Zen membership pending

Cancer is shit. There’s no need for loquaciousness here; it’s simply just shit.

And yet at the end of last year, after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and stood staring down the months of treatment that lay ahead of me, I thought to myself ‘there’s got to be a silver lining’. Surely, if nothing else, my experience with cancer will chill me out, make me wiser as I learn to reevaluate my priorities and find joy ‘in the moment’. That’s what happens to cancer patients, right? I’ll probably even get my own Hallmark movie. You know that classic trope: anxious woman with low self-esteem is, through some tragedy, forced to stop and smell the roses and in turn finds joy and makes Ru Paul proud by learning to love herself and thus loving someone else. Get the tissues ready for those feel-good tears!

Well, I’ve finished my main treatment, and my journey these last several months has been a mixture of vignettes that taught me mini lessons to various degrees of usefulness: things like if you hangbang while wearing a wig it will fall off in the middle of the dance floor, or finding out who your real friends are. But I wouldn’t say I feel enlightened.

***

I was diagnosed on November 2, 2016. After having gone to the breast clinic for an exam and biopsy two weeks earlier, I sat in front of my doctor and patiently (pun intended) waited for the results. My friend had come along and sat to my left. She had spent the last couple weeks reassuring me that it could be anything, there was still a good chance that the lump I had discovered was nothing. But give a hypochondriac two weeks of limbo and she will dream up every possible worst case scenario no matter how much you try to reassure her.

My doctor was waiting for a nurse to join us in the exam room – surely that’s not a good sign, I thought – and as soon as she entered and closed the door behind her, my doctor looked up from my notes. I stared at him as he took a deep breath and said, ‘I’m sorry, but the results have come back and it is cancer.’

That should have been the moment my world collapsed, but that sinking feeling never came. Hypochondria had proved itself beneficial; I had seen this coming. My overactive imagination had absorbed the shock. ‘Right,’ I said as I leaned forward. ‘What next?’

My doctor seemed mildly taken aback, but only for a second before going on to explain that we caught it super early and I was going to be just fine. While my full treatment plan would be discussed at a later time, the first step was surgery. My personal journey started there, flipping through my surgeon’s diary, tossing dates back and forth until we found the soonest day to remove my cancer.

***

In the end, I had a lumpectomy, a second surgery to take more out, three months of chemotherapy, a month of radiotherapy, and am currently on month four of my 5-year endocrine treatment. But that’s the boring part.

Sure, treatment sucked. But the scars or hair loss never seemed to upset me as much as realising I was never going to get my membership to the zen club. What a rip off.

Surely cancer patients are entitled to that calming sense of in-the-momentness. One day you’re running around stressing about the dude in front of you at Starbucks who seriously if he takes any more time to order his skinny soy mocha wtf-ucchino he will cause your precariously-built wall of sanity to crumble around you, and then BOOM all of a sudden you’re in the doctor’s office, faced with your own mortality. Turns out you’re actually not invincible, BUT sweet Jesus, you’re free from those myriad anxieties because you realise that none of it matters. You faced death and he gave you his business card – and it’s one of those super fancy ones too so you hold on to it – but told you he didn’t have time to discuss this now, ‘so let’s chat later’. Life feels fresher, colours more vibrant, sensations more sensational, love more wonderful. You are zen af. Buddha, all smiles and man-tits has nothing on you – except, I guess, the tits.

But here I am, ten months after my diagnosis and I’m still an anxious wreck. In fact, seeing as I cried the other day because my hairdresser couldn’t fit in an appointment at the last minute, I may even be worse than before. My everyday stress is rising faster than sea levels and, understandably, my self-diagnosed hypochondria has become more acute – I’m pretty sure I have nose cancer now too.

So sorry boob, looks like you went suicidal for nothing.

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A story

“I’m tired of watching other people create,” she mumbled to herself while her eyes desperately searched the room for something, though they weren’t sure what. Day after day she felt she was subject to the creativity of the people around her. Everyone seemed to be making things – great things, average things, and even a few shit things, but things nonetheless. They were delving into their imagination and magically resurfacing with… something.

“Something? Is that really the best word I can come up with?” she mused. She wasn’t even creative enough to be clever in her damn thoughts. And yet, she knew that couldn’t be true. Somewhere, deep inside, lay a spring of creativity. Maybe it was just dormant, or hibernating, but she was sure it was slowly coming back to life. The unsatisfying experience of all those other products of creation had awoken the beast inside… or rather nudged it: it was still pushing the snooze button.

Her previous forays into artistic creation had always fallen flat as far as she was concerned, and she was reminded on her daily Facebook browse, that no, she hadn’t released an album like Rob, or directed an indie film like Alex, or performed regularly in Boston’s string ensembles like Lynn, or created shimmering art of glass like JoAnn, or written an acclaimed opera like Luke… Every day.

Her tired flute, hidden under the bed, called meekly for attention, but it was no use. That’s not what muse inside was reaching for, searching for. There had to be something else, another outlet for the force she felt warming within her.

And then her eyes landed upon the small notebook poking casually out of her handbag. She had stuffed it there with the intention of jotting down her creative ideas when she was out and about. And yet here it was, untouched, though the corner was slightly frayed from a year’s worth of being tossed around inside an overflowing handbag. This severely bothered her OCD – her knobby fingers fondled the corner, trying to tame it into shape – but it was again soothed by the virginal crispness of the paper inside. Not a single scratch, she noted tenderly. The pages were simple perfection, no bends, no tears, no writing. She sighed. That was exactly the problem.

There was a well of creativity bubbling deep inside her; it boiled hot enough one day last year to prompt the purchase of this little pad, but cooled again as soon as she made it home. But now with that tingling sensation in her gut was back, the one that told her she was so much more than this here now, if only she could harness that buried passion.

She rooted around that same bag for the pen she knew was hidden in one of these pockets, patiently waiting her muse’s whisper. Gone! “It couldn’t just disappear, I never touched it,” she grumbled. But no amount of digging surfaced the pen. Luckily, she had a drawer in her desk full of pens – blue, black, red, green – ready for any occasion as might suit the moment. Armed, she returned to the notebook where it sat on the floor next to her bag and its upturned contents. Crouching down, she settled in; no need to move this venture to the desk, she was sure she wouldn’t be here long. A few deep breaths and she set pen to paper, knowing not what she would write. “Free association” she reassured herself, “just write, and ask no questions. See what happens.”

And so she did. Before she knew it, she had her first sentence: “I’m tired of watching other people create,” she mumbled…

How did we Nazi this coming?

It feels untrue to myself to be so flippant and light-hearted when in fact my heart feels like lead: but how did we Nazi see this coming? (‘Sweet pun.’ Thanks.)

Every day we wake up to find that little more hate and violence has crept into the world. And every day we get a little bit more upset about it. We tweet memes and silly puns, and yet despite our best efforts the world seems to descend further into a dark pit of horror filled with misanthropy and vicious dreams of power.

Will we one day wake up and find ourselves in a world that is so backwards and hate-filled that even George Orwell would say ‘I did not see that coming’?

Of course not. That would be ridiculous. This isn’t something that happens overnight.

The events that have led up to this weekend have been overlooked in a jaded sense of denial by the masses. It’s been months of saying ‘these are isolated events,’ years of ‘that only happens somewhere else,’ until one day we find we’ve accidentally sold the deed to our soul while we were busy watching TV.

On Friday, there was a protest of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Saturday protests continued, and one of the protesters drove into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman. Throughout, these white nationalists flew their racist agenda loud and proud: swastikas, confederate flags, and racial slurs abounded.

We are literally watching our ‘civilised’ Western world descend into chaos and terror, and our leaders are failing us. Trump did not denounce the rampant racism of the weekend as he addressed the nation. But that shouldn’t surprise us. It’s no secret that he rose to power off the backs of those racists. His biggest supporters were the so-called ‘alt-right’, which is just a thinly-veiled attempt to rebrand the term Nazi, which got such a bad rep in the 40s. But even that spin has fallen to the side in favour of unabashedly and blatantly embracing Nazi terminology and symbology. We should be ashamed we’ve allowed them to become so brazen.

Of course, during the election, the left were shocked and shouted over Twitter. It even managed the Women’s March – an impressive display of protest across the world… for one day. And on Jan 22, while we sat congratulating ourselves on a job well done, the world seemed to yawn and roll over and we let it fall back asleep.

It’s easy to get on with your life and say ‘I’ve done all I can do as an individual’ after sending out that cutting, yet cunning social post, but fuck that. Where are our protests? Where are our outraged masses? Where’s our utter refusal to accept the path we appear to headed down? We need to be out in the streets until the world’s leaders can’t ignore us any longer! To do anything else is complicit acceptance that the status quo is annoying but not worth missing drinks with your friends for. And that is exactly how we’ll end up in our very own dystopian nightmare.

Perfect. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’m going to go catch up on some iPlayer while planning my holiday…

 

 

C is for cunt

Oh yes, I can feel you squirming in your seat now. Just a small four-letter word and your distress is palpable.

Cunt is widely accepted as the worst swear word in the English language. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I have a mouth like a sailor. I love foul words as much as a fat man loves chocolate so I know I’m coming from a different mental space when it comes to bad words – I’m a whole-hearted believer in that ‘sticks and stones’ stuff. But I also understand that many people can’t stomach their four-letter words as well as I.

That said, it really gets under my skin that the word cunt has been given such clout. It is the Prince of Profanity, the Emperor of Explectives, the Sultan of Sleaze.

But are vaginas really all that bad? Are a woman’s nether regions really so offensive?

I mean, sure a man’s private parts have made it into the larger swear dictionary (dick, cock, knobhead, bellend… you get the picture). But none of these words quite compare

How have we reached a place where a woman’s anatomy can be so truly offensive?

Oh wait. Right…

Chill out and eat a curry or something

Let’s talk cultural appropriation. Alright, I know this was supposed to be my funny blog, but let’s just say it’s my ‘I DO WANT I WANT’ blog. So. Deal with it.

Back to the topic at hand. Appropriation. This is a concept that makes me angry on so many levels and you seem to hear it barked from every corner around Halloween. Therefore, as I find myself without a Halloween party on my agenda, what better way to spend the holiday than telling everyone how they’re wrong.

Right. First. GOD! White people! Stop it! Seriously, just stop it. It hurts my brain and heart to see the stupid things white people do, from the mind-blowingly tragic (just how many minorities have unjustly died at the hands of American cops this year??) to pathetic cultural insensitivities (like 90% of Halloween costumes). It’s so easy for the privileged majorities of the world to forget just how hard life can be for everyone else: to remember that they don’t have to worry about be rejected for a job interview because of their name, that their success won’t be called out as a bi-product of Affirmative Action, or any number of the myriad hurdles faced by millions of people who don’t get to check the right ‘ethnicity’ box.

HOWEVER. Fucking lay off the appropriation bullshit. Thanks to the wonderful interwebs, we now have more access to the world and its cultures. Yes, the wealth of cultural exposure might spark interest, or (gasp!) even inspiration, from those previously unfamiliar. Why should we shame someone for wearing an item of clothing they found beautiful, or dancing a dance they found enjoyable, or listening to music they found arresting? We should nurture this cross-pollination of cultures! We SHOULD strive to inspire others with our beauty and uniqueness.

I think this is where my frustration comes from. ‘Appropriation’ by definition means to take something away, therefore it’s not just about making something your own but also about taking that something away from someone else.

Therefore, those idiots that wear racist costumes at Halloween are NOT appropriating culture. They’re making racist, bigoted statements, but they’re not trying to steal a cultural identity. And conversely, those who are trying to experiment with something they’ve found inspiring are not trying to take that bit of culture away from someone else. If anything, it’s a cry out for an expanded sense identity on the part of the ‘appropriator’. They’ve discovered a fascinating cultural pearl and want to be included in the community that values it, ultimately to widen their community links. To appropriate a cultural symbol – so, by definition, saying I like that thing you do, I’m going to take it away from you – fundamentally goes against what most who are being blamed of ‘appropriation’ are aiming for.  (Yes, it’s a bit of a tongue-twister, but I think you get what I’m saying)

Also – and I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong – but it seems to me that it’s mostly whites calling others out for appropriation. Are black Americans pissed off that white people listen to hip-hop and dress like their favourite hip-hop artists? Maybe they are, but I get the feeling it’s more of a bizarre, subtle racism on the part of whites – a segregation of sorts. ‘You do this because you’re from this culture and we do that because we’re from that culture.’

And on the other hand, let’s face it, most of your day-to-day activities could be sited as cultural appropriation. I’m going to guess that those tooting the ‘cultural appropriation’ horn love a cuisine that isn’t ‘theirs’ or listen to music that hasn’t been born of life experiences similar to theirs. So where do you draw the line?

I do believe, however, if something cultural does capture your fancy, you should investigate. Learn a bit of the history behind it, the potential symbolic nature of it. That doesn’t mean you need to get a PhD on some culture phenomenon before you can explore it yourself, but be sensitive.

And this is what it all comes down to. Chill the fuck out people and just be sensitive. It’s ok to love various forms of culture, but it’s not ok to reduce culture down to stereotypes.

So please stop comparing the people who think that sexy Pocahontas costumes are acceptable with people who are genuinely inspired by another culture and are exploring it. The former are insensitive assholes. The latter are just curious. And who are we as humans if not curious?

Welcome to the mad house

Well hello there! I’m not sure if you know me, chances are if you do you wish you didn’t, but welcome all the same.

This is more or less the relaunch of my old blog, which started as a project to document my move from the quiet town of Portland ME to London. Five years later, and that sad blog got left behind to rot, but oh how I miss having a place to unleash my crazy. And reading back through some of my old posts, I was funny… sometimes. So you may, or may not, be glad to know that I’m back at it. Well, so I say. I’m not very good at following through on things.

I have my swanky, professional sites for my journalism and flutiness, but no outlet for my crazy rantings. That’s where you come in. Welcome.

So here I am, once again uploading my life to the interwebs. And I shall christen the new blog with:

Alex’s Tip to Happiness #130
Sometimes, when you’re on the edge of falling apart, the only appropriate response is to have lip sync battles with yourself in the mirror to all your favourite songs. Note: brightly coloured lip stick applied far too heavily is necessary… for dramatic effect of course.