’t control. For now I suppose it IS defining me and I resent it.
If you’re out there listening, please bear with me, and remember that I’m still me, even if I don’t seem that way now and I’m whining right this second. It sucks to be chained to my bed during the day, but forbidden from it at night. But, I need to take care of Phil, just like I took care of Soph and Izzy in the early days. I’m still smiling and laughing as I write most of this- just know that I’m not in complete denial of what’s going on. xoxo
So, about two months ago, my friend Tom (who’s known not only for his wicked sense of humor and ability to banter effortlessly about pretty much anything, but also his attention to detail and a crazy memory about such detail), said to me, “Susan, I have a dilemma.”
One never really knows where something’s gonna go when he starts off like this. We’re talking about a guy who’s gone from harvesting walnuts from one of his trees and running over them with his car to crack the shells (AND whose daughter made a hilarious documentary about it), to spending lots of time lately trying to get to know a pineapple corer really well.
I was intrigued. He proceeded.
“I have about 200 tiny pieces of paper that I’ve saved from my twenty-some years with the House, and I don’t know what to do with them.” Tom also happens to be the Parliamentarian for the House, and does a great job standing up to the far left of the President during the WHOLE State of the Union address every year, which I think is a huge feat in itself.
Uh, why are you asking me, Tom? Notice the lack of quotation marks here. I didn’t actually say that out loud. What I said out loud was, “Cool. What are they for?”
“Well, they’re the little things we take tallies on every time the House votes on something.”
Why on earth would you save those? Doesn’t the House a more sophisticated way to keep track of its vote tallies? Again, no quotes. This, also, was in my head.
“And, I’m thinking that you can help me think of something to do with them.”
“Ok, I’ll get right on that.” It’s hard to say “no” to Tom, when he has a mission, and I can’t really explain why. His wife Heather, also a good friend of mine, will roll her eyes when she reads this. I’m ABSOLUTELY sure of it.
Off I went to go stew and simmer in some creative juices. It didn’t take long to figure it out. BAM! The girls’ school was throwing a “Trashion” show and recycled/found object art show for the second year in a row in a few weeks. Last year I made a Campbell’s Soup Can tribute to Andy Warhol out of a zillion bottle caps.
And, so, at that moment, “The House Is In The House” was born. I mean, I have nothing better to do than fold 200 pieces of origami right now, right? Now that I’m a PTA slacker, and MIA room parent, I have my creative space, so I can indulge in such luxuries.
So, I set to work on figuring out how to incorporate a zillion little pieces of paper into something that would fit with the recycling/environmental theme of the show.
The end result is 50 windmills, 50 birds, and 50 fish, to speak to specific environmental laws that have been enacted. “Yay!” for a string of consecutive non-neuropathy days, otherwise the folding wouldn’t have been nearly as fun as it was [I’m lying- it was not really fun, but the end result was gratifying.].
I guess the title of this post should be, “Fighting Cancer with Origami, One Fold at a Time,” but maybe that could be a coffee table book instead.
If you had told me five years ago that I’d be blogging about cancer, chemo, and other random shit in my life, I’d have said, “when white crows fly…”. My mom claims that I actually said that once when I was about eight in response to something I’d never planned on doing.
Self-disclosure has never been a problem for me. In fact, I would much rather walk into a room full of people I barely know and say, “I put lots of deodorant on tonight and I have more in my purse, just in case!” than I would have my armpits announce themselves. And, no, I don’t have issues with social cues. Not only am I painfully aware of social cues, I study and analyze them incessantly. As I’ve said before, social psychology was my thing, back when I still had things other than carpooling, and making sure there’s always milk in the fridge and flea medicine on the dog. I am no longer Susan Paige Sherburne, aspiring PhD and Maker of Change in the research world. I am Susan Sherburne Bockman, Runner of the Household and Maker of Change in the suburban world (“I NEED my allowance in coins instead of paper because it makes my bank feel fuller.”).
Of stay-at-home parents with graduate level degrees that feel worthless and aren’t being used, I am on the middle to low end of the tech savvy spectrum. I finally have all of my music in itunes on the computer, listen to play lists on my ipod instead of rotating the CDs on the carousel, and have upgraded to a modern iphone after four years of practicing with Kory’s three-generation-old one. I, however, have NO idea where the world is with Word or Excel lately, and since we use a Mac at home, I can’t begin to imagine what Windows actually looks like these days.
It’s important to note, however, that Kory is a gadget goober who reads consumer electronics blogs and reviews for recreation. He also has our three home computers networked to each other, the TV, the phone, and the Vitamix.
I say that I don’t “do” social media. What I really mean by this is that I am mostly invisible on Facebook (I’ve never even attempted Twitter and see my note below on Instagram). This is for a number of reasons:
- If I read more than I write on Facebook, no one can really track how much time I do or do not devote to it, therefore I avoid judgment.
- My spouse (who incidentally is supportive of my role as the caregiver and Runner of the Household, for the most part) won’t be concerned about why I had time to post all of my LOL or OMG moments of the day, but didn’t get around to doing the underwear or calling the gutter guy.
- The weird, distorted thinking that I, a former aspiring social psychologist, engage in, tells me that although research indicates that people try to make their lives appear happier and more exciting than they really are on Facebook and other social media, AND that the audience for this media (especially women) tends to fall for it, I KNOW BETTER. I’m SURE that the less I appear on Facebook, the more I will appear to have a real life. Because if I’m truly full, living a jam-packed existence of constantly enriching experiences, how could I possibly have time to post, twitter, check-in, and Instagram said experiences?
- As a social psychology groupie, my level of self-awareness is Acute or Extreme. I’m constantly applying social psych jargon like, “self-monitor,” and “securely attached,” to myself. Specifically, I am a high self-monitor. What this means is that I give a HUGE STINKING SHIT about what other people think about me, pretty much all of the time. This is an overwhelming responsibility. I once tried to be a “low self-monitor” for about 30 seconds during college, when I was surrounded by my Dead Head roommates. It didn’t last.
[NOTE ABOUT INSTAGRAM] My friend, Emily, apparently recently (or not so, since I was unaware I had it) DEMANDED that Kory set me up with an Instagram account so that we could share stuff yet ANOTHER way (because snail mail, email, voxer, FB and both our blogs aren’t enough). This seems reasonable, though, because Emily and I both LOVE to disclose to each other. We’re disclosers. If I was still doing social psych research, I’d be looking at self disclosure as applied to social media. Fascinating stuff. Anyhoo, I now have an Instagram account that apparently like two people are following but I’ve contributed nothing to it and truth be told, I don’t even know how to access it.
I digress, though. I have a theory about high self-monitors and making friends on Facebook. This, incidentally, is completely unsubstantiated by any research whatsoever (that I am aware of, as I’ve been out of the research world since the early 2000’s). I believe that if you are a high self-monitor, you will either collect copious amounts of friends swiftly, or a paltry amount, very slowly over time. The variable here is whether or not in addition to being a high self-monitor, you have high self-esteem.
If you are a double high, you will fall into the first category (lots of friends, rapid pace). This is because when you first join Facebook , you think, “Wow- this is awesome! Now I can reconnect with all of the people who’ve been wondering about me all these years AND saturate the ones I already see all of the time with my awesomeness, my kids’ awesomeness, my spouse’s awesomeness, my career awesomeness, and just enrich everyone’s world with the general awesomeness that is me and my world! If, however, you are a high/low (as I am), your approach to friend gathering goes something like this:
“Well, we WERE friends when we worked together 12 years ago, but what if she thinks it’s weird that I still remember her?”
“Everyone else in our book club is friends with her, but she hasn’t friended me. Does that mean THEY all friended HER? Or am I annoying to her?”
“I don’t want her to think I’m desperate. Or think that I think our friendship is more important than SHE does. She has 1,063 friends and I have 132, so if I add her, it looks like I value our relationship more than she does. Or that I’m stalking her.”**
Then we sit at the keyboard, gliding our mouse over the “add friend” button, trembling and insecure, and logoff before we actually take any action. So, my point is that I’m a FB flunkie. I just don’t know how to “do it,” or at least do it well.
**These are the kinds of thoughts you are burdened with if you are a high/high/low. I’ve thrown in another “high” here, which references my high level of self-awareness. It doesn’t help that one of my majors in college was philosophy, so in addition to my head wanting to explode all the time because of all of the Ruminating and Cogitating I engage in, I also needed to Ruminate on and Cogitate about WHY I’m Ruminating on and Cogitating about something.
Anyway, rewind about five years ago. I was not terribly active on FB, and was really desiring a creative outlet, feeling smothered and annoyed by the banality of suburban life, and wondering if mine had any purpose. So, I had the brilliant idea of starting a blog. I called it “Culture Junkie,” and started developing a framework for how to write about two of my biggest passions: art and music.
Jo made me quickly realize that I was trying to write about something that I didn’t really know about. The conversation went something like this:
“But you’re not a culture junkie.”
“Yes, I am. I love art and music. They consume my life.”
“But you don’t actually go to art shows or see music right now.”
Wow. That was a HUGE blow to my creative ego. She was right, though. I finally had to concede that yes, my life had become completely void of those things, and that, my friends, was depressing.
In other words, that blog couldn’t possibly be authentic, because although I am passionate about art and music, at the time I had a three-year old and a six-year-old, and wasn’t spending a terribly large amount of time engaging in either of these passions.
Jo spent years feeling guilty about bursting my bubble over this, and even though I still love giving her a hard time about it and telling the caustically funny story at parties, I do admit she was right.
The happy ending to the story, though, is that it was HER idea for me to start THIS blog at THIS juncture in my life. So thank you, my dear mate, for realizing that now, I can be authentic in what I write.
I see white crows flying overhead…