Thursday, August 16, 2018

Writing, mortality, cancer & dancing in Salzburg.

I went back to yoga this morning. I'm trying to hang on to self-care because people keep telling me it's important -- the ol' "put your own oxygen mask on before you help others" scenario (which mystifies me every time I fly because I'll be damned if I'm not putting my kid's mask on first) -- but today I just felt guilty the entire yoga class because I felt I should have been with my parents. I pretty much spent the entire class either holding back tears or engulfed in them, then focusing on not being distracting to other yogis and also remembering that my mom asked me last week not to cry.

You see, today I'm thinking about mortality ... and not my own: my parents'. Some say that dying parents affects us so much because it reminds is that we, too, will die one day. Today I reject that and say that, no, I'm affected and upset because I love my parents and want them to be around forever.

One of the more challenging things for me as a writer is how to write what's on my mind -- how to share family stories, references, jokes, without compromising privacy. I have kept some of my better stories to myself, often to a fault or to the point that it wears on me and I feel like I'll implode if I don't get them out. Imagine a clogged pipe with a few untold stories preventing all the stories behind it from coming out. 

You may know that my mother has pancreatic cancer, a diagnosis she's lived with for 22 months today.

I am guessing that part of what upsets my mom about her cancer is a sense of not being finished. Of incompleteness. Of not being able to finish Ulysses (she told me this week that my dad was reading Ulysses when she met him, which is completely unsurprising of my dad, but also could have been just a really great pick-up line). Of not being able to hear all of the songs I will write or not being able to read all of the blogs I will post.
 Because one day, she will cease to be, but I will continue to write. 

And I will hate -- I will hate -- to push "publish" even on the silliest of blogs. Even if it's a meaningless post of an latergram vacation photo, or a recipe that a relative with an AOL address forwarded me from Southern Living ... at some point I will hit "publish" on the first thing I know my mother will never read. 

This makes me sad because she loves to read. She even figured out (or more likely, had my dad set her phone) how to get notifications every time I tweet. She looks at my website and gets my gig information from there and loves to complain to her friends that I never tell her anything and that she hears about my gigs from my mailing list too. Sometimes it's been a fun game -- purposefully not telling her of a cool gig (like this one) because I know she'll see it for herself on my website, even though I always set aside tickets for her and my dad.

Speaking of my dad: he has cancer too. 

How *$%ing insane is that? How *$%ing wrong? I know -- I know it could be worse, and for someone living with anxiety, believe me, I've thought of all the cases in which it could, in fact, be worse.

Already I'm feeling guilty and wondering if I should even hit publish on this blog because, truthfully, it's my dad's news to share (Please don't flood his inbox!). He's a private person, and he deals with everything beautifully and rationally and without flare. His only Facebook posts remain reviews of tomes on GoodReads and check-ins to the Great Flood Brewery, where somehow, despite 5 weeks of daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy, he has managed to not give up his barstool. 

Anyway, this year has been surreal and unfair, and it's not right that my dad should have to care for his ailing wife while he undergoes radical treatment. It's equally unfair that my mother should be overcome with guilt that she can't take him to every doctor appointment, as he did for her, both throughout this cancer and a previous cancer 18 years ago. It's unfair that they can't walk Graham to the bus stop for his first day of Kindergarten or pick him up after school and sneak him a cookie.

That's part of why my blogs this summer have been so inconsistent. It's less about time spent in hospitals or chemo lounges and more about feeling like I need to get this particular update out of the clogged pipe so that other posts might flow. 

So forgive my lack of posts. Forgive my inability to answer a "How are you" with a simple "Fine, thanks, and you." Forgive my prancing-about-Europe-to-distract-myself Facebook posts. Forgive any boastful-yoga-pose posts that may appear on Instagram if my anti-anxiety meds ever kick in. I'm just trying my best to remember my oxygen mask, though you'd better believe I'd give it to my parents first if I could. I'm also thinking of their oxygen masks and how they've been instructed on flights to take care of themselves first. That's not how they raised me, so we'll just continue to be the stubborn Kaelin clan taking care of each other. I mean, that's what families do, right?

Unrelated, here's a happy and distracted vertically-shot video from Salzburg that might cheer you up after a woeful blog: 


  1. Love you and your sweet family. I wish I knew how to make elephants out of boxwoods and how to make everything better for you.


Anxiety and empathy and all that i'm trying

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