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Transformations and Adaptations

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One Friday evening in April, we went to a storytelling circle. They’re once a month from October to May, and each has a different theme. April’s theme was “Stories of transformation”. We are mostly women, the tellers (and listeners), and mostly “of a certain age”. It was a gorgeous spring time evening; all the blossoms out and flamboyant — the city looks like a ’70s Drag Queen. But smells better and is more graceful than fabulous. You know.

There were three tellers, and then we circled all the chairs and everyone had an opportunity to tell a story of five minutes or less in duration. I was one of the featured tellers, along with Bill and Mary, two tellers of some renown around here (and beyond). We all chose stories that involved death and resurrection — or ‘re purposing’ of some sort or another.

Bill and Mary were both great — really wonderful tellers, both of them. Bill told a story of when his childhood friend became his hero. Mary told a story, based on an historical story, about middle and upper class women (almost all of her stories are about women) who collected pearls during the first world war, then made and auctioned off necklaces to raise money. I can’t remember the story now, because I’m finally writing this four months later. Both of their stories had to do with death. Mine did, too.

I told two stories in one. A pre-Hellenic-and-Erinized version of the myth of Persephone, woven with my friend Sharon’s death in 2005. I have told the first one many times now; the second is my experience of walking with my friend and her family, but I told it only once. Of course her transformation was going from life to death — from the ‘upper world’ of the mortals, to the ‘underworld’ of Persephone. Our transformation came as we walked with her and each other to that doorway, and held her until she left us. She shed her skin, and we said goodbye.

I think ‘goodbye’ is always a transformation. It’s an event in all of our lives wherein we acknowledge the space a person occupies in our lives, and holds it for them so they can return. Of course, Sharon will not return to it in the form in which we knew her, but she’s with us in our shared memories, and in the stories we tell and invent of her. I say ‘invent’ because memory is tricky, and time and perspective transform our memories. So we hold what we can, incorporate what we wish for, and learn from the interactions, experiences, pain and joy we shared. T

Transformation. This is a tenuous segue, but never mind. You remember my wee stowaway Well, it’s been very quiet the last two-and-a-half years. As the chemo doctor says, “It’s behaving in an indolent manner”. This indolence is now past. The stowaway is awake and growing.

So in the middle of August, I’ll begin 5 weeks of radiation, followed by 6 rounds of chemotherapy over 9 months. That’s good and bad, of course. Good that the minute they saw that it has grown to about 5cm, they’re on it; good that I live in Vancouver where you can’t swing a cat without hitting a brain surgeon/doctor/neuro-scientist; good that I live within spitting distance of one of the best cancer agencies in the world — and bad that I need to have all this stuff.

But whatever, I’m super lucky. Fundamentally, the main feeling I have about this new adventure upon which I am to embark is gratitude Followed closely by fear — but I’ve learned over the years, especially since I quit drinking, that the things I’m most afraid of are the things that will give me the most learning/excitement/satisfaction/delight. Really and truly. So here I go.

The timing of this thing was impeccable, too. I’ve been with my new job (addictions counsellor at a residential treatment facility) since mid-June of 2018 — and it’s a village, that place. We all have lots of room for each other, and there’s significant agreement about how we do what we do, as well as space for dissent and dialogue when we disagree. It’s not like UBC was at all.

I really miss teaching, still. And to be honest I miss the reverence with which people responded when I said I was a university professor. I didn’t do that much, mind you; I’d say I was a teacher (which is more accurate, but not as fancy-sounding). Now that I’m no longer an academic, I kinda regret not getting a bit more mileage out of it. Never mind, I should have written more, too, and used my access to the library and the technologies there in the service of good (the women’s liberation movement) much more than I did. I can now return to mocking academics, so that’s good.

I don’t really belong in an institution anyway. Last summer, when I said that to my cousin Bev in Saskatchewan, she didn’t miss a beat! She was doing something else, and looked up from that to me and said, “Oh yes you do”. We all laughed. I do like hospitals, that’s true. But the ivory tower, that’s not for me. there is no way to really change things for the good in there. The people who are ‘successful’, in fact, got that way by towing the line, sucking up to power, and following directions from the more powerful (aka wealthy). I’m not bad at following directions, but, conversely, I’m also not good at impulse control.

So anyway, here I am, with a permanent position in a place for which I have great regard as well as health benefits. I plan to work through my treatment — though I anticipate having to take a day off here and there. I’ll probably lose some hair. Then I might be able to wear a hat at work, though, so that’s a plus. Otherwise we’re not allowed hats. Or i can draw curls onto my head with a sharpie. In whatever colour I want.

Su and i were new when the stowaway first made me seizure. Now we live together. We still spend most of our time together laughing. Nearly three years later. I haven’t given the tumour much thought or energy in all this time, and it seems to have been ignoring me, too. Just napping. I have no symptoms at all. And I really enjoy MRIs, so that’s cool. Now I will have even more of them!

My old friend who has the same kind of tumour, but in a much less convenient spot. She went through the radiation+chemo treatment a few years ago, and the doctors have told her there has been no growth since. None. In 6 years, it hasn’t budged. So that’s encouraging too. i get all this treatment done, and it’s just going to stop in its tracks.

I’m still aiming to turn it into a vault for super powers. I already have the power of invisibility (but that might just be because I’m a woman in my 50s). I’m going to train for a powerlifting competition — the Winter Open, probably, next February — so we’ll see if I can get some more superpowers. If it’s gonna live in my head, this guy, (and we established it is a male, colonizing a woman’s space — little jerk), it’s gonna have to at least help with the heavy lifting.

So here we go. Another transformation. I’m not going to join Persephone or Sharon anytime soon, but I can tell you, I’ve been discussing all this with my ancestors — Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa — (especially Mom and Grandma) — and they have indicated that they are right here. Like all my mortal people, too. We’re going to be okay, all of us. I’ll keep ya posted.