Dancing at the End of Our Plans

January 15, 2019

(This is a post I started months ago and found in my drafts folder.)

I have a friend — an acquaintance who is the spouse of a friend — who has a particularly virulent form of cancer. Last night he wrote on Facebook about the impossibility, in his current situation, of planning for the future, and about trying to live in the reality of the moment and have fun.

I woke up this morning with the kernel of anxiety that is my almost constant companion and I thought about his post, and about that state of no longer planning for the future.

This one night when I was at Cancer Camp, we had a dance. We jumped around to pop music while wearing funny hats and vests and feathery boas from a trunk in the corner and it was a true celebration. It was also surreal, because as I danced, I looked around the room and knew that some of us might be dead soon and that part of “some of us” might be me.  But because we were all in the same boat, it seemed strangely okay. 

I think often about how much our (or my) ability to enjoy life is social. So much is context. Discontent — or maybe just anxiety – comes from having your expectations exist side by side with other people’s expectations. It’s easy to eat a vegetable plate if vegetables are all that’s at the table and everybody is happy with vegetables. It’s harder if you’re surrounded by people eating pizza – especially if they want you to partake, and your veggie plate is making them feel bad. When I lived in the Outback, I happily wore the same rotation of clothes for months, but when we visited the city and everybody had shiny shoes, suddenly everything I had felt faded and dusty.  Death seems like it should be bigger and more important than all of that stuff, but what I found was that it was pretty similar. It was easy to talk about dying with other people who were ill, and harder to talk about it around healthy people. Healthy people like to have conversations about their plans and their futures and things they hope to achieve. Today I am one of those healthy people. I talk about plans. I have career decisions to make, and many worries about the future. 

But that memory of the time that I stopped planning lives inside me. It was a very specific feeling. All my concerns about success or failure dropped away. One week I was furiously working toward a deadline for a grant for a little documentary, the next week it felt completely unimportant. It was sad at first, but it was freeing. These days, when projects hit obstacles, as they seem to constantly, I remember how easily it can all feel unimportant, and it’s oddly comforting.

I also think how lucky I was to have experienced that feeling of freedom with like-minded comrades who could appreciate it with me — to have felt the kinship of dancing into the night with others who were equally uncertain of what the next day might bring.

Writing on the Other Side of the World

My first writing group — back at the very start of my transition to being a writer — was in Alice Springs, Australia.  Such groups come and go — when they survive for long periods, it is often on the wings of one energetic person.  The person you depend on to show up with the keys to the building,  who always shows up with enthusiasm and new pages. The person who accepts you and welcomes you when you are new, and whose history is long enough that when someone else new comes to the table, you learn it is actually someone returning.

For our group, Meg Williams was that person, and more.  She was a note-taker, and idea-maker. She was an ex-teacher working on a trilogy of middle-grade books. She was lovely, and though we hadn’t corresponded for a decade, when I learned she passed away last week, it pierced my heart.


Life for Sale Items #2 and #3: Weird Board Games

Before we were “in the know” enough to know that the best games are generally not available at K-Mart, Paul and I used to go to K-Mart and look at games. Truthfully, we went to K-Mart to look at most things. Alice Springs, AU was a fairly uncomplicated place to live as a consumer. There was one shopping mall, but its “anchor store” was not a Dillards or Nordstrum, but a Coles grocery store. Basically the only place you could look at DVDs and home appliances in one place was the K-Mart. If you have ever said “I’m bored, wanna go wander around the mall?” Then you understand the impetus for our trips to the K-Mart. So one day, at the K-Mart, we saw these games, shrink-wrapped together as a two-pack. We were instantly drawn to “Sumo! The Game of Belly to Belly Combat!” and couldn’t pass it up. We never played “Let’s Do Lunch, Where You Eat’em to Beat’em” featuring cannibals. It was obviously the equivalent of the forgettable movie manufacturers try to foist off on you if you buy the 2-fer DVDS. But we did play the Sumo game a couple times. We then displayed the players and board as the kitsch centerpiece on our coffee-table, where they were a source of constant joy.

If your home decor is feeling stale, maybe you need these two cute wrestlers to brighten up your living space!

Or if you’re just into the idea of a cannibal board game–we can do that too!