Archive for August, 2012

posted by Amy on Aug 26

School will start again right after Labor Day, and I have registered for classes–three “real” classes and a required doctoral colloquium. Being registered now means I won’t have any apparent gap in my health insurance coverage. That happened last summer, and it was inconvenient and frustrating, although fortunately it did not cause any delays in treatment.

I didn’t have funding for the summer, and I’ve used up all my savings and other monetary assets, so ever since early this year I worried about how I would pay my bills after May. I tried to find a job, to no avail. I tried to sublet my half of the apartment for the summer, which would have gone a long way to paying my living expenses. I have friends who said I could live with them, and they also would have fed me. But I wasn’t able to find a subtenant, not even for substantially less than my half of the rent. I have my house in Denver rented out. That income is enough either to pay the mortgages on it every month, with a little bit left over, or to pay my rent and other current living expenses. I’ve been using it to cover gaps in my funding, and so far I always manage to catch up on mortgage payments in time to prevent foreclosure. My credit rating is shot now anyway, because I quit paying unsecured debt early last year, when I ran out of money to pay it, so I now consider “skimming” the rent money to be a viable financial strategy. There was a time that would have been unthinkable. It’s amazing how much freedom there is in having almost nothing left to lose. I used to worry about money all the time. Now that I don’t have any, I do what I can, and then I wait and see what happens. Friends and family members have sent me money this summer to help me out, and I’ll get my fellowship and student loan proceeds on September 4. Somehow it all worked out. I never missed a payment of rent or utilities, nor did I miss any meals.

Over a year ago I learned that because of my medical status I qualify for Social Security Disability. I can have a guaranteed income for life, and after two years on Social Security I will also be able to go on Medicare. It took all this time for that to sink in. One reason I delayed is I thought I’d have to prove that I am, in fact, unable to work. So far, at least, I have not suffered any physical or mental impairment from cancer. But it turns out that’s not necessary. The diagnosis qualifies me by itself. Also, it took all that time for me to come to terms with my permanent status as a person with incurable cancer. That’s a big shift in thinking and in self-identity. I still don’t like it, but I’ve come a long way towards accepting it. I applied on July 24. Then I learned that I will receive a lump sum dating from the date of my diagnosis. I plan to use some of that money to repay a friend who’s been sending me money every month. He really can’t afford it, and I would have refused if I had not needed the help. I can also go to the dentist and the eye doctor, and buy a new laptop.

I spent much of the summer knitting a lace shawl. I bought an online lace knitting class as a Christmas present to myself. The instructor supplied patterns for two kinds of lace shawls. The class includes video lessons with explanations of everything one needs to know to knit lace, assuming only a basic understanding of casting on, knitting, purling and casting off. I chose to work a semicircular design, but after I thought I had it all figured out I went off on my own. I wanted my shawl to be larger than hers, and I decided I didn’t want outside section of the shawl to be the way she designed it. The pattern was based on an eight stitch repeat. I found a motif that worked in sections of sixteen stitches each, and decided to use that instead. I had some old lace weight wool yarn, including enough of one color to make a full-sized shawl that reaches from finger tip to finger tip. The pattern called for doubling the number of stitches every so often. Not really comprehending the implications of that, I went on my merry way, and ended up with a huge number of stitches per row. I could tell I was using up the second ball of yarn really fast, but it looked like I might make it, so I soldiered on. I cut back on the number of times I repeated the leaf and vine motif in the last section. Instead of 48 rows of it I only did 18. Then I started on the knitted-on edge. I got almost to the end before I realized that I wouldn’t have enough yarn to finish. I needed about four more yards, and I only had one yard left.

It wasn’t a surprise. I had been steeling myself for this outcome. When I figured out I wasn’t going to make it I had two choices. I could either tear off just the edging, and finish the edge with some technique that didn’t use as much yarn, or I could unravel it back to where it had a reasonable number of stitches in the row (back before the last two times I had doubled the number of stitches) and redo it. I chose the second course of action, and I’m glad I did. For one thing, I was able to have a much larger block of the pretty leaf and vine motif that I had chosen for the last section. For another, even with one-fourth as many stitches, the finished product is larger than a semicircle. It’s more like a pie with two or three pieces cut out. I like it that way. I think it will fit better, but it’s certainly wide enough. It definitely didn’t need to be four times as wide.

The amazing thing about knitting lace is that it really doesn’t look like much while you’re knitting it. It’s rumpled and shapeless. All the holes and bumps in it look really weird. But once you block it you can suddenly see the patterns clearly, and it is astonishing. Blocking involves soaking it in water, laying it out flat and pinning it into the desired shape, then leaving it until it dries. I used a checked tablecloth to help me get it symmetrical, and I spread it out on the rug in my living room.

Knitting lace is hard. The holes are made by adding stitches. In order to keep the stitch count constant, and to create the “frames” for the holes, you have to do various kinds of decreases. With all the increasing and decreasing, and with the tiny yarn and tiny needles, it’s really easy to get off track and mess up the pattern, and it’s very, very difficult to undo the wrecked parts and start over without doing more harm than good (by dropping stitches, or losing track of where you are in the pattern). Getting to the end of this project required me to do two things. One was to learn how to be as accurate and consistent as I can, by using markers to mark off sections, and by counting each time I finished a segment, backing up to redo a section at a time when necessary. The other thing I had to do was to accept that it won’t be perfect. I was doing it to learn how to knit lace, and I wanted it to be “good enough.” In the end, it exceeded my expectations. I meant it to be a birthday present for a July 19 birthday. I didn’t get it finished until last Tuesday, and I’ve been reluctant to let it go.

Maybe this is a metaphor for life. You keep doing your best, but you make mistakes. You make amends when possible. You work around or accept the things you can’t change. And you don’t really get a sense of how all the moves you’ve made add up until you get to the end.


posted by Amy on Aug 2

There’s a book called The Artist’s Way. In it, the author prescribes certain practices that she says will unleash creativity and increase creative output. The cornerstone is what she calls Morning Pages. You write for the first thirty minutes after you wake up. You write longhand, with no editing or rereading. When you’re done you put them away. You don’t show them to anybody. You don’t even reread them yourself for at least six weeks, if at all.

I took a class about the book in 2007, and I began to do the Morning Pages. I haven’t written any novels or screen plays yet, but I do think they have a profound positive effect on my mental life. They help me clear out the clutter in my head. If I put thoughts down on paper I can get them out of my way. I greet the rest of the day with more enthusiasm, and I do more of the things I really like to do and really find fulfilling.

For me, Morning Pages are different from journaling. For some reason, in journals, I edit myself. In the past I actually used journaling to try to talk myself into feeling or thinking what I thought I should feel or think. There were off-limits topics, too, things I just refused to say or people I refused to write about. With Morning Pages I tell the truth. Until I started doing them I had no idea how dishonest I was with myself. The anonymity and spontaneity of the Morning Pages process frees me. I can say what I really think, and be done with it. Somehow it unlocks my true feelings and passions. The things I really love and hate emerge from the cloud of “correct” self talk.

I quit doing Morning Pages in 2009. This week I started writing them again. It takes a page or more to start saying nontrivial things. But then thoughts begin bubbling up, sometimes faster than I can get them transcribed. It’s just a half hour at the beginning of the day, but somehow it changes everything. I’m less likely to fritter away hours on the internet. I’m more likely to read something I’ve been meaning to get around to reading, or go for a walk, or write a letter. I feel more connected with my own life.

I have a sense that there’s something buried deep inside me, trying to get out. It frightens me. I don’t want to face it. It’s not what you might think about a person in my situation. I’m not scared of dying. I’m not worried about the future. But I want someone to understand me, to know my stories, my deepest secrets, and say, “I see you. I know you. I honor you.” Or maybe that’s backwards. Maybe I just want to convince someone that it’s safe to be real with me. And I’m the first person who needs to be convinced.


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