I’m only asking Santa for one thing this year – patience. The fact that patience is something that I usually have easily available in unusual quantity suggests that I am not the only one concerned by a worrisomely short supply, who is hoping for large new quantities of this most special helpful and universal solvent under the tree. Enough, with luck, to carry us well into next year and a phase of greater hope, relaxation of worry and general enjoyment for all.
Like a lot of other people I’ve met over the years, I began learning patience especially young, in my case, because the screwball commune/cult which my parents were part of somehow thought destroying children’s emotional safety was a worthwhile cost, for some other great benefit which I have never once seen clearly explained. I was isolated from my family completely, told I was an adult at age twelve, and drafted as unpaid staff for the even screwier experimental school within the cult.
Having the pressure of adult responsibility without the support of loving adults was of course, very difficult. I actually wrote a poem about the way my mind responded to this challenge, because again, I’ve seen a similar mental structure in many who were challenged harshly and denied emotional support, early in life. I could feel the injustice of the situation keenly, I had no recourse to help, nor any means of escape (there was no safe home for me to run away back to). What I had was myself and myself – the part of me which could perceive the madness of the situation, and the part which had potential worth guarding against these powerful destructive forces.
My creative and emotionally sensitive side simply was not tough enough to get through that, without a protector – so the other part of me toughened up a great deal to take on that role – to the extent that wacky ideas like G Gordon Liddy famously chaining himself to a tree in a thunderstorm to overcome that fear still make sense to me to this day, though I do understand their objectively nutty quality. Will isn’t for nothing, and much as I have hoped and sought, I have yet to meet anyone who has built it, except through trial driven ultimately by necessity.
Patience gratitude forgiveness and understanding were of course the treasures of my sensitive side – successfully protected at no small cost by my willful shell, but in time, and with the extraordinary gift of Catherine’s love, these also became the means of reuniting of my two personas – the grand project around which both could rally together and combine strengths. I would have to say that in some ways, I didn’t start operating as a satisfyingly coherent whole-heart person until my late thirties (and the project is still ongoing, to be sure).
Curiously, the will and patience I was forced to forge have been very useful in many periods through my life. Some difficulties cannot be wished away or avoided, but must simply be borne – ideally with the best possible humour, so as to give us the greatest possible margin of liveliness in our life – however constrained it may be.
Catherine has been battling serious illness since before we were even married, and I married her meaning my oath one hundred percent – nor have I wavered. She had developed her own particular especially mature awareness, and we both recognized early on that the difference between all-in and constantly negotiated was total. As intellectually reasonable as that relationship model of ‘individuals steering in parallel’ seems – in practise, I have watched a lot of relationships like that turn into complex systems of mutual extortion and blackmail. I’m sure as heck not agreeing to what you want, unless you agree to my thing first.
The correct fight for a marriage is: “I’m doing the dishes” “No dear, I’M doing the dishes.” If you aren’t always hoping to help your partner more than you already have, you’re doing something wrong.
There were some very serious frights early on in Catherine’s illness – but thankfully her very rare combination of blood conditions eased away from urgently life-threatening numbers, to merely chronically life-challenging. We had plenty of love and gratitude, whimsy and patience. We adapted to the limits, we maintained a good loving home – and shared our warm hearth also with others – in part, because we have never forgotten the irreplaceable value of those warm oases in lonely years.
About five years ago, Catherine’s condition became more challenging – but the family doctor we had known and trusted for years was unable to find any underlying cause. A bit more than three years ago, Catherine’s condition got much worse again, and she was no longer able to work. She also needs help with a lot of basic things, and as a very proud willful and independent person this has been incredibly hard for her.
I had to plan around two parameters which were inescapable. Catherine couldn’t work again, and I had to care for her from now on. This meant that my long term project to turn that stack of manuscripts on the windowsill into actual books was now the natural basis for a proper home business. Something I can keep steadily building and revving-up, while always being a caregiver first. I have established a ridiculous level of writing output over the last dozen years (150 good original pages plus, month after month), and am of course working every freelance angle I can find as well, but the idea of establishing a catalog which will continue to generate some regular money is naturally extremely appealing. Not ever easy of course, and there are no guarantees – but as I say, I am nimble and ridiculously productive. I will keep swinging at worthy pitches relentlessly until I get my home run. (pyrrhic and posthumous or not) ;o)
I already had a long-arc plan for Large Ess Small Press – to extend my publishing expertise step by step, and offer increasingly ambitious books over time. What I needed then was a bit of time to build the thing up, while caring for Catherine. They say “Ask for help” don’t they? But of course, if you don’t ask, you can always have some hope that help is there – but if you do ask and help is refused – you are just as screwed as you were before, plus you have lost much precious hope.
With enormous reluctance, we did try asking – and we were made to regret that profoundly. The truly amazing thing is that out of the blue – just like in some of my darkest days of youth – a few other people came to us completely unexpectedly offering their compassion, encouragement and support. Beautiful and surprising oases of warmth in a cold moment – so precious.
A few months later, Catherine came within minutes of losing her life (still trying to tell me not to call an ambulance, as her face turned ashen and lips went blue) then spent a week in the ICU fighting very hard to live, after which a whole lot of things changed. We were terrified and traumatized of course – but we also realized we were amazingly lucky. The fireman standing in my living room while they were intubating Catherine in the bedroom said, “Those guys are top level – one of the best paramedic teams in the entire city.” The hospital they brought her to, Mount Sinai, was similarly outstanding, their ICU team especially (thank you so much for your incredible dedication kindness and attention Maria – and thank you Ruhan, for making her laugh again with your little dance – and thank you Matthew in Emerg for your precious humour, and Jessica in the cardiac ward for your positivity). Heck, we even had an outstandingly nice and informative oxygen delivery guy. Lucky.
We also had the strangest run of timing luck, just before the crisis – and I mean above and beyond the incredible luck of Catherine having her respiratory crisis and diagnosis come a few precious months before the whole world was suddenly upended with a very similar fear to the one we had just experienced in a very private and intimately terrifying way.
After years of resisting on principle, we’d both finally got photo ID and health cards just a few weeks before. Catherine had also found us an energetic intelligent and highly motivating new family doctor as our key health ally – thank you so much Doctor Emily Cheung! This change has made a huge difference to us both – a major boost of hope and positivity, just where and when we needed it most.
So when Catherine was finally allowed to come home again, we had a serious, dedicated and properly aggressive ally to help us make use of the vast volume of science done on her during her hospital stay. Electronic health information integration really is amazing. Family doctors didn’t used to be able to download working 3D heart models and liver scans from a hospital database! Doctor Cheung really went above and beyond – and even the pharmacists have been extra sweet to us (they like the fact that I always bring home a “Turkish Delight” for Catherine along with her meds – continuing our decades long established ritual of always mixing in some fun with the heavy stuff).
Anyhow, I continue to care for Catherine every day, and I continue to write like a maniac, and also to work to turn more of that manuscript pile into finished books. I do overdo it sometimes (my back strength has not been proportional to my will for many years now), and then I have a hard time being patient with myself – if only there was some tree in a lightning storm that I could chain myself to, that would reliably cure my damned back! Alas, the ‘Teeter’ seems as close as one can get thus far – a tad dear and voluminous. ;o)
All of which is to say that I am running a few days behind my toughie-driver’s self-expectations, and I really don’t want to let the year-end odometer click over before completing my current projects, but I know for certain that the most important thing is to make these two latest books thoroughly spiffy and fantastically great, so that they can begin to build their own inertia from a strong clear start (huge thanks are due on that front to our friends Andrew “Rewfoe” Foerster, Andrea “Aundy” Rowan and also Braz “Matatabooks” Menezes – the author of several superb books combining compelling direct witness and fascinating underexamined history).
Fear not friends – “Stymie and Toffel” and “At a Crazy Time Like This” are both in final stages now, looking quite lovely and still on their way, just as fast as lower back and carpals will allow. And in the meantime, my grumbling will, will just have to borrow a bit more patience from my inner softie. ;o)
My job is nurse, my vocation is writing, my calling is teacher, my heart is in the other room – and it’s just about time for her toast and coffee elevenses (at three).
Please Santa, give me patience for all the people who know me and my dedication – but seem somehow to have forgotten. Don’t try to tell me there is more important work than keeping Catherine alive and making her happy – people turn their own karma toward disease with poison ideas like that. And despite everything, I actually love them so much that I don’t want them to hurt their precious souls that way. So I guess that counts as proof that I’m not quite completely empty yet.
But please Santa, bring back the luxuriously plentiful patience I remember – and if there’s room in the bag, a whimsy top-up too – and of course, restorative gratitude always!
For our warm hearth and for yours – and a better next year for all on earth.